Just in case you didn't know what this event was all about. . .here's a bigass building-banner. Hope you folks in the East wing don't mind a glorious view of a black tarp!
Yep, Doom III was the buzz of the convention. There were hot computers capable of running Doom III and hot graphics cards capable of rendering Doom III, but no actual Doom III to be seen apart from a 12-minute movie that your humble reporter didn't get to see because the whole movie attending process was a complete and utter [ED: insert about 15 terms capable of causing fainting spells in sensitive folks]-up. After going back and forth to the press room to stash his camera because cameras weren't allowed despite the fact that the video's gonna be all over the place in about a week, your humble reporter found that they started the 11:40 show at 11:30 because of "bad timing", and that he should return at some other time. . .
. . .which he did not.
Already, though, conspiracy theories abound. Since the movie was a pre-rendered tape and not something actually happening in real-time, people were speculating that the game doesn't look as good as it appears on the tape, ala those early XBox screenshots that were touched up with Photoshop. The buzz was that the rooms and walls and such were authentic Doom III, but that the monsters were being rendered elsewhere and were superimposed on the rooms, kinda like that movie where Forrest Gump shook hands with Moussilini.
Yeah, it's good to be da press. Being an elite press-type, I was plied with all kinds of subtle bribes, ranging from cheap useless gizmos (blinking super-balls), to fancy and expensive useless gizmos (ATI's remote control for my computer that allows me to compile code from an adjacent room). These fine gifts are all gracefully and gratefully accepted and will be lovingly auctioned to the most discriminating bidders, with the proceeds used to purchase the finest cheap beer.
Now here's the meat of the convention, the playroom!
I dunno if you can get a sense of scale from the picture, but this is a seriously large room. You could probably get six simultaneous games of basketball going in here if you didn't mind wrecking a bunch of computers while doing it. It was set up with row after row after row of tables pre-assigned to players who brought their own machines. Routers and duct tape to prevent tripping were everywhere. In the center of the whole affair (off to the right of the frame, did I mention that this was a big room?) was a central control booth filled with admin machines and a full-time professional deejay who provided constant commentary on who just got blowed up real good.
I was here around 11 AM, which appears to be the downtime for most folks. Only about a quarter of the machines were manned, and not many of them were actually playing. A few folks, like the chap to the left of the frame, were taking time for a nap.
I considered sitting down at a random machine for a quick game of minesweeper, but I was worried that the deejay would laugh at me, so I kept moving along.
Case mods are definitely the gamer fashion statement for today. There was no shortage of cases bedecked with transparent windows, shimmering fans, blinking LED's, ground-effects, and other tacky bits culled from the JC Whitney catalog. The most popular mod was the clear window with etched-looking logo of some type (like the Quake 3 logo pictured). Lots of Grateful Dead skulls, "HIGH VOLTAGE" signs, lightning bolts, and other testosterone-filled icons that you can usually find on the rear window of a 1978 Firebird.
There were some case-mod vendors there, from whom I learned that case-mods are basically sold ala carte'. You buy the base case for a hundred bucks or so, then add on as many windows, fans, LED's, chrome cable-wraps, and neon ground-effects as you can afford, much like the teen car enthusiast did by putting in a thumpin' stereo and a "screaming chicken" decal on the aforementioned 1978 Firebird.
And finally, like with the Firebird, you then take your bitchin' new case out to a meet thinking it'll stand out and be your ultimate revenge for having your peepee made fun of in grade school, only to find that everyone else is as modded to the max as you are.
Back to the drawing boards with you all now! And don't return until you can get me a rear spoiler and some curb-feelers!
Okay, it's official. This guy's stalking me.
No sooner does your humble reporter pick up his press badge and start looking for a place to trade a computer remote control for a cappuccino does he spot Adam Sessler of TechTV Extended Play (motto: we got away from Ziff Davis not a moment too soon). I've bumped into this guy at a half-dozen conventions now, and he's always got cameras and lights in tow to do a segment for the TV show. He didn't have co-host Kate Botello with him this time, as she finally decided to make the Judy Garland look-alike shtick complete by heading to New York to work on Broadway (no, really!)
Anyway, Adam seems like a decent guy, even though he does have a bit of trouble with word pronunciation on his show.
It just ain't a convention without some T-shirts, and there were plenty to be had. kEwL shirt-maker GeekWearz was on hand with a healthy selection of T-shirts ranging from done-to-death stuff like Tux The Penguin to a selection of hopelessly obscure sayings that I can only assume is a comic-strip character cursing.
Also available were a small selection of tiny geek-themed thongs which, frankly, are little more than an exercise in wishful thinking.
There were a few vendors, but not much that would be of interest to game developers. One exception was Aspyr, which is an Austin-based Mac publisher and marketer. They've basically set themselves up as a turnkey publishing solution for folks who have established products on other platforms (i.e. Windows). They farm out the actual code porting, then handle the marketing and publishing of the resulting Mac-native game. They're off to a good start, with some high-profile titles, specifically The Sims, Ghost Recon Desert Siege, Star Wars Jedi Knights II, and their latest title Return To Castle Wolfenstein. They brought along a slew of high-end Macs with expensive LCD monitors all running Wolfenstein.
Just looking at their titles, it looks like they did a good job. All the games looked great.
And, finally, there was the drug of choice for the bleary-eyed gamer, caffeine. It seemed rather odd for a gaming convention to have a soda pop sponsor, but this one was sponsored by Bawls, a high-caffeine soda made from the guarana berry. According the the company spokesman, Brent, each bottle of Bawls has the caffeine of 1.5 cups of coffee, but is easier on the stomach than caffeine from coffee-beans.
As to how they got in bed with the gaming community, it appears that the gamers found them. In 1997, the Bawls website was slashdotted (listed on www.slashdot.org, which is a sure fire way to get shut down with hits). The listing garnered about 500 emails put 'em on the fast track to supplant Jolt Cola as the preferred drug of the computer programmer. It's currently available in 23 states and four European countries. They don't yet have any country-wide deals with major grocers, so you might have to contact the company to find the stuff locally.
As for the soda itself, it's not bad. It's very fruity tasting, but with a slight (but not unpleasant) bitter note. Only thing I'd recommend to 'em next time is to bring a big cooler and sell 'em cold. They were just selling warm cases which sold well, but they would've been better if you could drink 'em cold on the property.
Another interesting side business they started is sponsorship for LAN parties at www.bawlsgaming.com. In exchange for exposure and sponsor credit, they'll provide a banner (like the one pictured above) and a couple of cases for the winner. Seemed like an interesting piece of guerilla marketing.