As E3 hits, I can't help but go back to PAX East experiences. As my twitter and my newsfeeds clog with the massive glut of information of the world's biggest gaming expo, filled with press and new releases, I find myself pining for the Penny Arcade show floor. There's a good reason for it: E3 was made for press. The announcements are made, demos and trailers fill the air until its hard to remember them all, but the lines to try these things are enormous; its often very difficult to get hands on time with the games themselves.
Don't get me wrong, PAX East has its share of ridiculous lines as well, and lines that can be truly disappointing. The Ubisoft booth stated clearly there would be a Watch Dogs demo, but I waited in line to log into a Watch Dogs Facebook game instead. In two years, I haven't dared to sit on a Bethesda line for two or three hours, which is often the bare minimum to see the inside of the booths. However, Lichdom? This was a game line I jumped on, not even knowing what this game was...and I am so glad that I did. It informed, it spread the word, and it let me play the game.
My experience at the convention mirrors my experience playing this game in its early release state: the developers get its players, and want to have that conversation with them. This game was absolutely worth the wait in line.
I could go on and on about how amazingly fun Lichdom: Battlemage can be. It would be easy to ramble about how damn pretty this game is, with spell effects in absolutely everything, with flames licking at your foes even as corruption spells make it look as if they are being devoured slowly. About how, with my limited hours with the games current early release on Steam, I've been able to take on hordes of the dead, throwing fireballs and teleporting around to leave them frozen in my wake. I could go on and on about how the game really does do what it set out to do, which is make you feel like a real front-line hero as the mage.
Wait, no, that last thing is exactly what I want to go on about.
Taking on everything with your bare hands is a little nerve wracking at firstin an FPS style...until you realize the amount ridiculous tricks you have.
The developers, Xaviant games, really feel like they put their finger on the pulse of the gaming community, and they have been more than willing to brag about it. As myself and my friends piled in the video viewing area with about twenty other people on the show floor, I was suddenly upset...I came to play games, damnit. That was one of the things the Penny Arcade Expo touts after all, that it is for the gamers, not just a press show. I had already been burned by the Ubisoft booth, and the lines for the 2k developer were several hours long.
That's when I realized that it wasn't just a video presentation, but the director of the talking to us, giving the presentation in this small room. Greater than that, another member of the team was actively playing through the game as part of this event. This wasn't a canned video shoot, this was an active play-through, one that had us cheering him on and cringing as he was paralyzed by the screams of a banshee-like enemy.
"We want you to feel like a total badass." The team kept saying. "We want you to feel like a titanium cannon, not a glass one." I'm happy to say they got it right: not because the game is easy, but because they have been working hard to make you feel strong in your abilities, able to teleport out of the way, freeze and slow people in place, or simply create walls of various elements to destroy your foes without any mana bars. Even better, you still get that RPG experience in how you craft your mage's abilities. With three basic spells you can modify, you can pit one towards damage, one towards defense, and yet another for inflicting status effects like handing out candy. It was obvious by the presentation that a lot of effort and time had gone into the generation of the game.
It certainly looks complex at first, but the amount of promised combinationsmakes up for that.
The best part though was that the booth didn't end with the presentation. Hidden from my first view was a roped off line of computers, at least twenty, with good headphones and play-throughs just waiting for us to attempt... play-throughs that we were able to sit at and try to play for a good ten minutes or more. There was a line of people from Xaviant waiting, watching you play, willing to give tips as to how to beat the boss at the end, or just how to experiment with the crafting choices that were open to us.
The fact that Xaviant had modelled their shirts after the Neil deGrasse Tyson meme was just ridiculous, wonderful icing on the cake. By the time I got home and realized that this polished game was just $20 on Steam, it was already cemented in my mind that these guys knew their audience, and better yet, knew how to reach out to them. I should also note that during the presentation, they gave out a free key to their game... sometimes even more, a running bet with the developer that was playing the game to see if he could manage to keep is cool and beat the demo without having to respawn.
This game is so damn pretty too - from the backgrounds to the dash effectsfrom when you teleport around the level.
This is a story about how Lichdom: Battlemage, a game I hadn't heard a single thing about, wormed its way into a must play in my mind - not just because of a flashy booth or a AAA name behind it, but because it was a game that was presented carefully and with respect to the gamers that were coming to see what it was all about. This is how a game floor booth should be; in an industry where many companies sometimes are drawn to pre-rendered video presentations and unguided demonstrations, I hope others take note of booths like this.