Brad’s E3 2001 Report
© 2001 Brad Wardell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Introduction and Plugging
This is the 4th E3 report I’ve done. At the end of this report are links to the past 3 E3 reports. I work for a company that makes games – Stardock (Stardock Entertainment being the part that makes games). I was there to meet with people from the press to talk about our three upcoming games:
LightWeight Ninja – a really cool new side-scroller with per-sprite alpha blending and Internet features (https://www.stardock.com/products/lwninja). Ships in June.
Stellar Frontier – a game that gets mentioned each year because it’s been developed at such a slow pace. It’s a freeware game that will be released in June as well. http://www.stardok.com/products/sf. It’s a massively multiplayer space action/strategy game. In June you’ll be able to download and play for free.
Galactic Civilizations – our flag ship game in development not scheduled to come out until late next year. It’s a space based strategy game. If you’ve been waiting for a strategy game that is really focusing on having a really good single player experience and an AI that’s going to have had years of development put into it, check it out. It’s www.galciv.com.
All these games and more are part of our overall gaming network called Drengin.net (www.drengin.net) though each game is also available on its own through traditional routes.
It’s tough meeting people at E3 if you don’t have an official booth. Our recently released business strategy game, The Corporate Machine, was being shown over in the Take 2 booth but since we haven’t signed on with anyone for the above mentioned games, we couldn’t just bring people over to that booth which meant meeting them at the press room. Unfortunately, there are 2 rooms that could be described as press rooms and multiple entrances. So the number of missed meetings was unfortunately quite high.
Just bear in mind, I’m not a journalist and I can barely write. I’m an engineer (software developer with a degree in EE) so this info comes from the eyes of just some guy walking the show floor. No special press passes and the parties I went to were only due to groveling shamelessly!
But we did get to see the show floor…
X-box vs. Nintendo – these two brand new consoles are going to ship the same week. This will be the hottest console war ever. The buzz was discussion on who was going to win that.
Too many tycoon games (says the guy who wrote Business Tycoon).
What the hell is the matter with Interplay? Closed booth so no way to see Never Winter nights or a bunch of their other games unless you were specifically in the press. The map showed that they had a booth but when you got there, there was no booth.
All the games are starting to look identical. You had various flavors of RTSes and various flavors of first person shooters for the most part. And the RPGS look a lot like the RTSs or first person shooters (FPS).
Boy was the place a lot emptier than in the past. Consolidation takes its toll. The Dot bomb really had an impact as well.
Too many games are virtually impossible to see because they’re invite only. If you went to E3 hoping to see a preview of Civilization 3, Masters of Orion 3, one of the new Lucas Arts games, any Bioware games, or a host of other “hot” games you’d be disappointed.
There are basically 3 halls at E3. The South Hall is where all the PC games are. The West hall is where the console games are and what’s left of the gaming media are. The Kentia hall is where all the up and comers are along with companies from other countries.
The West Hall
I don’t normally talk about the console games but this year the buzz was so strong that I couldn’t resist.
Nintendo: Game Cube
Nintendo has been very quiet about their Game Cube (their new console being released in November of 2001 in the USA). But they came out with a bang and it really looks great. It does have problem – there are no no “must have” games for it that would likely make someone upgrade if they’re happy with the Dreamcast or Playstation or even N64. There’s no Mario game like Mario64. That’s not to say there aren’t some killer games for it, there are. But they seem to be targeted at an older audience. The Star Wars game (Rogue Squadron) may be a killer game for it. The graphics and fun game play may be the game that sells the Game Cube. It’s too bad Star Wars itself is getting old enough that most kids these days don’t care about it like my generation did. Wave Race may be the coolest looking game I saw at the show. You jet-ski around and it’s so realistic (really) that you can almost smell it. These are the types of games that make you see what a console can do that a PC can’t do (yet).
Let me get this part out of the way – the Game Cube games look significantly better than the Xbox games. The Xbox games look like very good PC games. The Game Cube games really look like next generation games. When I played them, I thought to myself “I don’t think a PC could do this yet..” The full screen anti-aliasing really helped. The Xbox can do full screen anti-aliasing as well…but some rocket scientist at Microsoft chose not to show any of the X-box games using that feature so you saw pixilated X-box games and then saw smooth Gamec Cube games. Game Cube has a second advantage over the Xbox – it’s going to list for $199, that’s $100 less than an Xbox.
