Originally Published: 11 October 2010
Friday 1st October
It was a slightly dull, dreary and overcast day that met the first visitors to the Eurogamer Expo this year, but we didn’t let the inclement weather dampen our spirits. While the golfers at the Ryder Cup were cowering in the clubhouse and complaining about the weather, we gamers were made of sterner stuff and braving the conditions like the troopers we are. If I’m honest it was only spitting, and the event was inside, but that’s not what we’re focusing on here.
Slightly later than planned, the doors opened and those of us lucky enough to be adorned with press passes were ushered into the vast space of West Brompton Hall, Earls Court, and presented with a feast of over forty games available for our consumption. While a couple, like Halo: Reach and F1 2010 had already been released, the majority of the titles were as yet unreleased and waiting for the masses to descend upon the control pads like game-hungry locusts. And we had two whole hours to play them all before the general public was allowed in.
My first job, as I arrived in the hall, was to have a quick look round at what was on offer. Or at least that was the plan. But somewhere along the way, as I passed the fabled curtain sealing the over-18 games away from prying eyes, I got side-tracked. I found myself in New Vegas, sporting a rather natty mohican and some of the best intelligence stats I have seen for a while. Fallout: New Vegas is formed from the same mould of Fallout 3, and that’s no bad thing. What I learnt in the brief, erm, hour or so I played the game is that it’s still incredibly addictive and great fun to play. As I stood there, chuckling to myself (in a somewhat evil fashion) as coyotes flew through the air in balletic slow -motion following a VATS kill shot, I felt safe and content to be back in the arms of a franchise that I have lost many, many an hour to in the past. As time marched on, and I realised that I should probably stop playing, I was sad to leave. Partly because the game was excellent (and quite swiftly pre-ordered) but mainly because I’d put a lot of effort into making my character and I was sad to see him go. I was in two minds whether to ask if I could download my save data and take it with me, if I’m honest.
This was very much an Expo packed with sequels, with Killzone 3, Dead Space 2 and Gears of War 3 all on offer in the over-18s area. Dead Space 2 drew me in, having loved the first part, but a couple of tries of the demo saw me end my game having my face melted off by a necromorph, but gave me enough of a glimpse into the game to know that Dead Space 2 captures all the creeping menace of the first title – you still get the feeling that you should go everywhere with your cutting tool drawn and ready, just in case a lumbering necromorph leaps out at you from the shadows. And they will. I learnt that. Twice.
But while the games were there to be played – and played they were – Friday, for me, was all about the Developer Sessions. Starting at noon, with possibly the longest queue of people you’ve ever seen (there should be t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “I survived the Peter Molynuex queue”), the first developer talk was by gaming’s most talkative person – Peter Molyneux. As we filed into the auditorium it was immediately obvious that this talk would be somewhat different to the norm. Maybe it was the suit of armour, the tree or the well that adorned the stage, or maybe it was the fighting townsfolk and the town crier – there was something about this talk which promised to be a little bit special.
As Peter took to the stage, waving a bandaged hand (an injury from too much mouse use, he claimed), the crowd fell silent and was treated to a run through the various things that have influenced the Fable series – everything from Kill Bill through to Ico and Mad Max 2, and even the Portrait of Dorian Gray has had a little part to play in the conception of the Fable series – but it was when Peter started talking about Fable III that most people started to pay attention. We were asked, during the talk, about the choice at the end of Fable II – a disturbing number of people chose to save the dog over the millions of people in Albion, for which we were chastised by the great man himself. The reason he wanted to gauge our reaction to that final choice of Fable II is because you’re given a similar choice within ten minutes of starting the third part of the saga. Anyone who played that particular demo on the show floor will know the choice you have to make – I made the decision not to play that particular demo, purely because I didn’t want to spoil that decision for me and I still don’t know what it is at this moment. Peter also hinted that the final third of the game contained a huge plot twist and it was something that even he was not able to talk about – something which, as one of the Lionhead developers commented on the show floor, is a very unusual thing indeed. Fable III looks, plays and sounds like it’s the best Fable game yet – so much so that, on Saturday, two young boys spent the majority of the day playing the seven available demos.
