Friday, November 22, 2013

A Blizzcon Review

The 3WImigos: Chris (@thronus), Dave (@kennylogouts) and me! Huge thanks to Amanda (@scotchtape56) for taking what my be the only photo picturing all three of us at Blizzcon.
I'm finally ready to talk about Blizzcon. This is going to be the first real attempt, anyway. See, a funny thing happened after I returned to Wisconsin after four days in sunny California. Aside from needing a few days of rest just to boost my mental faculties back to online status, I distinctly felt like I had nothing to say. How could that be? I was a firsthand witness to the largest information dump this year about the game I've been playing for seven years (and writing about for almost one) and somehow I didn't feel like commenting.

And there have been some excellent discussions I've followed (ok, and maybe dabbled in) over the past couple of weeks, but I've been largely reticent to participate. The question of gender representation in Warlords of Draenor is an important one. On perhaps the more trivial side, there's the question of the importance of flight in-game. Granted, I wasn't blogging about Warcraft when I attended Blizzcon '11, so perhaps it's just the massive amount of information that leaves me paralyzed this time around. Additionally, I think this reaction kind of goes with straddling the introvert-extrovert line. I have no real issues about being around people and socializing, but I often need a quiet place recharge after doing so.

I'm not planning to get into the nitty-gritty details of the announcements and any surrounding controversies, though will revisit them when I feel I've amassed the necessary amount of mental dexterity to explore those topics more comfortably.

But more on that in another post. For now, let's look at the event itself.


The 3WImigos (how we referred to our party) did NOT eat well, though that was completely on us. We had grandiose plans to hit a grocery store since our lodging had a full kitchen. Visions of bacon, eggs and OJ turned into waiting in a ridiculously long line at Starbucks for a house black and a Rice Krispy Treat that for some reason the marketing team there felt deserved the moniker of 'Marshmallow Dream Bar.'

Come on.

Chris and I caved on Day 1 and purchased a personal-pizza from inside the convention center. I shared some of mine with Dave and we all declared the item to be at least edible. Luckily, we were able to avoid con food for the rest of our time there. However! In between 2011's con and this year's con, Convention Way (the street that leads up to the center) got a ginormous makeover, turning it into a beautiful pedestrian path. During the con, there were six or so local food trucks parked along the way that had some really, really unique and tasty fare. To give you an idea I had a chorizo sausage on a bun, called 'the Loki'. It was the size of my forearm and had jalapenos and too much melted cheese, among other toppings.

There were also some vendors on the patio areas one can access from inside the center, and these focused more on fresh-made food compared to the pan pizzas you could get inside. We didn't have a chance to check any of them, but it smelled damn good.

Of course, there are myriad of places within walking distance of the con center, though I would offer this parting advice: as much as you think IHOP might be in order to ease the pain from a hangover, it is never, ever, ever a good choice.

Like the way you move

The layout of the con center was similar to how I remembered it from 2011: there's the main hall area, and then three other larger sections of the con center, each mostly devoted to one of Blizzard's major universes (Starcraft, Diablo, & Warcraft). Then you have some smaller, special panel-type stages squeezed here and there, plus a whole slew of vendor booths. What I'd forgotten from 2011 is the sheer number of things that can be happening at the same time. I would've definitely enjoyed seeing more from Starcraft or Diablo, but our party chose to make Warcraft-related stuff priority. But you really, really have to pick and choose for certain time slots. For instance, because of scheduling conflicts, we missed both the Live Raid and the Hearthstone Exhibition.

I am a mana-efficient draw.
Even though there's 25,000+ people there with you, it's relatively easy to get around. By no means is Blizzard trying to pack that place to near-capacity. Not only was it simple to move around, it wasn't a sweatbox, either. I felt temperatures begin to rise when people started filling the main hall in anticipation for the open ceremony, but convention planners must've been all over it because being too hot wasn't ever a problem for our party.

Unlike in 2011, we chose not to visit any of the vendor booths (save for the booth where you can get your picture taken with a Blizzard backdrop). We just felt there was too much else to see in the amount of time we had, and even waiting 30-45 minutes for one vendor didn't seem worth it to us.

Let's get virtual

I originally liked the idea of the virtual stream a lot more than I do now after having seen it in practice. Let's be real: the 3WImigos missed the majority of what happened at the con. Having the opportunity to watch everything we missed, and even re-watch our favorite events, is awesome...when it works. I've tried watching with up-to-date versions of each browser on my machine---including Internet Explorer---and have yet to be able to finish one segment, let alone have a pleasant, uninterrupted streaming experience. I hope to god the live, broadcasted version worked better for the sake of those who spent money and carved out the time (and in many cases planned huge parties) to celebrate the event in their own ways.

Production-wise, I think it's pretty rad for Blizzard to do this. Being who they are, I can't imagine that offering access to a virtual stream won't become the standard model for future Blizzcons, and also can't imagine that they won't improve on this experience moving forward.


This may not come as a huge surprise to some folks who know me, but Saturday morning's sound panel was the highlight on the convention (I'll speak to the highlight of the monster that is Blizzcon in a sec). I had with me a travel-sized packet of kleenex in my backpack, as I figured they'd be a good thing to have when out and about. Never thought I'd be using them to wipe my face while balling my eyes out listening to Jason Hayes and Critical Hit performing on stage. Then again, I often have this reaction when I hear stringed instruments live. Y'all really need to check them out if you haven't.

