GamesCom 2015 Travel Diary

”So, are you writing another blog post about this?” the Kitten Herder asks over the table as I am busy eating the rather delicious burger the restaurant just put in front of me. ”The E3 one was long. I mean. Long!” he continues after sipping his drink. ”It had to be” I explained. ”Even then, I glossed over a lot of things. Besides, when I write I get lost, I do not even know what I write. I just know what to write about and then its written.”

The term Kitten Herder was coined by Petra (”Thanks Obama!”) in reference to the Community Managers and Developers who had the job of directing players during the E3 trip and is a very accurate analogy on how it must have been like. The E3 trip was funny as hell but since most of us had never been in Los Angeles, it meant a lot of side trips and people going off to do their own things at times. Keeping track of where people where has to been some kind of nightmare despite the clearly established meeting points. E3 was my first trip to a legend amongst gamers, this was my second to another event that is spoken about with bated breath amongst gamers and developers alike.
GamesCom in Cologne, Germany is one of the – if not THE – largest games convention in the world and unlike E3, it is open to the general public. Occupying a space bigger then several city blocks, it has more then a quarter of a million visitors each year and has over 500 exhibitors from over 40 countries. This is the grand prize as far as gaming conventions go. And I was in a German Restaurant who could not even make a proper wienerschnitzel (hence the Burger) all set to enter the hallowed halls of the Koelnmesse the next day.

In true Star Player tradition, I had precious little warning that I would be attending. Of course, I knew the program would have a presence but as the weeks went on by with others having been confirmed that they would be attending and no invitation for myself I just figured that others would be sent for Rainbow Six. I was wrong about that – two weeks before the convention I received my invitation. A bit of a short notice but I do not mind short notices; I have a flexible schedule. Setting everything up with my contacts was also smooth and efficient and before I knew it, I was on a Air Berlin flight on my way to Cologne. I have to add that if Lufthansa was the worst German Aviation could bring, then Air Berlin was some of the best. Free drinks and snacks, even for the short journeys, competent and nice staff and you never had to walk very far in order to get to the connecting flights.

However, this was not the case for everybody, also in True Star Player fashion, some players and community reps got stuck in a German Airport and all I have to say about that is that I am happy it did not happen to me this time around. I only brought a cabin bags worth of luggage – I would just be there for a few days – and did not bring my Cosplay, something I came to regret immensely once I was upon the showroom floor.

I am of the opinion that if something good happens to you in your life, this is compensated by something bad. It is a basic belief that has been shown to be surprisingly true and if I needed more proof of this, my hotel room was a big fat example. In California, I was upgraded because my room was not ready and got a really nice place – check the E3 entry for details. This was quite the opposite. Both the bathtub and shower head was broken, making washing a tedious and unsatisfying affair, the mini bar radiated a bright, blue glow that prevented me from sleeping until I covered it with a towel, the card reader that activated all the electronics in the room broke on the last days and my usual gripe with hotels – the way too soft pillows – was still present. Next time I am going abroad, I am going to bring my own. At least the hotel breakfast was good. It was exactly what you can expect from a mid-level hotel and not disappointing.
During the bus ride to the event, we had a great view of Cologne by morning. Our first day would not be terribly busy and only people with exhibitor passes would be allowed into the convention meaning it would be fewer (This blog entry has been spell-checked by Stannis Baratheon) people present then on a normal day. We got a VIP Tour of the Ubisoft booth that was in one of many halls of the convention center, given a brief agenda for the day and then set loose with the promise that we would be the first to play our respective games and that was no lie. Not only did we have VIP Passes that allowed us to skip the lines that could take up to an hour, we where led to the booths in question where the staff was told to specificity let us in first. And it was that when the first match of Rainbow Six: Siege ever played on the public floor of Gamescom was over, I had commanded my team to victory, something that would be repeated whenever I played with people who never before had touched the game or insisted on playing with a controller.

What I have learned in the Alpha and at E3 – and they had not – was that you cannot treat this game like a aim-twitch based shooter like Counterstrike or Call of Duty where reflexes and aim is all that matters, especially not if you like being the lone wolf. If you are the lone wolf, you need to be so with the support, knowledge and planning of your team where you either herd the enemy into your team or vice versa. Teams work best when they are either split in two or move in unison and constantly communicate where they are and what they are doing. Lone Wolfs tend to rush into prepared positions and get annihilated and I lost count on how many times I saw that happen during the day.

