Queues. They’re the first thing you notice when you get to EGX. Before even setting foot in London’s Earl’s Court, you can see throngs of gamers obediently and politely lining up outside the event. On entering the venue, the first thing that hits you is the noise: human voices chattering; soundtracks and sound effects to games; amplified voices giving talks, commentating on tournaments and narrating game walk-throughs.
Every day, the event gets incrementally louder from morning to evening, as more punters arrive and some stands crank up their volume, prompting rival stands to crank up theirs. There’s some respite from the event’s noise when you get to play the games, but the ambient sounds are then replaced by the games’ soundtracks relayed on big headphones. By each day’s end, at seven o’clock, tinnitus is all but inevitable.
Despite the volume of human bodies and a generous number of food outlets, the most striking aroma was that of the machines themselves; the warm plastic smell of whirring consoles and PCs.
The gamers are mostly seen standing in line-ups, that can last more than an hour, for a chance to get hands-on with preferred titles before their release date, hear a few words from developers, or see some early footage.
Often these fans are bathed in light from the stands, and each of the major consoles' trademark colours can be seen from anywhere in the vast venue: Playstation blue, Xbox green and Nintendo. other shade of blue. Although games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds are a huge presence on international gaming, casual, mobile titles were thin on the ground here.
Despite the absence of such games, EGX feels very comprehensive.
Of course, there are over a hundred games on display, from modest, one-man-band indie operations to mega-budget franchises. And there are also trade talks, stand-up and live sketches, games industry networking, guides on education and entry to the industry, classification guides, and miscellaneous stands from a retro games area to a stand promoting Christian gaming.
Promotional gimmicks included a facility to have pictures taken with game characters, or even on props that resembled sleeve art. The adventurous could sit on a mock-up of the elephant statue from Far Cry 4, for instance.
The longest, thickest queues seemed to be for the film tie-in survival horror Alien: Isolation, the virtual-reality headset Oculus Rift, and two Ubisoft franchises – Far Cry and Assassin's Creed. Nintendo had monstrous queues, which suggested that, even though the Wii U wasn't embraced by consumers, the brand still retains its legions of fans.
Some might be disheartened to see so many familiar titles and genres, with more than enough first-person shooters, zombie games, survival horrors, and zombie-survival first-person shooters.
But there were original, triple-A franchises to be found among the sequels, including The Crew, which combined massive, multiplayer, online gaming with a traditional racer, alien-hunting title Evolve and steampunk action game The Order: 1886.
The indie scene was very well represented, not only by its own dedicated zone of the floor, but also by indie subsidiaries and internet providers, such as Virgin, who want to market themselves to gamers with the help of quirky games.
Indie highlights included the funny retro action game No Time to Explain, a heartbreaking "boy and his snow fox odyssey" called Never Alone, and a weird and inventive platformer called Super Rude Bear Resurrection, in which players use the deceased bears from previous turns to cushion their fall or prop open passages.
Basil Lim, from Dublin developers Bitsmith, was among the indie developers there, promoting the promising twin-stick platform game, FranknJohn.
Masters of their trade
“The event this year was fantastic,” says Lim, “the Leftfield Collection and Rezzed section being moved to upstairs was a great choice, as it meant that we were separated from the giants of EGX – your Sonys, Nintendos and Microsofts. This meant that most of the players up in the section were there for indie games, or curious about them, creating a great ecosystem for testing the game with the demographics most interested in them. Being placed smack bang in the middle of Gunpoint’s
, with his new game
, and Mike Bithell’s
, was also a fantastic opportunity to watch some masters ply their trade.”
The mainstream developers also praised EGX as a testing ground and networking event. Vincent Oullette, senior level designer for Far Cry 4 said: "I've been around playing some games, speaking with other developers and getting to know how they do stuff – it's great. I notice a lot of people hired to work at the booths are games students and a lot of them wanted to ask me questions and wanted me to take a look at their portfolios. It's just a bunch of guys passionate about games getting together."
Nitai Bessette, level design director on Assassin's Creed: Unity (see panel) enjoyed the opportunity to finally show the game to consumers after its long gestation.
“It’s really nice,” he said. “We keep things close to our hearts and don’t get to talk about the game. It’s been four years since we’ve been allowed to talk about it, so to get the feedback helps to reinforce that we made some good choices. We’ve been talking about the game now for a few months so we get some feedback and decide if it’s something to act on or not act on. It’s great to have that [feedback] in those last few moments while we’re polishing the game.”
'Assassin's Creed: Unity' and 'Assassin's Creed: Rogue' Marching the competition to the guillotine One of the biggest footprints at EGX was that of the Assassin's Creed franchise, which had two new titles on show; Assassin's Creed: Unity and Assassin's Creed: Rogue.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity is being developed for the latest consoles, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. While the stealth/action/exploration franchise has always been handsome, Unity looks especially exquisite, with a rich, detailed recreation of Paris circa the French Revolution.
Lesley Phord-Toy, a producer on the game outlines the benefits of next-gen development: “In terms of execution of game design within Paris, the graphics are way more high-fidelity [than previous games]. We’ve got a brand new rendering engine, and we’re also able to have tonnes of dense crowds onscreen.
That was really important, especially for the French Revolution, because it was all about the people and the struggle of the people. So we wanted to have a feeling of when you’re walking through a city, it really feels alive.
“Another thing that’s really impressive is that we were able to build this city pretty-much to a one to one scale. That allows us to reinforce our ability within the navigation system, so now we can fluidly go from exteriors to interiors and keep running through the city in a fluid way. I remember the first time we saw the parkour, when we saw a guy running up the side of a building, through a window, falling to the ground, grabbing a lift, and going back up; it was like a dance.”
The developers of Unity have also been working on a tie-in app, bringing a mobile and second-screen dimension to the game. “The app is really cool,” says Nitai Bessette, level design director on Unity. “It does a lot of different things. It’s a companion app where you can see a map of the city of Paris. It’s the same map you’ll get in-game.”
“It also connects to the game in real-time,” says Phord-Toy, “so for example, if you don’t want to open your map [in the game], you can have the second-screen experience with the map running on your tablet. You can mark things on your map and it will react in real-time.”
“As you’re playing the game,” says Bessette, “you’re unlocking information in the database, and normally you go through the game’s menu and read them there, but now you can go through the menu on your app. And we have a quest type in our game called treasure hunts. Those are Nostradamus riddles; you read them and try to solve the riddle. To do that, you have to know different landmarks and places. By reading the database, you can get the information you need to solve those riddles and finish the treasure hunt. When you’re on the bus, you can look at the database and get that information.”