EGX 2015 Viewpoint from a Casual Gamer

This year was the first time our little group attended EGX, driving up to Birmingham in our mini convoy to check out the final day.

I will say this – we definitely underestimated the whole experience. I for one plan to go again next year, and make the most of the whole event. The chance to speak to developers, youtubers, bloggers and general fans is an amazing opportunity (cliché as it sounds).There were people there handing out business cards, and I ended up asking one of those organised Youtubers to scribble down our website on the back of a piece of card. Terrible! But despite that, I did write down some thoughts on the event so here they are!

The real jewel in the crown was not the big players (although I will get to them), but the fantastic Indie and smaller dev turnout. Sega provided a sponsored a rather…interesting area (I felt so sorry for those guys who essentially brought their own kit and wrote on their space on the wall), but the rest of the Rezzed area looked amazing and really professional. The way the games were all laid out it was really easy to just sit down and try out a game.

I found Four Sided Fantasy, and the game met my expectations. Cute simple aesthetics, and really easy to pick up gameplay. I got stuck a couple of times, and I noticed myself run through walls and floors which I wasn’t *entirely* sure I was meant to do, but the game was only an Alpha demo, so I was more than forgiving. The screen wrap and freeze mechanic was easy to toggle, and the game was really light and fun. Definitely want to pick that up. Sadly I didn’t get to speak to the developers to find out any more information, but they did leave out little cards and a place to jot down your email to find out more information.

Four Sided Fantasy

A developer I did get a chance to speak to was the lovely (and very pregnant) Anna from Makin Games (@makingames). They were in the far corner showing their game Raging Justice, but it was not stopping them getting a lot of traffic and attention for their game. Raging Justice was absolutely brilliant. I played both levels that they were demo-ing, and from what I could see it looked pretty much ready for release. It was a homage to the classic 2D side scroller games I grew up with (definite Streets of Rage flashbacks which I *constantly* mentioned whilst talking to Anna. She told me that everyone had one game that they loved which they saw in Raging Justice, so clearly she had been dealing with people like me all day the poor woman!). They plan to release the game on Steam and Xbox 1 in early 2016, and then move on to release versions for tablets and other consoles later on in the year. I really enjoyed playing this game, so will definitely be picking up a copy when I see it on Steam. I saw an interview with these guys from EGX where they were asked about rumours of going for Game of the Year, and I think they stand an excellent chance if they were.

Another Indie game I managed to play through was a game called Mute. This game was ok – solid graphics, good response to controls. The only thing was the level they were demo-ing was a complete bastard to play: your character had to successfully run through a canyon against a number of stampeding wildebeest, and if one of them so much as *brushed* against you then you were dead and had to start again. One of the developers came up to us whilst I was playing and spoke to my fiancé, and one of the features that he told us was that the animals are programmed to react to you, to the extent that predators can smell you and track you across the map. If I’m honest I didn’t get to experience much of that (too many wildebeest in my face). Interesting idea, but the demo didn’t excite me too much.

Mute

I have spoken great lengths about the Indie offering, but what about some of the main contenders?

One of my favourite experiences from the whole day was over at the Rock Band 4 area. They had a whole band kit on a rig/stage setup, and were inviting people to come up and entertain the crowd. Now I cannot miss an opportunity to show off, and my friend commented how he turned his head for 1 minute and turned back to find me on stage, microphone in hand. I gave a stunning rendition of Boston (which got some good cheers), a little sad that the microphone was busted by the time I got there so the percussion parts were not picking up properly, but you can’t have everything! There is a video of my most epic performance, so if anyone is interested put a shout out in the comments below and perhaps we can get a clip of it up for your viewing pleasure 😛

Rock Band dominated the music game offerings at EGX. They had the presentation down perfectly – the whole reason people play that game is to pretend they are rock stars and everyone was geared up to treat it as a mini concert/battle of bands. The presenter there did a fantastic job at working the crowd (he gets bonus points for complimenting my hair and singing along to Boston, but hey a little bias doesn’t hurt). Guitar Hero on the other hand completely missed the mark in my opinion. They hid their game in a (impressive looking) giant amp, which meant that everyone had to queue whether they wanted to look at the game or have a go. They completely shut out anyone walking by, and I think this was where they went wrong. People want to join a crowd that’s clapping and cheering to see what’s happening, not a queue when there’s lots of other things going on.

Guitar Hero Amp

Nintendo had a brilliant look to their space. With archways across their different areas, and a casual area with beanbags for people to connect and play their DSes, it was a bright and cheerful family look – something Nintendo do very well. What I didn’t think was so great was their choice of presenters. It was like they had watched the presenters on E4 and gone “that is how we should do it!”, and their false banter was grating and annoying after a while. They had stands for their big hitters – Zelda, Pokemon and Monster Hunter were some of the key titles that were available to play. They also had Disney’s Infinity and the new Animal Crossing game that is coming out. Pretty safe stuff guaranteed to pull in people.

