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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 3: A Misanthrope's Delight

RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 3: A Misanthrope's Delight

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 2 September 2014, 17:46:36

Tags: Kai Fiebig

There are many ways in which one can attend a convention like this year's Gamescom in Cologne. One may get hyped and be a fan and spend most of the day in super long queues just to play a bit of the shown-off game(s). One may hate the entire thing and complain about the queues and say "never again." Or one may forgo all the queues, enter the convention through the business entrance, and talk to the devs about their game as well as about how the whole thing sucks. Combine the latter two, add some poignant pictorial commentary, and you get our very own agent Darth Roxor's report, now in Part 3.

You can find Part 1 and Part 2 here and there respectively.

[Written by Darth Roxor; edited by Infinitron]

When staff member Grunker returned from the Gamescom convention last year, he concluded his report with an editorial about the overall state of "games journalism" present there. Rather than write about the same thing a second time, I figured I’d present my concluding editorial as a chronicle of a newcomer’s trip to a gaming convention – what I thought of it, what some of the developers I chatted up had to say, and how it felt to sprint between halls to attend all of my scheduled presentations.

Delivering the Goods

My journey began on the 13th of August in Munich, where I had to board a train to Bonn at 4:50 am. My hostel field headquarters was in Bonn because Cologne had already been completely booked more than a month before the event itself. I arrived there at around 12, and when the first person that passed me by after I got off the train was a League of Legends cosplayer, I already knew the day was going to be good. I spent some 10 minutes looking for a subway ticket vending machine, because apparently there are only two in the entire Bonn main station (one of which was under siege by passed-out drunkards). I was also approached by a hobo who asked me, “you have change for me?” in English, in a rather conspiratorial tone. He would not be the only hobo I’d meet during my short stay there. The only thing the scene lacked was some kind of radio station playing Bad Moon Rising.

My glorious Feldkommandantur. (Click for full image.)​

I got to my hostel shortly before 1pm, happy that I might be able to leave for Cologne earlier than I had originally planned (I needed to be there at 4 pm at the very latest for the Daedalic presentations)...but that plan fizzled when I was told check-in only begins at 2 pm. After waiting the hour, I was finally given a derelict train compartment to leave my bags in (like a true representative of the People), after which I returned to the subway station. Hastily checking my schedule for all trains leaving to Cologne, I realised I could still arrive there 45 minutes earlier if I hurried up and caught an earlier train. And I probably would have managed that, if the subway train hadn't decided not to come. By the time another one arrived to deliver me to the train station, I had to sprint to the platform, just in time to see my “earlier” train set off.

Oh yes, this was definitely going to be a good day.

Point of Entry

I finally arrived in Cologne at 15:40, and once again had to sprint, this time into the Koelnmesse exhibition centre that housed the convention. The place is huge, and it’s ridiculously easy to get lost if you don’t know the way, the layout or the location of your destination. This is mainly due to all of the signs inside, that point you towards dead-ends, locked doors and God knows what else. Fortunately, entering through the West Entrance, I found myself right next to Hall 4 where Daedalic had their booth.

On that day, the 13th, the convention was not yet open to the public, and so the corridors were fairly free of people. Moreover, Halls 4 and 5 formed Gamescom’s exclusive “Business Area”, reserved for the press, businessmen and people with special tickets. And yet despite that, I was immediately struck by the amount of incredibly distracting noise all around the place. The “booths” are barely more than glorified cardboard boxes, and even the secluded presentation rooms are under a constant barrage of noise coming in from the outside. It is incredibly annoying if you have sensitive hearing, and also immensely distracting during the showcases themselves, when you're trying to focus on what's being said.

After attending Daedalic's adventure game previews, I had a quick chat with their senior producer, Kai Fiebig. When he asked whether I was enjoying my stay at Gamescom, I replied that I had only just arrived. To which he smirked and said, “well, then you’re lucky”. At that point, I didn’t fully realise what he meant - the revelation would only hit me across the head with a club the next day. Before the Blackguards 2 presentation began, I talked with him a bit about the general feedback given by players of the original Blackguards. I already mentioned what Kai considered “good feedback” in Part 1 of my report, but it was also rather refreshing to hear him launch into a quasi-rant about casual gamers. Most developers just don’t bother commenting on people who hate their games for stupid reasons like “whoa, itz too hard!!”, but Kai seemed eager to tell me just how sour it made him to go through various internet forums and see people whining about mechanics that are clearly explained, not using all the tools they have at their disposal, etc. Before I left, he told me that while they are doing some streamlining for Blackguards 2, he still fully expects people to rise in uproar again about the absence of handholding and the tough difficulty. I really liked how his facial expression constantly shifted into that trademark Disgusted Clint Eastwood look when he talked about all this.

