As a Fan: Tokyo Game Show 2014

I know when you’re press, people expect you to take advantage of it. Free hotels, early previews, swag, writing about games. It sounds fun, but it’s different than you’d expect, especially at E3. We’re not all taking hand-outs, and we don’t always use all the tools available to us. Why? Because when writing to an audience, sometimes it’s good to remember that we were also once just fans, like yourselves. That’s one of several reasons why I attend Tokyo Game Show, not as press, but just as a fan.

Now, I want to end on a high note, so I’ll start with complaints first. If you’re tired of hearing about the negative aspects of gamer culture and how we as fans have to keep fighting against a public opinion that we’re all rude, immature murder-simulator guinea pigs, just scroll down past this next part and get to “The Good Stuff.”

The Bad Stuff

Now, to be clear, I haven’t done any of the big, public game conventions in the US. However, this was my second year at TGS, so I had some expectations. The biggest, must disgusting one I want to get out of the way is sexism and women as objects. It happens at every show, but last year was really bad. There were a few catwalks about, so women were standing on grated platforms with a lot of fans shamelessly taking upskirt shots. However, that wasn’t my first experience with that at TGS. I had seen a female booth worker bend over to pick something up and a fellow attendee squatted down and blatantly took an picture of her panties. Without thinking, I yelled “Pervert” in Japanese and realized about 10 other attendees with cameras were suddenly running in different directions while the person I referred too looked around to see who said that.

While this year wasn’t as bad, it certainly isn’t E3. E3 still has the booth babes, but not like it had in the old days, and I get the feeling that most of the professional companies use them sparingly (there’s still plenty of them, but Nintendo, for example, doesn’t have its female employees barring their stomachs, and they are allowed to wear pants like their male co-workers!). If anything, they instead hire women who know about the game, or at least teach them enough that they can help extreme newbies play better. Most of the people I saw assisting with demo tips were men.

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At TGS though, it’s mostly skirts, midriffs, and trying to act cute. Sometimes, you can’t even tell what game the girl’s supposedly representing. I saw plenty of booth women dressed as cat-girls, but few games with them. One game about a male character killing lots of male soldiers had women showing off tight, not-digital curves near a jeep, but the women blocked almost every part of the jeep that would allow a fan of the game to know that the jeep was from a game. It was interesting enough that my girlfriend had to snap a picture of it.

I know you’ve all probably had enough of this stuff after Gamergate, but this is the sort of thing that makes society look down on gamers. Despite the fact that I saw plenty of women in groups of all female gamers at TGS, the floor had tons of female models literally modeling for crazed fans, striking poses at first but many were obviously not happy about it. The smiles wear thin within a few hours of the event, and others will even stop trying to hide their annoyance. I feel like, at least in the west, we’re at least making progress as a community. World of Warcraft made MMOs almost into our generation’s version of golf, something you have a decent chance of knowing about and having a discussion about with strangers. We’ve got serious studies on games and learning written by female researchers. We even give to charity! I know booth girls and disgusting men will probably always exist, but hopefully we can tone it down, especially at TGS where they have a family corner for younger gamers.

Then there’s the games. Or, maybe, lack of them. I felt that I saw more ads and “shows” than I remember seeing last year. These were less video previews and trailers, but rather personalities (often like the cat girls and other cosplayers) hamming it up on stage while people seriously playing the game on screens behind them (sometimes in a corner of the screen away from the presenters). The games almost felt like settings for slapstick unless it was a foreign company showing E3/Gamescom previews with Japanese subtitles. People were herded like cattle to these areas, complete with a rope fencing for some reason. There were fliers and booklets too, but often, these were to get you to check out their stores. It really felt disrespectful, not just because the event often like being in a bad commercial, but because it wasn’t a thoughtless mistake but a calculated advertising strategy.

