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1998 E3 Round-up

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Blue
May 31, 1998

Had a great time at E3 this year.  I am enthusiastic enough about this stuff that I just felt like a kid in a candy store the whole time. Here are my impressions in a nutshell: Probably the three things I was most taken with at the show that I wasn't fired up for already were the backroom showings of Prey, Max Payne, and Anachronox. Here goes:

First-Person Games

Prey
Prey's engine looks ready for prime-time: running fast and smooth with insane levels of texture detail and amazing flexibility to create interactive environments. The game is not going to be released until 1999, and technology advantages have a way of disappearing as time passes, but the passion for making a great gaming experience that oozes from project leader Paul Schuytema's every pore is infectious (he showed an example of the kind of awesome firepower that will be at your disposal, showing great promise for fun gameplay), and I think I caught the fever. The portal stuff is cool too, but it's almost over-focused on, like that's all there is to Prey (though besides some bizarre five dimensional level creation opportunities, it also allows a nice seamless transitions between levels-to the point where the term level becomes moot). If I've got you a little antsy to see Prey knowing it is so far off, then you are in the same boat as I am, because now I can't wait for Prey.

Half-Life
Looking better than ever: polished and slick. The client side HUDs are great, the TeamFortress guys are going nuts with the access to the game they have, and Half-Life is going to be the most mod author-friendly game they can make it. Half-Life is a sci-fi movie to me: like the Andromeda Strain with combat. The new tentacle may be the coolest monster I've ever seen in an FPS.

Duke Nukem Forever
As I've mentioned, they're breaking out of the box on this one: lots of use of vehicles and locations, Duke on a truck, Duke on a train, Duke on a boat, Duke in Vegas, and of course, Duke at the nudie bar. This game looks like it will not disappoint Duke Fans, and even more impressive, it looks like it will be able to expand the already powerful franchise by creating new Duke Fans. Duke's got a sidekick this go 'round: a babe with attitude and a gun (and a bigger chest than Duke!). By the way, the guy playing live Duke at E3 is Duke as far as I'm concerned, he looks so suited to the role, right down to the biceps bigger than his head.

Quake II: Ground Zero
Rogue was showing off the second official Quake II mission pack: Ground Zero. I was surprised by how exciting I found it: they have added a few weapons and power-ups that will add a certain Rogue-style of play to deathmatch (those who DM'ed Dissolution of Eternity, their Quake Mission pack should be familiar with the sneaky aspects of combat it promoted). The Personal Nuke is a winner. Kaboom! There are also new monsters to spice up single-player, and the rogues at Rogue have also been supplying brain transplants to some of the dumber Quake II monsters: The flyers actually circle strafe you when they attack, and Berzerkers are no longer daunted by obstructions like cracks in the sidewalk: Those guys will now jump down after you, open doors, and use lifts (everything short of using a ladder), to get close enough to open a can of woopasss on you.

Sin
Looking like a load of fun, Sin is an action movie that makes great use of the villain (the diabolical Elexis) to set up the flavor of the game (a sore spot with me on most first-person shooters: "Oh, that must be the final boss, 'cause he's big and this is the last level"), as well as a strong well-defined hero, Colonel John Blade. The game makes heavy use of operable vehicles and environments that an be destroyed, with a strong device to convey plot points (your helpful little buddy "J.C." will be in constant radio contact). Sin will offer a neat feature as part of the Colonel's HQ: a training area complete with skeet shooting and Hogan's alley type games. These training games are currently solo, but Paradox told me that support for competing against another player is coming, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Sin Hogan's Alley servers online when the game is released (Spring/Summer this year).

Daikatana
Daikatana looks awesome. The textures created by Ken over at ION are genius: they've given the game a whole new feel. The finished weapon models are much more inspiring than the temporary placeholders from last year's E3, but there is a cost: at this point the high resolution textures are bogging the game engine down at times. This will be addressed shortly, as I'm told texture optimization and the enhancements Corrinne Yu has cooked up for Anachronox are to be added to Daikatana as soon as they get back from E3, which address the texture problem, as well as adding such cutting edge features as volumetric fog and lighting. Daikatana is currently expected around the end of this year.

Prax War
Prax War, RBR's shooter in progress, is earlier in development than most of the other games mentioned here. But the potential is already apparent: the engine in this game has the potential to be the next state-of-the-art in terms of creating a simulated real environment. The engine is designed from the ground up to scale to the machine it's running on and will even offer an option to tell the engine what framerate to target, and it will decide how best to maintain that rate.

Blood2
Blood2 is still in early development, looking very story-oriented. The LithTech engine is running quite nicely, and some of its visuals are striking, though there are some rough edges (like shadows with darker spots where the joints overlap.

StarSiege Tribes
StarSiege Tribes is designed as a multiplayer mod with an emphasis on teamplay. The StarSiege engine looks pretty cool, though it's certainly no GLQuake, but the dimensions of the game are awesome, with HUGE levels that finally make that sniper scope a necessity rather than a luxury.

Third-Person

Max Payne
Max Payne is a third person action title, but if you talk to Max about Tomb Raider he'd probably put a cap in your ass. Max oozes attitude: I mentioned to the designers that Max had a John Woo quality before they managed to tell me that the goal is to have that sort of feel (so obviously they are succeeding there). I am looking forward to this so much, but the wait will be tough. Max is not slated to be released until next year, and they tell me they will work on it a year beyond that if that's what's necessary to create the game they envision. The game engine has the best smoke graphics I can recall, and amazing levels of texture detail. Max Payne is definitely showing signs of a potential masterpiece.

Anachronox
Anachronox looks way cool: I think this game is going to rock big time. Tom Hall is a mad genius and when he talks about the places he will take you in this adventure, you know he's preparing a wild ride. Corrinne Yu, ION's Director of Advanced Technology, has done some innovative  things to the Quake II engine (that will also now be added to Daikatana), including volumetric lighting and fog, and an ability to show an unprecedented number of  high-polygon models on the screen at one time without a slow-down. One thing needs to be made clear: Anachronox is not a first person shooter, but an adventure/RPG. I even see magazines not getting that distinction (from the preview issue of the new print PC Accelerator: "This third-person shooter seems to be the most story focused, and least shooter-dependent of the bunch. Let us remember that story in video games is great, but like any good action movie, plot should never get in the way of kicking, shooting, and blowing things up."). Everybody repeat: Anachronox is an RPG, Anachronox is an RPG, Anachronox is an RPG...

Heretic II
Looking way cool as well. One of my problems with the Heretic/Hexen series is that the fist person perspective is not well suited to melee combat, and watching Heretic II makes it obvious that 3rd person is the way to go here: The chasecam view is looming great, as is the player character, which was so detailed there was a rumor it was using bump-mapping (which I've found is not true).

Three Days are Never Enough
Stuff I am disappointed over not being able to report on first hand:  the hands-on showing of Trespasser. Word is the physics make this like a real-world simulation, and this was shown a bit in a video I saw (though the bizarre articulation of the arm in the video was odd, I wonder if it will stay that way, the game is apparently shipping in August). I also missed the private showings of Descent III, Turok 2 (featuring multiplayer), and Shogo Mobile Armor Division (farther along than Blood2, so I really wanted to see it). I also wanted to see more hardware than I did, like those AMD K6-2 processors, and the RIVA TNT ( I hear quite a buzz on that one's performance). There was so much to see that I've probably even missed mentioning things I've missed mentioning.  Even a kid in a candy store has a tough time eating everything he sees....