The Operators roles was also rather self-explanatory to the new players. If I called ”Breacher up”, then the player with Ash or Sledge knew it was them I meant. Same with I called ”Shields in front” or similar – while the Operator system has got a lot of flack both on and off the web, I think that for defining team roles it is a godsend. I also made it a point to ask if my fellow players had ever played Rainbow Six: Siege before and since most had not, I took it upon myself to command the teams I was partnered with. My skills in Leadership on my part also got me the new nickname ”Team Captain” or just ”Captain” by several members of the teams I was leading. Some other teams either had played it before or got the gist of it rather quickly and they where stiffer opposition. However, not all of them took gadgets into account.

If there is a single moment during the week that I would have loved to have recorded, it was when I was controlling Bandit – one of the new GSG9 Operators – who had an H&K MP7 and a IED. The explosive was hidden in the stairs and we had barricaded everything else. The enemy team lead by two Shieldcarriers move down the stairs and just as they spot me and open fire, I detonate the explosive, killing the two shields up front and Sledge who was right behind them. The original plan – to detonate and get the team formed up – was hardly needed after that. The two other Operators – SAS Recruits – rushed down the stairs to engage us but was caught by my mates who heard all the commotion and rushed to assist. It was one of the quickest games of the day.

After a while, I did however want to check out the rest of the convention. I had been warned by experienced visitors that the next day would be crazy and that if I wanted to check out something in particular, this was the day to do it and they where right in that. The first thing I decided to check out was however another Ubisoft title – The Division. Some of my friends are hyped to all hell about this game but I have so far not understood why. Of course, it looks like it can be a competent Online RPG and I like the theme but I do not see anything special in it, at least not yet. The worst thing about it was that it was only available with a controller and I rarely – if ever – play shooters with a controller. There is no lock on system either so my Syphon Filter II skills was of no use.

You did not get any decent time to prepare either. You where thrust into combat against Rikers and Cleaners – and soon enough – other players almost at once. A huge three way battle emerged as all three sides tried to emerge with the loot. The Gameplay was intense but only because of choice since the Dark Zone really encourages you to not fire unless you are sure you can get away with it and if there are more then two parties involved, you seldom will. You also need to keep your team close and know if they are going to ambush somebody else – during this demo, sheer reflex created more Rogue Agents then anything else. I also encountered a rather hilarious – at least for me – bug when I tried to take cover behind a wall.

Instead, I floated into the wall but could still shoot my enemies – who could not shoot me. Sadly, one of the Ubisoft Game Guides noticed this and fixed it almost at once, meaning the short advantage we got due to this did not last. As the timer ran out, no team had managed to extract the precious cargo, an updated version of the M60 Machine-gun because once a team got the upper hand against one or two of the other two, they where vulnerable to the respawning. Trying to extract the loot without engaging anybody else was not easy either – you almost got fired upon even if you tried to just stay away. While there was no price on the table for winning, it quickly declined into a massive brawl where everybody just wanted to prevent the others from winning more then they wanted to win themselves.

It was mental – just like GamesCom – and it was even better to be able to avoid the two hour line that had formed outside the booth at that time. But I decided it was time to see what the other developers had to offer. Moving to find Blizzard Entertainment, I got quickly seated at the Starcraft Legacy of the Void booth that had almost no line – unlike the waiting for Overwatch that I did not even try for.
The Legacy of the Void Demo showcased the Allied Commanders mode where two players chose a Commander with a set of abilities to complete a single player mission. The first mission I tried was a classic from the Single Player Campaign and involved stopping trains, something that was not all too challenging. Choosing Raynor as my Commander, I was teamed up with Artanis and got a special tech tree to play with during the mission. By levelling up the commander (something that you could not do in the test), you would unlock new units meaning you had to start easy and most likely move up to more difficult missions. Blizzard also gets props for providing seats during their playtest.

