Tag Archives: QuakeCon

The Doom Reveal at QuakeCon 2014

Doom Reveal

“This brave new world is going to hell.” Marty Stratton, executive producer on Id Software’s upcoming Doom, apparently has a thing for understatement. Or perhaps literality, given the premise of the game. Either way, the troubled project formerly known as Doom 4 has found new life as a Bethesda-published product and made its big re-debut at this year’s QuakeCon event.

The publicly streamed portion involved a trailer, some PR-infused speech, and concept art showing the transition that the team made from old school to reimagined new school. In fact, you’ve mostly likely already seen the trailer as it was released back during E3. It’s gone unchanged.

But here are the quick facts: Doom takes place in a UAC research facility on Mars right before a demonic invasion begins, it will run on brand new id Tech 6 (dubbed “id Tech 666” by the team, says Stratton) for 1080p and 60 FPS, and will be coming to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

Most interesting was perhaps the exact words Stratton used to describe the team’s ambitions with Doom. He says this is a return to the franchise’s roots (hence the rebranding as just Doom) but they will also “evolve the way you play.” It’s an “origin game” with “fast, fast-paced” gameplay, where along the way he dropped the word “relentless” somewhere between five and 67 times. No regenerating health and a full arsenal. Sure sounds like Doom.

Then, watching the two back-to-back live gameplay demos, it’s very obvious that Stratton meant it all as a single gestalt statement. This looks precisely like a Doom game made to be an interpretation of modern sensibilities. The first demo was a slightly more subdued chunk of gameplay. It seemed to serve to mostly highlight the blend of new and old.

The character puts on a helmet and activates a HUD that is very reminiscent of Metroid Prime, giving a diegetic reason to why you can see real time data like objectives, enemies, and the like. One of the first things we then encounter after entering the UAC station is a locked red door, obviously meant to be an HD version of the franchise’s classic keyed obstacle. Then, rather quickly, the enemies start to appear.

Doom

They will literally materialize out of nothing, ostensibly teleporting from Hell itself. Demons and Imps are the order of the day, as are some rather brutal melee finishing moves. Enemies will flash briefly as they taken sufficient damage, telling you that you can close in and rip of their head or rip out their heart or kick off their head or split their head in half. There’s a lot involving the head. In fact, by utilizing the double jump, you can Mario them to death as you leap off of some conveniently located crates.

While not as ridiculously fast as the old games, Doom is still a rather fast-moving experience. There’s a sprint button that hits that nearly ludicrous speed, and dumping ammo into demonic flesh looks as quick and easy as breathing. Mantling and double jumping adds some much-desired verticality to a traditionally and unrelentingly horizontal franchise, though it’s certainly no Uncharted (nor should it be). Also, unconfirmed, but it looked like there might have been a lateral dodge move? I’ll ask for clarification.

There certainly was a lot of dude-shooting, but definitely nothing on par with the likes of Doom II. This was a surprisingly meted demo. Minutes at a time would pass where enemies would not attack, allowing you to even solve a “puzzle” where you ripped the hand off a nearby fallen guard to bypass a biometric scanner. But when the classic double-barreled shotgun made its appearance, the shooting came back with a vengeance.

Doom

The second demo was seemingly more oriented towards combat, as there was an entire segment where we saw all the different ways you could slice up Demons with the chainsaw. It was a one-hit kill, but it looked rather satisfying regardless as you lopped off limbs and heads and entire sides of bodies with a reckless abandon. You also see more clearly how time dilation affects the moment-to-moment action whenever you open up the radial weapon menu.

It also appeared that at least some portion of weapons will have an alternative fire. The double-barreled shotgun had this thing where it seemed to charge up three shots (out of two barrels?) at once and would unload in rapid succession. That served to really highlight how enemies would actively deteriorate as you damaged them more and more, chunks flying off before turning into straight-up gibs.

Then we entered a large arena-type room, which was appropriate given that a bunch of large boss-like enemies proceeded to attack you. This is where it felt most old school, as you were given an open-ish area with a bunch of weapons and a veritable deluge of bad guys would come after you. I’m talking Cyberdemons, Demons, Imps, and even a couple of Mancubuses (Mancubi?). Here we see prolonged usage of the plasma rifle and rocket launcher, two more classic weapons that did not disappoint.

