Archive for August, 2007

Aug 30 2007


Published by under Conventions,Games

beautiful.jpgThe Penny Arcade Expo this year was held at the Washington State Convention in Seattle. The new venue proved to be a nice upgrade from the Meydenbauer Center. Even though attendance was around 37,000 people it didn’t feel nearly as crowded as previous years. 

 Wil Wheaton delivered a passionate keynote speech that spoke true to the geek community. Wil has been a gamer most of his life and was an excellent choice for this year’s keynote. Check out the audio here.

I don’t usually get into the LAN games at PAX. My primary reason for attending is to check out the exhibitor hall, attend panels, hang out, and possibly see some of the bands. I only did three out of the four this year which wasn’t too bad.

The exhibitor hall was several times larger than previous years and reminded me of a mini-E3. Most of the big names were there: Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, Bungie, Rockstar, Ubisoft, Turbine, Wizkids, etc. Part of the fun of the exhibitor hall is just wandering around collecting swag and watching people play the games.


One interesting thing we saw was the first public demonstration of Far Cry 2 presented by Ubisoft. The original Far Cry game was ground breaking in both graphics and gameplay and from what I can tell Ubisoft has really stepped up to the plate to make a worthy sequel.  The game is set in Africa this time and you play a mercenary who has been hired to infiltrate the various militia that operate in the 50 square km game world.

farcry2.jpgThe most interesting thing shown in the demo was the graphics and phyics engine. The seamless world (no zones) is rendered to the horizon in full detail with dynamic soft shadows, HDR lighting, and depth of field. The game features a dynamic weather system, a highly distructable environment (e.g., you can shoot branches out of trees), and environmental effects such as fire that propagates based on wind direction. Each blade of grass is individually rendered and when you walk or drive through the Savannah you leave a trail of pressed down grass.

Not only do these feature increase the level of immersion they also can provide useful game mechanics. For example, the presenter showed how starting a grass fire up wind of a enemy camp can be used as a tactic to restrict the enemies movement and provide smoke to conceal your movement. Overall, the game looks very promising and I’m interested to try out a demo when available.

We had a interesting time this year at PAX. I wish we had time to attend more panels but that’s the way it goes.

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Aug 12 2007

Donkey Kong Tournament

comiccon.jpgOne of the highlights of attending the San Diego Comic Con this year was competing in a Donkey Kong Tournament hosted by Picturehouse, the studio distributing the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

While wandering around the gigantic exhibit hall I noticed a two story booth with several classic Donkey Kong arcade games on the second floor and large flat plan displays on the sides. The displays allowed people down below to watch the game action going on upstairs.

 There was a sign with the rules and instructions for signing up for the tournament. The basic idea was that the top four players from each of the first three days of the convention would come back for finals on the last day.

Although I own a classic Donkey Kong arcade game, I hadn’t really played it much in the last year and was pretty rusty. After watching some games it became obvious that most people did not have much skill or experience playing the game. I decided to give a try and was given a pager which would beep when it was my turn. About 45 minutes later the pager went off and I returned to the booth for my turn to embarrass myself.


They send me upstairs which turns out to be a lounge with bean bag chairs and the two Donkey Kong games. I notice that the games are in really nice shape. The cabinets and artwork are outstanding and the monitors look great.

I play the game and despite making a number of stupid mistakes I manage to land in the #4 position for that day’s high score. Since my score wasn’t very high I figured someone else would probably beat it before the end of the day.

At that point I headed back out into the exhibit hall and resume my wandering through the endless rows and isles of dealers. Towards the end of the day I was back in the exhibit hall and decided to check on the status of my score. As expected, someone had beat my score and I figured that was it.

Toward the end of the next day the organizer called me on my cell phone and asked if I could show up for the finals the next morning. It turns out that I was in the #13 position and they wanted me there as a backup just in case one of the finalists didn’t show.

The next morning I show up at the booth and fate has it that someone couldn’t make it and I was in the finals.

The first 20 minutes or so is spent doing media photos and being interviewed on camera. I had to agree that Picturehouse could use my picture or video to promote the film and/or possibly appear on the DVD extras.

dk-tourney6.jpgThe picture to the left is of the 12 finalists and Steve Wiebe who is in the movie and a world Donkey Kong champion.

Steve is the one standing in the middle wearing a white shirt and I’m the guy standing next to him on his right (i.e., left side of picture).

The tournament was held as a standard single-elimination. Each player was paired up with another person and the winner of a two player game would advance to the next round.

