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1998 E3 Round-up

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Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
June 2, 1998

So I did the E3 thing for the first time this year...If you've never done it, you can't even begin to imagine what you're missing. Blue mentioned to me at the start of the show that nobody who's into games like we are should miss the show...and after three days of it, I gotta say...that's true beyond comprehension. Anyway, here's my take on the world of E3.

Part I: FPS Games

Prey
What can I say...I was blown out of my chair. What amazed me the most was just how little I understood the concept of portals before Paul Schuytema's demonstration. If you're totally clueless, let me fill you in.


See that whale-thingie?

Portals are not the same as just walking through a teleporter, or even the concept of being able to look through one and seeing the other side. In Prey, everything is a portal.

In the demonstration, we were shown our hero Talon Brave, standing still, looking totally kickass with his gi-normous gun. Nicely rendered yadda-yadda. Then the camera pulled back.

It didn't just pull back to show us more of the

room, mind you...it pulled back...to reveal that we were actually zoomed in on a ring. The ring then began to spin around on its axis, circling several others, and all the while we could still see Talon Brave standing there...breathing. This isn't a big deal in FMV...but it was all rendered in real-time.

Prey uses portals literally everywhere. At one point, Paul showed us a standard level, and he ran through it. As he passed through each doorway, I asked, "was that a portal?". And of course...they all were. As was every window. And any place there was water. Hell, in one part, the floor, a reflective surface, was a portal.

And damn, are these some detailed levels. That 360 degree screenshot that was released didn't begin to show off the detail in these things. An example: we were shown one level in an underwater base type dealie...outside, there was a (beautifully animated) whale-like creature (a Whaleboy?) and if you looked closely, you could actually see waaaaay off in the distance, through the window, another building, that showed a guard pacing back and forth. This wasn't a skybox...it was an actual room, being rendered in real-time. Also in the same level, Paul looked up to the ceiling and we saw through the glass window the water, and through the water the sky, and through the sky the side of a spaceship waaaaay up there. Absolutely amazing.

What else? Way too much to put in here...but I'll give you one more jaw-dropping example: Paul threw this little circle thingie out into a room, which ripped open a portal where he dropped it (think Roger Rabbit). He turned around, and threw another one out, and by looking through that one, we could see our player's back. Just to prove it was real, he fired a shot through the portal...and nailed himself in the back.


Expect some uber-realism from Prey when it's finally released.

I've said that I've never seen anything like it...and that's the honest truth. The Prey group at 3DRealms have seriously been doing their best to break new ground with this engine...and it looks to be paying off big time. Of course, before you get all hot and bothered, remember a few things: first, the thing ain't coming out until '99. It was great to hear that...sure this means we're going to have to wait much longer to see this, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's all going to be worth it in the end.

Second, I can't claim to have seen any enemies in action, or really any actual game levels. All I saw was a technology demo. For all I know, the game could be a total dud, with the coolest engine ever to grace a 3DFX card.

But I seriously doubt it. :)

 

Duke Nukem Forever
Am I the only one who can't stop trying to come up with a clever name for Duke 5? I dunno...suppose it's just me... :)

So okay...let's talk Duke. The last Duke was filled with interactive environments, great characters, and really stood out amongst the deluge of DOOM clones out there. Duke Forever seems to be continuing this trend, with a number of vehicles, and keeping the "essence of Duke" intact (i.e., relentless "Dukeisms").

Duke 3D was really the first FPS to give your character some personality, and this is really being emphasized in Duke Forever. In addition to Duke, there are a few NPCs, including one character who was described to us as "the female Duke" named Bombshell. Personally, I thought this was a great idea. Bombshell starts the game off by being sent off to kill Duke, but somewhere along the line switches sides and starts to help him out. What I thought was clever, is that Bombshell is the only woman who doesn't fawn over our less-than-brilliant hero. Expect to see some great banter between the two, as Duke assumes she's a lesbian. :)

During the demonstration we were told that they were considering having a few levels in which you actually played as Bombshell, providing a different perspective on the whole game. This is another thing that Duke Forever seemed to be consciously addressing...the fact that most FPS games get...well...boring after a while. In response to this, 3DR has thrown in several different "scenario levels" to keep the gamer glued to the keyboard.


