YWBL4DA @ Rezzed

Setting out early in the morning, the journey to the conference was exciting enough and thats before we even got into the Brighton Centre. I had traveled down with a couple of other members of YWBL4DA (Sassenach and Rifter) and on arriving successfully at the Brighton park & ride we went to take a look at the bus station to see when the next bus into town would be. On learning that it was over an hour away it was suggested we walk the two point something miles to the coast where the conference centre was.

What we thought was going to be a casual strole down to the coast took us over perilously high mountain climbs and steep crevasses that clearly no sane person would normally walk especially when a bus is provided. Too far now to turn back we had no option but to press on. The bad turned to worse when roughly half way through the walk, the heavens opened and a downpoor of biblical proportions lashed at us for the remainder of the way added torrential streams that we had to forde as we decended the cliffs to the sea.

Soaked to the bone and considerable blisters developing on my feet we finally made it to the front doors of the conference centre just as the sun came out from the clouds and the weather started to improve. Never mind that though we were heading in doors to get dried off.

I will break down by game / talk which is roughly in chronological order as well:

This was the first thing we went to see behind the secretive 18s only curtain, Borderlands 2 had quite a large setup with a good 10 or so machines set up to play. Sass, Rifter and I were all able to sit down and get a game together although GearBox in their wisdom had set up the demo units with only Xbox controllers to play which was a little disappointing at a conference aimed at PC gamers.

In terms of the experience, the level we got to play was the Hyperion Plaza level which has been shown in some of the released gameplay videos, the mission is to cut down handsome Jacks (The main bad guy) statues. This was later shown in a play through by Randy Pitchford which I will cover a little later on.

The game felt very slick, the graphics seemed slighly nicer although familiar and the change in colour pallette, something Randy joked about, was very welcome. On the whole it offered the experience I wanted as a fan of the previous game, dont expect radical change but lots and lots of little improvements and UI feedback which make the game more fun. Things like having better feedback on which elements are doing damage to the target or which elements they are able to ‘resist’. The guns themselves being wholly more interesting with lots more visual effects to differentiate them. The skill trees being more involved offering entirely new methods and attacks rather than just stat boosts (although these are still available too).  The enemies being more varied and demonstrating damage in different ways such as arms and legs being blown off robots or soldiers dropping heavy shields if you hit them in the right place.  These all added positive nuances however it was still familiar enough to settle back into the same general flow of the previous game.

On the whole a very positive demo, the game has lots more detail and feels more frantic than the previous. Nothing Ive seen has made me regret preodering, although concerns still remain regarding its PC optimisation despite Randys assurances on this front.

On the subject of Randy, as I mentioned earlier we also attended his presentation and Borderlands demo.  Ive already talked about the game experience and largely the same points were emphasised so im not going to cover that again. Randy, assisted by two colleagues did a live walkthrough of the same level that was available on the exhibition floor. He talked a lot about the areas that they had improved on as well as picking out a lot of the additions, mostly picked out above, throughout the demo. All in all it was a slick presentation although I would say more geared to the ‘whooping and shouting’ of an American fan base than the rather more reserved English audience he was confronted with.

Interestingly, based on a show of hands survey that Randy opened with, pretty much everyone who attended the presentation was previously a borderlands player and I would estimate that there were a good 70-100 people in the room.

In terms of the questions he answered, I highlighted the fact that one of the more fun experiences, namely the vault run in the Knoxx DLC required a hack and an exploit to be able to do repeatedly, and asked had they learnt from this?

He confirmed that they were aware of the exploit and specifically hadnt ‘fixed’ it. Borderlands 2 plans for considerably more end game activity so that it can become a ‘hobby’ his word not mine.  Essentially the delivery of rewarding, repeatable content is something that they are looking to provide.  Experiences such as Crawmerax which were added in the previous game.

Somebody else from the crowd threw a suckerpunch in the name of Duke Nukem which Randy deflected and then followed up with a question regarding the PC Love Letter (which details how Borderlands 2 is going to be optimised for PC). Randy was quite defensive at this, largely re-inforced what the letter said but didnt really offer any specifics. He said that they hadnt had time to put in all that stuff in Borderlands 1 but it will go in this time. Essentially they had previously prioritised the console release.

My take, turning up to a PC show with Xbox pads is poor show really. Also the multiplayer setup menus and connectivity were a little ropey too. Appreciate this was a demo but its looking worryingly consoley at the moment.  Hopefully this will improve prior to release.

No SDK is planned and no ‘active’ support for modding. They anticipate that the community will provide the tools as they did before. He alluded to the fact that Gearbox developers had helped steer the community in the right direction on these tools which would suggest they weren’t necessarily against the hacked weapons / upgrades etc that occurred in the previous game.

Someone also asked about whether any of the endgame material required multiplayer groups, specifically 4 players. Randy said it is something that they have considered but not for the initial release as they want the content to be balanced amongst both multiplayer and single player users. He said it was something they wanted to explore in future DLC where they could make it clear to the purchaser that it was aimed at multiplayer groups so as to avoid disappointment.

