Tuesday, 29 May 2012

London MCM Expo Report 2012

Last weekend, if you were living in the UK, you might have known that the London MCM Expo took place featuring the usual gathering of cosplayers, comics salesmen many Doctor Who fans and enough katanas to equip a small army. Par for the course when it comes to gatherings of nerds. Amongst the stalls selling replicas of film weapons, out of print comics, and areas set up by independent artists there were a number of promotions for soon to be released video games and films.
With a chance to get a first impression of some major releases, Gareth of Paranerds.com and I went to investigate.

The Games:
Most of what was available for playing at the MCM Expo were those already fully released. Ones such as Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Dead or Alive 5 and Warriors Orochi 3 were available to play, and they’ve all been out for months. That being said there were a number of ones which were still open for demonstrations and Q&A sections however.

The Old Republic (MMORPG):
In the Q&A section for their massive online game, Bioware seemed to be keeping its cards close to its chest. Those talking seemed to be trying to avoid revealing too much about any future changes to their title and there frequently seemed to be the general response of “we wanted to do that from the beginning but…”
The most notable examples are an unwillingness to talk about new species, wider involvement in warzones and wider content for new/current classes. There was honestly not much told to fans of the game but from the sounds of it they are focusing upon trying to expand upon certain content for its current playerbase. Concentrating upon improving the experience for current players rather than creating stuff to attract new ones. Whether or not they will listen to criticisms of The Old Republic and try to improve upon the flaws most frequently complained about remains to be seen.
Here’s hoping one of the improvements they’ll make is to stop continually blurring the boundaries between Jedi and Sith until there seems to be no difference between them. It’s as if they’re trying to retcon Karen Traviss' rants into being right.

Transformers Universe (MMO):
This is most definitely a game which is being made by fans for fans. Those present in talking about Transformers Universe were all people very familiar with the franchise, long-time fans of it and were dedicated to creating a genuinely good game. From the questions answered in the Q&A it sounded like the developers were planning to create more of an action orientated MMO than most traditional ones, with less of an obvious focus upon levelling and grinding for exp. Despite this, they did mention several times that they wanted to make a proper use of the transformers’ ages, with most being able to live for millions or sometimes billions of years. As such we might either see the sort of thing present in The Old Republic, with each character being able to shape themselves over an initial storyline or an altered version of a traditional levelling system.
In response to a question the developers also stated they wanted to make the transformers’ abilities and fighting styles the core mechanic, emphasising upon the two things which come to mind when people talk about the series: Gigantic robots fighting one another and being capable of fast travel while in vehicle modes. With any luck this’ll result in more “breach their defences!” “Halt the enemy advance by destroying those siege weapons!” missions than “find six insecticons and harvest their parts” tasks. Quite how vehicle modes will be employed in the game remains to be seen, but the developers are apparently taking notes from games like War for Cybertron. The last really promising note is that the developers are planning to make as much use of the characters from the Prime universe as possible, including several from the cartoon but also planning to expand to introduce versions of classic series characters. Prowl and Barricade have already been announced, characters not present in the cartoon, and with any luck we’ll be seeing more of this if there will be any future expansions.
It does have promise, but be warned it seems to be being made for Transformers fans first and foremost.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour (Action, Vehicle Simulation):
Honestly, I’d heard nothing about this one – it seemed to come out of completely nowhere and it looks very promising. Without going into details on its storyline, the sequel to the older Steel Battalion game seems to have flipped from one play style to the next. The original game utilised an expensive, massive controller to invoke immersion with the player using dozens of buttons, two joysticks and various dials to help control what was effectively a walking tank. Instead the makers are choosing to use Xbox 360 Kinect in order to try and create the feeling of piloting an awkward, two legged attack vehicle. The really surprising thing is though, it doesn’t feel like a step down – there’s still a great deal of immersion to be had and in all honesty this actually feels like a good used for the Kinect. Unlike Star Wars Kinect or the other gimmicky types of games, this one seems to have been planned out to try and balance the use of controllers and hand motions to keep the tank moving.
While piloting the machine you direct and fire it with your controller much like you would in any game, giving the direction and tight controls required for precision shooting and gauging distances. However, the panels inside your cockpit, levers and buttons are flipped on and off through the Kinect. For example, if you’re aiming through the firing slit to shoot you can motion to move back, close it and then turn to a device to your left in order to view directions through exterior cameras. It feels clunky and complex but in a good way, like you’re trying to operate a war machine with all the problems and issues you’d come to expect from driving such a vehicle. The graphics also don’t seem to have suffered from this, while by no means outstanding they’re passable which is more than can be said for the average Kinect focused game.
This one looks really good; if From Software managed to get this right we could have an extremely good title on our hands. Keep an eye out for this one.

