QuakeCon, one of the largest BYOC Lan parties in North America, has now been going strong for nineteen years. It’s the place where PC gamers from all over the world converge into a giant convention hall at the Dallas Anatole, dim the lights, and kill the shit out of each other on innumerable digitized fields of battle, across several different genres.
The convention not only features competitive gameplay with generous prizes, but a large exhibition hall filled with vendors and indie developers, interesting panels and workshops, and conferences from the biggest names in the gaming industry. Welcome to Dallas, bitches!
Day One: Thursday
In order to cover QuakeCon I burned my last day and a half of vacation time at my full -time job. I arrived at the Anatole early in the afternoon, and was immediately confused about the parking situation. The lady at the front desk told me that the gamer nerds parked in lots 2 and 3. What a great first impression for the city of Dallas: Welcome to the Anatole, you can’t park here. The sign on the parking lot said I would need either a room key or a credit card upon exiting the lot: I had neither, but parked anyway.
I made my way to the mezzanine to pick up my press credentials and to check out all of the VIPs and recognizable gaming press, who I assumed would be lounging around discussing the impending Doom reveal in professional terms. The room was nearly empty and I recognized none of the folks who were there. I got a little weirded out in the mezzanine restroom: a guy was using the farthest urinal from the door but had positioned himself so that his nose was almost in the corner as he took a leak, like he was trying to reenact the final scene in The Blair Witch Project. I guess he didn’t want folks to see his dick...mission accomplished!
I was a little apprehensive as I made my way to the exhibition hall. Would these PC nerds be able to spot a console gamer in their midst? Would there be a test? A secret handshake? Surely not...just keep it vague, Jones, and you should be alright. So, the very first thing I did was to out myself as a console gamer by taking a survey to win a PC case at the Fractal Design booth. How much would I pay for a PC case? Was $200 reasonable? Why the fuck would I even want one? Lesson learned: don’t take any more surveys from a guy named Matt.
The exhibition floor was filled with indie game devs showing off their games, Nvidia was showcasing the Shield and a liquid-cooled Visable GTX PC, Gigabyte was showing motherboards, Glitch Gaming Apparel was selling T-shirts and Half-Life 2 Crab Caps, more PC cases at the In Win Booth, and 505 games was showcasing Payday 2. Wait, what the fuck? Payday 2 has been out like a year...whatever. The Uppercut Circuit (UCC) had a booth near the Bethesda stuff and was apparently a virtual Fight Club, here in Dallas, that gathered to play fighting games. How fucking cool is that?
Bethesda had a corner of the floor designated for something called QuakeCon Trials...it was a contest to see who could successfully complete a certain portion of a Bethesda game in the shortest amount of time. Thursday’s trial was from Fallout 3. Megaton’s Moira Brown has tasked the player to plant a surveillance device in a Mirelurk nest at the Anchorage Memorial as research for a chapter of The Wasteland Survival Guide. I was actually in line for a few minutes when I noticed that there were no controllers. Another snub to the aging console gamer! I told the moderator that I had just shit my pants and had to go change because it was less embarrassing than looking like a noob trying to game on a keyboard and mouse for the first time. I was unable to look this man in the eye for the duration of the convention.
My apprehension regarding the parking situation had finally grown to the point where I had decided to do something about it. I had a talk with the nice blonde lady at the VIP registration booth, who would later inadvertently snub John Romero, about how to get out of paying for parking. She felt that my plan for ramming the barricade was ill-advised and suggested that I speak with the hotel staff. I conspired with the concierge who informed me that if I bought ten dollars worth of food or alcohol at the Media Lounge, the bar could validate my parking. She estimated that my parking bill would be nineteen dollars by the end of the day. I checked my wallet to discover two tens and a single: twenty one dollars. My Dirty Tanqueray Martini at the Media Lounge came to $15.16, plus a three dollar tip. Thanks, concierge...you saved me eighty four cents! However, I did spot Captain Redbeard there, as well as a guy who kind of looked like Russell Brand. I later spotted Adam Sessler hanging out with the smokers, and 300 guys who looked like Ed Casey. QuakeCon is Shangri-La for bearded hipsters.
My martini was poorly timed. It was now nearly time for the Doom reveal and the gin was fucking with my head big time. I had failed to eat anything since breakfast, so I stumbled up to the VIP lounge to see if they had anything there to soak up some of the alcohol. Nope. The other journalists were leaving to get in line for the Doom thing, so I followed after them.
Bethesda and id had a special line designated for the media, which half of the room was lined up at. The press designation on my badge got me in the door before the rest of the folks who had been lined up for two hours. The conference room only held like 3000 people which meant that some of these folks would be turned away.
The press were instructed to sit on the far side of the Ventrino Ballroom, and we were expressly forbidden to photograph or film any of the Doom reveal, but were promised a UAC T-shirt at the end of the conference. I was full of questions at this point. What would the new Doom be like after the desertion of John Carmack? Will we see the return of the Doom 64 Demon Laser? Will the Space Marine finally find his voice? How long does a gin buzz last? Why are they playing the fucking B-52s? Shhh...it’s starting.
The id guys kicked it off by showing the teaser trailer from E3 before lining out the 4 core concepts of the Doom development: Demons, Guns, Movement, Melee Combat. Marty Stratton described the setting: a Union Aerospace installation on Mars during an invasion from Hell. Okay, same setting as every other Doom game, so far so good. Marty also talked about fast-paced multiplayer, 1080p, 60fps, and the fact that it will be available on the PS4 and XB1...then he showed us some gameplay.
