gamescom image Given that my better half is working this week, I decided that I should entertain myself. So I took the decision to pop into Cologne, navigate the tram system, and visit the worlds largest games event, the Cologne Gamescom.

The trip into Cologne, my first major foray out into the wilds of Germany on my own, did not start entirely as planned. I had travelled roughly two hundred metres from the property when I was stopped by the police. It is, I learnt, illegal in Germany to walk across a pedestrian crossing when the light is red. I explained in the UK that it wasn’t illegal, at which the officer looked perplexed, and said that it must be. I wasn’t sure that debating the finer points of the differences in judicial systems was going to win me any prizes at this juncture, plus I was clearly in the wrong, and gave in gracefully, wondering what my fate was likely to be. After checking my driving license against a list, presumably of international drug smugglers and the like, the officer emerged from his car, returned my driving license, explained again that it was illegal in the UK to cross the road as I had, and drove off. I guess I was lucky to get away without a fine.

Run in with the police aside, it was on to Cologne and Gamescom. Now if you are a regular reader, you will know that I was once a keen gamer, back in the time when I had a house and possessions and gaming consoles and the like. I am still interested in the medium, and as it was a jolly day with nothing else to occupy me, wandering around a giant series of exhibition halls looking at what the latest in interactive entertainment had to offer seemed like a great idea.

Now then. If I was a proper journalist, I would have been intelligent and taken lots of photos to describe the experience of the three giant halls, the pumping speaker systems, the lights, the people, the games, the costumes, and so on. As it was, I forgot my camera. So you will have to put up with me trying to imagine the scenario, and some stock imagery that I will borrow from the internet.

Gamescom, I learnt quickly, is massive. There are three main exhibitor halls, playing  host to over 400 exhibitors. Pretty much every major gaming company, and a few other random hardware and software companies, turn up and put on shows designed to lure you in to their marioproduct. Most of these, obviously, were in German, so failed on me. What, therefore, were my highlights?

A few things are clearly big news in gaming at the moment. 3D is one of these things. I had a go on a few demos that used 3D vision, in a bid to enhance the gaming experience. I have to admit, I was entirely underwhelmed by the experience. First off, you have to wear 3D glasses for the effect to work - anyone without glasses will just see a messy blur on the screen. Then when you do wear the glasses, it has the side effect of darkening the whole experience. And the experience, other than the gimmick of it being in 3D, doesn’t seem to actually add anything useful to the games. Sadly Nintendo didn’t seem to be demoing the 3DS, their upcoming glasses free 3D portable device, so I can’t report back on their technology, but for me, glasses based 3D gaming isn’t a major new thing to get excited about.

The other major “innovation” at the moment is motion based gaming. Sure, Nintendo brought this to the mass market in 2006 with the Wii, but neither Sony nor Microsoft had really made any efforts to get in on this, until now. Now, Sony has it’s Move, and Microsoft has Kinect.

Move is basically just the same as the Wii, but on a Playstation. The controllers look a bit like a cross between an illuminated ice cream cone and a pulsating phallus. You look particularly stupid waving them around, and there were lots and lots of people waving them around at Gamescon, as Sony had one of the largest stands. People were playing tennis with them, flailing them wildly in some hack and slash game (where the on screen characters seemed to ignore them and get on with their own thing) and using them as guns. I was not entirely impressed that it had taken Sony four years to come up with basically the Sony Wii, but there we are. I’m sure it will sell. Probably.

Microsoft’s Kinect, on the other hand, is a much more interesting proposition in my mind. Dispensing with the “wave a wand around like a demented runway controller” ethic, it uses a clever camera system to actually track a users body motion. This opens up worlds of possibility, with dance games, rafting games (what?) and er.. other games. It’s a bit of a new concept for developers to work with, so I expect games could take a while to properly take advantage of the technology. At least you aren’t waving a purple ended dildo-a-like around though.

world-of-warcraft-cataclysm-wallpaper Away from the consoles, I didn’t see anything else that was entirely revolutionary. There were, for example, a lot of World of Warcraft clones. If you aren’t familiar with World of Warcraft, it is from a genre of game called a massively multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG for short. It is, as the catchy genre name would suggest, a game where you play online with millions of other players in a fantasy setting. You can role play, if you wish. It has been phenomenally successful as games go, with around 11.5 million people playing (and paying monthly) to do so. Such a player base is rather tempting to other games developers, and it was inevitable to see a lot of games which looked rather similar to Warcraft in style, if not name, being demonstrated. I suspect they will largely fall by the wayside, with the exception of the upcoming Star Wars MMO, the Old Republic, which will probably be able to leverage the Star Wars fan base sufficiently to survive. Oh, and there is a Lego based MMO, Lego Universe, about to be launched also. I have a couple of beta keys for this, if you are interested, just comment at the end and I’ll give them to er.. the first people to post. Yep.

There were a lot of other games being demonstrated, I won’t go through them all. I noticed a distinct inverse correlation between the quality of title and the number of scantily clad ladies employed to woo people in. Again, the lack of camera had it’s downside.

One of my favourite stands was from Norton who, obviously not having a game to show off, being an antivirus company, just had a bouncy castle thing. Because however hard you try, anti-virus is never going to be interesting. Whereas everyone likes a good bouncy castle.

Some people turned up dressed as their favourite gaming character. Mario was oddly  popular. This being Germany, the food was also excellent, with sausages being front and centre of the menu options. Beer was also on taplittlebigplanet2, costing for some reason the same as coke. Clearly the former was the preferred option, to help soften the giant onslaught of marketing blows that were being directed at my head.

Finally, having wandered around a lot and played a wide variety of games (I spent some time invading Nazi Germany in Ruse before it occurred to me this was probably not totally politically correct), including the excellent looking LittleBigPlanet 2, it was time to head home. Which I managed without running into the police. Success all round.

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