E3 Day 3 Impressions

E3 Day 3 Impressions

Written by The GN Staff on 5/24/2005 for
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My final day at E3 was also my busiest with four appointments. As with the previous two days, one appointment didn’t show up on time and this time it was the other video card company, NVIDIA. They did have a nice booth though with various games from Age of Empires III to Stubbs the Zombie being demoed and SLI was heavily pushed with Alienware displaying their Star Wars cases with the technology inside. But let’s get to who I did see and one company I did get to finally meet.

Activision was the big appointment of the day and also my first. As with my past few visits with them, I went and checked out how The Movies was doing. The wait will soon be over as the title is scheduled for this fall and it looks like a ton of fun. Choose all aspects of making the movie from the set design to the costumes. The game starts in the 20s and the fashion styles will change with the times. You’ll still be able to have the old costumes so if you want to make a classic black and white movie in the 90s you have that option. A lot of the interface is now drag and drop. For example, if you need a scriptwriter, find one of the unemployed folks hanging around the set and drop them into to the building that’s designated for that task. When you hover over the building, the object fades away to reveal the floor plan where various types of scripts are available. Dropping on the person over the sci-fi section will garnish a sci-fi script, and so forth with other types of scripts. A big part of the game is keeping all your staff happy from the actors to the director. Various problems can arouse if they aren’t happy and you’ll have to drop them into the detox center to clean them out. Beware of the paparazzi though trying to take pictures of your cast in bad situations. As with most studios, you can spend on the movie and build sets even if you are in the red. Just make sure you get into the black as soon as you can as good actors won’t want to work for a rundown studio. Once you are set with the movie and all the scenes, you can easily edit them however you want with the easy to use interface. Add your own dialogue or move scenes around without much effort. When you’re done, export it to a format and share it with whoever you want. I asked the person who was demoing it to me how mod-able the game will be and he said they will support the mod community but I wasn’t given to what extent. The Movies looks to give computer gamers all they need to create their own Citizen Kane or Gigli without the pressure coming from the stockholders and investors.

After The Movies, I was shuttled off to a showing of Quake 4. With the very impressive trailer of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars being played in front of the entrance to the Quake 4. Quake 4 looks like it’s going to stand out on its own as a great single player experience. Quake 4 has you battling the Strogg on their own turf and what was shown can be said to be Call of Duty with a sci-fi theme. A nod to the second game is given in the drop ship sequence when one of the commanders gives a briefing on how a single soldier helped turn this war around. After you “land” on the ground, you’re off to finding your unit as the Strogg really gave your drop ship a beating causing it to crash. You’ll see some good medium sized levels for you to traverse through with some dark areas that are reminiscent of Doom 3. I’m glad they taught the great skill of attaching a flashlight to the gun in boot camp as you won’t be stuck switching between that and a weapon in the middle of a war. No longer will you be weaponless in unlit areas. In one of the more controversial and intense scenes in the demo, you are capture by the Strogg and experience first hand what happens to POWs. From torture to probing and being transformed into one of the Strogg, you’ll see all the horrible gruesome details. It will be hard to get the image of a buzz saw slicing my legs off and replacing them with robotic ones out of my head and it’s sure to be one of the more memorable scenes in the game. Of course, being part Strogg will give you abilities that you’ll need to take them down so it’s an unfortunate situation that will have a very important role later on. A quick showing of vehicles was the final portion of the demo. Given the great visuals of the Doom 3 engine and the war like atmosphere, Quake 4 should be a big hit for Raven Software and Activision.