The rest of the afternoon was spent moving from Developer Sesssion to Developer Session. I was introduced to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, with a playthrough of the demo that you may have already seen at E3. Sucker Punch brought along Infamous 2 and really rose to the challenge when there was no sound to accompany the playthrough. If I was them, I’d look to incorporate a special soundtrack which incorporates them making “pe-ow” noises and roaring like the mutants. While it would have been better with the actual soundtrack, it was a testament to the presentation that we were all glued to the action with these homemade sound effects.
Any visitor to the hall on Friday will have noticed the repeated playing of Poker Face by Lady Gaga. And when I say repeated I mean, repeated ad nauseum. The source of this noise was the Kinect area, and the Dance Central experience. The Kinect stand, in general, was drawing a lot of interest – this was partly due to the Dance Central ladies who were incredibly good at the dancing, and partly due to the novelty of Kinect itself. Indeed, many a person was standing around the Dance Central area and gawping – whether it was at the general public dancing or the agile Kinect ladies was debatable at most points during the weekend. On the opposite side of the wall was more Kinect action, with slightly less glamour, as people clamoured to play the other titles on offer – Kinect Sports, Joyride and Kinect Adventure. For all the talk of Kinect needing a well-lit room, and plenty of space to play it in, it seemed to work quite well in the subdued lighting of the Expo hall.
Going head-to-head with Dance Central, Def Jam Rapstar (previewed here by John) had a full stage set-up complete with resident DJ and a huge amount of paper money just crying out for groups of budding rap superstars to get up and show off their stuff. Rap really isn’t my thing, so it was strictly a watch but don’t touch game from my point of view and what I saw looked to be quite good fun even if it did just look a little bit like Singstar but with talking. And there was no Fresh Prince of Bel Air in there either.
Saturday 2nd October
On Saturday, I was joined by Jo and Giles (who split his time between hanging out with us, and giving great in-depth designer talks at the Relentless Software stand in the careers fare) and our first port of call was a mysterious black tent in the Nintendo area. I had seen the tent on Friday, and, other than the ever-present queue, I hadn’t given it a second thought as I had vowed to explore the Nintendo area in more depth on the Saturday. And so it was that we three Ready Uppers found ourselves waiting to play the latest in the Legend of Zelda saga – a game so secretive it has to be played in a dark, unassuming tent. Only two of us could play, so Giles chose to stand and watch as Jo and myself hacked and slashed our way through the timed demo (if it hadn’t been timed I would still be in there). The Skyward Sword is a motion-plus game, meaning that it’s a lot more responsive to your movements that you’d find with Twilight Princess and it’s also a bright and happier looking game, harking back to the N64 stories. Sadly time ran out as I was squaring off with the end-of-demo boss and, despite all appearances, I chose to use all my health vials because I find it more exciting when it’s a pure life or death struggle and not because I was having the virtual living daylights kicked out of me. Luckily, because we were entombed in the black tent of secrecy no-one knows how badly I fared.
There was only one Developer talk for me today – and it was one that I couldn’t miss under any circumstances. Entitled “Cooking With Hello Games”, I was equal parts intrigued and scared as I joined the queue and, I will admit, a little saddened by the lack of any ovens or chef outfits once we got into the hall. But this wasn’t about cooking cake, this was about getting the right mix of ingredients to create the success of a game like Joe Danger – a game I’d got to play, and fell in love with, at last year’s Expo in Leeds. It was a genuine story of success, though, as Hello Games (a team of four people based in Guildford) have really done well with the self-published release. It was a story of how, when approaching publishers, they were asked if Joe could be a monkey. It was a story of how, when asking the community what kind of DLC they’d want, they were asked if Joe could be a monkey. In short, Joe can now be a monkey. But it didn’t end there – as the talk drew to a close a challenge was laid down – could David Ream, Creative Director of Hello Games, complete the final level in one run. We watched him crash, smash and generally die throughout the question and answer sesssion – a few times he looked like he’d finish the run only to be thwarted by a bed of spikes of a hurdle that, ironically, he’ll have put there himself when designing the level. As time marched on it didn’t look like we’d see a successful run completed, but at the last minute he did it. He nailed every jump, he collected every coin, landed every target and avoided every obstacle. A massive round of applause rang out. A deserved round of applause, in fact. And, as it turns out, there was cake after all.