Finally someone asked about multi device integration ie PS Vita or Smartphone. Randy asked what the asker thought the usecase was and they highlighted the inventory and skill tree which would be suitable for a touchscreen device. Randy said it was something they were aware of but havent initiated yet as they do not believe in leveraging technology for the sake of it. Not discounted but essentially seems unlikely.

Overall I thought that Randy came across as a little defensive in his positioning and his question answering. An interesting stance for him to take and again gives me a niggly feeling about how well optimised this will be for PC. Time will tell I guess. As I said, on the whole the game looked and played very well.

Also in the over 18s section it was obvious that Sega had provided a healthy budget for the show with massive billboards, queues into the game and two marines and an Alien stomping around the place.

The game itself however was a little disappointing in truth. What they had on display was simply a TDM match on a single level between a group of 5 aliens and 5 marines. SEGA employees were playing as the aliens which meant that you could only play as the marines.

On the upside they provided keyboard and mouse as well as Xbox controller (razer products I noticed).  The YWBL4DA boys all gave a good account of themselves having positive K:D ratios (Sass achieved the highest) however our two other teammates being Xbox controller users were simply killed again and again and we ultimately lost to the SEGA Aliens.

As for the experience it was pretty meh. It felt very similar to the TDM mode in the recently released AvP game which I think was a bit of a mistake for SEGA. For me this game will win or lose on its 4 player coop campaign mode which is the only real differentiator between this and other Aliens franchise games but sadly this wasnt available to see.

I quizzed one of the SEGA guys to try and get a feel for whether it was going to be a scripted coridor shooter and he didnt do a great deal to dispel this view. I said I wanted Left 4 Dead with aliens but he tended more to the story and the scripted events and bosses.  Admittedly the story looks strong as do some of the events discussed and it was slick on the PC, looked pretty etc, but Im still not expecting great things in terms of originality and longevity.

An interesting one to attend as they didnt really have anything ‘new’ to show that you couldnt have played already. I think this was a case of broadening their userbase as well as giving Dean a platform for how he wants to take the project forward.

Sass got to fly around in a chopper which he ultimately crashed into a tree. We joked about the possibility of other people finding the crash site and thinking they were going to get epic loot and actually just finding out some muppet crashed it.

Im not going to go into impressions of the game, as most likely, you’ve played it, and if you havent, then you should.  What I am going to say is that we had an opportunity to talk with Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall  as well as another senior DayZ community member.

It becomes clear very quickly that the growth and popularity of this game has far exceeded their expectation with Dean claiming that they have now attracted just under half a million players.  I think its fair to say that the pressure of maintaining the momentum of the project as well as staying in touch with the community is taking its toll.

For my part, I think that Bohemia would do well to get their PR team onto this sooner rather than later.  They need to support Dean in focusing on expanding his idea and distributing this to the ever growing fanbase, but also provide him with the experienced support to manage the community and organised events.

Dean did a good job with the presentation and made lots of interesting points regarding the future directions he is looking to take, but this was slightly marred by a display area whos PCs were down during several parts of the day and limited promotional materials to hand out to interested attendees.  Problems like these are easily fixable but not without people to help you.

There is no doubt that DayZ is going to go on to be a success of some measure, but without this support, the question remains at what cost.

Had a really interesting chat with the lead developer of this about how he feels about Firaxis and whether they have stolen their thunder. Was also able to talk to him about the kickstarter experience and what its meant to him.

Essentially he thinks they are ultimately developing different games. Hes quite realistic about which is ultimately going to be more successful but thinks that the games will appeal to different or even both audiences.

His take is that Xenonauts is a faithful revisit of the old game. Its not looking to change anything fundamentally but simply fix a lot of the issues that remained in the original as well as give it a new coat of paint. They are about to go into BETA and expect to finish the game this year.

He believes that Firaxis are essentially taking the flavour of the old game but bringing in lots of modernisation to appeal to the current market. There will ultimately be similarities however its obvious that it is going to be quite a different experience to the original.

Having spent some time talking to Firaxis and seeing their latest promo I can confirm he’s probably right. The question however still remains whether people will be willing to buy both.

Regarding kickstarter of which he succcessfully recieved £150,000 in funding it was quite interesting to see how he coped with the change. He talked about the massive increase in communication that he had to manage and how as essentially a one man team it was quite hard keeping up with all the emails he received. He confirmed that the nature of kickstarter is that although this dies down a little you do have to maintain that level of communication which can be challenging when you are trying to work on development too.

I have to say it was a very positive chat and although the Firaxis game looks to provide more of the experience im interested in, the talk with him on friday made me far more interested in his product.

I had a very very brief play of it and its largely as you would expect. If you have played Xcom then you know what you see. The graphics were reminicent of the late 90s isometrics rather than the early 90s and the artwork was top quality. Game play felt intuitive although the alpha we were playing crashed due to a bug.

Had a dedicated presentation room to themselves and ran several sessions during the course of the day. This was overkill in my view, they had a new gameplay video to show but that was largely it as they didnt go into a great deal of detail on the game.

