Not like it used to be
For the past few years, I always looked forward to going the Philadelphia area in order to attend VGX, or as it used to be, PhillyClassic. Notice how I said it was the Philadelphia "area" because it was never held in downtown Philly.
Last year, and the first time it was held, it was in King of Prussia, which was about 15 miles west of Philadelphia, and very easy to access. The other time it was held in Fort Washington, which although a little more difficult to locate, it was still not that bad at all.
But that changed this year , as VGX was held in downtown Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Convention Center, more specifically, where the location for this year's VGX, and in my opinion it was the first mistake that happened. Trying to get to the PCC was a pain in itself. When you consider that some moron decided to use a bus to block 10th Street, and the Philadelphia police would not let anyone drive anywhere near Arch Street. It took me almost two hours to find a single parking spot at 11th Street, one half mile from the PCC.
When I finally was able to get to the PCC, I then find out I'm in the wrong building, as I end up smack in the middle of a Muslim rights organization! But after walking two more blocks, I finally found where VGX is held.
Expecting an event that I thought was going to be much larger than in years past, imagine my shock when I walked in and everything looked smaller that it usually does. Maybe it was the fact that the PCC exhibit hall was much larger than the one used at Valley Forge, but still the event looked very small. Anyone who went to E3 in the past can think of it as a half filled version of Kentia Hall. I was just expecting a lot more.
And that wasn't the worst of it, what really hurt me the most was in the past, PhillyClassic and VGX were about bringing back the CLASSICS. It was those two days a year that I can actually go somewhere and play a lot of the classic games and systems in their original state, not emulated. Sadly, aside from the usual arcade classics, which also seemed a little light compared to years past in my opinion, there were no console classics to play.
One of my favorite websites, Atari Age, was nowhere to be found, and it was there that I could check out all the greatest 2600 homebrews. I still remember that awesome LadyBug remake they had on display last year.
But not this time. I was hoping I would be able to purchase some good classics as well, but there was only one vendor on site and their supply wasn't of interest.
It just seemed that this year, VGX was more akin to the modern gamer than the retro gamer.
Dell, Alienware and Intel demonstrated their latest XPS laptops and tower stations (which I have to say were massive. Are we selling computers or full blown server towers?) which demonstrated full versions of Unreal Tournament 2007 (which ran great,) Guitar Hero 3 (which also ran great, even if it was just a remake of the Xbox 360 demo,) and Crysis (which ran horribly, and it's actually coming out next week?)
Panasonic was also on display to show off their latest line of plasma monitors, an idea that really cracked me up. As many people realize, plasma technology is the worst for gaming. Even if claiming that burn-in has significantly reduced and image quality is improved, it's still no where near as good as an LCD.
Plus, let's not forget how expensive plasma is compared to LCD. Remember I was able to find a good 37" LCD for $700, and some Vizios are actually coming out for cheaper (let's see just how cheap come Black Friday,) but plasmas are still very expensive and not worth the effort.
Another question I have to ask Panasonic is, if you are going to show off how good Madden 08 looks in plasma, then why did you run the PlayStation 3 version of Madden, which everyone admits is far inferior to that of the Xbox 360. Are you doing it because you are so loyal to Sony and their beloved Blu-Ray? Give me a break!
On the console side it was the standard VGX routine, featuring tournaments for Street Fighter 10th Anniversary, Smash Brothers Melee, and of course, the 1990 Nintendo World Championships cart (a triple header of Super Mario Brothers, Rad Racer, and Tetris.) Several locations also showed off Guitar Hero 3, and I made the mistake of offering them the code to unlock Through the Fire and Flames by DragonForce. While it is a great song, and without a doubt the most difficult Guitar Hero song ever, everyone wanted to beat it. I created a monster!
But it wasn't all doom and gloom at VGX. The main event of the show was the premiere of Spencer Halpin's movie Moral Kombat, taking a hard look at game violence. I didn't get to see the movie, but I did attend the panel discussion, featuring Lorne Lanning (from the Oddworld game series,) Jack Thompson (we all know who this censor monger is) and the ultimate Sony fanboy, N'Gai Croal from Newsweek as the moderator.
The whole panel discussion started off ok until Jack started doing his usual excuses, going back to stories of Michael Carneal and the Columbine twins (hasn't Jack ever considered the fact they were BULLIED by their peers?) Lorne Lanning was also fighting back hard, claiming that Jack was only going after them in order to promote his personal agenda, calling him an "ambulance chaser" and wondering why Jack is seeking $600 million in damages. The debate got so heated up at times that even N'Gai couldn't even hold them back, even whining out "I'M THE MODERATOR!" near the end.
Surprisingly I was able to keep my cool during the whole ordeal. I knew that if Jack tried to make allegations about Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui using games to kill (like Dr. Phil did, and was found to be completely false,) I would have said my point. At least I was able to get a great picture of Jack hiding his face, paparazzi style. Note to VGX staff and PCC rent a cops. That picture was taken BEFORE you made the announcement of no flash photography!
At least the Jack Thompson debate allowed me some prime interview question fodder for Zack Ward, who was there to promote a film he's starring in based on the game series Postal. Granted the film is being directed by Uwe Boll (insert groans and hate messages here,) but from I saw from the preview footage and trailers, is going to be an incredibly funny experience more than worth your money, if in a stupid, asinine, juvenile, South Park sort of way. I might have to help Zack out, as he requested in our interview.
But without a doubt, what the biggest draw in the main hall (the Jack Thompson debate was in a lecture hall,) was the Rock Band World Tour bus. Now I'm sure everyone knows my deep interest in Rock Band, especially with how it compares to Guitar Hero 3. In my opinion, it compares very favorably.
Let me start off with the guitar controller. Based off the Fender Stratocaster, the guitar is thinner but feels more genuine. The fret buttons are recessed as opposed to sticking out, and there are a second set of buttons lower on the neck that can be used for solos.
No strumming would be required for their use, a big plus. The strummer bar feels more rubbery but doesn't make that loud annoying click sound. An effecter switch is also available, allowing the use of echo, flanger, wah wah, and chorus effects.
The drums as well feel authentic, and I was amazing at just how sensitive they were. Entry level drummers and GH fans might get confused with the drum display though as there is no dedicated column for the bass drum. Instead a single yellow horizontal line depicts the bass and I noticed a lot of people missing that. I admit I didn't use the microphone but it does look like it works as well, even being used as a possible tambourine or, dare I say, a cowbell! Where's Will Farrell when I need him! Needless to say, Rock Band is looking like it is going to be a huge hit.
I'm already prepared for its arrival on the 20th, unless Gamestop screws me over again, and since I have a $25 preorder, I'm expecting it to be delayed, especially after the announcement that both the 360 and PS3 versions will be in short supply.
In the end, this year's VGX was a pretty big disappointment. What I thought would be a larger event due to the new venue turned out to be much smaller. In my opinion, for me to come back next year, the following items need to be addressed.
1. Return VGX to the Valley Forge Convention Center.
2. Bring back the classics.
3. As part of returning to Valley Forge, bring back the 24 hour classic arcade.
The next year will be a big debate for me on whether or not I will return. I guess it will end up as a "game time decision."
Currently Playing: Call of Duty 4 (Xbox 360,) Guitar Hero 3 (Xbox 360,) Virtua Fighter 5 (Xbox 360)
Waiting for: Rock Band Special (Xbox 360,) Mass Effect (Xbox 360)