Thursday, September 10, 2009

Penny Arcade Expo 2009 (Day 3)

Again I woke up feeling bruised and beaten. I had no choice but to overcome the results of the beer and late night concerting as this was my last chance to see what would become one of my favorite parts of the weekend... the SWtOR demo presentation!

Star Wars - The Old Republic

My wife and I ditched the rest of our lazy group and rushed down to make the Sunday morning demonstration of the newest Star Wars MMORPG, The Old Republic. I haven't seen much in the ways of the demo videos or screenshots or info on the web related to the game yet, so this would be mostly new to me. Having played Star Wars Galaxies during it's release and hating it and also having played KotOR and other Bioware games and loving them, I was curious as to where in the spectrum that SWtOR would fall.

The presentation started with one guy from Lucasarts and two from Bioware being way too chipper and nerdy for my liking. "Shut the hell up and show me the game you fucking turds" I muttered to myself as they rambled about stuff I didn't need to know. One thing that Bioware has been stressing since The Old Republic was announced was that it did something no other MMO has done before - focused on story. This never really made a lot of sense to me as I have played a lot of World of Warcraft and some other MMO's and while they aren't perfect, they all have some semblance of story. WoW specifically has an extremely elaborate backstory with thousands of quests and dungeons that let you take part in the outcome of the world so I really don't know what the hell Bioware thinks they are talking about.

I Would Be Lying If I Said I Wasn't Sexually
Aroused When This Title Screen Appeared

It began to make a little bit more sense as they demonstrated various parts of the gameplay... it would be safer to say that Bioware is taking the story aspect of MMO's up a notch by implementing NPC interaction the way that a single player story-driven game like the original KotOR would. A scene was demonstrated where a quest was completed and a cut scene was played. The unique aspect of this was that both the players could both respond to NPC's with custom dialogue selections. In addition it was pointed out that all dialogue in the game is voiced and that your decisions have direct consequences and effect on later on quests and environments. While I still don't buy into Bioware's arrogant claim that no one ever cared about story in a MMO, I see that they're putting a lot of effort into it and definitely taking things a step further than any other MMO (that I've played) has so far.

Republic Trooper Class Being Demonstrated

In addition to being shown the story aspect of things, the Bioware presenters went through some of the basic combat using a party of one or two and utilizing the Bounty Hunter, Sith Warrior and Trooper classes. As far as I can tell, it is very similar to World of Warcraft or any other generic modern day MMO. This might sound like an insult or a letdown but after experiencing the monumental fuck-up that was Star Wars Galaxies, I am stoked that they were smart and played it safe the second time around. Give me WoW in a Star Wars universe and I am liable to crap my pants and play for years. That being said, it is still pretty early and Bioware has a fantastic track record so I can only assume that more tidbits will appear to separate The Old Republic from any other MMO as it comes closer to release.

As a last little bonus, everyone was given free Knights of the Old Republic Steam codes as they walked out. I nabbed one for myself and a couple for my friends who had not attended the demo. All-in-all it was a very good hour and I feel as though everything else in life has had the color and brightness turned down. Food no longer tastes as good and the world seems dull and gray. I will not be able to enjoy life until I am locked in a room playing a Bounty Hunter. Please hurry up Bioware. My life depends on it.

Exhibition Hall - Blizzard

This might be an Eve blog but I can't help but think you were all still waiting for this part. Even the biggest Blizzard haters are Blizzard lovers deep down inside. I know that I personally pissed away enormous portions of my life playing Diablo, Warcraft, Starcraft and all their associated sequels and MMO variations. For this reason, a chill went down my spine and I peed a little as I looked off into the corner of the exhibition hall and saw that giant Starcraft II sign with a picture of a dirty space marine.

Starcraft II - The lines for this one were retardedly long. I did not bother waiting for a chance to play but sat off to the side and watched a few other people go through. The only playable race was Terran and... well... it looked like Starcraft with better graphics. I don't think I can make any serious judgments on this until I actually get to sit down and play it for real.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm - The line here was actually quite short but I didn't have much of an urge to play WoW in the middle of a convention. The little that I watched pretty showed the Goblin/Worgen starting zones which as usual seemed pretty solid. I am torn as to whether or not I'll bother playing this when it does come out. If there is one game I have played into the ground beyond the point of it being fun anymore, it's World of Warcraft.

Diablo III - My reluctance to stand in line finally caved when I got to the Diablo kiosks. I got into line and expected I would be waiting at least an hour for my chance to give D3 a shot but luckily several people in front of me got bored and left. Suckers. Finally my turn came and I put on the headphones and chose to try out the new Monk class. A little exploration through the menus showed that the talent trees are not yet implemented and that only a small number of skills are usable. I quickly got myself aligned with the skills and set out to click on some monsters.

The bottom line? It felt like Diablo. Everything about it felt familiar. Even the zone I was in reminded me of Act 2 in Diablo II. The most significant new additions I was able to pick up from my 10 minutes of play were:

- The graphics and especially the animations are much nicer than Diablo II. No surprise considering this is actually a 3D engine and that it's been quite some time since D2 was released.

- You can now assign skills to be swapped around and easily used via the tab key. Gives a little more flexibility than only being able to have a couple abilities accessible via the mouse at a time.