Nintendo also showed off the Gameboy advance. I have to admit, this thing is quite tempting to get. It’s just a bit bigger than the original (the screenshots of the unit make it look huge but it’s really small which is good). But the graphics are just outstanding. I still think MAME on a PocketPC is a killer app though. J
This was technically in the other hall but best to keep them together. Microsoft was showing off Halo, an Oddworld game and a foot racing game. Halo was revolutionary looking 2 years ago. It looked great least year and this year it looks okay but it looked like a PC game and there are plenty of PC games that look just as good. The buzz around the game (from people playing it) was that it was pretty neat but difficult to control and not particular fun (not that it was a bad game, it’s a good game but it has been so built up that it’s hard to meet those expectations). It also didn’t have anti-aliasing on as mentioned previously so that was a major disadvantage after having seen those Game Cube games.
The Oddworld game looked really cool to me as a hard core gamer. I’m not sure who Microsoft is hoping to sell the X-box to though. I am not the target audience for the X-box as I like my PC. The coolest game was the racing game (on foot). That one looked quite fun or at least would be quite fun if they had multiplayer built in over the net. It wouldn’t be particularly fun (in my view) single player but with a friend it would be quite interesting.
Sony: Playstation 2
I should mention that everyone has a Tony Hawk game now. The Tony Hawk skateboarding games now represent a significant portion of the overall game industry’s revenue. It’s shocking how many hundreds of millions that game is raking it. It may be the most popular game of all time on the console and at casual glance it looks like versions of it will be on all of the consoles but I could be wrong. So it may come down to which console runs that game the best. Right now I think that’s the PlayStation 2.
The Playstation 2 has a bit of a problem because the lack of full screen anti-aliasing will eventually make its games look much more pixilated than the Game cube games or the X-box games. But by November I bet it’ll be down to $199 (cheaper than the X-box) and have a massive advantage in titles. If the game industry can only fit 2 consoles, it’s going to be Playstation 2 and one of the other two. It’s definitely in the strongest shape right now and has Internet features in the pipeline. Apparently there will be a $40 Internet adapter than can handle phone line and broadband coming out soon and AOL will support it.
Sega: Your guess is as good as mine
Sega proudly announced that they’re a free agent now. Their cool little Dreamcast is going away (despite its graphics looking often times better than a playstation 2’s) and now they’re going to write for the competition. That should be interesting to see.
Sony’s going to do very well. Microsoft and Nintendo face some real challenges, they need games that will make the people who buy these consoles be willing to upgrade to them. I think X-box is in the toughest position. They seem to be in PC mode trying to lure PC players to buy it. Not going to happen, not going to play games on a television and it needs games that I blatantly can’t run on a PC which they haven’t shown yet. Whereas Nintendo already has those loyal Nintendo customers and Japan in their corner. But never underestimate the Microsoft marketing machine. The one wildcard which makes this prediction tougher is that the Playstation 2 is apparently very painful to develop for while the Game Cube and Xbox are apparently very easy.
The South Hall
This is why I came to E3. To see the hot PC games. It was a big bonus having one of our games shown this year.
I was a bit peeved at the banners for Civilization 3 only to find out that they weren’t showing at any machines at their booth so I have nothing but the usual press stuff on the game. However, some of the guys I know there in the media got to go to a demo of it. Reviews were mixed. Some said they liked the new diplomacy, others said it was just more of the same but now more complicated and others said it looked great. Much of the same was said regarding Masters of Orion 3 but with the addition of it sounding very ambitious (especially if they want to get it out early next year). The graphics are apparently outstanding with the diplomacy screen fully animated and the combat now real time with very outstanding production values. These are 2 of the games I am most excited about to come out in 2002.
Infogrames was also showing a Survivor game in early stages and even had Jerri and Colby there helping promote them.
