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Gamescom: Day Two

August 16, 2012

There is a noise in the bathroom of my otherwise very nice Cologne hotel room that sounds like a classroom of expertly hapless recorder players heaving a discordant red-faced hurricane somewhere in the distance. This morning I found it quite comforting, although for a few moments in the smallest hours of last night after I’d uploaded the last of the video files that we’re here to make I became irrationally concerned that I’d developed an intricate form of tinnitus, probably thanks to the savage and meaningless noise barked from wall to wall of EA’s conference yesterday. Then I realised it was just the pipes.

This was day two of Gamescom, the media day, during which several thousand select members of the press are given the opportunity to walk the vastness of the show floor and, if they’re anything like me, imagine they’re exploring an abandoned Forerunner structure that echoes with an awful quiet in some forgotten monument to bigness among the stars.

Really I have only daydreamed this once, and it was spoilt by a woman in electric blue hotpants asking me in German something about the racing game to which her hotpants were no doubt intrinsically related. Such are the perils of the games expo, although in keeping with the general theme of complaining less about Cologne than LA I actually spent a rather pleasant morning among the coloured beanbags and playground geometry of the PlayStation area on the show floor. If this makes it sound like a soft-cornered asylum for people no longer able to deal appropriately with the jagged realities of the world beyond Sackboy’s flap-tongued embrace, then fair enough – PS3 is rapidly being repositioned as a kids’ thing, gearing up for a final hardcore hurrah with the portentously-named Beyond and The Last Of Us before making itself a photoshop flyer and doing children’s parties at the weekends.

Or if not that, then at least giving itself over to the growing LittleBigEmpire and saving a seat in assembly for children-skewing peripherals like Move and Wonderbook (that’s skewing not skewering. I am not a monster). Add to that the all-but-confirmed new budget model (the PS3 SlimSlim, or Sliiiim, still wide enough to knock your Sky box off the TV stand) which has defied rumours by not making an appearance at Gamescom (unless it’s really slim) and the PS3’s regression to childhood is tough to deny.

And who’d want to? Last year I watched joylessly blank-faced teens queue for hours to bullet each other to heaven on a stand dominated by Uncharted 3 and The Heist. This year I watched the cutest child in all of Germany sit in a full-sized wooden boxcar racer to play LittleBigPlanet Karting for a full half an hour while his mum watched patiently (I would like to meet the guys who approved his press accreditation though).

There’s a joyousness about the eclectic creativity and dressing-up box aesthetics that characterise PS3’s infant strand – The Puppeteer and Tearaway are the latest examples – and I think PlayStation does these vibrant kids games as well as anyone else. So I’m excited about the next year, but I can also hear the minor chord playing hauntingly in the background reminding me that, strange beasts that they are, games consoles always look their youngest right before they die, and in that respect the PS3 getting another price cut will be a bit like a favourite dog developing an arthritic limp that makes you want to hug them more often and take them out for longer walks that they can’t really enjoy anymore anyway.

(My secret hope is that The Last Of Us, which I saw today as we interviewed the game’s endearingly enthusiastic leads Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, will be like the last big walk on which I took my own arthritic dog, Max, who shrugged off groaning hind leg stiffness for an afternoon of snapping at long grass and a puppyish playfight that made me cry. It is understandably a hope not conveyed in any of the magazine previews I’ve written so far).

Today’s entry seems to be dominated by daydreams and wandering memories, so it’s probably appropriate that the only game I actually played was Doom 3, which is being re-released along with Doom and Doom 2. I didn’t love what I played of Doom 3, partly because it lacks the fireball-sidestepping precision of its simpler predecessors, and partly because the 3D was so extreme that when I turned corners quickly it felt like the game was stapling each screen refresh directly onto my wet unblinking corneas, which even taking into account my 3D skepticism seems a high price to pay for things appearing to be slightly further away. I shall still play the first two, though, for sentimental reasons (anyone who at this point questions how I can call Doom’s spacebar-trigger carnage “sentimenal” following a eulogy to my dying dog probably has a very good fucking point).

Filming and being tired filled the rest of the day. At one point during the hour-long actor panel for The Last Of Us I realised I was physically rehearsing a facial expression I wished our guest presenter had made for a piece to camera earlier, and tried to pass it off as a debilitating facial tic. Then on the walk back to the hotel Dave Jackson claimed that Germany was “equidistant from everywhere” which seemed for a soaring moment to be a possibility before the drab insistence of Newtonianism reasserted itself. The prick.

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