QuakeCon 2014 Stage

This was absolutely a great showing for the revamped Doom. Nothing all that surprising, but it highlighted how Id was blending the classic tenets of the franchise with the lessons learned from modern shooters. And even in these nascent stages, this is already a fantastic-looking and sounding game. Most impressively, blood actually looks like blood.

Of course, there are reservations. Tentative ones given that this was purely eyes-on with a supremely vertical slice, but reservations nonetheless. Melee seems to have greatly affected the cadence of the game’s combat. It’s now more geared towards tireless forward progress, always moving to another stomped head. It feels a lot more like diving into the middle of the fray rather than dodging around and firing shots into the cluster.

We’ll try to find out more. Not sure you’ll be seeing these demos anytime soon; they were diligent about restricting camera usage in the theater. No release date or timeframe announced either, but Doom will be making its way to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 once it does come out.

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QuakeCon 2013 Recap + Photo Gallery

QuakeCon 2013 Recap + Photo Gallery

QuakeCon is such a strange little show. It started out as nothing more than a few dozen people getting together at a Best Western, holing up in meeting rooms and playing Doom and Quake all weekend. I used to work for a man who used to work in the industry (and played Quake professionally under the pseudonym Rooster) and he was there. He showed me a picture of John Carmack, new Chief Technical Officer of Oculus and possibly still head technical dude at Id Software, speaking to the small group in the parking lot.

It still feels a lot like that except there’s Bawls everywhere and they’re in a waaayyyy better hotel. In the Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) area, it’s nothing more than 3,000 people cramped up on dinged-up wooden tables playing video games for over three days straight. Well, that and miles of ethernet cable and leading networking technology. That’s the benefit of gaining sponsors and getting casually backed by Bethesda and Id.

The weird thing is that this year it feels a lot smaller than recent years. Perhaps it’s because QuakeCon finally didn’t come up against a cheerleading competition or Mary Kay summit like it has in past years, but more likely it’s because few big things came out of the show, or at least was expected at it. Two years ago, everyone clamored to see even a hint of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, especially if director Todd Howard was going to be the one demoing it, not to mention a revamped look at Prey 2. You know, back when that was a game that still existed. Plus people were still hyped on the impending release of Rage and the recent release of Brink, so the night of the tournament finals was unsurprisingly huge.

QuakeCon 2013

Last year, it was smaller for sure, but several huge things happened. For one, people could play the highly anticipated Dishonored and a surprise announcement was made by Interceptor Entertainment that they were bringing back Rise of the Triad, which actually released last week to positive reviews. But there were also a lot of smaller side panels including the stellar Looking Glass Studios retrospective, a live Idle Thumbs podcast [insert obligatory Fuck Nick for leaving Bethesda and thus taking away any reason for them to come back], and a star-studded live episode of Bonus Round.

If anything is indicative of the smaller stature of this year’s QuakeCon, it would be the Bonus Round lineup. Last year there was Geoff Keighley, Michael Pachter, Adam Sessler, and Dishonored‘s Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio. This year was Keighley, Machinegames’ creative director Jens Matthies, Arkane Studios’ lead designer Ricardo Bare, and creative director of ZeniMax Online Studios Paul Sage. Not to say any of them are not highly respected members of the industry (they are all, in fact, incredibly smart and overwhelmingly friendly people), but their names don’t carry the same cachet with people not knee-deep into how the sausage is made.

This was also the first time I can recall seeing massive clumps of empty seats in the BYOC area. It was disturbing seeing entirely empty rows leading up to the NOC (Network Operations Center, a raised bunker of servers, techs, and a desire to not see anything explode). In fact, reigning (and consistent) champion of the case mod competition Derrick Johnson wasn’t even seen this year. And whereas last year, people stood for hours to get their grubby little hands on the Oculus Rift with the people that actually made it, this year, a few meandered barely within eyeshot of the Virtuix Omni treadmill.

QuakeCon 2013

That’s not to say, however, that this QuakeCon was any worse than past ones; it was just smaller and less bombastic, especially since this was the first year in quite some time since former Id president and current ponytail-lover Todd Hollenshead emceed the main stage’s events. You could especially see the reduced size in the press/exhibitor party at the House of Blues on Thursday where it took up until half an hour until closing time for the dancing to get started (normally it gets going pretty quickly). Or, if you knew where to look, you could see a reduction in big name press outlets in attendance.

