I've been at many press conferences. I've seen thousands of my peers doing everything short of throwing handfuls of their own bodily fluids in the air in an E3 Microsoft press conference when it's revealed that Halo 2 will feature DUAL WIELD WEAPONS. I've seen men now powerful and senior in the world of games interrupt the gushing announcement of a new Civ game where the core Firaxis men are talking about wanting to do this for the love of the fans by loudly coughing "Bollocks - you're doing it for the money". But this is the first time I've been at a press conference in the body of an enormous robot/lizard hybrid.
Today, Matthew, I am Electroliz: Electricity Brute. Also, journalist.
It's a preview event on the Test Server for Issue 7 of City of Heroes/Villains. Issue 7 (aka "Destiny Manifest") is the latest in the regular updates the most spandex obsessed of games. It's mainly centred on Villain content, but with enough elements to stop the Heroes complaining. For example, a new player-versus-environment zone, Grandville, is being added for Level 40+ characters, containing the Spider City. Timed Mayhem missions involving (er) smashing. A mass of new missions and patron powers, including new power sets for villains (Thug pets for masterminds, Electric armour and melee for Brutes and Dark Armour and Melee for Stalkers). And so on, included a general art upgrade for the slightly-dragging-behind City of Heroes.
But what we're actually here today to see is the new Player-Versus-Player zone, Recluse's victory, which is based around the villains' assault on Paragon City. A high level (40+) zone, it's very much a test-bed for a whole series of new approaches. The six control points in the zone are protected by turrets mounted on a pillbox, which can be directly controlled by a player. Players can pick up hulking (and rather beautiful) robotic heavies as pets. Perhaps most impressively, the top-level characters in the game, like the hero Statesman, will appear to join in the defences of the final control point, with the actual zone's appearance altering depending on who's dominating the zone. All new stuff. All interesting.
After spending ten minutes trying to ineffectually take down a Stone-Tanker with our slightly-rushed character builds, we head back to the base for a chat. Archon Voss, our leader, is being controlled by designer of the zone Thomas Foss. Gathering in a sinister Archanos bunker we have a chat.
"Are you pleased with the new issue?" I ask, somewhat weakly. Lizards take a while to get warmed up. Thankfully, someone else interrupts, asking what makes this Zone special.
"One of the good things about this zone is that the low-end PvP players can be pillbox defenders," Archon explains, "Stay in the pill box, use the turrets and call for help when needed. Using a heavy is a great equaliser too. In each zone we've also installed sally ports in the basement of each base." They're right about actually controlling a Heavy: Getting your own enormously powerful robot's a great pleasure.
"I like the shortcuts to the base markers," says the mysterious "PR Man", referencing the simple shields displaying the state of each of the control-points over the map on the main screen, clicking on which allows you to easily select the appropriate waypoint.
"Thanks," says Voss, "The short-cuts help keep immersion."
"So it's a case of trying to find ways for different levels of players to meaningfully interact in the same place?" I say, trying to sound clever, or at least as if I'm paying attention.
"Yes - and different power sets," notes Archon, "As we build PvP zones we learn. Ultimately what we learn will be reintroduced to previous zones to make them better"
"Even changing zone graphics?" interrupts someone who really is paying attention.
"The zone graphics will not only be used in PvP, but adapted to regular zones and possibly missions. And, of course, zone events"
"Nice!" says Captain Communism, summing up everyone's feelings. The ability to change a zone's appearance in predetermined ways, so altering mood and possibly even mechanics, is, indeed, "nice".
"So - what have you learned about PvP since the game launched?
"Well, Electroliz," says Archon Voss, "we've learned that everyone at first feels their powers are the worst, but as they get into higher zones they realise that's not true. We've also learned, as you can see here, that multiple objectives create a much better game dynamic - and that players are learning that PvP is not one on one, but team work."
"I like that you called me Electroliz," I reply.
"There still are gimped sets," notes someone who isn't so easily amused.
"I'm not saying that all powers are equal, but in a team they can be very powerful. Take Stalkers, in Bloody Bay, Stalkers rule. Here, they're only average - but they do very well with stealth defending a pillbox".
"Which of us four is prettiest?" I ask.
Thankfully at this point the hulking hero Hardsuit appears in the middle of the room and is immediately set upon by all the computer-controlled defence characters, swiftly joined by the assembled journalists who don't apparently remember the bit where we were told that Hardsuit was being controlled by Lead Designer Matt Miller. I do remember, but join in anyway, as it's not every day you get a chance to pummel a member of the development team. Unless you hang around in the bushes outside their Los Gatos headquarters, anyway.
Hardsuit is resurrected and the chatting continues.
"We were just talking about the evolution of PvP, powers and - of course - Giant Robots," explains Archon Voss to Hardsuit.
"People say TP [Teleport - Ed] is the worst travel power, but in PvP it is invaluable," answers Hardsuit, jumping right in the deep end, "Did Voss answer all your questions?"
"The zone seems pretty stable," interrupts Captain Communism, with the hint of a smile on his neo-Stalinist lips, "Are you ready to make a concrete release date?"
"When it's ready," answers Hardsuit, "How's that for concrete?"
At which point someone crashes the press conference. Not sure if he's a journalist, but Recluse Clone is asking useful questions so we sit back and take notes. He's asking whether all the signature characters - Statesman and chums - can be taken down.
"Yes, all the Sigs can be taken down," confirms Voss, "Usually takes 8-12 players."
"What happens after they're dead?" asks Mr Clone.
"You get a badge," explains Archon Voss, referring the in-game achievement-noting system, "And another badge for taking out all of them"
"And Statesman keeps dead?" says Refuse Clone, mixing psychopathy and questionable grammar in an innovative new way.
"No-one is ever DEAD in City," Archon Voss notes, "They're defeated".
"'Resting'," I add, helpfully, "'Having a lie down'"
"Statesman has a cool effect when he drops," Archon expands, "Two Freedom Corp troops beam in then teleport him away."
There's a moment's silence in the room of villains, only disturbed by the slow throb of the teleportation portal behind us. Interview over.
"Okay," says Hardsuit, "You can all kill me."