E3 Day Two
John's Second Day at E3..
Thursday started out with a bang as we hopped into one of the two Half-Life 2 demos at Vivendi. I’ll leave Charles to talk about that one and move on to another stop but I will talk about the ATI Half-Life 2 demo that I was treated to today.
While waiting for the Vivendi Half-Life 2 demo, Charlie and I took up some Men of Valor and came away very impressed. By 2015, the people who did Medal of Honor, Men of Valor puts you in the boots of Dean Shepherd, an African-American soldier in Vietnam in the 60s. Missions will start with some History Channel like footage and letters to your family. The demo level we saw showed that this shooter on the Xbox is definitely a winner. Hiding in the foliage and seeing the Vietnamese enemies charging you was a definite adrenaline rush. If you shoot at them and barely miss their head, you’ll see them put their hands over their heads and run for cover. If you do get shot, you’ll start taking bleeding damage unless you heal your wounds by bandaging yourself. You’ll even see your squadmates do the same when they have taken gun fire. Searching enemy bodies is essential to survive as the various items they hold will by your primary source of ammo and health products. Cooperative play is what has Charlie and I excited as there are so many games at E3 that begs for this feature but only a few implement them. Men of Valor is one of them and I’m glad to say that you’ll be able to go on Xbox Live when it’s release and live out the Vietnam war with friends.
At the ABIT booth, they were showing the case for Fatal1ty’s system. Covered in a substance that makes it bulletproof (we’ll test this when we get a unit), the case has a server power supply that’s small and thin. The outer surface has a very bumpy and rough texture with the surface coated. The screws are locks so that you can protect your internal hardware from thieves at LAN parties. A large front fan blows air in the case while a large read fan that spins faster than the front one exhausts warm air out the back. They only had a mockup board inside so the final motherboard that ships with the case wasn’t there but our contact said that it will be a PCI Express capable board. I was also able to witness Charlie Sinhaseni’s humiliation at the hands of Fatal1ty as Charlie finished with a score of -1 while Fatal1ty had 8 kills.
I didn’t have an appointment with Mad Catz this year but I did stop by and check what they had. For the PlayStation 2, there’s a vertical four port adapter that’s pretty condensed and doesn’t take up much room. Attach two for eight player capability on a PlayStation 2. First there was the Lumicon. Now there’s the Zombie Pad that has an interesting skin that lights up. On the Xbox side, there’s also a Zombie Pad with the weird light up scheme. A potentially great seller is the HipCOM. Attaching to the hip and utilizing any existing headset, the unit allows for cordless Xbox Live microphone capability. It’s similar to the Saitek With Out Wires setup. Finally, Go Live! is Mad Catz’s all in one setup for Xbox Live people complete with a new style controller and Xbox Live functionality built into the unit. Mad Catz has always made great third party products and this year seems to be the same.
John's Day Two Continued...
Not to be outdone, I went to Nyko to check out their line of Air Flo products and came away with dry hands. Air Flo Wireless lets you have the Air Flo feature in a wireless product. I played around with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox while Charlie tested the 30-50 foot range of the GameCube Air Flo Wireless with much success. He must’ve walked a good 40 feet and was still able to play Soul Calibur II. The Mobile Game Carrier lets you put console and games into a durable carrier to dock into any vehicle. If you’re an Xbox Live user and don’t want to use a headset, Nyko has the SpeakerCom, which looks like a green speaker box with a small microphone extending from the right side. The rep told me it does a great job canceling out other noises in the room since the unit’s mic isn’t positioned near your mouth.
One of my favorite games this year was Champions of Norrath and I was happy to be able to witness Champions: Return to Arms. Two new races, one that will be announced next week, optimized engines, and more items highlight this action RPG. You will be able to import your character from the first game and be able to keep all your items and abilities in the new game along with gaining some new ones if you are high enough. Gaming hours is expected to be 40+ for 50+ level characters imported or 100+ if you are starting from scratch. The level cap has been increased to 80 also. If you want to jump into a quick game of Return to Arms with some friends, you can fire up what are called Medal Rounds. Medal Rounds are side quests that can be finished in a few moments and will be a source of unlockable content. The fewer potions you use, the better the content that’s unlocked. There are even online only levels available which should range about 10+ in number. Our demonstrator also told us that many optimizations to allow for more characters to be on screen have been implemented and fixing the dropped framerates in the original has been addressed. Fans of the original will be very happy with this one.
ATI was my last appointment of the day and while I can’t talk about my first hour I can talk about the last two. Beginning of hour two, I was treated to the second of two Half-Life 2 demos available. Even after a year, I was still impressed by what I saw. The anti-grav fun just rocks and seeing Gordon use it to launch saw blades at zombies was pretty wicked. The physics showed off really well when Gordon shot an enemy with a rocket from pretty far away and witnessing the somersault of death through the air of the unlucky soldier as he lands a hundred feet away. Manhunt players will appreciate the scene in Half-Life 2 where you take control of a crane with a magnet and use large metal storage crates to kill soldiers by dropping it on their heads. All the while, the game displayed the goreous graphics capable with the Source engine including impressive lighting, particle effects, and a cool watery and wavy reflection of objects in the distance at the right angles. Both the Vivendi and ATI presentation used Counterstrike port to the Source engine as the multiplayer demo. Doug Wood of Valve Software spoke at the end of the presentation saying he has played the game from start to finish so the summer release looks to be a viable possibility.