Second-favorite to that was probably the movie presentation panel. Though we didn't learn much additional info about the movie itself, we did learn quite a bit more about how Blizzard is approaching this and got to see the 'credentials' of a couple of key players: As director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) smirked, Rob Pardo casually noted that Duncan has been playing Warcraft since Warcraft I. Special effects supervisor Bill Westenhoffer was also present (Life of Pi, The Golden Compass...for which he won Oscars!), and proudly acknowledged that he has a level 90 mage, among other high-level toons. He revealed that he'd been busted playing WoW a couple of times will on break on the set of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. How cool is that? 

Safe to say, I think this film's in really good hands.

After hours

It's almost as if I just wasn't paying close attention in 2011, but it seemed that Blizzard folks were everywhere on all of the nights. Between community events, the Hilton and who-knows-where-else, I started getting used to seeing them mingling. Like they're in it with us, too. I had a nice picture taken with Mike Morhaime in 2011, so this year I was content to simply shake his first. A couple of people in my party had sauntered over to thank him for the games he's helped to create, and to grill him a bit about the new expansion. Mind you, this was Thursday evening, so we hadn't yet heard much about what we were in for. Mike was extremely personable, and quite talkative when he wasn't surrounded by a horde (no pun intended) of appreciative players. 

At one point later in the evening, I noticed he was standing off by himself, so I walked over and said hello again. And talked to him a bit about community and player connectedness. Basically, I gave him the 90-second version of this post (don't read that now, you'll never make it back here and you're almost done). I'm not even going to attempt to paraphrase what he said to me, but I will say that I was heard. I felt heard. And he caught me quite off-guard when he spun my synopsis it back on me and asked what I would do about it.

I briefly spoke with Greg Street, Zarhym (pictured at right), Russel Brower, Chris Metzen and a Blizzard employee named Jed from the Austin office who, like the previous four names, was very kind and genuine when we chatted. I saw many others, but wasn't able to say much more than hello. 

The coolest conversation I had was with Jason Hayes, Senior Composer with Blizzard and founder of the band Critical Hit. Dave and I saw him chilling by the fountain in front of the convention center, eating a bratwurst corn dog for reasons related to Wisconsin. We simply wanted to say hello and be on our way. Let the fella enjoy his dinner. But he wouldn't let us apologize for interrupting him, nor would he let us go. Thus we spent the next fifteen minutes talking to Jason about his music, about our music (he wanted us to send him our rendition of the Tetris theme song), and about how much we enjoyed the sound panel.

There's a reason Blizzard is so awesome and successful. Their people are friggin' magical. 

Gotta talk games 

Warlords: We waited to test until late Saturday afternoon at which point there were no lines. We walked right in, sat down and started playing. In fact we excused ourselves after having felt we played enough (roughly 15 minutes), but I get the feeling we would've been able to stay quite a bit longer had we chosen to do so. Dave rolled a dwarf, I rolled an orc, so we had different experiences in our starting zones. Essentially we were both clearing out an area to establish a base of operations. All I'll say is it was cool and featured a bit of a darker mood than what I'm used to seeing in Warcraft. It was not the Pandaren starting zone we were treated to at Blizzcon 2011. 

Reaper of Souls: Diablo III's forthcoming expansion was testable on the floor on both PC and console (PS4). Dave and I elected to test it out on the PS4 since we figured we'd end up playing on the PC when it was released. Plus, it was an opportunity to check out the PS4 before it came out. That turned out to be a terrible idea, as I don't even own a console and the little of D3 I'd played on PS3 wasn't enough to imprint the controls on my brain. So I was wandering around not remembering how to check which abilities did what, how to access the menu, etc. Hence all I can say about the experience was that Reaper of Souls looks great and the Crusader class should be a lot of fun.

Heroes of the Storm: From where I was seated for the opening ceremony it was this announcement that received the most verbose response from the crowd. People went absolutely nuts when Diablo showed up in that cinematic. I did, too, and I don't even know why. However, we didn't test it. I wasn't too keen on the idea of testing it especially given the amount of iterations we've seen with this title. And partly because I am more than satisfied with waiting until the beta (should I be fortunate enough to land a key). 

The highlight of the con

The people, the community. 

If you're not going to Blizzcon for the people, I'd argue you're doing it wrong. Maybe it's different with Warcraft when compared to Starcraft or Diablo, since the latter two focus mostly on solo play, but when it comes to WoW, it'd be nothing without the community. Blizzard folks acknowledged that fact several times throughout the course of the weekend. We hung out with awesome people all weekend long. In fact, most people we talked with agreed our experience would've been nearly as awesome without con tickets. Seriously. If you can make it to Anaheim during Blizzcon even if you don't have a ticket, do it. The after-parties and the community events are worth it on their own. 

I'm actually considering doing just that for a virtual con: plan out a vacation, nab a virtual ticket and attend the events at night. I guarantee it would still be a blast. Will there be a 2014? It may be too early to tell, but what's certain is that Blizzard loves to give us these experiences just as much as we love experiencing them. 

No comments:

Post a Comment