Events Feature

EGX 2021 – Convention Under COVID Conditions

EGX for those who haven’t heard of it before is a huge gaming expo in the UK. In recent years, hosted in London, it plays host to a ton of games from AAA publishers to single-person developers. They were kind enough to invite NookGaming along to cover the event as press.

Hosting a gaming convention under pandemic conditions is certainly a challenge. This did mean that EGX 2021 was not the same as those that came before it. If you’d like to learn more about the normal event, our EGX 2019 article may interest you.

COVID Conditions

Understandably, a lot of people decided to stay home this year due to concerns over COVID. Safety measures were taken – notably, the number of attendees was significantly reduced. Still, there were issues that could cause concern.

Most people were not wearing masks and there was no enforcement of social distancing. In some areas, people were really crammed together. The risk should be mitigated somewhat by the use of COVID passes, but I wasn’t always asked for mine when I entered. This was done by the site rather than EGX themselves, but they always use the same place.

The other major differences were that very few big publishers attended. PQube may have been the biggest, rather than PlayStation or Nintendo. That and even a lot of the indie stalls seemed to have no staff or very limited staff. It was even missing the standard loud Monster Energy stall hanging out giant cans of drink to keep people going through the event. Missing Nintendo was a pity in particular with the release of Metroid Dread being during the event and the upcoming Mario Party Superstars.

One minor but very useful thing – not many took advantage of it, but they had remote setups so the developer could talk to the player via video chat while playing. I hope they keep that option in the future, as I imagine it could really help indie developers who can’t afford the travel. EGX attracts developers internationally, but even just a train and hotel for the event can cost several hundred pounds.

With EGX Birmingham Scheduled for March 2022 and the next EGX London for September 2022, I can only hope that we’ll be in a better position by then.

Fun To Be Had

While many of the big names were missing, there was still plenty to do. Interestingly other companies brought along games in partnership with some of the bigger publishers. For example, Bang and Olufsen were demoing some high-end headphones but had a stall with Square-Enix games. They were selling their Portal headphones at a discounted rate for EGX. There were some general play areas too with recent titles like SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball remake (which we recently reviewed).

One title I should point out is Kitaria Fables from PQube. I had a brief try at their stall and enjoyed what I played of it. The combat was fun, with a lot of roll-dodges. I didn’t get to explore the upgrading side of things though. Apparently, it was only made by three people according to their social media person.

Narrative Experiences

Of particular interest to many of our readers I imagine would be Chorus Entertainment’s stand. They had several narrative experiences.

Coffee Talk 2 was my personal favorite. Readers may know that I enjoyed the first one quite a lot. It still seems to have the same great character writing. While it was only a demo, they introduced two new characters – a Satyr social media influencer and a banshee who wants to be a singer. It kept Jorji, the cop from the previous game.

Read-Only Memory Neurodiver seemed interesting too. It follows an esper who uses an artificial creature to recover memories. It seemed less than serious, with the first case involving revenge on someone for a prank. The pixel art was really high quality.

Outside of Chorus Entertainment, we had Spellbound The Magic Within; it had your character who you can name and choose an appearance and pronouns for go to live with a family friend after you discovered you have magic. While the demo was short, it was building up a nice little magical community with some interesting characters.

There was also HookUp the Game. While the previous three were primarily visual novels, perhaps with some other gameplay, this differed. It had you find your previous high school bully on a dating app. Over time it started to slowly unveil the traumatic history behind what happened and let you build a profile and choose the way the conversation went to some extent. It’s only being made for iOS and Android and is actually a graduate student project.

Students at EGX

HookUp wasn’t the only student game there. While the exact format seems to vary, finding student games at EGX isn’t too unusual. In 2019 we enjoyed browsing the Transfuzer section, in particular a VR title from Deep Fried Games (which unfortunately never released). This year it was the (unfortunately titled) NFTS games. That’s students from the National Film and Television School and nothing to do with crypto.

While many of the games looked interesting, OctoNinja stood out. It’s a platformer inspired by 3D Sonic games. I had great fun trying to get through obstacles with precision timing, along with some basic combat.

Another title to keep an eye on is Gravity Commando. I’m told there will be a demo available to try, but the basic premise is a retro-style FPS inspired by DOOM and Portal. It uses a gravity-reversal mechanism that you can use whenever to spin up to the ceiling or floor. It is a lot of fun taking out enemies by reversing gravity to escape or get a better angle of attack.

More and More Games

There are too many games to name. Some bigger titles like Deathloop had a 90+ minute wait, but most titles were smaller and more reasonable.

Arcaea was present with both its recent Switch release and the mobile version. It’s a rhythm game by Lowiro, with a lot of Japanese music and anime aesthetic. The team behind it is partly based in the UK and partly in Japan, so this is no surprise. From a brief try, impressions were certainly good.

Imagine Earth is another indie title, which has won numerous awards. It’s a strategy/city builder with a focus on environmentalism. The goal is to save planets by developing them and competing with other corporations who are damaging it. Pollution is an issue connected to happiness and events such as the ice caps melting can become an issue. From a short play, it seemed well made and reasonably straightforward for the type of game.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is a big part of future gaming and a great way to stay active. It has become more accessible over the past several years too. While there was very little virtual reality officially on show this year, Dr. Oculus the community manager of Woojer kindly let me demo the Woojer Vest.

It’s a vest that vibrates to give feedback and helps to build immersion. The Woojer vest works based on sound, vibrating at certain frequencies. It seems to work very well with certain types of games, such as Tetris Effect; there’s a really satisfying rumble when clearing blocks. Having a gunshot pushback with some force in Sniper Elite VR was great too.

There was a constant background rumble in some games. I’m unsure if settings can be adjusted or if it’s just more suited to certain games. It’s something I’d love to spend more time with though, as I can see it working well for immersion in VR.

Verdict

There was plenty more on show at EGX 2021. More games, stalls to buy merchandise, and quite a few talks that I didn’t get to personally attend. Overall it’s a great event and well worth attending, especially if you enjoy indie games. That said, EGX 2021 certainly wasn’t up to the standards of the previous events. I was mostly done by the end of day 2 of 4 and there were valid health concerns. I look forward to EGX 2022 and hope it’s back to the glory of yesteryear.

Many thanks go to EGX for providing a press pass for this event.

Want to read more? Please check out more of our Event Coverage. Or want to check out some of the latest games? Maybe of our game reviews will be of interest.

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