So I woke up an hour later then I needed to today, but still managed to make it to the expo on time to get a good place in line. All I can say is thank the maker for LA's totally freaking efficient subway system. I managed to get downtown in all of twenty minutes. Yeah, it exercises the model of efficiency. I also managed to unload a couple of business cards on the ride down. No the business cards have been my running gimmick this year. I had about two hundred printed up a few days before I left and I swore that I'd paper the convention with them. Since I totally spaced it yesterday, I was going all out today. I was focused on finishing the South Hall and passing out as many of these babies as I could.
After running by the media room for breakfast and a SNK press kit (score), I got into line for the South Hall. My first stop, Half-Life 2 again. They were showing two demos this year from the VU Games and ATI booths. I was deadest obtaining the holy grail of the E3 experience this year, being the coveted Half-Life 2 shirt. I spent the previous night pouring over at the floor plan and plotting the fastest course to the ATI booth as to not waste any more time in lines. I felt like a runner at the starting line. I figured the people lined up there today were going to the VU Games booth, the fools; they should have done it yesterday! The doors opened, and the mob of hundreds tried to squish through the two open doors into the hall. I quickly took my route, cutting through other companies booths to get a good spot in line. Not a chance, the line was already around the corner of the booth. Crap, if only I didn't have a complex about how funny I looked when I ran. Defeated, I got my not-so-great spot in line and proceeded to wait. Funny thing was that we were right across from the N-Gage booth which remained pretty vacant the entire time I waited. After an hour, we finally got inside the theater for the demo, which was more combat-oriented this time around. One disappointing thing about it was that they tacked on the daddy-long-legs battle in the end and showed the same preview of the new Counter Strike (something I forgot to mention about the previous demo), I essentially waiting an hour to see about five minutes of new footage. Darn. But hey, I got my shirt!
Now that my formalities were out of the way, it was time to see the games I personally wanted to see. I made it over to the Square-Enix booth to try to get into their theater show where they were going to go through their lineup and most importantly, show a new trailer of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Just my luck, they sold out while I was waiting in line for Half-Life. That'll be number one on my itinerary for tomorrow. Though all was not lost, as Final Fantasy XII was playable. I don't know about other people, but I like the new battle system they have going here. Random battles are seamlessly integrated into the world map, as monsters would just run up or jump out of bushes and go straight into battle. You're still playing three characters at a time, but you can select between them and move them around, whether behind a monster or away from battle to cast a spell. I don't have a clue as to why people are saying this ruins the game, but to each his own I suppose. I was surprised to see that a Samurai Legend Musashi was on display. Talk about games going under the radar (at least to me). As for visuals, the game has a great cel-shaded look to it and also manages to be pretty fun too. I'm also digging the redesign of Musashi. The demo was pretty small, however, since it only seemed to be two screens big. Well, anyways, kudos to Square for making another Musashi game. I only have one question though, where's Einhander? I was disappointed to see that Kingdom Hearts II wasn't playable and would only be shown as a demo. I was also impressed by Full Metal Alchemist which is an anime-inspired action RPG. Very fun and stylish. Front Mission 4 also seems very entertaining, though I've never had the patience for any of the other games in the series, maybe I should give this one a go. The Advent Children triler was great, as characters such as Vincent and Tifa were shown. They're also making a prequel to Final Fantasy VII for mobile phones called Final Fantasy VII: Before Chaos where you play as the Turks.
After my bittersweet defeat at the Square booth, I ventured over to Radica Games for a booth babe photo-op since chicks in school girl outfits are always esthetically pleasing. They were demonstrating some weird controllers similar to the Atari joysticks that you hook up to your TV and have ten games stored inside. They had one for racing, a snow board with a ghetto version of SSX on it, and one for Tetris where you could rotate the piece on the controller instead of hitting left and right (or was it up and down?). That's one great thing about E3; some of the gadgets are great to laughable. I made it a point to cover those in addition to the games. But anyways, back on track. The highlight of the booth was a hand held game called 20Q. Basically, it's an electronic version of twenty questions where you think of something and the game attempts to guess, all the while showing it's no good machine ego while talking smack to you. Cocky POS. Actually, it's supposed to be 95% accurate, so I guess it can back up its talk with “mad skillz”. They were giving them out to anyone who tried it out and took its torment. Thanks Radica, your cocky 20Q game will be the crown jewel of my E3 goodie bag.