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I say “respect” because the way things were handled overall this year was obnoxious. Admittedly, my Japanese still sucks, but I can read a little, and I attended with a native speaker. Neither of us read anywhere beforehand that many of the popular hands-on experiences would be limited to scheduled ticket holders. While we had purchased a “fast pass” that allowed us to get in half an hour early (at best, since there was still a line to get through), we didn’t get access to all the fast pass options, nor did we get to choose our times. My girlfriend and I received passes for Sony’s Project Morpheus, but at a time my girlfriend would have to leave (I’ve mentioned Japanese work hours making gaming inconvenient here in the past!).

Worse, we weren’t allowed an exchange, either in time or for something else. Because of this, we couldn’t even try to wait in line for the Monster Hunter 4g demo. There were a few other demos, like for Oculus Rift, I would have liked to try, but again, these were severely limited, needed to be picked up outside of the convention, and weren’t advertised until the day of (or done so in a low key way). As a fan, it was a big let down.

See, the big problem is that, like Disney Land, you spend a lot of time in lines, usually an hour or so long. On average, most of the things I wanted to see were a 90 minute wait, and because I had a scheduled event now at a poor time slot, I couldn’t wait around for a lot of things. Games with low wait times were mostly Indie Games (with almost no wait) or games that have been out for a year or more, like Titanfall and their release maps, or Hyrule Warriors, which came out earlier this month.

The event’s 7 hours long per day (7 1/2 if you have the speed pass or “Tokyo Game Show Supporter Tickets”), and you might have to wait 2 hours to get through the booth: you have the line for 90-120 minutes, get a 10-15 minute briefing on the game, a few set-up delays, and play… for maybe a few minutes. Even with my fast pass, I didn’t get to see much. Still, I would have endured a few hours to try certain games, and would have preferred that to this year’s limited ticket event.

Oh, and those ads for the shops? You have to wait at least an hour for those too. At least Disney knows how to sell you stuff.

 

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The Good Stuff

Now, good is a relative term. What I mean by “good” is when I felt like I was at a game convention and able to experience things like a gamer. For example, I mentioned previously that the convention felt like a big advertisement quite often, and that Western publishers recycled a lot of content from E3 and GamesCom, but Bioware made something new for their Dragon Age: Inquisition display I think, though maybe it was from PAX East. That’s still fresher than some of the other displays I saw, and while not one of the largest presentations on the showroom floor, the DA3 presentation seemed like one of the more game-centered previews, and I really applaud the Bioware team for the effort. It was one of the few moments at TGS that I felt like I was a gamer and being respected by my industry.

I finally got to play with Sony’s Project Morpheus but I really wasn’t impressed. It was the same set-up some people may have witnessed Conan O’Brian try at E3, and while I’m glad he apparently had fun, after having tried the Oculus Rift, there’s no comparison. While Morpheus is probably safer and easier to operate when you’re alone, this also makes it less immersive, at least at this point. Much like a pair of glasses, the picture directly in front of you is interesting enough, but your peripheral vision can still see the world around you.

The other issue I had was that all the controls were based on head movement. The Rift knows that human movement isn’t based on that. Head and body movement are separate, and merging the two together makes us sick. It’s why I can get motion sickness from non-VR games. In general, it almost feels like some of the more high-tech VR stuff you’d see in high end arcades in the 90s. It’s certainly neat and most likely will be affordable, offering a change of controls for many gamers new and old alike, but at this point, it pales in comparison to the Rift.

Sadly, game wise, nothing really stood out to me. Well, Earth Defense Force 4.1 did, but partially due to all the shameless booth girl use and terrible looking gameplay. I know the folks at Polygon enjoyed their demo, but for me, it looked far too slow and clunky. I didn’t enjoy watching it at all. It was quite painful and felt like it should only have been a demo, similar to Nintendo’s robot building tech demo that used motion control. I might accept EDF4.1 if that were the case, but since it’s another tried-and-true controller mech game, it just didn’t do a thing for me.

The other game people seemed excited about was Bloodborne. This might be because it was inspired by Demon’s Souls (and is being headed by the same game director) , a game I’ve heard good things about but have yet to experience. Sadly though, I’m not sure I will, since watching BB didn’t really inspire anything. It certainly seemed less creepy, “Hold your shield out whenever you hit a new place” kind of dangerous than Demon’s Souls, and appeared more straightforward with its encounters, but I just couldn’t motivate myself to wait in line to play something that just looked a bit too familiar.

