KLAUS

KLAUS – Preview
La Cosa Entertainment

Previewed on: PS4
Also on: PS Vita, PC
Street: 01.2016

 

The one thing I cannot stress enough about PlayStation Experience was the availability of fun around every corner. With such a buffet of mold-shattering concepts available at my fingertips, I wondered which of them would capture my heart like Axiom Verge or Helldivers did at PSX last year. Well, it wasn’t but 30 minutes into my preliminary tour when I came across KLAUS. The La Cosa team, represented by Victor Velasco and Aleksandar Cuk—two of a humble seven total employees—gave me the run-down, and they unknowingly sold me once I heard the premise: A 2D existential puzzle-platformer featuring a tattooed amnesiac and an unintrusive narrative? That sentence almost defines my entire life, so my interest was manifestly piqued. “Concept’s great and everything,” I said to myself, “but how does it play?”

 

The short answer is that KLAUS is rewarding and fun! Identity strongly ties into the narrative, which makes sense for something inspired by Russian existentialism. The eponymous captive awakens alone with no bearings on his surroundings nor his own identity except for an ominous word tattooed into his arm. The introductory levels were standard instructional exercises, but text popped up reacting to both the environment and the very act of me as a player controlling Klaus. Much like any puzzle-platformer, well-timed jumps and a logical head are the foundation to progression here. I stop at every word that comes up as though I’m weighed down by the heavy story touching on mature topics like determinism and despair. I’ll play any platformer simply to appease my predilection for the mechanics, but I was pleasantly surprised at the subject matter’s authenticity. In my experience, a majority of people check out the moment you start discussing Dostoevsky and his relevance to the modern working class, but here I am playing in this fragmented world with a shirt-and-tied misanthrope and loving every minute of it. Eventually you meet K1, a hulking mute with an uncanny resemblance to Klaus. From there, the puzzles and platforms torque up the difficulty a bit—much to my masochistic delight.

 

I’m so excited to play KLAUS game next month. Victor and Aleksandar say that we should expect the game sometime in late January, though an early February release isn’t off the table. The first game I ever played was Mega Man 2, and I don’t even want to think about the kind of person I would be today if the “Blue Bomber” was as conflicted with the very nature of his existence as Klaus. One can dream though, right?

Divinity

Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition
Larian Studios / Focus Home Interactive

Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PC, Xbox One
Street: 10.27

 

On June 20, 2014, Belgian game developer Larian Studios released Divinity: Original Sin for PC, producing the best modern CRPG and revitalizing my fervent attachment to the turn-based RPG genre. Anyone who knows me understands that I have a deep love of role-playing games—I cut my teeth with classics like BioWare’s Bauldur’s Gate and Black Isle Studio’s Icewind Dale. Divinity: Original Sin caught my attention upon its debut, but I didn’t have an capable computer with which to play it. The good news for those with a similar plight is that Larian decided to not only improve upon the game, but deliver it to both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

 

Ancestral Sin-ergy

 

In Divinity: Original Sin, you play as two freely customizable Source Hunters, executors of an organization with the charge of finding and eliminating Sourcerers who wield unruly magic for typically nefarious ends. Your mission starts out simple enough: Investigate the murder of a councillor in the town of Cyseal. There’s reason to believe he met his end at the hands of the aforementioned degenerates, so you’re shipped off to solve the mystery. Events transpire and antagonists reveal their machinations through unprompted monologue, so it’s left to you and your party to sort the whole mess out. The story features a charming cast of characters with some of the best RPG writing I’ve even read, now with fully voiced dialogue thanks to the Enhanced Edition.

