E3 Day 1
The first day of E3 2003 is over and while I had a light schedule, there were some great products shown to me. My first appointment, as with every E3, was with Saitek. It’s almost tradition that I head to Kentia Hall to see my Saitek contact on the first day. While they didn’t have many new products, they did show their new PC joystick line. Highlights of the visit include the ST90 Stick is a USB stick with three tripod legs for stability. You can turn a dial and flip the legs up for easy storage or transport. Usable by both left and right handed gamers, the ST90 Stick is a good value joystick for the PC crowd. Their high end sticks have a new design with the Cyborg evo. Using the Saitek Smart Technology, you can program the 20+ buttons on the stick. It’s also a true ambidextrous design, twist handle, 8-way POV, and glow lighting effects make this a very stylish and practical peripheral. While not overwhelming in products, Saitek has a few solid peripherals coming out.
Mad Catz had a nice booth in the South Hall area where I was shown their latest third party products in a nice closed room. As you know, Mad Catz purchased the Gameshark branding and offer a line of products for those who need an extra edge. Sharkbyte releases won’t be plentiful but will be released for top notch titles. The Sharkbyte line are official cheat codes that Mad Catz has worked in conjunction with the game developers on the specific title that its released for. As for the hardware side, Mad Catz is going to release a controller that should have NES fans very happy. The RetroCON is shaped exactly like the old NES pad for the Playstation 2. It features all the buttons, two analog sticks, vibration motors, rubberized grips, and illuminated buttons and D-pad. It’s definitely the smallest PS2 pad and should be available in the Summer for $24.99. If you have an HDTV and multiple console systems, Mad Catz is offering an HDTV Universal System Selector for a low price of $29.99. That’s pretty inexpensive for connecting up to four systems with component plugs. If you play in the dark and like the Mad Catz Xbox controller, then the LumiCON is for you. It’s pretty much exactly like the regular Mad Catz Xbox controller with LEDs so you can see the buttons and pad in the dark. It’ll retail for $24.99. The PS2 version will be $19.99. There was also a prototype of a new LCD screen that’s larger than the 5” one that they produce for the PS2 and it’s universal so it can work on the Xbox and Gamecube as well with a universal arm attachment. Mad Catz also has a strong line for the Gameboy SP and GameCube as well.
Activision showed us two great games in Call of Duty and Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Call of Duty is a WWII FPS with some great visuals. The demo made you feel like you were right in the middle of a war with plenty of action around and above you. What was impressive was that none of what we saw were scripted with soldiers taking cover, providing cover fire, taking out enemies, and advancing on the enemy. Anti-aircraft fire lit up the sky and took down a plane which crashed to the ground in impressive fashion. The AI work on Call of Duty showed great promise and the game has a tentative release date of Fall of 2003 so you won’t have that much longer to wait.
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines uses the new Source engine from Valve Software with impressive visuals. Everything has physical interactions from the lights hanging from the ceiling to steel beams laying around. Depending on the race you play, the gameplay options will be different and getting by certain obstacles will call upon different abilities of the different vampire races. Character models were outstanding. The expressive eyes on the models give them a very lifelike appearance. Various lights reflected off the eyeballs and the movements were incredibly lifelike. When talking to NPCs, color on the dialog will mean certain actions. For example, one of the dialog’s color scheme signifying romance had the vampire seduce his prey before draining the person of their blood. Watching the demo with the monster tossing dead bodies at you showed how well the physics system worked as the body connected with other objects and sending them flying on contact. Your stats will also determine how you can interact with objects. For example, the demo showed the character trying to pick up a steel beam. Having weak strength, he was only able to drag it around slightly. After upping the character strength, he easily picked up the beam and hurled it around the room. Bloodlines looks to have a lot going for it with a great engine and abundant RPG aspects.
Doom 3 was not show in playable form but there was a looping video showing the game. It’s still an impressive sight but I was disappointed that there were no hands on demonstrations. Maybe next year.
ATi’s main focus today was the Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB card that was recently announced. They were nice enough to show us some demos displaying the pure power of the card. There wasn’t any news on their next card and believe me, we tried a few times to get some information out of our ATi representative. But seeing a vast majority of the show floor using the Radeon 9800 Pro to demonstrate their game, ATi seems to be doing quite well for themselves.
Some quick takes on various other products as I roam the show floor:
- NCAA Football 2004 now has a weekly Sports Illustrated issue that has news updates and Heisman hopefuls. Depending on the season, various teams will showcase some of their blue chip players with a headline. Online play did get choppy a bit but that could be the beta code and the fact that we had the microphone on. It was pretty smooth 80% of the time.
- Halo for the PC looks great on a monitor with higher resolutions and some texture updates. There’s a good amount of options you can adjust for multiplay and new weapons should make fans waiting for the PC version very happy.
Tomorrow will be my last day and with a light schedule, I’ll be able to roam the floor a lot more to give some quick news on various titles. But as for what I have scheduled, you’ll be seeing news on Logitech, LucasArts, AMD, Nvidia, Konami, and a little game called Half Life 2.