I spent a whopping two hours in Daedalic’s booth, and it was already 6 pm when I left, having looted a Deponia artbook and a handful of Blackguards 2 pins. Gamescom was closing up at 7 pm that day, so I figured I’d scout the area a bit, and maybe look for some other games to check out. It being the end of the business day, pretty much everything was already booked at that hour, so I just continued walking around and filling up my mental map of the venue. And that was when I found the Electronic Arts booth.

Assorted bribes and loot.

It wasn’t even a booth, but more like a separate area, complete with a lounge, a bar and a big screen where various trailers were being shown. And a mass of people. It was literally an impenetrable blob, kind of like the ones you see at concerts in the front rows. Whatever, I thought to myself, and decided to pass through it anyway, helping myself with my elbows where necessary. A man in a suit looked at me as if I were the strangest thing he’d seen in his life. A woman yelled at me for jostling her with my backpack and spilling her drink, even though I said “excuse me” in three languages. After a minute or so I was back in the main corridor.

At 18:40 I was pretty much done, and figured I might as well get back to Bonn. Now where the hell was that exit...

Carnival of Disgust

On my second day at Gamescom, I arrived at Koelnmesse at about 10:35 am. The amount of people I saw standing outside, waiting to be let in, made my jaw drop. All of the public entrances were swarming with people, formed into ridiculously long queues. Observing one of those leviathans for five minutes, I saw absolutely no movement whatsoever, and looking at the poor buggers at the end (and even the middle) sections made me feel genuine sympathy for them. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that they had a whole hour of waiting ahead of them. The photo I've attached doesn’t even show the entire aisle, probably not even half of it. It wasn’t just a straight line - it meandered in the later sections to put as many people as possible in the general entrance area. The queues were generally similar in size at all of the public entrances, so there was no point in choosing one or the other, either. Luckily for me, I was able to evade those queues and go straight for the West Entrance leading to the Business Area.

Hope you like standing around in IDF checkpoints.

The Cool People entrance.

A few minutes before 11, I arrived at the Logic Artists booth, where Alex Mintsioulis told me to come back in half an hour, because he’d just started showing Clandestine to someone. I took the opportunity to use this free time and check out Starpoint Gemini 2. Moving through the busy corridors, now much denser with people than on the day before, I looked at some of the booths along the way. Many of them seemed crowded, and I wondered whether I’d even get to use this “free time”, considering I was barging in unannounced. But it turned out that the Little Green Men booth (which was actually set up for a few other Croatian developers as well) was completely devoid of visitors, which looked a bit sad when you thought about the crowds swarming the other areas.

With that done half an hour later, I returned to the Logic Artists. I spoke with Alex a bit about the current lousy state of the stealth genre while he talked about Clandestine. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of time to chit-chat - he had to hurry up and show me everything he wanted to, as more people eager to see the game were literally breathing down my neck. Before I left, he apologised about how everything had to be done so quickly - their schedule for that day was apparently filled to the brim. I was glad that I had gotten there so early because in, say, six hours he’d probably have been much more tired and much less enthusiastic.

I left that area at 12:00, which meant I had a lot of spare time on my hands, since my next scheduled appointment was the Obsidian and Paradox presentation at 4 pm. I decided to use the time to check out the Entertainment Area, the public space encompassing halls 6 through 10, which was allocated for the big stages, livestreams, commonfolk and general party spirit. It was a Very Bad Idea.

Immediately after leaving the business zone, I was essentially abducted by this great stream of people heading down one of the main arteries between the halls. It was nigh-impossible to free yourself from it once you’d been absorbed, and so I braced myself, hoping only that it was flowing towards the hall I wanted to check out. Fortunately, its destination was the same as mine, and soon I ended up in Hall 10.

