GenCon Indy – Part 1August 17, 2008
It really wasn’t in the plans to head to GenCon, so blame it all on a garage sale. This past weekend the lovely wife and I went down to see my parents, brother and newborn nephew in Indianapolis. The day we drive down, my mom calls my wife and tells her that there’s a neighborhood garage sale and would she like to go? Seeing as how garage sales are the crack to my wife’s shopping nature, that was a big yes, and it left a hole in my Saturday morning. So GenCon it was!
I asked John, a friend of the family, to come along, and he leaped at the offer. Less enthusiastic but still game was my father, who has few diplomas in geek credentials, but is a pretty terrific dad nonetheless. The three of us trekked to the downtown convention center as I tried to prepare my dad for what he might witness. “Dad, it’s…” I chewed my lips for a second. “It’s kind of like Halloween, at these types of conventions, except the candy is much more expensive. But just get ready for the outfits.”
And outfits there were. Granted, it’s not like everyone dresses up at these things, but there were a substantial amount of wizards, Boba Fetts, baby Yodas, vampires, colonial marines, anime tributes, Super Mario, and one girl leading around another via a chain and collar. The best costume for me, hands-down, was this full-body Gir suit (doggy disguise):
But outfits was not what we were there for: I was on a mission to find the Mythic booth and try to corner some devs with wild gestures and promises of the riches of kings if they’d submit to an interview. Since, by only the vaguest of terms, I was “press”, I stopped by the press room, talked to a cat lady, showed her the WAAAGH! blog, and was granted a PRESS badge. What did this awesome badge and my newfound status grant me? Nada. I tried waving it at folks to make them bow in wonder and surrender their breakfast burritos, but no doing. It didn’t even get me into the exhibit hall early, which is the whole reason I got it. Oh well.
We checked out a number of the side rooms and attractions as we waited for the exhibit hall. My dad, trying not to make eye contact with “bare minimum bandages Leeloo” from The Fifth Element, spied something that took his breath away. “Spam sculpture contest!” he exclaimed. Indeed, it was. We also checked out tons of people playing Magic, Warhammer 40K, and loads of other tabletop games I’d never heard of.
Finally, it was time to head into the exhibit hall… and my destiny. I gave John and dad strict instructions to wander around, enjoy themselves, and grab as much swag as they could (we later found out that this was pretty swag-free, at least on the third day of the convention). In front of the exhibit hall doors was a giant 20-sided dice in memorandum for Gary Gygax. There was even a place for D&D fans to throw in their own (smaller) 20d’s.
The doors opened and the crowd surged forward, with the requisite “MOO!” from a well-intentioned idiot behind us. I made a quick beeline for the Mythic booth… area… place. “I’m here!” I announced. “I didn’t want you guys to worry!”
They weren’t worried. I don’t think anyone heard me, and if they did, nobody really knew who I was, even with the “WAAAGH!” above the “PRESS” line on my badge. The show area wasn’t as huge as I’d built it up in my mind — I think a giant robotic statue of Mark Jacobs spewing fire above our heads was part of that fantasy — but it did the trick. There were three or four tables with three demo computers each, running the Warhammer beta on a private server. In the middle was a tall display stating “WARHAMMER ONLINE!” and showing the old trailer.
The playable machines weren’t in any danger of being abandoned for long; people stepped up to try their hand at the beta the second a computer was free. I didn’t spend a lot of time playing, since I have the beta at home, but I was just amazed at the level of graphical fidelity that was shown — my crappy graphics card at home didn’t do justice to how pretty this game can look!
I putzed around for a bit, not knowing how to really get things rolling. Eventually I stepped up and introduced myself to Jeremy Dale, the lead animator on WAR, and he was nice enough to record a twenty-five minute interview with me as he set up the computers and helped some other folk out. This interview I have typed up, but it might be a day or two before it gets posted here. Good stuff, though — just wait!
I was then directed by Jeremy to go talk to Sergio Edma, a Mythic technical artist who goes between several of the teams to set up or fit all Creatures and Avatars with an underlying Skeletal structure for the animators to work with. Where was Sergio, I asked. “See that big bouncer over there?” Jeremy said. Yes, I certainly did. He was hard to miss. Was Sergio hiding behind him, possibly going on a piggy-back ride? “That’s Serge.” Ah.
Sergio was a very delightful guy to talk with, absolutely bubbling with enthusiasm for WAR and the launch day — “We can’t wait!” Unfortunately, I lost the 8-minute interview I recorded with him, but there was a lot of hand-waving and expressive joy over this project. He’d been with WAR since the beginning, “When it was just one Orc and a patch of land”, and was very gratified to see how it all finally fit together.
His favorite class to play? Black Orc (I thought he said Black Guard for a second), which he considers to be a terrifying powerhouse of a class. I asked him if it was difficult for the dev team to just play the game and lose themselves in it, as normal players, and he said, “Very hard.” Apparently, he’d start to play and then see something that would bring his DevSense(tm) to the forefront, and he’d close the game to go fix it or tweak it.
The best part of it all, for him, was to finally see others playing and enjoying the game at conventions like these, the first real solid feedback of normal players that he’d witnessed. He told me everyone at the conventions had been very friendly, positive and encouraging. I thanked him for his time and got a picture with him, grabbed a Warhammer Online poster, then boogied on home, back to (relative) normalcy.
Edit: Sergio wrote in to clarify a few points that I mistook from memory.