You never really know what you’re going to get out of a visit to Kentia Hall, but it’s an adventure I make time for every year. In a single moment, you will see simultaneously a rack of special gloves with patches on them (???), a plastic enclosure designed to contain a person and digitally change their gender, a shoe that contains an optical mouse, and some kind of space kung fu exhibition. It’s the sort of place you can make no assumptions about. During one visit, I saw a company which was apparently very big in Korean MMOs trying to make a splash here giving away the client for free. Nowadays, those guys are kind of a big deal.
We started talking about some of the things we’d seen in years past, and it wasn’t long before we had generated the Kentia All-Stars.
Typically, the spectacle of the Electronic Entertainment Expo is such that each sequential event compresses the one before it, leaving me with three compacted days that begin inflating on the plane ride back and leave me a drooling wretch by Monday. This time is different; I have complete access to the entire week just as though I were lazily thumbing through a file drawer. For example, I knew the moment that I gripped the controller for Gears of War that I was in front of the game of the show. Nothing obscures that information. Gears is really at a "Halo" level of platform definition, and when your hands close around the gamepad on "emergence day," please remember I said so.
When we came out of the room where we had been playing it, a kind of illicit zone like an Opium Den, Kiko and I immediately began to discuss how profound the experience was. At the same time, Mike and Gabe (two separate people!) felt like it was pretty good, but bemoaned its rough framerate and constant tearing. It is our theory that perhaps some boxes were set to 1080i and some to 720p possibly creating performance disparities, because Keek and myself experienced no framerate abberations worth discussing. We did briefly experience a vision of a future where we spend every night playing Gears of War online, but I’m not sure that’s connected to the vertical resolution.
If I had to say what defines it, I would say that "everything in the game world feels unrelentingly massive." This is a simulated environment that feels very confident, in that it is about huge armored men hiding behind sturdy cover while bursts of machinegun fire savage your solid fortifications. Everything you do is made to "feel" large, and when you throw yourself against a hunk of ruined automobile you are not left to wonder whether or not you are a bad ass. It is clear from the word "go." A kind of brutal platformer, Gears of War is about leaping from safety to safety, and everything reinforces it. It feels classic instantly. Indeed, you could call it Frogger Plus Firearms and not get it wrong.
They wanted us to do a couple strips for their E3 site, and so we picked a few games we probably would have done comics about anyway. You can find all that stuff here.
I’ve had time to recover now from E3 and I’ll just give you a quick list of what I liked and didn’t like.
My favorite stuff
Gears of War – This was the best looking, most fun game I played at the show. I got to sit down and play a bunch of rounds and it was fucking great.
Bioshock – This game is absolutely beautiful. I’m sure Tycho will go into detail later. What we saw during the demo really blew me away.
Dead Rising – I probably spent more time playing this on the show floor than any other game. I even went back to it throughout the show. Bashing a zombie in the skull with a bowling ball is a real treat. I will say that the lack of co-op play is a crime.
Stranglehold – I’m a huge John Woo fan and even I didn’t expect this game to be any good. After seeing it in action though I’m ready to buy it. I will say that I saw a super move that involved doves flying in slow motion. That’s all I need.
Haze – I can’t really talk about this one but I was impressed. I had never even heard of it going into E3 and now I’m really looking forward to it.
Lots of potential
Crysis – I don’t know how they made this game look so good. Honestly they must be using some kind of dark magic. I watched it running for five minutes before I realized my mouth was hanging open. Is there a good game there besides shooting guys in the jungle? I don’t know yet.
Mass Effect – From the creators of KOTOR this is a massive space opera. Watching it I felt like this was probably what they had in mind for KOTOR 2 but then figured why waste it on someone else’s IP. The beginning of the demo was a sort of verbal sparing match between you and another character that all happened in real time through branching dialogue trees with full voice acting. Amazing. Then it went into the combat which was pretty standard and not all that exciting. If they can fix that, they’ll have a winner.
Viva Piñata – I know this is a kid’s game but I can really see myself getting hooked on this. Watching the demo I couldn’t help but imagine how I might construct my own garden and just how many elusive piñatas I’d be able to lure there. I don’t like the idea of a kid’s game with such a heavy micro payment component. The idea that Gabe will watch the cartoon show where they introduce some new hat or tree and then immediately want to purchase that item for the game is scary. Kids just have no defense against that kind of marketing and I feel like Microsoft intends to take full advantage of that fact. I’m also worried about how they’ll manage to educate parents about the things they’ll need to do on their end to ensure their kids Xbox live experience is safe. The controls are certainly there in the system but it will only take one instance of a seven year old hearing something he shouldn’t to make headlines.
Not so good
Army of two – Saw a demo of this at the EA booth and we all came out shaking our heads wondering what they hell we just saw. At one point the AI partner started arguing with the guy giving the demo about who should take the sniper shot. The guy playing told the machine to “cut the crap” because the shot was his. Am I supposed to argue with my Xbox now? Later they showed how if you really get into it with your AI partner you can select the “fuck you” command from the radial menu in order to insult him. I don’t know who that’s for. I understand you’re supposed to play it with a friend but it just looked so boring. They kept saying that they were going to revolutionize the action genre. The fact is Splinter Cell already did the co-op thing and they did it better. They ended the demo by showing how you can “pimp” your gun by adding diamonds and flashy silver components. I don’t ever want to meet the person for whom pimping one’s gun is an exciting game mechanic.
Huxley – Here was a game that promised a MMOFPS using the Unreal 3 engine. What I saw in their booth was an uninspired dime a dozen FPS that looked more like Unreal 2. It certainly didn’t look anything like the stunning video they released a few months back. The PR machine for this game is in full effect but it’s all smoke and mirrors. There’s no game there, at least not yet.
Indiana Jones – This was the year of procedurally generated content. Every other developer was telling me how instead of having artists and animators create a game for me they figured out a way to make a computer do it. They seem to think this is better but Indiana Jones is a great example of why it’s not. Instead of animating Indy they essentially taught him how to behave and react to his surroundings. They said this was better because it means you’ll never see the same canned animation over and over. What it means is that I see different stupid looking animations all the time though. I’m not sure that’s an improvement. I’ll take God of Wars beautifully animated special moves over Indy looking like some kind of retarded marionette any day.
I have no idea what to think
Spore – I understand that lots of people are very excited about this game and I’m happy for them. I sat through the demo and couldn’t imagine trying to play it. I’m not even sure you do play it because I don’t think it’s a game. I think it is a tool for creating a game and maybe there’s some fun in that but not for me.
That list got long quick. I may come back later in the week with more.