Oh, the humanity. This past weekend’s New York ComicCon featured an onslaught of complex and often hot cosplay, film and TV stars galore, and a cornucopia of videogames. On the floor, there was an intricate BioShock Big Daddy costume (complete with battery-operated rotating drill) that took an ardent fan two months to make. The multiplayer gaming behind the giant Intel booth was so massive, it dwarfed comicdom’s Artist’s Alley where artist’s sell their wares. In addition to thousands of fans and enough game booths to make you think this was a mini-E3, there were hundreds of comics, graphic novels, TV shows and movies, many of which could conceivably make great games.
The ComicCon’s videogame highlight was likely Rockstar’s surprise unveiling of Undead Nightmare, the zombie-filled downloadable content for Red Dead Redemption. The Manhattan-based company’s zombie-inspired booth had a dozen game kiosks, a hot DJ and two kinds of t-shirts for giveaways. During play, some of those zombies moved with the uncanny speed of The Flash, making you, as John Marston, rush to burn them with a torch or fire at them with a blunderbuss.
The other premiere of note was the announcement and trailer of a new Marvel-inspired game, X-Men Destiny from Activision. There wasn’t any gameplay in the trailer which featured fires and rainstorms behind the outlines of X-Men characters. The look of the characters wasn’t even displayed. Still, at Saturday’s Marvel Comics Games panel, fan interest was piqued when the trailer’s narrator read, "The struggle that is to come, will define us all. Each of us possesses a unique strength. This is our destiny. Not every mutant has the freedom to choose his path, but one mutant does. You." Perhaps as exciting – simply because you could see the character – was the Cosmic Spider-Man costume to be featured in DLC for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. It hits later this month. But the upcoming Captain America: Super Soldier game from Sega looked just OK and not so stunning – right now anyway.
A problem with the ComicCon this year was a noticeable lack of great gaming panels. Part of the blame has to go to the convention itself for not courting game companies with alacrity. But game companies have to be far more proactive themselves. This is a very big show which requires a thoughtful, strategic presence from all the gamemakers and publishers. And that strategy should include well-conceived panels. (Hey, if Bethesda is smart enough to place Fallout: New Vegas billboards on the sides of city busses, they could have given us a killer panel, too.)
In past years, the ComicCon hosted panels with Gears of War and executive Mike Capps. But aside from Epic Mickey and the Marvel Games Panel, this year’s only must-attend panel was The Future of Online Gaming, for which fans lined up for an hour before. The panel showcased a refreshingly opinionated former pitcher Curt Schilling (now making Copernicus at 38 Studios). He hopes that we’ll someday have five million simultaneous online game players world-wide. Schilling also hoped 3-D gaming doesn’t hit MMOs, at least right now. That comment received the loudest applause of the program (except perhaps for the moment when he asked to be booed by Yankees fans in the house). And the idea that MMOs of the future will no longer be boxed, just streamed over your technology of choice, was an intriguing one.
Had game company reps been present en masse, they could have gotten a plethora of game ideas from the comics, TV shows and movies that were so well represented. Take, for instance, Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton, whose Bukowski-like masterwork Idiots and Angels just premiered in New York. “If it was done right, it could make a great game,” said Plympton of the possibility. Imagine a meeting of the odd-humored minds of Plympton and Tim Schafer (or the makers of Limbo) to make some some tight, indie DLC with Plympton. The mind boggles.
Upstairs away from the action in a small, quiet room, Morena Baccarin, V’s icy, calculating alien queen, held court. V, which has had a various incarnations over the years, might also make a worthy game. Morena, who liked the idea, remembered playing a ton of Tomb Raider with her brother when she was a kid. How good was she? “Let’s just say I always bring my game.”
Ensconced in another private room was Warren Spector, interviewed just before his panel discussion promoting the late November release of Epic Mickey. Spector, who grew up in Manhattan’s Stuyvesent Town, recalled being a toddler when his mother first bought him Mickey Mouse ears. “I got the Mickey Mouse bug early,” he said. Beyond Mickey, Spector talked about how Disney president Robert Iger and his game executives have realized the importance of a deep game experience that appeals to everyone, not just kids. “For instance, look at how brilliant Toy Story 3: The Videogame was,” said Spector.
Even on the last day, booths heralding games like GoldenEye 007 had a line of kids waiting to win t-shirts. Nearby, the Michael Jackson Experience rhythm based game from UbiSoft saw Spidey, Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper, all dancing onstage to the pop legend’s hits. The aisles were way too jammed, but the atmosphere was convivial. Now if they could only work on better videogame panels for next October’s ComicCon, all will be right in this teeming world of fantasy.