Shrek fans will be happy to hear a new fighting game will be out featuring 20 characters in the Shrek universe. If you didn’t play Shrek 2 on the consoles, you’re missing out on a fun party game. Shrek SuperSlam is a different breed as Shaba Games has made a cartoony fighting game for families to play with. The title refers to powerful moves that will send the opponent through the environment and causing great damage to the surroundings. A great number of items on the levels are destructible and there are a ton of items that you can pick up to use against your foe. There will also be some potions that give the character a temporary boost some way. Look for Shrek SuperSlam for all platforms.
Console gamers will have a great Call of Duty title soon in Call of Duty: Big Red One. Big Red One refers to the American 1st Infantry Division who were in the front lines of many of the major battles in World War II. The impressive thing about the title was the PlayStation 2 demo looked just like the PC Call of Duty. After seeing many PS2 titles that seemed subpar in graphics, Big Red One came away with being one title that didn’t look like it was held back by the hardware. Activision even put up a sign that said it was a live PS2 demo because they were getting so many questions asking if it was playing on the Xbox or PC. It was that good! Big Red One will only let you play the Americans but it looks to continue the great Call of Duty tradition of intense squad action.

And finally, the full blown sequel to one of my favorite games was shown in its own theater. Call of Duty 2 looked like the original taken up a bunch of notches. The D-Day level showed off just how much the engine has been improved. The volumetric smoke looked photorealistic. You’ll see the smoke mushroom up and slowly dissipate on some explosions. Even exploding grenades leave a nice little puff of smoke that realistically diffuses. The scripted sequences were there in full force giving you some great visuals and hectic action happening around you. Some major upgrades to the game are the vast open battlefields that will give you multiple ways to complete an object. It should make the game a lot less linear and give you some good replay value. I was impressed at how long the action sequence took place with so many areas to clear out in the D-Day demo without having to load once. After seeing the demo, I’m even more excited about Call of Duty 2 and can’t wait for the release.

My next stop was Razer’s booth and they didn’t have much to say about their future products but those disappointed with some aspects of the Diamondback should be happy with what’s being done for the next iteration. They only had the Diamondback Plasma mouse on display there. The Plasma does away with the red LED and goes infrared for an invisible tracking system. There’s only going to be a limited edition run of the Diamondback Plasma so if you want one, get in early.

Being in Kentia with the Razer appointment, I decided to stop by the Sapphire booth to see if they were there. After not having met for two previous appointments, the third time was a charm. I didn’t have too much time with them as I had another appointment to go to but their big thing is the Blizzard cooling solution. What it does is use a substance by NanoCoolers called liquid metal, which is 65 times more conductive than water. There are no moving parts as it uses magnets to keep the liquid flowing. The prototype had a very large HSF with dual fans but they are trying to get it down to a one fan solution. For the first card to use this unique cooling solution, Sapphire is going with the ATI X850 XT PE. No word on when the unit will be ready for the public but I’m glad to see a company looking to be innovative rather than put out vanilla cards.
Logitech had their new PSP peripherals showing with my favorite being the PlayGear Street. The PlayGear Street lets you wear the PSP in a protective case while giving you access to the audio ports. You’ll also be able to fit three UMDs and four Memory Sticks in there. All in the same polycarbonate case of their PlayGear Pocket. The PlayGear Amp is a portable speaker system that’s styled the same as a PSP. A center cradle gives you a place to sit your PSP but you can use any audio device that has a headphone jack. The speakers also fold up for easy carrying. Logitech demonstrated the speakers and they sounded great for a portable solution. Logitech also recommitted to PC gaming so they’ll be announcing some more PC products in the near future.

I’ll let my colleague Charles talk about Alan Wake but that game, even at its early stages, looks amazing. ATI always has a must see in their theater and this game was it. Alan Wake’s details are still pretty vague but the direction of the game from what I saw looks very promising.