But we still got brand new hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order which showed a great amount of promise in lofty ideas but was generally mired in conflicting results. We got to spend a generous amount of time with The Elder Scrolls Online which bucks many MMO tropes and pushes further into a Skyrim or Oblivion that happens to have other human players around. There was also an extended demo in the press area of the upcoming Dishonored DLC The Brigmore Witches, but that’s coming out so soon, there’s really no point in writing a preview.

There was also supposed to be a new hands-off demo of The Evil Within, but after a couple rescheduled theater times, we just ended up with the same E3 demo at the public showing. Tough life, I know, being press.

QuakeCon 2013

And we also got to listen to Id’s new art director Hugo Martin talk about pretty much everything. He talked about what made working on movies different from games (“games are a marathon, but movies are a sprint” and “every day you need to perform or you’re gone”) and he talked extensively about what it was like to work on Pacific Rim with Guillermo del Toro, where he spent the first few months of pre-production working out of del Toro’s garage. He was, actually, the inspiration for this week’s Concept Art Roundup. Plus there was emergent art out of the BYOC where a man endured Post-it notes of love, nonsense, and plenty of dicks.

Regardless of the size of the show, you can always expect parties at video game gatherings. Bethesda’s House of Blues party is always pretty fun. The Rise of the Triad launch party was weird because it took place at Community Beer Company. It’s just a mile down 35 from the Hilton where QuakeCon was being held, but it was on the complete opposite side of the area where its sign was located. It made it hard to find, but the beer was really good. (I recommend the Vienna Lager.) Julia Marchak, official photographer of the night for Interceptor Entertainment, managed to start a microcosmic meme of imitating marketing director Dave Oshry’s default position of beer-in-mouth-phone-in-hand. Pretty fun. A tamale dealer was also just outside. God those were tasty.

The night of the finals was predictably insane. At some point, it turned into a Daft Punk dance party following the conclusion of the 1 vs. 1 Doom II tournament where Jkist3 defeated DevastatioN in a real nail-biter. The VIP area in the back, though, was also a lot of fun. They still have that amazing cheese-stuffed tortellini, if anyone was wondering, and it’s still being made by a rather angry-looking woman.

QuakeCon 2013

Also, at some point, I was party to a 4 AM shouting circle with Id Software’s creative director Tim Willits. And yes, he still vehemently refuses to talk about Doom 4.

All in all, QuakeCon was once again an amazingly fun show. This year was definitely smaller, but it was just as important as past years. As press, to come to an event so small size-wise but large impact-wise, it’s a big deal. Working with Tracey Thompson, Erin Losi, and Angela Ramsey of Bethesda and Hiro Ito of fortyseven (usually it’s Jeremy Long, but he’s since moved on) in such close quarters where you are one of maybe 20 journalists that show up is neat, and you get an inordinate amount of time to spend with games and interviewees.

Not to mention I live in Dallas, so at the end of the day, I get to still fall asleep on my own bed. Booya. See you all next year.

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QuakeCon 2013 Hands-on with The Elder Scrolls Online

QuakeCon 2013 Hands-on with The Elder Scrolls Online

The last time I played The Elder Scrolls Online, the upcoming MMO set in The Elder Scrolls world of Tamriel, it was rather nondescript. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t feel especially noteworthy in any particular aspect aside from its attachment to its namesake franchise. I’d even left my anemic page of notes untouched and didn’t bother writing about it, lest my preview contain the sole words “it’s an MMO” and an anecdote about how my character model was at some point a tree.

Things, however, have changed, and changed for the better. You could still quickly sum it up as “Skyrim as an MMO,” but now I find that lacking. There are bits and pieces to where it feels significantly different from many other experiences and feels much more like what made The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim the success that it was.

You start off immediately with the character creation process wherein you put in your name, pick your race and class, and futz about with a bevy of sliders, including one for your posterior. I chose a female Argonian Dragon Knight, named her Walterja Matthausus, randomly tweaked her appearance, and I was well on my way.

The Elder Scrolls Online

I (and the handful of other press members) was dumped into what appeared to be a house with an objective to talk to a Captain Rana of the Ebonheart Pact, presumably the woman in front of me where half a dozen other people are clumped together. I spoke her and she offered me up three ways to complete an investigation into some untoward oddities in the land of Bleakrock. I picked the one that sounded the furthest away and set off.

I did, however, engage Rana in conversation before leaving. I asked her about the various races of the land. When I asked her about the Argonians, she laughed at the idea of someone asking about their own race. Another press member told me that as a Nord, Rana said that it was “just like a Nord” to ask about himself. It’s a small touch but also very much appreciated in a genre about size and multitude.