The great masses of the people.

Heading inside, all my senses were suddenly assaulted by phenomena I would have rather avoided. The semi-darkness inside the hall was continuously pierced by flashing neon and stage lights, loud techno music kept busting my skull with basses, people were constantly pushing up against me as they roamed around in their great streams, and the vast majority of them smelled really badly. Moving anywhere without stepping on plastic bottles, bags, cans of coke and other assorted garbage was just about impossible. All the while, the yelling stage people were getting EXCITED!! about trivial things. It all felt pathetic and fake. I have no idea who the hell could possibly find this area “entertaining”.

Now, I’m not one to suffer from panic attacks, but I really dislike excessive crowds and become agitated easily when I’m subjected to them. Each time I had to move from one hall to another, or even just walk around inside one, I thought to myself “Jesus Christ, I have to get out of here!”. All these faceless mobs of people with mindless expressions, steadily moving ever forward through the stench, and the noise, and the alleys full of fake candy-coated advertisements and stages reminded me of one episode of the Belgian comic book Tetfol.

An artist's impression of Gamescom (translated into English by yours truly).

But no matter. I had come here to see some games, even though my expectations that I would be able to gather any proper information were almost nil. So, I went towards the Petroglyph area to check out Grey Goo in motion. Good thing there was a screen showing livestreams of people playing it in versus matches, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have seen jack shit.

See, here’s the deal. In the Gamescom public area, if you want to see or play anything, you have to wait. You have to wait a reeeeeeeeally long time. Grey Goo was actually the game least guilty of this, because Petroglyph had quite a number of computers running it available to the public, and the crowd wasn’t as thick. But take, for example, Risen 3 or The Witcher 3. The blob of people waiting to play Risen 3 for 20 minutes was so dense, it reached all the way to the walls of the hall itself, and when I saw it, I figured I might as well take a detour around the entire Deep Silver area to get to the other side instead of trying to break through. The Witcher 3 presentation area, meanwhile, was probably the busiest I saw during the entire convention. I must have passed by that place some three or four times at totally different times of the day, and while all the other big company showings, like Ubisoft or Electronic Arts, gradually emptied out as the day moved on, the queue for getting inside the super secret CD Projekt stage and watching a half hour-long scripted video that would end up on YouTube the next day anyway never got any smaller. Most of the people waiting there would just sit down and basically start a picnic to pass the time. And I assume they had a lot of time to kill.

I didn’t take part in any of those “hands-on” showcases, nor did I wait around for hours straight to watch the big presentations. Mostly because this is not an activity that I would consider:

a) Fun.
b) Conducive to proper information gathering.
c) An efficient use of my time, both free and “professional”.
d) Adhering to the basic principles of human dignity.

My only regret is that I didn’t actually get to play Pillars of Eternity. Maybe there was a communication error at some point, but I thought the presentation of it that I attended later was supposed to be hands-on, which was another reason why I didn’t bother standing around in those abysmal queues. But it wasn’t, so it wasn't, and so I was forced to nitpick its pseudo-paladins instead of taking apart its systems.

Needless to say, I stuck to the relative peace and safety of the business area as much as possible, because, along with the less-frequented outside areas, it was the only area of Gamescom where you could gather your thoughts for a while, or sit down somewhere without the danger of being trampled.

Nomadic tribes around The Witcher 3 area.

I think it was around 13:30 when I got fed up with the Entertainment Area and returned to the Business Area to look for opportunities. After encountering a few booths that had no more spots left for that day, and others that weren’t showing any games that I was interested in, I finally managed to lock down a presentation for Hellraid, scheduled for 15:30. It was 20 minutes long, which meant I’d have to sprint from Hall 4 to Hall 9 to get to my Pillars of Eternity presentation on time. Considering the chaotic layout and the crowds, that might have proven to be a challenge. I decided to explore a bit and plan out a pixel-perfect route, after which I spent the hour I had left to sit down and take a rest.