 

You owe it to yourself to take the time to familiarize yourself with the controls and inventory the first chance you get at the starting beach near the town of Cyseal. More often than not, RPG menus have a poor track record on consoles due to the fact that limited button mapping combined with the statistical depth of a character sheet results in an experience about as dreadful as a trip to the dentist. There’s a debilitating amount of depth, especially with menu navigation—I spent a considerable amount of time navigating the inventory, usually to fix an “Equip” mistake or because I sent something to the wrong party member. I can’t exactly hold it against the developers for my hasty button-pressing, but the controls didn’t make it any easier. When you’re playing a shadowblade, the efficient execution of commands can often be the difference between a flawless onslaught and a TPK (total player kill).The console version does suffer from clumsy controls and awkward inventory management due to the lack of a mouse and keyboard, but after a few hours of fumbling around, I got the hang of it and I was backstabbing foes with ravenous delight. I also strongly encourage picking the “Pet Pal” talent as it offers useful hints and really opens up conversation options, even leading to entertaining quest lines involving superficial cat romances and the dead councillor’s bubbly golden retriever.

 

True to its forefathers, Divinity: Original Sin has teeth. CRPGs are known for challenging combat, and I’m impressed with how well Larian executes this. Every fight has weight to it, and the only way to survive is to outsmart your foes. This is made easier by the breadth of elemental synergy in and out of combat. Watching your highly orchestrated plans unfold to the ruin of noxious undead and robotic creations alike is truly engaging and rewards you for your efforts.

 

What’s Old is New

 

What’s so “enhanced” about this edition, you ask? Well, a healthy number of things. Now, clearly there will be outcries of “cash grab,” but PC owners that already purchased the original…Original Sin should expect to see a free addition to their Steam library—and console owners…well, there simply isn’t anything like this in the current generation’s library. Dual-wielding is crucial for those with roguish inclinations such as myself, making me wonder why it wasn’t included in the first place. Also new are the Tactician and Honour modes, more challenging versions of the game based on the hours of strategies Larian Studios spent harvesting from YouTube videos and Twitch streams. Honour Mode is made even more daunting because you’re given a single save file which erases upon a party wipe. It’s not for the faint of heart and those who complete such an undertaking have my respect.

 

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

 

The Enhanced Edition features new split screen co-op in addition to the original’s online multiplayer. “Hold on,” you may protest, “Diablo 3 had console local co-op that wasn’t very good.” You’re absolutely right. My biggest complaint with Blizzard’s most recent action RPG was that the co-op suffered because both players were trapped to the same screen, and inventory management required calculated planning. You’ll be happy to hear that this is no longer an issue with Divinity: Original Sin. Both players can control their characters on the same screen, but once one of them veers in another direction or opens their character wheel, the screen splits—this gives unique fluidity, especially considering how often my girlfriend and I play games together. She was able to hop in and out of the game immediately, making this a great purchase for date night gaming.

 

Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition is a triumph for both the RPG video game and console gamers. It may not be as readily accessible as some of the action-RPGs on the market right now—i.e. Diablo 3—and though the sales may tragically suffer due to the every other big event title releasing around the same time, I believe this visually hypnotizing game is a definite “Game of the Year” contender. Future RPG game developers will likely look to Divinity: Original Sin as a fount of inspiration. Anyone interested in a proper pen-and-paper game translation owes it to his or herself to play this gem.

Butterfly

Butterfly – Hardcover Collection
BOOM! Studios

Writers: Arash Amel, Marguerite Bennett
Artists: Antonio Fuso, Stefano Simeone
Street: 09.16

Butterfly follows the story of Project Delta spy Rebecca Faulkner dealing with the fallout of a botched operation in Oslo, Norway. The resulting series of events leads her to a vineyard in France, challenging information she accepted as fact for the majority of her life: She discovers her father David, codename Nightingale under Project Delta, alive and well with a new family to boot. A few pointed firearms and heated words later, they’re on the move, fleeing for their lives and away from a coherent plot.

 

While Butterfly’s initial chapter leads readers to believe this is about Rebecca, chapters two through four shine the spotlight more on her father and the shadows cast by his legacy. I think her story ultimately suffers for this, depriving her of much else beyond a personality equivalent to a wet blanket soaked in angst. I enjoyed the themes discussed within this comic, but I just wanted more out of it. Just as it sank its interest fangs into my brain, it’s over—and the jarring, at times downright arbitrary, flashbacks and time shifts veer the pacing to the point of frustration. At one point, you start from one date in 1993, then go back an hour, then another couple, then a couple months, then forward, then back again, then forward—it detracts immersion and comes off as weak writing. I wanted something with a little more clarity. I get the need for timing and situational context, but the result here is just a muddled narrative highlighted by the subtext of inner demons and a lineage stained with blood.

