Quick PSA to start off with: regardless of whether the distance is less than a mile, under no circumstances decide it’s a good idea to move house unassisted the day before a taxing, four-day event.
Perhaps if I hadn’t been a total idiot to do just that I wouldn’t have struggled so much, having closed my new front door a mere two hours before I needed to leave for Birmingham on Thursday. A chronic sufferer of insomnia, I am accustomed to completing a variety of activities without sleep from simply popping to the supermarket to snowboard lessons, but I was dead on my feet by lunchtime.
It’s a real shame my first day was something of a write-off; this was my first experience of EGX, with me being either unavailable or simply unable to spare the funds in the years prior. Being only a fraction of the size of gamescom, even at its busiest EGX still felt like navigating St Pancras during the off-peak hours, as opposed to facing the stampede that killed Mufasa. Regardless, trying to find a place to sit that wasn’t the floor could be a challenge, and one could face a long wait for the games with as few as a single monitor.
The last time I was at the NEC was 2011 when I attended Girlguiding UK’s Big Gig with my unit (ironically also one day before a house move, although this was my parents moving me to university halls, rather than me moving alone into a one-bed flat). This, however, took place in the arena rather than the exhibition centre, so the place was utterly foreign to me – a challenge for anyone, let alone the visually impaired. EGX didn’t appear to be signposted either, you really do need to know where you are going (fortunately I ran into a group of lads who were also looking at the nearest hall directory in bewilderment, so it wasn’t just me).
Despite its relatively small size, it’s an event that would still be difficult to experience in one day, and I’m feeling a bit sad that I had decided to leave a day early and miss the Sunday. With a plethora of video games – this includes a large retro gaming zone – and board games on offer, there is plenty of choice in what to play (some might argue a bit too much choice). I only managed a fraction of the games on my list.
I’m still trying to work out my comfortable number of demo slots and interviews, so this time I only had four – I will point out that a fair few devs I approached simply said ‘oh cool, just come along and play, and we’ll have a chat’ rather than offering me an actual slot, which is absolutely fine. Typically I had the two trickiest on day one, the day where I had almost zero brain function. QUBE 2, which I demoed at Rezzed, was first on my list, although being a newer build, showcasing the very start of the game rather than a much later stage with far trickier puzzles, I found myself having much more success with it than last time.
Shift Quantum was the other appointment for that day, and hands down one of my highlights of the event. A side-scrolling platformer, players must use the ‘shift’ mechanic to get to the level’s exit by reversing the level’s colours: to put it simply, black-on-white become white-on-black, although this also flips the level map. It’s this shift mechanic that allows the player to traverse across ledges that were previously just free space, or drop down a gap that was previously a wall. It’s a game that truly requires some outside-of-the-box thinking, and is an excellent stimulator for those brains that enjoy being bent into an intricate pretzel.
I checked out as soon as I had roughly typed some notes into Word on my iPad, promptly taking a cab to my hotel and passing out within minutes of being shown to my room; the fifteen minute journey from the station to the hotel was a battle to remain conscious – I sort of wished I bought my roll of duct tape with me so I could tape my eyelids open.
Feeling much more refreshed on Wednesday morning, I made a beeline for the Assassin’s Creed Origins booth where I took my place in the queue (where I met two awesome new friends!), wondering if I was going to be chivvied away at the same point I was at gamescom. Happily, I can report that definitely wasn’t the case: after the end of the mission we played in Germany we were allowed to play for a while longer, giving me the chance to test the mechanics of the game a bit more and explore the new skill tree, which is extensive and fully aimed at tailoring Bayek’s abilities to the playstyle of the individual.
Wednesday also saw my best friend come up for the day, partly to hang out with me but also partly to support a mutual friend and his game My Last Son, showcased with the National Film and Television School. With Liv not really being a gamer, I was somewhat worried she would find the day a drag, but fortunately this wasn’t the case, with her finding enjoyment in a few games, including fellow NFTS title House Mouse VR, wherein she played a house mouse attempting to bring food back to his home, whilst avoiding the family cat.