After a quick lunch, I sat down in the Uplay Lounge for a while. This place was a godsend since it like the Blizzard booth had a place where you could sit, something that was necessary after a while on that con. Even during the Wednesday, it was rather tricky to get where you wanted to go and I feared for the next day when the general public would be admitted. With this in mind, I decided that I really did not want to listen to the guy talking about The Settlers Online in German (There was a lot of that in the Uplay Lounge so the sitting down came at that price) and went to find the commercial market part; a place that turned out to be rather easy to find. It was also an area I was rather pleased about visiting on the first day since there actually was less people there then other places of the convention.

The entire place was made for one sole purpose – gently remove your money from your wallet and having you grin from ear to ear while doing so. I quickly found a stand where they sold Science Fiction Toys and models. What first caught my eye was a huge collection of Star Trek Starships Magazines but while the price was reasonable, I did not want to waste the 35 euros I had to my name before I knew what other items was available. It was then an item on the back shelf caught my eye. It was nothing short of a Power of the Force A-Wing Starfighter; complete in box. I decided to ask what they wanted for it, expecting it to be out of what I was actually willing to spend. Their answer – 20 euros – made me buy it there on the spot without even trying to hide how much I wanted it.

As I handed over the payment in Euro Coins (and not even caring to count correctly, he got 22 Euros he later told me; I told him to keep it) I considered trying to get a few of the Star Wars Battlefront developers to sign it; seeing how they had released information about their new Fighter Squadron mode. I found one quicker then I expected; he was right behind me in a Battlefront Developer T-shirt and looked like he wanted to choke me to death with the Force. Obviously, he had been eyeing the A-Wing as well and I had just nabbed it in front of him. I decided to make off with my newfound prize without he could act on the Dark Side of the Force and so far have not dared trying to get the A-Wing signed. Besides, it looks good as it is on the shelf next to the original Swedish VHS Collection, the Monopoly and the Star Wars / Hasbro Action Fleet Ships.
Another pass throughout the market area got me a Worms Plushie (5 Euros) and Lylat Wars to the Nintendo 64 (10 euros) and then I was out of the big bucks. I could of course try and pay with the 10 and 20 cent coins I had on my person but that would just be sheer annoying, so depositing my loot (and wondering how on earth I would get it into my bag!) in a locked area in the Uplay Lounge I decided to keep walking.

The best thing about walking around the booths and rooms without a map was that I never knew what I was going to find, so when I discovered Nvidias booth, it turned out they had Rainbow Six: Siege there with almost no lines whatsoever. More to the point, the game mode Terrorist Hunt was showcased there, meaning it would be a different experience then a multiplayer match. Being given four squadmates from the line, we quickly  moved onto the consulate with me as the head of the team since I was in the all too familiar situation of being the only one who had actually played the game.Leading the charge as Ash, the team quickly and effectively secured the consulate from the White Masks and made sure their evil deeds could not come to pass.

Moving to take off my headphones, I noticed that four more players took the spots of the players who had just vacated it and I got the impression they sent me the lone wolfs of the line outside who did not have anybody to play with or needed a fifth and it remained that way for about an hour. To almost all these teams, I was the team captain and also spent some time playing around with the loadouts, amongst them the GSG-9 recruit whom I armed with what in a trailer had been spotted to be a G3 but turned out to be the G8A1 LMG. At that point, I almost felt sorry for the white masks – with a shield up front and me as the second man in, there was almost nothing left for the three other players in the team to do ! Another high point was when members of my favourite E-sports team was left to my charge and at that point, I was rather tempted to break the ”No Photos” rule in the booth. But all good things must come to an end and I had to leave in order to be on time for the Q&A, held by Scott Mitchell, the animation director of Rainbow Six: Siege and the owner of a glorious beard.

Having made a solemn vow on the Subreddit to hunt down Andrew Witts and follow him until he answered the question about Select Fire but without Witts present, I decided I could at least ask Scott this question since the feature was not in the GamesCom build. The entire thing turned into pretty much a interview with an audience since I was one of the few to ask questions but I got good answers to all of the questions – first the confirmation that Select-Fire was worked upon but no final word – and that while they did not try to force the game to be an E-sport, they would support it if that is what the community wanted.
After that, I just disconnected from the world for a few hours. I was dead tired and decided that the best I could do was sit down and listen to Game of Thrones on my phone. That did however not mean the day was by any means over and that is part of the reason as to why I was resting. During the evening, we where invited to a VIP event in the Ubisoft booth.

