Special - Gen Con Report 1994

This past August, 20,000 pen and paper role-playing and wargamers invaded Milwaukee for four days of gaming, food, entertainment, gaming and commerce. The occasion: GenCon, a gaming convention run by AD&D publisher TSR. Now in its 27th year, GenCon is quite possibly the largest show dedicated to gaming in the US

While GenCon has traditionally been oriented toward gamers whose entertainment software of choice ran on nothing more than the human brain, that is changing. Over the past several years, the character of GenCon has changed. No longer are the lines between role-playing gamer and science fiction fan clearly drawn. Since 1990 or so, GenCon has mutated from simply a tabletop gaming con into a gaming, anime, comics and science fiction con.

Several computer game publishing companies have also come to realize that GenCon represents an opportunity for them to do something they can't do at any other trade show – talk to the people who keep them in business. As such, every year it seems there are more and more computer gaming companies running booths at the show.

SSI and Origin, long-standing GenCon veterans, returned this year. SSI was selling products and promoting their new and upcoming titles. Demo stations were available to let passersby try out Dark Legions, CyClones, Slayer for the 3DO, and Wargame Construction Set 2: Tanks. Origin, in a smaller booth on the other side of the dealer room, showed a videotape of rough footage from their upcoming Wing Commander 3, and had a single demo station letting people play Ultima VIII. However, booth staff included the likes of Richard "Lord British" Garriott and Warren Spector, producer of such titles as the forthcoming System Shock. A surprise from Origin: they are currently working on a tabletop roleplaying game based on the successful Ultima series of computer RPGs.

Westwood, who designed the Eye of the Beholder series for SSI, had a booth of their own as well. They, too, were selling copies of their existing products and demonstrating titles soon to come. Just on the horizon is Legend of Kyrandia 3: Malcolm's Revenge, which is scheduled for release this October. Based on the beta which they were allowing people to play at the show, it looks likely to make that ship date; they were showing a CD-based beta which included at least some of the digitized speech. Next up for them will be Command and Conquer, a real-time strategy wargame based on their very successful Dune 2 engine, with the addition of cinematic cut scenes between scenarios. Command and Conquer will feature their new proprietary VQ video engine, allowing it to show full-screen video in 320x200 and 256 colors at 15 fps on a 486DX33 with 4MB of RAM and a doublespeed CD drive. Finally, off in the distance is Lands of Lore 2. Very little was available on this title, but the self-running demo they were showing featured some of the very best 3D Studio work I have ever seen.

A surprise presence at GenCon was The Software Toolworks. Not only was this their first visit to GenCon, but they have an absolute truckload of upcoming titles, most of which look extremely good. The next product they anticipate shipping (following Ultimate Domain CD, which should have shipped before this episode of IE) will be Metal Marines. Think of this Windows-based, multiplayer network game as Battleship with resource management. You build installations like missile bases and radar stations, to try to take out your opponents' HQs with offensive missiles while protecting your own. The game features an astoundingly simple drag 'n' drop interface, and looks to prove extremely addictive. (Windows for Workgroups will never be the same . . . ) After that will be Legions, another Windows game, this one a tile-based strategy/management wargame featuring historically authentic cultures, scenarios and units. It will support network play for up to 20 players (!); Software Toolworks claims the AI and the diplomacy engine will be better than anything currently available. Perhaps their biggest upcoming release for PC, though, is Dragon Lore. This giant, CD-only RPG features artwork and story the quality of which are evocative of Myst, with gameplay being more traditional to RPGs. There was more: Mindscape Winter Sports, a first-person winter sports game offering skiing, snowboarding and so on; we had a brief look at a title tentatively called Airpower, an alternate WWI strategy/flight sim; and on the cartridge side, officially licensed NCAA Basketball and Football titles, of which at least the Football game is scheduled to make it to the PC.

Strategy giant Microprose also put in an appearance, although they didn't have a booth of their own. Instead, they occupied a small corner of the Wizards of the Coast booth. The reason? They were there to announce their upcoming Magic: The Gathering CD title. Based on Wizards' EXTREMELY popular fantasy trading card game, Magic's setting is Dominia, where other worlds come together and powerful wizards duel for control. Scheduled for release by Christmas '95, Magic will feature all cards from the original card set and the first four expansions (Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends and the Dark) with the possibility of upgrades as new expansion sets are released.

Steve Jackson Games, perhaps best known to computer gamers for being raided by the Secret Service in 1990, revealed that the upcoming GURPS computer game from Interplay will be a multigenre setting, to show off the flexibility of the GURPS system, and will be scripted by Origins award-winner John M. Ford, author of GURPS Time Travel.

Location-based entertainment was represented along the computer concourse. In addition to a stand of coin-op arcade games, several "virtual reality"-type experiences were offered; the Battletech Center even brought a few pods so that die-hard Battletech fans could get their fix.

Finally, even the on-line gaming services were there – some of them, anyway. MPG-Net and Genie both had booths where passersby could try out their on-line offerings. No sign of INN or NVN, though. Perhaps another year.

The 27th annual GenCon gaming convention had the strongest representation of computer gaming ever. I expect that this is a trend which we will only see continue in the years to come.