 

At times my mind wandered to the Metal Gear series due to similar themes of political subterfuge, violent mercantilism and convoluted plots—partly because the recently released free infiltration game inundated my every waking thought. Much in the way that Metal Gear Solid starts out with Solid Snake and eventually focuses on his “father,” Big Boss, Butterfly begins telling Rebecca’s tale, but ends up being more about her father’s ambitions for a better world through mercenary groups, albeit with less militarism in the latter example. Everything wraps up hastily and with little resolution. I didn’t feel like I had enough time with the characters to care about their outcomes. Rebecca comes off as flat and dejected to the point of boring. Granted, her emotional state is well-founded considering the trauma that a father’s death might inflict, but I wanted Butterfly to explore this better—something an additional four issues could accomplish.

 

Adam Guzowski’s heavy sepia tones wash over the entirety of the miniseries, complementing the residue of Rebecca and David’s pasts. Two different illustrators pen the pages in Butterfly with a surprising degree of continuity. Antonio Fuso’s illustrations in the first two chapters blend seamlessly with the latter half. I really appreciate that consistency—though, truthfully, nothing here gripped my eyeballs with enthusiasm. There are a couple of high-intensity action sequences, but I felt myself scanning the pages rather than stopping to capture any particular scenes. I don’t want to suggest that the art here is bad—there simply isn’t anything noteworthy within the thick border lines and faded flashback scenes.

 

If you’re looking for a something to digest quickly with few strings attached, give Butterfly a try. It’s a slow burn without much payoff, but there’s an intriguing story beneath the confusing action. I enjoyed the time spent reading it, but I’m left wanting more. In that respect, I commend Amel and Bennett for crafting a story with great potential. I won’t hold my breath for a sequel, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that possibility.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse
Warning: Literal Broken Sword not included.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse
Revolution Software

Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PS Vita, Xbox One, PC, iOS, Android
Street: 09.04

 

This is my first time hearing about the Broken Sword series, let alone playing it. The original Broken Sword was released in 1996 with critical praise. Since the first game, there have been four additional sequels, each of which received near-equal acclaim for story, art direction, and entertainment value. I’ve always had a particular fondness for the point-and-click puzzle adventures—hokey plots and all—because of their relaxed pace and the mind-boggling difficulty of their puzzles. The Serpent’s Curse manages to rekindle my love for the genre with only a few stumbles along the way.

 

You play as George Stobbart, an art insurance assessor under the employ of Paris Mutual Insurance, whose “superpower” is awkward situations. The game opens as Stobbart and his friend and fellow adventurer, Nico Collard witness a robbery turned murder at an art exhibition in Paris. After investigating the crime scene, it becomes clear that greater machinations are in play and the duo have their work cut out for them. Puzzle-solving ranges from simple and entertaining to strenuous, which is nice, save for the occasionally arbitrary solution. Often a puzzle’s solution only becomes clear after a series of trial-and-error item combinations. Fortunately the in-game tiered hint system lends a helping hand for those too impatient or frustrated for the situation at hand.

 

No tip!?Broken Sword 5’s plot is rife with groan-worthy moments, but the underlying and unexpected narrative about Gnosticism and philosophical ambiguity cement the game as a truly memorable experience. While exploring regions ranging from France, London, Spain and Iraq, there’s a consistent exploration of theology that isn’t usually so on-the-nose, but I have to say that its maturity in discussing said touchy subject is exceptionally enjoyable. I even caught myself enchanted by the scenes involving Nico and Shears, a criminal lackey with a penchant for topiary and metaphysical conflict. I wish more games intrigued me the way that Broken Sword 5 did.

 

The humor does run a bit stale though. Stobbart is an annoying protagonist more often than not, and his commentary tested my patience more than a few times. For someone that’s as cultured and well-travelled as Stobbart, you’d think he’d tone down the misconceptions and judgemental attitude, but sure enough he finds a way to criticize everyone for trivial eccentricities. The game’s prominent awkwardness matches Stobbart’s in a few scenes, and nowhere is this more prominent than in one of the weirdest dance sequences that I’ve ever seen. Yeah, dressing up as a dead man to dance with a delirious woman totally seems okay.

