It’s 3 am EST. Why are my eyes open? Everything is fine at home, but I’m awake. Why? It’s quiet, I should be asleep for another 2 hours, but it’s just not happening. I am too excited to sleep. I am going to fly out to the Baltimore (MD) convention center for Firaxicon ’15. I am going to check out Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising Tide and XCOM 2 in person before they launch. I am really looking forward to XCOM 2, actually. I am going to buy some swag, but that’s not it either. I’m going to have dinner with Jon Shafer (Civilization V and Elemental: Fallen Enchantress), and that’s pretty damned cool. No, it’s AWESOME! But that’s not it either.
It’s DevildogFF. You know, the other eXplorminate Founder, Rob. I am going to meet him in person for the first time today. We actually had a chance to meet up last year right after we founded the website at the 1st Firaxicon, but I just couldn’t get away from work. Sometimes real life supersedes this fantastical adventure we embarked on more than a year ago. How will I know it’s him? Easy, he’ll be wearing an eXplorminate hat. That was my gift to him for our first anniversary, how romantic. Troy got one too, but that’s because he’s dreamy and funny. He also took on a larger role with eXplorminate to help Rob and me in the day to day running of the whole shebang.
Anyways, it’s almost 6 am now, and I’m more than an hour away from boarding my flight to Firaxicon. The drive to the airport was uneventful. I can already tell it’s going to be a very cool trip. I’m hoping we get a chance to talk to some PR people for 2K/Firaxis and try to repair our relationship. Is it even broken? We need them more than they need us, but we are growing. Our community is strong. We’re getting bigger, and we matter. Even if they don’t think so at the moment.
So, I just heard my boarding call. Finally. I’ll update this in a couple of hours…
Flying Southwest is like taking a cab in any metropolitan city in the US. You get on, grab a seat, and buckle yourself in with the hope that you won’t need to use your the self packed parachute (what, you don’t bring one along?) or the provided flotation device. Otherwise, it’s an uneventful affair. Hurricane Joaquin took a right somewhere south of North Carolina, and that’s a godsend. Firaxicon is going to start soon. All I need now is to get an actual cab. Is it always so busy out here? Onto to the registration line.
1.. 2.. 3.. Done. Rob is running a little late, but that’s okay, he was stuck in traffic. I’ll get a chance to check the place out in the meantime. Man, what a place it is. I see lots of Firaxis developers in grey shirts walking around and talking to their fans, a few people doing the cosplay thing. A couple of full size set pieces, and a NASA rep talking about The Hubble and Web telescopes. All in all, it’s really cool. I finally get to talk to Jessica in person (PR rep for 2K/Firaxis). We talk several more times throughout the day, and clear the air. All is good. She’s really nice and offers to walk Rob and I through the process of dealing with the large developers and publishers. I will certainly take her up on that offer. That’s the sort of thing we’ll need to get used to doing as we grow.
The XCOM 2 panel is about to start, and I am beside myself with excitement. It rocked! We got to see some new units, their abilities, and the new overwatch 2.0 system. A couple of spoiler reveals (which I’ll not mention here), and generally, it was fun watching the developers doing their thing on stage. I will write more about XCOM 2 in a short analysis followed by a Q&A that we had with one of the dev’s.
I bought a serious amount of swag because they actually had some good things there. I think they did miss out on 3 things however: XCOM 2 hats, hoodies and beanies. But I was told that they might have some of them in before the Christmas holiday sale. So what, you wonder? The plan is that we will be “hooking” up a few community members with this stuff. Next door they had a Civ museum and there was plenty to see. But I digress.
So, how is Civ:BERT? Well, to put it simply, it’s a massive improvement on Civ:BE. Does it entirely make up for Civ:BE though? That, I can’t answer just yet. Not because I don’t want to, but because I honestly don’t know. I haven’t played it enough to cast that judgement. It did address some of my largest concerns: Espionage, Diplomacy, new aliens, new factions, new units, new hybrid affinities, new resources, new quests, new biomes, aquatic cities and better settlement choices by the AI. Okay, I lied. That’s practically the whole game right there.
Does that mean the forward settling is done with? Can’t say for sure, but you can be certain that I will be keeping my eyes open for that. In my playtime, no faction settled anywhere near me. I did ask one of the dev’s if it would be possible to put in a toggle for city placement in the options. They said it was a interesting idea, but I have no clue what that meant.
Several panels later, I went to a few autograph sessions with some serious notables (Sid Meier, Bruce Shelley and the XCOM 2 dev team) and got plenty of playtime with Civ:BERT, I can honestly say that Firaxicon ‘15 was a very good outing. But that’s not the end of the night. Oh no, it was about to get better.
So, both Rob and I have been talking to Jon Shafer for months on end via Twitter, email, and other electronic means. He’s a really smart, funny, and “anything is open” to discussion kind of guy. He’s also local now. He had moved his operation from Michigan to Delaware recently to continue working on his newest game: At the Gates. So, we invited him to join us for dinner, and during those couple of hours, we picked his brain clean. We asked every question under the sun from Game and AI design, diplomacy, 4X, and strategy, to the weather, local/national politics, school reform, the Baltimore Orioles, and games like At the Gates, Thea: the Awakening, Civ:BERT, and XCOM 2. I even threw in Bejeweled just to mess with Rob. It worked like a charm. We tried to leave no stone unturned. Rob even inquired about his shirt! I kid you not. We had a blast.
Meeting Jon, getting autographs, and seeing previews for Civ:BERT was a very rewarding experience and all, but let me tell you this: Rob is a great guy! I think what made this trip special is that we finally got to meet face to face, and not over Skype or via steam/youtube/twitch or phone. Even though Rob and I founded eXplorminate in 2014, this was our first actual sit-down. It went off as planned. For a bunch of strangers, we seemed to know a lot about one another, and I don’t think it felt odd at all. Not to me at least. I did my thing, like I always do, and didn’t worry too much about it.
So, overall, I must say that as far as trips and conventions go, this was fantastic. I think that Rob and I need to travel more to represent eXplorminate. Maybe even get the other guys to join us. Actually, I think we will, time and life permitting of course. Till then, we will see you at eXplorminate!