My final appointment was with major peripheral developer Mad Catz. Their range of products being released is amazing and they are getting into the software side of things. To list all that I saw would take me too many pages but I’ll highlight some of the best. As you probably know, they have a long line of licensed controllers consisting of the NBA, NFL, MLB, Fantastic Four, and Batman Begins. The GameBoy Advance has a cool case that features the chest design of Batman’s costume in a cool 3D design. If you’re big into dance games, not much come bigger than Pump It Up and Mad Catz will be the exclusive distributor for the game. 100 songs will come with the game and it will be released in the summer for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Is country your thing? Then MC Groovz Country Dance Craze will be your cup of tea with a double wide dance pad and dance steps that mimic actual country dances. A unique peripheral for Mad Catz is the Game Trak. Basically, a unit on the floor equipped with two analog wired sensors that attach to gloves track how you swing a golf club or baseball bat for example. The wires can detect if you swing too high or too low or even if the club face isn’t square. There’s going to be a baseball and golf game initially for the system and I hope that other companies take a look at the product and incorporate it for them as well. It would be nice to use it for Tiger Woods or MVP Baseball. Finally, some pre-production examples of Xbox 360 peripherals where shown. Besides MicroCon based controllers, there’s a unique modular controller that’s built specifically for first person shooters complete with a trackball. Since its modular, you can flip flop the parts around and even reverse them if you are left handed. There are plenty of other products for other systems coming out from Mad Catz and it looks like they won’t have a shortage of peripherals for you to buy.

Overall, I had a great time at E3 especially meeting everyone there. To see the beginnings of three new consoles and witness the beginning of the next generation of games was a great experience. It’s been a long three days but I’m glad to be home. Here’s to next year May 10-12.
With each day of E-3 that passes I am more and more convinced that Los Angeles has it out for me. After spending forty-five minutes waiting in line to park my car I ran as fast as I could to make it to the SNK booth in order to see their line-up for the ’05. First off the major thing to note about SNK is their commitment to online gaming. Every title I’m about to talk about is for X-Box and is compatible with X-Box Live in some fashion. First up you’ve got Samurai Showdown 5. After a seemingly endless number of delays SNK employed Palo Alto based Signature Devices to work on the game for them. After a few minutes with the game I can attest that the game is in good hands. Signature Devices is taking the time and effort to make sure this game meets the quality of past Samurai Showdown games. A cool addition to this game is that it will feature a tournament mode that will allow you to compete with other X-Box Live players. The game will feature all of the cast members present in the arcade version and is looking at an October ’05 release date. Signature Devices is also going to responsible from bringing the revamp of the classic King of Fighters game, King of Fighters ’94 Rebout. This title will also feature the X-Box Live tournament mode and will ship in November.

For those of you who like your King of Fighters games to be more current, SNK will also be bringing out King of Fighters 2002/2003 for the X-Box with tournament mode for 2003 only, and if you don’t like your fighting games in 2-D then you’ll be happy to know that King of Fighters: Maximum Impact Maniacs will also be released for the X-Box with a few new features. For starters there were a lot of people, myself included who weren’t to keen on the English language track for the PS2 version. For those of you who dig your fighting games in Japanese then you need not look any further as a full Japanese voice track has been added. There is also a profile mode where you can pause the game and take screen shots of the action. Lastly the newest addition to the King of Fighers series, KOF Neowave will be hitting the X-Box later this year as well.

Now let’s say you’re not a fan of fighting games but instead are a shooter kind of guy. SNK has the Metal Slug series behind them. For starters, the original Metal Slug that started it all will be hitting the GBA, and in a radical new move Metal Slug will be making a move to 3-D in the new title Metal Slug Evolution which will hit the current generation of platforms. For those who aren’t all that patient and want their Metal Slug fix now then be sure to check your local game store next week as Metal Slug 4 & 5 will be hitting the PS2, with the X-Box version dropping later this summer. The X-Box version will also contain online leader boards. And in a twist of something new, the arcade shooter/puzzler hybrid Twinkle Star Sprites will find its way to a console near you.

