Event Coverage: GenCon 2008 Day 1
Get ready for some serious gaming...and costumes.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Appearances can be deceiving. Walking up to the entrance to the convention center from our hotel, the building is unassuming. Other than two stormtroopers stopping for a smoke, thereís little indication that a huge gaming convention is about to unfold. But the tranquil scene before me doesnít do justice to whatís about to unfold. Comparisons between Origins and GenCon are inevitable. Origins boasts they have more variety of events. GenCon boasts much larger attendance of both vendors and attendees. GenCon also is developing a certain momentum in attracting electronic gaming companies. I donít have exact figures but itís clear that some major players have staked a claim: Turbine, Atari, Sony Online Entertainment and 2K Games all have a presence. Dell has a huge bus they pulled on to the floor where theyíre showing off their hardware. (Note to self: check it out later.)
From the moment the doors opened it was clear there was a flood of guests in the vendor room. Despite admonitions of the GenCon staff not to run, a number of folks were almost sprinting to be first in line to buy some goods. For the next several hours until I left to go write up my impressions the vendor area and surrounding halls are bustling. And this is just Thursday. Wait until more folks show up for the weekend.
Covering these cons is always a hit and miss situation, but my first stop is to go see the folks at Slugfest Games. Theyíre debuting their expansion to Kung Fu Fighting: More! Kung Fu Fighting. I drop by to say hello, and who do I run into at their booth other than Caroline Keefe-McDermott of Zombie Buddy Productions. We catch up on how things have been going since Origins and she lets me know that reservations for their Rising game (http://www.wargamer.com/article/109/Convention-Coverage-Origins-2008-Coverage-Day-1?page=2) are quickly filling up. I promise to warn my gaming friends to act soon.
So Whatís New?
I then spend some time just getting a feel for the convention. The vendor hall has been laid out in a reasonably logical manner. Although there are exceptions, generally electronic vendors are in one section, board games in another, clothing and sword vendors in their own area, etc. Itís not perfect but it is good enough that it makes sense.
My first stop is to visit Matt Holden of Darkened Sky. Heís working on recoding the first collectable card game ever put on the web, Chron X. He and his team have purchased the IP rights to the game and for most of the last year have been updating the game from DirectX 4 to the latest version. The game is also being converted to Flash, which means that players can pull it up on any platform, even an iPhone or a Wii. The interesting thing is the game will be released free. A for-pay premium subscription will be available that will offer some cool bells and whistles such as IM notification when your turn is ready. However, unlike other free/premium games, the premium game wonít give subscribers any gameplay advantages. It is expected to launch in the next three to four weeks. Readers can find more info at www.chronx.com.
My next stop is to chat with some folks at Turbine to catch up on the latest updates to Dungeons & Dragons Online. Turbine is getting ready to do something very smart, in my opinion. They are about to release and update to the game that, in addition to higher level gameplay updates, will also totally revamp the introduction to the game. The old introduction worked great for gamers who knew the D&D pen & paper rules. But new players without knowledge of either MMOs or D&D were at a disadvantage. This latest release will offer lots of help starting at character creation. Advanced players will still have the option to custom select their skills and feats, but now a streamlined set of choices will help players select pre-generated templates. The game starts by asking what role the player wants: melee, spell, or specialist. I selected specialist. Then I was offered a number of class selections including rogue or bard. I chose a bard. Then I was introduced to three possible pre-generated templates: warchanter, who buffs the groupís combat abilities; spellsinger, who buffs the spellcasting ability of the group; and virtuoso of the sword, who is both a lightweight melee fighter and has some crowd control spells to cast. I then selected my race the game began. The entire storyline of the introduction has been rewritten to give it an epic feel. The dialog and plot are engaging, the player is given plenty of help, but the NPCs donít spoon feed the player. Itís a great balance of being able to provide help when itís needed but the player still feels like heís in charge. By the time the intro is completed, the player will know everthing about movement, combat and interaction with the environment to play. In addition, a feature is being added whereby Hirelings are introduced. These are NPCs that a group can bring in if they canít find that last character thatís needed for them to go out an adventure, or if a single player is having trouble finding a group. Gamers who attend GenCon can stop by the Turbine booth to get a 10 day free subscription to the game and/or to Lord of the Rings Online Ė a nice benefit of attending a con. More information can be found at http://www.ddo.com/.
In wandering around I am always looking for new or different items to share with readers. One of the things I ran into is a playing aid for gamers seeking a new dice bag. Matt Drake of VixenTor Games has created these dice bags that are quite sturdy, yet when opened double as a rolling surface and ďboxĒ at the same time. They are attractive and useful and itís a clever idea. They also sell dice rolling towers, but what impressed me about the bag was the dual use. Itís pretty neat. Check it out at www.vixentorgames.com.
As I strolled through the art section of the vendor hall I ran across the art of Drew Baker. Drew is one of those lucky few guys who is succeeding as a full-time artist. I have met many talented artists at these cons who must work a day job to pay the bills. Drew is fortunate enough to have been commissioned to paint a lot of the artwork for Legend of the Five Rings. Clearly that implies a distinctly Asian feel to his art, but itís attractive. He has also managed to land some jobs doing work for D&D and Star Wars RPGs. Right now heís selling his artwork in small bundles for Legend of the Five Rings players to place his art behind their playing cards in a plastic sleeve. It brightens up the card deck and gives Drew a little more extra income on the side. And these small pictures can be purchased individually for folks who just want to enjoy a few of the pictures on their own. Examples of his work can be found at www.drewbaker.com.