Next stop was the SNK booth, who also stepped up their presence this year with a gritty, urban-styled booth. I have to say, I'll never get tired of the Metal Slug games. They have a charm all their own, though the games don't differ much from each other in each incarnation. Metal Slug 4 and 5 were both very entertaining, and it's great to see that Metal Slug Advance keeps the feel of the console games. One big disappointment was Samurai Shodown 5, which seems to be Shodown 4 with different backgrounds. I was expecting something totally new from the newly reformed SNK, but alas, my hopes were dashed. I think I was expecting too much on that one, but hell, I'll still buy it. That PSOne copy of Samurai Shodown I & II just doesn't do the series justice. Speaking of which, I retired from the game with an (not so) impressive 2-0 E3 record. Maybe Street Fighter is no longer my “raison detre”. Speaking of disappointments, I was really hoping that SNK would keep the 2D feel of the King of Fighters series while going to 3D. Unfortunately, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact seems to have the same issues that Street Fighter has when it went to 3D, it's now a sluggish poly pusher. The speed is gone and the fun is taking a vacation. Darn, I was hoping that I could like a 3D fighter outside of Soul Caliber, but I guess I can only wait and see at this point. Fiddlesticks.
I saw that Sammy was a couple of booths over, so I was going to head over there to appease my need for some fast and frantic 2D fighting action (four-player Guilty Gear, anyone?) but I was ambushed by a booth babe who commanded that my E3 experience wasn't an experience without taking a look at the Gizmondo. I replied with “the hell is a Gizmondo?” The answer is that it's another mobile system hoping to get a bite out of Sony's new found share of the mobile market. I came into the booth to register to win some low rider bikes, get a shirt, and see just what this Gizmondo is all about. It's a portable system that looks like the old GBA and features some of the wackiest symbols as buttons. It runs Windows CE, comes equipped with a digital camera, has some PDA features, and GPRS in addition to games. Sadly, none of these other features were on the prototypes, since they were admittedly rushed for the event, the screen resolution wasn't even correct on them. There were only a couple of games available and don't look any different than the games available on my cell phone. They did manage to tell me about a game called “Colors”. It's a gangland game where you have your own turf (ie your street), of someone come into your turf with a Gizmondo (like on a passing bus), your Gizmondo's GPRS will light up and ask if you want to fight them. You can also use the digital camera to put your game character into your likeness. Though I don't see street gangs putting away their guns and knives in favor of Gizmondos, but it seems like a pretty neat, if not ambitious idea. Too bad the game wasn't on display or else I might speak higher of this mobile oddity.
Bidding the Gizmondo adieu, I continued onto Sammy's booth. There was a line for their upcoming gothic western FPS, Darkwatch . It wasn't too long, so I decided to get in and see what this game was all about. It's definitely interesting, vampires and demons (or were they zombies?) in a western setting. The game also looks really good, dead enemies disintegrate into embers and get limbs blown off. That alone will sell me since dismemberment is fun. Right outside of the show was Guilty Gear Isuka , the four player version of Guilty Gear. As if that game isn't already on crack enough, let's throw in two more players! It's pretty cool having four characters on screen all zipping around at once, though the execution might leave a bit to be desired. You press R1 + O to switch from foreground to background and vice versa. You also have to hit R1 to face whoever you're going to be laying pain into. I frequently found myself facing the wrong way numerous times. Guilty Gear is a very fast game, and this switching around seems to break the flow. Maybe I'm trying to make myself feel better for losing to the QA guy every game. Yeah, that's it. It was then that the media guy in me came out and I asked about the impending Capcom vs. Sammy game. Unfortunately, the QA guy said he knew about as much as I did and that Capcom was going the majority of the work. Now I like Capcom, but I was hoping Sammy would take the reigns on this one and integrate Street Fighter into the GG world. Oh well, as long as there aren't recycled sprites, I'll be happy. I also managed to play a little bit of Spy Fiction . While the game oozes Metal Gear from every pore, it's actually executed pretty well. It features the same type of stealth action and the menus are MGS to a T (if MGS had a T), but the kicker is that you have stealth camouflage from the start, but it's only activated if you lean against a wall and don't stand still. Okay, that's cool. I also entered into Sammy's Iron Phoenix tournament, which proved to be entertaining despite my loss. While waiting in line, I met a guy from Ubisoft. We talked about Splinter Cell 3 and I managed to mark out about how cool Pandora Tomorrow was. He told me that the team in Montreal that made the original game is making the third one and insisted that I go check out the demo they have going to see the new engine. He also took a business card. One card closer to my goal!
