Wednesday, March 31, 2010

PAX East 2010 Final Day

Sunday was the best day. It's too bad that just as we got into the swing of things we had to wrap it all up. I started the day in the pitch your game idea panel, which was hilarious. The best idea and winner was iDrag, in which you use your iPhone as a way to connect with other players and then drag race. Probably illegal, but still has some hilarious potential.

Directly folling that panel was the Sunday PA Q&A which was really funny. There were a lot of words of thanks for setting up PAX East, several thank you's for the work done for Child's Play, and a lot of hilarious moments including a challenge for Mike and Jerry to arm wrestle. Mike won, but Jerry was quite worried that even in losing he may have damaged his gravy train's drawing implement. Maybe a tactical error, there.

After the panel I wandered around and got some merch. Went over to MC Frontalot's booth and said hey, got his new album Zero Day and a t-shirt, thanked him for the great show and went on my merry way. Picked up a PAX East shirt, had to do that of course.

The closing ceremony was later in the day, in which the final teams of Omeganauts battled for first place. Their trial was a relay of NES games, going in order from Super Mario Brothers to Rad Racer to Tetris and finally to Contra. The battle was tough and fraught with technical difficulties, ending in somewhat of a controversy, but it was entertaining nontheless. With a promise to meet back in one year, PAX came to a close.

We didn't want Sunday to end, so even after the actual event was over we gamed late into the night in the Boston Sheraton lobby. More Settlers of Cataan was played. We even tried to get Wil Wheaton to play with us, but he was pretty wiped out. I can't blame him. But even the fact that the conversation happened is the real reason for PAX -- getting together and acting like a real community. And I came away with the same feeling that Wil did. Gamers, as a group, are a welcoming bunch, and even though we're too often hanging out at home, when we get together, we're a close-knit group willing to put a lot of other things aside to accept other people and have fun.

Monday showed its face with rain and cold winds, the emotions of sadness at the end of the event made real in the very atmosphere. But we pressed on, ever westward, back home into the embrace of our loved ones. The promise remains -- let the accepting spirit of PAX live on in the days between in all that you do, act as Wil says and don't be a dick, until once again you can be welcomed home at another PAX.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

PAX East 2010 Friday and Saturday

Friday was the actual beginning of the con. I spent the morning walking in Boston, and checked out the Boston Public Library. There is some incredible artwork and architecture in the building, I highly suggest checking it out. Then it was back to the convention center for the start of the show.

This began the first part of standing around in lines. This was a big part of the experience. I liked the games that were done in the queue room, but after a couple days it got to be a little bit stale. There's a real opportunity for other vendors to leverage this time to do game demos and presentations. Wizards of the Coast could pick a couple people out of the audience and teach Magic the Gathering, or a game development company could do a live demo. There's a lot of time that vendors could reach a lot of people, and the people in line could be entertained while they wait. I felt this was a big missed opportunity.

After a bit of a wait (actually a couple hours) we finally got into the convention center proper. I went straight up to the expo hall and checked it out. I was a little underwhelmed with the Nintendo booth, but started my crazy campaign of Pokewalker connections. Went over and checked out the Split/Second demo which I really liked. However, I waited too long and didn't make it into the Wil Wheaton keynote, which kind of bummed me out. I heard it was fantastic.

Hung out in the handheld area for a bit, no one was really working on anything, and then met up with the rest of the crew later. We toured the expo hall and checked things out, then grabbed dinner at the mall. Back to the expo for another wait in line, and we prepped for the Friday night concerts starring the Protomen, Anamanaguchi, Metroid Metal, and MC Frontalot. Frontalot especially, being one of the biggest reasons I'd come to PAX. The wait was killer, things were late getting started, and I was kind of bummed to wait so long. But finally things got kicked off, and the longer the show went on, the better things got.

Finally MC Frontalot came on, and the show was great. He performed several songs from the new album Zero Day, full of great tracks. I picked the album up at the convention, even though it's not out yet, yay! I especially liked his performance of First World Problem from the show and of course the Penny Arcade Theme. I went to bed happy at 2am, and only the first day was over.

Saturday dawned late, since most of us were wrecked. I got to the floor late, and saw my first glimpses of some of the great cosplayers: dudes in Gears of War and Fallout 3 armor, ladies in Bayonetta getup, partners and groups. Cool to see. Went back to the expo hall, hung out in the room for a bit, and then back down to get our game on. We played a couple games of Settlers of Cataan, a couple with complete strangers. That was a ton of fun. All throughout PAX we had people asking us to game with them, it was a great community. We played Settlers to finish out the night, and went back to the room to crash in prep for the last day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

PAX Trip, Day 2

Had a great second day of travel from Cleveland to Boston. The travel was very smooth, made it from Cleveland to Boston in an unheard-of eleven hours. Especially with stops, that was some incredible time.

