E3 … R.I.P.?

At least as far as we know it. The ESA has downsized the legendary E3. Here’s the press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, DC (July 31, 2006) To better address the needs of todays global computer and video game industry, the 2007 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3Expo) is evolving into a more intimate event focused on targeted, personalized meetings and activities, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced today.

The world of interactive entertainment has changed since E3Expo was created 12 years ago. At that time we were focused on establishing the industry and securing orders for the holiday season,? said Douglas Lowenstein, President of the ESA, the trade association representing U.S. computer and video game publishers and the owner of E3Expo. Over the years, it has become clear that we need a more intimate program, including higher quality, more personal dialogue with the worldwide media, developers, retailers and other key industry audiences.?

The new E3Expo will take shape over the next several months. As currently envisioned, it will still take place in Los Angeles, described by ESA as a great and supportive partner helping to build E3.? It will focus on press events and small meetings with media, retail, development, and other key sectors. While there will be opportunities for game demonstrations, E3Expo 2007 will not feature the large trade show environment of previous years.

E3Expo remains an important event for the industry and we want to keep that sense of excitement and interest, ensuring that the human and financial resources crucial to its success can be deployed productively to create an exciting new format to meet the needs of the industry. The new event ensures that there will be an effective and more efficient way for companies to get information to media, consumers, and others,? said Lowenstein.

Additionally, the evolution of the video game industry into a vibrant and expanding global market has led to the creation of major events in different regions, such as the Games Convention in Leipzig, the Tokyo Game Show, and company-specific events held by Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and others around the world. As a result, Lowenstein said, It is no longer necessary or efficient to have a single industry mega-show. By refocusing on a highly-targeted event, we think we can do a better job serving our members and the industry as a whole, and our members are energized about creating this new E3.?
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I’ll pontificate more about this later. I actually already did, but then accidentally erased it. I’m pretty awesome that way. See you tomorrow.

First look at ‘Eragon’

I didn’t manage to get into much more detail on All Games Interactive about Eragon, pretty much because I sounded like a rambling fool. Well, here’s another shot at it — this time in written form.

If you don’t know the story of “Eragon,” it’s a fantasy novel by Christopher Paolini. It’s a little of “Star Wars” mixed with “Lord of the Rings,” where a farmboy named Eragon finds a dragon egg, befrends the dragon inside (named Saphira), and eventually finds out that it’s his destiny to be a Dragon Rider, which is sort of like the fantasy equivalent of the Jedi Order — but with dragons instead of light sabers.

I got a look at the basic combat structure, where I got to swing a sword with Eragon while he was getting backup from a couple of other non-player characters. The combat system seeks to link combos in a way where one combo can open the door to another one — and if Stormfront manages to pull this off, it won’t be a simple matter of mashing buttons. One combat element I should point out is that there are some instances where Eragon can summon the dragon Saphira for some help. A little blue dragon-wing icon appeared over a bridge filled with flaming-arrow shooting enemies — one press of the button, and Saphira comes along and eradicates the bridge. Problem solved.

I also checked out the dragon flight combat, which reminded me a lot of Panzer Dragoon, where you control the dragon like you’d control a plane. This is essentially Saphira’s time to shine. She can breathe fire or use her tail to destroy ground targets. A second player can hop in and play Eragon, who can deflect attacks as well as fire off magic arrows that can blast away groups of enemies.

The scenery in the Xbox 360 version I saw looked very good, though it would probably take a fan to tell me how accurate it is to the Eragon world. I’ll post art once I get the chance — perhaps in the column Thursday?

Messing with Texas

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Every year of “NCAA Football,” I like to cruise through the historical rosters and see if I can point out the occasional inaccuracy or oddity. As I keep messing around with the game, I’m sure I’ll find more stuff and mention it in this post. This is what I do when I’m bored.

Texas’ historical teams got a little messed up. First off, where’s Vince Young? The game’s got Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Matt Leinart (not mentioned by name, of course) but the one guy who dominated the championship game and singlehandedly elevated his draft status is nowhere to be found.

Come to think of it, I can’t remember finding the 2005-06 Texas Longhorns TEAM. Anywhere. Didn’t they win the national championship? I’m more than willing to say I just missed them — but I looked twice. It’s like the Texas run and the Vince Young experience never happened. How odd — is this some kind of passive-aggressive form of denial?

Oh, and for some reason, Earl Campbell (HB #20 on the all-time Texas team) has dreadlocks.

Three convicted in ‘Xbox slayings’

A little late to the post party on this one, but in case you haven’t heard, three men were convicted of first-degree murder in the “Xbox Slayings” in Florida.

The three men killed six people in a vengeance attack after one of the victims evicted one of the men from her grandfather’s house and kept his stuff, which included an Xbox game system.

Check out the AP story on Yahoo! for the details.

You hear that? That’s the sound of people MILKING the Xbox detail for what its worth to attract attention to a vicious crime. If you read practically every headline in America about this case without reading the story, you’d think that six people were beaten to death over a game of ‘Madden’ or that the Xbox was used as a weapon. Nice. Way to be balanced. Of all the items in dispute, we pick the Xbox. Read the story and see how much the Xbox actually factors into this.

