E3 Day Three

E3 Day Three

Written by The GN Staff on 5/15/2004 for
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John's Last Day...

For once this year, I took a very light day and decided to wander the show floor and gather some information. With only one appointment on Friday, I had a nice time going around and seeing what was shown without having to be on a set schedule. So let’s get started with some Autoduel like action.

Auto Assault located at the NCSoft booth is a MMORPG that has an Autoduel feel. Three races: human, mutants, and biomechs are wandering the Earth courtesy of some weird alien object crashing to the Earth. Humans have been underground and are now emerging to the surface to face the mutants who are the product of the alien attack. Biomechs just cut off any mutating body part and replace it with a mechanical replacement. There are multiple ways to drive your cars and outfitting them is easy with the drag and drop system. The developers are big Diablo fans and wanted some of the features in that game in Auto Assault. Some weapons have sockets that can be used to upgrade them. If you play an engineer class, you can even deconstruct some weapons and rebuild them yourself, even be a weaponsmith as your career in the game. While there are no playable air vehicles, there are some AI that are able to fly. While not determined, the rep said around 45 vehicles split between the races in four classes will be available. Again, that’s just an estimation and the final number can be different. Multiple paint jobs will help differentiate your vehicle from the rest. If you decide to play as a biomech race, you can even transform your vehicle to fight. Almost everything is destructible from buildings to nature. Using the Havok physics engine, buildings crumble in random ways and not duplicated on replay. Rag doll physics play a part when you run over mutants in your way. There are various themed tilesets ranging from desert wastelands to ghost towns that should make different locations unique. Night and day effects along with weather are also prominent in the game. The center portion of the server where the alien object resides is mostly the player vs. player area. Town life features your avatar wandering to different shops and buildings. Arena duels are also featured so you can compete against others in contests in the city. Your garage can hold up to eight vehicles and while the final verdict on if they will be transferred to the different towns you are not parked in, there is some early talk of paying a transport fee to get your vehicle parked in one town to the one you are currently in. Speaking of your avatar, the character has stats too and help determine some of the combat and driving in the game. Unfortunately, you can’t carjack a vehicle out on the open road though. The game is great for a quick play with your friends or spending a ton of time on the server like traditional MMORPGs. Auto Assault looked like a ton of fun and a definite change from the other MMORPGs out there.

Stopping by the EA booth, I took a look at NCAA Football 2005. The big news, of course, is the inclusion of Xbox Live support and it was evident in Microsoft area with playable versions linked up. Crowd noise is now important as if it’s too loud, some of your players will have trouble hearing your signals and will give you a confused gesture. There are even the toughest 25 stadiums to play at listed in the game. A deeper dynasty mode gives you some new problems to deal with. One specifically is the feature that some of your players may violate rules and you’ll have to discipline them. Depending on the severity of your punishment will determine how many points it will cost. A total pool of points per season prevents you from handing out these punishments left and right. On the field, you’ll see more realistic running and better tackling. A matchup view can give you a quick read on what players are composed, rattled, or outmatched. Use this to exploit your opponents’ defense or offense. Fan celebrations that I saw include band members clapping and students doing the tomahawk chop. You can even create signs that the fans hold now to give your stadium some new looks. I’m just excited that Xbox Live support is in there and I did play the game at the Microsoft booth online with some good results. Look for it in the fall right before college football season.
John's Last Day continued...

Heading over to the Sega booth, I decided to do some quick looks at a few of their sports titles. ESPN NBA 2005 was my favorite NBA game of last season and Sega’s hard at work on the next iteration. It’s 60% done in the build I tried and they had the PS2 and Xbox version side by side. Graphics are a lot sharper on the Xbox version though. While running the floor, you can see the reflection of the rafters and the scoreboard above along with reflections of the players that fade naturally. The character models don’t seem as detailed as NBA Live 2005 but they aren’t bad. It was rather funny seeing Ben Wallace’s fro as he runs up the court on a fast break. The action seems more disciplined than NBA Live 2005 and it feels pretty good.

ESPN Football 2005 has an incredibly polished look to it with clear and concise menus. The ESPN style of presentation oozes from this title and the replays look exactly like an ESPN highlight. The action featured smooth animation and hard hitting tackles. The NFL commissioner definitely wouldn’t appreciate some of the celebrations as I saw one where after a player scored a touchdown, he ran to the side where a teammate was holding out his arms like a basketball hoop and the player that scored danced and dunked the football. He was helmetless also so I don’t know if he pulled a Dwayne Rudd and threw it while he was on the field. It’s 75% complete and should be out in the fall before football season.