Once we got to the train stop, we were pleasantly surprised by the area we parked in. Nice new condos in a cool suburb. Great place to place our rides. We then took the train ride into Boston, which was pretty easy. We then took a short walk to our hotel, stopping to see a Mercedes SLK 55 on the way in, very nice. The city was crazy busy but the walk was good.

After we got into the hotel, we set our stuff down in our rooms. Unfortunately, our room wasn't going to work for three large men, and we managed to get switched to a suite. Great luck.

Then we decided to go out to eat. Got a good tip from the hotel, went to a place called Bukowski's, which was a tiny little bar but served food as well. Got a great stout called Murphy's, a nitro blend that was super-smooth. We were trying to meet another group who was wandering around slightly lost in Boston, and were holding a table for them. However, as we were holding the table, I saw a familiar face come into the place -- Wil Wheaton. No joke. The waitress was trying to find a spot for them, came over to us and said "Could they have this table?" I just about fell over myself offering up our table, sacrificing our friends spots for Wil. We tried to be cool through dinner, and once he got up to leave I told him good luck at the speech. He said thanks and said that he was nervous but was finally getting excited for it. It was pretty cool to met him, he seemed like a cool guy, and I'm glad he's going to be giving the keynote for PAX as one of the voices of the PA nation.

Afterwards, geeking out about meeting an icon, we all came back to the hotel, had some shots, and are currently hanging out in the hotel. Hell of a great first day, and it can only possibly get better from here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

PAX Trip Begins Today!

Finally heading out for the biggest nerd convention ever tonight. Massive road trip out east to Boston. It's going to be epic.

Games I hope to see:

Nintendo -- Other M and Mario Galaxy 2 demos
2k Games -- Civilization V
Ubisoft -- Prince of Persia
Twisted Pixel -- Comic Jumper
SCEA -- Maybe, just maybe, a GT V demo?

Acts and panels I hope to see:

Uber-geek Wil Wheaton talk at the keynote
MC Frontalot rock the mic, like instead of a silence
Bill Amend talk about his dead-tree comic at a convention founded by guys who make a digital comic
A PA panel of some sort

There's a ton of other things going down, and of course all the free play opportunities: throw down in some Smash Brothers, battle pokemans, get a game of Settlers going, and maybe play D&D several hundred miles from home. The trip starts tonight, arriving in Boston on Thursday, with the con officially kicking off Friday. It's going to be like nothing else.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oh Yeah, By The Way...

... Apparently C&C 4 comes out today. Clearly I couldn't be bothered to pay attention, since there are approximately eleven million games more interesting. Although there are no reviews up anywhere, it's not looking promising. This last chapter of the Command and Conquer saga could be a real stinker.

Heavy Rain Complete

I knew I was getting toward the end, but didn't know it was just about done. I finished Heavy Rain last night, and finally got down to the truth of the story. Expertly well done, great conclusion to the story, and as tragic as the events were, a pretty happy ending, mostly. Glad to see that the loose ends were tied up well in an epilogue of sorts, allowing you to enjoy your victory (or stare on in chagrin at your defeat). As I thought, Kasey did have her theory straight way before I had worked things out. I knew I kept her around for a reason.

Overall, the game is a big success. It keeps you tied to the stories and the characters that populate it, and really care about what happens to them. Even if the controls occasionally made me wander around like an idiot in the free-move mode, the quick-time events and on-rails sections are so superb it's worth the tiny frustration to get the game to its close.

I can't wait to discuss my version of the game's events with other players to see how what I did influenced the story.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Heavy Rain Filling Up My Evenings

Started playing Heavy Rain this weekend, and I just about can't stop. From the beginning the game gripped me with its visuals, control scheme, interesting and deep character cast, and mysterious story. I've played about five hours so far, and there have been so many good moments. It's hard to talk about the game without giving much away, so I won't post specifics, but there have been so many interesting and novel elements in the game, combined with so much emotional impact. It's really an amazing example of the new type of story-driven gaming we've seen from the likes of Quantic Dream and BioWare. If your tastes lie somewhere between story-driven shooters, mystery novels, and interactive media, the melding of media within Heavy Rain is not to be missed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New News for Civ V

Only recently announced, lots more details are now coming out about Civilization V during this week's Game Developer Conference. A big theater presentation about the new game is chronicled in a great write-up at Kotaku.

