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Sarah's E3 Diary

 

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Another E3 has come to pass, and this year things were scaled down a bit: fewer booth babes, fewer half pipes, and fewer freebies. The lack of superfluous extra crap was made up for by my first hands-on look at Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube. This year really marked the beginning of the next gen era; there were hardly any Nintendo 64, PlayStation, or Dreamcast titles being shown, and those that were shown paled when compared to those on the new, more powerful systems. Convergence was the buzzword; almost every game was slated to appear on every system, from PC to the Game Boy Advance. Online game play was hot again this year, and with much emphasis put on console connectivity, both Sony and Microsoft made major announcements on their internet plans. While the hype surrounding E3 was not up to full strength, everyone was talking about the state of the industry. Again this year the video game industry out spent, out produced, and out grossed the movie industry.


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Jerri and Colby from this year’s smash TV show, Survivor 2, made a guest appearance at the Infograme’s booth. Infogrames is just a few months into developing the Survivor game, but they obviously wanted to ride the wave of hype surrounding the Nielsen topping show. The game was still very rough, but promises to be a fairly authentic multi-player/online emulation of the show. Jerri and Colby were surprisingly like they were on TV; Jeri was catty and Colby cock-sure. Infogrames had them doing some lame game show bit, in MTV Spring Break fashion. But the crowd didn’t care and nether did I; we were just happy to be face to face with two true American celebrities.

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Everybody was talking about the Xbox, and I made sure I was playing it. There was quite a crowd surrounding the playable Halo demos, but Munch and Abe were Xbox’s true celebrities. If you haven’t heard yet, the development team for Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus, Oddworld Inhabitants, was developing their latest game, Munch’s Oddysee, for the PlayStation 2. But Lorne Lanning, President/Creative Director of Oddworld Inhabitants, was dissatisfied with the PS2’s capabilities and made the controversial switch to Microsoft’s Xbox. So this year at E3 when Microsoft made Abe and Munch their stars it was a slight jab at Sony and their PS2. But it doesn’t matter if you’re anti-Microsoft or pro-Sony, Munch’s Oddysee will be one of the most innovative and breathtaking games debuting this year.

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At E3, in the glorious LA Convention Center, most of the third party developers are packed into south hall. All PC titles are ultimately third party, so south hall is were all the computer dorks hang out to play games such as Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal and Neverwinter Nights. I caught a few glimpses of PC games, and I guess they looked pretty good, but being a console gamer myself, I was more interested in third party console action (of which there was plenty). EA took up as much room as humanly possible, their giant screens, Harry Potter’s castle, and location near the front door made them impossible to miss. I was taken by a few of their games, NBA Street and James Bond 007 in...Agent Under Fire. But EA’s true crowd pleaser had to be Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Without even a playable demo on the floor there was a buzz about Medal of Honor’s graphic beach scene that parallels and rivals the cinematography of Saving Private Ryan. EA wasn’t the only attraction in south hall: Infogrames, Activision, Rockstar, and others also managed to put on the glitz.


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It’s now become a tradition at E3 to have at least a couple world class skaters ripping up the halfpipe. Last year there were three halfpipes scattered around the convention center; this year Activision sported the only one. But there was plenty of action unfolding on the single pipe. Mat Hoffman, BMX rider extraordinaire, was showing his stuff and pitching his game, Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX. Activison was all excited about their new O2 game line, essentially trying to spin their success with Tony Hawk Pro Skater into a full extreme sports line-up. O2 will include some new franchises like Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder and Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer. Shaun and Kelly couldn’t show their skills in downtown LA but Tony Hawk was there with a few pals: Rune Glifberg, Bucky Lasek, and even Tony’s son, Riley.

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There’s no doubt about it, Working Designs loves their fans. For the second year running they had some of the longest lines in the convention center. What was all the fuss about, I mean besides some of the best written RPG’s in the biz? Well it seems everyone was waiting for a chance to use the crane arm machine (you know what I mean, one of those arcade machines that are usually filled with crappy stuffed animals and other useless trinkets where you have to use the controls to move the arm inside to snag your junk). Anyway, fans of Working Design titles like Arc the Lad and Lunar were happy to wait in line for at least an hour to get there hands on some primo Working Designs swag.


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West hall is were the first party game companies call home during the three days of fury that is E3. Sony and Nintendo had a huge presence; in fact for the first day it was nearly impossible to get up close to a GameCube because of the huge crowd. Sony was hitting hard with tons of new PlayStation 2 games and a few PlayStation games (they wanted to remind us that they haven’t forgotten their old system just yet). Sega’s booth was teeny and closed to the general E3 attendee. It was a sad reminder that the Dreamcast is no more. But somehow the new PS2 games and a tantalizing glimpse of the GameCube made everything feel alright again.

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E3 is a lot of things: convention, trade show, giant leering overblown advertisement. Sometimes in the midst of begging for tee shirts, ogling booth babes (I don’t do this, but your average E3 attendee spends over 40% of their time doing so), and talking over market trends with your pals and PR contacts, it’s easy to forget that all this hype is about video games. Playing the games is the most important and sacred act at E3. Five minutes of gaming on a 70% completed demo will keep me waiting anxiously for it’s release six or more months from now. E3 is a taste of things to come, and while it is also about advertisements and market shares, for me it’s about thrill of being the first kid on the block to play the newest, coolest videogame out there.

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Sarah Wichlacz

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