Also check out blogs like Kotaku for some of the reaction to this. One money comment on Kotaku essentially points out that during the ’90s, something like this could have been called the “Air Jordan” slayings — zoom in on something popular, and put it in the headline.

I hate it when this happens. It makes us look old and desperate for a story.

Table Tennis cometh on Live

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The competitive bliss that is Rockstar’s “Table Tennis” is now available on Xbox Live Marketplace, courtesy of a free 528MB download. But don’t start talking smack yet — the demo allows for one- and two-player games offline, but you can’t engage each other on Live. You also get a couple of playable pros and the setting is the Chinese National Table Tennis Auditorium.

If you’re an Xbox 360 owner, “Table Tennis” is a must-experience. As a sports title, it’s engaging enough, but it also serves as something of a preview of what Rockstar games could look like in the next generation. As GameSpot and others have pointed out, “Table Tennis” uses the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine, or RAGE (appropriate, no?), which is what “GTA IV” is going to use.

If you want a little more info, you can check out the review I wrote for LANG.

‘Portal’ trailer and EA pay-per-view

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Valve’s trailer for “Portal”/ via GameSpot. I think this game could make a lot of people throw up. I used to have a roommate that got sick watching me play “Tomb Raider.” If he saw me playing this, I would seriously have to worry about his life coming to an end. I’ll say this — it’s definitely innovative. Part of me wonders if this’ll be one of those instances where it’s SO innovative that no one can actually play it effectively. Such is the dark side of creativity.

Moving on, in the “what the … really?” department, I got a press release from EA announcing “Inside Madden NFL 07,” a one-hour show about every waking detail of the newest incarnation of the monstrous football franchise. There are interviews with Madden ballers, NFL players (including Marshall Faulk, which is interesting considering all the retirement talk) and designers.

It sounds like an interesting show — and to see it, you can buy it on http://www.espn.com for $19.95. It will be available Aug. 4.

Yep, that’s the fun part.

Really? I have to pay to see a SHOW about one game? I’m sorry — if I’m already going to be dropping $50-$60 for a product, why would anyone but the hopelessly hardcore want to pay $20 for a behind-the-scenes look. What information is possibly worth that much? Twenty bucks can buy me a few gallons of gas, a movie ticket, or a used copy of “God of War.” (Or as a friend of mine said, “it could also get you the 2K game that was BETTER”) That’s a total of $70-$80 bucks for the total “Madden” experience. I think I’ll pass.

Thoughts on ‘NCAA Football 06′

I’m actually writing the review today, but here’s my early take on EA’s college football titles after spending a chunk of the weekend with them. Just to be sure, I played both the PS2 and Xbox 360 versions.

Obviously, the 360 version looks outstanding, but that’s about all I can say about it. The framerate’s a little too slow for my liking, and I don’t know why the defensive linemen and linebackers are roughly the same size as the quarterback. I’ve always had that problem with the “NCAA” character models — it’s hard to hear Herbstreit talk about the “big hogmollies” up front when they look like they should be on the basketball team. I might sound picky, but next-gen titles should be held to next-gen standards, no? We should be past some of this stuff. I actually got a little annoyed whenever I scored a touchdown, as well. Every time you score, these two gigantic helmets clamber and crash onto the screen like malfunctioning bumper cars. I got to see them once in the middle of a kickoff return. Sweet.

I actually found more initial enjoyment out of the current-gen version. True, it looks practically the same as the other ones, but it moves with much more fluidity than the one of the 360. It also works in some nifty in-game camera tricks, as if to compensate for the fact that the graphics aren’t mind-blowing. For instance, on deep throws, the camera zooms in and the action slows down (think bullet-time) to add drama to the big catch — or drop. This also happens when someone ALMOST makes an interception or lays down a huge hit. I saw some of this in last year’s game, but it wasn’t as prevalent, and your players had to be “in the zone” to see some of it. It eventually gets just a bit irritating, especially of you have a drive loaded with big plays, big hits and near picks. Zoom-mania ensues.

Right now, I’m diving a little more into the “campus legend” mode. My tailback plays for Texas and he’s an English major (listed as one of the “hard” majors in the game, next to stuff like chemistry). I’ve developed a mini-routine where I have to budget time for study, extra practice, and partying. Here’s to hoping character issues don’t hurt me in the draft.

Back with more later. Or you can just read the review on Thursday. This week, I’m meeting with Konami and 2K, so I’ll be a commuting beast.

Software pirates in Canada

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and it’s counterpart in Canada, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) dished out props and praise for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Mounties!) for a July 13 raid on stores selling pirated software at the Pacific Mall in Markham, Ontario. They made one arrest, and seized thousands of pieces of software.

According to the ESA statement, Pacific Mall is no stranger to counterfeit goodies, as the Mounties had to lay down some smack on stores there in April of 2005.