Next up was the Nvidia booth that was showing off the Unreal 3 Engine demo among showcasing a bunch of already released games on their new video cards, which I must say, treats Far Cry like a crying baby. That means it runs well, btw. In addition to the games, there was another gizmo on display. It's called the Ergodex DX1, which is a gaming keyboard where you can map certain keys to your games and them place them anywhere on the keyboard tray. It's actually pretty cool once you try it out since there aren't any other keys getting in the way (I'm looking at you, Windows key!). Perhaps my description or the picture isn't too great, so you can check out the Ergodex here. After trying the Ergodex, I went to check out the Unreal 3 demo. This engine is the most impressive thing I've seen since the source engine last year. Though it was full of technical jargon, it game out one big Halloween bag of eye candy showing off the lighting effects and the environments that are possible while using the fewest polygons possible. Very impressive indeed. Bring on the next Unreal Tournament already.
Next up was the EA booth which had some great games like Burnout 3, the new Lord of the Rings RPG, The Urbz, and everyone's favorite virtual doll house, The Sims 2. I opted to try out Burnout 3 first. Racing games have definitely been the thing this year, but fortunately, all of them have been enjoyable, maybe due to the fact that I just really got into racing games in the last year, but still. Burnout 3 is beautiful and fun, even though it doesn't have the gimmicks that NFS: Underground and SRS racing have. Next up was The Urbz. I was a little confused as to what exactly the difference between the Sims and the Urbz were, turns out that the Urbz is going to be the console version of the Sims, but with a more urban setting. The demo I was shown was how you concentrate on keeping your job based on mini games you play, the one shown was making sushi. We then started walking around as the EA guy tried showing me how to flirt. The girl we were playing wasn't responding too well, so he opted to flirt with another girl and they started making out. It was then when I busted out yelling “That's what I've always wanted the freaking Sims to do! Thank God!”. I think I kinda took the guy off guard for a moment there, but I think he understood where I was coming from. At least I hope he did.
In this E3 full of mobile consoles, I was excited to see what the Phantom was all about. Turns out it's a games on demand service and the console itself is a receiver that will download a small footprint of a game from the service and enable you to play it right away without any installation screens or anything. The receiver comes with a keyboard / mouse on a tray that allows the keyboard to swivel to make playing more comfortable. It also comes with a console-style controller for more action oriented games. The interface is really simple, the main screen has games you're currently subscribed to and you can pick up more by clicking on the “shop” link. Neat, but I don't know about their pricing. You can buy a two year subscription and get the receiver for free, but games cost so much a month. There also weren't a lot of games on display, only Unreal Tournament 2004 and an Indy Car Racing game were shown. Both ran great and you can play against PC game players online. Okay, so that's cool. But still, monthly subscriptions?