Finally, a very early build of the college basketball game from ESPN was on the floor. Playing Saint Joes’ against Duke, the action was still too similar to ESPN NBA 2005 and had various bugs. For instance, trying a pump fake resulted in my player faking and going up and coming down with the ball. That aside, the game looked well and I was impressed by the texture map on the basketball making it a very realistic model. A double teamed player would flail about trying to get the ball away from the opponent’s hands. There was also a nice animation sequence of a player chasing after a ball going out of bounds that was different from the dive that’s featured in the previous version. You can also tell tired players as they are hunched over and they swing their arms back and forth. It was only 30% done and they do have a long ways to go but it should be out before college basketball season.

Heading to the Maxis area of the EA booth, fans of the Sims should be drooling over the Sims 2. A very nice rep demonstrated the game for me there. For starters, there is a movie capture option so you can share some moments with fans around the world. As you create your sim, you set his aspiration and that determines how you will play the game and what your wants and fears are. The same generic needs are still there like hunger and bodily functions but they are not emphasized as much now. The sims live, grow up, and die now so a complete life cycle is simulated. You can force some of the events if you want to or live the game and let it normally happen. Those who were annoyed at the process of the original of having to work constantly will be happy to know the job portion is now a lot less taxing and won’t figure that important into the process unless you aspire for fame or fortune. Maxis has let you focus on the more fun aspects of the game and doesn’t force you to do things that are mundane now. The move to the 3D engine has done wonders to the look of the game. Graphics are crisp and clean with hilarious animation sequences and a free floating camera system. Seeing the reactions of the sims to various situations are priceless. Making the sim look exactly like members of your family is a lot easier now with the 3D engine as you can morph portions of the face in many different ways. There are some preset face styles but you have total control also. Around 500 pieces of clothing will be there initially to outfit your sims with a release of a tool to create your own soon to follow. A hard date of September 17th is when this game is released.

My final appointment of the show was with Razer. For serious gamers out there, many tout the Boomslang as the best mice to use for games. I never did know how much Razer goes into making a mouse but I was impressed at their attention to detail and the little things they do.Recently, they have released the new Viper that is an optical mouse with a 1000 DPI that’s good for both left and right handed people. The drivers have no effect on how well the mouse works and it’s all hardware here that makes this mouse a smooth performer. Boomslang 2 is in the design stages but you can see some of the pictures below on the design that’s slightly different from the original one. The new pad Razer is producing has two sides and a very solid feel. The speed side is pretty smoth while the control side’s surface is more coarse. The large mouse surface will provide speed and control for your Razer any other kind of mouse. Razer is also branching off into the audio territory with two new headphones. The Piranha and Barracuda will be 5.1 headphones and some will have mics. Razer’s looking to keep the gaming community happy and their products are well respected. From what I saw, they won’t let you guys down.
John's Last Day Concluded....

Now here’s a little rant. I know we’re not a huge site right now but I feel we do a good job at what we do and we are honest about what we talk about. Plus we don’t break NDAs like some other sites that shall be remained nameless. In any case, there are some companies at E3 that really leave a sour taste in my mouth. Being this is my eighth year at the show, I’m more into meeting with the people I work with than anything else. I enjoy the industry tremendously and I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing if I didn’t love it. Companies like Microsoft, ATI, NVIDIA, Activision, and Logitech always impress me with how well they treat us even though we are not one of the giants in the webzine community. They don’t need us at all yet they do all they can to support us. Without them, Gaming Nexus wouldn’t be able to function. Now every year, we go to two companies that are pretty big in the industry but are always given the run around or treated like we’re inconsequential. This year was no exception. It just boggles my mind at how they treat some of the sites that come to see them and give them some coverage. We still cover their products though even with the snub they usually give us. I understand that they are very busy at times and have to deal with a large number of companies but when you tell a member of the media that you don’t have time, won’t talk to you unless you have an appointment, and proceed to stand back and watch for the next half hour at the person as he proceeds to write about your new products and not offer any help, that just seems very unprofessional to me. The funny thing is it’s not like we were never in good with these two as we worked many times in the past together and worked well. I guess I’m more disappointed in the fact that they give off the feeling they are better than anyone and don’t need to talk to you unless you are "important". To name the companies that don’t seem to respect the lesser known web sites would be unprofessional but I do hope that someday that they see the light and help give some time and effort into getting to know them more as I’m sure we weren’t the only ones that this has happened to. So, I’d like to thank all the companies that did meet with us and took the time out of their busy schedule. I really appreciate their hospitality and the people I met reiterate the love I have for the show and the industry. I hope to see you again next year.

