Feature: The Gathering ‘08

Microsoft decided to have a little get together to show off some upcoming games for the Xbox 360. With a wide variety of community sites in attendance, The Gathering ’08 was definitely going to be fun.

Upon getting to the event location Eleanor, City, Alex and myself were promptly greeted by our event team leader, Ben Janaway. Since it was before 10am Ben promptly showed us to the provided breakfast. As predicted Eleanor made a bee-line for the sausages as Alex, City and myself opted for some juice.

With Eleanor now full of sausages and it being 10am, Ben came to fetch us to show us where we’d be all day. As we walked down the long hallway to the main room we passed several eerily red lit rooms with large monitors hooked up to Xbox 360s. In the main room machines were set up with Street Fighter 4 and Banjo-Kazooie with a little side room for the tempting new Prince of Persia. All these games just served to make the four of us even more excited to get stuck in and do some playing. Of course though, there had to be a speech to get everyone going. It was short and sweet with just an introduction of the team leaders and what basically boiled down to, “Have fun.”

Our little group was Team Five. This consisted of the four of us girls and 1 lone guy from another site and of course our lovely team leader, Ben. We were Team Awesome.

So the first stop was that little side room that I mentioned earlier that held the new Prince of Persia. You could practically see all of us chomping at imaginary bits to get into that room and play PoP. We did have the friendly Ubisoft rep, Chris Easton, there to answer any questions and to help us, which he did when I kept jumping in the wrong direction and kept flinging myself into the cliffs. Mostly it was eerily quiet as we all concentrated on the game and tried to absorb every pixel of the game.

I bet you’re wondering what we though of it. The art is astoundingly beautiful. Ubisoft have succeeded where others have failed in the realm of stylised cell shaded graphics. To me, the art reminded me very much of French comic art, very stylised and intricate. The controls weren’t difficult, but they do take a little getting used to. Don’t worry, they aren’t hard to master, they just take a little unlearning of some platform control habits to get to grips with them.

Once our time was up with Prince of Persia and Ben had managed to wrestle the controllers from our hands we moved onto the New Xbox 360 Experience shown to us by Microsoft’s Robin Burrows. The NXE is the new interface that will be replacing the blades system that the console currently uses. We were all very excited to see the interface as we’d all heard so much about it. Right off the first impression is that it really is something completely different. Gone are the sliding blades that we’re all so used to and are replaced by detailed colourful boxes telling you what games you’ve played or movies you’ve watched.

Then there are the avatars. The clothes that will be initially released are designed by a clothing design school in London. I must admit that they look good too. Everything seemed a bit normal though. From the clothes to the hair, nothing really catered to the odder side of culture. Sure there is a biker jacket and a mohawk, but you’re stuck with normal hair colours and everyone is thin-ish. We tried to make a fat avatar and it just stopped at pudgy, but you could make a stick thin one. This was a bit of a disappointment. On the plus side though there was a very wide range of hair styles and facial features. A lot of work has definitely been put into the creation of the avatar system and overall they do look good.

The main reason for the change though is the Marketplace. I personally am not a big user of the Marketplace on the Xbox 360 and I guess that is partially due to how it is currently organised. Alex was very excited about the changes though and was making very happy sounds as Robin explained how well organised things would become in the NXE Marketplace. It certainly looked welcoming.

Overall the NXE looks interesting and certainly very different to what we’re used to currently. Robin was very interested in our feedback and seemed genuinely excited about the NXE. We had to be practically dragged from the room to our next stop.

Once Ben dragged all of us, practically by our hair, from the room our next stop was Left 4 Dead. Going into this game I knew very little about it other than it was a zombie first person shooter. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what it is. Team Awesome went in there with itchy trigger fingers and the need to kill the undead and that’s exactly what we did. I think we all did a pretty good job at dying, but Eleanor won the trophy for that one whilst City, Alex and I were content to run about with our shotguns shooting and bashing them to death. This game was a real crowd pleaser for the team and once again they had to pry the controls out of our hands when our time ran out. This seems to be a running theme with us.

Now that we’d had a very exciting morning it was time for some lunch. Eleanor, City and myself dove right in while Alex sat quietly by watching with her vegetarian sensibilities. I wish I knew where Eleanor was putting all that food because we no sooner sat down and her plate was as clean as a whistle. I’m as impressed by Eleanor’s gaming skills as her eating skills. Totally l337.

After stuffing our faces and teasing Eleanor we were off again for some more gaming goodness. Resident Evil 5 was our next destination and boy were we all excited going in there. There was a bit of disappointment in some gameplay mechanics that bugged us. The two main things were the lack of inverted controls and a dodgy camera. The inversion should be in place for release of course. The problem with the camera though was that while you could move it with the right analogue stick, as soon as you let go it would snap back into place where the game wanted it to be. This caused a few problems for us when, for example, we were trying to shoot things that were flying around above our head. When I asked about the camera control I was told that it was unlikely to change. Hopefully it won’t impact too much on the overall experience.

