E3 2006 Day Two

E3 2006 Day Two

Written by The GN Staff on 5/12/2006 for
More On: E3 Coverage

Over the years I’ve learned that E3 is all about decisions: which appointments to book, which games to check out first, and which after parties to go to.  When you book a lot of appointments an entire suite of new decisions arise.  Do I have time to hit the bathroom before the next appointment, can I down two hot dogs and 32 oz of soda in five minutes, and my new favorite, do I check out the Supreme Commander video or do I eat for the first time all day.  If you recall that I’m a die hard Total Annihilation fan you know how I answered that question.

You are also faced with the panicked realization that the show is almost over and you have less than 14 hours in to check out all of the games on your must see list and that’s where the food or games decision becomes critical.  As someone who has “a few extra pounds” on them you realize this is an excellent opportunity to lose weight and play cool games at the same time.  Today was my busiest day so rather than regale you with tales of my eating patterns it’s probably better to just talk games.

First up on the docket for today was Bethesda Softworks booth where they were showing off their two new Star Trek games, Star Trek: Legacy and Star Trek: Tactics.  After blowing me away with Elder Scrolls Oblivion next year I was interested to see if they could repeat the experience.  I had little to fear as Star Trek: Legacy looks to be the Star Trek game that fans are craving.  The single player portion of the game spans the entire canon of the Star Trek universe as you’ll captain everything from the Archer era all the way through the end of the Next Generation series (including the movies).  Bethesda has even got permission from Paramount to add in a few new ships to fill in some gaps.  The single player portion of the game was written by one of the show’s writers (who’s name will be revealed in the upcoming weeks) and they’ve gotten a large number of the cast members to lend their voices to the game (the specifics will be announced at a later date but it’s a safe bet that Patrick Stewart’s commanding voice will make it’s way to the final disc.

What really got my attention was the planned multiplayer for the game which will allow you and seven of your friends to engage in some serious fleet combat.  You can pick and choose which starships you want to use and you won’t be limited to one particular generation so if you want to want to see how that Kirk vs. Picard battle would play out here’s your chance (well kind of since you’ll really just be matching up the ships).

Sean is going to cover Star Trek:Tactics later on but this game also looks like a lot of fun and might be the game that finally gets me to purchase a DS.  The PSP version is a bit prettier than the DS version but the DS version has a very cool virtual Star Trek bridge interface that allows a little more fine detail work than the PSP version.

Next up was Logitech where I got a chance to check out a racing wheel that will probably end up in Dave’s house after its release in October.  The G25 Racing Wheel features 900 degrees of movement and a slick six speed shifter.  These features do require software support though but if you have an older game that doesn’t support these features you can throw a switch on the wheel and you’ll get straight sequential shifter as well as limiting the wheel’s movement to 280 degrees.  Logitech also re-designed the petals by making adding a pneumonic feel to them so they don’t just feel like you are pushing down on sprints. 

Another new addition to the Logitech family is their G3 Mouse.  The mouse shares the same optical engine with the G5 and G7 mouse but comes in an ambidextrous form so that lefties will finally be able to enjoy Logitech’s 2000 DPI goodness.   

The G11 keyboard rounds out Logitech’s new PC accessories.  It’s basically their G15 keyboard with out the cool LCD which is fine for those of you who don’t need to check their e-mail while you are fragging.

Logitech is also introducing a new peripheral for the Xbox 360 as the Drive FX Xbox 360 Wheel will be out in the late July/early August time frame.  The wheel will feature Logitech’s new advanced vibration system which moved and added new motors to the wheel.

After checking out the Logitech booth I migrated down to Kentia hall to check in with the folks at DISCover.  If you read our E3 coverage two years ago you might remember this company as bringing PC gaming to the living room by creating a PC like console system that would automatically install games that where inserted into the systems disc drive.  They’ve changed things around a bit with the current version of their software which now integrates a little more seamlessly into Windows Media Center.  The now software only solution creates a My Games section in your Media Center software and allows you to access the games you currently have on your system as well as allowing you to go online and purchase games.  These games can either be signed up to on a subscription basis, purchased, or downloaded directly to your PC.

DISCover is working on a new version of their software which will be released in the coming months that completely revamps the user interface and adds a host of new features like being able to view game trailers, screenshots, and then make the subscribe, purchase, download decision.  It’s an interesting solution and you can expect to hear a lot more from them as more and more people start using XP Media Center edition as well as when Microsoft releases their Vista operation system next year (Media Center is baked into almost every copy of Vista so expect to see a lot of DISCover in the future).