The gaming community has been buzzing about the Phantom console for the last two years. Did the product even exist or was this just an elaborate hoax to try and sell a business model? Well I found out today that it is an actual product and it will be available to consumers on November 18th, 2004. For those who haven’t been following the system, the Phantom is a new console from Infinum labs that will allow users to download and play PC video games on their home TV. The system specs for the system are
  • AMD Athlon XP 2500+
  • Nvidia GeForce FX 5700 Ultra
  • Nvidia nForce2 Ultra 400
  • 256 MB of RAM (which they claim is equivalent to 512 MB of PC RAM)
  • 40 GB hard drive
  • Custom controller and keyboard/mouse combo
. Certainly not bad specs for a system (especially one that doesn’t have the overhead of running WindowsXP). You’ll notice that I didn’t mention any kind of CD or DVD drive in the specs. That’s because the Phantom downloads all of its content over a broadband connection. Users log into the Phantom service, browse through the available games (which can be sorted by such things as a game’s title, category, or ESRB rating), and then they can try a quick demo of the game or they can purchase the game. Once a game has been purchased it is downloaded to the local storage device. Instead of having to download the entire game, an initial footprint is downloaded and then the rest of the game is streamed down to the device while you play the first part of the game.

The Phantom is a closed box system and users will not be able to upgrade the hardware inside. Instead what they can do is to get a new console at the end of their service agreement (which I’ll discuss further on).

One family friend feature of the Phantom is that users can setup profiles so that certain users can only play/purchase certain types of games. For instance you could setup a profile for a teenage son and they would only be able to access purchased games that have an ESRB Teen rating and below while the five year old in the family would only be able to play games rated with an Everyone rating. This is kind of a nice feature as it could really helps parents manage what their children are playing. Profiles can also be skinned differently

The one thing I really liked about the Phantom was the keyboard/mouse controller. The keyboard can be tilted up and then twisted forming an excellent surface to play games with (it’s very oriented to the standard WASD configuration though so your mileage may vary). The mouse is situation underneath the lifted keyboard for easy access. Lefties aren’t left out as the keyboard can be rotated to accommodate south paws. The mouse is a little on the small but features the standard two buttons and a scroll wheel. It might be nice to have a few more customizable buttons on the final version though since it’s kind of hard to reach keys on the far right of the keyboard. I did play some Unreal Tournament 2004 deathmatch and it was very comfortable to use. PC gamers will feel right at home with the system (if the consoled doesn’t work out they should sell the mouse/keyboard combo’s for home theatre users).

I didn’t get a chance to check out the game controller but one will ship with the system and you’ll be able to purchase additional ones if you’re so inclined. The keyboard, mouse, and controller are all USB which can be chained together. Phantom is not currently working through the issue of supporting third part USB devices but for right now users are limited to what Phantom provides with the system.

Users who want to purchase a Phantom will have two options. They can sign a two year subscription and get the system (the console, keyboard/mouse, and one controller) for free or they can purchase a system for $199 and pay a monthly fee of $29.99. If the consumer does end up having a subscription for twenty four straight months they will be able to get a credit $199. For their subscription fee, users will have access to a set of free games as well as the ability to purchase “premium” games. Prices for “premium” games will be comparable to what you would pay at a retail store for a game.

The next big mystery for the Phantom will be what games will be on the system and which games users will be able to download to the system. The demonstration systems had the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo and some other games loaded on it but they actual list of games has yet to materialize. According to the PR person I talked to, the final Phantom will actually be a little smaller than the pre-production model they had at the booth this year. The Phantom is a pretty ideal publishing system for game companies (electronic distribution with no retailers in the middle) but it remains to be seen if consumers will benefit as well.Between the HyTek, Phantom, and DISCover presentations I was really starting to question the future of PC gaming…maybe it’s time the computer moves into the living room, maybe this is the future of PC gaming. Fortunately for me my next stop was the Alienware presentation that restored my faith in traditional PC gaming. Before you read on you might want to get a towel to catch all of the drool from the system and performance specs you are about to read.

Alienware is one of the most respected PC manufacturers in the business and they consistently turn out wave after wave of innovative hardware. You couldn’t turn around in E3 without seeing one of their boxes powering a PC game demonstration. In the past Alienware’s innovations have usually been in case design and system configuration but with the announcement of their new Video Array and X2 Motherboard, Alienware is stepping further into the world of custom hardware.

The Video Array system is a new custom hardware and software combinations that will result in a 50% increase in gaming performance. As you may have guessed from the word “Array” in the title the system uses two video cards to increase performance. What happens is that the game sends a video request to a the video card. This request is intercepted by Alienware software and split into two requests. Each request is then sent to a different video card and then combined at Alienware’s Video Merger hub and then passed out to the monitor. Requests are broken up by if they render the top of the screen or the bottom of the screen and dynamic load balancing at the Alienware software level ensures that requests never get out off sync (i.e. in an FPS where the sky isn’t redrawn much while there is a lot of action happening at the bottom of the screen). The system only supports paired boards right now so you won't be able to run some kind of ATI/Nvidia half-breed system (can you imagine trying to work with two sets of videoe drivers?).