I did okay on my first game and moved on to the second round of finals which started about an hour later. The six remaining finalists were split up into three groups and we went at it again. This time my game did not go so well and I was knocked out of the competition. 

The experience of playing in the tournament was really a lot of fun. Donkey Kong is one of my favorite classic games and just being there with other people who are passionate about the game was awesome. Meeting Steve Wiebe was also very cool and it turns out he lives about 20 minutes from my house in Woodinville. It’s a small world.

The tournament sparked a renewed interest for me in Donkey Kong and I’ve been devoting some time to it since returning from the convention. I’ve actually made a lot of progress in my game and my current high score is 228,200 (27th screen). I’m hoping someday to achive a score of around 500,000, however I know that is a long way off.


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Aug 11 2007

Blizzcon 2007

Published by under Conventions,Games

I attended Blizzcon 2007 which was held in the held in Anaheim Convention Center last week. I missed the first Blizzcon so I was excited to be able to make it this time. For those of you that don’t know, Blizzcon is a gaming convention put on by Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft.


There was speculation before the convention that Blizzard would announce the second expansion to World of Warcraft. That turned out to be true and The Wrath of the Lich King was unveiled the first day. In addition to several Lich King presentations the expansion was playable on demo stations at the convention.

blizzcon2.jpgBlizzard had recently announced Starcraft 2 which is the sequel to their hugely popular Starcraft real-time strategry game. The demos of Starcraft 2 looked great and it was clear that they worked hard to preserve the original gameplay style.

Throughout the convention day there was programming on a main stage and a “developer track” off in a secondary room. The talks on the main stage covered subjects such as expansion demos, class discussion, dungeons & raids, PvP, professions and items, world lore.

There was an interesting talk about the live-action Warcraft movie being made by Legendary Pictures. This was the first time any solid information about the movie had been released. On stage were Paul Sams and Chris Metzen from Blizzard and Thomas Tull (CEO) and Jon Jashni (Chief Creative Officer) from Legendary Pictures.

The movie will be told from the Alliance perspective and is planned to follow an epic story line. They mentioned movies like Braveheart and Lord of the Rings when discussing their vision for the action sequences.

It was announced that the budget for the movie was over $100 million. It became clear that Legendary Pictures was taking the movie very seriously and were not simply interested in making just another movie based on a video game. Given Legendary Pictures track record (e.g., 300, Batman Begins) it’s possible that this may turn out to be a quality film.

metzen.jpgI attended the Warcraft Lore session hosted by Chris Metzen who is the Vice President of Creative Development at Blizzard. Chris has been the man behind the Warcraft lore and story since the very first game.

The session covered many interesting topics and aftewards I had the opportunity to ask Chris a few questions. My first question was regarding the markings on Druids in feral forms and if they had any lore significance. I wondered if they were possibility runes of power (i.e., runic magic). He replied that there was no official answer but that they did likely represent runes.

bearlords.jpgI also asked Metzen for some background on the Great Bear Spirit. It’s not referenced anywhere in the books or lore, so I was curious how it fit in. He started by mentioning Ursol and Ursoc, who are the twin bear gods that NE druids follow. He said that the Great Bear Spirit, quote “might be their daddy”. If that’s true, then the Great Bear Spirit would be a fairly significant figure in WoW mythology (e.g., some sort of elder Eternal).

Ursol and Ursoc, shown to the right, were known as Eternals that lived long ago. They were actually huge, note the size of the trees in the picture. Unfortunately Ursol and Ursoc fell defending the land (along with most of the Eternals) during the War of the Ancients (~10K years ago).

blizzcon3.jpgOne of the highlights of the convention was playing the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The expansion is set in the frozen land of Northrend which is a new continent. One of my favorite zones in the original game is Winterspring so I felt right at home riding around the snowy hills of the Howling Fjord.

The expansion has a Nordic theme and there was definitely a Viking vibe throughout the zones I visited. All of that sounds really great to me and I can’t wait for the expansion to be released.

The finale to the convention on Saturday night was a concert put on by Video Games Live. The concert featured a symphonic orchestra along with a choir performing music from the Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft games. The concert was great and I’d love to catch a Video Games Live performance again sometime.


Opening the concert was Blizzard’s own “Level 70 Elite Tauren Chieftan” band which played Warcraft themed heavy metal songs, including their popular “I am Murloc”. I had discovered the previous day that my favorite Blizzard artist Samwise is the lead singer of the band. That made the performance even more cool.

Overall, Blizzcon 2007 was a very enjoyable convention. I got to meet some cool people from Blizzard and attend some interesting panels. Actually playing the expansion was great and the final concert was the icing on the cake. 

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