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My Gamescom Diary by Stephen Biggerstaff

It has been a while now since I took the trip over le continent to Cologne for Gamescom. For anyone who hasn’t been, hopefully I’ll try and describe what to expect and what I enjoyed about this years event.

The city

Cologne is a fantastic city. The beer is fairly cheap in comparison to most European cities and the hotels are reasonable too. As far as attractions go, we only really had time to wander around in the evenings and on one of the free days we had there. The cathedral is a must see. It genuinely makes some of the buildings in the Ezio trilogy of Assassins Creed look tiny!

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The restaurants are tasty too. I’d highly recommend Sausalitos for Mexican. They seem to be quite a big chain of bars that sell really good food and their own branded beer. One big tip I pass on through another’s misfortune. Don’t order marinara pizza. It is NOT like the meatball subs here. Marinara is German for seafood. Lets just say there were tentacles poking through the cheese. Bleugh.

As for public transport, getting to and from both the airport and conference center is easy by train and subway. The underground was free with our Gamescom tickets although nobody actually checked them the entire time we were there.

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The venue

Gamescom is held in Koln Messe which honestly feels like it’s never ending! The whole place comprises 10 numbered halls that actually have decimals. For instance Hall 10 is not a single hall, but rather is comprised of Hall 10.1 and 10.2 adjacent/above/below each other. Luckily there are free maps readily given out upon entry. The halls are all connected by a main corridor that runs through the middle of the center like a spine. Each company has one or more hubs where they generally have a booth for each one of their games. For example EA had a huge section of one of the halls and had massive booths for The Sims 4, FIFA 15, Battlefield and others. So the maps provided tend not to have “go here to see FIFA” but generally just point you in the direction of EA. There are also doors that lead outside from many of the halls to go outside to the food stalls. Another tip: Bitburger is a type of beer. Don’t look like a fool and order a cheeseburger in broken German.

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There’s also an age system in place to stop minors going into see games that are age restricted. It means that on the first day you’ll have to do two separate queues; one for a band to prove your age and one to get into the venue. There was a LOT of people queuing even an hour before the gates opened but once the gates did open, the crowd got through very quickly.

The Games

This is the bit you all wanted to see right? Even though I spent the entire first day just walking around taking it all in I did manage to get some game time on the other days. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you my favourites and the one I didn’t enjoy so much.

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I had seen this one on the Microsoft keynote. I had thought to myself initially “meh, kinda looks like left4dead”. I was wrong. After a queuing for around an hour to get a game I am actually very glad I did! It is a five-player game where one person goes the monster and four people have to team up to kill him. The team of four also get four classes to choose from that have specialist skills such as medic, assault etc. When the four of us got put in with a random guy that couldn’t speak any English – minus the fact he could say “I’m not the monster” – one of us bit the bullet and went the big monstrosity. I liked the pace of the game too. It tells you when the monster scares wildlife to show you the general direction of him. Naturally after spending so long in the bloody queue, we decided to ignore that and do a Major Nelson. If you don’t know what a Major Nelson is let me explain with a few quotes of his:

“Woah look at that grass, it’s so realistic!”

“That water just looks alive!”

“Look at this rock! I can’t believe it!”

The last one was maybe hyperbole. You get the point.

However unbeknownst to us this was our downfall. While we were taking the piss and running around aimlessly looking at pretty things, Dan “the monster” Tait was running around killing the wildlife to level up. When we eventually did meet we got pretty decisively crushed. I’d like to blame balance issues but I think it was just our own fault for not tracking him down sooner. I definitely want to give this a shot at retail and it generally says a lot about a game if you thought queuing an hour to play one game of it was worthwhile.

Heroes of the storm

Another game that involved plenty of queuing was Heroes of the Storm. The guys I was with were all big League of Legends fans and were looking forward to giving it a go. I myself had never played a MOBA in my life. I did like it though. I quickly got a hang of the general idea of what I was meant to do. By chance I also picked Tyrael from Diablo who blows up when he dies and also has a chance to just respawn instantly where he is instead of waiting to get back into the game. Fairly noob friendly I thought! Again we got matched with a group who didn’t wanna split up so one of our guys ended up in the opposing team and we got two guys on ours we didn’t know. Yes, I made sure to blow up poor Shaun at least once in the match. Many laughter, such cruel. This is another one I’ll be keeping an eye on and I made sure to sign myself up to be eligible to play the beta on my battle net account as soon as I got home.

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I was going to try point out the nice parts of this game and then proceed to say why I didn’t like it. But I’m afraid there just isn’t anything nice I can pick out. It was a team deathmatch type multiplayer game where one side was human and the other was vampire. There seemed to be HUGE balance issues between the two sides and everything from the menus, graphics, controls and gameplay in general felt really far from a finished product. To make matters worse we didn’t even all get put in the same team. We ended up playing bots and one of us was in the bots team and we had a bot in ours. Not cool. I hope they weren’t showcasing a finished game and there’s still tons of development time to sort out the glaring issues.

The other events

There wasn’t just games on show in Cologne either. They had a couple of laser tag spaces available, an indoor skatepark and RC car drifting tracks where people were modding little remote control cars and racing round and round a little course drifting round the corners. Oh, and the Big Show was at the 2k stall speaking a lot of cheesy, forced marketing phrases about how the new 2k wrestling game is so realistic it makes him feel like he’s really there!

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A case modding competition was also on show where the contestants started on Friday and worked on a case mod over the weekend. I wish I had stuck around to see some of the finished ones but sadly we didn’t make it back there. The main alternative event to playing games was the League of Legends European championship finals. They had quite a large area and constructed a temporary stadium for spectators to sit and watch the knockout tournament live, with interviewers, commentators and the works. It was actually my first experience of esports live. I can totally see the attraction. I don’t even particularly fancy LoL and I was entertained the entire time.

Tips if you’re going next year

  1. Take a fold up chair/stool with you if you plan on playing any games. There isn’t really anywhere to sit at all and the weight of carrying it is more than worth it.
  2. Learn to speak at least some basics of German. Aside from not being yet another British tourist that is too arrogant to make a tiny bit of effort, almost all of the maps / stewards and help points are only in German. Sure a lot of time people will know English but I was surprised at how much of even the demos and talks were in German.
  3. Don’t order marinara pizza. See above. Also Peperoni is not pepperoni.
  4. GO ALREADY! Seriously. It was awesome.
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