 

Some of the items stashed away into your inventory do stretch the legitimacy of Stobbart’s ethical legitimacy on a few occasions—”Oh look! A diamond ring! I’m sure I can justify a reason to take this from the safe of a recently murdered man after deceiving his lover, delirious with grief, into giving me the key. That sounds fine…” It ends up working out, but as is the case with most adventure games, the items you collect to complete puzzles far into the future seem arbitrary to the point of impractical. I really enjoy the game’s utilization of the speaker on the PS4’s controller. It’s an often overlooked component to a game’s presentation, and I think Broken Sword 5 incorporates it well. Phone conversations between characters become a fun little novelty when they would otherwise fall flat. However, point-and-click adventure games typically don’t translate well onto console format. An analog joystick doesn’t hold up well when compared to a touchscreen or mouse—it feels stiff, dated and altogether discourages exploration.

 

While Broken Sword 5 feels stuck in the ’90s with its clunky cinematics, cheesy dialogue with awkward humor and the occasionally stale puzzle, I have to say that these are ultimately trivial concerns when compared to how fun and engaging the game is. The story wraps up around 12 hours with a somewhat bland climax, but the journey alone makes it all worth it. While there are a few references to previous titles, you don’t need to play them to enjoy this one at a fair $29.99 price point. Give it a go and learn a little about Gnosticism while you’re at it!

Missing: An Interactive Thriller

Missing: An Interactive Thriller

Missing: An Interactive Thriller
Zandel Media

Reviewed on: PC
Also on: Android, iOS, Kindle
Street: 05.25

My introduction to full motion video games (or FMV for short) began in 1995 with Phantasmagoria. I smile remembering those nights spent sneaking into the computer room with my sisters to witness scene after horrific scene, following mystery writer Adrienne Delaney throughout her deathtrap estate. At the turn of the century, FMV games existed mostly through arcade titles and the occasional interactive movie tie-in, but it wasn’t until Sam Barlow’s Her Story that the genre regained some relevance beyond novelty.

 

Back in December 2014, Zandel Media released Missing: An Interactive Thriller on mobile platforms for $1.99 and the PC port on May 25. Their website describes Missing as “a unique entertainment experience,” but after my time with it, I have to say it doesn’t feel altogether unique. I applaud Zandel Media for utilizing the FMV presentation because it’s a different way to tell a story. However, the rub is that there isn’t much story here—but, to be fair, 45 minutes of gameplay doesn’t exactly permit much depth. You wake up as a construction worker named David, shackled and confused in an industrial basement with the words “PLAY WITH ME” spray-painted on the door. Anyone who’s seen the movie Saw will immediately recognize this scenario and probably roll their eyes. It works pretty well here, though I wouldn’t argue if anyone described it as hokey.

 

The second chapter introduces Detective Lambert, a man of very few words, as he reports to an abduction crime scene—thus tying his path with David’s. The segment involving David’s SUV was surprisingly scarce. I suppose that Lambert is so good at his job that he only needs to see one object to piece together more of the case, but maybe scan the perimeter just a little for tracks? Quick-time events make a couple appearances here, with such decisive moments as “Drink Coffee” or “Dodge.” I almost expected a QTE in which I’d have to help Lambert “Take Shit” or “Grunt Vaguely”—alas, an opportunity wasted. I did like how some puzzles played with expectation, like the significance of the crossword in the first room, and the second chapter’s gas chamber helped build tension. After about six minutes of wandering around it, though, I figured my life wasn’t truly in danger.

Missing: An Interactive Thriller
David had no idea how far down the BDSM rabbit hole could go.

The root of my disappointment with Missing is how it successfully builds that tension, but repeatedly misses the mark—much like the designs of the mysterious kidnapper. At times I pity David for his plight not because of his tormented soul, but rather for how he allowed such a shallow-minded antagonist to abduct him. Did some bored teenager with an ether-soaked rag approach him on the sidewalk and figure, “Fuck it, why not?” The writers still have plenty of time to round out the villain’s end game; I only hope it’s much deeper than what I saw.

