Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival

I've been attending the EIEF for a number of years now. In fact, when I started attending it was still called the Edinburgh Games Festival. This year's event, which was held between the 10th and 12th of August, was notable for its radically different scale from previous years. Now much smaller, or at least with a lot of room dedicated to the Dare Protoplay exhibit instead of actual games, I got the sense that the event is perhaps lacking the pulling power it once had. Some things never change though and there was still a relatively strong Edge presence; though this is far from the first gaming related event I've attended this year where free issues of the magazine have been abundantly available.

Still in its home of the past few years, the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the event had a very different feel. The Dare Protoplay exhibition took up the entirety of the downstairs hall, which, while interesting for a quick look, couldn't hold my attention for long. Dare to be Digital entrants certainly produce impressive games given the timescale they are created in, but none of them really looked any fun to play, though. In the end I decided my time would be better spent upstairs in the main area.

This was perhaps not entirely true, given the paltry number of games on show. Nintendo probably had the largest quantity of games available, but all of these had already been released. It's all fine and well having Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit there, and I understand why they were, though it was interesting to note that Mario Kart had been shunted off to a lonely corner of the room. What Nintendo were really interested in showing off was Cooking Guide and Brain Training. Cooking Guide, in fact, had an elaborate set up, with a number of DSs running the game, showing off cooking recipes from professional chefs. The food was nice, but I suspect this had something more to do with the professional chefs and expensive variants of the ingredients, as opposed to the recipes themselves.

The next biggest presence was probably Codemasters. Sadly this extended to little more than a demo reel and no less than 12 demo pods running Race Driver: GRID. I was a bit surprised that this was the only playable game they had given the sheer number of 360s that were there. In all honesty I don't know why they felt the need to push GRID which has now been out for a relatively long time anyway.

This brings us to Sony's presence, which was the best despite being the smallest. Sony had 4 PS3s running LittleBigPlanet, which was obviously what caught the attention of just about everybody at the event. We waited a long, long time to play the game behind a particularly annoying and melodramatic boy and to top it all off the queue was then jumped by another little kid. Naturally, we couldn't complain despite our annoyance. The game itself was really fun to play, even though our session was relatively brief. The first thing you notice is that the game looks really nice. It's probably the prettiest looking game I've seen this generation so far. In motion everything just looks really well defined and the use of colour throughout is excellent. In terms of controls, they're relatively stripped back and simple, though the control for changing which of the 3 planes you're on was a little fiddly at first. From a gameplay point of view, it all seemed really fun. The platforming was executed well, though initially a little disorienting due to the strangely large amount of inertia your character's movement has. Additionally, we were briefly shown the level creation tool, which looks robust but was slightly bewildering. I'm sure with a little time it becomes a bit easier to navigate through all the menus to create really interesting objects and levels. LittleBigPlanet is a game which I will wholeheartedly recommend based on my short experience of the game.

Finally we got some excellent goodie-bags from the Gamestation shop that had been set up in the conference centre. These were filled with t-shirts, Pac-man sweets, Saints Row 2 playing cards and other random gaming affiliated goods. Despite this bonus, the conference this year was a shadow of former years. I have to wonder if it can continue much longer in its current form, if the level of publisher involvement is going to remain the same.

Pac-man sweet instructions. Because kids and grownups love it so, apparently