Feeling that I've satisfied my duties in the South Hall, I started my trek over to the West Hall, home of Nintendo and Sony among others. On the way, a bunch of people from G4 were yelling that they were giving out ipods to anyone wearing a G4 shirt. Cool. I just had to find their production truck somewhere outside the convention center and snag one up. After looking for the truck for about twenty minutes, I finally got into the shirt line. They announced that they were all out, but more were on the way. Cool, I can stand a short wait. An hour later, I was still waiting. They were getting the line on camera and kept passing out fridge magnets for the Method Man / Red Man show for each take. Needless to say, my fridge will be covered in them when I get home. I came to the grim realization that this was E3. I drove seventeen hours to get here and it wasn't to wait in line for a G4 shirt. I was just about ready to walk away when the guy next to me said “oh, they finally arrived”. Indeed they had. I thanked him on being more observant than I and we struck up a conversation. He noticed that I was media and asked if I had a business card, which I wholeheartedly provided. He gave me his and it turned out that he was a Lead Designer at Ubisoft. Cool. Well, it also turned out that he was the lead at the Montreal office of Ubisoft, the guys that are making Splinter Cell 3. So this was the lead designer of Splinter Cell 3 waiting for a G4 shirt of all places. I felt like a thirteen year old girl who was meeting Britany Spears all of a sudden. We got our shirts, he told me that he'd check out the site and that was that. Kinda small, but way worth it. At least I got to shake his hand and told him to keep up the great work.
With all of the TV promotion fluff out of the way, it was time to check out the West Hall. My first stop was the Swedish Game pavilion, which I was scheduled to have cocktails with the day before, but spaced it in the E3 confusion. Like all of the developers in Kentia Hall last year, these guys were all small developers looking for publishers and were super nice. The PR rep got my attention and started taking me through introducing myself to everyone there. The first company I talked to was Pan Vision, makers of Backpacker 3. Backpacker 3 is a trivia game with about 9000 questions available. You start in a country, get a job, and try to get enough money to back pack to another part of the world. It's a neat little game with difficulty levels for kids and adults. Oh yeah, the visuals are very reminiscent of the GTA games. You can check out more here. Next was a company called QPad who make really cool mouse pads. These are mouse pads that any gamer would want, as they're oversized and comfy as far as mouse pads go. To top if off, they all have really neat designs on them. I know that I've always had a problem, at least when I'm really into a game, when I have to always battle my mouse going off of the pad. I don't have that problem here.
Another disappointment was the Tecmo booth this year. There was no playable DOA Ultimate or anything. Just a lot of mobile games and Gallop Racer. As a matter of fact, Gallop Racer was their main draw this year, as all of the booth babes were dressed as jockeys. Hmph.
Next stop was the Sony Booth. I tried out Sly Cooper 2, which looks as good as ever. The catch on this one is that you'll have your cohorts in tow and they'll even battle alongside you as opposed to staying on the sidelines. I managed to pick up a demo, so I'll have to post some more hands-on impressions of the game soon. I also managed to get a bit of Killzone action in. The game is really impressive for running on PS2 hardware. The visuals were really sharp and the gameplay didn't skip a beat. Killzone is definitely out to be Sony's Halo killer.
Noticing that I was short on time and the fact that Sony and Nintendo were just demonstrating games available in the South Hall, I opted to get down to Kentia Hall (which was one of my favorite parts of E3 last year).
For those who didn't get into last year's write-up, shame on you. But more importantly, Kentia Hall has been billed as E3's flea market of games, where you'll find booths full of old game software, gray market DDR pads and controllers, as well as small developers looking for publishers. This year as an added bonus, the History of Video Games exhibit took up the majority of the hall demonstrating every console known to man as well as classic arcade games. You'll also find most of E3's oddities here, from the obscure to the downright ridiculous. I'm so there.
This is Kentia Hall, ugly yellow carpet and all. The place has a smell all its own, but that could just be the grilled cheese sandwich stand that makes its permanent residence there.
The beauty of Kentia Hall and the source of its questionable smell.
The History of Video Games exhibit was a nostalgic wet dream. I got to see an Odyssey console for the first time (at least in person) as well as a favorite from my childhood, the Vectrex in addition to the old 3DO console, Master System, Virtual Boy, SNES, Genesis, Jaguar, Atari 2600 and 7800 among others. The Vectrex was playing Scrabble, which I owned when I was five years old. Ironically, I managed to get to the point that I always died at when I was playing it in 1985 and still couldn't get past it. Still a very nostalgic trip Arcade games on display consisted of Galaga, Major Havoc, Sinistar, Pac-Man, as well as old laser disc favorites like Space Ace and Dragon's Lair. I never played Dragon's Lair in the arcade before, so I opted to play it. Amazing, it was so cool when I was five, but now it just sucks, at least as far as gameplay goes. Same goes for Space Ace, which I saw at Chucky Cheese's once but never got to play due to lack of tokens. Maybe it was better that way. Coolest laser disc game to date is still Astron Belt darn it.
