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Adventures in Gaming and VR At 4TG Game Con, Aberdeen

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The media loves to paint gamers as a bunch of mindless zombies that despise each other and every other form of life in the planet. And at times it can almost be hard to argue with them. Back when I was a lad there was a sense of solidarity between gamers because our hobby was not accepted by society, and there weren’t many of us. Walk into a game store and you could stop and chat to anyone with videogames and society’s dislike of them offering common ground. But now things are different. The anonymity of multiplayer gaming, Youtube comments and forums, along with the fact that pretty much everyone and their mother’s play games now, has led to a toxic community that bickers and squabbles like petty children. To be honest there are times when I want to step away from them all and act like I have nothing to do with it at all.

But when you step into a videogame convention that sense of belonging and community return in force. For all of the media’s dislike of videogames and for all the horrible things that get said online events like 4 The Gamers in Aberdeen remind us that hobbies can bring people together and provide the basis on which friendships can be formed.  Milling around inside a large room are thousands of people playing games, laughing, chatting and getting to know each other. Some of these people will become friends for just the day, enjoying the company and then departing back to their normal lives. Others will forge friendships that last the rest of their lives.

The most fun I had at the event undoubtedly came from the Halo 4 LAN event held in a circle near the centre of the entire room. With a bunch of Xbox 360’s hooked together to form the basis of Skynet myself and an ever-changing roster of folk proceeded to blow the ever-loving snot out of each other. It has been a long, long time since I got to participate in a LAN event and I had forgotten just much fun it could be. There’s something so much more satisfying about destroying someone who is sitting just across from you. Both of you can share in those epic moments of gameplay or those incredibly close fights, and the smack-talk is reduced to what it should be; friendly banter. Stripped of the anonymity that the Internet and multiplayer gaming provides people start having fun again, and bantering back and forth. Some gamers preferred to remain largely silent, and others would whoop, holler and let out anguished sighs. Regardless of the type of person there was a palpable sense of camaraderie around the circular table – we were gamers brought together by our beloved hobby. Also it really helps that I managed to utterly mince everyone I played against. Happy days.

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4TG also marked my first foray into VR gaming, which was naturally very exciting. Despite writing about games every day I’ve never had the chance to try the Oculus Rift or the Vive because I’m poorer than Aladdin was at the start of the movie, and then suddenly I got to play with both on the same day, finally giving me a glimpse into one of the most intriguing gaming technologies to ever exist. I began with the Rift, which sadly put on a rather poor showing. I was sat down in front of DOOM VR. Not the magnificent 2016 DOOM which left me with a grin so wide you’d think I was on some super drugs, but original DOOM, the one where flat sprites would rotate as you walk around them. Sat in the chair and armed with an Xbox 360 controller I navigated the levels, blasting away at whatever was unfortunate enough to get in my way. As old as it is, DOOM is still a lot of fun. The Oculus Rift itself, though, was much harder to judge. While you could use the Rift to look around and aim your weapon, the controller was still needed to actually turn quickly, creating a strange feeling. There was no audio, either, shattering the visual illusion. Finally, semi-distant objects had a frustrating blurry resolution that irritated my eyes. All in all the entire setup felt like a poor way of demoing the Rift. I never played the second game being shown, but it was in third-person which seems like a baffling choice for something that is best suited to first-person.

Feeling a little disappointed I headed over to the Vive, only to discover a monstrous line that never seemed to abate. It got so busy that the guys running the Vive demo actually had to start handing out slots at specific times for people, while fitting in random folk wherever the could. I have to admit that I may have used my press badge a little in order to get myself a slot to test it out during a quiet time, although obviously I ensured I wasn’t getting in the way of anybody else because that’d just be unfair. To put it bluntly the Vive did everything right compared to Oculus. Given a 10×10 square I was free to walk around an amazing 1-minute demo set on an underwater shipwreck, while headphones blocked out the sounds of the convention and helped immerse me in the experience. Being able to physically walk to the edge of the ship and look over was amazing, and I had to constantly resist the urge to step over debris or reach out to touch a bannister. But the highlight came when a colossal whale swam up. Its massive eye sat level with me for a few seconds before it slowly blinked and swam off, the tail slicing through the water straight toward me. It took all my willpower to stop myself from stepping back to avoid it. All too soon the demo was over and I was taking the Vive off, but damn did it leave an impact. That one minute sold me on what VR could be. However, nothing is flawless, and the Vive’s many wires were a constantly irritating. And of course there’s the simple fact that most people don’t have the spare space to allow them to move around, so like the Rift most of the time people will need to resort to a controller.

It was also worth standing around the Vive’s demo area just to watch the many varied reactions. Some people so obviously tried to act cool about the whole thing, while others simply let themselves enjoy the experience, a huge grin plastered on their faces as they carefully step over things that aren’t there. Little kids actually tend to take it their strides far better, perfectly accepting of this strange virtual world that is conjured up before them. Further proof that children are actually just demonic beings in cute disguises.

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But moving on this was the first videogame convention in the area, which meant there were no big new games being shown off on stage or even relatively new titles available to play. The guest list of speakers boiled down to a bunch of Twitch streams who I barely even new about, although to be fair to all of them they actually provided some insightful panels because they weren’t talking from the perspective of people who had already made it, but rather from the perspective of people who were in the process of making it. Still, none of this stopped people from having an awesome time, and strewn across the sizable venue was a bunch of games to play, such as Ride, Halo 5, an entire bunch of CS:GO machines set up for LAN and oodles of Minecraft to entertain the kids. Well, actually the kids were all playing CS: GO and the adults were busy mucking about on Minecraft. There was also a lot of retro stuff to dig into, from the original Sonic the Hedgehog to Mario Kart to Wipeout to a bunch more that I can’t even remember. It was a pretty good selection of machines and games, and I had an absolutely riot playing Mario Kart with a few folk and battling it out with some great guys on Super Mario Strikers for the Gamecube.

