Sunday, May 14, 2006

E3 Wrap Show

No risk of E3 going unblogged by all comers, so do check those out if you're seeking in-depth coverage. If you're looking for drive-by impressions, here are some random thoughts from my lone day roaming the floor.

I'm not a big swag-hunter, so undoubtedly there was cool stuff that folks were giving out that I missed. But the cleverest bit of swag I did see (and snag) was Microsoft Casual Games' "Serious Gamer's Disguise Kit," which contains an eyepatch and stick-on mustache for the Halo player in your life afraid to be caught playing Hexic.

Webzen polluted the show floor with blinky W necklaces. No way to wear one of those and not look like a knob.

Btw, I used to work on military simulation games and one year went to I/ITSEC, the simulation industry's national conference. It's like E3 but with real guns. Seriously, it was out of control. There was not one but several full-size HMMWV simulators, cockpits on gimbals, two-story MOUT installations.

The blinky items were the showstealer swag there too. Even if you're a buff military guy, in your pixelly desert camos and high and tight, blinky swag still makes you look like a knob.

And there are no booth babes at I/ITSEC. Anyone staffing a booth there could kill you with a cashew.

But I digress.

Webzen also gave out inflatable boogie boards, which people inexplicably pounced on. They then had to lug the thing around the rest of the day. If there's one thing that makes you look more like a tool than a blinky necklace, it's a flaccid plastic promotional boogie board strapped to your back.

I didn't have time to wait in line for anything, so I didn't see most of the prestige stuff that was hidden behind closed doors (sorry, Shawna, that means I missed Turok). I saw Will Wright demo Spore live at GDC last year, and EA already has my money for that title. Ship it!

I was curious about the Wii (who isn't?) but the line was beyond the pale. I was annoyed that they didn't even have anything about it that you could see without waiting in line like a (say it with me) knob, but I'm sure it's all out on the internets now.

Sony, by contrast, had loads of demo stations of the PS3, whose graphics are incredible. Really, HD is just mindblowing.

The PS3 games themselves, not so much with the blowing of minds.

Yeah, they all featured astonishing graphics, but we've seen all those games before. This was me, walking through the rows of PS3s and their 4-deep queues:

"Huh, a racing game."

"Huh, a WWII shooter."

"Huh, a fighting game."

"Huh-- OOH! Is that Okami over there on the PS2 aisle?!"

Okami is one of the few games I'm definitely going to play when it comes out. The gameplay promises to be inventive and intuitive, and the watercolor, calligraphic art shows what you can do with an "old gen" console if you're willing to *gasp* innovate.

Kentia Hall smells like ham.

A centerpiece of the Disney booth was the Pirates of the Caribbean section, which displayed a bunch of costumes and props from the second movie. Nifty.

I got a demo of the new PotC Online game, which is an MMO set in the world of the second movie. It uses the Toontown Online engine. The engine was designed for lower-end machines (smart), which works for cartoony shapes and basic textures, but completely fails to deliver the gritty, spooky, piratey goodness of the PotC movies.

PotC Online's stripped-down MMO play might work for mass market audiences for whom WoW is still too much, but the game looks flat and cheery and not at all a place where Jack Sparrow gets slapped by whores. Still, I signed up for the beta -- Toontown Online did a lot of interesting things well, and I'm curious about what lessons get applied here.

E3 attracts more and more of a marquee crowd these days, but my day was pretty light on the celebrity spotting. Admittedly I wasn't looking very hard. Apparently Paris Hilton was there and mangled the name of her own game, which is an easy laugh, but I'm sure the game's name changed a bunch of times in development. Dolphin, Gamecube? Revolution, Wii, anyone?

I did see Stan Lee, albeit at a distance. The crowd for Adam West (Family Guy game) was insane.

Oh, and I saw Michael Rooker. Homeboy was pacing around the Turbine booth. Is Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer more of a D&D Online man, or is Lord of the Rings Online more his style?

LOTRO actually looks pretty tight. Aion, a new addition to NCSoft's stable, also looks interesting, beautifully realized if not breaking a whole lot of new ground play-wise.

I spent most of my time around the online games, and was surprised at all the MMOs still trying to make a go of it. Sony Online had their own booth apart from the mega Sony mothership, with staffers desperately trying to interest passersby in EverQuest and Planetside. Not too many takers. Gods and Heroes might get an audience with its mythology meets Gladiator theme.

Ok, so you're Vanguard. You're a fantasy MMO looking down the all-enveloping maw of World of Warcraft. You gotta innovate to get some market share. What do you do? *Dennis Hopper voice* What. Do. You. Do?

I literally asked this of the booth guy (not in the Dennis Hopper voice), and he said that they'll let you have a mount by level 10. And that diplomacy with NPCs is one key new development of the game.

Yes, in Vanguard you'll have missions where you argue with a dock foreman NPC to get him to fire the dockworker NPCs. When you're not killing rats or their equivalent.

And, unfortunately, what I could see of Vanguard's visuals were subpar and the game framerate was chunking along on the Sigil booth's demo computers. Worse, I was told that the demoer had turned off a bunch of settings.

Here's hoping they can tune things up for their launch. The world is not a friendly place right now for elves in tights games without blockbuster IP or clever gameplay evolution or a new biz model.

I swear, going to E3 is like prepping for a hike. Bring a backpack and a bottle of water. Wear comfy shoes and dress in layers. Bring energy bars if you don't want to wait in a line 20 people deep for $7 nachos. I needed a nap at the end of the day.

And I missed out on a free massage! Next year...

1 comment:

Fun Joel said...

Yep, the free massage was the only REALLY good schwag I got, but there was one more cool thing I did get from the Webzen area that was much less, er... knobby than the blinkies and inflatable rafts. I got a fake tatto, but not one of them cheesy rub-on ones. This was airbrushed on, and the remains are still there today! I got a cool image of Marilyn Monroe from Seven Year Itch (over the air grate).