Doh! 3DRealms decided only to release this solitary screenshot from E3. Don't worry...it'll be worth the wait.

These included one where Duke was on the back of a speeding truck, shooting the aliens as they came up from behind either by car, jet, or in one case...foot. The big alien on foot was done in chrome, and we were told is similar to the T-1000 in Terminator 2...that is, he's made of liquid metal, and can shift his appearance to form different weapons. While we weren't shown any of this in action, it's a really kick butt concept. Another level showed a similar thing on the back of a speedboat, and the aliens coming up along the sides.

Probably the coolest thing (IMHO) was one scenario where Duke manned a gun turret. Here the camera shifted to a third-person view (showing off a really nice looking Duke texture...he's seriously ripped in this game) and the game took on a sort of third-person Missile-Command feel...where he shot down the ships as they passed overhead. And it should be pointed out that looking overhead looked just plain awesome. I'm not exactly the biggest fan of lens flares, but this one worked, and worked well.

The thing took place in a giant, outdoors canyon, and looking up showed the sides of the canyon walls, and the glaring sun above which flooded the view in blinding white. It looked great...realistic enough that I wanted some of those trademark sunglasses of Duke's. :)

Don't worry, we were assured that there would be plenty of flat-out first person action...but the Duke team felt that whenever the FPS thing got tiring, they should throw in a different style level to keep the game fresh. Nice move on their part...Duke looks to be one seriously fun ride when it comes out.

Trespasser
I suppose it doesn't need to be said that this was one of the games I was most looking forward to going into the show, but what can I say...I've been following it for ages, and this was my first opportunity to see it in action.

Well, what can I say? I knew what to look for, and I got it in spades.

Visually, there isn't anything out there like it. The designers intentionally shied away from the whole N64ish look of other 3D games that filter things to oblivion, and the end result is a visually unique, crisp image quality. The game takes place largely outdoors, and the engine is designed from the ground up to provide the most realistic environment interaction you'll ever see.


Hey! Who put that arm there!

The first thing that really needs to be pointed out, is that Trespasser really isn't your standard Quake clone. It handles radically differently from any 3D game you've ever seen, and while it was off-putting to some, I thought it was brilliant.

Here's the deal: instead of holding a gun all the time, you've got...a hand. Pushing one mouse button extends the arm, another closes the hand. If you want to pick up something, you extend the arm, close your hand, and then push the button again to pick it up. This works the same way with pebbles as it does for guns...everything works the way it should. The idea here, is that you're given full interaction with the environment. And since everything is physics based, there's no end to what you can do.

Seamus Blackley (the physics guru behind Flight Unlimited, and serious math-geek) showed off some of the snazzier implications: he picked up a rock and threw it, and it rolled, just as it should, rocking from side to side before falling over. He picked up a wood-plank, and pushed it into the water, and it actually started to bob up as he pushed it in...just like it should. The water rippled, and this wasn't your standard cheese-ball ripple effect...it looked real. He plucked a flower (yes, even flowers can be picked up, just like they should) and threw it onto the water, causing some mild ripples, and it floated there on the surface.

The dinos unfortunately had their AI turned off for the most part (Rich Flier later explained to me that this was so they could actually find them when necessary...the AI is set up in such a way that the dinosaurs will react to their environment as they should, so they would be roaming about naturally) but there was one who was programmed to react when shot at...so what they did was set up a bunch of oil drums, and then shoot at the raptor (who was looking great with it's bump-mapped skin). It started to chase, knocking over the drums, and causing them to roll down the hill. Incredible to watch. Another dino (who Rich explained to me had osteoporosis, so it couldn't chase around) was shot, and the head swung from side to side


Ooh...purty waters.

with true weight. He then pushed it over, and it slammed on the ground, and spasmed slightly, kicking its hind legs in reflex. Again, simply incredible to watch.

Like Prey, the issue here is that I didn't get to see much in the way of actual gameplay...it was more a technology thing. But also like Prey...the technology was so insanely impressive that I'm more jazzed than ever about the game.

Dear God, man! There's more? Yep...head on over to page two!