I was also treated to a presentation of the X800 series of cards and rather than go through the technical information, I’ll touch on a little QA and I had with the reps. On PCI Express, expect some announcements in a month or two about the cards and their availability. On lack of Pixel Shader 3.0, ATI feels that they have a quality product that still has plenty of headroom from using PS 2.0 that there wasn’t any need to really support 3.0 yet. With games like Half-Life 2 only using 35 pixel shader instructions and the fact that the card supports over a thousand, it will be a while before the card will be taxed when using pixel shaders. I did like the hardware encoding and decoding capability of the X800 and will be interested to see this in action to see how much CPU power it uses and the quality of both playback and capture. I will be testing an X800 Pro sometime next week as one is on the way from Sapphire.
Well, that’s it for today. Tomorrow I have a pretty much open day so I’ll be bringing news about many of the show floor’s products.
Is there a better way to start you day than by seeing a Half-Life 2 tech demo? OK, but if you eliminate the ones that involve waking up next to a super model or winning the lottery it’s still up there right? OK, it might be a bit of a stretch but our first meeting of the morning was to check out the first tech demo. While we waited for the Vivendi people to get a few things sorted out I took the opportunity to check out Tribes: Vengeance. The game is looking good and the port to the Unreal Tournament engine looks to be going well. I only got to spend a few minutes playing the game but it looks and the addition of a single player mode should help people new to the franchise learn the game.
Once we got seated in the Half-life 2 booth we got started with the new demo. The new game will start like the last one with Gordon Freeman going to work. This time the experience is not as friendly as it was in the first game. As you get off the train in City 17 you notice the fun signs of a repressive government (a message from an government authoritity figure telling you want a wonderful place it is, the bizarre ramblings of the locals and lots and lots of jackbooted police figures). Instead of heading right to work, Gordon is steered into an interrogation room and then the screen fades to protect the rest of the plot. The game is as stunning as it was last year and the gameplay includes some cool new weapons (there’s a fun disintegration gun that vaporizes enemies) and the list of things you can do with the grav gun is impressive. I think the grav gun is going to be a lot of fun to use since it really allows you to use (and abuse) the physics system in the game. Everything in the game can be a weapon for you to pick up and throw (barrels, the dune buggy, crates, etc). I think there will be people who just sit around and move stuff around with the gun to entertain themselves.
Gabe also let us know that the multi-player portion of Half-life will be the porting over of all of the original Half-Life mods to the source engine. We were treated to a video of DE-Aztec from the updated Counter-Strike Source game and it certainly is an improvement over the original. The new physics of the game will add some interesting new twists to the game (I’m guessing people will be able to push the explosive barrels around to create traps). The original Half-Life single player game will also be ported over to the Source engine so those of you looking for an excuse to go back through the original game will have one.
After the Half-Life booth we stopped down to watch Fatal1ty’s reign of terror continue as he completely man-handled senior editor Charlie Sinhaseni 7 to -1 (at least Charlie was able to kill someone). If you see what’s left of Charlie’s pride roaming around Kentia please let us know.After grabbing lunch I headed over to check out what the folks at StrategyFirst were working on. The first game I looked at was Alfa:Antiterror. This tactical turn based shooter allows you take control of Alfa team, Russia’s crack anti-terror team in historical missions from 1984-2001. Those of you who know a little about recent Russian history will know that these missions cover missions in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and incidents in the former Soviet republics. The game will allow you to control up to four, four man teams and team members can have one of five specifications (such as sniper). Once you get your mission briefing, you move on to the weapons load-outs. Since the Russian equipment isn’t always reliable your team can actually buy equipment on the black market to use missions. Once you have your team equipped and ready to rock you deploy your team to the mission zone. Some missions will have more than one insertion point so it will be up to you to determine the best way to deploy your troops. Once they are on the ground you will need to position and mark where you want your troops to move. Alfa has a very detailed command system and you can get your team to do about anything you need them to do. Once you’ve got your plans laid out you end your turn and the game calculates all of the actions in the turn. You have the choice of setting turn length (10, 20, or 30 seconds). This is critical decision as your team is essentially relying on your commands while the turn executes. Once the turn has been calculated you can go back and see what happened during the turn to see where you orders need to be adjusted based on enemy position. The game features a great line of site system and the graphics themselves are excellent. You can zoom in and see the individual faces of your team as well as the lush environments they are operating in. The game will also feature LAN and play by e-mail multiplayer support where you will be able to play with other military anti-terror teams (British SAS, US Delta force, etc. The game is expected to hit stores in October of this year.