The demo happens in a UAC Energy Complex on Mars. A door opens and in steps our marine, with shotgun in hand. Click, click, boom. The marine puts on his helmet, which is a very high tech piece of equipment capable of pinpointing distress beacons, discerning usable objects, and highlighting armor and health pickups. Doom does not feature a regenerating health system, so don’t go cowering behind a crate waiting for your health to bounce back...you will have to fight for it. Our marine is tasked with reaching a locked room with an active distress signal. He fights his way to the control room, softening up Imps with shotgun blasts and finishing off with melee moves: ripping out hearts and tearing heads in half. The control room requires a palm scan to open the necessary doors, so the helmet HUD scans bodies and selects a deceased technician as a match for the scanner. The marine rips the technician’s arm completely off, using his hand to open the door. Did I just see a Revenant with a jetpack? We also pick up a super shotgun on the way and get in close for some double-barreled fun, blasting the torsos away from writhing and running legs. Oh shit, that was a Revenant with a jetpack! He rips off the marine’s arms and beats him to death with them. We say goodbye to our hero.
The demo ends but the lights do not come on, because id is going to show us a second demo! Fuck yeah! The second run is obviously taking place later in the game. Our hero finds a plasma rifle and puts it to good use. Players will now be able to use double jumps to access tops of crates and traverse missing parts of staircases by jumping, grabbing, and pulling themselves up. Out comes the chainsaw for a rather visceral run through some caves before encountering two Hell Knights, a big fat demon, and ultimately, the Cyber Demon.
Doom combat is the old-school, balls-out style from the earlier games. Sneaking around or trying to use cover will get you killed in this game: go big or go home. Neither Bethesda nor id specified when the game or the beta would be available, but rest assured that progress has been made and it looks very fast and very bloody. Shut up and take my money!
Afterward, Bethesda throws a party for VIPs at the House of Blues. I play Mr. Big Shot for a little while before going home. I make a quick YouTube vid with my Doom reveal reaction and go to bed.
Day Two: Friday
I wake up to find that my YouTube video has seen some unusually high traffic for my little channel...that’s weird. Most of my colleagues are nursing hangovers. They are a surprisingly friendly bunch of guys, even the day after. I have a couple of hours to kill before my hands-on demo with The Evil Within, so I hit the exhibition hall. I took a closer look at some of the indie games headed to Steam in the near future. Symbiote Studios was showing off their 3rd person shooter: Warframe. One of the guys I met at the Bethesda party, Jet, was showing off his fighting RPG called Zen Path Z. One of my favorites was an FPS in the Doom vein, but with Borderlands-style cel-shading, called Wrack...it was next to the Bawls booth. I didn’t personally play any of these games but they all looked like a lot of fun, if you do the keyboard and mouse thing, and folks should support the indie guys: you never know when you’ll be on the ground floor of something big.
I also stopped by the Red Cross booth, where they were giving out some The Evil Within goodies for donating. One of the Everyday Gamer guys was there and tried to get me to donate blood. I partied harder than most when I was younger and the Red Cross does not want my blood. Time for my appointment!
The Evil Within
I politely wait outside the demo room for The Evil Within : it’s surprisingly quiet on the mezzanine level. A very nice man from Bethesda gave me a choice of XB1or PS4: finally, someone in the land of PC gamers understands me! This game is scary as shit and was full of little surprises that actually made me jump. In The Evil Within, players assume the role of Detective Sebastian Castelleros, currently tracking down a lady acquaintance of his inside a old mansion turned into an insane asylum. This is a 3rd-person survival horror like Alan Wake, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Fatal Frame. There are lunatics running around begging to be shot because they are too tough for melee weapons. There are also ghosts stalking Sebastian who are impervious to all weapons: players will have to either run or hide from these enemies. The little bit of the game I played had the atmosphere ratcheted to ten and was a little taxing on the nerves. It’s one of those games that will have to be attacked during several shorter gaming sessions. Ammunition is scarce, adversaries are tough as nails, and the scares are big. I look forward to playing this one when it releases October 14.
Day 3: Saturday
Apparently my YouTube video had been going around the id office and folks kept telling me that they have seen it. I wasn’t quite sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but I smiled and said thank you while making a mental note to go back and check to make sure I didn’t say anything stupid.
Attendance on Saturday has swelled and the exhibition hall was completely packed. Security was tightened at the entrance and exit to the hall, the booths were packed, and vendors making money hand over fist. It was good to see folks lined up with their wallets open, ready to pay and play. Battlecry was drawing some huge crowds and it was getting harder to squeeze in and watch the action.
I sought asylum in the LAN hall. The game floor had almost no overhead lighting and the monitors gave the dark room a sort of “Christmas Tree in the window” effect. These machines ranged from simple laptops to custom machines. Some of these were so heavily modified that they had bulged beyond the capacity of their original cases. Some were liquid cooled, some had transparent cases, some had crazy LED effects, but they all played games. I was surprised by the friendly spirit of competition, I had expected more screaming and fits of rage.
QuakeCon showcases that concept of friendly competition. Whether we are playing an old Halo game on a battered console or ruling the room with a flashy Christmas Tree computer, we are all gamers and want the same thing: to play games with each other and have a little fucking fun doing it. Huge props to all the gamers who showed up for the convention with their PCs in tow, big ups to the awesome folks at id and Bethesda for making QuakeCon a can’t-miss event, and special thanks to Liz Roland and her expert team for keeping us in the know and taking care of all the writer guys. I’m looking forward to next year.