Next up was a visit to the Nvidia booth where I got to check out their new line of mobile video products.  In this case I don’t mean their laptop video cards (more on that in a bit) but rather the mobile video that goes into cell phones.  I hadn’t realized this in the past but nVidia has been cranking out cell phone chips for the last three years.  Today they were showin off their latest chip the GoForce 5500 a new chip that is just about to go into production.  The demo they showed today showed Quake 3 running on the chip at 1024 X 768 at around 30-40 FPS which is impressive given that the chip generates almost no heat and only consumes about 150 milliwats of power.  What’s interesting about the chip is how the mobile engineers have to work to keep that power usage down and they do something similar to what Chrysler and GM do with their new V8 engines.  When you are cruising on the highway and don’t need all the power of the engine, they shut down have the valves to get better fuel performance.  The nVidia chip works the same way except that they shut down graphics pipelines and other on chip processes to save engery.

After looking at the small end of their line it was time to check out the new Quad SLI desktop setup and the new SLI laptop from Alienware.  Currently nVidia is only selling the Quad SLI technology to OEM so they can make sure the boards are setup correctly as you need to have the right bios settings and drivers versions to get peek performance out of the cards.  The nvidia rep admitted that the Quad SLI solution really didn’t have a lot of mainstream use right now as you need a giant display and dual monitors to really get anything out of it but that there were certainly hard core users out there who had the money and the need to purchase such equipment.

The new SLI laptop from Alienware isn’t something that you are necessarily going to be busting out on cross country business trips to get in a few games of Battlefield 2.  For one reason the laptops are heavy and the second reason is that they consume power like Sean chugs down Mountain Dew.  The laptops are really meant for hard core LAN parties so you have everything in one combined unit and don’t have to deal with lugging a CRT and tower around with you.  Alienware will be releasing n 17”, 19,” and 20” versions.of the unit.

Two-Worlds from Topwave was next on the list.  I was intrigued by the title earlier this year when they released their first set of drop dead gorgeous screenshots.  Unfortunately the game still wasn’t in a playable state but they did have some information on what could make this the next big RPG.  The game has a new deck card like magic system that allows you to morph and stack your spells as you go through the game.  This helps prevent spell obsolescence as you can always enhance the spells you start with to make them more powerful.  The developers of the game are still slaving away at the game but Topwave expects the game to make it’s debut on the Xbox 360 and the PC by the time next year’s E3 rolls around. 

My final appointment of the day was with MMO developer CCP to check out their game EVE Online.  Going in I knew a little about EVE Online and I had been meaning to take advantage of the 14 day free trial but with my current queue of overdue game reviews adding a MMORPG to that list was not something that I could do and look at myself in the mirror.  That said my meeting with the CCP folks has given me some new inspiration to crank on some reviews so that I can start playing the game and have a clear conscience.

For those of you not familiar with the game, EVE Online is a space exploration/combat MMO.  You work your way up the food chain by trading, killing, or running errands for the various organizations in the game.  The first thing that hits you about the game is the scope and breadth of the game.  The universe is simply huge and rather than having the game spread out across several shards the game actually takes place on one shared instance. 

What I really liked about the game is how they handle skill advancement.  Instead of having a leveling system that is based on skill points and experience you have to actually spend “real world” time to learn a new skill.  This makes it so that casual players aren’t going to be at the mercy of the power leveler time person who can spend 10-20 hours a day on the game vs the causal game who might only be able to put in 10-20 hours a month on the game.  The hard core gamers will have more money in the game but they will not have a strong skill level advantage over the other games.

CCP is going to be releasing a new enhancement patch to the game soon that will provide a major graphical overhaul to all of the ship models in the game as well as adding some new ships, new systems and some new features and should be out in a few months.

I could go on and on about all of the cool features in the game like how all the things in the world are built from a limited supply of blue prints, the amazing player generated content in the game, the intriguing economic system, or the most awesome quarterly magazine that the game puts out.  I’m just going to say that if you are a MMO fan or a space game fan you owe it to yourself to check out the game.

That’s it for Thursday.  I did get a chance to meet with some of the developers over at NC Soft after the show today but I’m going to wrap that coverage in with my coverage of the booth tour tomorrow so check back then.

Bethesda is on a hot streak after there recent release of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.  A few months ago, the once revered Star Trek franchise was at an all time low, on the year of its 40th anniversary no less.  Now, Bethesda is making Trek’s 40th birthday one to remember, with not one but two Star Trek titles. 

The main behind-doors attraction was Star Trek Legacy, a massive squad-based space combat simulator.  It is, simply put, a Trekker’s ultimate dream come true (besides actually flying into space on the Enterprise, of course).  Legacy is a fitting title; the game spans all five Trek TV series and ten films.  The plot of the single player campaign promises to weave the disparate story arcs together into one seamless Star Trek history lesson, except fun because most of it involves big ships blasting at each other.  A well known writer from the TV show (we can’t say who) is helming the script, so I have faith that this won’t turn out ugly.