As soon as I stepped outside, I opened up my character screen and set up my skills. Instead of deeply branching, constellation-based trees like in Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls Online offers a much more straightforward approach where you unlock a steady, downward progression of abilities in several different categories. As you use them, they level up until they’re able to mutate, at which point you choose one of two directions to go with them. It’s kind of like how powers in Mass Effect would evolve into one of two versions. I unlocked Slam, an ability that both knocks down an enemy and interrupts their attack, and assigned it to the 1 key.

The Elder Scrolls Online

Along my trek to my main story goal, several more goal markers popped up on my map in the lower-left corner of my screen. And a couple people ran right up to me and asked for my help. It reminded me very much in how Skyrim worked with the Radiant AI system. More so, my quest log eventually reached scrollable lengths, perhaps the greatest single indicator of this being an Elder Scrolls game.

One such quest was to hunt down a great beast that almost downed a hunter. He’d come to affectionately (and not-so-creatively) call it Deathclaw, but I called it a chance to try out the combat. The quest led me to this little gully that was filled with giant bones and wolves. I dove in headfirst and clicked frantically on the closest wolf. Holding the left mouse button would generate a stronger, slower attack while holding the right mouse button would allow me to block and mitigate damage. Casting Slam took a lot of stamina, a familiar resource that can also be taken up by sprinting and dodging by double-tapping a WASD key (one of many additions since the last time I played), but it kept the wolves down and unable to hurt me.

I then slipped into first-person mode and fought for a while like that, and it immediately felt 100% more like Skyrim and the other Elder Scrolls games, including crouching and sneaking and slashing like a god damn Slap Chop. The only difference was that it took what felt like a few too many hits to get an enemy down. As I progressed through the demo and reached level five, level two enemies would still take a while. While the combat of Skyrim was never anything to write home about, The Elder Scrolls Online’s mechanics certainly feels much more like an MMO than anything else. It just looks like Skyrim now.

The Elder Scrolls Online

That’s not to say, however, that it’s bad. Being a mobile and agile character allowed for at least some tactical maneuvering; coming out of even these small scale skirmishes untouched made me feel like a god. An interesting wrinkle that I noticed when fighting bears was that when they reared up to do their attack, a sort of vision cone would appear on the ground, showing where I was liable to be damaged when they struck. The same went for when archers would do their raining blows from above and litter the ground with arrows. Seeing and not just guessing where such attacks were coming in from definitely put a focus on movement, which is a nice change from standing there and clicking until RSI set in.

The quests also didn’t feel like traditional MMO “go here and kill things to collect things to bring back to a dude” quests. There still were some of those, but there was at least a layer on top of them that made them feel much more than that. For example, once you return to Captain Rana with your concluded investigation, you must gather up the locals and evacuate the town from an impending assault. So when you have to travel about and find three people turned into skeevers to transform them back into humans or clear out some wolves, it feels like it has purpose.

Two quests in particular stand out, though, as uniquely Elder Scrolls events. The first involves acquiring a bandit outfit, disguising yourself, and sneaking around to collect evidence. When you have to enter a mine, you can’t even continue forward unless you’re disguised and the gatekeeper thinks you’re part of the group. If you slip up, you’re likely to die as there are many, many enemies around that would love to stab you over and over. If you die, though, it’s not that big of a deal as you can simply choose to revive there or transport to a nearby settlement.

The Elder Scrolls Online

The other quest involved entering an icy cave to rescue someone. Supposedly, he had been taken hostage by a Frozen Man, some crazy fellow with magical powers. You had to go about this bear-infested cave to collect evidence as to who he was until you finally confront him in his frozen chamber. At first I thought I was going to have to literally guess his name by typing it in or something, but instead he just creates two extra instances of himself and you have to attack the one you think is real. I couldn’t quite grok how you were supposed to tell it was him, but I got it on the second try anyways.

There is also a sense of permanence in regards to the game. You are given a choice at any point to evacuate the town before collecting all 15 missing persons, so those absent folk will always be gone from your game. And once you start the evacuation, the attack from the Daggerfall Covenant begins and, it seems, everything spontaneously combusts into fire and pain. It makes me wonder how they’ll handle showing different versions of the same area to multiple players, but I was told they’ve got it handled.

