Friday

Day two! After waking up a tad late and choking on coffee and croissants, I once again arrived at the Tobacco Docks for more fun at Rezzed. Today was the day that my college class were attending as part of their scheduled trip, as well as a few colleagues of mine from the PR team I was part of for Nintendo at EGX 2015. I trawled around until I found my friends, brushed their faces with my hands, and went on patrol with my Nintendo friends to take a look at Quantum Break (which seemed really rather cool in terms of it’s theme, but the animation was atrocious from the perspective of someone on a games development course, and the movement felt clunky). This wandering and chatter took me up to around 2pm, wherein I dashed with frantic fervor to the main Indie room. It was time for my interview with Mode 7 and SMAC Games. I met and conversed with Mackiek Strychalski, Sean Wright, and Paul Kilduff-Taylor, three absolutely lovely gentlemen, who sat me down and gave me some game time with Frozen Synapse 2 and Tokyo 42, the former a sequel to Mode 7 Games’ popular title, the latter a new contender on the scene from SMAC Games that fuses a number of wonderful concepts. (I go into greater detail in my interview with the guys, but I’ll summarize my thoughts here by saying that I’m very excited for the two projects.)

frz_syn_tkyo_42_mergeSocially energized and reinvigorated by my successful encounter, I sauntered back on to where I had last convened with my colleagues. There they were, where I’d left them, having moved on to other games in the room. We played more titles for a while, discussed various frivolous and ridiculous topics, and then decided to grab a spot of lunch. For those that aren’t aware, London is already expensive as it is in regards to commodities like food, and pissing in train stations (50p!? Are you serious, Waterloo?). Combine that with the natural hike in prices at convention centres, and you end up having to take out a mortgage and selling your left kidney in order to afford lunchtime nibbles. I had to relearn this the hard way when searching far and wide for my lunch. We had four options: brisket baps, wraps, rice stuff, and quite possibly the most glorious chicken I’d ever laid my eyes upon. The crisp coating, the fragrant aromas, the grease. I gleefully sauntered up to the stand, asked how much the chicken was, and received a muffled and slightly incomprehensible response. I figured it wouldn’t be any more than £5-7, and by then it was too late to ask once more how much it was because I’d enthusiastically thrust my tenner into the hands of the woman serving me. And did not receive change. What world is this? In which the deep-fried remains of a bird seasoned with mixed salts and peri-peri mayonnaise puts one back two thirds the price of a train ticket to London? It’s a bloody outrage, it is.

Anyway, uh… back to the video games.

After our extravagant culinary purchases, we hopped into the queue for a game called Giant Cop. In the queue with my friend Robin, we waited for a good hour. Why? Well, Giant Cop is a VR game, and this demo used the HTC Vive. Prior to this, the only VR experience I’d had was at the EGX two years prior, with the first Oculus Rift development kit, which, whilst amazing, was quite painful to my retinae. What I was about to experience, then, was the equivalence of a man having lived his life confined to sitting in a chair staring at shadow movements on a wall discovering the infinite nature of the universe. I felt huge, stomping about the streets of a Miami-esque city, snatching up criminals and tossing them into the criminal bin of the local police department. My ruthless punishment of crime was halted, however, and as the headset was removed from my face I was thrust back into reality, where the second day of Rezzed had concluded and people left and right were being ushered out of the Docks like excited and sweaty sheep, myself in their ranks. Another day, another evening of frantic tweeting and networking.

giant cop

Saturday

Day three was looking to be rather busy. More coffee, more croissants. More sitting down in the press lounge, organising where I needed to be and who I needed to see. First up, Freekstorm, with Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game, a 3D platformer that makes use of virtual reality as a means of observing the player character’s surroundings. It was a rather fascinating concept; up until then I’d seen incredibly few VR experiences that ventured outside of a first person perspective, and anything but confused me in theory. In practice, however, I began to understand the possibilities of such a mechanic. Looking around corners, closely studying platforms and puzzles, significantly altering your perspective of blocks and ledges and switches and their layout in comparison to the player character are all possible to an extent without VR, but with it, the extent to which one can do this increases tenfold. Absolutely fascinating stuff, which is a shame because by the end of the demo I felt like I was going to chunder all over the cute merchandise Freekstorm had laid out on their booth. It would seem that, adverse to the HTC Vive, that the Oculus Rift disagrees with me. The official Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game cup coaster, however, most certainly did not.