 This huge amount of history is also a perfect excuse for a space combat game—in the final build, there will be sixty playable ships, including Archer’s NX-01, Kirk’s Constitution class Enterprise (both versions), DS9’s stout Defiant, the city-like Galaxy Class Enterprise 1701-D, and the current Federation flagship, the Enterprise E battle cruiser.  The selection isn’t limited to the Federation either, as there will be plenty of Klingon, Romulan, and even Borg vessels to choose from.

The multiplayer component will include all of these ships and their abilities, so pitting a single Borg cube against a fleet of NX-class ships is no problem.  And, finally, we disgruntled fans will be able to shoot the USS Voyager to fiery bits.  Being a squad basd game, Legacy requires management of a small fleet (although solo affairs are included).  Strategy plays a big role, and you’ll be able to cycle through ships and take control of any one.  Weapon and power allocation also plays a big role, but is more streamlined than in previous starship combat games. 

If Legacy weren’t enough, Bethesda is also serving up two versions of their portable Trek game, Star Trek: Tactical Assault.  Assault is smaller in scale than Legacy, understandably so, but more depth has been added to the personality of the crew.  Promoting crew members improves ship performance.  Also, decision making is crucial to making the best progress through the game.  Taking the easiest route may finish the level, but going the extra mile and really looking at a situation analytically could make all the difference.  There are two campaigns, Federation and Klingon mission sets, and different strategies apply to both; the Federation rewards diplomacy, while the Klingon captain must be ruthless and opportunistic to gain true status.

Both the DS and PSP versions have two-player versus, but Wifi is not an option for either build.  The DS version isn’t as pretty, but its touch-screen controls are much easier to handle and actually afford a little more complexity to the interface.

Expect Star Trek Legacy and Tactical Assault this fall for PC, Xbox 360, DS and PSP. 

There was a lot of commotion at the Konami booth today, and with good reason: this is their biggest E3 thus far.  They had a scad of games on the floor, most of them playable.  First off, what everyone was waiting for: Metal Gear Solid.  Snake has some big events coming up, notably MGS 4, but unfortunately Konami was willing to show the trailer and not much else.  On the bright side, there was plenty of info on MS Portable Ops.  This is the first real-time, stealth-based MGS on the PSP, and it has big shoes to fill.  It tells the story of how Big Boss recruited Foxhound, and how he ultimately created Outer Heaven.  A big part of the game is convincing key enemies to join your side, like Revolver Ocelot, and this element filters down into the online multiplayer.  Thus, you’ll be setting up clans and using squad tactics.  The graphics look amazing, big surprise there, and the voice acting seems as strong (or, if you prefer cheesy) as ever.  Hopefully the fall release of MGS Portable Ops will tide players over until the big event on PS3 next year.

A number of smaller titles, mostly portable, adorned Konami’s booth.  Lunar Knights on DS is another Kojima production that focuses on real-time vampire slaying combat.  There are two playable characters, and the top screen displays weather conditions that affect gameplay.

Steel Horizon proves that you can’t have enough WWII games, but at least it’s the first WWII title on the DS.  It’s a turn-based vehicle combat affair with wireless mutli and Wifi, that should satisfy history buffs and Advance Wars fanatics.

The PSP gets some old, old-school action from one of the most ancient of games: chess.  Specifically, Online Chess Kingdoms.  This game puts a new spin on the classic strategy game, with territory being won with chess victories.  Wifi support is a given, so you don’t have to keep playing snailmail chess with your buddy on the other side of the world.

The classic Gradius series hits the PSP with an extra treat: the first appearance of Gradius Gaiden in the US.  Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much new content.

Rengoku II continues the formula of the original on the PSP.  The camera has been drastically improved, but the seven virtues and tower-climbing action remains.  The player character is now modifiable, and the graphics have been improved.

Bomberman is having a big year, with titles on the DS, 360, PSP and even Wii. 

Bomberman Act Zero for the 360 is a departure, as it has a darker art style that focuses on a Matrix-esque war and Bomberman’s training to fight in that war.  The DS and PSP versions are more classic, but offer new minigames.  The PSP even has multi-UMD content sharing.  Bomberman Wii is still somewhat a mystery, but is confirmed to have the same old-school gameplay.

The popular cartoon Xai Lin Showdown is getting representation on the Xbox, PS2 and PSP.  Players can take control of the four main characters in the show, and battle through the solo adventure on 4-player coop.  However, players can also pause for a quick spar during the main game.