 

A single playthrough with moderate puzzle-solving time clocks in around the advertised 45 minutes, and somehow it fell a bit flat. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy playing Missing, I just found it lacking. I can easily justify the $3.99 PC price tag for something to occupy a breath’s worth of my spare time, but I’m still not thrilled about this episode. For something that includes the word “interactive” in the title, I felt remarkably little interactivity throughout the entire process. Yes, it’s cool to tinker with a couple things I just saw in that FMV, but there’s no real depth to your surroundings. David’s story unfolds with every chapter, but sadly, I don’t really care about what happens to him throughout. In fact, he seems like an asshole further along in his escape and I question whether his survival truly benefits the loved ones paraded around this strangely infantile kidnapping. I imagine that later episodes will round everything out with this serial abductor as Detective Lambert gathers more evidence, and I’m curious to see where the plot goes, but this is a weak first offering. Should you check out Missing: An Interactive Thriller? Yes, but don’t expect it to answer any questions yet.

SLGC45
Crashnauts plays like a 2D mashup of Super Smash Bros. and Unreal Tournament—with space lobsters. Photo: Megan Kennedy

By Robert Hudak

On Friday, I arrived at the South Towne Expo Center just before noon to a pleasant surprise; better structure and a larger turnout lifted my spirits for Salt Lake Gaming Con’s three-day event. Where Thursday was the beta access, Friday felt like something closer to a full release. A few booths, Microsoft being one of them, modified their floor presentation to properly accommodate the interested perusers, and the barebones chaos was a little bit more contained. I got the impression that the staff expected disaster to strike Thursday, but since it never did, they breathed a little easier today. I met up with the SLUG team, Davis Pope and Megan Kennedy, at the day’s first panel, “PC vs Console,” around 2 p.m. We endured the dull debate and moved to the exhibitor floor.

I started the rounds nursing a hot cup of Phoenix Down, connecting with the independent developers in the Utah Games Guild alley and instantly felt at home. Coincidentally, and to my delight, I ran into my aforementioned GEEX Gears of War Tournament teammate Mike Call by complete accident at his studio’s Crashnauts demo booth. On display before me was one of the most adorable slaughter-fests I’ve seen. Four strange animated figures bounced across the television, each lobbing rockets or crash-landing onto their unfortunate prey. Castle Crashers was the first game that came to mind as far as aesthetics, but as Mike accurately describes, it plays like “Smash Bros. with guns.” The game caught my attention immediately, so I sat down to try my hand at the brutality. He explained to me that they drew inspiration from competitive games like Smash Bros. and Unreal Tournament, ultimately designing a more hardcore two-dimensional shooter. It has a special allure to it—simple controls and “okay, one more” gameplay with different intergalactic races (like motherfucking space bears!). Currently playable modes were Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, and Hold the Flag—something akin to Halo’s Oddball game mode—and two different maps. Upon release, they plan on adding “a campaign-lite” mode, a horde mode—clearly inspired by Gears of War—and unlockable customizations. They plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the coming months, with intentions of a PC debut. If it gets the Steam Greenlight treatment (which it absolutely should), they aim to then release Crashnauts on PS4 next, and ideally, even on Xbox One and Wii U, but the details remain hazy. Keep your eyes on this one, people; I definitely am.

Wandering deeper down the indie game rabbit hole, I came across Projectile Entertainment’s Momentum. This physics-based puzzle game has you move an orb to the goal along a labyrinthine track by manipulating the stage itself. Throughout my time with Momentum, I thought back to those progressively infuriating yet entertaining games like Marble Madness and Marble Arena 2 and how much I loved them. The checkpoint system offers a slight safety net to Momentum’s challenging but fair gameplay, but in no way does this make the game easier. I played six of the early stages. Davis approached the game with a more full-throttle mentality, asking for one of the hardest stages. Well, he certainly got his wish: What we soon witnessed was an oscillating cylinder of demise. We certainly lacked the necessary skills to progress much farther than an inch beyond the starting position, but it was still a blast. Kelly Harper, the game’s designer and artist, told me the two-man team started designing the game about two years ago, almost on a lark. The game currently has 55 mind-melting stages with two worlds, but they hope to have 100 stages and three total worlds by their anticipated Winter 2015 release window. They have no plans for console launch yet, but they aren’t ruling it out. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m excited to scream at my monitor in a laugh-riddled rage playing this game.

