Halloween this year saw several thousand gamers descend on London for this year’s Eurogamer Expo. It was a wet and foggy morning when I arrived at Billingsgate Market, a grand building, once fish-market and now a major venue in the city. I stood with my acquaintances in the cold, staring out across the Thames at the HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge, both of which were covered in the eerie mist of Halloween morning. An hour before the show opened there was already an impressive crowd, over 200 people, several had been waiting since 5 a.m. Eventually, after lots of geek talk and a few crowd games, we found ourselves in a videogame Mecca. This early on in the event there were no queues for the big titles so a manic rush of testosterone fuelled males dashed to the games they couldn’t wait to play. I, however, wasn’t feeling the magic of it all yet. My companions had all vanished to play _Left for Dead 2_, leaving me alone to do what I wanted. I chose right away to dip into the more serious side of the Expo.
Before I had even sat down to start playing games I found myself near the front of a fully booked developer session with a Mr David Cage, the writer and director of the forthcoming PS3 title _Heavy Rain_. He was a short Frenchman with a receding hairline who somehow commanded stunned silence when he appeared on the stage. He began the talk by discussing the game, “an interactive thriller” he called it. _Heavy Rain_ is a title that has had gamers and press chomping at the bit since 2006. The talk was mainly nothing new for the first half, a play-through of the demo level that many had already seen, an explanation of plots and gameplay that was only punctuated by the occasional fire-alarm and wisecrack from Cage. However, the questions from the audience provoked very lengthy debate about sex and violence in gaming. The more this was discussed, the more apathetic the crowd became. Many people had had enough when Cage began to talk about his visit to Philadelphia (the setting of the game), and the time he spent in a poverty stricken town. A person near me whispered “why the hell is he talking about all this?” I on the other hand was shocked and captivated by his words.
Once the talk was over I nipped through the crowd along with several eager reporters to have a chat with Cage himself. Unlike them I had no press pass, but I certainly looked the part of a journalist, with my notepad and suit jacket. There was brief banter on difficulty levels and photographs being taken. An interesting story occurred later however. I ran into Cage again towards the end of the day, and he asked me if I knew where the male toilets were, unfortunately I gave him the wrong directions and he was gone before I could correct myself.
Only now did I take the time to play the games on offer, at this point the queues were significant and finding something to play was sheer luck or patience. Some of the bigger titles like _Assassins Creed 2_ and _Alien Vs Predator_ were difficult to even see, let alone play. I spoke to the people around me whilst waiting; some had travelled for 6 hours to be there, others had simply just turned up for a couple of hours. It seemed that whilst everyone here had an interest in games some were much more passionate than others. I also discovered that tickets for the event had sold out, and EBay prices had gone up to £40, around six times the standard price.
I was distracted by games again when I spotted a small crowd that had formed around _Uncharted 2_, an excellent title that has been out for several weeks now. They had been drawn to young, greasy haired chap in a thick brown jacket who was playing the game with great skill and speed. He had chosen this time and place to perform what I can only describe as public speed-run, where a player plays through a game as fast as possible, he didn’t get as far as he would have liked however, I went away for a few minutes and came back to find Eurogamer staff had moved him on.
Some of the games on show had representatives to guide players through the demos and to promote the game. The upcoming _Army of Two: 40th Day_ did one better. The two consoles were overseen by Guillaume Voghel (Producer) and Alex Hutchinson (Creative Director). As a result of their professional and humorous input I had more fun playing Army of Two than any other game at the event. My highlight being when Alex stood over me and repeatedly demanded that I “stamp on his head!” when I captured a prisoner in the game; after obeying his orders he then exclaimed, “Why did you do that? That was terrible of you!” The 4th wall had been broken down, and a director’s commentary had come alive.
A visit downstairs to the ‘basement’ provided some much needed comic relief in the form of a Beetles Rock Band stage. Here anyone could have a go at being in one of the most famous groups in the world. It was nice to watch some Rock Band pros jam on the half-sized plastic instruments. After a short time the dark atmosphere and bright glare of TV screens were too much on my eyes, and rubbing them sorely I ventured upstairs again.
If there was one thing at Eurogamer I didn’t like, it was the careers fair. It was just a short row of developer stands, some of which were empty. Very few people seemed interested in the careers section and there was little literature or publicity available to take away. The BAFTA careers surgery (think seminars) were also fully booked and from what I had heard were not that impressive either. Nearby there was also the PSPGo Cafe, nothing more than a snack bar and not a handheld console in sight. Only then did it dawn on me that there were hardly any PSP or DS games at Eurogamer, a substantial portion of the market was not represented at all.
After spending much of the day on my own at the event, I reunited with my friends and asked them what the highlights had been for them. Most of them just said a specific game, usually_ Left 4 Dead 2_ or _Assassins Creed 2_. Some said they couldn’t choose a favourite and one of my companions was too distracted by the Nvidia booth girls to reply. We emerged out into the pink night-time glow of London Bridge and wished there was more time left to play. Still we had seen all we needed to see and it was now Halloween night, there were now more exciting things to do than games. I had enjoyed my time at Eurogamer, but somehow I still felt as jaded as when I went in. Despite all the interesting experiences, I hadn’t felt that juvenile joy that many others seemed to have indulged in. Then the words of David Cage came into my mind: “You can think of games like toys or entertainment” or you can think of them “as an art form… In this situation the goal is not fun, it’s to make you feel something, even if it’s not fun.” I certainly had felt something good, even if it wasn’t that digital bliss that had enraptured everyone else.