Frogger is celebrating his 25th anniversary with a DS launch.  Players take control of Frogger and his buddy Kyle as they venture through an adventure, and possibly some highway traffic.  Classic arcade Frogger is also going mobile, so a new generation of work-loaded adults can experience the addiction 80’s style.

The DS’s stellar Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is getting a followup that looks to be even better.  Portrait of Ruin has the same side-scrolling beauty of Sorrow, but tackles the action with two players: Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Orlean.  You can swap between both protagonists at any time, and many of the attacks utilize teamwork, resulting in some spectacular magical and acrobatic feats.  So far multiplayer has only been confirmed for side games.

Coded Arms is in full force with a double-fronted Sony attack.  CA: Contagion hits the PSP with better graphics and no annoying map regenerating, plus 8-player Wifi multi.  CA: Assault is a PS3 exclusive monster that pushes the Unreal 3 engine for an expansive solo campaign and 8-player online combat.  4 player co-op accompanies the deathmach mode, and the addition of new vehicles keeps things fresh.

While the new Silent Hill film has had mixed reviews, Konami isn’t letting a lukewarm reception spoil the game series.  Silent Hill: Origins is the first PSP title in the series, a prequel that explains how the sleepy town of Silent Hill got so screwed up in the first place.  A new “barricade” system allows players to wall themselves into rooms for safety, but as we all know, there is never a truly safe place in a zombie game.

Konami also has another Wii game on the floor, an original IP called Elebits.  The game is basically hide-and-seek on steroids.  The player hunts for the tiny Elebits creatures and uses their latent electric charge to power items like flashlights.  The environment is urban, a home and its yard, so rooting out the little aliens should feel just a tiny bit like Pikmin.  The Wii controller is used to tug and nab the static buggers from their hiding spots. 

Go Pets is a new DS sim that takes elements from the million-selling Nintendogs and adds a social element.  The idea is to choose a cute little cat or dog, customize the hell out of them, then take them online to meet other players.  The trading, swapping and minigames add spice and extends the social aspect, and feels just  little like Animal Crossing.

Konami fuses the addictive nature of customizable card games with the irresistible geek appeal of the Marvel heroes with the Marvel Trading Card game on PSP.  This one seems to be influenced by Magic Online, with tournaments, prizes, trading and an online store, but the Marvel theme should keep things different and engaging.

Probably Konami’s biggest surprise was Brooketown Senior Year.  It’s one of the first dating sims in the US.  Happening in a high school means social groups, such as jocks, popular kids, Goths and geeks.  The player finds out which clique they belong to by taking a personality quiz, and then trying to snag a date to the prom.  The game has a unique, grunge-comic style and the ability to play as male or female.  It’s up in the air whether this one will be good or just plain weird. 

Konami also has a smattering of licensed titles, such as Winx Club DS and PSP, Yu-Gi-Oh GX PSP, and Deth Jr. PSP.  Definitely a huge haul, but we won’t have long to wait for most of it.  Except for MGS 4, many of the titles on the show floor have a projected Q4 release.      

Second verse, same as the first, as it was another day at E3. My weary feet carried me across many a booth. But let's check out who I had a nice sit down chat with shall we?

First up we've got some new stuff coming from Atlus. The Irvine publisher has a lot on their plate this year and it is slated to be thier biggest and busiest time ever. With some of the titles coming down the pipe from them I can see why. First up is a game I am very interested in, Rule of Rose, a survival horror title that takes place in 1930's London. A young girl finds an abandoned orphanage that has been taken over by some very confused and creepy children who have constructed a secret society. Very creppy looking and visually breath taking in the CG department. Look for this title in the fall or possibly before Christmas.

Getting away from survival horror and in to RPG horror we have the newest game in the Shin Megami Tensei line (well not really horror, but you've got some demonic stuff at work here). Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is a new action RPG that has a different take on the random battle aspect, this time around you're given a little space to roam around in and you attack with a seperate little helper spirit, wicked cool if you ask me.

On the hand-held side there is a torrent of new games coming for the GBA, and DS starting with Contact for the DS, which features a good dose of humor not typically present in today's RPGs. There is also a very stylish game that is in the vein of Phoenix Wright called Touch Detective that seems to take the search and locate function and expand upon it greatly. Lastly there is a new first person RPG that comes from members of the team from Chrono Trigger called Dep Labyrinth. The game usese the stylus for attacks which makes for a play mechanic similar to what the Wii has to offer.

