I’m embarrassed to admit that this was indeed my first rAge ever.  Zombiegamer has always been represented at the expo by Johannesburg’s favourite zombie r0gue, but this was my first time and it appeared that I chose a good one to make my debut.  This is a short – and colourful – summary of the weekend that was rAge 2012.

DAY 0 (Thursday 4 October)

It’s just too early for a zombie.  While humans are keen to claim they “feel like a zombie”, at this time of the morning it’s fair to say I “feel like a human”.  So I did.  Tasty he was too.  Fed, packed and changed into my human disguise, it was off to the airport and the private jet (Undead Ed Force 1) I had booked for my flight to Johannesburg.  Much to my disappointment, I discovered there had been a “misunderstanding” and I would have to endure a flight on a “commercial” airline.  My frustration at this misunderstanding and my threat to “eat you, you gormless twit”, was not a good idea, as I found myself quarantined on the flight and tied down by seatbelt extensions.  The search for these torture devices meant a half hour delay, but no-one was about to accuse me of that, as I had the look of a homicidal zombie in my eyes.

Arriving at Lanseria in heat that almost finished off my body’s rotting process, and finding my pre-booked chariot was nowhere to be seen, I was tempted to start the zombie apocalypse there and then and wipe the planet of this incompetent species that was making my trip more complicated than it needed to be.  Recomposing myself – and enjoying the ice-cream I had stolen from a now crying toddler – I found another (apparently more reliable) mode of transport and navigated my way to the Coca-Cola Dome to enjoy the sight of slightly panic stricken exhibitors still waiting for their stands to be finished.  I might not have actually helped matters by sitting near the door, drinking a coke and engaging as many passersby in conversation as possible while they blocked the service entrance and the mounting number of Samsung TVs being brought into the venue.  Maybe it’s time to go and help with some heavy lifting… it looks like it’s going to be a late night to get everything ready for the first day.

DAY 1 (Friday 5 October)

Let the mayhem begin!  Oh.  Wait.  There are still some stands not ready.  Xbox SA – nice ball, but shouldn’t it be hanging from the rafters?  And my Ferrari looks good I see, but surely it should be at the stand?  You have ten minutes you know?    As the final items managed to slip into place seconds before the doors opened (and thereby hiding the hard work that goes on behind the scenes from public eyes), the stand’s exhibitors, promoters and other general assistants prepared themselves for the flood of gamers seeking… free stuff.  The first words I hear on the show floor from an attendee are along the lines of “what are you giving away?”  In response to the exhibitor’s “nothing” the response from the freeloader was an embarrassment to me as a gamer.  This was not a good start.

Meeting up with my compatriot – and fellow zombie in a human disguise – r0gue, we started to feel a little alienated and outnumbered by the humans in attendance.  Much to our delight, we stumbled across some fellow infected over at the Kalahari.com stand.  However, we became suspicious of the supposed undead when we asked if they prefer their brains with Branston’s Pickles or  HP Sauce and were met with horrified looks and a frightened shuffle away from our general vicinity.

Shuffling over to the Nintendo stand we were impressed to see the quality of games on offer for the upcoming WiiU, but more than a little horrified by the popularity of ZombiU and its approval of wanton zombie killing.  Later over the rAge weekend, we would get the opportunity to confront the game’s Associate Producer and Lead Game Designer about this genocide and the interview will be forthcoming as soon as we can stop crying over their delight at why their game will prepare you for the zombie apocalypse.

We then made our (now more hurried) way to the Ster-Kinekor stand, where we were due to interview the Ster-Kinekor Entertainment CEO Mario dos Santos.   While the firm is pretty excited about Book of Spells, they had some great games on display to try out.  Both DmC and God of War Ascension are looking the business considering the early code, while Lost Planet 3 did very little to get my juices flowing for what is looking more like a Dead Space clone than a game of its own.  Maybe that will change when more time is spent playing the game than dying at the hands of an alien that was about the size of a rat.  On the other hand, r0gue really fell in love with Devil May Cry and I’m sure if I wasn’t there to assist the promoters he would’ve still been playing the game and growling at anyone who tried to take the controller from him.  I had to promise him someonething to eat to distract him.

