The world release of the new Capcom game Lost Planet: Extreme Condition took place in the SF Exhibition Concourse in SOMA on January 12th.
Within minutes of receiving my assignment to attend I exhausted the limits of Google, discovering that the game designer, Keiji Inafune, is a bit of a videogame rock star, having designed Onimusha and Mega Man. Also, the lead character is modeled on the likeness of Korean actor Lee Byung Hun. Feeling somewhat enlightened but still out of my depth (the last game I bought was Civilization II for the PC), I brought my friend Tomy along as an expert guide. Or if not expert, at least someone who has seen an Xbox up close. We met up at Cafè do Brasil on Market and 7th and ate a tasty but far too filling meal to brace ourselves for the cold trip to the venue. The short walk through the freezing Tenderloin just a few paces behind a man carrying a teddy bear and screaming into (hopefully) his cell phone quickly lowered our expectations to the point where Capcom could have provided a space heater and deck of playing cards and we would have been damned grateful. But after getting our wrist stamped (quoth the stamp: “good job!”) we stepped inside the outwardly uninspiring SF Exhibition Concourse East Hall and beheld a pretty fine scene indeed.
The sloping ramp led through billowing fog to a faux-stone Asian-style gateway with a round portal framed with fu dogs and terracotta warriors, which opened onto a packed main hall lit with blue and white lights. Columnar ice sculptures dotted the area and closer inspection revealed that they all had computer parts, circuitry and cables frozen inside. Hanging chains and smashed, hollowed-out car chassis covered with graffiti completed the dÈcor. The cars where lit from the inside with a pulsating green glow and littered with fake snow and more computer bits. The theme was winter apocalypse to match the game and was continued in the side lounge where the bars where located. They were promoting a tequila called Trago, which comes in a snazzy square bottle that fit right in with the rest of the dècor. I wouldnít have cared about that except for two lovely little words: open bar.
Having had some traumatic experiences with tequila I am cautious around it, but I decided to try my luck and was very pleasantly surprised with the results. The featured mixed drink they were making with it was tasty, large and refreshingly hangover-free. As a bonus the actual bars were made entirely of ice, much to the rather childish delight of otherwise sophisticated-appearing San Franciscans, myself included.
After boozing up and snagging some of the tasty snacks from a circulating waiter, I watched Tomy try his hand at the game. To someone one who only plays videogames occasionally and hasn’t been keeping track of the more recent advances in graphics, it was a revelation: simply beautiful visuals, smooth and realistic movement, and a very tactile world. The design of the monsters was quite impressive, with giant lobster-like dust mite things that roll themselves up in a disk and roll at you like something out of a nightmare.
Dozens of terminals were set up for gameplay, and while they were in constant use there were enough of them to satisfy demand. Also plentiful where the trays of appetizers. Wisely, the bulk of the trays carried little pizza slices, which were good and a safe choice. Unfortunately harder to come by were the little goat cheese on toast and delicious spicy-crispy tuna confections that we found early on and then spent the rest of the night wistfully looking out for.
Unlike the lines at the bars, the line for the custom T-shirts was long and slow. Four silk-screening machines were set up with different designs. The idea was neat and I did enjoy watching them print the shirts, but ultimately it was probably not the best set up. They ran out of smalls early on so I ended up with a medium. That said, the shirt is of nice quality and the anchor shot design featuring the silhouette of one of the giant sand-flea/dust-mite monsters from the game is pretty neat.
Shirted and drunk, we wandered the floor watching folks. Although it had been announced that Capcom-related cosplay was encouraged, there were only a small handful of people in costume, a Raccoon City cop and Merchant from Resident Evil and a some sort of red ninja dude that we couldn’t figure out. The ninja and the cop both tried their luck at the giant rock climbing set-up, which remained popular throughout the night.
We spent some time admiring the work of Nathan Sawaya, a champion Lego builder (who knew?) who made a four foot tall version of the game’s mech-like armor as an admiring crowd looked on. Also attracting a crowd were the Xbox live setups where people tried out playing the game against human opponents. Near the autograph table copies of the game signed by Keiji Inafune and other members of the development team were on sale. The price tag was $75, which seemed hefty to my non-gamer brain but seems about industry standard.
At the very back of the hall on a raised platform, a whole row of consoles was set up for tournament play, with names drawn from a hat and the winners facing off at the end of the night in an elimination match against the Japanese development team. Grinning and wearing headbands, they looked pretty confident, and from what little I could follow I assumed it would be a bloodbath but apparently the challengers were able to best the Japanese team. However, for the rest of the evening the Japanese team apparently was able to reassert its supremacy over all comers.
Eventually the bars closed and the crowd started to thin out and we realized it was nearly midnight, the time when all Muni riders turn into pumpkins. If by pumpkins you mean frozen angry pedestrians. So we hustled and had good karmic fortune with the trains, and I was soon dozing with visions of exploding dustmites in my head.