A short walk over to Capcom was in order as I just had to get my hands on Killer 7 for a second time, and I must say I was just as wowed then as I was today. The game has so many different things going for it that I could spend the rest of my space here talking just about this game, but let’s keep it short and sweet since the game is coming out in the midst of June. First off the graphical style is so unique that it’s at times frightful and refreshing, the cel-shading style and interesting use of colors make this game stand out far and beyond anything I have seen on this current generation of hardware. You’ve also got the interesting premise of being in the mind of an assassin and seeing the seven personalities that exist, each with their own sets of skills and stats. Game play is no slouch either as the on-rails shooter game has gotten a much deserved over-haul. As an on-rails shooter you were always destined to follow one path. In Killer 7 it is much different as you can back track through areas and have varying paths that you can take. In order to move you hold down the X button for PS2 or A button for GameCube and you use the left analog stick to select the paths you will run as you explore each mission. Look out for this game in June as it is hands down my Game of Show.Next up was a short jaunt over to the Nintendo booth as I gave a quick look at the new Pokemon RPG for GameCube; Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness, though my time with it was limited, due to an unruly bunch behind me who wanted to rush me off so they could receive plushie pikachu dolls. Despite the rudeness I found the game play to be very reminiscent of past Pokemon titles on GBA. After that it was off to see Nintendogs the DS dog raising game. I must say that it is the most adorable game I have ever played, raising three little dogs has never been so much fun. Taking a Frisbee and flinging it out there for the dogs to catch is very amusing. Though taking a step back it feels like a very fleshed out version of the Tamagotchi games seen back in the late 90’s, that’s not to say that it is a bad thing at all. The game is very fun and I finally will have a game that will make me want to play my DS again.

A quick stop over to Atlus showed off quite a few new and interesting titles. First up on the DS is Trauma Center: Under the Knife a game where players assume the roles of a doctor who has just completed his residency and is now ready to become head of the OR. They also had a trailer to their next RPG games, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood and Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 which both look to take over the RPG genre during the Christmas rush. I for one wish them the best.

My last stop for the convention would be over at Konami where I was treated to a view of a large number of diverse titles. First up was their range of Bemani titles. First up is Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 which now features online play, making it an evolution in the revolution. This game marks the first time US gamers will hear European pop group E-Rotic who has long been in previous DDR titles in Japan. X-Box owners will receive Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 3 which will also feature online play along with a number of different modes which includes a Quest mode which can be roughly considered a DDR RPG. The hits keep on coming with Karaoke Revolution Party (TBD) which will feature over 50 tracks which is the most for any Karaoke Revolution mix. The game will also feature DDR arrows so that players can dance and sing as they practice for the next American Idol. The last Bemani title in the line-up is the long awaited Beatmania which is a DJ simulation game where you control the music, sort of. The play mechanics are similar to DDR, in Beatmania you see notes falling down on the screen and you must time your button presses to coincide with the notes hitting a line on the bottom of the screen.

Castlevania will be back this year on both X-Box and PS2 with Castlevania: Curse of Darkness which will be released in the fall and features a new character who is not a member of the Belmost family. Hector is a man who once served Dracula as a Devil Forgemaster but is now fighting against him and his hordes. With the help of “Innocent Devils” that Hector can create and a massive number of weapons to equip, he will explore Dracula’s castle. The Innocent Devils that help Hector will act automatically and each will assist him in a number of ways, for example, a stone golem can provide him with defensive skills, while a fairy can help with healing abilities. The other Castlevania title coming out this year will be Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS. Dawn of Sorrow is the sequel to the brilliant Aria of Sorrow seen on the GBA two years ago. The new features of this title that make use of the DS’ touch screen and stylus is the new Magic Seal system where you must draw a magic seal to enter a boss room and in order to land the killing blow on a boss. The graphics are beautifully detailed and remind me a lot of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this is yet another title I can’t wait to get my hands on when it ships this fall.

Konami had a lot of the anime series licenses on hand, with new titles for Yu-Gi-Oh, Shaman King, and Dragon Booster. There were also new titles for Frogger and Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, and a new game for GBA WinX Club. Also in the handheld department there was a new title called Lost in Blue which will remind players very much of a handheld version of Ico. Players assume the role of a young man trapped on a deserted island with only a girl there to help him out. Players will use the stylus and microphone in a number of ways, lighting fires, cooking food and more. Also in the handheld department was Y’s Ark of Napishtim for the PSP which features a new graphical style, where as the PS2 used polygons for their character models the PSP version will use super deformed sprite character. There will also be a jukebox mode and a new dungeon along with nine mini-games; be sure to look out for this when it comes out this fall.

