Edinburgh Interactive 2009

No matter how good your travel preparations are for an event, even a well oiled machine like Ready Up can throw a cog once in a while.  After nearly being forgotten by Dan who actually reached Edinburgh before realising something was missing – namely me, and weathering a missing sat nav and several wrong turns, we arrived, breathing a heavy sigh of relief (albeit slightly late) at Edinburgh Interactive 2009.

Ready Up stealth mode abandoned...
Ready Up stealth mode abandoned…

We had kindly been granted full access to the event which aside from the main hall included a lively lecture schedule and a number of screenings.  Add to this the fact that the complimentary copy of FHM from our delegate packs featured a rather fetching picture of Eliza Dushku, and we knew that despite our initial setbacks, this was destined to be a good day after all.

After sidling past the vast inflatable Mini Ninja boss in the foyer who was giving us an odd look, we scuttled into the main hall to see if we could get some quality game time on anything.  We were immediately impressed by the Wii Sports Resort Beach Party which dominated the centre of the hall.  Dressed in true cabana style and complete with sand, palm trees, and a live calypso band, it was a hive of activity with every booth swamped by canoe paddling, bow wielding gamers.  Even the queue to enter the basketball hoop competition was spilling out onto the main floor (along with some of the sand).  Ice lollies were being handed out and enthusiastic reps were fielding questions and joining in with the visitors to demo the game.  £150 worth of Gamestation vouchers were up for grabs for the person who could sink the most hoops but the queue was too long and we decided rather magnanimously that we couldn’t snatch victory from a youngster and make them cry, so we kindly refrained from entering.  How nice of us.

Around the periphery of the hall, solid offerings from Eidos such as Mini Ninjas and Batman Arkham Asylum meant that getting some hands on time was always going to be tough unless we stunned the queuing gamers ninja style and stashed them behind the Batman display.  Deciding however, to be merciful and not wanting to answer to angry mothers who had brought their kids along for the end of the school holidays, we moved on to scout out the rest of the hall, vowing to be back.  After trying to resist the lure of deck chairs laid out enticingly under the palm trees in the Wii Sports Resort beach area, we spied some interesting new releases.

One of these was a new MMO by the name of APB.  APB is an upcoming city based action MMO developed by Realtime Worlds, with the game design led by David Jones (of original GTA and Crackdown fame).  It involves law enforcement and criminal gangs and looks set to be an explosive and entertaining game resembling the love child of GTA and Crackdown with Saints Row for an uncle… definitely one to watch out for!

Dan at the APB stand with some tasty scenery
Dan at the APB stand with some tasty scenery

Our attention kept being drawn to the centre of the hall and the Wii playing public.  My hate affair with the Wii actually began to waver slightly when I saw the archery game being demoed and I secretly vowed to sneak back on day two so that I could monopolise one of the booths without boring Dan who was being drawn inexorably to the main stage.  When I finally stopped coveting the comfiest deckchair from a five year old who had no idea of my brewing eviction plans, I turned round and saw what had caught Dan’s eye at the far end.

On the large screen atop the stage was a little creature in a leather pilot’s hat, bouncing happily on a trampoline which was being slid around by the hand of a gamer at the small table.  It was an EyePet.  Like all cynical gamers, the moment I saw it I assumed it was a gorgeous but fluffy gimmick, but as we approached the stage and craned over the enthusiastic group which had gathered, we swiftly realised how wrong we were.

EyePet is developed by SCEE London Studio to be released for the Playstation 3 this October and is a Christmas hit waiting to happen if Sony market it right.  Chris McCann, a tech expert from Sony very kindly got us some play time with the EyePet and some one to one chat time with producer Nicolas Doucet, whose passion for his game was contagious.  By the end, I came away impatient at the prospect of having to wait for the release, which for a reforming apathetic gamer, was nothing short of amazing.

Lorna with Nicolas Doucet enjoying the EyePet demo
Lorna with Nicolas Doucet enjoying the EyePet demo

EyePet is a pet game whose genre description belies and somewhat sells short its impressive nature.  At first we couldn’t even see how the gamers on stage were interacting with the gambolling creature – they were waving their hands, dangling lanyards over an empty table and tapping to tease and play with the on screen pet… and that was the point.  There was no actual controller as such.  A combination of the Eye Toy camera and the ‘Magic Pad’ allow you to generate a virtual pet which is displayed on the screen as being just inches in front of you.

All your EyePet are belong to Ready Up...
All your EyePet are belong to Ready Up…

It responds to your touch, teasing, and even sounds, plays with toys, and most impressively, interacts with vehicles which you draw and scan in with the camera, which then spawn mini games of their own.  An example of this was the plane… parts of an aircraft were drawn and held in front of the Eye Toy camera which were then copied by the pet onto his own sketch pad.  The pieces popped out to become 3D parts and formed a plane for him to fly, popping balloons as he squeaked and circled upwards.