At 3 pm I returned to Hall 4 to get ready for Hellraid, where I ran into Daedalic’s Kai Fiebig and Johannes Kiel, who had gone for a smoke. This time I had a longer conversation with them, about various topics but mostly about Gamescom itself. When I mentioned that I’d been to the Entertainment Area, they told me how glad they were that they didn’t have to set foot in that hive of scum and villainy. Kai explained that he was looking forward to the end of the convention, because the job of running the presentations is sheer hell. Imagine sitting in the same place for ten hours straight, repeating the same spiel again and again, and in a non-native language to boot. He said that he was glad that I'd found them, because he'd forgotten to mention one aspect of Blackguards 2 on the previous day. After hearing about that, I talked with them a bit about the gaming industry as a whole, and about some of the games that Kai had worked on in the past. When I brought up one of the games that I had seen at Gamescom, Kai told me how important it is to never trust anyone who claims he wants to deliver a game “made by the same developers as [classic]!”. He said that he hears that very often, but usually realizes after some checking around that these “same developers” who were the main driving force behind the [classic] are currently stationed in three different studios around the globe.

At that point we had to part ways, as it was time for them to deliver another assembly line presentation, while I had to go check out Hellraid. That presentation took place as planned, and it was probably the “biggest” I attended at Gamescom, in that there were about ten journalists inside, eagerly taking note of each word being said, and looking at me as if I were a being from another galaxy (or at least a lunatic) when I mentioned Hexen and Witchaven at the end.

Priceless insight into the Polish mind.

At 15:52, the Hellraid presentation was done, and so I began my sprint towards Hall 9. My pixel-perfect route towards Obsidian’s booth worked out well, and although I feared I would be late, I ended up being the first among the three scheduled visitors to arrive. I spoke a bit with Adam Brennecke, who asked who I was on the Codex. His general attitude towards the Entertainment Area was similar to the Daedalic devs’. Then Josh Sawyer came in and the presentation started. Josh speaks very quickly when he’s excited about something, and I imagine it could be difficult for some non-native English speakers to understand him properly.

The Runemaster presentation took place half an hour later, in the same area as PoE's. It was actually a pretty good spot for personal showcases, because the booths were placed right outside Hall 9, on a slight elevation, which made them rather effectively soundproof. That meant I could finally spend at least an hour shut off from the general Gamescom hubbub. The only downside was that the windows had to be closed during presentations, which meant that the atmosphere inside was rather stuffy.

Shortly after 5 pm, I was once again left without anything to do. I used that time to take another stroll through the Entertainment Area to see if the Ubisoft stage had any Heroes of Might and Magic 7 shows left for the day. Well, it didn’t, and after witnessing the nomadic tribes waiting to be admitted into The Witcher 3 hall for one last time, I returned to the Business Area to see if I had anything left to do there. I didn’t actually expect to find any places left with space for people off-schedule, so imagine my surprise when I found a spot available at the 6 pm Raven's Cry presentation. Especially considering that I was the only one attending that presentation.

After that was done, I jotted down what I remembered in my notes and checked my watch to find it was 18:45. Gamescom was closing at 8 pm that day, but I decided to just screw it and head back to Bonn, as there was simply nothing left for me to do in Cologne. The knowledge that I wouldn’t have to return there again made me happy.

Homeward Bound

Could I honestly recommend attending Gamescom to anyone? No, I really couldn’t. Especially if you only have the cheapest tickets for the Entertainment Area. That place is simply revolting, uninteresting and devoid of any journalistic, artistic or recreational value. On the other hand, the Business Area can yield some good findings, not to mention it’s always interesting to meet the people behind the games you play, and ask them for various insights concerning the industry at large. But to do that, you need a pricey entrance ticket, and to have booked your presentations well in advance of the convention itself, because going anywhere off-schedule is only possible if the developers are small-time. And even that is not guaranteed, considering the amount of people who were on Logic Artists’ list, or the hordes of people who swarmed the “Dutch Developers Booth”, where I had wanted to check out Jagged Alliance: Flashback.

At 11:00 am, I left my Feldkommandantur in Bonn, LARPing that I’d just signed the armistice in the Compiegne train car. What awaited me was an 18 hour-long bus trip back to Poland, departing at 2 pm from Cologne.

At 12:30, I boarded my last train in Germany, concluding two weeks filled to the brim with absurdities of all types and sizes in the land of Goethe.

There was a gypsy accordionist on board.

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