August 19, 2011

Gearbox Community Day 2011: The Party That Was 15 Years In The Making

A couple of weeks ago – okay, it was a long time ago - (June 11th, 2011), Gearbox Software invited all of its fans in the Dallas, Texas area to come on down to the Palladium ballroom and enjoy panels and gameplay demos from their wide range of upcoming and released titles.  It was a similar format I had seen in the past at Quakecon, with developers, artists, and engineers all taking the stage to answer questions and give video gamers’ an inside look at the titles they make for us to play.

Community Day was just packed with fans.  I had no idea there would be that many people in line at 9am on a hot Texas Saturday.  Sure, I can understand the draw of QuakeCon with its huge Bring Your Own Computer LAN party and plush atmosphere of the Hilton Anatole hotel.  This was at a glorified Texas bar.  It was just a few short steps away from the stereotypical honky-tonk bar with a mechanical bull.

Gearbox sent out private invites to their beta testers, families, friends, and then put up an invitation for anyone who would go to the Gearbox website.

During the event, Randy Pitchford (CEO of Gearbox Software) stated that they had well over 2,600 fans pre-register for the events throughout the day, with more expected to show up for the exclusive Duke Nukem Launch Party later that night.  The show did get off to kind of a late start.  This was because of two things:  scheduling conflicts with the Palladium and Gearbox not being able to setup early, and with all of those anxious fans wrapping around the building, waiting to check-in.  Once the events kicked off inside, boy did it start.

They brought out the big guns and kicked off with a gameplay demo for Aliens: Colonial Marines (a game I’m really excited about).

From what was said during the Aliens: Colonial Marines panel and what I gathered from the gameplay demo, Aliens: CM will be the true sequel to the second Alien film directed by James Cameron.  The guys at Gearbox Software are passionate about the alien lore and saga, as well as wanting to dive deeper into the world to answer some questions left behind on the planet LV-426.

You play as a marine sent onto LV-426, part of the cavalry that was called in from the movie, destined to investigate what happened to the original crew that stumbled upon the alien queen and the egg infested colonists.  It’s a dark, ambient first-person shooter, with glowing reds, yellows, and whites coming through grates in the floor and ceiling.  As a gamer and fan of atmospheric gameplay, I can usually tell with my first glimpse of a game what the developers chose to skimp on, and what the game engine’s assets are hanging their hat on.  For Aliens: Colonial Marines, they’re going for lighting and ambiance.  We all know that LV-426 and the colony is not a well lit happy place.  It’s dark, dangerous, and you never know what will pop out next (and from where).

The mood for the demo was great.  The sound system was turned up loud, the darkness of the room engulfed us, and everyone was sitting on the edge of their seat completely silent in the dark, waiting for the next scare or action sequence.  Being a huge Alien fan, and sitting there with an entire crowd who was just as into it as I was, I got fucking chill bumps from the gameplay demo for Aliens: CM.  I don’t know what it was, or how it happened, but I liken it to going to see the midnight showings of Star Wars.  The audience is calm and waiting in the suspenseful moments, and rushing with excitement, loud and cheering as a marine smacks a xenomorph.

With the epic conclusion of the Aliens demo complete, the doors were opened up and fans were allowed to spread out into the Palladium and see what they wanted.

If you go and listen to the Aliens panel (around the 45 minute mark or so) you can start to hear all of these people talking and all-around commotion.  This pissed me off to no end.  Someone decided it would be a great idea to open up all of the doors surrounding the conference room to let people leave and mosey around.  Not only did these people leave during a panel and be disrespectful, they immediately started chatting about how they were going to get their grubby hands on a PC to play Duke Nukem Forever, knowing full well they will have the entire day (until 5pm) to play it.

Display cases were filled with awards for Gearbox from all of the titles they’ve made in the past – from the PC version of Halo: Combat Evolved to most recently Duke Nukem Forever and Borderlands - the cases included a wide array of artwork, memorabilia, and trophies from each game.

Next up was the Borderlands panel.

The Borderlands panel was informative, if not a little long in the tooth.  It’s hard to have a panel to talk about a game that’s been out for a few years and everyone has read everything about it online already.  Still though, it’s Borderlands, and I had no idea that Randy Pitchford did the voice of Crazy Earl, and Mikey Neumann did the voice of the iconic Scooter from the game.  Being a fan of Borderlands, it’s still great to hear little tidbits about a game you love so much no matter how small they are.

