QuakeCon 2011: One Man’s Journey

The grand Hilton Anatole hotel loomed high above me, daring me to enter its shiny revolving door. I was surprised to find that hundreds of gamers were allowed to pile into the pristine resort, free of charge no less, but such is the way of QuakeCon. I had already missed John Carmack’s keynote on Thursday, and I didn’t intend to miss Friday’s first event unless offered a very hefty bribe. Taking the advice of a helpful fellow wearing a Brink t-shirt, I followed the orange Quake symbols and rushed my way through registration.

Entering an even nicer room containing two elephant statues, I halted, confused. I looked down at my map, blinked, and looked back up. Was I in the right place? As it turned out, yes, I was; but QuakeCon wasn’t the only convention going on that day. Dancers– gaggles of them– were everywhere! Girls from ages six to sixteen and dressed in outlandishly coloured costumes bustled through the hotel like a sea of wayward ballerinas. It wasn’t difficult to pick out my own crowd of sixteen-to-thirty-six-year-old males wearing video game apparel. Like oil and water, the two groups mingled peacefully but separately; framed in the luxurious setting of glassy ponds and sophisticated art, the scene was surreal. Shrugging off the weirdness, I pressed onward.

It was kind of like this.

The heavy doors to the Alienware-branded ballroom slammed shut literally seconds after I slipped through. Nary a seat was available, but a cosy spot by the back wall was good enough for me. Pete Hines of Bethesda announced that the presentation was about to start (garnering cheers) and that all video-capturing devices were to be shut off (garnering disgruntled mumblings). Then Todd Howard himself, Xbox 360 controller in hand, took the stage and began the first public showing of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

There wasn’t anything especially new here, but the crowd didn’t seem to care. Everything was worth shouting and screaming about to the excitable gamers, especially when something even remotely resembling violence was involved. The bloodthirsty mob demanded that Howard murder wolves, giants, and innocent villagers alike.

“Kill it! Kill it!” they would chant, as if attending a gladiatorial arena.

Although Howard was reluctant to bow to their every wish, most of what he did show them (notably the dragons and less so the lack of a PC version) was met with roaring appreciation. When a flashy spell burst forth from his character’s hand, a vocal member of the audience with a penchant for yelling out memes could no longer contain himself.

“IMMA CHARGIN MAH LAZER!” he proclaimed with glee.

I did not, as my scruples prohibit, punch him.

The finer points of Skyrim were only touched upon, but the game looked even more breathtaking and beautiful in person. Todd Howard finished up by announcing a $149.99 Collector’s Edition that includes a map, a thick art book, a behind-the-scenes DVD, and a foot-tall dragon statue (which looked far more impressive than the elephants out in the lobby). It was spectacular to see Mr. Howard come all the way to Texas and show us some Elder Scrolls magic, and I left with a yearning to see the RPG in its more subtle glory this November.

"Whose idea was this?" asked Todd Howard upon attacking one of these beasts per audience request.

Sadly, I had to pass up the 20 Years of id Software panel, taking the chance to instead play some Rage. Weaving through a troupe of kids practising their dance routine and nearly ramming into Todd Howard on the stairs (I think he scowled at me), I headed straight for a row of monitors. The fine folks running the press room set me up with a PS3 version of the game, which you can read about in my hands-on preview. After a solid ninety minutes of shooting stuff, I scurried away to a panel titled Ultimate Origins: The Games That Influence Us.

Four developers sat behind a table in a room much, much smaller than the Alienware arena. Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith from Arkane, Matt Hooper from id Software, and Marcus Smith from Insomniac were there, moderated by Game Informer’s Andrew Reiner. They reminisced about Half-Life, Carrier Command, Doom, Super Mario Bros., and their experiences with a whole bunch of other classics. It was a simple, quiet conversation compared to the punch the rest of QuakeCon delivered, which complimented the insight and expertise the panel had to offer.

This is actually X-Men Origins, not Ultimate Origins, but it's close enough.

After admiring an intricately carved wooden dragon on display as I pondered whether or not I had time to eat a sandwich (I didn’t, by the way), it was time to meander back over to the Alienware stage. I secured a good seat this time around, waiting for the show to start while bassy music blared and multicoloured lights blinded me numerous times. Chris Rhineheart eventually appeared, bringing with him a demo of Prey 2, Human Head’s upcoming bounty hunter game. Again, this demonstration didn’t offer many new tidbits, but also again, the crowd didn’t much care. Rhineheart was more willing to be an in-game jerk than was Todd Howard, and the audience exploded with applause as things blew up, including alien heads. The game had all kinds of nifty tricks up its sleeve (the Mirror’s Edge style traversal in particular) and it was exciting to watch it in action.

As the presentation came to a close so did my day at QuakeCon 2011. I sat contemplatively on a sleek bench under a vast skylight, watching gamers and dancers avoid each other. Yes, I might have missed John Carmack and I hardly peeked in at the BYOC scene, but I was nonetheless satisfied; the hotel was wondrous, the events were fascinating, and the people were friendly (if violent). The whole trip was a total blast, and I fully intend to return next year. If you end up visiting Texas next summer (perhaps for a dancing convention?), seriously consider stopping by the radness that is QuakeCon. I swear it’ll be fun.

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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