Something that did surprise me was that with all of these games to play and enjoy, there wasn’t any for sale. There was a single vendor at the show who was selling more comic related stuff than anything else, offering up hosts of Marvel and DC shirts, figures of Deadpool and Iron Man and maybe the occasional Assassin’s Creed gauntlet or something to appease gamers. I was expecting some retro games for sale, or even newer titles. Having been punched in the nostalgia numerous times I would probably have been more than willing to pick up a retro console and a few games had anyone been offering them. Likewise there were boardgame demos of AvP and Halo: Fleet Battles, but no opportunity to purchase them on the spot – shame, I’d have been willing to pick up Fleet Battles, too. ON that note I’m currently trying to secure a copy for review.

Ah, but what of new games to try? Well, as I said there wasn’t any shiny new Triple A titles being shown off, but a couple of indie developers did turn up in a bid to impressive the ravenous hordes. The turnout was disappointingly low, but as the show grows more will flock to it, for sure. The most impressive, at least to me, was Advance, which is a little difficult to describe but I’ll give it a whirl. On a screen of basic graphics you and several other people are tasked with stopping robots travelling in straight lines from making it past a certain point. Now, if you shoot a robot while it’s moving it’ll get forced backwards, but if you shoot it while it’s standing still then you’ll be stunned for a few seconds, unable to fire or move up and down the map. The catch is that each player has a robot of their own which they can advance by holding down a certain button, so to win you need to get your robot past the finishing line while holding off everyone else’s.  It doesn’t sound terribly exciting but in practice with a few people beside me it proved to be a compelling idea. Figuring out which robot was yours and then attempting to keep an eye on it while blasting away everyone else was very tense, especially since there are other robots as well to help confuse things. A couple of extra game modes are on offer too, so right now the biggest question is if those are going to be enough to give the game some legs. Sure, it’s fun for a few quick matches, but is it something you’d keep going back to? It’ll be launching in the next few weeks, and I may be doing a review, so keep your eyes out for that.

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There was also Super Undercover Slime Agent which clearly takes its cues from the likes of Super Meatboy in the sense that it’s a platformer that likes to have you fail miserably. Basically there’s no jump button here, instead as you move you bounce, and that bounce gets higher as you hit objects. Make it to the end without touching the lava! Simple! BLOODY NOT! I gave up pretty quickly. It looks very basic and again I have some questions about longevity, but it was fairly entertaining stuff and will doubtless entertain that subsection of gamers who love punishment. Kinky buggers.

Sat right between those two games was a giant box of sand, above which was a projector and some sensors. It seemed somewhat out of place amidst all the screens, controllers, keyboards and mice. Yet there was a madness to the sand, because it formed a game of sorts. As you shape and mold the sand the sensors read the varying heights of the terrain, and project colors that bring the world to life. If you dig a trench, for example, the projector will color it blue to denote a river.  To be honest to someone like myself it’s nothing more than a brief novelty that is nice to look at for a few minutes but which offers little else. However, as an educational tool it’s quite interesting as it can help teach kids about geography. Moreover, the projector can help bring the sand to life, showing things like birds flying over the landscape. It comes with twelve pre-installed games, including a wargame where you try to splat moving creatures with sand, and a volcano that is dripping lava.

For the competitive teams there were two stages that were hosting Call of Duty and Street Fighter tournaments where people could display their skills to anyone who fancied pulling up a seat and speculating. I don’t usually enjoy watching videogames being played unless it’s my friends banging their heads off the wall due to a particularly gruelling section, but I actually had fun watching the matches play out, even if the commentators grew irritating very fast. There was some real talent on display and admirable teamwork. I may not be an ESports fan, but I can see the appeal of it.

A welcome surprise was the inclusion of things like pinball tables. Do you have any idea of how long it has been since I got to play on a real pinball table? It was a pleasure, although I never once came close to topping any of the high scores and claiming the prizes on offer. Clearly I need a lot more practice Alongside them were a couple of shooters, include a neat little sniper game that I can’t currently remember the name of. Regardless I had a lot of fun taking up the plastic rifle, aiming down the scope and gunning down some bad guys. It also reminded me just how savage arcades are in regards to efficiently removing all the change from your pockets. A few minutes in this relatively small area of the event and my pockets were considerably lighter.

Hell, there was even the Razer bus, which shockingly was indeed an actual bus wedged into the building and outfitted with a black and green paintjob. Its contents, however, remained a mystery to me since the line to enter it was always massive and seemed to progress at a speed glaciers would consider a bit on the slow side. I never heard anybody whispering excited tales about mass orgies or fantastic drugs, though, so I assume it can’t have been all that fantastic, really.

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For a first-time event I don’t think 4TG could have gone much better. Aside from a couple of little technical hitches (the reverb off a stage mic tried to kill everyone several times) and a lack of decent food (the two vans both served essentially the same things, and both were a bit crap) it was an absolute blast, with thousands of people popping in to check out the event. I have no idea what sort of numbers the organizers were expecting, but personally the turnout looked like it should have more than enough to justify the event itself and another next year. Sure, it would have been great to have some big names appear and to have get new triple-A titles shown on stage, but those are things that will hopefully come with time. Considering the UK has some very big names in the development world there’s plenty of potential to see some cool stuff in the coming years. Who knows just how big 4TG could become? Given a few years to build momentum it could become a huge event, and as a gamer I find that very, very exciting.

And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be up on stage talking about how I became the ruling overlord of Game Journalism.

I can dream, right?

Right?

Anybody?

Hello?…..

 

 

 

 

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