Aliens: Colonial Marines (FPS):
While unable to get close enough to actually play the damn thing, thanks to a large writhing mass of people surrounding the cubicle where demos were being held, we were able to get some initial impressions of the game. Watching other people play their way through it and interviewing a few players willing to talk as they left, the game looks like it could be the next Bioshock. Streamlined, well made, with a genuinely interesting plot and some great level designs Colonial Marines seems to be worth the long wait. I will say that the initial trailers have removed some of the initial menace of the xenomorphs by reducing some of their weaker forms to simple cannon fodder, but the promise of newer, tougher bioforms should hopefully offset this.
The game does feel a lot like a sequel to the Alien vs Predator games, far more so than this generation’s latest instalment to that series. You’re operating as part of a human squad isolated from the bulk of your forces, the motion tracker and a lot of recognisable weapons are present, and xenomorphs leap at you and perform recognisable movements like running on walls without feeling old or predictable. The only criticism I will give is that the graphics don’t seem all that impressive at the moment and the atmosphere to the game could do with some slightly improved presentation to emphasise upon the hero’s initial situation. Other than that if Colonial Marines’ first few minutes are an indication of the game’s overall quality it’s going to be a winner.
This could well end up living up to the hype so keep waiting for this one a little longer; with any luck your patience will be rewarded.

The Films:
Like the games, a lot of the films being advertised were those which we’ve seen a lot about already. Most of them were just posters for things which were soon to be released like Prometheus, Men in Black III and a few new anime OVAs which I’ve not seen or heard enough to properly comment upon. There were two films which had brief film and trailer screenings which were original and were worth commenting upon:

A Fantastic Fear of Everything:
This is a dark comedy(?) starring Simon Pegg which does look like it’s to follow a path not often trod by films these days; having a plot which simultaneously blurs reality with fiction and the cartoonish with horror. Playing a children’s writer turned murder mystery writer, Pegg’s performance sees him slowly going inside; becoming obsessed with his own tales and gripped by paranoia. Forcing him to the point where, well, there’s lots of shots with him carrying bladed weapons.
The reason for that question mark at the end of comedy is that it’s hard to tell quite what direction this film is supposed to be going in. It’s like the reverse of John Carpenter’s Starman. In that film you had a science fiction love story which had a lot of the visual cues and cinematography you’d expect to see in one of Carpenter’s horror films. In this case, from what we see of it, A Fantastic Fear of Everything seems to have a lot of horror moments and disturbing themes, but a lot of its visual images seem to be from the sort of comedies Pegg stars in.
From what was shown the film’s directors do seem to be taking risks in trying new things, something always commendable, and it is going with some interesting visual effects. It apparently is going to use scribbled cartoons and drawings to display at least some of Pegg’s character’s hallucinations which does help to give it a distinctive look. While there is some uncertainty to be had with the film, Pegg is a versatile actor and can work with these situations, this plus its overall look means it could end up being a good film. Wait and see how it develops and what new information is revealed in the future.

Chernobyl Diaries:
This one is either going to be really good or really bad. Why? Well, amongst other things it is a found footage movie produced and written by the guy who has directed, produced and written for the Paranormal Activity films. This might sound like beating a dead horse with a stick, but they tend to have a few which are really good and a lot which are either mediocre or really bad. This one looks like it could go either way; either being the next Troll Hunter or turning into another Apollo 18.
The plot from the start sounds like something which has more than a few holes in it; a group of friends choose to head off and go for an extreme tour. Now, this you’d expect to be kayaking, mountain climbing or something with extreme sports. These people decide to go check out a town which is in the shadow of the Chernobyl fallout with a former Special Forces soldier as a guide. This already has a few problems in itself as it seems ridiculous that anyone in their right mind would want to wander into an actively radioactive zone as a sort of holiday, let alone try to have an “extreme” tour in an abandoned town. And then they’re attacked by something living in the town which is hostile to them.
What the mysterious thing is this time is obviously going to be a mutant of some sort, but the real question is what kind. People’s guesses range from the villains being something like Fallout’s ghouls to violent ghosts haunting the ruins. Personally I’m hoping we’ll end up with an entirely new insect monster spawned from the radiation B-50s style; like some combination between Godzilla and the xenomorph queen from Aliens rather than just a group of mutated feral people.
It has an interesting setting, some possibly good setups but there are some warning lights lit up by just the trailer of Chernobyl Diaries alone. Read a few reviews before deciding to take a look at this one as it really could go either way at the moment.

So that’s the first looks seen at London’s MCM Expo. Nothing seemed to appear truly bad at first look and with any luck the finished product will resemble these previews. Unfortunately I was unable to take any photographs or footage of this myself, due London being in the middle of a mass battery shortage apparently, so apologies for that.
With any luck we will be able to review some of these titles properly when they come out and if people want this sort of report to become a yearly thing for this site, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

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