GDC 09 / Day two debrief

Hey folks, Tuesday was a good bit more busy than Monday for dear ol’ me. Wholly wow am I more exhausted now. Where my feet were tired last night, my shins are going out tonight. I expect to need a wheelchair come 24 hours from now.

It’s starting to get to the point where I no longer get to look in on panels and hear what those active within the industry have to say about this medium we all know and love as gaming. However, I did get to enjoy some good stuff, and it’s stuff I’d like to impart upon you all really soon.

Things kicked off visiting Paradox Interactive, who have so much strategy that any sane person would lose their mind. That said, this meeting was planned to last one hour and I wound up spending about two hours there having their various developers show me what is in store. Luckily, I am not a sane person, and thus was able to keep level about everything that came my way. I was thrown so much, in fact, that I likely won’t be able to do it all justice in this post alone, but it has to be part of the rundown that was GDC Day Two. The games I saw, in order, were Mount & Blade and its multiplayer update, Indian Trade Company (quite possibly the one I look forward to the most), Hearts of Iron 3, Legio, Elven Legacy, and Majesty 2. I was unfortunate and, in the sweep of everything that they showed, didn’t get a chance to neither talk about nor see Stalin vs. Martians,a title so weird it’s irresistible, but the sheer volume of this presentation more than made up for it. I am also going to take the chance to shout out to Paradox for making a really pleasant environment in which to meet these developers and have them show me work that they were clearly very proud of. Here’s hoping to get a chance to play it myself one day and see their lofty goals reached.

On that note, many of the developers mentioned a desire to appeal to the non-strategy gamers while still being true to their loyal fanbase. This was especially the case with the sequels. This is a challenge that, to me, is as great as making soccer popular in America. Clearly, there’s a joy to be had, and clearly, it’s a possibility, but NOT so clearly, there is no apparent reason these things aren’t so gripping to the masses. It may well be that there is no clear cut reason, and that there’s just some cultural rift that will keep the strategy genre far from the zeitgeist. But then I can’t help but remember Brad Wardell’s presentation yesterday, showing Stardock’s profits and relatively low production costs on their games. Maybe the goal doesn’t need to be rocking the entire world, but just the world that appeals to that genre.

Fast forward a few hours, and I was in Sony’s Blog Lounge, where they were flaunting Ragdoll Kung-Fu and Fat Princess. I only got to spend some time with the latter, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I, occupying the blue team in this bird’s-eye Capture the Flag chaosgasm (yeah, go ahead and use that word yourself) was a horrible mistake. Three other PS3’s in the room were running the game, and all of them were on the red team. AI bots can only help you so much. But this game, where you have guns and swords alike as well as a fun, brightly-lit environment and a plain silly defense mechanism (get the princess fat so she (basically the flag) is harder to carry to the enemy base), has that humorous Team Fortress 2 charm that might be something that catapults it to being regarded as something special. That, or it will be washed away in the sea of smaller downloadable games. I like to hope not, because I wish only good things for this wonderful world.

THEN I wound up visiting True Games, who will be publishing the free, downloadable, Diablo-esque title Warrior Epic. The game is in 3D, but they boast that every graphic is “hand drawn” so that it can be played by “any computer that can browse the web.” The game was presented to me by Gage Galinger, the CEO of developer Possibility Space. He was a very well-spoken and confident man in the microtransaction model that they have laid out for the game. The core content will be 100% free, that being all levels, all character classes, all weapons, armor, etc. What will NOT be free is vanity things like your character’s appearance or, more importantly, the spirits of your dead characters. See, the game doesn’t have you choose just one character, but eventually work up a number of fighters that will occupy your house, which will be distinct to you. You can also buy things for that house. Not wanting to completely leave out the cheapo players who won’t spend a dime, auctions will allow them to make some in-game credit to get in on the fun that paying players have. The model sounded good, and his description was certainly convincing. What has yet to be shown, though, is, free or not, this game has to be fun. A successful model for making money means nothing if there’s nothing to motivate people to even be players of a game in the first place. Having no chance to play it myself, I can’t really comment on that, but like Paradox’s guys, I wish Gage and his crew all the best.

Then the closing events, which I have already given you all the goods on, Tecmo and inFamous. Tecmo was admittedly underwhelming. I feel like, having announced the title a good while prior to the announcement itself, they had stolen their own thunder. It was just plain baffling. The smaller detail of online coop was a lot more appealing to me, which I briefly discussed with our own Dennis Lesica. Basically, he saw right through my facade of improving upon a starting-to-get-tired gameplay formula by letting you slice up enemy ninjas with a partner by pointing out that said partner will have massive… massive massive assets. Progress in the physics engine is yet to be seen. inFamous was after having returned to the Sony lounge, where all screens formerly showing PSN games were ALL on this game. It was fun, and gave me hope, but I still feel compelled to get a little more thorough and try out the other levels on display. I hope all the best again. I mean hey… the more good games, the merrier we gamers are.

Today will be big. Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata makes his keynote speech and the buzz in the press room and just about everywhere is that he’s going to lift the lid on something. The other buzz is that the something is going to underwhelm us all. It sounds like pessimism just to offset potential disappointment, though. I, for one, am hoping to be blown away. Nintendo’s dropped surprises before (Wiimote, anyone?) for all their underwhelming presentations (E3 2008, anyone?), and I like to think they’re overdue for something juicy. As for the rest of the day, I’ll be talking with Next Level Games to see what they have coming up, Codemasters and NetDevil will be showing off some of Jumpgate: Evolution, and Epic Games will be sharing some goods about their new engine and, rumor has it, some new Gears 2 maps… or just map. No offense but if that’s true… yawn. But even so, Wednesday looks and sounds delicious, and I will share with you because I can. Cheers all, and will check in again soon.