Steel Lancer Artificial Intelligence will be released for the PS2 later this year and is the sequel to the under appreciated Phantom Crash for the X-Box. This mech combat title will feature online play and has 40 different arm weapons and will have over 100 different modules that will alter stats or give special abilities to your mech called a Chip. The customized Chip that you create can also be used online is one of the eight arenas that are used in offline play as well. Lastly there was a new brawler featuring rappers D-12 called Crime Life: Gang Wars that seemed comparable to the other titles like the new Final Fight and Urban Reign. All in all a strong showing from Konami.The last day of E3 is always a little bittersweet for me. It never seems like I get to see everything that I want to and there’s a slight sense of frustration at not being able to play every game that I want to. It’s also the day your body finally gets used to all the noise, over stimulation, and all of the walking and standing you do at the show.

Our first meeting of the day was with Activision and if you read my part of E3 Preview you know that I was really looking forward to our two hour meeting even though I was a bit surprised that the appointment was that long. The semi irony of the situation is even though John and I spent the full two hours there we didn’t see all of the titles Activision had on display which means I owe an apology, and maybe a beer or two to our PR rep.

The first title I looked at was the Ultimate Spider-Man a new game based on the Ultimate version of the Spider-Man franchise. This version of the mythos has a 15 year old Peter Parker working as a web designer at the Daily Bugle and his secret identity is actually known by Mary Jane and a few other people. The game has a great comic book because the development team is using a new technology called “3D Comic Inking”. 3D Comic Inking is an enhanced version of your standard cell shaded drawing technique. The team has added different weighted inks in the characters, more detailed shadows and a few other small enhancements. What this means is that you have your cell shaded look with a lot more detail like musculature. The end result is an impressive, animated comic book look and feel with a lot of depth and character. The Motion Graphic Panels are used as interstitials between the action sequences which start with your typical comic book panels but are then animated to help advance the plot of the game. It’s a nice touch and further helps to enhance the feel of the game.

The game play is solid and if you loved being able to swing around the city in the Spider-Man 2 game last year you’ll be glad to know that not only can you swing throughout the entire city of Manhattan as well but Spidey’s home turf of Queens as well. In nod to the fan-boys out there, you’ll only play as Spider-Man for a little over half the game as you’ll strap on the black tights of Venom for the rest of the game. The game play changes a bit as Venom can’t spin webs or user them to swing around the city. Rather he can jump large distances at a time and has tentacles that he can use to attack enemies. Venom doesn’t climb walls like Spidey either, instead of sticking to the walls he uses his claws to dig into the walls. Both sides are intertwined into one plot being able to play both roles in the game is a great way to break up some of the monotony of playing the same character through out the entire game.

There are so some cool little mini-games built in. In the demo I saw you had to rapidly push the R1 and R2 buttons in tandem in order to move a car that had fallen on a woman. The game also allows you to use the environment to attack enemies, such as running ata wall and then leaping off it to attack a group of enemies. The game will be on shelves in fall of 2005 for all three consoles.
Continuing the super hero theme, the next game we were shown was X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse. I liked the first game so I was interested to see what Raven was going to do with the follow-up. If you read the books you might remember Apocalypse as one of the bigger bad guys in the history of the comic and given he has plans to enslave the entire planet might you might expect the X-men to step in and stop that from happening. The problem is that he job is a little more they can handle and they enlist with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (the antagonists from the first game) to take out Apocalypse.

The game looks good and while the graphics look better it’s the game play that’s received a lot of attention. Based on feedback from gamers, the team at Raven doubled the number of powers for each mutant and tweaked the powers of some of the mutants already in the game (such as Nightcrawler getting a sword).

Another major change is that since Apocalypse knows that the X-Men are based out of the Xavier institute they will have multiple head quarters throughout the game including the Weapon-X facility from the first game. Another new feature is that at any time in a mission you’ll be able to go back to the HQ to sell items you’ve picked up or swap in new teammates.

