It is my first year back in the UK since I began my writing, and one of the things I had been looking forward to was Gamescom. After a childhood of lusting for a visit to the Tokyo Game Show, it was something of a cruel irony that soon after moving to Japan what transpired to be the worlds largest game show began in Europe.
I had only attended a few years of TGS, but even in that time its atrophy was clear. Diminishing numbers of companies and shrinking booth sizes proved a depressing welcome each year as (especially before they were filled with crowds) the massive halls looked empty and barren. This year I hear the trend has continued and even though I longed to be there, part of me was glad to be spared having my childhood fantasy further sullied.
At Gamescom I wasn’t sure what to expect by comparison to my Japanese experiences. I had heard tell of the size of the event, but I was unprepared for just how different it was to be. Four huge halls all packed with exhibitor’s displays some of which carried on long after the official end of the show, something unheard of at TGS. There were even outside areas for the public to go out and enjoy with a fake beach and a multitude of other attractions (electronic and otherwise) to really make it feel like a day out rather than just a queue to see your favourite upcoming game.
After the main show halls there was the conference area where the GDC Europe was taking place, and where one of my demos was to be shown. Then finally I discovered the final two business halls (just in time for my first appointment). These two storied corporate areas were unlike anything at Gamescom’s Japanese sister. All of the floor space was filled with partitioned areas dedicated to each company. No waiting, just turn up for the appointment (no freedom of choice here) and sit down with the game.
I should paint a picture of this for you. It was not the black aircraft-hanger like space of the public halls. Nearly all white and airy with tall windows the whole area was designed to relax while looking around. To that end many bars and cafes (with plenty of seating) were on hand, and publisher areas were all graced with refreshments. Overhearing a few businessmen looking at the ice cream on offer in the entrance I was amazed to hear the clearly affluent gents exclaim with shock that they had to pay. My knee jerk response was they were gits for feeling so entitled, but another quick scan of the hall made me realise that with free massages on hand for those that wanted them thinking the ice cream was gratis was probably not such a stretch.
My first appointment was with Warner Bros. With three games to see (plus one for Lollipop Chainsaw that I begged for) I spent a good chunk of time in this smallish, but well ventilated booth (did I mention that in the business section you could feel the air-con?) chatting to developers and press. It was casual, friendly, and far less harassed than I had ever felt at TGS as I relaxed in a chair with my cola.
Now after giving my previews a month on the site I wrote them for I am adding some of the links up here, beginning with Warner Bros. More posts will follow this week and give a brief chronicle of my time at the show, and some idea of how the new environment affected my views.
It was at this point my guide offered to show me a bit of what I was missing, giving him the controller he agilely reminded me just how Batman should behave. Expertly he began to utilize all of the tools on offer to take out the opponents around him, swooping through the air with more grace than I recall being possible in the previous game. In moments it was over, and I began to remember the sense of power I felt in Asylum when I was master of it.
The key to the games appeal finds itself in the Batman vs. Joker mechanic of the game. Set in a Gotham City everyone wants to emulate his or her favorite hero or a villain. The fun comes from creating a character based loosely on their team’s idol. ‘Batmen’ run around with crash helmets and body armour, while Joker-a-likes improvise all manner of amusing weaponry and make up. It is a fun and familiar shorthand that allows for a wide degree of amusing and novel customisation. Leveling up characters unlocks further upgrades and powers allowing the player to continue to evolve as they play.
As with some many games touting ‘RPG’ elements, many of Lord of the Rings – War in the North’s most intriguing features remained unavailable during the demo. Focusing on combat may well be the most immediately satisfying aspect of the game but lacked the strong ties to the fiction and the all-important attachment to the characters formed through time and customisation. If these connections can be made the low impact of the combat may pale in significance, but that remains to be seen.
Part of me feels Lollipop Chainsaw is a protest game by Suda 51, trying to pick everything he believe is popular in the West to see if that will prove more commercially successful. If so I hope it works, but as with all Suda games the outlandish style may make it hard for the mainstream to stomach. I know I will be getting it on 360 and PS3 when it releases in 2012, but it may be a hard sell to the wider audience.