At the end of August, I attended the Penny-Arcade Expo, my first visit to
a videogame convention. Though the expo ran from Friday to Sunday, I was
only able to attend the last two days, thus I missed Wil Wheaton's keynote
speech on Friday. I also spent too much time looking for other people and
not even concentrating on the expo itself. See, there were plans for
members of Gamers With Jobs to
get together at and after the expo, but no concrete plans were made. As a
result, I spent a lot of time looking for GWJ shirts among the crowd.
That didn't go too well and distracted me from paying attention on
Saturday or waiting around for demos.
Sunday I got around to trying out the PC Freeplay, basically a whole room
of PCs set up for free use by attendees. They came loaded with a number
of games, such as Quake 4, Unreal Tournament 2003, and BF 2142. Since
2142 is my current multiplayer game of choice, I joined their local
server. Jumped in and ugh! No unlocks at all. Without grenades or my
favorite weapons, I can't get into the game anymore. So I switched and
played with the World in Conflict demo. They've been promoting hard. The
neck lanyards included in every PAX registration packet were WiC ads and
they had girls dressed in Soviet uniforms (were those short skirts
regulation?) passing out flyers to the Saturday night launch party. Sadly
I wasn't able to attend that, but the GWJ meetup more than made up for it.
I think. I heard the launch party had an open bar.
First thing you'd see when walking into the exhibition hall was
Microsoft's area and, past the row of demo PC's, a Big Daddy from
Bioshock. Those PC's, by the way, were running demos of Gears of
War and Hellgate: London. I did to play a bit of the former. It took
me a minute to realize the server was running team deathmatch and shooting
my teammates was having very little effect except annoying them. Then I
had to figure out how to tell the difference between my team (Locusts) and
the other (humans), both with uniforms of lovely shades of beige! The
final handicap was the PC setup. Imagine standing at a desk because
there's no chair, the desk is at waist level, and it's slanted down at
about 20 degrees so your wrists are bent at a horrible angle. So most
people ended up using the USB gamepads that were attached. Not me. I'm
old skool. Plus I'm not any good aiming with a gamepad in an FPS. And
because I was the only guy using the keyboard/mouse, one of the roving
reporters decided to interview me. By then I'd picked up some of the
finer points of the game and impressed the guy that I was able to frag
while still answering his questions. This, I explained, was because I was
married and I was used to talking while I played.
Mass Effect was being strongly promoted with trailers being shown
on the Microsoft big screen. My interest is still pretty much nil. I
didn't win the Mass Effect Xbox 360 Elite, but I did get a free Mass
NCSoft had a big presence, pimping both Guild Wars and Lineage 2. I'm a
sucker for the artwork used in Guild Wars so while the game doesn't
interest me much, I had an urge to steal their posters and banners.
The guys behind Alien Hominid, The Behemoth, were showing off their
upcoming game Castle Crashers. This was a cute cell-shaded
cartoonish side-scrolling fighter, in the same vein as Golden Axe.
The Warhammer Online booth was showing off their game on a number
of computers. I didn't pay much attention because I'm really not looking
for another fantasy MMORPG already.
Telltale games was showing off Sam & Max and their CSI: Hard Evidence
game. Though it will likely throw gamers everywhere into a rage, I must
admit that I have never played any Sam & Max game, not even the old Sam &
Max Hit the Road. So again, this was another booth I didn't spend much
It was hard to miss The Spoils, a collectible card game, thanks to
its, ah, attention-grabbing banners. I'm still astounded that there are
still so many fantasy collectible car games coming out. Spoils was
certainly not the only one here. There was even a Warcraft CCG
being demoed at the expo, though I didn't bother trying it. Never had
much interest in Magic: The Gathering and these games don't see all that
much different. There was a Spoils card pack in my swag bag and the
actual cards were much more boring than the banners suggested.