The Elder Scrolls Online has very much the veneer of an Elder Scrolls game. Over the course of the two-hour demo, I collected and equipped several weapons, each stronger than the last; I killed a man’s livestock just to see what would happen (he yelled a lot); and I spent a lot of time in menus talking to people and wonder what I could craft (also, yes, crafting exists). The parts of MMOs that have largely turned me away from the genre seem to have been painted over with a healthy coat of Bethesda and ZeniMax sheen. Some of the problems still poke through like prolonged, tedious combat loops and a few generic fetch quests, but I think I’m finally excited to jump back into the world of massive player numbers.

Look for The Elder Scrolls Online sometime in the future.

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QuakeCon 2013 Hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order

Hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order

B.J. Blazkowicz is confused. Recently suffering some rather traumatic injuries involving his brain, some shrapnel, and falling something like 20 stories off a cliffside stronghold and into the ocean to float around for who knows how long, our favorite Nazi-killing hero of games with the word “Wolfenstein” in them is now in an asylum, trying to physically and mentally recover. It’s understandable given the things he’s been through.

The problem is that I’m confused, too. Or rather, I’m confused about what the game wants to be. After spending an hour with a new demo build of Wolfenstein: The New Order at this year’s QuakeCon in Dallas, Texas, I definitely have a better idea of what sort of game this sequel is going to be, but I’m not entirely convinced that it knows what it wants to be. Allow me to explain.

It opens with a cutscene of Blazkowicz and his squad preparing to storm the massive expanse between them and the wall of an enemy base. This is where we get a glimpse that our protagonist is not what we remember from days of old. There’s another soldier kind of freaking, so Blazkowicz walks over and helps him calm down with a little trick. “Inhale. Count to four. Exhale. Count to four.” And then they’re off, running the gauntlet of bullets and space where bullets soon shall be.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Once they get to the wall, the gruff leader of the squad spits some knowledge: some of them will go headlong into the fray while the others will climb this wall with their grappling hook guns and find a way to open the gate in front of them. As they hook up to the ropes they’ve just fired up, we get playing control and begin to ascend. At a dying snail stuck in molasses’ pace, we climb the wall, moving forward and side to side and shooting dudes as they pop out of the windows. It reminds me of Whac-a-Mole, except with a lot more blood.

Our other two wall-bound comrades die before we reach the top (a plane also crashes at some point, forcing you to dodge a large piece of debris), but I never even really caught their names. I pop up into the top window, pick a direction, and start running. At first I discover a Secret Area which doesn’t really do much except show me different-looking doors, but back on the main path I find a lever. I pull it and drop into the holes created by the gate weights.

And then we progress through some standard fare shooting stuff. There is some stealth in the game, but it wasn’t really working for me, nor did it seem like a consistent option. It wasn’t like you could sneak past an entire encounter (or at least from what I saw and tried), but you could at least get behind a couple of dudes and slice their throats. At least in theory, anyways, because I always ended up slashing him in the back first before trying again and then finally kicking off the stealth kill animation. It was weird and after several attempts at the matter, I don’t think I was entirely to blame for not succeeding at it.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Two wrinkles came up, though, that were pretty interesting. You can hold down the left bumper on the controller and use the left stick to lean around corners. And if you tap RB, you switch between dual and single wield of whatever weapon you have out. Those two controls help facilitate two things that will keep you alive. Blazkowicz, for as space marine-ish as he looks, is rather frail, so leaning in and out of cover is vital, and when you really get in a jam, quickly and easily busting out two machine guns is clutch (not to mention super fun).

Eventually we come across a strange room full of people(?) strung up by the skin of their backs. The squad tries to escape but only succeeds in setting off an incinerator process, so instead of becoming charred-up soldiers, they try to escape, which culminates in me going over to a stand, pressing X to grab a key, then pressing X to insert the key into a lock. We make it out and enter the next room, but this mechanized, humanoid brute explodes out of a chamber in the ground in this small, cramped, square room and starts attacking us. It kills a squad member, but I unlock everything I’ve got and he goes down.

All the while, however, Blazkowicz and some of his teammates are spouting off one-liners, but they’re somewhat extended one-liners and some of them kind of delve into some deep shi—err, stuff. It’s more distracting than anything; it feels like they used to be really cheesy Duke Nukem catchphrases but replaced with the writing of someone having a dark, emotional day.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Anyways, with the brute down, we try to escape this room, too, since they’d rather deal with dead, mutilated bodies instead of live, angry, well-armed ones, but the door is shut and there’s a guy standing in the little door window doing his best Slender Man/G-Man/asshole impression. He triggers something and causes the walls to close and slowly Star Wars-style crush us, but instead we fade to black and wake up to us on the floor of the incinerator room.