The PlayStation area was also ok, with a lot of focus on their VR tech (sadly we didn’t get there in time to book a slot to try it out), some FIFA, Destiny new expansion and of course the new Metal Gear. There was a couple of screens for the new Ratchet & Clank (looks pretty standard stuff) and a massive TIE Fighter signalled the area for the new Star Wars Battlefront which was cool. Overall I tended to just skim past the Playstation area, as the people they were trying to attract were not really my demographic. The same was said for Xbox, and I barely looked in on their area as they showed nothing to really grab my attention. It was all shout outs and flash, although I did see a bit of the new Lara Croft trailer as I went past which looked pretty similar to the last LC game, but something that could be interesting.

Star Wars

EGX also had a small board game section in one of their zones. It was a really relaxed area where they had games constantly being set up and played. Friendly volunteers coaxed people to come join and explained the rules before letting people just get on with the game which I really liked. The games being demo-ed were all fairly old games (Munchkin, Sheriff of Nottingham – games that have been released a while). My fiance and I managed to get in and play a game of “Sheriff of Nottingham” with a father and son who were really nice and didn’t mind us butting in (I came last! I’m too honest clearly). I’d never played it before and I really enjoyed it. I was up for buying a copy then and there but no stands were selling any board games. Opportunity missed EGX, I bet they could have sold a tonne of games! That was a real shame really.

Sheriff of Nottingham
Another disappointment was the merchandise that was on sale. Naturally there were plenty of geek t-shirts, but all guy-style round-necks as far as I could tell. I saw one tank top amongst all the stalls, in a size that was clearly small. This brings me nicely to my personal pet peeve – as a big girl why should I only be offered male tops? I want geeky girly tank tops too! I rarely find a band t-shirt or geek top that is my size and either lady-t or strappy in style. Apparently someone somewhere has decided that large women do not exist, or if they do they just wear male clothes – meaning if I want breathing room round my neck and any kind of shape I have to buy a top and cut it up myself. Unimpressed does not even cover it sometimes, and other times it just leaves me feeling depressed. Some places were offering prints and I spotted one manga/anime stand, however if you wanted anything other than a t-shirt or a hat your choices were *very* limited. I know I was going on the last day, and stocks would be running low, but generally I was left feeling unimpressed and uninspired.

In terms of the venue, the whole space was well laid out and organised. It wasn’t a chore or particularly difficult to move through the different areas, and to navigate around the different stages. One thing I did before going was to download the EGX app with their maps, I found these incredibly  useful to get around. Car parking was easy, and going through to get my wrist band was pretty quick and painless. There were some good cosplays walking around but the focus was (rightly) on some excellent games being shown.

Overall I found EGX to be a fantastic experience. I met some really enthusiastic and helpful people, and the time flew by whilst I was there. I will definitely come back next year, and I intend to make the most of all 4 days.

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The Effect of the Internet on Social Gaming

So with the introduction of “Youtube for Gamers”, I thought it might be interesting to look at how the internet has impacted the gaming world, and the effect it’s had on gaming socially.  I know, I know – it sounds like a student essay – but stay with me!

Early on in console gaming if you wanted to play with your friends (*snigger*) you had very few options. Arcade games were one option, with the first co-op game “Fire Truck” released in 1978 (DP Interviews Howard Delman 2010-11-08). Games at home though were another story; there were games with a “2-player” option, however these generally ended up being taken in turns.

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Second Gen consoles included the multi-player functionality that we’re more familiar with, porting over arcade favourites to home consoles (Streets of Rage is one I fondly remember – I can still remember the car noise screeching up to give you the air-strike special move). As consoles got better, we began to see a greater variety of multiplayer options:

  • Racing games
  • Beat-em-up Fighting Games
  • Tactical Fighting Games
  • Co-op story

We also had the multi-player games that used accessories to add a twist to social gatherings. The Eye-Toy (which in my house just turned into a cheap webcam in the end), Guitar Hero, Sing Star, Dance Dance, even the GameCube got into this trend with Donkey Konga (providing you had enough bongos).

So what did this mean in terms of social gaming? Games were limited to the number of controller ports a console had. If you wanted more players, generally you ended up needing to hook up multiple consoles/computers in a LAN – resulting in wires everywhere and the hassle of lugging hardware to various locations. If you wanted to play with people you didn’t necessarily socialise with on a regular basis, you needed to attend special events set-up for that kind of thing, again with all the hardware you owned.

GoldenEyeMultiplayer

Online gaming in the console generation really became popular with the release of Xbox Live in 2002, allowing players to shareplay over the internet. The other console giants started to follow suit, with Playstation releasing PSN and the Nintendo Wii allowing limited online gaming. With these networks, players could now pay a subscription and chat to players wherever they were in the world. As the networks have developed, players have been able to rent games and download them directly to their consoles/PCs, game developers are able to release patches and expansions to released games. We’re able to spend money on small pointless add-ons to games to our hearts content.

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The PC shouldn’t be left out here, as Steam has also added to this network. Steam sales and gamers being able to vote and share their reviews have helped indie developers reach out to the market, which would have been nearly impossible 10 years ago (just look at the Binding of Isaac). The introduction of “Humble Bundles”, in which the price of the bundle was determined by the purchaser further strengthened the Indie market, which the additional bonus of a proportion of the profits being donated to various charities.