The video showed a staged setup of a terror mission that essentially enabled them to show off some of the entry level marine tech, some of the alien classes and the later stage technology you will research. I say staged as this was put together specifically for the purpose of the trailer and will not represent real gameplay.

That said some of the elements it brough out were nice, it was good to see how the graphical engine and the replays are coming along, the interaction with the environment such as taking cover and ‘hunkering down’.

They showed off the class system which basically enables you to start leveling up a character the longer they stay alive, rewarding them with stat increases but also perks along a class tree the more they get promoted.

There wasnt anything on either the global view or the base view. Although Sid Meier was modelled as a Psy enabled sargeant which raised a chuckle from me as I watched. The presenter seemed to appreciate that at least one of us knew who he was.

I asked the question about whether multiplayer was going to be included to which I was answered that ‘we are not allowed to talk about multiplayer’. I suspect that its on the cards but they are not sure how they are going to get it working yet.

Other questions were largely about the vehicles (tanks), weapons, research and materials to which the answer was its all more or less the same as the old game.

Outside of the demo I asked one of the guys about how base battles were going to work and hes said that they tried to get them functioning with the new view but its not going to happen. Ultimately the decision has been taken that in the old game when a base battle happened it was too OP in favour of the Aliens and ultimately too damaging. This has been removed for the initial release however they are not ruling it out for a future update.

Overall the presentation shouted a lot, but didnt really have a great deal to shout about. Heavily restricted by PR I imagine, although what I did see looked good. Made me feel even more sorry for the poor Xenonauts guy.

Im covering this off both as a game we played as well as a presentation.

Both Sass and Rifter had played before so were familiar with the game. I on the other hand was coming in pretty cold, I was aware of the concept but not really in any great detail.

Talking to the guys it was clear that the concept was interesting, essentially an asymetrical forces lineup of aliens vs marines FPS combat with a commander fulfilling an RTS role over the top of that, building base components and providing orders and direction to the FPS players.

The game engine is lovely and all their own work, something ill come onto later. The concept is sound too and for the most part the implementation is slick.

The parts where I think they have missed a trick are that the game relies heavily on the capability of the commander. They admit themselves that if your commander doesnt know what hes doing for the first 30-60 seconds of the game, its likely you will go on to lose that round.

For me this is essentially going to limit the appeal as it seems that has a very steep learning curve.

Coupled with that the commander is expected to manage the other players predominantly through voice comms. There are some on screen indications that he can provide but essentially he is looking to pursuade people to follow him by talking to them. For me this is the critical gap. Games like Bad Company and Left 4 Dead provide indication of what is required from the player by on screen prompts. Heal this, remair that, go here, defend this etc etc. My view is the commander should be able to do 80% of his work through this method, communicate with his players by giving them on screen indications to follow rather than through voice communication. If the remaining 20% makes him an excellent commander then great but a reasonable commander should be able to ‘do the job’ simply through the interface.

Without this I think they are going to be putting a lot of burden on a single player who is going to be subject to a great deal of vitriol should the team lose. Not a great way to get people to play your game.

Presentationwise it has to be said that in my opinion this was one of the best. The guy presenting did come across as a little too PR’y at times but on the whole, knew his subject, was able to dip in and out of his presentation and a live game at will, and was generally able to enthuse the audience on the product which only a few seemed familiar with.

Some key points that I took away:

The engine is entirely open source and they are fully commited to supporting modding. Infact they are actively relying on the community to improve certain components as they dont have the bredth to do it themselves. A sensible although brave approach in my view. Realistic considering their resources.

The game is going to be deployed via steam and uses all their technologies including VAC. Expect to see it released there soon.

They are actively targetting being an E-Sport and are looking to do all they can to make this happen. Based on what I saw it could be a very fun game to watch in this fashion, something that they are keen to highlight. They seem to get both that E-Sports need to offer the level of competition required but also the visual spectacle to support viewers. They are promoting their own events internally and are hoping to grow that. The dynamic of the RTS view and the FPS view could be very visually appealing but the speed of the game could make it difficult to commentate on. Worth checking out though in my mind.

I came away knowing it wasnt really my type of game but I would be quite interested to watch some co-ordinated matches.

Literally got minutes with this before we were kicked out of the Conference Hall. It was still pre-alpha but looked very very slick. Chris Delay of Introversion had been around but we missed him so did get a chance for a chat.

Essentially this is ‘Theme Prison’ with the same build mechanic and darker sense of humour. Even in the few minutes we played of this its potential was clear. Definately something to keep an eye on

And The Rest…

There was a bunch of other games we checked out including Shootmania which looked slick and clearly targetting the e-sports arena. Basically an alternative to Unreal Tournament in the brief view I had of it. Didnt spend any time with Secret World or TERA although they were both there. There was another space shooting game in the mould of Freespace and Freelancer both of which the developer cited as heavy influences. I cant remember its name.

We came away with a bunchload of free stuff including codes for Ghost Recon Online, discounts on Borderlands and Serious Sam 3, various T-Shirts and other bits and pieces.

I also played Battlefield 3 again and still dont think Im missing anything.  Sorry EA no Origin for me.

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