This technology will only be found on Alienware’s new X2 Motherboard. The motherboard will support next generation Intel dual processors at 800mHz, dual channel DDS-400 ECC ram (up to 8 GB of RAM), and it will support Extended Memory 64 technology.

All of this technology is going to require quite a lot of power so the systems will require a power supply that provides somewhere north of 800 watts. Where you have power you have heat and with this much heat being generated your typical air cooling system isn’t going to hack it so Alienware has developed a new watering system to keep things nice and quiet.

All of this digital horse-power will only be available in Alienware’s new ALX (Alienware Luxury Experience) line of systems. The systems resemble the existing Area-51 boxes except for a new “hump” on top of the system. This hump is actually part of the new cooling system as well as providing an LED display that will show system temperature and mode.

The ALX systems will also represent Alienware getting back to the days of highly configured, lower-production run systems. The ALX line will have very limited production runs but will be more tailored to the individual gamer. The ALX systems will be available in June and systems featuring the VGA Array and X2 technology will be available in Q3 or Q4 of this year. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet but don’t’ expect this technology to come cheap.Next on the docket was the Nokia N-Gage QD. I had the pleasure of talking to Shane Neville the producer of the N-Gage version of Tony Hawk, The Sims, and Crash Nitro Kart. Shane walked me through how Nokia is going to be supporting their developers a lot more and that should really help improve the quality of the games. Nokia is really committing to having several first party, N-Gage exclusive titles and they should start showing up on shelves soon. Nokia expects to have five to six must have games within the next year.

We also talked about Arena, N-Gage’s online community. This central server based system will be the main hub for all of the online games available on the N-gage. Users will be able to setup lists of friends and if they are online you’ll be able to invite them to join you in a game or message them back and forth. Since the system piggy-backs on the Nokia network you’ll be able to get online anywhere you can get cell phone service (compared to the limited range of Bluetooth networking and the spotty coverage of Wi-Fi connections this is cool for those of you who really want to game on the go).

My last appointment of the day was with THQ. The first game I got a look at was Full Spectrum Warrior. I missed this game last year and have regretted it ever since so I was looking forward to finally getting my hands on the game. The game really lives up to the hype and the realism is amazing. Gamers are really going to have to think differently to get the most out of the game. The mission I played required me to investigate an area of the city for hostile activities. I move the first fire team into the area and started taking fire. Once they eliminated the first enemy they started taking fire from a tank and a soldier with an RPG. I moved my second fire team in to draw the fire from the first fire team so they could move into a better defended position. With that done they were able to clear space for reinforcements to arrive and take out the tank and the RPG trooper. The game looks fantastic as well and should be a good introduction to military tactics and gamers will get a shot at it when it hits shelves on June 7th.

After the realism of Full Spectrum Warrior I had to switch gears to check out the new Punisher game. The game is going to be based more on the comic book rather than the recently released movie. If you’ve ever read the books you know how dark the character is and the game allows you to really experience that first hand. At the surface the game looks like a third person shooting game but the game where the game differs is that in order to gain information about key plot elements you will need to interrogate some of the crooks (they are easily identified by the Punisher logo above their heads. Interrogations can be conducted by using your hands (strangling, punching) or by using special environmental options. One example in the game was that you could persuade the person to give you information by pushing their head into a piranha tank. By using the analog stick you could force them slowly towards the tank until they give you the information you want. Of course you can over do it and kill them before you get the information out of them. The game also allows you to use the criminals as human shields and you can even throw them through doors to break up potential ambushes. The Punisher may be the first game to to make Manhunt look like a Sesame Street game.

The final game I got my grubby hands on was an early build of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl . The game takes place after a second nuclear accident at Chernobyl. You are a Stalker, whose job it is to look through “The Zone” of the explosion for scrap that can be sold for money. You’ll have to fight other stalkers, the military (who is trying to close off the zone) as well as the mutated inhabitants of the area. The FPS game looks great and I got a chance to try an alpha of the Deathmatch multiplayer mode. The game still has a few kinks to work out but the weapons have a nice feel to them and the deathmatch level was well designed. We will definetly be tracking this game between now and it’s release next year.

I had to say that I had a pretty good time at E3 and that I’m in a bit of shock now that’s its over. I did get a chance to see a lot of new games and meet some new people in the industry. I did check out a few more games that I’ve listed in these reports so check back next week with my thoughts on Auto Assault, Mechassault 2, Tribes: Vengeance, and a few others that my sleep deprived brain can’t remember right now.

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

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