It was October 8th, 2017, and me and my brother had just arrived at the Utrecht convention center for the “First Look” festival. A gaming convention I didn’t even know existed until he told me that he bought tickets as my birthday present. He got us early access tickets so we got in about an hour before everyone else. I was given a little bracelet thingy and off we went.
Since it’s early there’s a lack of any line, except for the line at the Nintendo booth that was right next to it. Due to my dislike of queues I opted for the Microsoft booth. We get ushered in and take our seats, not on chairs, but ottomans situated way too close for me to be able to appreciate the 4K screens they were showing off. As I’m about to put the headset on, the issue of hygiene occurs to me. If anybody walks in here with some sort of contagious ear infection that could spell trouble. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
I unpause the game to find that someone had left a little gift for me. They accelerated the car into a corner and paused the game, so I immediately go off the track and crash into a wall. Luckily the game has a rewind feature. I’ve never played a Forza game before, but I have a lot of experience with other racing titles, mostly it’s direct competition, Gran Turismo. The graphics were, of course, phenomenal. The sound was very impressive, as was the use of rumble on the Xbox controller. Being primarily a PC gamer for many years now, I was very impressed with how much they make the controller’s feedback feel like an actual steering wheel. Something I would find out more about later in the day.
When I started another race I noticed from what I saw in my first game that the difficulty setting was placed on either hard or above. This is something the Gran Turismo series desperately needs. Even though when I played my second race on hard it was still very easy. I should have tried a higher difficulty. Something Forza needs that Gran Turismo has better is Artificial Intelligence. In Gran Turismo the AI would do its best to avoid hitting you and instead would just overtake you if they can; it’s as if the AI in Forza has no spatial awareness to speak of; they keep knocking the crap out of my car.
After each race the demo shows promotional messages and one said something about the game being optimized for esports. I wasn’t aware they were trying to have Forza break into the esports scene. It’s like every game is trying to get in on it. Are we gonna have Cuphead competitions next? I began hoping that we don’t end up with too many games getting in on esports, especially due to an idea I’ve been thinking about recently. But that’s an article for another day.
We go around the corner and hit the Cuphead booth. I proclaimed to my brother that he would love it. He knew of the game, as he saw it years ago when it was featured on E3. But he has fallen out of touch with gaming news over the years. I told him how people keep citing dark souls when comparing the Cuphead’s difficulty, and we both agreed that such a statement doesn’t really make sense. It’s more Contra than anything else. We also played a little bit of the co-op and beat one of the earlier bosses, a blue ball that loves to throw punches and kisses. We left the Microsoft booth afterwards.
We see Rainbow Six Siege has a little corner. Fortnite’s battle royal has a booth. We also encounter a spot that wasn’t anything in particular. There was a man using a fully built, custom PC as a chair. “How disrespectful” I thought. But it was a thought I could barely hear myself as he was blaring unintelligible nonsense into a microphone at full volume. I thought it was my lack of prowess in the dutch language, but my brother speaks fluent dutch. I looked at him, and he just shrugged. The booth had one of those fully equipped VR stations where you’re hooked up and you can run and such. The guy who was using it made me realize that I’d be far too self conscious to do this in public.
Gamemania is the local gaming chain store around these parts, basically a dutch Gamestop. They sell more than just Nintendo games, but for whatever reason, they’re entire booth was dedicated to Mario Kart and only Mario Kart. They had consoles of different generations set up all for Mario Kart. From the original SNES version all the way to the Switch. They even set up a small race track for people to drive remote controlled karts of Yoshi and Donkey Kong. This was very amusing to watch, as the track was too narrow and the karts were too big, too fast, and too prone to oversteering. No one was able to control them properly. Karts would spin out, crash, or fly off the track as if trying to escape into the outside universe. They had three staff members surrounding the track, just to pick the karts up and place them straight on the track, only to have them eat a wall or each other within milliseconds. They did have SWAG though, which was a Gamemania bag and a poster for the upcoming Mario Odyssey. I have no idea what I ended up doing with it.
We found ourselves in line to try out Far Cry 5. I played Far Cry 3 but not Far Cry 4. My brother played Far Cry 4 but not Far Cry 3. We both agreed on two things; The games are good, but after finishing them, a second playthrough feels like a chore and the Ubisoft booth is very noticeably a Ubisoft booth. They were playing such dogshit music, it was unbelievable. I’ve seen chickens killed in front of me, dogs and cats suffering excruciating pain; I would rather they had audio files of the horrific sounds those animals made than play whatever the hell they were trying to pass off as music.
Later when we were leaving the venue, my brother made an excellent point. They didn’t have to play any of that bubblegum dance dance to the radio crap, they could have played music that was featured in their own video games. Yes! Especially when they’ve had talent like Jesper Kyd work on their titles. It’s a no brainer, why the hell didn’t they think of this? The music they were playing certainly wasn’t pumping anybody up. Playing music from their past games can play to the nostalgia of the people waiting in line and make them remember that Ubisoft has had some great games.
Instead we suffered through song after song of whatever human product these label companies are labeling musical “artists” nowadays. It felt like we were in line for about 40 minutes to an hour. I stood there watching others play the game, and play it rather poorly I might add. This one individual, seemingly, did not know what was going on. I figured he’s not very experienced with video games or, at the very least, when it came to aiming with a controller. I should know, I’m a keyboard and mouse guy. But then again this is a gaming convention. It felt weird. It was like I was watching a Polygon video. He could barely wrap his head around navigating a 3D environment. Calm down, Polygon, I’m only kidding… maybe.