Suitably full and bursting at the seams, it was the turn of Xbox SA to endure our slightly rank odour as we tried out the latest entry in the Halo series and came away giddy with excitement.  Halo 4’s multiplayer was stonking.  So much so, that not a day went by over the rAge weekend that yours truly was not playing a round or two or more.  Also available for a spin was Forza Horizon, which didn’t have quite the impact of Master Chief (both in the flesh and virtually) but looks to bring some arcade racing to the Forza franchise.

Running out of time to get everything (and everyone) in, we killed the last few minutes enjoying the free goodies in the press room and the sweet, crystal clear sounds of the Turtle Beach headsets on display at the Apex Interactive stand.  The good people at Apex were also kind enough to splurge on an after rAge party – and were even kind enough to invite us too.  Some familiar faces peered over the pizza and drinks and some new faces made some interesting advances on the two hapless zombies in attendance.  We were both horrified and flattered at the same time – is that wrong?

DAY 2 (Saturday 6 October)

Being a zombie alone for the second day of rAge and feeling a little overwhelmed considering the amount still to cover, there was only one thing for it… Coffee.  It was clear that like the Johannesburg weather, the day at rAge was going to be a hot one.  And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Within hours of opening the doors, the Coca-Cola Dome was a mass of bodies which reached breaking point just after midday.  The organisers were forced to shut the doors when the floor was filled to capacity with 9000 people.  While this clearly left many disgruntled people outside, it was only the second time in the venue’s history that this step had to be taken and marked the second record breaking day for the event itself (Friday by all accounts broke attendance records too).

Taking refuge in the press room seemed the only logical conclusion, as there was no way in hell that one could get near the games on the showroom floor.  With no interviews lined up, it looked like this old zombie was going to be left twiddling thumbs.  Or other people’s most likely.  However, thanks to the good folk of ITF Gaming, I became a tag team partner to Brady as we interviewed Robert Purdy from Ubisoft Montreal and the Cinematic’s Director for Far Cry 3.  Our chat will be following soon, but suffice to say, his enthusiasm for the game – and gaming in general – was fantastic.

Reinvigorated and armed with pepper spray, I went back down to the showroom floor to sample some more of the wares on offer.

EA had the ubiquitous FIFA 13 available for the one person who didn’t buy it on release (me).  Also up and running was Medal of Honor Warfighter.  The game looked spectacular – and probably played that way too – but the mouse and keyboard scared me more than a zombie hunter in a tank.  Racing to the familiarity of some controllers, I discovered Need for Speed Most Wanted.  The game looks spectacular, but I just didn’t “get it”.  Worryingly, it looks like this year’s late entries into the racing scene are more focused on arcade open-world racing than in previous years.  That might – like the also ubiquitous Sims 3 – appeal to some, I just think those with an Xbox 360 specifically will go with Forza Horizon over the latest Need for Speed.

Pushing my way through the throng of gamers, spectacular cosplayers and freebie hunters – all soaking in the fantastic vibe in the venue – I accidentally found myself at the Xbox stand again.  Oh well, more Halo 4 won’t harm the day at all surely.  Over on the main stage the screams of delight were clear, as goodies were once again being tossed to the masses to wrestle for.  Had I been keen to ruin the already knife-edged relationship between zombies and humans, I may have jumped in and enjoyed all the flailing limbs on offer, but it was probably safer to simply call it a day and see what was going on in the basement of the building.

Hidden away from all on the floor above them was the DoGaming League, which was by now in full swing with tournaments running over a multitude of titles.  Personally, I found it a little frustrating to see the competitive part of gaming marginalised and hidden away from the public like it was something to be embarrassed of.  On the main floor of rAge and visible to all behind its chain link fence was the NAG LAN – which I honestly think should be renamed the NAG Leech – where it appeared as if the gamers were seen playing less games than most people’s mothers play in a month.  Below, in the underbelly of the Coca-Cola Dome were the passionate warriors who deserved more than a mere passing comment by almost the majority of media present over the weekend.

