Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010
First posted on 03 September 2010. Last updated on 14 April 2013.
|Huge crowds gathered on the opening day of the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010.|
|I... Telltale Games hover board... 'nuff said.|
|There were many booth babes and even more geeks who did not know what to do with them!|
It was back in 1999 when we last attended the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). With the expo back in Los Angeles and once again an industry facing event, we dropped in on E3 2010 to see how much had changed over a decade. We were pleased to find a number of upcoming adventure game releases, both classic and new. We visited Telltale Games for the lowdown on its newest projects, and we dropped by LucasArts for a sneak peak at its revamped classic series. All the while, we discovered other game release tidbits, amidst the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles that filled the months of summer.
In 1999, news of the Dreamcast debut from Sega packed the floors of the E3. The Xbox was not even a twinkle in Microsoft's eyes. This year, the halls of the E3 was dominated by the Microsoft Xbox Kinect, Sony PlayStation Move, and Nintendo 3DS. Appropriately, the Los Angeles Kings won the NBA championship, and cars parked mere blocks from the Los Angeles Convention Center where E3 was held (on June 15-17) suffered the wrath of ecstatic basketball fans. On the other hand, finding adventure games at this year's E3 turned out to be a search for diamonds in the rough, but the payoff still ended up worth the mighty effort.
Telltale Games opted for closed-door meeting rather than floor demonstration of its games. We spoke with a spokesperson from Telltale Games who showed a trailer of Sam & Max: Season 3, noted Tales of Monkey Island's debut on the PlayStation Network, and dove into a demo of Puzzle Agent.
Puzzle Agent is the first of the developer's forays into the newly announced Pilot Program, in which the first episode of a new series is produced and the development of subsequent episodes depends on the sales of the first. This strategy is made possible through the developer's episodic game format, wherein most of the assets for a game's series created for the first episode are recycled for subsequent episodes. This program allows Telltale Games to invest only in the production of the first game and to yield much higher returns by way of reduced production costs for subsequent games if the series sells well.
Indeed, Puzzle Agent looks like a great way to kick off this experimental program. Featuring the unique visual style of cartoonist Graham Annable, the game follows the exploits of FBI Agent Nelson Tethers as he travels to the small-town Scoggins, Minnesota in the dead of winter to investigate troubles at the local eraser factory. The introduction charmingly sets up Agent Tethers as an agent of the US Department of Puzzle Research, regulated to work at the bottom of the basement in the FBI headquarter. The game's story features more than a little supernatural mystery à la X-Files, combined with the small-town quirk of Twin Peaks or Fargo. Yet, the game's structure is actually closer to Professor Layton than most of the developer's own library of games. Telltale Games openly acknowledges this in its press release of Puzzle Agent, and it is keen to show it off to any press who spends time with the game.
The game opens with you, as Agent Tethers, at your FBI office. You are quickly put to the game's first puzzle: a jigsaw puzzle that requires you to piece together a torn sheet of paper with an important clue. Once the puzzle is opened, the game cannot advance until it is solved. When finished, the game shows off a cut scene in which you arrive in Scoggins to begin your investigation. Soon, you are tasked to solving a few more puzzles, including a puzzle that requires the strategic placement of logs to guide a snowmobile through the Minnesota countryside.
The game seems somewhat linear at the beginning. The plot advances only after a preset of puzzles are unlocked and solved. However, according to the developer, the game becomes less linear once the tutorial concludes, so that you can roam around Scoggins looking for clues and following the trail of evidence as you see fit.
The variety of puzzles in this game varies more than that in traditional inventory based adventure games. This change is a welcomed development for Telltale Games, though Puzzle Agent is such a departure from the developer's typical outings that it plays much less like Sam & Max and more like Professor Layton. This is its biggest strength and its only weakness: gamers who are expecting a classic adventure game are not going to find it here. However, pushing boundaries is exactly what Telltale Games needs to be doing right now, and the game delivers on that premise. Further, its pencil laden art style and quirky humor perfectly compliment the new direction taken by the series. Puzzle Agent is a great new step for Telltale Games and offers adventure gamers, both veteran and newbie, a challenge that they will enjoy wrapping their brains around for hours.
The first episode of Puzzle Agent is now available on the PC. Releases of future episodes will depend on how well the first episode sells.