Next on the docket was Chaos League a fantasy sports game. By fantasy sports I mean a sports game with fantasy creatures. The game allows you to take control of a mythical sports team as you try to take them to the championship. The game you are playing is a football/rugby hybrid. You start off with one of with one of the ten existing teams or you can assemble your own team of mercenary players. Later on in the game you’ll be able to acquire special free agents that have unique skill combinations that other units do not possess. What’s really cool about the game is the sharp sports satire in the game. Your players can take performance enhancing drugs before the game and if you suspect your opponent is doing the same you can pay the officials to run drug tests on the other team. The same officials can be bribed to help slant the game in your favor. The players have the typical strength and magical skills but there are also charisma skills that help players cheat without having a penalty called. If that’s not enough you can hire hooligans to help get the crowd in your favor, if the crowd is behind you your team will get additional abilities that can be used in the game. The game can be played in either a turn based mode or in a real-time strategy mode. The game really has a strong sense of humor and there’s a real satisfaction to striking down an opponent with a lightning bolt right as they are about to score. The final game I checked out at StrategyFirst was I of the Dragon, a Diablo-esq RPG where instead of playing one of the typical warrior/wizard classes you play the game as a dragon. You start the game as one of three dragons, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses and as you progress through the game you will gain additional abilities. Since this is a dragon game you know you are going to have a breath weapon (one fire one ranged missle attack) and a few magic spells up your sleeve. Your goal is to help the people of Nimoan clear the world of the evil that’s suddenly appeared in the area. Each level will require you to clean areas from evil, once that’s done a new village will be created and your dragon will get additional abilities as well as preventing new monsters from spawning in the area. The flying system in the game looks solid but what’s really fun is healing your dragon. In order to gain health points back you have to swoop down and pick up an enemy unit. Once you have the unit in your claws you fly to a safe area where you can safely devour the unit National Geographic style. The developers have done a nice job of creating nice squirming animations for the units and there is a nice satisfying chomping noise as your dragon feeds itself.
From StrategyFirst I headed over to Dreamcatcher to see what they were developing on the heels of Painkiller. The first game in the queue was Dungeon Lords a third person action RPG game with a heavy emphasis on the action. One Players really have a lot of control the weapons in the game and they’ll need it as they explore some huge outdoor areas (close to five square miles which will take gamers nearly forty minutes to walk across). The game also supports eight person co-op play over the internet and will feature a storyline from gaming author D.W. Bradley.
Next up was their new RTS game Besieger that allows you to pit Vikings and Cimmerians against one another. Gamers will have a chance to command 25 different units in the game as they work their way through 20+ hours of singe player goodness. Outside of the 20 single player missions the game will feature several different multi-player modes such as Siege where you will have to stave off enemies as they try to overrun your castle and Artifiact, where you have to prevent an opponent from sneaking in and stealing an item from your castle. Traditional deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes are also available in the game. The battles will take place across several giant maps with diverse environments and weather effects.
Cold War has you playing an American journalist in 1980’s Soviet Russia. You are implicated in a mysterious plot and it’s up to you to escape. The game is an action/stealth hybrid with a heavy focus on stealth. Your character is no Rambo so it’s up to you to use your wits instead of your fists to solve the mystery and escape before you end up in Siberia. The game is non-linear and there are multiple ways to solve a problem. In one example you have to get past a set of flickering security beams. You can either try to time the jump through the beams or you can use your X-ray camera to knock out the guard who’s watching the security room and then turn off the security beams once he’s down. The X-ray camera is really the killer feature of the game as it allows you to see through walls and activate items without direct contact (you can bombard a fire extinguisher and it will explode knocking out guards nearby). The developers have done a great job with the X-ray effect and looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun to play with.
The final game I looked at was Aura: The Fate of Ages a new adventure game from the Adventure Company side of the house. The game takes place in the typical adventure first person as you try to help the elders find a series of artifacts that when merged with the four power rings they already have will allow them achieve great power, and immortality. They send you on a quest to explore four different worlds to find the artifacts and return them to the elders. The game has a cool journal feature that tracks all of your clues for you (no more notes on scratch pieces of paper) and each world has a nice interesting look to it.
While I was in the West Hall I headed over to the Sony booth to check out the new PSP portable gaming/media device. The first thing you notice about the device is how amazingly good the screen is. Most of the PSP’s on display where hooked to LCD monitors and the picture quality of the smaller LCD just blew the bigger ones away. The device is also the perfect size and shape for gamers and anyone who’s familiar with the playstation controller will feel at home with this device in their hands. One of the things that’s not very apparent in the pictures of the device is that there are two shoulder mounted buttons on the top of the controller as well as a an analog stick below the d-pad. I’ll be getting in line to pick up one of these when then go on sale here in the US aroud March next year.
That’s it for my coverage for day 2. Tomorrow I’m meeting with Alienware to look over there new video technology, taking a turn with the Phantom people to see what the real deal is and then I’m headed over to see the N-Gage people about the QD. Check back tomorrow for info about those and this year’s round of hockey titles.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.