As the convention floor was turned into empty space and the Ubisoft Game Guides rested along the sidelines, grabbing drinks and talking amongst themselves, all was prepared for the event and for the first time during the day, it felt like you could actually breathe in the hall without getting choked by warm air. Also, the lines turned to a really manageable level and I was encouraged to try a Virtual Reality station where you could have the Oculus Rift strapped to your head alongside headphones and put in a chair. The entire thing was like a crazy, LSD version of a Rollercoaster and going into it the first time was rather amazing. That the material was a cartoon about some kind of Screaming Rabbits with Rabies who sent you along a snowy track did not help. Still, it was fucking awesome and I strongly encouraged all those I met – what few remained – to try it out.

The VIP event turned out to be exactly what we needed. Great Pizza was served alongside cold drinks and hot cookies and then we entered the booths to play the games without any lines and only against other invited people. Starting with For Honor, a game I am not terribly interested in but where the very cool Dev Team really manages to convey the message and feeling they want to bring with it. Our team did manage to defeat our opponents but no thanks to me. The control scheme for that game takes a while to get used to but it is very satisfying when you do get it right.

Moving on to The Division, I once again endured the madness of the Dark Zone. This time, a bug appeared that would not end the game once the loot was secured to the helicopter and this was rather annoying as I had made sure to stay away and keep out of most of the fighting. My team however was happy to engage anybody and anything and promptly got themselves killed and me tagged as a Rogue Agent – the last thing I wanted but that’s the kind of stuff that happens from time to time.

Moving on to Rainbow Six: Siege, my team of mixed people ended up against a team of community managers, developers and other Ubisoft people, but in true Team Tacticool fashion, we prevailed with the satisfying score of 4 victories to 1 defeat. To this day, the defeated will tell you this is because we ”cheated”; the screen behind them (visible to us) showed one of their players screens but we where far too busy shooting at them to take any notice of this until we pointed it out and by then, it was far too late.

This did however spell the end of the evening for me. I was too tired to try Assassins Creed: Syndicate and me and a few others decided to take cabs back to the hotel room. While I may have praised the cabs of Los Angeles, the Cabs in Germany was like taking part in an illegal street race and that is no exaggeration. Speeding our way across Cologne, we arrived at our hotel at some kind of record (and neck-breaking) speed ! My plans for the evening was to try and get my stuff packed and a few other things but I found myself too tired. I knew the next day would be a long one and I decided my packing would be done the next day. While I usually have a difficult time falling asleep in hotels, I did not have any such issues this time. Despite the too soft pillows, I was pretty much asleep the moment my head hit the deck.

The morning after arrived surprisingly quick and I felt like I did not get quite the amount of sleep needed for this day that was supposed to be crazier then the day before. I was not entire sure if that would be possible but left the bed and started packing, something that went surprisingly fast even tough I was forced to leave the box for the A-Wing at home but everything else was packed up and good to go. Arriving at the Convention Center, it was soon clear that what I have heard up to that point was not an exaggeration. The entire district was filled with gamers, cosplayers and staff. The lines at both entrances was filled of people and at that time, I had no issue believing that there would be more then 300 000 people in attendance – it seemed like they where already there and ready to barge down the doors!

The VIP Entrance felt really good, not having to bother with the long lines at both entrances and I even dared to wave to the ones waiting outside while hurrying to drop off my bags and get to the first point on my agenda – a media briefing on Rainbow Six: Siege in the business area. The business area was closed off to the general public and included restaurants, a free neck massage and pretty much every game journalist the place could hold. Still, it never felt crowded and was a literal breath of fresh air compared to the convention itself that was steadily being filled up with people.

There I met up with Genevieve Forget, Community Developer for the game as well as Scott Andrews who told me that my question from the day before had been answered. Fire Selectors would indeed be in the game and it was now decided, something I had been hoping for. Sadly, this piece of information was not as exclusive as I had hoped since the Rainbow Six Blog decided to reveal that information the same day! After hearing this piece of news, they sent me into the media room where they showed information about the new spectator mode, something I thought was awesome. The ability to see the matches from all those points of view is something I do not think has ever been done in FPS and it is clear that Rainbow Six: Siege strives to be an audience friendly game in that regard.