From there we went to Davis’ Smash Bros. tournament gamble. He met the same fate as I did in yesterday’s Halo tournament. Afterward, we commiserated his loss over a pint and convention war stories. It was a great opportunity to step back and observe gamers in their natural environment. Megan spotted the convention’s bouncy kingdom of inflatable obstacles at the exhibitor floor’s northern end, so naturally Davis and I seized the opportunity—we flopped and we flipped, we dove and we slipped. Sure, we may have looked ridiculous with silly grins slapped across our face, but we came to give fucks and have fun—and we were all out of fucks. Once we got that out of our system, the group wandered aimlessly between the various vendors until the cosplay competition. There were a lot of impressive costumes showcased on stage, but the comedy act intermissions were cringe-inducing and unnecessary. The event’s end marked the departure for the SLUG squad, and so we went our separate ways for the night.

Today I saw a much brighter glimmer of hope for Salt Lake Gaming Con 2015. Attendance doubled from the first day’s and the aura of entertainment had noticeably heightened. Will Saturday improve upon today’s efforts and solidify Salt Lake Gaming Con? Or are we gamers doomed to trek the scorched lands of failure in an effort to validate our hobby? Find out tomorrow in the season finale of SLGC!

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PCConsole3
The first round of the PC vs Console debate took the form of a panel. The second round, we imagine, will be a thunderdome-style gaming competition. Photo: Megan Kennedy

From the beginning, I struggled to see the point of this panel. I get that there are different camps of gamers and different platforms catering to those camps, but at the end of the day, we’re all gamers. I expected a degree of elitism to rear its ugly head during the “debate,” and in some ways, I was right. Larry Curtis, the panel’s moderator, fired the first shots—albeit lightheartedly—by teasing the console panelists’ tardiness while commending the PC enthusiasts for their punctuality. It pulled a few laughs from the audience, aiming the panel in a jovial direction. Once the latter half arrived, the conversation took an odd turn.

 

Steven Smith and Adam Ames from TruePCGaming represented the PC half, while the retired professional competitive gamer Justin Burns, a.k.a ToxicEuphoria (winner of Thursday’s SLGC Halo 2 2v2 tournament), and Alex Steinlauf, GameStop Game Advisor and Social Associate for Megaplex Theaters, represented the couch competition. Curtis kicked the event off easily enough asking when each panelist discovered their love for gaming. Everyone’s answer ranged from ages six to eleven, each with that defining “and then I was hooked” moment. The next question led into the panel’s title: Why Console/PC? Steinlauf championed the community dynamic, arguing that local multiplayer brought gamers together in a brand new way. Burns lived up to his pseudonym with a snark attack against PC gaming, clearly firing a few shots of his own. Adam Ames countered with the PC’s ability to access a wider range of games through backwards compatibility to older titles as well as a broad capacity for customization. Burns disagreed, stating, “it’s in the name: They’re old. The past is dead!” This abrasive attitude continued from Burns throughout the rest of the panel, approaching preachy transhumanist/futurist philosophy at times—at one point he proclaimed, “We are slowly becoming the Borg!” I may share a similar view of our species future in the long run of things, but he forced the relevancy of his agenda into the discussion amid a few good points.

 

About halfway through, Larry Curtis asked how mobile platform, specifically cell phones, factored into today’s outlook on gaming, which drove the discussion for the rest of the panel. No one could argue the smartphone’s skyrocketing popularity as a gaming device. The entire panel had one man running a microphone around to various audience members with thoughts or questions, and though I appreciated the encouraged participation, I couldn’t help thinking it reflected a lack of preparation and focus. This was a good attempt at the gaming convention’s first panel for the first year, but I left still firm in my platform stance: Can’t we all just game along?