I think at this point it is also prudent to mention the key player in the world of online and social gaming – the MMO, or “Mass Multiplayer Online” game. There have been many examples (FFXIV, FFXI, Runescape, EVE Online to name a few), but the Daddy of them all is obviously World of Warcraft. Released in 2004, WoW is the most subscribed MMORPG, with 5.6 million current subscribers (as of end of June 2015) and over 100 million accounts created in the game’s lifetime. We have a WoW player in our group of writers, and most people will know at least 1 player in their social circle. The 6th expansion, Legion, was announced at Gamescom this year and they are as popular as ever. These games are pretty much *the* definition of social gaming, since at any one point you will be playing with thousands of other players. I won’t go into too much depth about these games, since there are no end of articles focussing on this aspect. It also links to Second Life, however the creators do not class it as a game as there is no set objective to the universe.

If I’m honest, it was at this point that I thought online gaming and the integration of the internet into gaming as a whole had reached the pinnacle. The ability to play with as many players as possible? Check. The ability to rent and purchase games online without needing a pesky disc? Check. Players being able to influence pricing of games through reviews and bundles? Check.

Nope – totally wrong.

Social Media has added a whole new dynamic to “social gaming”. Gamers recording their game play to review it on shows broadcast on YouTube, we even have gamers live-streaming their games to whoever wishes to watch and enjoy their commentary (I’m not brave enough to do that just yet, I don’t think I’m witty enough or a good enough player to keep people entertained). In fact, Twitch took things to a completely different level with “Twitch Plays Pokemon” – viewers actually inputting commands in the comments to control the game itself. It created a huge following, with a complete mythology and culture behind it – adding a deeper level and new playing experience to a game a decade old.

Twitch_plays_pokemon_animated

You can link your game console to your Facebook profile, your twitter account – whichever social media you happen to be using. You want the world to know what you’re playing and how well it’s going? Well now that’s possible. Games like Bloodborne  encourage players to interact, and can influence a player’s decisions in the game by leaving clues, showing clips of previos player deaths. In the Little Big Planet franchise you can use the tools the developers used to build the game to build worlds of your very own, ones that can be shared with everyone to play on and vote. The community now has a greater influence on games, both from the developer’s and player’s point of view.

I would say the internet has added a new dialogue to the gaming community, and we have all seen the creativity that has resulted from it. We now have YouTube channels, blogs, in-game comments, live streaming of games, MMOs; players are interacting on so many different platforms, that the distinction between consoles, or between console and PC for that matter, is becoming obsolete. Old games are being introduced to new gamers in completely new ways, and this connects old and new gamers on a level playing field.

I am genuinely interested to see what comes next.

 

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TitansGrave: The Ashes of Valkana

If you’ve dabbled in gaming culture you will realise that if a game has a long title it general means it’s safe to assume that you’re looking at a Tabletop RPG epic, and TitansGrave: The Ashes of Valkana is no exception. Well…almost.

TitansGrave (TG) is a YouTube series on the Geek & Sundry channel in which a group of people play through a table top RPG run by the master himself Mr Wil Wheaton. The world itself seems to be a mash of the two main table top genres, combining the magic and mythology of fantasy with the technology and futuristic settings of Sci-Fi. Combining the two is a brave decision – without flawless execution you risk creating a world that comes across as flat and crammed full of cherry-picked features from both in the author’s attempt of fan-fiction (quick disclaimer: I love me some fan fiction. I once won an award on a fan fiction site for “weirdest pairing” with some Wakka/Seymour FFX love). Thankfully we don’t need to worry too much with TG, as the world of Valkana has been thought out with great care. The traditions and history of the world have been carefully put together to form something Tolkien would approve of.

Wil Wheaton is a brilliant GM/DM (whichever you prefer); allowing the players to add unique details to the story (such as things they can see, the opportunity to take part in telling legends) and he is honest when it comes to his own dice rolls regardless of whether or not they work in his favour. The players are all eager to be involved in the world, willing to embrace their characters and their motivations (5 GOLD AND A PARTY!). It’s good to see, as I have sometimes found it hard to get players to fully engage with the game straight from the bat (I’ve been guilty of it myself sometimes) – and a game can quickly become uninteresting and flat if that happens.

Each episodes so far has been edited extremely well, with the story and progression cut with some amazing artwork. Far from just gilding the lily, the artwork helps show us the action and setting and helps to fully immerse the viewer in the world that’s being played out. We are only on Episode 3 (if you include Episode 0 which sets out the world and the characters for this RPG), and although the quests are expectedly small the audience gets the sense that they are already leading to something much more impressive.

Now I know I am one of those weird people that can happily watch someone or a group of people play through a game. I’ve even mentioned it in a previous blog post, of how I can happily spend an evening with the future-husband and watch him play through a game. But even with that in mind, I fully recommend you give this series a chance. If you haven’t played any D&D type games before and think you might be interested, this show will show you the kind of gaming experience you could have. If you’ve played plenty of tabletop RPGs, then consider this show excellent inspiration for your next campaign. Whatever your motivation – give this show a look, you won’t be disappointed.

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