On the GBA side there are a few tactical RPGs coming down the line, first up is Yggdra Union from developer Sting that was responsible for last year's Riviera, featuring a new battle system that is reminiscient of Advance Wars but has a much more animeted presentation and looks fabulous. For those who want more actual RPG goodness then be sure to take a look at Summon Knight which has a 2-D presentation and has a battle system that is closer to the recently released Tales of Phantasia only it has a lot more responsive controls. And finally for those who have heard of Super Robot Wars, prepare for a surprise... or not much of a surprise since I am telling you about this, anyway Super Robot Taisen is hitting the GBA later this year and is a strategy RPG that employs giant mechs and a variety of ways to make things go boom. Good times.

Last but certainly not least, there was mention of a Wii title that will be within the launch window, that game is called... wait for it... Trauma Center: Second Opinion. ROCK ON ATLUS, this will be the reason I get a Wii.

Moving on I took a good look at Playlogic who has come a long way in term of products, they had four PC titles on the floor. First off is Infernal, and third-person shooter that has a lot of style to it and a few interesting game-play mechanics. Fallen enemies can be drained of their energy, so you're not going to be finding any health packs just lying around. You can also drain Mana from enemies and use that to power the attacks from the Devil that resides inside of the main characters body. Give it a look when it drops in the fourth quarter as it is a pretty titles.

Next on the list we have two pirate games, because what's better than one pirate game, TWO pirate games. Age of Pirates is a more open ended sand-box type title that allows for a lot of open-ended play. You'll be able to raid towns and recruit pirates aboard your probably pilfered clipper as you sail the salty waters in search of that one perfect treasure. The other pirate title is called Age of Pirates: Captains Blood which is a much more story driven title with a heavier emphasis on hand to hand combat and has a lot in common with Shadow of Rome in terms of blood and guts, as you'll be dismembering people and doing all kinds of mortal damage, left and right.

Last up is an RTS titled Ancient Wars: Sparta which is an ancient B.C. title that plays and looks the part of Blizzard's XXXCraft titles but it has a few more details that help enrich the experience. First of all it is completely possible to torch a place on the map, so say your plans for world domination turned sour. Burn all that you owned to the ground and prevent your opponents from capitalizing on your misfortunes. The game also allows you to set up traps on the terrain in order to get the drop on your enemies. Look for this title to hit in Q4.

That's all for today, for the final day I'll see what Nippon Ichi is cooking up in their Southern California offices.

There is a strong emphasis on the mobile gaming market this year at E3. With the introduction of the Nintendo DS Lite, the continued push for the DS and the PSP, mobile gaming seems to be the focus of nearly everyone. This couldnb’t be more evident than at the Nokia booth, where they are bringing not 1, but 2 major changes to the mobile phone gaming market.

SNAP Mobile by Nokia is a new service and device independent cellular gaming platform sure to raise some eyebrows. Based on Java games, Snap Mobile is officially billed as a community gaming platform. Think Xbox Lve, but for your cell phone. Chat and Friends lists, gamer status and rankings, and random opponent selection are just a few of the features. Matchmaking is the term Snap uses to describe how opponents are selected based on user entered criteria, as well as gamer rankings. “We’re going to leave it up to the developers to determine how Matchmaking works best for their game. For example, a developer working on a dating game will use an entirely different set of matching criteria than the makers of a chess game”, said Lisa Waits, Head of SNAP Mobile.

SNAP will be compliant with most MIDP2.0 as well as a few handsets developed prior to the emergence of the standard. There can be no community gaming without games, and Snap is working to make sure there are plenty of games. With 15 titles at launch, another 10 ready to follow, and a signed partnership with Taito on the books, finding games to play won’t be a problem.

Nokia’s next big change is the move of the N-Gage product from a device specific platform to a software system that will run on all of its upper tier phones. The platform will run on Nokia N series smart phones and Nokia S60 devices, and above. Six new games were announced and demoed on the E3 show floor with demo games available for all titles. Pro Series Golf was particularly nice, with a level of realism that has been lacking in most phone-based golf games.

Tied into this change to an N-Gage platform was the announcement of the N93 Smart phone. With DVD quality video capture, a 3X Optical Zoom, and an extremely impressive display, the phone is filled with features. This phone looks a perfect forum for the N-Gage, as the screen rotates 360 degrees, and can be configured to align the N93 as a horizontal gaming device.

Next up was Logic3, a company specializing in Audio devices for the iPod family as well as mobile gaming platforms. Following up on the popularity of the i-Station, Logic3 has announced a larger i-Station with 8 speakers, as well as a passive and active subwoofer. The wireless remote control and LCD display of song information allows the user to finally get away from being at the iPod to change songs while listening via speakers. During the demonstration, I found that even at it’s highest volume, there was very little if any distortion, and that the sound quality was excellent.

