Electronic Entertainment Expo 1999
First posted on 23 September 1999. Last updated on 14 April 2013.
I live on the US east coast and have had the pleasure of attending the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Atlanta for the past years. When I first hear that the convention is moving back to Los Angeles this year, I feel disappointed initially that I am going to miss out. I then wonder why that has to be. Surely it is going to cost a bit, but I am due for a vacation anyway, so why not! I have read in game magazines gripes about the pains of going to E3—the rowdy crowds and the endless schmoozing. Still, if you are a computer game fanatic, there is simply no experience quite like it. For me, it is like going to Disneyland once a year, and every time it is going be different and more amazing than the last.
The fifth annual E3 is being held on May 12-15 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It is the place where companies announce their latest games for release in the coming years—a peak ahead of what you get to look forward to. This year, I am a bearer of both good and bad news. The bad news, as you are probably already aware, is that the graphic adventure is slowly strangling in the game industry. The current market is interested in more action games that provide quick adrenaline rush than slower paced games that provide thoughtful intellectual challenge. As a result, the industry is pulling the plug from most of its adventure game titles under development. It shows little gratitude to the adventure genre that, at a time in the past, is a big part of the industry when publishers such as Infocom, Sierra On-Line, and LucasArts dominate the market. The good news, however, is that there are still a few die-hard developers who are direct supporting the adventure genre and other developers who are trying to improvise on it to keep the demand alive. Not surprisingly, most game titles that are featured this year are mixed breeds. While a few games are straightforward adventures, many others are action/adventure hybrids. A few more others are at such preliminary stage of development that I am not even sure what they are going to turn out to be by the time they are released.
With this perspective in mind, here is what I have seen in this year's E3.
Activision is putting out 2 action/adventure titles this fall—Star Trek: Insurrection from Presto Studios and Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption from Nihilistic Software.
Star Trek: Insurrection does not retell the story from the Star Trek movie of the same name but takes place years after the events of the movie. The game plays truer to the graphic adventure genre in its story and character interaction, but retains some action aspects when phaser fights occur. Presto Studios is using a mixture of 3D effects and pre-rendered backgrounds to recreate the game world. You play the role of an ensign under the command of Picard who has returned to the planet Ba'ku in an attempt to "thwart the Romulan threat to destroy the Federation once and for all". Not all of the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast have signed on to lend their voices to the game. With Presto Studios' trademark for in-depth quality production, hopefully this title can restore some of the grandeur and creativity that have not been seen in an adventure game based on the Star Trek license since Star Trek: Judgment Rites.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption is an action/adventure game. This game is a hybrid that focuses more on action than adventure. Based on White Wolf's RPGs (Role-Playing Games), this title looks incredibly stunning. I watch as a group of NPCs (Non-Player Characters) and the player (you) wander around a city using vampire powers to accomplish different tasks. The townspeople's reactions to your actions are incredibly real. People flee, attack, or swoon as the you sate our hunger on the citizens to maintain your strength. Whether or not you abuse your powers leads the game to progress in different directions. How well can the story itself hold up remains to be seen. Based on visuals alone, this game looks to be a safe bet for the prospective action/adventure gamers.
It is a disappointment to hear that both The Journeyman Project 4 and Beneath, games that are shown at last year's E3, have been canceled by Presto Studios.
DreamCatcher Interactive is putting out a DVD-ROM version of Cydonia. However, this updated version has been tentatively renamed to Lightbringer. The company representatives seem to be somewhat embarrassed that I recognize this game as what has formerly been called Cydonia. Aside from the less than ecstatic response Cydonia has received from gamers, the biggest source of embarrassment appears to be related to the poor graphics and limited storage capacity in the original CD-ROM version. To the contrary, the representatives seem to be very pleased with the DVD-ROM version, feeling that it much better represents what the game originally intends to be. In fact, it is rumored that may be an additional extended DVD-ROM version of the game that takes up both sides instead of a single side of the disc.