Blizzard was showing off Warcraft 3 and demonstrating why they own the RTS genre. It’s in the details. Units walking through waters make splashes as they do so are just one example of the level of detail being put into it. They just really understand what people want and provide it. My biggest worry is the attention being put on tactical combat rather than overall strategy. A lot of work has been put into having individual units having a lot of options on them. I don’t like micro managing units, I like building the infrastructure. But I trust Blizzard, has anyone ever heard of a bad Blizzard game? Neither have I. They also had a Diablo II expansion which I didn’t really take a close look at. I liked Diablo II but Dungeon Seige (which I’ll talk more about) has stolen my action RPG heart. J
The biggest competitor to Warcraft 3 comes from Blizzard’s partner – Sierra who is making Empire Earth. Let’s face it though, we’re going to buy both! Empire Earth is looking fantastic but isn’t quite the game I thought it was. It’s not Civilization in real time. It’s Age of Empires done with a 3D engine and including all the various ages in one game. Research is very similar (get to the next age by collecting X wood, Y iron, Z food, etc.) to Age of Empires. But I suspect this will be considerably better. It has a lot more thought put into it than I’ve see in most RTSs in a long time. Imagine a game designed and developed by people who really liked Age of Empires but wanted to make it better and fix all the little gotchas. Then add the fact they have massive resources to do the game. It also helps that the developers there are amongst the nicest people I’ve talked to at the show. It’s apparent that they really love the game they’re making which is a good sign. This game, target this year is likely to be one of the best RTS games of all time. It’s looking very good. If you’re an Age of Empires player, this is the game to get. If you’re looking for a Civilization but real time, you’ll be disappointed.
“Penguin 4 is unhappy”
The first game I noticed was Zoo Tycoon. In that game you design and run a Zoo. Microsoft was really pushing it hard but I think they may have some trouble on that as I’m not sure how many people have ever wanted to run a zoo. If only the animals would eat people when they got out.
Dungeon Seige. Do you know why this game is so anticipated? Hype? Nope. It’s because it’s really that good. Designed by Chris Taylor, probably the best game designer in the industry, the game sets out to do to action RPGs what Total Annihilation did to RTSs. But this time around he has the Microsoft marketing machine. Make no mistake, if Total Annihilation had had the marketing and distribution clout of Microsoft and a development budget to match, TA would be the top RTS game of all time. There is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be one of the most games of its genre ever. It may even beat out Diablo. Why? Because it has all those little details that people love. A fully 3D engine that looks beautiful with the engine being used to enhance game play rather than purely for the sake of being 3D. I shoot an Orc with arrows and the arrow shafts stay in the orc. Weather effects of all kind, fully morphable world, and lots of other details. Another example of attention to details – potions, if I only need a few hitpoints, my character will drink only part of a potion and I can pour my potions into bigger bottles if I want. This is likely to be game of the year. It’s really that good. If Microsoft had made an X-box version of this game and made it the flag ship game, it would be a great competitor to Zelda.
I did miss out on quite a few games in the hall. There were so many and despite many empty booths at the end, the aisles were so skinny and the booths so poorly laid out that it made it very difficult to navigate the floor.
Ubisoft had some pretty neat games. Not the least being Myst III. I really like what Presto has done with it. The graphics are incredible of course but on top of that, a player can look around in every direction and the performance was great. It had a really good feel to it. I suspect people who liked the first one will really enjoy the new one. Ubisoft bought up a ton of game companies recently and as a result had a lot of other games to show off. I missed most of them though.
Activision was really pushing some Star Trek games (Bridget commander looks interest) and they had Return to Wolfenstein which has really cool graphics. I talked to one of the developers about it and we talked about one of the problems photorealistic graphics bring – people are expecting more realistic game play. In Wolf3D, it was a cartoon, I wasn’t surprised I could soak up a bunch of bullets because it wasn’t that realistic. But in Return to Wolfenstein, the game feels and looks so realistic that one begins to object being able to charge a Nazi guard with a knife while he is spraying you with his machine gun and you live. After Counterstrike, I’ve gotten used to trying to be careful about getting shot. The developer argued that the Nazi guard is just a bad shot at the early levels but how can one miss at point blank range with a machine gun? Besides I was getting hit, I just wasn’t taking much damage. Don’t get me wrong, this game likely to be the definitive first person shooter this year but it will be interesting to see how others react to such realistic graphics but unrealistic game play.
EA has been dominating things lately which makes me feel like I’m getting out of touch with gamers. Their various sports games and The Simms were on hand looking great if you’re into that type of game.
I stopped by the Eidos booth where they had quite a few neat looking games. Trade Empires looked the most interesting.
Besides showing The Corporate Machine (www.stardock.com/products/machine), Take 2 had some really slick games going such as Mafia which my friend Sander really is looking forward to.