Saturday was very much a Ready Up day at the Expo – as well as Jo and Giles we also hooked up with Fran, Susan and Dean to tear it up on Rock Band 3. You already know what you’re going to get with Rock Band, and the addition of a keyboard has just made the third version a little bit more fun – and it means that you need more people to put together a full band. While queuing to get on the game both Giles and Susan volunteered their services to groups ahead of us who were lacking a vocalist – where Susan chose the more sedate method of just getting on and singing, Giles took a more different route endeavouring to whip the crowd into a frenzy and get them singing along if they knew the words. And then it was our turn. Dean sat the tune-making out, disqualifying himself from the line up while we were in the queue by saying he’d only played Guitar Hero once and had been boo-ed off the stage. In his absence we drafted in the Monobrow himself – yes Ben Talbot, formally of OXM and now the Community Manager at Rare, took time out from his Kinect duties to play some drums with the Ready Up house band. And we rocked it.
Sunday 3rd October
The final day of the Expo, and I turned up slightly earlier than I had been arriving on the previous two days to find that the public queue was, frankly, huge – certainly a lot longer than I’d seen it on the previous two days.
As today was the final day we set out to cram as much into our time in the hall as we could. After overdosing on Fable III (even though I’d sworn I wouldn’t have a go as I’d spend a month longing for the full game), we split up to go our separate ways for a while. Jo wanted to make sure she’d played everything she wanted to while I had something very important to deal with.
I love Little Big Planet and I think I’ve made it clear to various people that I’m gutted I wasn’t included in the Little Big Planet 2 Beta so, armed with the knowledge that the team from Media Molecule was on the show floor adorned in fetching green and pink t-shirts I struck out to find them and beg, steal or borrow my way to an LBP2 Beta access code. I watched people playing the game as I waited for my moment, for one of the development team to come free and then it was my moment. Explaining how happy Little Big Planet made me, and how many times I’d watched the trailer for the second game, I made it. My email was added to the list and the Beta code would be winging its way to me post haste. To say that I was quite chuffed would have been an understatement, something which was reiterated later on during the day as Jo and myself spent some quality time enjoying the worlds on offer.
Throughout the course of the Expo, over 20,000 people had been through the doors and enjoyed the multitude of games on offer. It’s a testament to the organisation of the event that, even with such high foot-flow, nothing felt incredibly crowded. Where there were queues (I’m looking at you, Brink. Outstanding game and deserving of such long queues, but there were times that you felt that some of the queues would still be there after the game was released) they were well managed. But with so many games on offer, what was the game of the Expo? I’m torn between all the titles I’ve mentioned in the course of this feature – and that’s without considering the excellent Enslaved, or the (still too gimmicky for my liking, although the visuals were effective) 3D titles like Killzone 3 and Motorstorm: Apocalypse. Or Crysis 2, or Vanquish, or Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
I think that anyone who went to the Expo will come away with something different. I know that I’m especially looking forward to Fallout: New Vegas and Fable III, but maybe that’s just because they’re the closest release dates and I know I’ll have to wait longer for the other great games.
With the Eurogamer Expo, you know it’s going to be a well run event and each year seems to build on the successes of the last, so roll on next year because judging from this year it’s going to be unbelievably amazing.