You can now assign team leaders to lead during the missions. The team leader gets nice shiny gold lettering as well as a new random power. This should help re-playability but you have to hope it doesn’t effect the gameplay balance at tall.

The levels in the game have also received some development TLC. Along with the new tilesets gamers can expect even more detailed and destructible levels which should amp up the mutant carnage to the Nth degree. Why would you want to do this? Because the developers are hiding tons of secrets through out the game and those who create the biggest messes have the best chance of finding them.

The biggest addition to the game is the new online co-op play for the Xbox, PS2, PSP, and PC versions of the game. The dev team has spent a lot of time around making this the best experience possible. To do that they dramatically streamlined the menu structures and added in a new auto leveling up system that allows you to preset which powers and skills you want to upgrade. This is important as you don’t want to waste time waiting for one of your team members to pick which skills and powers they want to upgrade while you play. You can also vary the number of players in your party so if you’re like John and don’t have three friends you can play with fewer players. Another addition is the ability to re-assign skills only the fly while you are playing. This again will save you some time while you’re waiting for your friend to decide which powers they want to use in the game. Co-op players will all have the exact same view of the action so there’s still a possibility of having one player get stuff off in a second room.

While the cut-scenes in the first game were decent Raven has decided to hire Blur studio to do the new cut-scenes in the new game. We were treated to one of the first ones in the game and we came away very impressed with the new look and detail in the what we were shown.
The final part of my time with Activision was a look at Tony Hawk:American Wasteland. The plot of the game has you as a simple skater from the Midwest who’s headed to LA to seek fame and fortune in the bright lights of LA. As part of this you’ll work to help create a new skate park by collection various things around the city.

The biggest feature of this game is the absolutely massive world they’ve created for you to skate through. Gamers will have the chance to skate from virtual Santa Monica to virtual LA without any load screens. Zero, Nada, zippo. The effect is impressive as we were given a nice 10 minute virtual tour. It’s almost unnatural as you really expect to see some kind of load screen at some point but it never comes. Even entering the shops on the street is seamless and without hesitation. At the various stores you’ll be able to get new haircuts and gear to dress you skater in. Each area of the city will offer you different choices based on the style of that area.

The second big addition to the game is that they’ve added in a bicycle to the game. The bike will have its own set of missions but you can also use it to beat some of the skateboard missions in the game in case you’re in one of those “two wheels good, four wheels bad” moods.

It wouldn’t be a new skating game without new moves and they’ve added in a new set of moves that are based on the Z-boys skating techniques of the 70’s. If you’re a skating fan and wondering what I’m talking about please go out and buy this movie.

The game looks solid and it looks like it should be more than just a slightly upgraded version of last year’s THUG 2.
If you’re good at something, you should stick to it. That saying applies to CDV as almost every game they were showing this year was a 3D World War II RTS game. That’s not a bad thing if you’re doing something right and from the looks of it, strategy gamers are going to be sending a bunch of money CDV’s way.

American Conquest - Divided Nation is the only game not involving Nazi’s that I talked with them about. The game is being billed as something of an old school RTS game. Like the title suggests the game has you fighting the wars in America around the 19th century. You’ll get everything from the battle of Shiloh to Gettysburg.

Next on the docket was Blitzkrieg II, a follow up to last year’s strategy game. The game is aimed at the hard core gamers and features the highest level of authenticity of the games on display.

Codename Panzers: Phase II is another sequel with a host of new goodies for strategy gamers. The first is the addition of some new voice and writing talent to the game. Robocop himself, Peter Weller, will be lending his vocals to the game and they have hired writers from Law & Order and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to help come up with the script of the game.

The game will also feature distinct night and day cycles. During the night your ground units get an added element of stealth and you have the option of turning the headlights on and off for your vehicles. Turning them on allows you to expand your field of view but makes them a more visible target. Turning them off allows a slight element of stealth but cuts down what you can see at night. The game looks like a nice follow-up to last years game.