Halo ActionClix is a wargame based on HeroClix, I assume, except
set in the Halo universe. The units were impressive, especially the giant
figures. I've never done any HeroClix gaming myself, though I'm open to
Eye of Judgement has garnered a lot of buzz, one of the few PS3
games to really interest people. It was being demoed by GWJ's own
Gorgeous Rob Borges (and he really is dreamy). The game uses a camera
peripheral to scan the cards played by players onto the game board and
manages the turns based on what cards are laid down. It's an interesting
use of tech and mixes the videogame with the card game. Nothing about it
really grabs me, though, especially with it being on the PS3.
America's Army had one of the biggest booth areas there. In fact,
most of it was blocked off by a tall black curtain. They had quite a line
for most of the expo. Sunday morning I decided to stand in line since it
looked so short. Unfortunately, their main demo was suspended while they
tried to get someone to fix something suspended from the ceiling. The
guys working the booth were worried it looked a bit precarious and might
fall. So while we waited, the sergeant (I'm assuming he was a sergeant)
decided to pass the time by having us players compete in a few physical
competitions. I took part in a push up contest but only came in about 4th
out of 7. After a while, they turned us loose on the latest America's
Amry PC game where we did some 4 on 4 team games. Definitely slower than
BF2142 and I had one match where I managed 3 kills. Finally, we got into
the main demo room. The setup was a military Humvee situated in front of
3 projection screens. Mounted on the Humvee were 4 machine guns, all with
electronic sensors for hit detection and components to mimic the feel of
recoil. We then ran through an evac mission where our convoy drove
through some hostile territory on the way to evacuate a patrol. It was
fun, though I quickly discovered that my far right-mounted gun could not
hit targets on the center screen. When the mission was done, I got some
dogtags stamped with my name and gamertag.
Harmonix had one of the most popular booths at the expo. They had three
consoles running their upcoming game Rock Band and the line to play
was the longest at the convention. Being by myself, I really didn't want
to stand in line alone for the hour or so it would've taken to play. A
shame though, because the game looked like great fun. Guitar, bass,
drums, and vocals. I did grab some Rock Band stickers though. Score!
Prolific makers of boardgames, Fantasy Flight Games also had a booth,
showing off not only their huge catalog of games such as Game of Thrones
and Arkham Horror, but also their new Starcraft boardgame. It was
filled with oodles of figures for each unit, much like the World of
Warcraft boardgame. My guess is that the rules are similar, though I
didn't get a chance to read them or play the game.
Penny Arcade had a demo of sorts for their game Penny Arcade
Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Sadly the demo
was little more than a cut scene that lasts barely longer than it takes to
say the name of the game. The interactive part was creating a Mii-like
avatar for your character. That character you create then took part in a
cut scene that would seem to kick off the start of the game. Gameplay
trailers for the game look good but the "demo" didn't give even a taste.
South Peak Games seems to have stretched their ambitions a bit and gone
beyond the Dukes of Hazard and Wild Wild West videogames of their past.
They were pimping their new MMO Two Worlds which, despite
generating some buzz beforehand, seemed to generate very little interest
at the expo itself, since its booth was mainly empty the times I went by.
I've heard some pretty bad things about the demo too.
Ubisoft's Frag Dolls (all-female gaming team) were on site as part of
their recruitment of 2 new members. The candidates played a lot of
matches for the crowd. The Frag Dolls also held a panel discussion on
Sunday, answering questions from the audience.
One of the few times I got to sit down in the exhibit hall, I played a big
of Empire Earth 3. My history with the series isn't great. I got
the first in the series years back, played two rounds, and just hated it.
As a real-time strategy game, it was so very boring and bland. Now the
whole concept behind the game was that you play from prehistory to
futuristic warfare, kind of like the Civilization series but as an RTS. I
don't know if Empire Earth got better as a game after you advanced from
rock throwing. With all that in mind, I sat down to give the series
another try. The booth worker chatted a bit and then loaded up one of the
save games on the machine. In this particular scenario, my super-advanced
civ owned almost the entire map and had an entire army camped out not too
far from my enemy's last remaining camp. My opponent, by the way, was a
feudal Japan town with only a handful of units and buildings. It was a
slaughter since, not surprisingly, Japanese bowmen can do very little
against tanks, artillery, and mechs. This was their demonstration of how
the game played? To his credit, the booth worker offered to show me
another scenario but by then what little interest I had was used up.