Each pet is fully customisable with haircuts, a palette of lush colours to airbrush him with, and a wealth of costumes and clothes.  Caring for him is obviously part of the game, but it is never a chore as there is no one way to do anything and the pet’s endearing responses made it genuinely a joy to watch.  So much thought and attention have gone into the simplest of actions and responses, that the game offers a real connection to this virtual pet and the use of the Eye Toy and microphone have allowed some amazing features to be realised.

Forget Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and Nintendogs – EyePet is the new bundle of fur on the block and unless Microsoft produce a real life Horstachio from their hat as a Christmas release, this game will be on more than just my Christmas list – in fact, the Ready Up Juniors will be prising it out of my hands come review time.  Dan and I were so impressed with the demo and our long talk with Nicolas, that when I was flying solo on day two, I immediately made a beeline back to the stage for more.  I gave up on the idea of squeezing all the details and elements of EyePet into this feature, so expect a detailed piece in the next few days as I try and outline just what lengths the developers have gone to in order to make a truly touching virtual pet game for the whole family.

The 'Magic Pad' is the smart key to your EyePet experience
The 'Magic Pad' is the smart key to your EyePet experience

After tearing ourselves away from the little creature who was being used as a bowling ball to knock over some skittles, we headed off for lunch.  Dan and myself, along with a Ready Up forumer from Esc who had hitched a ride, headed for a nearby sports bar for the only food we could track down – pizza.  Luckily, Dan had brought emergency supplies – namely a laptop, a fighting stick, Street Fighter game pad, and Street Fighter 3 and 4, so in true gamer style we spread out over two tables and the fight commenced until the food arrived.

With lunch concluded, we tucked our bellies into our belts and headed back to the venue in time to catch the end of a lecture by Kristian Segerstrale on ‘Lessons from Social Games’ and then made our way into the main hall.  We spotted a lull at the machines and took advantage of some quality time with two of Eidos’ eagerly awaited releases.  Dan took point and waded into the colourful world of Mini Ninjas which was previewed by fellow Ready Upper Mark and involves young Ninja, Hiro battling evil with the aid of his trusty sword and some magic.  Dan made some vague attempts at playing properly before deciding to abandon the intended game path and instead, pursued an innocent fox around the village, attempting to flatten it with a large mallet.  For shame.

Dan attempting to corner the fleeing fox...
Dan attempting to corner the fleeing fox…

My turn started off equally well intentioned before the lure of evil-doing became too much and I hypocritically chased a cluster of chickens with a sword.  When I realised there was no possible way to slaughter them, I managed to spirit myself into the body of one instead and actually laughed out loud, drawing some odd looks.  I flapped around, accidentally laid an egg when trying to attack another chicken who had ‘looked at me snidely’ and went to search for another creature to possess.  Eventually deciding to play properly, I turned back to Ninja form before disturbing a hive while shaking fruit from a tree and ended up with a swarm of bees chasing me.  More practise will certainly be needed if I’m to pick this one up for the Xbox 360, but it will be a more welcome break from the darker titles due out later in the year.

lorna_mini_ninjas
Lorna takes some time out with the Dark Knight

After some dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight in the sinister corridors of Arkham Asylum, the Joker sadly got the upper hand too many times for my liking and we decided to call it a day.  Batman Arkham Asylum has already had some ‘hands-on’ coverage by my fellow Ready Uppers Simes, Shaz,  and Mark, during its development but I will say that the environments were atmospheric and absorbing and I very much look forward to playing it once I have sensibly read the manual.  I still staunchly maintain this is why I couldn’t get out of the hospital section, because, being sans manual, I couldn’t work out how to kill anyone so there were a lot of dazed clowns staggering around instead.  We tore ourselves away from the hall, with me grudgingly refraining from attempting to make off with the Batman display, pod and all – if Dan had just provided a decoy, I could have done it.  I was rather hoping that there would have been a life sized Harley Quinn statue that I could have sneaked out with but sadly not.  And so endeth day one…

On day two, with my other half in tow as official bag holder, coat stand, and photographer, I immediately trekked across the sandy Wii Sports Resort Beach Party area to try my hand at archery before it got too busy.  Not a big Wii user, (in part, thanks to getting a vicious bowl-cut in Animal Crossing from which I never recovered), I was initially highly sceptical.  However, one of the resort exhibitors, Ryan was kind enough to introduce me to the game and the Wii Motion Plus which comes packaged with it and some of my reservations melted slightly, as to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it.  I have always found the Wii Mote a skittish nightmare which has had me screaming for the comfort of a proper controller and for any other game, my view remains the same… but for this, it works like a dream.  Forget tennis – Sir Cliff can keep it and the strawberries it skidded in on…Wii Sports Resort boasts 12 new and arguably more exciting sports to play with nary a hint of ‘Living Doll’.