Her primary objective, however, was to meet Outside Xbox/Xtra, which she did manage to do whilst I was away playing Lake Ridden, an unsettling and mysterious first-person puzzler involving a thirteen-year-old girl attempting to find her sister in an eerie garden. It’s a game I’m sure I could spend hours on; it does very little in the way of hand-holding, requiring you to search every nook and cranny for clues or components to solve puzzles. Whilst the puzzles featured in the demo – noth the press-only level and the public demo – weren’t overly fiendish, they did require a fair amount of exploration. Thus, the sense of achievement upon completion is significant.
Much like gamescom, Saturday was my proper ‘hardcore gaming’ day so I did just that, playing as much as I could in the limited time I had. Whilst I did play a bit of Metroid: Samus Returns, and my final game of EGX 2017 was a crack at the levels of Ni No Kuni II I hadn’t played at Bandai Namco’s press junket in July – read my colleague’s write-up of that here – I focused primarily on the indie and NFTS titles, which ranged from the more standard to the downright bizarre. Purrfect Date, a game where you effectively date a cat, springs to mind. (My ‘date’ ended in irritation on my part, but seeing as I ‘dated’ a cat named Snooty Booty, I’m not shocked).
My penultimate stop was (predictably) the inaugural Showdown of the Week at the EGX Theatre, which involved Ellen failing to correctly guess Luke’s favourite dinosaur, Andy gradually becoming more evil the longer he wore his top hat, plenty of gratuitous violence and terrible charades (sorry Mike), with Outside Xtra ultimately securing the coveted trophy with a landslide win via the cheer-o-meter.
My one appointment for Saturday was with the Square Enix Collective where I demoed puzzler The Turing Test – a game that’s effectively a cross between Portal and The Talos Principle, both of which I love – eerie point-and-click adventure Goetia and cartoony brawler Deadbeat Heroes. Deadbeat Heroes would be my pick for ‘game that I enjoyed more than I expected to’. Brawlers aren’t usually my cup of tea but the action is just so zany and addictive that it’s hard not to try and try and try again if you fail (which is easy, because the later levels in the demo were HARD).
However, all of the above pales in comparison with my true highlight of EGX 2017 as a whole. Six months after being only five people from the front of the queue at their meet & greet, I finally got to meet Outside Xbox/Xtra.
Having failed to drum up the courage to join the meet & greet queues alone, the conflict about attending the session with Liv by my side was real. Being an incredibly anxious person and not having any chewing gum on me – my staple for fighting anxiety attacks – I did feel secretly glad that I would’ve had to duck out of the queue for my 3pm appointment, seeing as it took Liv until gone 3:30pm to reach the front.
Skip forward an hour or so, when we’re collecting Liv’s suitcase from the cloakroom. Call it a moment of pure serendipity, but just as we were starting to make our way back towards the entrance to the hall, I go to nudge my way past a stationary group and almost walk straight into Andy.
I’m going to throw up my hands and admit that, as pure panic gripped me, I actually turned on my heel to sprint as fast as I could in the opposite direction (complete with arms flailing behind me like noodles). I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a strong instinct to flee, not even as I was wheeled to theatre for my radiotherapy. Liv, ever the excellent wingman, promptly cornered them and did the introductions as I tried not to collapse. (Kudos to Mike for using my snowboarding as a conversation starter because otherwise I can’t guarantee that I would’ve been enough at ease to speak in coherent sentences).
I suppose all there is left to do now is say a million thanks. Thanks to EGX for having me once again, and thanks for being such an awesome experience for my first venture representing my own website. Thanks to all the devs for your incredible talent and dedication to this industry. Thanks to Liv for being a Top Wingman (and just generally Top Friend). Thanks to Outside Xbox/Xtra for a bunch of stuff I’ve already thanked you profusely for, but not least for being awesome, kind and hugely entertaining.
Now to while away the time before Rezzed, very impatiently. It’s only seven months, I’m sure that’ll be enough time to finish a game or two…