On the way out of the booth, we managed to ask the spokesperson a few questions about Telltale Games' other upcoming projects, specifically Jurassic Park and Back to the Future. Both game series would follow Telltale Games' episodic release model. Details which were given to us were vague, and answers which we got were carefully crafted. Still, we were able to pick out a few key pieces of information about these games.
For Jurassic Park, we were told that the game would have more of an action focus than previous games from the developer. Although any game mechanic was not strictly mentioned by name, the use of Quick Time Event mechanic was implied in our briefing, in order to enable a much faster pace for the game. The spokesperson specifically mentioned both fighting against dinosaurs and playing as dinosaurs in the game, although neither was confirmed as a gameplay feature. Further, the spokesperson declined to comment on the ability to ride a dinosaur in the game. The game was said to take place within the continuities of the movie franchise, but the plot would not intersect with any of the films' plots. We were informed that any characters from the films which might appear in the game would be secondary characters only.
For Back to the Future, we specifically asked the spokesperson about the voice talents for the game and whether or not any of the films' original cast would participate. The spokesperson noted that no announcement could be made at this time. We speculated that Telltale Games was waiting to make an announcement on this news closer to launch or was still in negotiation with the voice talents or both.
Jurassic Park and Back to the Future are currently scheduled for release in late 2010.
LucasArts also opted for closed-door meeting rather than floor demonstration of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge. We were shown the game running in its full glory on the Microsoft Xbox 360.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition was released with major fanfare last year. The remake introduced high res art, a new interface, and full voice acting by the cast from The Curse of Monkey Island, Escape from Monkey Island, and Tales of Monkey Island. It also featured a built-in hint system and, in a stroke of absolute genius, the ability to flip seamlessly with the click of a button between the classic 256-color version (complete with the original interface) and the new version. Despite the welcomed makeover, the game received a few criticisms. The voices could not be enabled when playing in the classic version. Guybrush's hair looked poorly made. Objects were sometimes very difficult to locate in the background. Some of the restyled art was heavily pixelated.
With Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge, the developer has addressed many of these complaints. Guybrush looks much more like the classic Guybrush from the original series. You can now enable or disable the voices in the classic version. There are object highlighting and an expanded hint system for gamers who may find the original game a little too difficult to play. The interface has gone through a minor overhaul as well, undoubtedly to facilitate ease of use on the touch interface used by the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad on which the game is also being released.
What makes this sequel remake so outstanding? First, the original sequel is among the best adventure games ever made, hands down. The remake adds voice acting and lovingly updated artwork but retains all the puzzles and humor of the original. Second, the remake includes a new commentary track from the game's original designers (Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer). Their recording has been woven into the updated version similar to the commentary track in Portal, which can be opted in or flipped on in any given scene that supports it. From the demo, the bonus feature seems to work seamlessly as advertised and offers an extremely compelling reason for old-timers to replay the game once more, if not for nostalgia.
The spokesperson with whom we spoke was extremely tightlipped about any other tidbits that were not on the demo script, but we were given a nudge that the 3D animation seen at the end of the trailer was to be a big hint at what was coming next. There was also more than a casual reference to Grim Fandango in the game, so that might be a definite possibility. We suspected that if the Special Edition remakes would continue on to be successful, LucasArts' deep adventure game back catalog would prove to be a great source of riches for the company's future projects.
Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge is now available on the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, Apple iPhone (along with iPod Touch and iPad), and PC.
Unfortunately, we did not get any hands-on time with other game companies at this year's E3. However, game designer Jane Jenson was on site exhibiting her upcoming adventure game, Grey Matter. We confirmed that Grey Matter, developed by French developer Wizarbox, was set to launch later this year on the PC and Microsoft Xbox 360. Once again, details on the game had been light at this time. The demo we saw walked through only the first few minutes of the game. Still, the game appeared to be coming together quite well and would certainly be a release to be watched closely.
German developer Deck13 Interactive also exhibited a couple of upcoming adventure games due to be released in English: Black Sails and Haunted. Black Sails had already been released in German and would debut in English in late 2010. Haunted was in the final stages of development but had no release date announced. Details on Haunted were slim, except that it was being described as a lighthearted paranormal adventure. Both games would be in 3D and would be worth watching in the future.