Eidos Interactive continues to grow in leaps and bounds, having recently brought in a number of developers under its label. Several featured games are action/adventure titles, but it is unclear at this point how much adventure elements may exist in their form. There are 3 such hopefuls for adventure game fans—Anachronox and Deus Ex from Ion Storm, and Omikron: The Nomad Soul from Quantic Dream.
Anachronox is a sci-fi action/adventure game where you and your partner are "in search of a long-dead alien race with the secrets of advanced technology" and "investigate bizarre, futuristic environments, and uncover the mystery of the MysTech devices". The game is powered by the Quake II engine.
Deus Ex is an action/adventure game that takes place "five minutes before the apocalypse", where "chaos is running rampant" and from which "this maelstrom of violence and suffering, an ancient conspiracy bent on worldwide domination emerges from the shadows of legend". The game focuses on character interaction which determines your success in each mission.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul is a "real-time fantasy adventure" where "the evil, thousand-year old Prince of Demons, Astaroth, is collecting souls". What is unique about this game is that you move about by entering "the body of the first person who touches you after you die".
Funcom is scheduled to release The Longest Journey. This title is billed as an adventure game featuring both 2D and 3D high resolution graphics but your character can move on screen in the typical style of graphic adventure games.. The graphics in this game are truly beautiful. A lot of focus is put on developing the plot and character interaction as well as logical puzzles. The main character you play is a female with an unique gift, "She is a Shifter, and the power to walk between worlds is within her grasp, though she does not yet know it. She holds the Balance, and the fate of billions of souls, in her hands. To succeed, she must embark on a journey that will take her across worlds and to the brink of her very existence - and beyond." Keep an eye out for this one; it looks good.
Gathering of Developers
Gathering of Developers (GOD) puts on an interesting show just across the street from the Convention Center. There are live entertainments and outdoor refreshments, with a very young "alternative" feel to everything. It reflects the image that GOD is trying to promote—a rogue group that can gather together to put out some quality products of its own.
The first game, developed in the vein of the Resident Evil series, is Nocturne from Terminal Reality. In this game, "The time is 1940, and werewolves, vampires, vampire brides, mindless zombies and flesh-eating zombies wander the night" You play a special agent "employed by a secret investigative bureau created to counteract these growing supernatural threats" where you "can enlist help from other bureau agents who are available as NPCs. Each has his or her own particular expertise". Think of the game as The X-Files meets gothic horror. It is very dark and very scary.
The second game is Max Payne from 3D Realms. It is an action/adventure hybrid with a penchant for violence. You play as Max. Your family has been killed, so you are out for revenge. You have also been framed for your best friend's murder, and the mob knows just who you are. Do you need any more motivation? The game is 3D and is played from an over the shoulder perspective. What distinguishes this title is the amount of energy put into the realism of the characters' movements, the focus on strategy to survive as compared to straight shootouts, and a character you can sympathize as the story progresses. Gritty, realistic, and tense!
The third game is another action/adventure hybrid called Rune, from Epic Games and Human Head Studios. As Ragnar, a young warrior, "players will be challenged to fight off Nordic creatures and uncover the evil force that is annihilating the population from below". The game "will feature dynamic environments, medieval weaponry, and a perfect balance between action and adventure". The game is not due out until next year.
A surprise for me is spotting Simon the Sorcerer III at the booth of Hasbro Interactive. I recall playing the original title in the series many years ago when Activision has published the game under the Infocom label in the US. The second title in the series has never been published in the US and this third title may not be available in the US either. The latest sequel has moved to 3D which appears to have been a smooth transition. The name of the game has been changed to Simon the Sorcerer 3D. I remember all small humorous animations that play beside the story which has made the first game so endearing. It is a shame that I may have to make some European contacts in order to get hold of a copy of this game when it is released.