The Odyssey, Vectrex, and arcade gaming bliss.
I then set out to discover some of the oddities making an appearance this year. I didn't have to go far, as last year's favorite gizmo made its return. Of course I speak of the return of the Pyramat! The mat has gotten quite the upgrade in the last year, as the one on display last year is now their budget model. This one has more cushion to it and some extra boom for your head, plus it's got all of the neat little orange decor on it. This new model is still running for $150 on the internet by the way.
Is it Tony Hawk? No, but he sells his services on Ebay as an impersonator for children's birthday parties. He comes with an assortment of three different colored helmets.
Servos in mid-disco.
Next up was the Servo. Not really a game, but a gadget nonetheless. Get this, it's a robot that will walk, pick things up, throw, burp, and do disco dances as well as kung-fu moves. That's right, this robot knows kung-fu. It's also able to be hacked so you can give it more functionality which is pretty neat. They're available at any Best Buy store for $100.
This guy had a couple of margaritas before the ride. We're going to need a wet mop stat.
Next up was the Cycraft, a really big motion activated game machine for use in arcades. I've seen motion simulated games before, but this one moved more than normal and goes into angles I've never seen others do. It's got a 29” monitor, a force feedback steering wheel, four speaker surround sound, and can be linked with eight other machines. Wow. This one was playing Sega Club Kart and I've never had so much fun playing a kart game. It can all be yours for the low, low price of $36,000. Or you can pay about as much and try it out at your local Dave and Busters.
Next up was Cityhero Digital Entertainment, who make custom arcade controllers. I'm talking arcade joysticks and all. You can customize button placement, how many to put on, and images to personalize it. They had some really neat ones with Final Fantasy characters on display. For you MAME cab people, they can also put on trackballs and the like as well for your home getup.
Can you hear me now?
Also on display was the ultimate gaming chair. Think of it as a chair made by the makers of the Pyramat. You sit in a chair that has a couple of speakers right up near your ears and the controller is built into the chair. The neat thing about it is that the chair has rumble capabilities, so the entire thing vibrates when you crash or shoot. Unfortunately, the PS2 chair lost its force feedback when I tested it which kinda sucks. But oh well.
One thing that will make my wife squeal with glee, real DDR pads. They're $199 off of the internet, though they're made of metal, that doesn't include shipping.
This guy was a little too into character. Not pictured: Dr. Swank egging him on calling him a sissy.
Oooh look at that! Kentia Hall's answer to Radica's Atari joysticks and snow boards. Mocap boxing, tennis, and ping pong. This guys style almost rivals the purveyor of the Diet Game Machine last year. Next year the two should battle it in the ring for some sort of Hong Kong Gray Market World Championchip. That joke fell flat from the first word, but I hate to edit. This guy almost hot me a couple of times. Word on the street is that he really likes Jimi Hendrix.
These guys were too self-absorbed in their voyages of self improvement to tell me about this exercise machine / game controller. I really wondered what the hell it did. The guy was just sitting on it with those ultra swank workout gloves on. I was thinking that the bottom served as a treadmill, but it wasn't moving. A mystery that will never be solved and one that I will be sure to lose days of sleep over.
That's about all for the gadgets of Kentia Hall, the rest were the traditional software sales booths, mobile phone wallpaper providers, and guys wanting to talk about outsourcing game tester jobs (that's just great). The classic gaming exhibit took up much of the hall, which is cool, but I really missed the small game developers as they're some of the nicest people you'll ever meet and have some really neat ideas. I guess that'll be next year.
I managed to hear the loudspeaker this time, so it was time to hit the subway home. Tomorrow is the last day. Gotta make it count.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media