It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that video games have come a long way in the last 20 years. Hell, even just the genre of first person shooters has evolved considerably over that time. And right at the start, it was the Quake series that brought about a refined take on multiplayer and arguably spawned the concept of e-sports. With all that in mind, I was determined to make the pilgrimage to Dallas to experience the mecca of gaming. A place where gaming culture, and my kin, are celebrated. Dude, I went to Quakecon.
1. Quakecon’s BYOC is the mother of LAN Parties
Quakecon isn’t just a LAN Party, it is THE LAN Party. Overseas it may get rivaled by conventions such as DreamHack, but right here, right now, it is gaming Mecca. The Quakecon LAN Party is such a big deal that people battle to register table spots in the BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) as early as 4 months in advance.
The BYOC ballroom becomes an electric playground. Cold and dark, but intermittently lit with the faces of hundreds of gamer faces reflecting the lights of both their monitors and the roided up battlestations they’re connected to.
2. Rice ain’t Just Back, Rice Never Left
The Computers- no, the rigs of Quakecon, are sights to behold. It’s no surprise that I became more and more interested in cars as I grew older, car modding is just like building gaming computers. While I stopped as far as a paintjob and a couple LED fans in my youth, it seems that everyone at the BYOC operates on a higher level.
Once the foundations are into their case, they just go nuts. These ain’t your mom’s corny Apple appliances. These kilowatt surging, flux capaciting (yes, I know that’s not a real verb), UFO summoning frag machines take factory pieces, increase the voltage and run it under the faucet.
The cooling setups and metal fabrication in most of these builds are often more involved than the electronics that actually make them tick.
The vendors with their highrise budgets were not to be outdone by the guests and also brought some incredible projects of their own. Nearly every computer had an aesthetic that conveyed the personality of its builder or quality of its components.
3. Swag used to mean Something Else
While not necessarily new information to me (tonight at 9, people love free shit!), I never expected everyone to be so excited about free t-shirts and raffles. The draw of a crowd for a couple lanyards at gratis was amazing. That had to be it, right? Intel’s NVME tech is certainly something to get excited about for those planning new builds, but when promoted with giveaways at the exhibition room’s Alienware stage, attendees reacted like metal shavings to a magnet. But boy, did they deliver. Everyone at the show was just unloading all kinds of goodies on attendees, almost as if they reeeeeaaaally like their fans or something. It’s a sentiment that’s been disappointingly more uncommon in today’s industry, so I was refreshingly shocked
4. Everyone is pretty excited for Fallout 4
If anything usurped the popularity throne occupied by freebies, it was the Fallout 4 gameplay reveal. Boy oh boy, judging by the crowd that waited hours to get a good seat at the reveal, I’m surprised Vaultcon isn’t a thing. They showed us all a good cut of the game and some behind the scenes ‘making of’ type stuff and the game looks like it isn’t far from being in everyone’s hands and homes. I know we have a ‘have camera, will trespass’ policy, but nobody wants to be seen without make up, so I refrain from recording in no recording zones, especially when our hosts are otherwise super accommodating. Spy shots aren’t classy anyway, use your imaaaaaagination.
As a fan of the series, I can say that I don’t necessarily mind how things have evolved since Fallout 3 and New Vegas. If you’re looking for something new and innovative brought to the game (such as the absurd leap from 1,2 & Tactics to what became Fallout 3) it didn’t really get conveyed in the videos we were shown, but instead they’ve taken the formula that has worked so far and pushed for the storyline of the game to actually be relevant to its value. We’ve all been there, sunk dozens of hours into Fallout 3 or New Vegas and ultimately have done not much more than focus on solving small problems or causing large ones.