As the creator of the Alone in the Dark series, Infogrames is a developer that always holds my interest when seeing what is coming next. Outcast, a game that has gained much interest in last year's show, is back again and is ready to be released. There has been a lot of attention in the press around this title and I am very curious in seeing how it looks at the end of the production. The plot involves an intricate sci-fi story—"In the year 2007, the US government successfully deploys a probe designed to prove the existence of a parallel universe. Minutes into the mission, an intelligent life form damages the probe. The result is a black hole which threatens the very existence of our planet. You are Cutter Slade, US Navy SEAL Commander. Your mission: face the dangers of a mysterious and hostile world in order to recover the probe and close the black hole." My initial reaction to seeing the game in action is somewhat mixed. Outcast definitely plays as a more expansive title than most other action/adventure titles on the current market. It is partly an action shooter. The game's 3D environment is constructed using voxel graphics rather than wire frames. You see the world over the shoulder of your character where you can walk, run, and swim. You can move the third person camera around if the auto viewing angle becomes too restrictive. Unfortunately, the graphics can get gritty at times when you come too close to objects in the game. The game is part adventure—there is a story and much interaction with NPCs that is comparable to RPGs, except you only control a single character rather than a party. The game is also part strategy. To get through an area easier, for example, you can control the food supply that feeds the hostile people who inhabit the area, thereby making them weaker and easier to kill during your excursion. This is the element that has made me hesitate about the enjoyment factor of this game despite the fact that all other elements seem interesting. If a game gets too detailed for me, I lose interest. I simply do not have the time to invest to manage an ecology system in an adventure game.
Not slated for release until early next year is the next sequel to the Alone in the Dark series, Alone in the Dark 4. The creepy style of this sequel is very similar to the old titles in the series. The graphics are now state of the art, like watching a flowing adult cartoon even during gameplay. I am told by the company representatives that a lot of effort is being put into recapturing the elements that have made the first title in the series so great—cool monsters, scary backdrops, gripping story, and solvable puzzles.
Looking Glass Studios
Looking Glass Studios is hard at work on 2 sequels—Thief II: The Metal Age under Eidos Interactive and System Shock 2 under Electronic Arts.
In Thief II: The Metal Age, you are back as Garrett, the master thief. The graphics have been given a facelift. Aside from improved effect and resolution, the overall appearance looks pretty much the same. The title is not available until early next year. The delay is probably due to the focusing of resources by the company into finishing System Shock 2.
System Shock 2 is scheduled to be released this fall. The graphic and parser facelifts in System Shock 2 are much more noticeable than those in Thief II: The Metal Age. This is not surprisingly since the original game of the System Shock series is released many years earlier than that of the Thief series, though the original game is still a respectable title despite its age.
Surprisingly, LucasArts chooses to have a private invitation showing only that excludes many people from the press. Only the Star Wars series of game are being demonstrated on the floor. No other game title from the expected lineup is seen. The only adventure game that LucasArts agrees to discuss is Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, a 3D action/adventure game done in Tomb Raider style but better—"The year is 1947. The Nazis have been crushed, the Cold War has begun and Soviet agents are sniffing around the ruins of the fabled Tower of Babel. What are they up to? The CIA recruits renowned archaeologist and adventurer, Dr Henry "Indiana" Jones, to find out." A variety of weapons are featured in this game so that action is likely the primary mode of play.
Project Two Interactive
Project Two Interactive is putting out 2 graphic adventures, one of which has already been released in Europe.
Liath is a traditional looking fantasy graphic adventure game. The look of the game is very sharp, using rendered graphics and a moving camera view as you go from screen to screen. While I am impressed with the title visually, I find the parser to be somewhat awkward to use and feel that there are big gaps in how all the game elements connected in the story. The architecture in this fantasy world is very much like the warped view in Leisure Suit Larry where everything has a twisted cartoonish perspective. The title is expected to be released in the US in September.
Tunguska - Legend of Faith is described as an arcade adventure/combat game. It definitely has more of a focus on combat as in RPGs than Liath. The game is obviously a hybrid trying to reach several different profiles of gamers. The game is set in a fantasy world with a medieval feel. You move from screen to screen while the camera changes the viewing angle as it transitions to your new location. Combat is very arcade oriented. However, there is also a plot and puzzle solving thrown in. It is unclear to me how this one is going to turn out, but it looks interesting enough just to see how the designers choose to balance the different genres in the end.
