By Kieron Gillen on May 25th, 2009 at 1:30 pm.
As anyone who saw my cheery nervous breakdown/The Sunday Papers will know, I was at the MCM Expo yesterday, as part of my other life. It’s a London pop-culture convention where about 20,000 people cram into East-London’s ExCel to give each other free hugs (Actually, post Swine-flu and meme-aging, Free-Huggage seemed to be thankfully down). Its subtitle is “Movie/Comics/Media”. It generally leans heavily towards major sci-fi franchises and anime/manga. When I’ve been a guest I’ve shared the Green room with all sorts of people from Heroes and Battlestar Galactica, who I had no idea who they actually were, not having watched either. But Bubs from the Wire was there once. Man! Er… but, while it’s peripheral to the occasion, there is some signs of PC-related stuff to talk about. And in a break from standing at our table and making threatening gestures at Marc Ellerby across the row, I went to have a nose at them.
Well, there wasn’t much, I stress. The games were mostly console versions of anime/manga franchises and stuff like various, multiple seemingly identical versions of Dynasty Warrriors (And, yeah, that was shameless bait to all the Dynasty Warriors fanboys who may be reading. Their perpetual cry is no-one takes the game seriously and lumps them all into one enormous heaving mass. Which you can understand, but equally, you can understand no-one else giving a fuck about an indeterminable string of niche fighters. I mean, Christ! Life’s too short). There was some PC presence in the non-videogaming, with some World of Warcraft cardgame or heroclix or… oh, Christ! I’m not going to go there to actually see what they were. I may be given a starter deck and then disappear down that hole too. DANGER WILL ROBINSON, etc.
The gaming highlight was actually getting a chance to play Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was the PS3 version, admittedly, and a very carefully constructed demo to be playable to anyone who happened to be passing on the show floor. So when you complete it, you’re told about its stealth-hunting, its detective mode and all of that, all you actually play is a series of increasingly large combats against mobs of bad-guys. In other words, it’s a chance to give the hand-to-hand combat a firm work-out. And “firm” is really the word. It doesn’t strike me as obviously complicated, but it’s got all these hard-edges. Chaining combos is clearly the thing, but I found myself obsessing over the counters system. While I suspect the difficulty may have been toned down a little for showing to crowds on the floor, the game’s clearly generous in encouraging the player towards Bat-man esque behaviour. People who are about to attack you aren’t just signaled with flashes around their head, making it easier than most games to go straight for the counter, even within seconds of the game. This leans the reward of playing heavily on the animation, which is agreeably brutal. Limbs are taken contemptuously, allowing Bats to step in and deliver something clinically painful. While there’s effects like stunning, an occasional finishing move which I always missed and acrobatic leaps over the person you’re fighting the simple pleasure of applying simple pain filled the moments. I suspect this will be something of a blockbuster when it hits. I’m not sure that the real hardcore will adore it – I think things like the warnings will turn off those who adore Ninja Gaiden and similar – but for its actual success, I think they’re onto something.
I then continued to wander and then hit upon something amazing. PCs! Lots of PCs! Playing… Dofus. That the free turn-based Tactical-RPG is the PC game getting the push to this audience says much about the sort of gaming crowd the MCM Expo gathers. I haven’t even looked at Dofus for an age, but… well, I don’t remember it being this pretty. This may just be my memory warping, but its doing a lovely cartoon universe now. Sections like where you have a faded city in the background just capture a lot of charm, assuming you’re fine with the art-style.
Most obvious incarnation of PC-presence were the cosplayers. Now, there are some people who look down on cosplayers. These are joyless idiots who frankly deserve to be as miserable as their limited human empathy has made them. People expressing themselves, having fun and hurting no-one always trump people who mock them. I just go “aw!” and tell them firmly that no, I don’t want a free hug, you mentalists. And there were some clear PC-centric cosplay there, almost universally taken from Valve or Blizzard games. Mainly Valve. There seemed to be enough TF2 characters to populate an entire 32-player server – though there was something of a Scout Rush on. I also discovered that the Pyro is actually a girl, and her mask is too hot to wear all the time. The gentleman stabbing me is actually comments-threader Findus. Or, at least, that’s what he claimed to be called. You can’t trust the Spy. My favourite PC-costume was the chap with a Companion Cube for a head, complete with an ever-running digital read-out saying THE CAKE IS A LIE. A couple doing Sims characters with little diamonds across their head were also fine. Most disturbing costume was the person dressed as Marge Simpson. It looked like a Silence-of-the-lambs-esque situation where someone had literally skinned the long-suffering matriarch of the Simpsons clan and was proceeding to wear her plasticy remains as a suit. Shiver. That said, my artist-in-crime, Jamie McKelvie was there all weekend rather than just an afternoon, and clearly went native. He found himself thinking “You know – that Chun-li’s quite hot”. Which is a different kind of shiver.
As a PC Gamer do I recommend the MCM Expo? No, probably not, but it never pretended to be a PC centric event. For someone with a wide-interest in consuming pop culture however, especially if you lean eastwards, it’s certainly an amusing and memorable day out. I’ll certainly be there in October, assuming no-one skins me and uses me as a suit.