Warfront – Turning Point is the one of the bunch with a bit of a twist. The game is more of an alternate history in which Hitler was assassinated at the start of the war and the war takes a bit of a different turn. The game will also feature a lot of the secret weapons under development at the end of the war (the first Surface to Air missiles, flying wings, jet aircraft).

The game takes a bit of a “Hollywood” twist in that the game has more of a cinematic angle to it with bigger explosions. The game looks great with tons of lighting effects, detailed units. Weather and night also come into play as both effect your units ability to see. A cool feature is that you can use flares to temporarily illuminate the area which will help snuff out those sneaky bastard who are trying to sneak up on you.

In an interesting twist you’ll be able to take direct control of some of the units. Think you can do a better job manning the cannons? Take control and have a little fun. Want to drive your tanks around? You can do so. It’s a nice change of pace and should satisfy those with ultimate control issues.

The game will feature two single player campaigns (German and US) as well as four playable sides in multiplayer (French and Russians). The game looks to be something strategy gamers will want to get their hands on when it ships in the first half of 2006.

That wraps up my coverage of the show. I’ve got a impressions of a few more games to to post later in the week but I just need to get the body adjusted to eastern standard time and get caught up on some sleep. I had only one appointment today, because I wanted to spend the last day of my first E3 taking in the sights and sounds of the show. The appointment was an important one for me though, as it was with hardware manufacturer Saitek. With my personal goals for E3 regarding controllers for both PC and console, I hoped to find some new items that I could really enjoy.

My appointment was with Tiffany Massey, Public Relations for Saitek USA, who led me through the 2005 product line. I spoke with Mark Starrett, Product Marketing Manager, and Michael Dotson, Director of Sales at an event last night, so I was already somewhat familiar with the product line, but there were still some surprises.

While Saitek has a tremendous overall line, I’m going to focus on the Eclipse Keyboard, the upcoming Pro Gamer Command Pad, and the X-52 Flight Control System.

The Eclipse Keyboard is an improvement on the Saitek Gaming Keyboard released earlier in 2005. This keyboard adds True-Vu key illumination to the backlighting innovation provided in the Gaming Keyboard. True-Vu uses laser etching to create transparent letters for the patented blue LED to shine through. Unlike the Gaming Keyboard, the Eclipse does not include a command pad. Saitek was kind enough to provide me with an Eclipse to review, so you’ll be able to read that article in the coming few days.

If a full keyboard is not to your liking, then perhaps the Pro Gamer Command Pad will be. This control is essentially a keyboard substitute, similar in nature to the Nostromo N52 speed pad, but with enhanced ergonomics and functionality. With 19 keys and a 4 way digital hat, the Command Pad offers nearly everything a gamer could need in the heat of battle. With an MSRP of $39.99, this pad should fly off the shelves when it debuts in September 2005.

Lastly, the flagship gaming control in the Saitek line is the X-52 Flight Control System. The replacement for their critically acclaimed X-45, the X-52 takes flight simulation controllers to a whole new level.

The X-52 features a throttle control with 2 fire buttons, a clickable scroll wheel, an 8-way hat switch, and most impressively, a multi-function display on the base of the control which receives input from the game, allowing an even more realistic gaming experience. The joystick has a 2-stage metal trigger, four fire buttons with a spring loaded safety covering the missile launcher, two 8-way hat switches, and 3 programmable toggle switches allowing up to 6 flight commands. Both controllers are lit with the same blue LED as the Eclipse keyboard and Pro Gamer Command Pad.

As I spent a little time using the X-52 in the Saitek booth, I realized something significant. In a time when many control manufacturers seem to be struggling to produce quality flight simulation controllers at a reasonable price point, Saitek is actually adding new features to its top of the line stick and throttle. While CH Products has slowly been reducing the quality of the plastics used in its flight controls to a point where they actually look cheap, Saitek maintains the highest level of realism and feel in the X-52.

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

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