The Gathering 2007 – Part 1

Last month Console Monster and twenty-nine other Xbox Community Network bloggers and websites flocked to central London to attend the return of The Gathering. With X06 a distant memory and many publishers keeping their promotional wallets firmly shut at this year’s subsidized E3 07, Microsoft UK had decided to put on an intimate community get-together with its European “Elite” classed websites and bloggers. Their intention: to meet and greet as well as offer the ability to play Microsoft’s holiday line-up of titles for its Xbox 360 platform. We’d be stupid to turn down the offer of playing Microsoft’s Christmas line-up, so yours truly headed up to London to report from The Gathering 2007.

After a sobering breakfast the day started early with a private shuttle bus to the venue – a location fit for any trendy design magazine, in fact our central London location did indeed feature in the UK TV show, Grand Designs. From the outside you would be oblivious to the goings-on within. Stepping through the entrance we were met by Microsoft’s XCN Staff, given our passes and ushered into the ground floor which consisted of booth after booth of soon to be released titles coming to the Xbox 360.

The XCN staff signs us in under the watchful eye of a Spartan

The main booths featured an array of “seen it before” titles such as Skate, FIFA 08, Medal of Honour: Airborne and Lego Star Wars – most of these we’ve already seen on the Marketplace via demos or have been already released, but with that said, there were other more interesting titles to get our hands on…

Army of Two

My first stop was EA’s Army of Two. Playing through the tutorial section, the game felt solid and very intuitive. Switching and ordering your right-hand man was a breeze while diverting the attention was done by hammering up on the D-Pad to increase the aggression of your gun wielding team-mate. A nice feature of Army of Two was moving up to your team-mate and pressing the action button, this let you exchange weapons with each other, vital if ammo is low or an alternative firearm was rapidly needed in the battlefield. I’m not sure why there was a need to be able head-but your team-mate, maybe to help build that agro meter!

Half-Life 2: Orange Box

Next-door was another shooter on my “to check out” list – Half-Life 2: Orange Box. Sadly this game was harder to get hands-on with – so I was left to observe. Having already played Half-Life 2 on PC everything looked exactly the same and ran smoothly, mirroring any high end PC system running the same game. I was disappointed not to see Team Fortress 2 running, though Portal was being played over the course of the day. Portal looked interesting but it wasn’t a game that made exciting passive viewing, a game you’d rather be playing than watching.

Need for Speed: Pro Street

Over on the other side of the room was EA’s latest street racer for this year – Need for Speed: Pro Street. The booth was free so I grabbed the pad and took this one for a spin. Like every Need for Speed title before this one the handling felt just the same, solid and responsive with a much less on-rails feel. Graphically the game looked good, showing some impressive Colin McRae: Dirt’esk damage modelling which can be seen when your vehicle plummets off road and wraps around nearby telegraph poll! This year’s racer has a more emphasis on straight line speed as you race across the wide open desert tracks. One specific new view mode I saw gave you a Gears of War “roadie run” equivalent to the racing genre, this view positions the camera low and behind your car while it vibrates to emphasise the shear speed that you are doing, nice touch.

Virtual Fighter 5 + Arcade Stick

I’ll be honest and say I’m not a fan of 3D beat-em-ups, give me SF2/SF2 Alpha any day of the week, but I bit my lip and gave VF5 a go. A good addition to this booth was the VF5 Arcade Stick – an accessory no beat-em-up fan should be without! After beating playing Leo from Activision my impressions on the current 3D fighting genre were a little more positive. While button mashing like a 5yr old trying to play an arcade machine without any credits in it, I was continuously playing round after round and enjoying it. I then tried without the VF5 Arcade Stick and it wasn’t the same, so if 2D/3D fighting is your thing, add one of these Arcade sticks to your list this Christmas!

The Scraps: Scene It? & Viva Piñata Party Animals

I personally didn’t get round to playing these two, but from what I saw they seem to look like great titles for their genre. Scene It? Looked like most DVD quiz titles on the market today, the bespoke controllers seemed solid and responsive when in game. Many smiley faces around this booth so I’m sure Scene It? will entertain many family or party gatherings this coming Christmas.