There are a couple really interesting things that have changed. First, the difference in combat and how units can share spaces. One of the things that have bugged me for the longest time is unit proliferation and how you can have a million infantry units. It's a bear to manage, and it feels like individual units are almost useless. I've been happier with modern strategy games like Demigod, Sins of a Solar Empire, and Company of Heroes where a handful of great units are preferable to hordes of vanilla ones. Well, it seems that Civ V is taking a page out of their playbook. Units in Civ V will now no longer stack in spaces (beautiful, beautiful hex spaces), requiring you to have fewer at any given time. This makes combat a far more manageable affair, and treats units more like armies rather than a smaller squad. Big change, and I really like it.

The other addition that interests me is this idea of city-states. Apart from multi-city civilization that are the main factions in the game, city-states may arise in the game. They are just that, a nation of one city, that you can trade with, fight, etc. It gives a little more dynamic political climate, some more unpredictability, and some more differences in the size of your potential enemies or allies.

The game just looks gorgeous, and I'm excited to try out a fresh take on the Civ series. Even if I am a latecomer to the franchise, I love the core gameplay of turn-based strategy and open-ended empire building. Should be good.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Of Course It's Good; But Will I Play It?

Two of the games from my Top Ten for 2010 released this week: God of War III and Final Fantasy XIII. Both reviewed very well, especially God of War III. The adulations will only increase in their adulation. Last week, Heavy Rain dropped, another critically acclaimed step forward in gaming. But specifically, in the God of War III case, do I even care?

We've been incredibly spoiled for choice in the past year to six months. The quality and scope of released titles have been unbelievably good. The uptick isn't just due to review score creep or the dumbing-down of gaming. There have been so many genuinely remarkable games released in the past year that it's staggering. Consoles are at that sweet-spot of maturity and acceptance, and the Windows 7 release has attracted more people to PC gaming. Developers are experienced enough that every game has a level of polish and innovation never seen before. But the quality and amount of games may be reaching a tipping point in the industry.

All this makes it increasingly hard to shoe-horn games into a busy schedule. The average age of gamers is going up if not growing up, and that can mean less time to play. We also play games that last longer now. Developers and publishers themselves are designing games to be more valuable to us, by adding multiplay or persistent worlds, downloadable content whether free or pay-for to lengthen the game experience, and generally make games better to make us want to play them more. And there are only so many hours in the day to fill up with gaming.

I think all this is leading up to a market for video games that may actually decrease. Even if growth in the market continues, the advance in the longevity of games defeats the growth of new entrants into the market. Even if you never sleep or work, there's still only so much time in a day and time before other games release. If the games increase in length and value in an attempt for publishers to attract customers, that decreases the availability for gamers to buy and presumably play those games. It's a vicious cycle, because if value and length of gameplay is the basis for competition, eventually all games will be perpetual experiences that you'd never stop playing. The market for video games may simply trend to one game per player per lifetime.

WoW of course is the ultimate example. Assuming games are a perfect substitute for one another, a WoW player may never buy another game (expansions don't really count) and keep playing the same one for the rest of their life. That's good for Blizzard, but the market shrinks as a result. The only way to achieve any more growth in the market is to add participants, and it's unlikely that people who play WoW will breed, or to rely upon people jumping ship to another game that they can play for the rest of their life.

Now, games aren't a perfect substitute, and not everyone can play the same game for the rest of their life. But already we, as consumers, pass on so many games and platforms due to time, not price or quality.

Of course I don't want game developers to make short, terrible games. Nor do I want fewer games to choose from. But from where I sit, those publishers and developers might be trying to cut up an ever-decreasing gamer time pie. What might happen in the near future is price increases in games to combat decreasing sales. Frankly, already games are too inexpensive for what we get out of them.

That long aside done, no, I probably won't play God of War III or Final Fantasy XIII. Not because I don't want to, just because I don't have the time.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Title Created Just for Cory

That title is Tecmo Super Bowl Throwback. Seems that Tecmo is getting back into the video game scene, and I'm personally pretty jazzed up about it. I loved the game back in the day, and it's about time the overly-complicated Madden series had some kind of alternative. As long as you can continually run back and forth down the field to avoid potential tacklers, Throwback will be a fun, old-school throwback classic retro good time.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Crysis: Warhead Complete

I picked up the Crysis Maximum Edition on Steam on sale last fall for $13. It was less than regular Warhead alone, so I just got it all. I'd never played Warhead, and although it was some time before I got to it, I was in for a delight. Although the fresh feel of the original game was worn off just a little, some new innovations added some kick to the experience. Several big boss fights were a great highlight, combined with the great stealth-action-shooter gameplay of the first game. I had a great time rocking through the game up to its explosive conclusion. Expertly paced, amazing graphics, tight controls, an open environment in which to accomplish your goals, there still hasn't been a better first-person shooter than Crysis and Crysis: Warhead.