My next appointment was with Myelin, makers of Stacked with Daniel Negreanu. This isn’t your everyday console poker game. It is intuitive, smart and fun. Featuring Daniel Negranu, the 30 year old poker master and 7 of the best tournament poker players in the world, Stacked is a game where the player can immerse themselves in a rich poker environment against unpredictable AI. Most poker games offer a set slate of AI behaviors based entirely on the mathematical odds of making the best hand at the table with the cards they were dealt. Stacked gets away from this model by adding personality to each of 10 different AI’s, making them more or less aggressive based on the personality assigned. The appearance and name of each AI opponent changes, so that much like in live poker, the player

Heading back to my throne in Kentia, my next stop was with San Jose based Sandio Technology. Sandio is doing something revolutionary that caught more than a few eyes: a 3D mouse. Using what can best be described as joy pads similar to multi-directional hat switches, the 3D mouse allows for full use of the x, y, and z axis.

Based on the top of the line 2D technology with multiple DPI levels, including a top end 2000 DPI, the Sandio 3D mouse looks to be solid innovation. The only question will be the learning curve in adjusting to using your fingertips as opposed to your wrist in order to control the cursor. After several minutes of hands-on time, I was beginning to get the hang of it, but several hours of evaluation would be required to determine how tough it will be to replace my gaming mouse with this new device.

At a reasonable SRP of $79.99, the 3D mouse may find a niche market with early adapters in the gaming and high-end computer graphics market, while more traditional users take a wait and see approach. While Sandio does not yet have distribution set, a demo model was spotted in the Saitek booth, and rumor has it Saitek may be looking at picking up the 3D mouse after Windows Vista hits the consumer market.

As I mentioned to someone at the show, mobile gaming is more than a fad these days it’s big business. And there are few players in the phone gaming market bigger than I-Play. If you own a Java capable cellular phone, you’ve probably played an I-Play game, or at least one of their free demos.

With the success of games like Jewel Quest, 24: The Game, Maria Sharapova Tennis, and some classic arcade games, I-Play has established itself at the top of the mobile phone gaming food chain, and is looking to keep itself on top. “The mobile gaming industry is such a hot commodity right now. We’re premiering The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo game, and on the movie posters, the print advertising for our game is larger than the print that gives the address for the movie web site”, said the I-Play representative.

With over 500 million cellular phones sold in the US last year alone, it’s hard to argue that this market is still expanding. Look for some new I-Play titles only a regular basis for the foreseeable future.

When 4:00 rolled around I was happy to see my last appointment, Razer, had chairs and an enclosed area to discuss their new products. For anyone who hasn’t been to E3, trust me, there’s nothing like being able to sit and talk to someone about their products, especially at the end of the day.

Razer markets itself as “Professional Gaming Products, for Gamers, by Gamers”. If you’ve ever used any of their products, you’d know that they make some fine quality products. But they’re also known for their innovations, which is why I was interested to see what they had up their sleeves for this years E3. “Every division lead has 1 or 2 skunkworks projects going at pretty much all times”, said Robert “Razerguy” Krakoff, president of Razer. “We’re always looking for ways to improve the products we offer, and this year with the Tarantula keyboard and Barracuda integrated audio system is no different”.

The Tarantula keyboard took some of the familiar Razer trademarks (smooth, black plastic, a solid weight, and plenty of function keys), and added a few new twists. Backlighting was added to the keys outside of the primary keyboard (Saitek is the sole licensee of the patent to backlight and laser etch the standard keyboard keys), and a USB port through which a variety of attachments can be added. Krakoff showed off what could only be described as a miniature desk lamp for the USB port on top of the keyboard that is an effective work around for the lack of backlit keys. The light will come with led colors that match the keyboard backlighting.

Two other distinctive features of the Tarantula are the completely removable keys that can be placed anywhere on the keyboard. In tandem with this is the 32kb of built in memory that allows custom keyboard layouts and mappings to be stored in the keyboard hardware itself. This means that a custom mapped Tarantula can be used with any PC with the Tarantula driver installed.

Razers other new product is the Barracuda integrated audio system. Razer found that music audio cards simply were trying to do too many things for too many applications, and that most of the features and functionality were lost on the hard core gamer. Enter the Barracuda, a high end gaming sound card and headset combination.

The Barracuda system uses custom technology to create positional audio in a headset. The card features 7.1 audio output, and will work with any headphones. The headset delivers what is described as “pinpoint positional accuracy” for the highest level of gaming audio. The headset also features a built in microphone with a short profile and enhanced noise cancellation capabilities.