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E3 games like Sunset Overdrive, Call of Duty: Battlefield, and Evolve appeared at TGS, but were certainly more muted at Microsoft’s booth. Really, this picture of Evolve is nearly the whole booth they brought, but the game itself was fun enough, at least for me. I’m more of a PC guy, and my girlfriend (still new to gaming) had more trouble aiming with the controller than she’s had when trying to aim in Titanfall for PC, but with one of the booth guys (the woman wasn’t helpful enough, sadly) made things easier for her and we won the day.

I got stuck playing the medic, similar to what happens when I do MMO demos, but it was fine. Healing seemed pretty brain dead. I felt like I healed everyone who was on my screen every time I hit the heal button. The stealth was certainly useful, but my gun barely did any damage. I think it certainly helped, since it creates weak points on the monster other players can exploit, but if you get separated or are the last one standing and the monster guards the dead bodies of the friends you need to resurrect, you’re going to have a bad day.

The jet packs were great though! They felt easier to use than what you might experience in the Tribes seriesand might be easier to use than PlanetSide 2‘s jets, but don’t think you can fly. Also, remember that going too high might attract the attention of the monster.

Much like an MMO’s add-on for raiding, Evolve has little warnings display to let you know what’s going on. Things like allies who need to be protected, status of party member’s health, who spotted the monster, etc. It’s very seamless and unobtrusive without being hidden, but sadly, I noticed many players at the demo didn’t respond to it, which caused their teams to fail. To note, the game was in English, even though our briefing was in Japanese (though the controls reference was bilingual), but most players I saw were westerners. It really is a team game, and if you try to play Rambo, as I saw several people do, things end poorly. Much like you wouldn’t pull the raid boss solo, you don’t want to engage the monster without your allies.

 

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 The Final Verdict

Didn’t get wowed by any new games. The show itself felt more like a game museum than game show unless you were there for indy games or games released within the past year (and not showing anything new even to Japanese audiences). Tickets for demos sucked and were a little too hidden; we thought maybe it was our fault we missed something in the program, but we looked back and realized certain things (like time limitations) weren’t even mentioned, so the fault is on TGS in my opinion.

Overall, the show sucked.  If it was my first time visiting a game convention, I’d probably never want to go again. There were lines for everything, the event was too short, too crowded, and felt too commercial. Even then, I couldn’t buy something if I had even wanted too! Too much effort went into marketing and sex appeal and not enough on actual games. Admittedly, this could be because I’m used to E3, but everyone tells me E3 is getting worse each year, while I personally feel cutting back on some of the swag and people openly prepared for overwhelming hype has forced certain game companies to show off more meat or go home in tears. At least the indie developers seemed to notice this and bring some demos instead of just trailers and booth babes, even if I couldn’t get into them.

It didn’t help that, although I was in 3DS tagging heaven, most people who were playing games like Smash Bros were in public rooms but apparently only wanted to play with friends (the game lets you choose between public, with friends, or password protected). I’ve played the demo locally, but not yet the full game. I’ve only played online, which is ok, but not quite the same.

Those who don’t speak Japanese or have a personal translator may have some difficulties, but like most of Japan, there’s always someone who specializes in English communication that’ll be called over to deal with you. I’ve had some fun moments at the event last year, so those visiting Japan around the right time still should try the event, unless they repeat the mistakes made this year.

My personal favorite game that I played was Evolve. I’ve been looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint in what I expected: something akin to raiding against an enemy with a brain rather than a gimmick. Monster Hunter 4g was a big tease. Earth Defense Force was probably the biggest example of what I think you shouldn’t do to attract a modern gamer: clunky gameplay that looks uninspired but (hopefully) masked by outrageous personalities and booth babes who, at one point, sang and danced in synch with half nude avatars on the screen. Let’s try to do better than that next year, Tokyo Game Show.

 

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