The other very noticeable difference in RE5 is that you now have a companion with the advantages and disadvantages that go with that. If she dies then it’s game over. However she’ll help you kill things and will heal you should you need it. You’ll also have double the inventory space. When you pick items up you can choose to put them in yours or your companion’s inventory.

Next up it was time to have a look at Banjo-Kazooie. After a very nice intro to the game’s story we all settled down to have a go. Unfortunately our reputation preceded us and we were in demand for an interview. Of course we couldn’t pass up a chance to promote the site.

After singing the praises of Ready Up it was time to go see what Crystal Dynamics was hiding in their little room. Now I won’t go into any major detail, but I will say this about Tomb Raider: Underworld; Fuck yes! It’s beautiful, smooth, chic, wonderful and amazing. This game really excited all of us. Crystal Dynamics just might have outdone themselves. I was totally speechless.

After City threatening to bite Ben’s fingers if he took her controller, we went to see what the buzz for Halo Wars was. I sat this one out as I’m utterly hopeless at RTS games and let the others dig in. Maybe the girls were starting to feel gamed out. They all managed to beat the demo, but I don’t think anyone was really in the mood for playing an RTS. We were definitely in a zombie killing mood that day.

Next up Rockstar demanded our attention. Grand Theft Auto 4 for Windows was a last minute addition to the event but we’re glad they were there to give us a show. Once they had everyone in the room the lights were switched off and we were left with nothing but a very large screen illuminating the room. After telling us some of the highlights of GTA4 on the PC, they got right into showing us a mission so we could see the game in all its glory. Boy was it glorious. The detail was more spectacular and movement was so smooth. Whilst we weren’t able to actually play the game ourselves, it was a joy to watch. I already knew GTA4 was a great game, but seeing it on a PC made it somehow seem shinier.

After finishing the mission they showed us the new feature they’ve added for the PC version; video creation. While you’re playing you can record 30 to 60 seconds of video with just a single button push. In the video editor you can then edit it to your heart’s content. You can do all sorts of thing, from controlling the camera to changing the colour tone. This is a great tool to add and will only be limited by people’s imagination and hard drive size. These guys have done a spectacular job.

After the excitement of this we had some free time before dinner. So it was time to go through our swag. One of the fun things about going to events like this is the free stuff you get. We got something from just about everyone. The most common item was of course t-shirts. There were other things though. City walked away with a GTA4 baseball bat, (that’s Alex in the picture), and I got my hands on a Lara Croft figure. We were all very happy, but it was unanimous that Rockstar won on the goodies front. It wasn’t just the quantity, but the quality. These guys know how to treat a girl right. Our favourite item by far had to be the GTA4 LCPD sweatshirts. I think me and Alex have been living in them since Saturday. They’re really just that good.

After the rest of us left to make it home before the wee hours, City was able to stay for dinner and the rocking out festivities. For the evening everyone got dressed up all rock star stylie and did some jamming. The stories I’m hearing about City’s guitar solo were that she was legendary. She even went down to her knees in the middle her performance. Way to go City, you’ve done us proud.

So a long day for us, but much fun was had by all. Now we can make our friends jealous with our swag and the teasing knowledge that we’ve played some of the hottest upcoming titles. Yay Team Awesome!







6 responses to “Feature: The Gathering ‘08”

  1. arc14716 avatar

    Looks like you all had a nice time. I wish I could go to one of those things.

    Dang, is Prince of Persia going to be that good? I knew Eleanor would be on top of that one, but the rest of you? I may need to put down some money for that one.

    I would like to see that video interview. Where is it up?

    Alex looks dangerous with that bat.

    You all look great in your photos.

    Maybe I’ll comment more later.

  2. Donna avatar

    When I got home Saturday night, the first thing I did was put Prince of Persia on pre-order.

    When the interview is up I’ll make sure to let everyone know.

  3. Alex avatar

    Great article Donna, You’ve done us proud!
    It was a fab day, made all the sweeter by getting to meet and be in said Team Awesome, ofcourse.
    The LCPD jumper is out in it’s finery again today 😉
    Left 4 Dead really shone that day (as can quite obviously be told from the overwhelming look of glee in my eyes in that photo!). I really can’t wait for that to come out. New XBL Experience is going to be ace too. No more fiddly marketplace, huzzah!
    All in all, a fantastic day, topped off by a fantastic article, well done! 😀

  4. City avatar

    Yay Donna, brilliant write up!
    Ahh I still havent taken my Lara Figure out of her wrapping, and I’m still all fuzzy from hugging Eric, was definately a fantastic day. I ordered Prince of Persia as soon as I got home =)

    The after party was amazing! My knees have just about forgiven me now!

  5. Uzi avatar

    How’s the navigation of the movie selection on the Video Marketplace? I’m sick of having to scroll through half the huge list just to get to a movie with the first letter M in the title.

    Eleanor and Prince of Persia, together at last. Everything is right with the world.

    2012 can happen, now. 😉

  6. Donna avatar

    Uzi we didn’t get to actually play with the NXE. It looked like it was better organised though. So hopefully the endless scrolling will be limited or eliminated.

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