DAY 3 (Sunday 7 October)

By now it was pretty clear that zombies were not the only rank smell in the venue.  The NAG LAN had being going non-stop for around 48 hours and despite the slightly joking requirement of “bring deodorant”, we’re sure no-one had bothered to do so.  Next year, it might be a wise idea for the stand selling pillows (really) to sell deodorant too.  He’d probably be able to retire a wealthy man by the end of the weekend.

With still plenty to see and do on the final day, I was grateful that the Sunday proved to be the quietest of the three days in terms of visitors.  It was still apparently a record breaking day, which meant the weekend was a record breaker overall, meaning that based on the numbers alone, rAge 2012 was a massive success.

Meanwhile, the combatants in the basement were reaching the end of their journey in this year’s DGL.  The finals were underway with only fellow contestants, a few family members and some media watching the events unfold.  The intensity of the players and the fervour of their supporters was as good as at any rugby match anywhere in South Africa and it was once again apparent that this did not deserve to be played in such secrecy.  The winning teams were only acknowledged a little later on the main stage when the prizes were handed out.  One couldn’t help but wonder if the bemused looks on the spectators faces at that point was complete lack of comprehension of what had happened while they weren’t watching or that they were not on the receiving end of free stuff.

The main stage played host to more than just freebies and prize-giving over the weekend.  A number of speeches and demos of some upcoming games were shown off on the crystal clear HD video projector which had even AV fundi r0gue open mouthed in awe.  Watching pro – and not so pro – dancers on the main stage showing their skills off to Just Dance 4 was certainly one way to kill off a few entertaining minutes.  Pointing and laughing at the hapless attempts of some fellow media sorts trying to get the coffee out of the flasks was another.  The lock system had me confused for almost two days…

As the weekend began to wind down, the openings at the various stands made it infinitely easier to get some quality hands on time with some of the titles still coming out over the next few months.  Hitting the Megarom stand with a vengeance, it was clear that they have some top class games on their release schedule.  Hitman Absolution is looking spectacular and the number of options to complete a mission makes it a highly replayable game – but you will needed to exercise patience if you expect to succeed with your assignments.  In just a few short weeks time there is Assassin’s Creed 3 which looks as if the new setting and hero are only a small number of changes and updates coming to the franchise.  The animations and the scope of the game are more than a mere upgrade from the previous entries in the franchise.  Considering the Tomb Raider code is for a game only arriving in around six months, it is looking far more polished in its current state than some games do on their release.  Lara Croft looks set to rock your world.  Again.  The game which probably tied with Halo 4 for my game of rAge (not that we’re handing out awards) was Far Cry 3.  Take everything you loved about Far Cry 2, remove the annoying parts, give it more colour and add some new features that make it better and you’re in for a treat.  I made a note in my note book that probably sums it up best: “Far Cry 2 + Red Dead Redemption = J”

The final act of the weekend fittingly involved Halo 4.  I had been dragged into a match featuring “media” (featuring two members of eGamer and one from ITF Gaming) against Microsoft and Xbox SA representatives.  Having seen one or two of the MS and Xbox reps playing over the weekend, we fancied our odds a little.  When we saw Master Chief pick up the controller, we felt our hearts drop.  Surely, if anyone can play the game it’s the Spartan himself?  In a match that went to and fro until the event announcer announced that rAge 2012 was closed, there was little to choose between the two four man teams.  In the end however, the awesome (the really awesome) media team rounded off the game by the narrowest of margins.  For a few brief moments the elation must have been similar to the feeling the winners felt at the DGL.  But sadly, no-one saw us win either…

And then it was lights out.

The Day after the Weekend Before

I got in to have one final look at the Coca-Cola Dome as the various exhibitors began dismantling their stands and removing their precious cargo.  The skeletons of the stands were all that were left as I said my final farewells to rAge and all the people I’d met or seen again.  After taking way too long to get to my first one, I wished it wasn’t already over, but as I boarded my private jet home, I vowed I’d not leave the second visit for so long.  See you all next year around the same time?

For more pictures from rAge 2012, head over to our Facebook Album.