At Ready Up we not only play games but we kick arse at archery
At Ready Up we not only play games but we kick arse at archery

My archery skills were pitted against Ryan’s (who had of course been practising for two days) but for a novice, I put on a surprisingly good show.   I also learned that a private competition was running between the Beach Party staff as to who could get the highest score in archery over the course of the event.  With the luck of Ready Up perhaps rubbing off and my newly discovered archery skills offering some good competition, Ryan topped his score to a high of 113 points, leaving his colleagues despairing and me, although beaten, pleased for him.  I didn’t get a chance to paddle a canoe or shoot hoops but watching everyone else throwing themselves into it was entertaining.  Even my Wii Phobic other half was genuinely drawn in and for him to admit to wanting to give the game a go, it must have been good – so much so that I’ll admit to slipping it onto my Christmas list.  The sports are far more interesting and engaging than its predecessor and with the aid of the Wii Motion plus and the innovative use of the Wii Mote for paddling, drawing a bow, or swinging a sword, it was a far more appealing prospect than its older kin.

I was doing fine until wind shear became a factor...
I was doing fine until wind shear became a factor…

After some more time mini ninja-ing, we spent a hefty chunk of time at the EyePet demo again which I had been enthusing about on the train all the way to Edinburgh that morning.  Nicolas Doucet recognised me from the previous day and came over to spend more time talking with us about the game and its features, giving me further fuel for an upcoming feature.  By the end, I had already planned a name for my intended pet and was bantering with my other half as to whose would look better… (Loki, my pet to be, will win paws down I can assure you.)

Sadly, before too long,  Edinburgh Interactive for Ready Up was over until next year but thanks to a good two days, I now have several games to add to my ‘want’ list and even more to keep an eye on.  After a foot wearing few days, I just wanted to get home and put my feet up on the beach, play some lazy rounds of archery, and dangle my lanyard and pass for my little Loki… but sadly, I’ll have to wait.  It wasn’t until I got in, that I also realised that Dan still had my delegate pack from the previous day in his laptop case, so I didn’t even have the Eliza Dushku interview to console myself with.  Damn it.


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9 responses to “Edinburgh Interactive 2009”

  1. Ben avatar
    Ben

    Nice read that, looking forward to the Eyepet piece – is one thing that if done right will blow the PS3 into the casual market I think.

    Was APB playable at all? I know they’ve just started beta applications but really want to get some hands on with this game, looks to be a great addition to the MMO lineup.

  2. ZeroMark avatar
    ZeroMark

    I signed up for the APB beta a few days ago. It looks like its going to be pretty impressive, especially the vehicle customization.

    I really wanted to go to Edinburgh Interactive this year, but work work work work work….bah.

  3. furyac3 avatar
    furyac3

    This was almost as bad as last year but thank god for peter moore legend ! To save the day ! P.s Thanks for sayin hi dan at it to the furys ha ha ha

  4. John.B avatar

    Photogenic Lorna, some of those could be used as EIF promo pics 😀

    Cataclysmically jealous that my arsehole employers wouldn’t give me time to go, sounds like great fun. Eyepet looks and sounds pretty incredible, the small girl within me yearns for it.

  5. MarkuzR avatar
    MarkuzR

    Thankfully, I don’t have a small girl inside me… although you’d be forgiven for thinking so when looking at me side on. I couldn’t stop myself from enthusing over EyePet though… the level of technical excellence that has gone into it is absolutely incredible. They REALLY put a lot of thought into the development.

    I had my eyes opened on Friday, quite widely. I loathe the Wii for various reasons, but couldn’t wait to get a shot at the archery… and really enjoyed playing Darth Vader with the “Gladiator” pugil stick type game in Wii Sports Resort. The PS3, so far, has been nothing but the most expensive dust collector in our house… but I’m really taken by EyePet, on so many levels.

    We even got the guy to draw out a space ship for the little dood to fly around on! Awesome 😀

  6. Jake avatar
    Jake

    You’ve really got me looking forward to a lot of games now. Lord knows what I’ll be like when I go to Eurogamer…

  7. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    Good read and good pics (new possible friend for Fred in the 1st pic :D)

    Looked like an awesome 2 days of games games games and all new stuff to look forward to. Wish there was something like that here.

  8. Lorna avatar
    Lorna

    Thanks to everyone for the comments 🙂

    @ John.B You’re officially on my favourite person list 😉

    @ Ben APB wasn’t playable which was a shame, they only had a lappy running on the display stand, but from the little we were able to glean it should be an interesting MMO for Saints Row/GTA type fans 🙂

  9. Tiq avatar
    Tiq

    Those poor chickens. =(

    Excellent write up, Lorna… That eyepet looks like it’ll be added to the rather small list of reasons why I should buy a PS3. (It’ll happen when the price drops… I swear.)

    I’m so damn excited about Arkham Aslyum, but I find myself in that strange position of trying to avoid as much info about the game as I can, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I even had to delte the demo from my hard drive, before I wound up playing it to death.

    Sorry again, that I missed out on this, but I’m glad you where there, so I could get the gist of all the good stuff. ;p

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