Slender G Hole is talking to us. Apparently he likes to collect eyes, which is bad news for the one of the other three surviving members of the team because he was already one eye down. The other two, however, lay in front of you and the doctor general dude asks us to make a choice: look at the one you want to die, or everyone gets their throats slit. It’s an empty threat, however, as nothing happened as I lingered on the screen for a while. Eventually I picked the guy on the left because they both were basically facing the floor and I couldn’t tell who was who (nor could I remember any of them. I think I had a captain?).

As it turns out, I saved the captain. We zoom in on a well-rendered, super emotional Blazkowicz, telling himself to inhale, count to four, exhale, count to four. It’s a nice callback, albeit borderline overwrought. But anyways, everyone else except us and one brute leave, so the captain kicks over a pipe and begins to attack our warden. I once again press X to pick up the pipe and press it again to stab it into the oversized guard’s side. We then smash all of the incinerator outlets with the pipe, free ourselves, and hotwire a window open. It involves controlling the left wire with the left stick and the right wire with the right stick and slowly moving them together and holding them so they spark for a few moments. We then take a running leap out of the window into the ocean below, but not before our head gets really intimate with shrapnel flying towards the back of Blazkowicz’s head.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

We float around a bit while late credits come in and out until we wake up in some mental hospital. Everything is a bit hazy and we go into an extended cutscene of Blazkowicz watching the world pass him by as he is basically brain damaged to the point of being a vegetable. This part of the game goes really dramatic and, for the most part, succeeds. We are introduced to a family running the asylum, the entirety of which is upstanding. The father is the doctor and regularly fights back from the Reich abducting patients and genuinely tries to help people. The mother is a pharmacist of sorts and the daughter, Anya, just helps with everyone’s recovery. She feeds Blazkowicz, talks to him, and passes time with him. Time speeds up and slows down as the family celebrates birthdays and mourns losses. And all our square-jawed, ultra masculine soldier can do is think, trapped in his own head and in this ward. It’s dark and really interesting.

But then some soldiers come in, saying the doctor’s work is concluded. Some unsanctioned shooting goes on (namely the father and mother), so they take Anya to determine her fate with the captain while the remaining soldier’s execute the patients. When the guy gets to us, though, Blazkowicz slices his throat with a steak knife and picks up his gun. We show him stumbling (“legs like jelly…fingers numb”), but then he’s pretty much back to full strength save for the occasional fuzzy vision.

We blast our way through the hospital and out into the courtyard where we see them trying to take Anya away. We stop them the only way we know how (read: bullets) and trundle over to her. She’s still breathing, so we pick her up, put her in a nearby car, and start to drive away, which was kind of nice. I thought the entire game was going to be a whole “damsel in distress” thing—which could have been cool if a bit too trope-ish but still would have made another war story into something much more personal—but based on the E3 demo, it seems like we’ll be escorting her to various locations throughout the game instead.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I just really have no idea what kind of game Wolfenstein: The New Order wants to be, and I don’t think it really knows either. The shooting is very decisive, forcing you to move deliberately but also quickly lest you get surrounded and pinned. But then moments like when a robot dog inexplicably pops up out of a wall in a very Resident Evil-y moment and when you are gently coerced into sneaking around, it feels like it at some point wanted to be a horror game. And when you fight the brute, it becomes much more old school Wolfenstein where you just dump ammo and overcharge your health and go “fuck yeah.” And the timing and phrasing of some of the things Blazkowicz and your crew say feels like vestiges of a much more lighthearted game, but then it was replaced with a super self-serious title, one that deals with loss of identity in the asylum and friends and family in the war.

A lot of those disparate pieces, however, do have merit, but when they’re all stuck together, it kind of stops making sense. Taken alone, they all individually kind of excite me, but a more cohesive vision would really tie all those neat starts up into a nice finish. Maybe that’s why it got delayed until 2014. Maybe by then they’ll take all these different, cool ideas and turn them into a single great idea.

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The Couched Impetus

The Couched Impetus

Did you know there’s a difference between couches and sofas? Despite what you may have heard or surmised after years of experience regarding the two, it’s not just about size nor at all about the price; it’s about the design. Couches were originally designed for Victorian-era women to flop down on after falling ill to wearing-a-corset-itis and hence have no arms and a tapered back. The word “sofa” originates from the Arabic word “suffah,” which describes a bench covered with padding, hence a sofa’s arms and straight back.