We got all the way to the front before the usher closed up, right in front of us. “Fuck!” I thought. Me and my brother both agreed that at this point we were most excited to put the headphones on to drown out this aural garbage. But oh, is fate a cruel mistress, for when I wore, what I thought were noise canceling headphones, I discovered that they canceled nothing except the sounds the game was emitting. I couldn’t hear shit, not even gunfire was able to relieve my ears.
Far Cry 5
We were supposedly playing the E3 demo. You start off by being able to pick between 3 buddies, one dude, one girl, and a dog. I picked the dude because I saw an earlier guy dog fighting in a plane and I knew from one of the game’s trailers that he’s the plane guy; I wanted to fly the plane. The game starts and I’m all alone. I climb a nearby water tower and find a conveniently placed suppressed sniper rifle. The objective is to liberate the town. I aim at bad guys, mark them, and started picking them off, starting with the ones standing by themselves where no one will see them go down. The enemy became alerted by something else after a while though, they didn’t spot me. After about a minute I pick off the rest, one by one and HEY, the town’s been liberated! “Well that was easy” I said. I thought about the guy who I saw die over and over again.
After tracking down where the plane guy is, I drove over there in a semi truck, running over religious fanatics as I went. The bobblehead in the truck shook with delight every time I crushed one of them. Once there I got into a close range firefight equipped with a pistol. But even with my lack of skills aiming with a controller, it still wasn’t all that difficult, especially with the AI being what it was.
I find the plane, and start dropping bombs, but before I could get into any dogfights I was told that my time was up. I waited in line for what felt like 40 minutes to play for about 10. Before we did, I had the idea to get in line for the new South Park game too, but after hearing that music, fuck that.
Gran Turismo Sport
After getting some lunch, we wandered over to the Sony booth. They had a pretty sizable area dedicated to GT Sport. A large amount of racing modules to simulate the race. Some with VR and some without. They had a little competition going to see who can beat the fastest lap time. The winner would win a free PS4 Pro.
The game was brutal. The feedback from the steering wheel was substantial. This is what race car drivers feel when they’re racing? This is insane. Suffice to say I did not win the PS4 Pro, and neither did my brother. But it make me want one of those racing pods. Despite how difficult it was to drive, all I wanted was the opportunity to train and get better at it. I’ve been playing the Gran Turismo series since the first one. Despite it being online only, I’ve been wanting to play an online racing game lately. Oh well, ain’t nobody got the money for that.
I think that was all I played at the convention. You might think that being such a video game enthusiast as I am, I would try and play as many demos as I can. But no, I have no issue waiting to play the full game when it’s released, and there wasn’t anything there that I was frothing at the mouth to try out. Despite that though, I did very much enjoy the experience and would love to go again this year. But money is kind of tight right now. So maybe next year.
Ni No Kuni 2
We got accosted into a what appeared to be a large tent. A presentation for Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom was about to begin. We figured: “Why not?” Well, we found out why not. The game looked like it was gonna be pretty good. I never got to play the first one though. I don’t know what the dutch have against volume control but again, glass could shatter in that place. He was speaking dutch, so I couldn’t really understand him, but all I really wanted to do was leave. Eventually it ended and we walked out, ears ringing.
We walked over to the other side of the venue where they were selling stuff. Used games, t-shirts, decorative knives, books, trading cards, and other tchotchke bullshit. My brother bought a little wonder woman outfit for his newborn daughter. We were offered a free poster, so we took about 5 minutes, sifting through all the repeats to find a good one.
This side of the convention also had speedrunners talking to themselves, Twitch streamers talking to themselves, and computer graphics artists, who were also talking to themselves. There was a little ‘retro’ corner full of games and anime from our childhood. Unfortunately there was also karaoke nearby. A group of people were singing the Pokemon theme song from season one so poorly… Man, if I had a flamethrower on me… So we got the hell out of there.
We went back to the main side of the venue and there was some commotion happening on the stage. There was some Counter Strike: Global Offensive going on earlier in the day. But now people were playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. People were being picked from the crowd to come up and compete. They weren’t very good at it. But since it was on an Xbox, I wouldn’t have been very good at it either.
Eventually the announcers brought in some women, of particular aesthetic quality, and had them throw objects out into the crowd. From what I could gather, they were cell phone cases, external battery rechargers, game controllers, T-shirts, etc. I didn’t want any of it. I was content to just watch the spectacle. People who weren’t paying attention to what was happening before, started running towards the stage in an attempt to grab whatever free shit they could get their hands on. It was pretty fascinating.
Like I said before, I wasn’t trying to play everything that was there. My psychology also makes it so I prefer to not stay in crowded areas for too long. So I told my brother that I’ve had my fill and we started to walk out. On our way out we stopped at the Bandai Namco booth and watch some of the Dragonball Fighters Z game that was to be released at the time. They had a hefty amount of security, I noticed. But there was still this one individual in a suit who had a look on his face that said: “If anything happens, it’s my ass.”
As we walked out the door, I saw the attractive ladies, who were on stage earlier, taking pictures with some convention goers. I remember thinking: “Man… Why?” I don’t understand why people do that. They weren’t even cosplaying, which is something I can wrap my head around. But just taking a picture with some girls because they’re hot? I can’t imagine having that picture. The embarrassment would be excruciating.
Listen to me, thank goodness this is a gaming convention, and that they were hired by the organizers. Anywhere else and these girls would run away, screaming in abject terror, at the mere sight of me, you, and everyone else setting foot in this place. They wouldn’t come near you, to even pat you down if you were on fire. I shudder to think of what could have been going through their minds at that moment. I’m halfway joking here, and maybe I’m just being a cynical asshole, but still.
To sum it all up, I had a great time, and would love to go again this year. But those tickets were not cheap. Sure it wasn’t E3, something I doubt I’ll ever go to, but it was well worth the price. I got this neat little story out of it.