- The game seems to keep track of at least some basic stats. When you kill a certain amount of monsters in a short time you get a "Massacre" message that pops up in the corner and if it's the most you've ever killed it tells you that it is a new record. It immediately reminded me of the whole achievements thing and now I wonder if maybe achievements will now be tied into and all Blizzard games?

I ended my session at the Blizzard booth by walking up to one of the exhibitioners and asking if he could give me an exact release date on all three games. Unfortunately he was not able to provide me with any useful information. Who would have thought?

Wil Wheaton

Two years ago when I first attended PAX, the event was kicked off with a wonderful keynote speech by Wesley Crusher himself. Anyone who is a nerd and has never listened to Wil Wheaton's 2007 keynote should click here now and give it a listen.

This year when I checked the schedule I noticed that Wil might not have been the keynote speaker but he was on several panels and had his own Q&A session called the "THE AWESOME HOUR!!1". I knew I had to attend and so I did. The panel was mostly a number of stories from Wil from his book/blog and ended with a few questions from the audience.

Wil Speaks

McFrontalot Makes Wil Rap

Omegathon - Final Round

For anyone not familiar with Omegathon, twenty PAX attendees are picked mostly at random to participate in a multi part competition that goes on during the convention. They are pitted against each other in various games until only two remain and those finalists combat in front of pretty much the entire expo at the end of Sunday for the chance to win a trip to Japan along with a few thousand in spending cash. So with the rest of PAX over and most of the Omeganauts eliminated after playing games such as Rock Band and Connect Four, we got into line to watch this last round:

That Is A Lot Of Smelly
Nerds In One Long Line

After waiting in a gigantic line for what felt like hours and walking past Robert Khoo yelling at someone on his phone about some apparent issue that was delaying things, we were admitted into the main hall. The contestants were introduced and the final game was unveiled... Skeeball!

It's More Fun When You're Drunk
At the Jersey Shore

Skeeball...? Sounded cool on paper but it was a pretty anticlimatic ending as Skeeball isn't exactly the most intense sport I've ever witnessed. Even the machine wasn't excited about it as it kept breaking after every round. We creeped towards the back of the room to beat the rush as the competition ended...

Conclusion and CONSARS

...and so ended our PAX 2009 experience. Myself and a couple of my friends did stick around Seattle for most of Monday to walk around and see the sites but something weird was going on. Half of our party had gotten sick with flu-ish symptoms! When I got home and viewed the Penny-Arcade site on Tuesday I realized that it wasn't just us that had some issues with catching disease at the expo. There were a large number of people that had contracted Swine Flu or other various diseases that were being collectively referred to as CONSARS (Convention SARS... get it?). As I write this, my wife and several of my friends are still incapacitated by some nasty flu symptoms but I have been spared. It must be because whiskey fortifies the immune system.

As far as the convention went, I had been looking forward to returning to PAX for nearly two years and I can say that I was not let down. Perhaps my favorite part of attending isn't just the superficial aspects such as the games and panels and free swag but the people and sense of belonging. Everywhere else in the world you go you may always be judged at least a little bit for being a nerd or geek or dork or combination of the three. At PAX there is a sense that everyone is like you and there is no judging or negative connotations associated with the fact that you like spending 10 hours straight playing video games or that you actually know what an Icy Manipulator is. I know I am not the only person that felt this way as even several of the presenters and speakers made comments about feeling the same way about being at PAX.

I am already looking forward to PAX East 2010 and will be driving up to Boston to attend it. March can't come soon enough.

Additional Misc Pictures From PAX & Seattle


Lucifer said...

"It must be because whiskey fortifies the immune system."

can't be, if that shit were true my blood would be a cure for AIDS

Anonymous said...

Just a public health note- the PA guys put up a news bit yesterday regarding confirmed swine flu at PAX.

Get thee to a doc if you start to feel ill.

Anonymous said...

...and I'm an idiot, and didn't finish the post. Must've skimmed that bit.

Apologies, one and all.

Rakanishu said...

Well at least you got to play diablo 3. I was at the museum yesterday and I saw a lot of people wearing masks. I guess a lot of people are taking this stuff seriously.

Dudestorm said...

I remain steadfast amongst the Infected.

As for Cataclysm, nothing special. Seemed cool, goblin rog- normal kill/collect starting area. Racial traits were meh, the new zone looked nice though. All in all playing it made me realize why I don't play anymore.

Yargok said...

D3! I R jealous.

Also, told ya it was the blue shirt guy!!

Oh, and Whiskey is a great medicine.. if it by any chance fail to cure you, you wont mind the symtoms anymore atleast. :P

Victor said...

Hope you get well soon, spec

OJ said...

That's cool that you were able to sample D3. I'm increasingly excited about D3 and less so about Starcraft II.

Stefanie said...

Don't worry; whether you're in Seattle or not, I'll always judge you as a geek-nerd-dork.

Anonymous said...

"Having played Star Wars Galaxies during it's release and hating it "

Galaxies was a sand-box gem of an mmo when it came out. Granted the publisher rushed it, so it had server problems in the first weeks. Then SoE slowly began turning it into EQ with lightsabers.