QuakeCon is such a strange little show. It started out as nothing more than a few dozen people getting together at a Best Western, holing up in meeting rooms and playing Doom and Quake all weekend. I used to work for a man who used to work in the industry (and played Quake professionally under the pseudonym Rooster) and he was there. He showed me a picture of John Carmack, new Chief Technical Officer of Oculus and possibly still head technical dude at Id Software, speaking to the small group in the parking lot.
It still feels a lot like that except there’s Bawls everywhere and they’re in a waaayyyy better hotel. In the Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) area, it’s nothing more than 3,000 people cramped up on dinged-up wooden tables playing video games for over three days straight. Well, that and miles of ethernet cable and leading networking technology. That’s the benefit of gaining sponsors and getting casually backed by Bethesda and Id.
The weird thing is that this year it feels a lot smaller than recent years. Perhaps it’s because QuakeCon finally didn’t come up against a cheerleading competition or Mary Kay summit like it has in past years, but more likely it’s because few big things came out of the show, or at least was expected at it. Two years ago, everyone clamored to see even a hint of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, especially if director Todd Howard was going to be the one demoing it, not to mention a revamped look at Prey 2. You know, back when that was a game that still existed. Plus people were still hyped on the impending release of Rage and the recent release of Brink, so the night of the tournament finals was unsurprisingly huge.
Last year, it was smaller for sure, but several huge things happened. For one, people could play the highly anticipated Dishonored and a surprise announcement was made by Interceptor Entertainment that they were bringing back Rise of the Triad, which actually released last week to positive reviews. But there were also a lot of smaller side panels including the stellar Looking Glass Studios retrospective, a live Idle Thumbs podcast [insert obligatory Fuck Nick for leaving Bethesda and thus taking away any reason for them to come back], and a star-studded live episode of Bonus Round.
If anything is indicative of the smaller stature of this year’s QuakeCon, it would be the Bonus Round lineup. Last year there was Geoff Keighley, Michael Pachter, Adam Sessler, and Dishonored‘s Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio. This year was Keighley, Machinegames’ creative director Jens Matthies, Arkane Studios’ lead designer Ricardo Bare, and creative director of ZeniMax Online Studios Paul Sage. Not to say any of them are not highly respected members of the industry (they are all, in fact, incredibly smart and overwhelmingly friendly people), but their names don’t carry the same cachet with people not knee-deep into how the sausage is made.
This was also the first time I can recall seeing massive clumps of empty seats in the BYOC area. It was disturbing seeing entirely empty rows leading up to the NOC (Network Operations Center, a raised bunker of servers, techs, and a desire to not see anything explode). In fact, reigning (and consistent) champion of the case mod competition Derrick Johnson wasn’t even seen this year. And whereas last year, people stood for hours to get their grubby little hands on the Oculus Rift with the people that actually made it, this year, a few meandered barely within eyeshot of the Virtuix Omni treadmill.
That’s not to say, however, that this QuakeCon was any worse than past ones; it was just smaller and less bombastic, especially since this was the first year in quite some time since former Id president and current ponytail-lover Todd Hollenshead emceed the main stage’s events. You could especially see the reduced size in the press/exhibitor party at the House of Blues on Thursday where it took up until half an hour until closing time for the dancing to get started (normally it gets going pretty quickly). Or, if you knew where to look, you could see a reduction in big name press outlets in attendance.
But we still got brand new hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order which showed a great amount of promise in lofty ideas but was generally mired in conflicting results. We got to spend a generous amount of time with The Elder Scrolls Online which bucks many MMO tropes and pushes further into a Skyrim or Oblivion that happens to have other human players around. There was also an extended demo in the press area of the upcoming Dishonored DLC The Brigmore Witches, but that’s coming out so soon, there’s really no point in writing a preview.
There was also supposed to be a new hands-off demo of The Evil Within, but after a couple rescheduled theater times, we just ended up with the same E3 demo at the public showing. Tough life, I know, being press.
And we also got to listen to Id’s new art director Hugo Martin talk about pretty much everything. He talked about what made working on movies different from games (“games are a marathon, but movies are a sprint” and “every day you need to perform or you’re gone”) and he talked extensively about what it was like to work on Pacific Rim with Guillermo del Toro, where he spent the first few months of pre-production working out of del Toro’s garage. He was, actually, the inspiration for this week’s Concept Art Roundup. Plus there was emergent art out of the BYOC where a man endured Post-it notes of love, nonsense, and plenty of dicks.
Regardless of the size of the show, you can always expect parties at video game gatherings. Bethesda’s House of Blues party is always pretty fun. The Rise of the Triad launch party was weird because it took place at Community Beer Company. It’s just a mile down 35 from the Hilton where QuakeCon was being held, but it was on the complete opposite side of the area where its sign was located. It made it hard to find, but the beer was really good. (I recommend the Vienna Lager.) Julia Marchak, official photographer of the night for Interceptor Entertainment, managed to start a microcosmic meme of imitating marketing director Dave Oshry’s default position of beer-in-mouth-phone-in-hand. Pretty fun. A tamale dealer was also just outside. God those were tasty.
The night of the finals was predictably insane. At some point, it turned into a Daft Punk dance party following the conclusion of the 1 vs. 1 Doom II tournament where Jkist3 defeated DevastatioN in a real nail-biter. The VIP area in the back, though, was also a lot of fun. They still have that amazing cheese-stuffed tortellini, if anyone was wondering, and it’s still being made by a rather angry-looking woman.
Also, at some point, I was party to a 4 AM shouting circle with Id Software’s creative director Tim Willits. And yes, he still vehemently refuses to talk about Doom 4.
All in all, QuakeCon was once again an amazingly fun show. This year was definitely smaller, but it was just as important as past years. As press, to come to an event so small size-wise but large impact-wise, it’s a big deal. Working with Tracey Thompson, Erin Losi, and Angela Ramsey of Bethesda and Hiro Ito of fortyseven (usually it’s Jeremy Long, but he’s since moved on) in such close quarters where you are one of maybe 20 journalists that show up is neat, and you get an inordinate amount of time to spend with games and interviewees.
Not to mention I live in Dallas, so at the end of the day, I get to still fall asleep on my own bed. Booya. See you all next year.