The question I asked almost at once and that I never got any clear answer to was if players could save their own replays and show off their matches – either sending them to a shoutcaster or uploading themselves but sadly this seems to have yet to be decided. I can only with my solemn written words kindly encourage the developers to grand us this ability. Then it was time to watch the Journalists play – at first there was the possibility for me to play myself but the person running late for the event appeared at the last moment to catch the computer, something that I admit found annoying because everybody had been sternly told to be there on time. Having watched the game in question however, I think my Ego is secretly glad that I was left out because the team I would have joined got utterly slaughtered. There was no communication, no barricades nor any inclination of actually sticking together. Obviously it was the first time most touched the game but my arrogant claims of leadership would probably not been enough to save the day. At least this way, I still have a majority of Wins during GamesCom.
Sadly, I do not have access to material from the Spectator Camera during this game since this required a USB Drive and since I stopped carrying one years ago, at the advent of cell phones with internet connection I had no ability to save the material. Well, that is how you learn. If there ever is a next time – and I sure hope it will be – then I will make utterly sure to bring a USB Drive but I think the players on the defeated team are quite pleased with my lack of one. I would probably have made a ”This is how to not play Rainbow Six: Siege” video.

After the press briefing, I made sure to grab myself a drink from the bar and enjoy the really comfortable chair, almost dreading to get back out on the convention floor. There really was a lot of people there but I had to get there eventually since Scott Andrews would hold a second Q&A and there was more questions I needed to ask. Once again, the entire thing became more of an interview that makes me wish I had an external microphone for my DSLR. Better add that to the list of things to buy alongside the keychain USB Key!

I really enjoyed the Q&A, especially to see the dedication shown by the team and not only the Rainbow Six Team. I cannot write this without giving a very honourable to the Development team of For Honor! See what I did there? Heh. As a person who is not all that into that kind of games and found the controls for the game easy to learn but difficult to master, what makes me truly interested in that game is the pure passion, dedication and presence shown by both Jason Vandenberghe and Bio Jade Adam-Granger. Sitting trough them talking about it is almost a humbling experience because they have obviously fought hard for this vision of this game to be realised and they feel they are going a long way with it. If anything, I think this is what is going to make For Honor a hit.

Speaking of hits, the hype for Star Wars Battlefront has not by any means disappated. This was clear once I left the For Honor Q&A having rested my poor legs and not pushing myself trough the crowd. At the longest (and this was just during the first day), the line for Battlefront reached five hours and this is for a game that has been released as a closed Alpha. I do not think any game – not even Overwatch, For Honor or The Division could compete despite their lines hitting the 2.5 hour mark for playing.  It was however clear that people where prepared for this. A bunch of people had brought actual camping chairs and when I dropped by to have a gander at the line, a Pokemon Tournament had started with people having brought their DS Devices to play against other people.
And that was as they say that. My remaining time at the convention was mostly spent photographing Cosplayers, arguing with a Free Hugs Donor if her hugs was worth my time (They where) and trying to check in on the different booths if I had friends or people from Twitter present with varied success. A short lunch was eaten at the food court and soon enough, I had to depart for the airport. I was both sad and relived. While I would have loved to watch the ESL Game (or participate in it!), there was simply no way I would have managed with my limited amount of clothes and strength. Because being on GamesCom is mental, its fun, its glorious but it is also exhausting, especially if you do not get to sleep in your own bed.

So it was with a fair amount of relief that I headed off to the airport and away from GamesCom 2015. The flight home was – unlike last time – blissfully uneventful with the most nice thing to happen being the arrival in Tegel, Berlin and disembarking the plane – and boarding the next one – on a warm tarmac under the sunset. I do not know about you, but I feel that set a nice frame into it all as my plane left into the sunset and out of Germany. If I ever will be back at GamesCom, I do not know but I do know that if I return, I will have learned from my mistakes. I will have a USB Drive, I will have a external microphone from my camera and I will most certainly bring my Cosplay!

Before I end this entry, I must thank all the nice people I met. There are too many of you to mention your names – Kitten Herders and Star Players, Hug Givers and Cosplayers, Sellers of Merchandise and Players of Games. It was your company and your dedication as well as your awesome personalities that made this trip well. I can only hope you got a similar impression of me, regardless if I beat you in Rainbow Six: Siege or not!