Thursday at E3 wasn’t totally dominated by Konami’s crowded booth; the lower floor had some intriguing developments and spiffy hardware.

Up first was Ideazon, with their line of Z-Board gaming-specific computer peripherals.  Their most prominent product was the ZBD101, a new keyboard that’s been out for a month or so.  This board is tailored to the needs of the hardcore gamer, shooter fans in particular.  The element that makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd is its trademark “butterfly” keypad, located where a gamer would typically place their fingers—the good old W-A-S-D.  The pad allows for ergonomic comfort designed with the gamer in mind, instead of letter keys being adapted for the job after the fact.  The coolest feature of the ZBD101 was its interchangeable keysets.  The entire key pad, letters, functions, everything, can be removed and swapped out for another pad.  The ZBD is also compatible with Ideazon’s Z Engine, a proprietary program that contains several preset key configurations.  The reps told me that the next release of the engine would be completely customizable.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a custom board right now—Ideazon is already swinging deals with publishers to make game-themed swappable pads, like a World of Warcraft scheme or maybe Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  The art on these is pretty slick, with logos and characters around the borders and even on the important keys.  Grab these branded pads fast, because a few of them are limited run. 

If you don’t want the hassle of a whole keyboard, then you want to pick up Ideazon’s Fang, an all-inclusive gaming pad with gaming as its sole function.  Developed by Ideazon with the U.S. Army, the Fang is meant for portability and versatility—perfect for those crowded LAN parties.  There’s no fluff here, only the functions a gamer would use.  There’s still plenty of functionality, it’s just geared toward gaming and squeezed into a small, compact package.  Look for this new tech in the coming months, and if you’re a shooter fan, do yourself a favor and grab the ZBD101 for the appealing price of 40 dinero.  We’ll look into reviewing these pads once we get our hands on them.

Hudson has been somewhat dormant for a time, but with such a long-standing presence in the industry—30 years—they know when to lay low and make a comeback.  In fact, Hudson was the first 3rd party developer on the NES, so they have a strong and historic relationship with Nintendo.  Now, they’re making a big jump back in, front and center, on several platforms.  Most of Hudson’s properties are published by Konami, but the development work goes on within Hudson.

Let me clear up a rumor before I elaborate on Hudson’s most recent projects.  It has been known for a few months that Hudson is working on an untitled flight game for Wii, and rampant speculation has pointed to a new Pilotwings title.  You heard it here first: this is NOT a new Pilotwings, a Hudson rep told me personally in a one-on-one interview.  They said Nintendo is probably working on a new installment of Pilotwings internally, and Hudson isn’t trying to be mysterious about their flight game project.  It just isn’t ready to be shown yet, and that’s why it wasn’t on the show floor.  Rest assured, however, that this new, as of yet unnamed IP will take full advantage of the Wii controller.  Think biplanes—skywriting, aerobatics, combat and bombing runs will be seamlessly intuitive with the Wii-mote.  There’s still some work to be done on this game, so don’t expect it before Q1 of 07.

Hudson will still have plenty of support for Wii at launch, with Bomberman Land.  This one looks like a mix of classic and new, with old-school modes and several minigames; I saw a new tunnel-scrolling game that’s controlled by tilting the Wii-mote left and right.  I didn’t see much of this game on the floor, but it looked solid and the people playing it seemed to like the controls.

Aside from a launch title, Hudson will have a large backlog of Turbografx-16 titles for download on Nintendo Wifi Connection.  They are pushing the virtual console aggressively, with 100 games at launch, such as Bonk’s Adventure, which was playable at a kiosk in Nintendo’s booth.

The DS is getting some attention too, with a portable release of Bomberman Land that will concentrate more on Wario Ware style minigames, but still include classic mode.  Milion Star Paradise, an addictive puzzler, will also be coming to DS.  Hudson developed some of the hardware and middleware for the GameCube, and it’s great to see that they’re strengthening their already solid bonds with Nintendo.

While Wii will get a lot of classic games from Hudson, Xbox 360 will see revivals of several Turbografx franchises as next generation software.  Bomberman Act Zero is the first in a set of games, Act 1 coming sometime next year.  Zero is a darkening of Bomberman, set in a different story during a war.  Act Zero follows the training of a new soldier (through old-style Bomberman gameplay) as he prepares to go aboveground and fight the good fight.

Another 360 game in development is Dungeon Explorer, a revamped Turbografx classic that’s like Gauntlet on steroids.  Dungeon Explorer will have 8-player co-op over Xbox Live, while the smaller PSP version will have 4-player online. 

Far East of Eden is an RPG remake of another Turbografx game.  Not much is known, except that Atlas might do the localization and Far East 2 is hitting the PSP.