Personally, I prefer the sofa because when you cram three other people in there with you while you play video games, everything is a personal vendetta.

Before the advent of the Internet and online shenanigans, video games that featured multiplayer were played in physical proximity to other players by necessity. The phrase “couch co-cop” didn’t exist because it was the only kind of co-op, which is to say you always played together in the same room or on the same couch. Split-screen or shared-screen, it didn’t matter; it was one machine, a few controllers, and a commensurate number for friends/soon-to-be enemies, something I thought about while going through both online and offline play in Pocketwatch Games’ latest release, Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, a four-player cooperative heist game.

Co-op and multiplayer in the modern lexicon have certain connotations, namely that they are both online. When someone says to you that a game has a cooperative campaign or competitive multiplayer, you just kind of assume they mean through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. And I mean, why wouldn’t you? High-speed Internet access is as pervasive as it’s ever been and with UI designed to be specifically seen at a certain size and resolution, it kind of makes sense everyone would play on their own console in their own home on their own television.

The upsetting thing is that this preconceived notion of isolation has broken down certain aspects of multiplayer gaming. The degradation is perhaps most notable in LAN parties. Before everyone had reliable and speedy Internet connections, LAN parties were the only way to guarantee everyone could consistently play and have a pleasant experience; lag would be pretty much a nonfactor.

Perhaps the most important thing, though, is that everyone would be together. I know that sounds super cheesy and comes across as a 70s hippie message, but having the people that you are shooting at and working with all in the same room is a massively different experience than when all you get are tinny, delayed voices coming out of your headset. Now you can catch out of your peripherals the way people lean forward when things get tense or sit back in resignation at a round far out of reach. You can feel as they jitter about, anxious for the next bullet-laden encounter or for the countdown to reach zero. Not only can you hear and see on the screen that they are revving but that they are also feathering every other button on the controller as some arcane pre-race ritual.

This now exists solely among the die-hard. Granted, LAN parties were always something for the more technological and gaming inclined, but it used to be I would need a spreadsheet to track all of the gatherings in a given month. Now I can count exactly one that I regularly attend: QuakeCon. And that’s usually in some work capacity as a journalist (you can read about what it’s like as an attendee over at SB Nation).

What is missed most, though, is the actual act of playing a video game with some other people all on the same couch. Or sofa. Whatever. The important thing is the absolute immediacy of our collective adjacency. LAN parties were great because online multiplayer games have such higher player counts than same-screen multiplayer so it felt an awful lot like playing in an arena that happened to be populated solely by you and your friends, but playing on a sofa with just three other dudes is so much more intimate.

That intimacy leads to a meta game of sorts. Suddenly, not only were able to mentally gauge the situation among your cohorts and competitors but also physically engage with them. Granted, the extreme of this (that is: pushing, shoving, slapping controllers, hitting buttons, etc.) is usually reserved for more lackadaisical settings and more accommodating friends, but even the more moderate utilities are pretty great. Locked side-by-side, foes can’t escape steely stares and heated trash-talk as they can from across a room full of computers, networking cables, and pizza. Partners in crime can give you the most imperceptible of nudges to initiate your favorite predetermined play (The Annexation of Puerto Rico).

It also taught to hold your cards a little closer to the chest. For all the little signs and ticks that you could read off of others, they could just as easily read off of you. If they lay in wait, you sense a calm from their static hands but a great storm of nerves and mild perspiration coming from their body. If you jump, you’ll give away your foreknowledge and you’ll give away what is now your advantage, only to have the pursuit begin anew. Play it calm (or at least unknowing) and their trap becomes your trap.

These are little physical things that are only present in couch co-op, a catchall term that includes any sort of multiplayer in a single physical location rather than strictly meaning cooperative play taking place on a literal couch. And they are things that can’t be emulated once game data is filtered through routers and cables. They may not always be advantageous or even preferred, but they are undoubtedly wholly unique to that setup. That’s why online poker is often viewed as where you hone your gameplay strategies while face-to-face poker is where you hone your interpersonal ones.

I also like that a sofa makes you feel like you’re slotted into a roller coaster. It’s an appropriate metaphor for the ups and down you are guaranteed to experience fighting and conniving with three of your closest friends.

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