The theory behind sand box games are that you can enjoy yourself without actually pursuing a specific direction dictated to you. I’m sure there will be more of that, but the idea of providing the protagonist with a third person view during cut scenes and actually voice acting them, has easily suggested how much Bethesda wants you to care. There was also mention of romance interests with no gender limits. Obviously somebody over in the Bethesda camp wants that Bioware money. Hilarious as it was, this announcement elicited massive cheers and spotted outbursts of ‘so ronery’. The inclusion of romancing NPC’s has grown to become a little embarrassing. Not because of the concept itself, but more in its proliferating of Waifu Culture. It almost seems to be exploiting the idea that RPG’s aren’t so much played as they are lived vicariously through. It’s a deeper subject I’m not sure if I should get into, but ultimately I dont think its inclusion damages the game. Beyong that, environments and animations have gotten much more polished, detailed and expanded. A greater amount of Z-Axis combat was displayed with towns definitely feeling more explorable and less copy-paste static meshed. Still can’t shoot people in the groin with the V.A.T.S. system though. Well, they only demonstrated it on ghouls, so.. well.. I’m here hoping. Yes, that’s a critical feature to me.
5. Doom (and arena shooters) are Alive & Well
As if there were any doubt, the one event that garnered a crowd that could rival the size of Fallout 4’s gameplay premiere was the Doom 4 panel. I still remember when Doom 3 was released. I was in High School and my computer didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of running. Not even a normal hell, but one filled with cyber demons. Still, my friends and I would look up gameplay videos of the hyper realistic graphics, and watch in awe of the level of detail and the supreme impact they brought to the goryness of the game. Call it a repeat. Over a decade later, and there I am in the audience with the same sparkles in my eyes, just watching demons get chainsawed to pieces.
What does one expect from Doom? Guns. Violence. Monsters. A berserker packing man and a half, possibly. It’s got all that. It would be a gross misstep to leave them out. More importantly, the game looks quick and reminds me of a cinematic adaptation of someone trying to speed run Doom. It’s fast, but it’s beautiful. Carnage is constant and everywhere, but it doesn’t fall into just being a technical demo of how to exploit the engine effectively. Then again, it is a demo. When it gets played by a CPL type dude, I’m sure it’ll start to look a lot more like those old Doom videos on youtube.
And the multiplayer… is a thing of controversy. All attendees were given the opportunity to get into some team deathmatch games, so of course, I had to be in on it. There’s some preliminary information I must disclose, and that is that I am terrible at first person shooters right now. Despite growing up an arena shooter fiend, I strayed down a dark path of JRPGs and simulators, leaving me quite soft and nooblike in the art of frag. I’m currently undergoing rigorous Quake Live/UT4 training, but for the purpose of mentioning all this, I have to confess that I was an anchor dragging my teams down during the times we played. With that out of the way it is at your discretion how much faith you put in my evaluation of Doom 4’s multiplayer as it stands.
Right now, it is fun. It is an arena shooter. It is not Doom 3. You will probably not need a flashlight and you will probably have to open less doors. In fact, the map we were playing on all weekend was pretty open and brighter than hell. It actually reminded me of Unreal Tournament 2004’s art direction a little bit. The map layout itself flowed very well (as an arena shooter should), but there is one thing that id’s done that isn’t typical to arena shooters. Doom 4’s multiplayer is taking notes from contemporary FPS’s and using a weapon load out system. This is new. New is usually terrifying to franchise fans, but in this case, it is smart. For many, it’s easy to get the market positions that Doom and Quake occupy mixed up. However, this change opens up the door for Quake to be itself, and Doom to establish its own niche as one major point to differentiate the two. It guides players into taking differing playing styles to find out what works best for them. I’d liken it to the competitive Smash Bros. community in the sense that some combinations work better than others, but as long as balance is maintained, few alternate paths lead to dead ends. Talk was brought up about leader boards and rankings and e-sports potential, but it should be made clear, that’s Quake’s pie. id Software wants a different food for Doom and this is the way they will get it. Of course, it goes without saying that this change ruffled a few feathers during the Q&A session after the panel, but I can’t say I saw any of the people with reservations frowning as they got to play it for themselves though.
