Debating ‘Halo 3,’ ‘Pokemon’ And More In Extra Innings



SAN DIEGO — About 100 video game reporters gathered at the roof of the San Diego Padres' ballpark Tuesday night on the left-field side. We ate burgers and hot dogs courtesy of Sony PlayStation, corporate hosts of a Gamers' Day not held for gamers but for journalists Monday through Wednesday (May 16) this week. (Transit to the event prevented me from writing a Tuesday edition of Multiplayer, I'm sorry to say.)

I can't write about the games Sony showed us about a half-hour's drive north at the company's local development studio. We all signed a written agreement that will keep that information quiet until Thursday.

But there was plenty of non-Sony gaming talk at the rooftop of Petco Park during the Padres vs. Reds game that is free to discuss. "Are you going to Korea?" That was a common question among the reporters. "World of Warcraft" development studio Blizzard is hosting an event in Seoul on Saturday and Sunday. The company is footing flights for gaming people interested in covering a big mystery announcement. The handful of reporters I discussed this with all think it's going to be the creation of "StarCraft 2." The first "StarCraft" is a popular real-time strategy game in the U.S. In Seoul, it is a stadium-packing spectator sport. A sequel would be big news here, bigger news there.

"Do you think 'Halo' looked good?" Most of the reporters had been to "Halo 3" events in New York and San Francisco last week (see " 'Halo 3' Sneak Peak: Three Things Every Beta Player Must Do"). Opinion was split among the people I talked to. One reporter said he thought it looked great. But his boss, a more casual observer, had not been impressed. The reporter said you had to know what to look for: how the graphics textures appear, how good the water looks. Another reporter was inconsolable about the game's omission of cover tactics. He felt "Gears of War" has made the ability to snap your character's back to a wall and peek out to pick off shots a mandatory feature for multiplayer shootouts, be they in first-person or third-person games. The first two "Halo"s didn't allow players to take cover, but he thinks the new one should, to keep up with the times.

I just wanted to know if anyone else liked my idea of the "Halo" Get-Back Bomb for players who lose a lot but want to have fun (see "Multiplayer: The Elusive Joy Of Losing — A Proposal For 'Halo 3' "). One journalist suggested that by asking for game developers to reward my failure I was excusing myself from any effort to pull myself and my "Halo"-playing skills up by my own bootstraps. I guess he was calling me un-American, and he wasn't even American.

I found one reporter who shares my obsession with the new "Pokémon," the discovery of which began a 15-minute conversation about the series. Grown men engaging in "Pokémon" conversation is an activity only for the bold. You will be made fun of. The game doesn't make it easier, because even if fellow ballpark food-grubbers can stifle snickers when you mention Bulbasaur and Pikachu, no one can disguise their reaction when you share your recent discovery that "Pokémon Pearl" has an in-game masseuse. I'm genuinely wondering which Pokémon I should hand over for a massage. Everyone but my fellow "Pokémon" gamer was giving me strange looks and probably finding a reason to get up and get some extra food. It's kind of creepy. I'm 18 hours in because I slowed down some. The reporter I discussed the game with — the one who wasn't snickering — is further in than me and, paradoxically, not liking the game. We may play online on Friday.

I spoke with one reporter whom I first met on a plane flying to a gaming event in Las Vegas about a year ago. Back then, I initially pegged him as an accountant. He was just some guy sitting next to me in an aisle seat scribbling numbers and math problems in a notebook.

I figured he was doing taxes. Then he saw my plane ticket and introduced himself. He was a games reporter like me. He wasn't doing accounting for anything real. He was crunching possible armor configuration statistics to prepare for a "World of Warcraft" raid. He got upset when our plane started circling Vegas instead of landing because it was making him late for the scheduled multiplayer raid. Last night he left the ballgame in the 10th inning, with the score tied 1-1. He was heading back to the hotel — not for "WoW," but for a new obsession: "EVE Online," an Iceland-developed massively multiplayer game that mixes spaceship combat with a complex economics system. I assumed he was in it for the economics. I guessed he's a numbers guy. Actually, he said, he was spending most of his game time blowing stuff up.

Some of the reporters at the stadium will meet again next week in Seattle. Nintendo will be showing a slew of games there. All the company has told me so far is that, yes, there will be a written agreement restricting when I can talk about that stuff too.

Come back to Multiplayer on Thursday for hands-on impressions of some of the games that Sony showed.

And in case you were wondering, the Reds beat the Padres 2-1 in 12 innings. But that's not the game I was there to discuss.