I had a great time playing the new super hero game called (I think) Freedom force. Design your own super heroes, give them special powers and fight for truth, justice and the American way! Woohoo. The game really played well from what I saw. Can’t wait till it comes up.
Startopia sure looks cool. In Startopia, you run a space station. If you liked Dungeon Keeper you may like this as well. And it has gameplay that will probably appeal to quite a few Rollercoaster Tycoon players.
I promised a friend of mine to check out The Dark Age of Camalot. It’s a massively multiplayer RPG set in a fully 3D world. Made by Mythic, it looks quite promising. Though like me, they should be thankful destiny put them in the West rather than Korea as I saw some MMRPGs from Korea that looked even better but due to geography won’t likely ever be seen by people in the US and Europe.
I also saw an extremely cool World War II game (Code of Honor?). It’s a first person shooter in which you start out landing on the beaches of Normandy with heavy gun fire. It uses the Quake 3 engine and just looks incredible.
Guess which game was sight unseen? Duke Nukem Forever (again).
Empire of the Ants looks really cool, do a search on the net for it and it’ll come up.
Those magnificent bastards who run the concession stands. I saw a horrified attendee pay $10 for a tiny sandwich and a drink. The people from the airport were awing in admiration.
The dot-com bust this year has really put a damper on a lot of people. The media people I spoke to on it lamented a lot of pain due to advertisers disappearing, the webzines have been particularly hurt. Developers I talked to lamented the dry up of capital and that E3 was their last shot. I really felt bad for some of the independent developers who were at the show trying to find publishers for their games. There was quite a bit of talk about the destruction of Hasbro and how the vortex of doom it created has wiped out a lot of companies.
Overall though, I was pretty happy to walk out of there seeing some really cool games. Last year Black & White was really the big game I was excited to see. This year I can look forward to Dungeon Siege on the action RPG side, Empire Earth on the RTS side, Return to Wolfenstein and D-day game for first person shooting. And all those games look to actually come out this year. I should also quickly point out that Soldier of Fortune II looked pretty well and its engine supported grass and shrubs and such that really add a lot to realism. While few of the thousands of games at the show really stood out, there were enough diamonds in there to make one excited.
A gripe I alluded to before was that games are starting to look all the same. The current 3D state of the art allows for certain general “looks”. It’s hard to describe but everyone knows those “looks”. So when you end up with everyone going to 3D you end up with basically just a choice in perspectives. Empire Earth really brought it home since you can totally change the angle to the point where you can basically see the world through the eyes of a particular unit. So it gets difficult to differentiate visually all the games from one another. And many of the games just seem to use 3D for the sake of being 3D. Few people are using it as a tool to give something back to gamers (for instance, Dungeon Siege was one of the few that seemed to understand why they were using 3D for their game). I’m one of those proponents of using the technology that best lets you deliver on your goal. 2D sprite based games can provide greater visual control for the developer often times. 3D allows greater flexibility in the visual control for the user. So in a general sense, the question comes down to what types of games need to be 3D?
Part II: A look at Kentia Hall..
Life isn’t fair and it is pretty obvious that life isn’t fair by going to Kentia hall. You won’t see a lot of people from the media there. And you probably will see virtually none of the games I talk about here mentioned in the game magazines. They should get coverage but they won’t.
Luckily, I’m not a journalist or anything so I’m not smart enough to make the distinction between what games matter and what games don’t. J I just know what looks cool to me as a gamer.
So here are some notes I collected from Kentia Hall:
Note to developers – sacrifice coolness in exchange for lightness when making kits at trade shows. People don’t want to lug back too much stuff. A one page dual sided flyer that gives the basics, some screenshots and release/contact info is key. Many kits didn’t include release dates, pricing info, or even company websites! Don’t lose track of the bigger picture – when you’re an indie, your best hope is to try to get some coverage and the best way to do that is be short and to the point by making your information concise, short and easy to take. That’s why an effectively done 1 page flyer is the way to go if you have a booth in Kenthia.
Company: Joyimpact (www.joyimpact.com).
From Seoul Korea
Game has a very strong back story. It’s a 3rd person massively multiplayer role playing game. The game has stunning graphics, better than most games from “the big guys”. The 3D graphics are just stunning, the ship battle I saw had water effects beyond anything I’ve seen in other games so far – even consoles which focus on that sort of thing. The game takes place on the open seas. The game really focuses on trying to have an epic story and lots of events to keep things new and fresh. Their stated goal is that the game should feel like you’re part of a living novel.