6. Why I was among the few Anticipating Bombshell
Oh man, I was a little late on the bus to hear about 3DRealms getting back into developing proper games, so I pretty much missed out on the intial Bombshell hype wagon. Good thing too, because I’d never shut up with jokes about how I’m looking forward to playing it a decade from now. However, once I did climb aboard that proverbial wagon, I found myself short of company. Just a few months ago I saw the first gameplay trailer for Bombshell and though to myself, oh man, that looks great! CANT WAIT TO PLAY IT IN 2030! After a good solitary chuckle that with my cup of Greek yogurt, I saw a note that they’d have a playable demo at Quakecon2015. My yogurt and I were psyched! But no one I knew seemed to care as much as I did. What I saw was a cyberpunk themed dual stick shooter with a new IP from the guys who brought us Duke Nukem, easily one of the most colorful FPS protagonsits of all time. Saturday morning I got to play Alien Swarm 2, I mean, Bombshell. The storyline is something like, “the president was kidnapped by cyborg aliens, are you a bad enough chica to save the president?”
The cyber punk theme I was excited about is kind of limited to the design of Bombshell’s protagonist, Shelly. Shelly is pretty much the personification of an apology for the existence of Duke Nukem as a person. Shelly “Bombshell” Shellenstein is designed to be an attractive woman. Note: Woman, not girl. She’s strong, experienced and she can handle her own damn self and she doesn’t need Daddy to tell her that the evil scientist is only picking on her because he likes her. Shelly’s attractive because she awesome, she’s not awesome because she’s attractive. She dresses conservatively, but she shows cleavage because she’s a woman and she’s entitled to be as sexy as she wants to be. She works on an old muscle car with hand tools because she isn’t w- okay, I can’t keep up the faux misandry (or is it ironic misogyny?) In an effort to make a strong female protagonist that doesn’t offend anyone, she kind of comes off as flat. She reminds me of a less abrasive version of Rubi from Wet, but at least Rubi’s permanent state of being irate was kind of personable. The whole thing kind of has me wondering if I need to go deeper and take the cliche’s as intentional. Something planned to get us rolling our eyes a little (hopefully with a smirk) and dive back into the gameplay. Almost as if we forced casting upon Tetris. Bit of a reach there, I know. Still, the game played like it looks, and that is to say it’s fun, even if simple. The custom weapon outfitting hints that it intends to get less simple in further levels and that is definitely a good enough cue for a go ahead as far as I’m concerned, so I hope the developers use the next few months (or… years…) wisely!
7. Caffeine Runs Everything Around Me
It wasn’t long before I realized that the impressive tolerance of caffeine that I had built as a teenager has clearly faded away. I think it was two cans of Bawls drink, a couple free samples of Coke Zero and a half tin of caffeine mints before my hands were tingly and the minute changes of air temperature would have me fighting the urge to yack into the nearest trash bin.
Honestly though, I expected as much; not just in regard to sipping fizzy drinks, but the convention in general. Video games, and PC Gaming culture, was a gigantic part of my adolescent years. I fell out of the FPS genre a while ago, and pulled back on gaming obsessively even further back. I approached Quakecon, wondering if I had the enthusiasm to stomach an erratic environment where gaming was celebrated over everything and hours of nonstop electronic consumption was the norm. I found my answer when even after each day of flashing lights and explosion sound effects I’d return to my hotel room and start surfing MNPCTech and Xoxide for a build to bring next year. As soon as I returned to Houston I brought up Steam and installed QuakeLive and UT2004.
We grow out of a lot of things because we feel we are obliged to, or it becomes an awkward fit with our lifestyles. I’m not sure which case hit me, but after jumping back into the environment I felt like I never left (except for the part where I sucked at Doom). I realized that physically, it’s not truly a hobby that you need to leave at any point. Watching the Quakelive tournaments it was clear that some people have even made a living out of this, taking it from hobby to passion. I think I’m hooked again. Maybe. Probably. Eh.. can’t be any more expensive than cars and cameras.
Quakecon was an experience that was NOT to be missed! To check it out for yourself, and to learn more about registering for next year, visit the official Quakecon website here! Also see below for more photos form the two days that I was in attendance!