A little Q&A for Prey

I had a little e-mail Q&A with Chris Rhinehart, the project lead from Human Head Studios, who worked on “Prey.” The review’s already HUGE, so I figured this would be a cool place to put what he said/wrote. Hopefully, you’ll get a little more insight into the game.

Q: What concessions, if any, had to be made to bring Prey to the 360?

A: Essentially none. All of the assets are identical in the 360 version as in the PC. The texture density is slightly reduced in the 360 due to the amount of memory needed for the game (but, not so much that people will really notice). The only other major differences are the menu and the loading screens are different on the 360.

Q: How did you go about crafting the character of Tommy? What kind of research did you guys do in implementing Cherokee legends?

A: The idea of a Native American reluctant hero originated with 3D Realms. Really, two types of research were done for the game: For story and for gameplay. From a story standpoint, we wanted the game to have a very
authentic feel and not feed into stereotypes, so a lot of research was done on Cherokee beliefs, mythology, and into the Cherokee language (as Tommy’s Grandfather speaks a bit of Cherokee throughout the game).
The research done for the gameplay side unearthed SpiritWalking (as we found evidence that Geronimo, who was an Apache, believed his spirit could leave his body for brief periods of time. He also believed that his spirit was impervious to bullets.

Q: What are some things you DIDN’T get to put into the game, due to time constraints or other factors?

A: A number of puzzles and environments were cut due to time constraints, mainly because we felt it was more important to have a polished game, than to pad the game out with mundane actions. You know, the old adage of quality over quantity. We also had a number of additional power-type abilities that Tommy could perform with his Cherokee Bow. If there’s ever a sequel, maybe we’ll resurrect those ideas.

Q: What was the thinking behind putting out a demo that’s much larger than standard one-level demos?

A: Well, 3D Realms mandated that the demo must start from the beginning of the game. We felt it important that the player experience SpiritWalking and DeathWalking. Since the player doesn’t obtain SpiritWalk until the
fourth level, we had to include a much larger demo. That, and we wanted to provide people with a longer demo experience so they could really get a feel for the game, similar to the shareware concept of giving away a third of the game.

Q: When it came to the portals and wall-walking concepts, how did you guys deal with trying to find a balance between an experience that messed with someone’s head and one that was just confusing?

A: We tried to introduce each element gradually: first give the player a relatively simple puzzle, and then ramp up the difficulty of the experience, and by combining the gameplay elements. For example, the first WallWalk is a simple walk up the walls. But the second one goes up the walls and onto the ceiling, so it’s just a bit more complicated. Then, after the player has learned how to WallWalk and then how to SpiritWalk, we combine the two where the player has to WallWalk onto an upside-down platform on the ceiling and then SpiritWalk (leaving the body up on the ceiling platform). The player then has to flip a switch to send the body across a chasm. Two relatively simple gameplay elements that are combined into a more complicated puzzle.

Q: What are some of the concepts you guys kept from the original idea about 10 years ago?

A: The two main concepts that carried across were the dark sci-fi theme of a Native American reluctant hero who is abducted by aliens, and the portals (and all of the associated puzzle and level craziness that seamless portals afford).

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On another side note, I also enjoyed the fact that actual Native American actors did the voicework for Tommy (Michael Greyeyes) and Jen (Crystle Lightning). You’ll also hear the voice of radio host Art Bell, who’s no stranger to talking about aliens.

Hey, that door looks like a …

If you haven’t guessed, I’ve been playing “Prey,” which is already becoming a mini-legend for its goo and gross-out alien factor. It’s one of the few games I’ve played that made my stomach think about churning. I’ve think there’s already been enough discussion about the the pulsating and orifice-resembling things you see on the Sphere (the ship’s name), so here’s some stuff I noticed that isn’t related to fluids or stuff that looks sticky.

- I dig the “ancient Indian legends” vs. “alien horror” dynamic throughout the story, which unfolded better than I thought it would. I actually thought “Prey” may have been a little overrated coming in (I am guilty as well), but I can’t pull away from it — and the storytelling is one of the reasons. I wonder what Tommy would have done on the ship in “Alien?” They wouldn’t have stopped him, even the face huggers. Conceptually, an alien could burst out of Tommy’s chest, he’d deathwalk his way back to life, and then wipe out all the aliens, including the little chump that killed him. He’d never be surprised either, thanks to the spirit bird. Only concern is the potential Jen vs. Ripley choice. Perhaps I’ve said too much. Moving on.

- I was overjoyed at finding the alien shotgun. Absolutely ecstatic. Ask Lawrence of AGI. I think every first-person shooter has to have some kind of shotgun-type weapon, be it man- or alien-made. Over the course of my gaming life, no weapon type has provided more moments of instant, satisfying whats-my-name vengeance against the irritating enemy hordes. None. I can’t be convinced otherwise.

- Oddly enough, I also like the title screen music. It’s perfect. I reminds of the “Halo” stuff, which gave off that solemn, intense, “war is hell” vibe. For “Prey,” I get this image of someone going, “Yeah Tommy! Go get ‘em!” That should help after I get wasted in multiplayer — it’ll pick me up.