me playing obliteration gameConsciously aware of the rattling of my pockets, now lined with merchandise and empty bottles of water, I bounded to my next destination, a panel with Kilduff-Taylor, Strychalski and Wright discussing Tokyo 42 and demonstrating it to the audience. It was great so see them enjoying themselves, getting so passionate about the project. Alas, my enjoyment of their enjoyment would be short-lived, and after checking the time on my phone, I slipped out of the showroom and hastily made my way to the coffee stand in the center of the venue. I had a meeting. A meeting with Sam Redfern and Manus Burke. I grabbed my coffee and waited patiently. Darting my head from side to side, waiting for the two gentlemen to approach me. It felt covert and stealthy, like a spy movie. What followed was anything but.

I was met with two lovely Irishmen, very friendly and very welcoming. We introduced ourselves to each other, and shuffled off to the side to discuss what they had for me. Redfern is a veteran developer, his first game produced on a BBC Micro in 1984, titled Space Trader. Burke is the programmer of Howling Hamster, a trio who make games and release regular episodes of their podcast, The Hamster Cage. They were at the show to enquire with other developers about the cost and effectiveness of buying table space, and also to network as much as they could. Redfern discussed with me his most recent title, Goblins & Grottos, a 2D platformer that parodies the MMO genre and is packed with satirical and self-referential humor. It’s been out for some time, and is quite a solid title. He provided to me a couple of Steam keys, and we had general chit-chat regarding the venue and how the two gentlemen were finding it. With Burke, I talked about Howling Hamster’s upcoming title, Sub Species, a 2.5D twin-stick shooter that puts the player in control of a submarine with guns, exploring the ocean floor and destroying monsters that come after you at all angles. It was a project described to me as similar in atmosphere to Aliens, which was an exciting prospect. He gave me his business card, we continued general chatter, shook hands and went our separate ways once more.

sub speciesI’m now going to talk to you about my favourite title at EGX Rezzed. I returned to the Leftfield Collection to meet with a stylish, bearded man by the name of Mike Robinson, who, with his colleague Angus Dick, was showing to the public an early build of Pool Panic. It was a title that I unavoidably eyed up for a brief moment here or there whilst playing Burly Men at Sea, and felt utterly compelled to meet the creators and play the game for myself. In Pool Panic, you assume the role of a white cue ball on an adventure to make friends with other pool balls. Unfortunately, you are plagued with the innate and instinctive desire to pot any balls you see into the holes of pool tables, rendering them deceased. The demo has you venturing through a beautifully-drawn overworld populated with encounters and secrets, and upon approaching a pool ball in the environment, the player will trigger a transition into what could loosely be described as combat. The ground around you raises up into the shape of a pool table, and you frantically dart about, trying your best to pot the required number of coloured pool balls, each with their own personalities: the red balls were mostly stationary, flinching and wincing as you neared them. The orange balls donned roller skates, worming their way around the table and avoiding your strikes. The green balls donned goalie gloves, protecting the other balls from being potted as best they can. It was absurd, ridiculous, and endlessly amusing and fun. I spoke at greater length with Robinson about ideas and hopes for the direction of the project, all of which was brilliant and funny and wonderfully quirky, and upon his late arrival did the same with Dick, who struck me as a truly brilliant man. It was a pleasure talking to the both of them, and equally as much of a pleasure having so much fun with the title, which I’m keeping a very close eye on.

pool panicThe day was reaching it’s end. With not much time, I figured I’d return to the press lounge for the last few minutes and get some writing started, double check for anything I’d missed, and sit down for a moment. Lo behold, the Outside Xbox team just cruise on past my seat, give me the casual nod one gives to a stranger walking in the opposite direction on a path as a matter of pleasantry (or is that just a British thing?), and leave me confused and excited and flustered. It was at that moment, three days into Rezzed, that I felt a sense of real accomplishment. Everything that had occurred over the weekend caught up with me and sank in. For so long, a career in games journalism felt like such a pipe dream to me. I’d spent near-sleepless nights tweaking and perfecting personal pieces and portfolio fillers, countless days in bouts of self-doubt and fear that I’d never succeed.

And there I was. Sitting in the EGX Rezzed press lounge with a green plastic strap on my wrist and a dictaphone in my hand, writing about all of the fantastic things I’d gotten up to at the weekend, all of the passionate people I’d spoken to, all of the brilliant games I’d played. And I found myself bearing the biggest, silliest smile on my face.