EGX 2017 — Friday 22nd
For the uninitiated, EGX stands for Eurogamer Expo — they are a British gaming journalism outlet and the convention is the biggest gaming event of the year here in the UK. Of course, the big sell are the upcoming AAA releases for varied platforms, but there’s a careers advice area, presentations from developers to attend and eSports tournaments in Splatoon 2, Street Fighter, Overwatch to name a few. Indie games get their own sections in Rezzed Zones and SEGA’s Leftfield Collection, and cosplayers compete and talk their craft on a dedicated Stage. Thanks to the sprawling size of the NEC, there’s pretty much something for everyone — board games, tabletop games, retro games, arcade games, blockbuster games. You get it.
Now we’re all up to speed, I spent Friday and Saturday strolling around and around the convention to cut my teeth on everything it had to offer. I didn’t get a press badge, so my experience is pretty representative of most attendees there, as a two-day snapshot.
While sat on the outbound train, absent-mindedly fidgeting with my cellphone, it dawned on me that perhaps choosing EGX as my first big event to attend wasn’t my most sensible idea ever. Where do I even start? Will there be a moment where I step past the barricades and do an awkward shuffle of ‘needing to tie my shoelaces’ in order to process the instant sensory overload? What if I ‘tie my shoelaces’ but I do tie my shoelaces together accidentally, tripping over, splitting my lip and acute embarrassment demands that I exit stage left immediately from this physical plane? Or, maybe the worst of all potential scenarios, will I have to saunter sheepishly back to a stand I’d previously marched past, silently announcing to everyone that I didn’t check where I was meant to be going?
None of these nightmares came to pass, primarily because an overactive imagination combined with latent anxiety creates exceedingly pessimistic yet exceedingly unlikely situations. Instead, I began by playing the demo for The Occupation by White Paper Games, an immersive stealth game set in England in the 1980s. The art style is stylized yet decadent in detail and lighting, very reminiscent of BioShock Infinite, and gives the player six real-time hours to affect the outcome of an act that would severely restrict the civil liberties of Britain’s population. I really enjoyed it, although the lack of a HUD was a bit disorienting at times, and it was great to hear the enthusiasm of the development team who are clearly smitten with their project.
Roaming the Rezzed Zones, there was May — the story of a mayfly transporting its mate to rest, as a side-scrolling 3D puzzle game with calming music and left a promising impression. You don’t see that every day! It’s funny because mayflies only live for 24 hours, but also true because it stands apart in terms of subject matter.
From Lavalamp Games, I Am Here was a quiet, narrative-focused game exploring the tragedy of dementia by transitioning from one time period to the next, the story revealed through fragmented conversations. Conversely, tours of old, creaky houses would get you nothing but trouble from zombies, skeletons and other assorted ghouls in Phantom Halls of Incendium Games. The gameplay was moreish due to procedural generation of its haunted levels, and its pop-up paper aesthetic is key to its quirky, humorous tone.
The Tentacle Collective (I know) was a smaller indie section and popular meeting point thanks to the luminous green appendages jutting upwards. Scooching through fellow attendees and developers, I was impressed with Purrfect Date, Megaquarium and spent time with AntiPhase — though I wasn’t very good at the sonar-weapon arcade-type latter title. Bae Team’s Purrfect Date boasts an unquestionably odd premise, but as a scientist investigating the strange occurrences of talking cats and mysterious feline effigies adorning the island, this visual novel will be more than meets the eye. Once I’d peered over a player’s shoulder and realized Megaquarium is a tycoon sim running a public aquarium filtered through an adorable art style, I was instantly sold. It comes from Twice Circled who are developers of Big Pharma, so you know it’s gonna hook you into a whirlpool of brightly-colored aquatic life and good business practices.
A demo of Q.U.B.E. 2 and a talk from Jon McKellan (Alien: Isolation, Stories Untold) ensured the day finished on a consistent high note. The visual aesthetic of Q.U.B.E. 2 absolutely knocks it out of the park, or more aptly, the abandoned science facility on an alien world. Thinking with squares rather than portals, color coordination and inventiveness will serve players well when travelling through the laboratory. The field of view could benefit from the tiniest of tweaks, in my opinion. In ‘AAA to Indie: A Horror and Tension Masterclass’, McKellan unraveled the hows and whys of Alien: Isolation’s terrifying experience, and how to replicate that nerve-shredding tension in unconventional settings. Good news everyone! Horror can quite literally be found anywhere: dress the scene accordingly as these tiny details will influence players’ frame of mind, readying them for a scare whether they know it or not. Secondly, balance the escalation of fear over the course of the game, as to not disillusion or totally intimidate players. It was really intriguing to hear the creative process behind Stories Untold, where the horror hides in between the lines of text based games, and how that choice permitted the developers unprecedented levels of narrative freedom.
[Side note: the EGX Theatre talks are all uploaded to YouTube here, if you’d like to hear more on AAA development.]