Salt Lake Gaming Con floor

Gaming conventions have a subpar record in our backyard. The GEEX expos of 2010-11 felt more like military recruiting grounds with some new tech on display than cons. I attended GEEX in 2011 with the aspiration of winning a Gears of War tournament. Oh, how naive I was. I didn’t expect much of a turnout (and there wasn’t) but the competition was no less fierce. Eventually GEEX evolved into our very own Salt Lake Comic Con, rivaling San Diego’s and even inspiring a lawsuit. It’s just a shame the gaming community couldn’t find the same success there. Salt Fest 2014 also lacked the slightly more polished presentation of SLCC. Salt Fest, too, had its share of woes—poor organization and a muddled identity paramount among them—but the fact that people still attended gave me hope for future conventions. Could Salt Lake Gaming Con rise above the shadows of doubt built by its predecessors?

 

The short answer is: No, not today.

 

The first day of any convention is typically the slowest. The main reason is because they usually take place on Thursdays, when the bulk of the interested public can’t attend. I didn’t expect the turnout to be staggering—mostly just die-hard gamers here for the tournaments. That proved true as I entered the South Towne Expo Center late this afternoon. I felt my excitement building as I walked toward the exhibit hall’s entrance. What wonders lay in wait on the other side?

 

Well, I’m not really sure. Most of the exhibit hall had various local vendors and a few indie developers. The southernmost section was an assortment of tables with vague indications of free play and upcoming PC gaming tournaments. There were different LAN hubs closely connected, but I had no way of knowing what any of it meant. It wasn’t until I met the Smash Tourney coordinator Tim Hansmann that I got my bearings. He pointed out each section and the games they provided, giving me invaluable information that a few banners or signs could have easily given to attendees, leaving coordinators like Tim with more valuable time for set-up and patron engagement. The nearby Gamers of Ra booth caught my interest, so I spent a round squishing skulls and spewing arrows in TowerFall Ascension before talking with Jeff McFarlane about what these guys are about. Gamers of Ra is a social networking hub designed specifically for the Salt Lake gaming community. Looking to join a local Heroes of the Storm clan? Need some tips to improve your Call of Duty: Advanced warfare game? Gamers of Ra offers some pretty nifty tools to build a better community and they were all incredibly friendly and helpful. Building a profile through their website is pretty simple and has meta-game leveling system design. It isn’t anything revolutionary, but it’s really nice to see efforts like these to bring gamers together.

 

I spent the next hour skimming the vendor and artist booths. I met up with the guys at Flex Gaming Events to check in for the Halo 2 Classic tournament. I then spent the next five hours watching match after match of teams clearly outrank me. Round One saw 16 teams of two face off in a best-of-three, single elimination bracket. The rules were simple enough: Team Slayer on standard group maps (Lockout, Midship, Sanctuary), first to 50 kills or best score at 15 minutes wins. The biggest problem with that arrangement was length—15 minutes is a long time when only two teams compete simultaneously. It wasn’t until the semifinals when a competitor suggested halving the match quota that the organizers realized it was probably a better option. I had the opportunity to participate in the first round with my teammate, Keegan O., and see how very lacking my skills are. Our team, named Car Ramrod, went up against the Deadly Potatoes, and it took about 12 minutes for them to defeat us 2-0. Competition weeded itself out, but one team in particular made short work of all who stood in their path: Zone Logic. Starting at round two based on qualifiers, even from the beginning, Zone Logic wasn’t fucking around. Precision sniping and calculated teamwork demonstrated that crossfire is truly king. They proceeded to eliminate everyone else with a consistent 2-0 to the very end, claiming victory in the finals.

 

Overall, today’s event felt listless. The real perk of Salt Lake Gaming Con is the sense of community here. Today’s orchestration shed some light on the general planning and organization flaws, but the prevailing sentiment was to sit down with a group of friends, long-time or brand new, and play some video games together. The vendors were some of the nicest people I met. I hope that the rest of the weekend shapes up to match Utah’s burgeoning gaming scene; otherwise, we might not see any more attempts for a long time.