I had a little time with a 360 exclusive called Dangerous Party.  This is basically what would happen if GTA had its way with the Hudson-developed Mario Party series.  Even the art style resembles Rockstar’s crime sandboxes.  There will be 50 minigames that play very quickly, but have the basic idea of Russian roulette.  I played one where you attempt to shove the other players off a speeding bus, and another where you try to outrun fellow motorcyclists…while driving into oncoming traffic.  The controls were a bit iffy, but the rep was quick to reassure me that they would be smoothed out by the time Dangerous Party arrives on shelves late this year. 

Last but not least, Hudson is crafting a sequel to Rengoku called Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N.  The same tower climbing, seven sin-battling gameplay returns, but with a drastically improved camera. Hudson certainly has a lot on their plate and has stretched itself across most consoles no less, but I’m confident this industry veteran can handle it. 

The biggest event on Thursday was my behind-doors meeting with Warner Interactive.  I was shown a demo of Justice League Heroes, and got to talk to the lead animator on the project.  So far the game looks promising, faithful to the show and exciting, if not wholly groundbreaking.  The basic story concerns Brainiac, the android super villain from the comics and show.  Brainiac receives a telepathic message from a crashed asteroid about an ultimate power, a tempting offer to be sure, but there’s one little problem: it’s stored within the Watch Tower, the Justice League’s impenetrable orbital fortress. 

Knocking on the space station’s door is out of the question, even if Brainiac can handle the automated defenses, because the world’s most powerful collection of super heroes just happens to live there.  So, Brainiac sends out his legion of robot minions to distract and scatter the League across the Earth. 

The first level I saw was an attack on Metropolis, where Green Lantern and Flash were on the scene to take care of business.  New, unique animations have been created for every character—Lantern has a stolid, no-nonsense stance and forceful punches, while Flash is lighter on his feet and bounces back and forth between enemies with a flurry of attacks (his coolest move is a pinball attack).  As you’d expect each hero can use their memorable powers, like Green Lantern’s ring abilities and Flash’s super speed, but the cooperative element plays a big part in the powers.  For instance, Lantern can trap an enemy in a green force field box, and Flash will rush in, uninterrupted by other enemies, and beat the screws out of the penned robot. 

Co-op play is a central theme, and has the same pick up and play concept behind Lego Star Wars.  At any time, a friend can sit down, press “start” and bam, they take over for the computer.  Player 1 has control over booting obnoxious players through the pause menu, so if your buddy is messing around you can threaten him with a button press.  Friendly fire isn’t an issue, because the Justice League Heroes are just too good to accidentally land a punch on one of their teammates. 

The double-team element is present throughout the entire game, as each level is played by a duo.  Zatanna and Martian Manhunter teamed up on an alien moon, while Superman and Wonder Woman (she’s holding her super-powered breath) floated through an outer space map wiping out flying lizard-like aliens.  Of course, everyone’s favorite crime-fighting pair, Superman and Batman, have a level of their own, and the teamwork here is rather interesting.  Batman is the detective, so his bottomless utility belt, more cerebral techniques and martial-arts skills get him through the hoards of enemies.  Superman is a muscle guy, beating opponents literally into the ground, lasing the fully destructible environment with his heat vision, and flying without any need to take a break.  The stronger characters can pick up cars and other heavy objects and fling them at baddies, often with explosive effect.  More unique powers, like Manunter’s rather creepy shape-shifting ability, are tailored to each character’s fighting style.

Checkpoints are placed in the levels at strategic locations, so if you or your partner bites the dust, all you have to do is head back to a checkpoint (or progress to a new one) and your buddy is automatically returned to battle-ready status.  The total lack of load times for these checkpoints was impressive.  Supposedly there are a few unlockable characters, but the only one announced so far is Green Arrow.  These secret heroes won’t be simple palette-switches, but completely original characters with their own powers and animations.  No word on how the team element will work with them, but I’m sure more creative pairings will be possible once they are all unlocked.

There are a few small RPG elements, but nothing that slows down the action.  Crushing opposition levels up the characters, which in turn grants points for upgrading and unlocking new powers.  Drop in some points, power up an attack, and you’re on your way, no fuss, no lengthy menu fiddling. 

Voice work and music will be entirely original, with an epic sound track that fits the large number of locales you’ll be visiting and promptly destroying.  The show’s cast isn’t doing voiceovers, but some A-list actors are subbing for them; Batman will be played by Ron Pearlman.

You can expect Justice League Heroes in stores by Q4, on the PS2 and Xbox.  Don’t throw those consoles in the closet yet, because this looks like a game no DC fan will want to miss.                       

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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