Wizards of the Coast was at PAX to give some tantalizing insight into
their recently announced D&D 4th Edition. Solid details were not
given, just a lot of talk of the way they want to incorporate more
computer and internet tools into the way people play tabletop RPGs. The
tools looked cool, but part of the whole draw to me of tabletop RPGs is
the face-to-face social aspect of it.
The Penny-Arcade store was packed the whole time. I'd say that at least
half of their t-shirt designs were sold out by Sunday.
Rockstar was pimping Manhunt 2 hard and yet had nothing to show of
it. No demo, no trailer, not even screenshots. Just lots of Manhunt
stickers. They had a few Wii stations set up for Table Tennis.
Speaking of the Wii, they had a number of consoles running the new Metroid
Prime 3. Me, I haven't played Metroid since the original, so you can tell
what my level of interest is.
Sword of the New World (Granado Espada) is a fairly recent MMORPG
from Korea. It seems to have a more renaissance feel as opposed to all
the straight fantasy games out there. And it seems to be pitching itself
to gamers interested in dress-up because I've seen a lot of intricate
costumes in the screenshots I've seen. In fact, their booth babe (they
were one of very few booths with costumed booth babes) had this nice
little short short thigh-high boots with red jacket ensemble. The game
itself I know almost nothing about.
Playstation had a lot of demos running and one of the cutest booth babes
at the expo (I'm a sucker for redheads even though she wasn't in costume).
The Heavenly Sword demo was flashy but it wasn't clear if it really
had rewarding gameplay.
The Witcher was running demos constantly along with a fairly long
cut scene trailer. I can't say the in-game combat looked all that
interesting to me. The cut scene was of a long drawn out fight between
the main character and some ugly demon. It went on just way too long,
demonstrating that the main character is so badass that he can beat up
demons with his fists. At the end he pulls out his sword and the demon
THQ (and developers like Gas Powered Games) had a booth showing of a wide
variety of games. The Frontlines: Fuel of War demos looked decent,
sort of a next-gen BF 2142, complete with vehicles and player-controlled
UAVs. There was a Supreme Commander expansion which, sadly, I did
not get a chance to play. I did get a chance at the WWII expansion
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. The British side I was playing
was quite different from the Americans or Germans and by the time I
learned its quirks, I was losing too badly to easily catch up. And their
HUGE lcd monitors placed about 8 inches from the player did not make the
game easier to play. THQ was also showing of their Conan
videogame, not to be confused with Age of Conan, which was not in evidence
at the expo. Conan, on the other hand, I got to watch for a bit. I also
got to watch the Conan-themed booth babe. Rowrr.
Haze is an interesting concept. On one side of the conflict,
you've got the government and their drug-using supersoldiers. On the
other, rebels who've learned to use those drugs against the supersoldiers
by causing them to overdose and go psychotic. I got to play a bit of this
FPS on the PS3 in co-op mode and of course I had trouble with the
controller. Not bad but since it's on the PS3 there's effectively no
chance I'll ever play it. Haze was one of the few booths to have a booth
stud rather than a booth babe and this guy was buff enough to put the
soldiers at the America's Army to shame.
Kane & Lynch ran on three big widescreen, demoing a bank robbery
scenario straight out of Heat. I can't tell if it was the players or the
controls, but it sure looked to me like the people playing the demo just
couldn't hit crap.
Assassin's Creed looks great. Some real attention to detail with
fluid combat and interaction with the environment. Sadly I didn't get to
see the entire demo.
I spent a little while Tycho & Gabe (Penny Arcade creators) did crowd
question and answer sessions. Besides giving me a chance to rest my feet,
these were also fairly entertaining, even though I'm not a huge Penny
Arcade fan myself.
Though I didn't get Wil Wheaton's autograph or listen to his speech, I did
manage a photo of him pointing out the scientific truth on his shirt.
(Updated Monday, October 1, 2007 1:08 PM)