L. Sahara McGirt
DreamHack Beyond: Going Beyond the Online Convention
By: L. Sahara McGirt (DarthSagaSwag)
To start with, I've been going to and keeping up with online versions of conventions for the last year. I doubt I need to remind anyone why; the Coronavirus has disrupted everything from working in the office to going to movie theatres to see that latest big release. Conventions for everything related to being a geek went into hibernation until it is safe to have in-person events again.
A few went a new direction, choosing to go online for their events, with virtual meet-and-greets, opening up their own event Discords with line simulators, and even a video game in the case of DreamHack Beyond to simulate that gaming convention feeling. Most of these events, while convenient, can never truly capture the full experience of being at a gaming convention, with all of the bright lights and noisy booths hyping up all the latest and upcoming greatest in video games. They're a pale imitation of what conventions are, a shadow of the real thing.
However, they do try, and some do succeed. In comparison to most of the online events I have been delving into this past year, DreamHack Beyond was the closest to reaching that con feel. Not to say the other conventions didn't give a good try and create something worthwhile. Most of them were good holdovers to distract us from the pandemic and get us hyped for upcoming games from the comfort and safety of our homes. I also hope that a few online events are here to stay. Not only because of the convenience but also because they allow people who might not otherwise be able to afford to go to a major gaming convention and all the other costs that go with it to get a chance at experiencing something similar.
DreamHack Beyond went an interesting route with their online gaming event by creating a video game. Touted as a "Free Hybrid Festival," the Beyond event included a combination of gaming tournaments, live-streamed panels, virtual cosplay competitions, a Discord, and an assortment of other virtual happenings, in an appeal to as wide an audience as possible. While I dipped into the discord, checked out the gaming tournament, and watched a few panels, the main draw for me was the DreamHack Beyond video game as it was the most novel introduction to the online convention stratosphere that I've seen so far.
The other thing that drew me to DreamHack Beyond was the fact that it was also browser-based. Browser-based games were the majority of what I played whenever I had access to a computer growing up, as I didn't own a PC at home. Runescape, one of my favorite browser-based games. I was interested in seeing how Beyond as an online event could be executed as a browser-based game.
The best I can narrow DreamHack Beyond's description down to is a point-and-click con-simulator with Adventure Time-esque drawn aesthetics. While people with ant heads and witches aren't running convention booths, the simulated maze of convention booths and event rooms felt very much like the real thing as I wandered my little giant cat-headed character around the game.
The game starts with a story involving a robot, the moon, and a giant heap of trash? I couldn't quite figure it out. After the opening story and dialogue, the game dropped me into a short point-and-click tutorial, led by a guide with the name of Cartridge Boy, in which I had to find my ticket to the event. Character creation took place within the tutorial, and the choices for how my character looked depended on how weird I wanted to get with it. After completing the tutorial and picking up my ticket, I entered the strange dream portal of whatever entity it was that dreamed up this event.
Upon entering the "con floor" of DreamHack Beyond, I noticed a few things. The overall clustered aesthetics of the games almost seemed to simulate the noise of an in-person gaming convention. Everything at a con feels likes noise just trying to grab your attention, and DreamHack Beyond is no different. The art style's cluttered lines almost made me think of browser-based games like Coke Music but without the music.
The 'booths' themselves were manned by an assortment of creatures. The aforementioned ant people and witches are only two examples of strange characters that can be found throughout Beyond. Other bug-headed and possibly magical beings stood by their booths just waiting for a click and to answer the predetermined questions that developers deemed most likely to be asked by players wandering the maze of the convention. The problem with the game existing as a point-and-click adventure is that someone like me with very little patience for information I can get instantly is that pointing and clicking can get tedious fast.
However, one of the benefits of interacting with the booth attendants is that some of them will give you game codes. Unfortunately, I forgot to redeem my codes before the game closed, and I have no idea how to access them. It would've been nice for DreamHack to include some way to do that post-event. There are also characters throughout the game that will give you quests. It was the quests that made DreamHack Beyond both interesting and also annoying at the same time. Many quests were fetch-quests, with the character being asked to find a certain number of objects for whatever reason. I stopped doing quests after a while and just wandered the convention. I shouldn't knock on it too much as there is only so much that can be done in a point-and-click adventure.
My main problem with DreamHack Beyond is that it could have used more hype. For an online event, Beyond didn't have a lot of noticeable social media presence. Whenever I would play, I also noticed that there didn't seem to be as many other avatars within the space. I don't know if this was due to differences in servers, and I just happened to be in an area that wasn't too involved, but for a convention, Beyond was kind of empty of the presence of others except in the live event areas. It was a little spooky. Perhaps getting some folks to build hype around their events would help DreamHack out a little?
There were times when DreamHack Beyond as a game almost seems to reduce conventions to what they are at their core: giant advertising events for video games. Most of the in-game pictures and videos were, simply put, advertisements. This might just be me missing the feeling of being at a noisy, almost sensory-overwhelming convention, however.
Overall, though, the potential of DreamHack Beyond cannot be stated well enough. As far as online events go, DreamHack tried something new with big potential for future events. As in-person events open back up, I hope that Beyond continues for the folks who cannot make it to a convention like PAX or for the people who want to attend an event with their fellow gamers from the convenience of their own home. The DreamHack Beyond play site states that Beyond will be returning, and I look forward to seeing it happen.