Jane Jensen and company representative from Sierra Studios are both saying that Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned is set to be released in August this year. The third title in the popular Gabriel Knight series has returned to its animation roots but with 3D rather than not 2D characters and backgrounds. It has abandoned the use of Full Motion Videos (FMVs) as in the previous sequel The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery. Returning from the original game, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, is Tim Curry as the voice of Gabriel Knight. Once again, the story splits paths between Gabriel and Grace exploring in different directions. This time, the story involves vampires, the Knights Templar, Christ, and the Holy Grail. Just how much controversy it may subsequently stir up is anyone's guess at this point. Personally I hope they do not push things too far (shades of Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh).
The sequel to Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier has been canceled several months ago. It saddens me to see that Gabriel Knight is the only graphic adventure series being advertised for the fall lineup by this company.
SouthPeak Interactive has just released the DVD-ROM version of Dark Side of the Moon this past month. The company is scheduled to release 20,000 Leagues: The Adventure Continues early next year. Interestingly, the developer is foregoing a CD-ROM version and is releasing a DVD-ROM version only, in order to retain the quality of the graphics i as well as the playability of the game. Another reason why there may be a wait is the fact since the popularity of DVD drives in computers is still in its infancy at present. From its initial appearance, the game looks similar to Dark Side of the Moon, both in terms of the use of FMVs for character interactions and dynamically rendered backgrounds for navigation. The quality of the picture is crystal clear. The actors look natural in their true to period costumes and the acting seems to be of good quality. I sincerely believe that SouthPeak Interactive continues to improve on the development of its games, so this title should be something to look forward to when it arrives in stores.
Strategy First has advertised recently about an action/adventure game called Clans which, at first glance, appears to be yet another Diablo clone. I have not been impressed with the screenshots that are used in the advertisements, so it is with some surprise when I see this title at the show and do not realize initially that what I am watching the same game. Not only is this game not a Diablo look-alike, this game seems to stretch into both the hack and slash genre and the adventure genre. It is more graphically detailed than the small screenshots from advertisements can do justice. You are still exploring indoor dungeons and outdoor wilderness, but your are essentially going from room to room rather than on a broad open expanse. While there are definitely combat which are limited to a handful of monsters in each room, there are also object manipulations, puzzles, and a plot. The game emphasizes more on exploration than hacking. I am not sure how much this can feed the appetite of an adventure gamer, but it has certainly raised my interest and has gotten itself added to my shopping list.
TerraGlyph is putting out an adventure game based on the Tiny Toon Adventures license called Toonenstein. It uses animated characters from the series along with animated backdrops. The game has different built-in difficulty settings in order to vary the puzzle difficulty for different ages. The cartoon characters stand around on screen and prompt you with hints when the program senses that you are getting stuck. A slight variation in character control is that you actually move about within the rooms in a virtual manner, walking behind the characters from a first person perspective if you choose. The game requirements are very steep—Pentium III, AGP, 128MB RAM, and 500MB hard disk space (I kid you not). So the real question is not going to be "when does it come out?" but "who is going to be able to play it when it comes out?".
Ubi Soft Entertainment
Ubi Soft Entertainment is announcing a real-time adventure game called Arcatera: The Dark Brotherhood from Westka Entertainment. The story is around a "criminal investigation where the hero has only 3 weeks to counter the evil deeds of a satanic gang who are trying to overthrow the city's Prince and bring turmoil to its inhabitants". As expected, gameplay has a time limit and features different endings depending on how well your investigation has gone. The game is a RPG/adventure hybrid, but the company representatives at the show say that the character stats and other RPG elements are being removed or hidden in the game to put game focus on the adventure elements. You can have more than a single character in the form of a party as you travel within the game.
Some of the game titles expected but are not seen at the show include Discworld Noir, Werewolf, and Ultima IX: Ascension. The majority of the games at this year's show are split between the hybrid of action/adventure/shooter titles and the resurgence of RPG titles. If you should ever get a chance to attend E3 (the even is closed to the general public and does not admit those under 18 years of age), do not listen to the complaints about the crowds and the schmoozing. It is worth the time, the money, and the traveling. Having experienced it this year, I am already looking forward to the one next year.