Next came the Brothers In Arms: Furious 4 demo.  This was another one of the gameplay demos I “shouldn’t” have recorded (I still have the audio from both Aliens and Furious 4 on my computer at home, I just can’t share them).  They turned out all of the lights, had 35 to 40 people pacing the aisle ways looking for any sign of electronic life.  They even had a guy scanning the crowd with night vision goggles looking into the dark to try and spot any form of light other than the screen light on people’s faces.  I hope he didn’t catch me picking my nose and eating it.

Set during World War II, Brothers In Arms: Furious 4 is about a small group of 4 soldiers (hey! I get it!) sent in by the government to kill Hitler on his own turf in Germany.  These guys get access to some weirdly cool weapons from the government to wreak havoc on the Nazis.  I don’t know what the official politically correct version of that is as far as trying to nail down a certain genre, but I’m calling it a fucking good time.  We’re talking about 4-person co-op, dynamic cut scenes for each player, cool perks and weapons to unlock, and all of it stylized for this version of World War II.

I think the best way to sum this up was from Mr. Neumann during the panel when he said that the setting and time of the events is in WWII Brothers In Arms, but the attitude and style of the game is completely new.  So we’re going to see gruesome chainsaw deaths, pick-axe throws to the heads, and we’re going to be doing it all to punk music or even Ride With Me by the Vines (great song by the way).  It was definitely a different take on World War II; one that looks pretty fucking awesome.

Last but certainly not least was the reason that this whole day took place:  the Duke Nukem Forever panel.  This was obviously the star of the show and the reason we all made the trek down into downtown Dallas in 100 degree heat to be here.  With John Saint John in front of a mic doing the voice of Duke Nukem, you know things got crazy.  People immediately started asking him to say all sorts of stuff in the “Duke voice”, and Mr. Pitchford even opened up the Balls of Steel edition and gave it to a fan who tweeted the fastest.

The panel started out on weird note and had this “we did this and kind of fucked this up” type of vibe, but after Randy righted the track, the panel went into a new direction with the voice simply being, “We fucking did it!  Even though it took 15 years, Duke Nukem finally has a home and a resting place.”

After 7 constant hours of panels and content without a meal and barely anything to drink (I need my caffeine!) I headed home for a quick catnap and came back for the Duke Nukem Forever launch party later that same night.  Needless to say, the guest list was star studded.  Cliff Blezenski (sp?) even showed up!  We got entertained my the Crystal Method, the girls from Coyote Ugly (yes, that shitty movie bar is still around), and DJ Jazzy Jeff from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

My buddy Chris and I bugged our buddy Adam to go find Cliffy B so we could get a picture with the creator of the Gears of War series and most recently Bulletstorm.  It was a great opportunity for gamers to come and rub elbows with the creators of Duke Nukem, those who spent so much time on the game over the years, taking refuge in someone’s house to continue development on the game, even when 3D Realms folded.

So with all that being said, Duke Nukem Forever is finally going to hit store shelves.  It won’t win any awards.  It won’t be a benchmark in video gaming and what to do or how to do something.  It’s Duke.  He’s back (finally) and you’re either a fan of Duke Nukem and his humor or you’re not.

I know the game probably won’t be any good at all (and it isn’t), but let’s face it people, the game is a mis-mash of game engine, audio, textures, and lighting engines strung along together since 2006.
So when you think about buying Duke Nukem Forever on release day or afterwards, ask yourself, “Did Duke 3D ever win any awards?  Did Duke 3D ever get a high review score?”  I’ll go ahead and answer that.  No and no.  But what you do remember is playing Duke 3D and having a great time, finding all sorts of hidden gems in the movie theater and the movie rental store.  That’s the type of experience you’re going to get from this game.  So when you play Duke Nukem Forever and you go into the bathroom and you pick up that piece of shit out of the toilet and throw it at the wall?  That’s a Duke Nukem experience.

It took 15 fucking years to get here, but I’m happy he’s back.  It’s a different type of game from a different time - a time when we didn’t have huge blockbuster and serious Call of Duty’s or MMO’s.  It’s a relief for a lot of people who developed Duke to get this out to gamers’ hands who’ve been clamoring for it for a long time.  So now we can get our taste of toilet bowl shit on the wall and wait for the next Duke Nukem game to come down the pipeline (You know I'm right.  There will be another!)