One of the most expensive media kits I’ve ever seen. A hard cover book was given to anyone who wanted one (even me!). The problem with it besides it costing a bunch is how heavy it is.
Funny note on how different cultures approach marketing differently. The kit talks about the company itself:
“Joyimpact is a corporation that gives you joy. We promise to give our customers vitality through the products and to our employees satisfaction and deeply felt emotion through achievement of our goals.”
Company: eSoftNet (www.esofnet.com)
From Seoul Korea
This company had games that just blew me away. If fate had simply been slightly different and they were physically located in the United States rather than Korea these guys would have had a booth like Blizzard’s or Infogrames. Their games are right up there in quality. The first game I saw was Dragon Raja Online, another online RPG game that’s already out. Imagine Ultima On-line with better graphics. It could be argued that it’s a Ultima Online clone with better graphics but still very impressive. It backs up your characters on their servers every 15 minutes and each server can handle 3000 players at the same time without a problem. It differentiates itself by having a party system (i.e. you can join an adventure group)
Another game they had there was Mist of Darkness (www.dssog.com). This is another massively multiplayer game but with a full 3D engin ethat looks like Ultima IX’s look but with better graphics.
They also had Blood Aria, a Diablo II style game. The graphics were noticeably better than Diablo II's. The game is set to be released this month.
The game that initially caught my eye and got me into their booth was Elixir. Developed by g2g Entertainment, the website for the company is www.gtwog.com and www.elixir.co.kr. The game struck me as a cross between Dungeon Seige and Diablo II. It was this game that made me realize that there are some just incredible games being made that we just don’t normally hear about. This game would have been on the cover of various game publications had it been made here. I hope they’re able to find someone to distribute their game in the US because it’s simply outstanding.
Like many vendors here though from overseas, they spent too much on their media guides. They’re far far too heavy and must have cost a fortune to manufacture and ship here. The company in this case is actually quite huge with nearly 200 employees (that makes it quite a large game company).
Company: DragonFly GF
From Seoul Korea
Dragonfly was showing off a new game called Karma Immortality. They have PC, Playstation 2, and X-box versions of the game in development with release this year. It describes itself as a 3D military action RPG with really nice grahics. The kit doesn’t go into as much detail (heavy on pictures, light in information) but it looks pretty cool.
Company: Soft-World International Corp
Game: The Seventh Seal
http://www.soft-world.com or www.arcande-dragons.com.
This game caught my attention for the wrong reasons. It had voice acting done by someone who clearly didn’t speak English as a first language. But the graphics were so goo dthat I couldn’t help but notice it. The game looks like it’s a fighting game with RPG elements.
Company: Gravity (www.gravity.co.kr)
From Seoul Korea
Game: Ragnarok Online
First off, when I collected the kits for this report I just went around the huge hall looking for cool stuff. Now going through them and seeing where they’re frame, I think we can all agree that Koreans are a race of genetically enhanced super developers destined to conquer the world. As a non-member of the media, I for one would like to welcome our future overlords and help them round up potential trouble makers to put to work into their mines. (whispering – Mark Asher and Tom Chick both would make excellent drones!).
The other thing that becomes apparent is how South Korea plans to conquer the world – massive multiplayer role playing games because this game is also one.
Luckily for them, they’re not in the USA as their game GUI is based on the Aqua look which as someone who has talked to Apple’s lawyers on a regular basis (I’m the Product Manager of Stardock’s WindowBlinds) they would probably object to the UI in the game. But the game has a rich and unique look to it (the game itself, not the dialog GUI).
The game has an Ultima Online kind of feel but with graphics that are Anime style. But it goes much further. Someone over there must have read the classic book, Snowcrash because your avatar in the game can perform a lot of real world tasks (trading files, advanced chatting, and groupware features). Hiro Protagonist would be proud. The world is also far more than the standard “kill creatures, take stuff, cash in, upgrade weapon, kill bigger creature.” There are tons of games within the game. You can go on and play various types of card games, for instance, simply by walking to the right building. While the perspective is similar to Ultima On-line, the actual world is 3D with 2D characters which makes the people look a lot better (i.e. they don’t look like polygons).
The website for it is http://www.ragnarokonline.com.
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© 2001 Brad Wardell (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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