Graeme Boyd, AKA Acey Bongos, kicks off The Gathering 2007

So that was a little run down of the ground floor booths. We all knew the real tasty stuff was else where in the building, but before we could get our hands on them we had a few key speakers lined up to listen as well as sober up to, and who better than our first guest speaker…

Sir Peter Molyneux Demos Fable 2 + Mike Newey Talks Microsoft

The morning’s events kicked off with a surprise guest speaker – Peter Molyneux from Lionhead Studios, who gave us an impressive and memorable keynotes. With the aid of an Xbox 360 debug Peter demoed a few builds of Fable 2, the same builds previously shown at this year’s E3 and PAX conferences. Peter’s speech was entirely focused around combat and how it was going to be implemented in his upcoming masterpiece. Being “unofficial” press, Peter took it upon himself to point out to us the areas of the demo that he didn’t like and hence would be changing in the game. This was a good insight into his vision and how much the game has progressed in the last few months of development.

Peter Molyneux “This dog is not bulls**t” Fable 2 Demo

Throughout the speech Peter was being very careful to not reveal any new features of the game, although like a giddy school kid who wants to tell a secret, Peter soon shed a little information…or more like a confirmation. Fable 2 will also be a shared experience, in that you will be able to invite your online buddies into your world and fight in co-op or even against each other. The words “co-op” never left his lips mind you, but he practically plucked every other term of the word when explaining this scoop of information.

We were told the build of Fable 2 was seven months old, so Peter decided to inform us of all the areas that have been changed since then. A sparse and empty village square now resembles a vast bustling town, full of market stalls, ambient lighting, and crowds to transparent windows which you can peek into to see characters going about their own business. We were told each building will have access into it and that they could be purchased by yourself, rented, hell – you could even own the entire city if you had the money!

The single button combat was still in effect here. Fable 2’s combat will not please button mashing Ninja Gaiden fans, like Assassin’s Creed (…more on this in Part 2), combat is best done in a more rhythmic and timed fashion. Simply bashing the single combat button just won’t get you anywhere. Your attack moves will not only stop at the weapons in your hands either, many structures and objects of the world around you can be used as weapons, such as kicking up nearby objects and hurling them to your foes. While using the single button attack Peter explained a new angle in Fable 2’s combat system, where standing nearby walls, objects or fences will give you more ways of killing your opponent/s. For instance, when hitting the combat button while standing near a concreted ledge wall your character will grab your enemy by the head and clobber their skulls against it, resulting in imminent death. Do the same thing against a tall solid side wall and your character will jump off the wall, like something from a martial arts film, and create an alternative aerial attack. This new focus on combat alone gives you the impression that as well as being the conductor of the combat you will also be an observer of some spectacular moves and with the one button attack, careful use of timing and your character’s experience levels who knows what moves your character will pull off next.

Peter’s speech was very informative and inspirational. He is one of few developers that do not follow the trend and I respect that greatly. Each opinion he had I found myself completely agreeing with and nodding my head along to, as did many others in the audience. Fable 2 will push new boundaries in many genres in gaming and maybe add a few new ones! Although I have never had time for games like these, I will surely keep my eyes on Fable 2, its progress and how far Peter pushes his vision and his campaign for new and unique gaming experiences.

Mike Newey from Microsoft wears his invisible PR GushingTM cap

It would be tough for anyone to follow on from Peter Molyneux, but it was Mike Newey, Platform Marketing Manager for Microsoft that took up the challenge as our second speaker of the morning. Mike gave us a gushing and glowing “pro” talk about Microsoft, where it is now and its holiday line-up. It would have been good to hear a more personal take on things from Mike but the MS PR hat was firmly attached and resulted in an unfortunately forgettable speech compared to the previous act, sorry Mike.

Coming Soon… Part 2

So that wraps up the early morning of The Gathering 2007. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our report from Microsoft’s trendy London event where I will be reporting on more of Microsoft’s holiday line-up, from Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty 4 (single player), Guitar Hero 3 (featuring wireless guitars), Project Gotham Racing 4 and Mass Effect!

Anthony Barker

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.

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