Today was a busy day for me at E3, our first meeting was with the Xbox live crew to talk about their new Music Mixer product for Xbox. While the name isn’t exactly overwhelming, the specs of the product are impressive. Music Mixer will help Microsoft fulfill the promise of the Xbox being an entertainment hub. The new device will allow users to access content (video, pictures, music) stored on PC’s in the house. Along with creating a custom list of music you can create visualizations to go along with the music. Either simply 2D visualizations or you can create custom 3D backgrounds. For instance you can create a Warehouse Rave background and then determine the dress code of the people who are there as well as the gender mix.
The other cool functionality is that the Live web functionality, basically it’s the Xbox Live Friends list taken to the next level. Rather than just seeing that your friends are logged onto the Xbox Live service you can see if they are logged on anywhere in the world. The service is going to be based on Microsoft’s Passport system so if you have MSN, all you need to do is associate you GamerTag with a Passport ID and you’re all set.
The final (and possibly scariest) component is the karaoke system. You can use the songs that Microsoft provides (they’ll come with a set of songs and you’ll be able to purchase additional packs later on). You can also take MP3’s from your PC and Music Mixer will strip out the lead vocal traffic so you’re not limited to the songs provided by Microsoft. While you can’t enter your own lyrics from them you can fudge it by creating your own graphics to go with them.
Next up was Rockstar where I got to see the recently released version of Grand Theft Auto:Vice City, the game looks to bring all of the great stuff over from the PS2 version while adding a lot of graphical detail to the game. Next up was Midnight Run II for the Xbox which was amazing. The sense of speed was amazing and the game has really taken a step forward graphically and the great multiplayer seems to have translated over well. This game has definitely moved up on my must-play list for this year.
John’s already talked about Activision but I’ll just add a few bits. Vampire :Bloodlines looks and plays great. The game is amazingly deep and will offer a lot of different challenges for players. Elite Force II also looked solid and Call of Duty was simply amazing. Trinity looked a little rough around the edges but I think Grey Matter will take care of business before the game ships.
After Activision is was back over to Microsoft again to check out the PC lineup. HALO for the PC looks great and the Gearbox guys have really done a good job of moving it over to the PC while retaining all of the things that made the Xbox version great. We also got to look at Mythica and while I wasn’t really expecting much I was pretty blown away by what they are trying to accomplish. It’s a MMORPG except that it’s more team focused, where team play is the rule and not the exception. You meet up with your team in a private are and then teleport out to start your mission. The coolest concept for me was that in order to pull off some of the higher level attacks you need to combine powers with your other team members. Team members can also act in combination with other members; one example is that you can have spotters move forward and target enemies for team members in the back to hit with long range attacks.
Next on the docket was 989 sports, and they are hoping to making bigger strides with their products this year. The one hole in their lineup is that there will not be an NHL title in the lineup this year, they are taking the year off to re-tool the NHL franchise and will be back in action for the 2005 season (development is already underway).
For the rest of the 989 titles the main focus is online play. All of the games will revolve around the 989sports.com website. From the site you can check out your stats, see how you rank against others, and interact with other members via message boards.
All of the games look to get significant graphical updates and the products they showed looked amazing. The other cool new feature will be the addition of voice commands using a new headset. Not only can you talk trash to people over the online service but you can now actually control the game. For example, in NFL Gameday you can hike the ball by saying “hike” into the microphone as well as audibly calling audibles.. All in all the entire line of products looks improved and we’ll find out later this year how well all of the hard work pays off.
Next on the docket was I-Games. I-Games is only showing one game but it’s pretty impressive. The game is called Savage and it’s the first RTSS (Real Time Strategy Shooter). The basic component is standard RTS fare, you have two teams fighting it out while collecting resources to build buildings and research new technology. The twist is that each team has one commander who sees the game from the typical RTS top down look while the other players in the game are responsible for the combat portion of the game. The commander issues commands to the other players who can choose to either follow them or do their own thing as well. The commander is also responsible for building the buildings, researching the tech trees, and commanding the peons (each team is allocated a number of peons for collecting resources and basic base defense so players aren’t tied up doing menial work). The rest of the players select their load-out and then enter the world. Different weapons and classes are available depending on where on the tech tree the commander is. If the commander isn’t getting the job done then the other players can vote them out, and the commander always has the option of quitting to join the battle. The game ships in July and could be a nice sleeper hit.
I did wander around a little bit and check out a few other games, Armed and Dangerous looks to be a funny shooter and includes some cool weapons. One turns the world upside town tossing all of the enemies into the skies before turning back upright and then falling back to earth. The new Battlefield 1942 expansion pack looks pretty solid but the jury is out if the rest of the Battlefield community will accept the changes. The Doom III movie looked good but I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see more of the game. The new Lord of the Rings game, Return of the King looks to take off where “The Two Towers” left off and provide much good stuff to fans of the first game/movies. I have a lot more free time tomorrow so hopefully I’ll get to check out more stuff.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.