When half of the US film industry is on the other side of the world, the games industry invades Los Angeles for their own version of the Cannes Film Festival, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3. According to the organizers, over 70,000 people attended this year’s expo.
Monday started the week off with a bang; Sony Computer Entertainment’s pre-E3 press conference was always expected to reveal the new PlayStation console, what was delivered just wasn’t expected. Graphics, planned specifications, and claimed performance for the PS3 overshadowed Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and Nintendo’s Revolution, as the talk-of-the-show for the remainder of the week. Although deep scepticism clouded many minds, it was mostly of those who had not seen the PS3 footage.
At the event, Sony showed in-game videos of near modern film CGI, apparently recorded from PS3-like architecture. Two were highlighted as running in real time, one of which was a version of EA’s ‘Fight Night’, where the impact of a punch on one boxer’s face showed ripples through his face, as well as showing detailed facial expressions, such as fear and rage.
Other eyebrow raisers were ‘Eyedentify’ - using Eyetoy to put the player into the game; ‘MotorStorm’ - crazy car and bike race through a mud filled track; ‘Formula 1’, and ‘The Getaway’ (screen test) - both just looking stunning, F1 with the addition of stunning crashes, and ‘KillZone’ - with such an amount of detail, cries of ‘render’ and ‘fake’ can still be heard on internet forums. Although later in the week there was somewhat impressive 360 games running on the show floor, and behind close doors,
the 360 is at this point outclassed by the PS3.
On the matter of the PS3 videos, while also referring to the running Xbox 360 games at E3 (on development kits), Michel Cassius, Senior Director Xbox Platform & Marketing in Europe said, “it’s not about fancy technical demos that we could have done years ago, we can do that, we can (do) technical demos. That’s no problem. We can do nice videos – anybody can do that”, adding that “Not everyone can have games, real stuff, happening”.
But it wasn’t just at the cores of the consoles where the PS3 topped the 360, it boasts connectivity to seven wireless controllers out-of-the-box using Bluetooth to 360’s four, and support for up to two high definition televisions to 360’s one (but how many people have even one HDTV?).
Behind closed doors at the EA stand, the company was again showing some of the most mind-denting next generation games, at least graphically speaking. This time is was Xbox 360 titles, besides a ‘Need for Speed’ game, all were sports titles. The next generation part? From the blades of grass in the Tiger Woods game, to the detail of stadiums, clothing, players’ faces, and in some cases the detail of the audience.
Nintendo released their own unexpected surprise, saying that their entire back catalogue would be made available for download on their sleek Revolution console, the prototype shown was not much larger then three CD cases, however the lack of specifications posed the question were Nintendo really in the ‘next generation’ race.
Whatever about the next generation, ‘Black’ was one of the games that showed there is still much life in the current systems. The PS2 and Xbox first person shooter, by the now EA-owned developer Criterion, looks set to translate their Burnout formula to the shooter genre. It is set for release in February 2006.
Besides the Revolution, and their minuscule redesigned GBA, Nintendo looks to have a repeat of the Pokémon craze on their hands with Nintendog for their handheld DS system. In all practicalities it’s an advance version of Tamagotchi where the player looks after their virtual pet, and just another use for the DS’s touch screen (petting virtual dogs).
The Movies, Lionhead’s slightly the Sims-look-alike simulator, is turning out to be quite complex. From hiring actors, dealing with their problems (weight, relationships, addictions), building studio lots, to actually making a film, and saving it. Having a hit or not, depends on originality, profits, current events and popular culture of the day – the in-game timeline goes from the 1920s to the present year.
The Irish presence was for the most part contained in the private meeting rooms of the Kentia hall, hidden away under the main South Hall. Havok had their own rooms, while Enterprise Ireland housed DemonWare, Nephin Games, and Starcave Studios. DemonWare replaced their GDC limo with an open-top bus rambling around the outskirts of the LA Conference Centre.
Thursday night saw Sony Computer Entertainment Ireland hosting their ‘Irish Dinner’ at a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard for the second year running. The event moved from last year’s packed (cramped) one-long-table affair, to just across and down the strip to a more spacious venue for an even greater crowd, again a mixture of competitors, publishers, developers, middleware providers, retailers, distributors, and journalists – from Microsoft, and EA, to Gamestop, Smyths, Xtra-vision, to the Star and the Evening Herald.
Havok, as well as having over 50 games on the show floor using their technology including 'Age of Empires III', 'Perfect Dark Zero', 'Destroy all Humans', and 'Rainbow Six: Lockdown', the middleware company confirmed their support for the PS3, stating they will optimize their products for the new console. In a release at the start of E3, Jeff Yates of Havok said, “We realize that game developers are facing an enormous challenge to keep up with player expectations, while trying to manage the transition to next generation multi-core game platforms. Havok products reduce the risk and costs game developers are facing, by offering production-tested, cross-platform solutions that free up the creative talents of game developers, while taking advantage of the unique power of new game systems”.
Nephin Games’ Alan Duggan told us that for them GDC was about publishers and distributors, while E3 had a lot more to do with licensing of brands, “some distribution partners, but primarily the focus has been on brand owners”. “We’ve had a brilliant week”. “We’re combining two hot topics at the moment, which is mobile gaming and mobile marketing”, Duggan said, the mixture is “putting us in a sweet spot at the moment”. On their future games, “With out giving too much away”, after their recent Kickboxing game more fighting games are lined up, along with a racing game.
Keith Killilea of the Galway-based Star Cave Studios was - as he was at GDC - busy with publisher meetings, “We’ve pretty much talked to every publisher,” Killilea said, sounding somewhat exhausted - it was Friday and the first warning to leave the conference centre had sounded over the intercom. Star Cave recently acquired three indie studios, Staridia in Brazil, Cellien in the US, and Single Cell in Australia, all three of the studios were at E3 with Starcave. The company has kept most of the staff, and currently have two first person shooters in development, 'Illumina' and 'Terra: Formations' both using the Torque game engine. Formations will feature RTS elements.
With 12 employees currently on the payroll, they plan to expand to 20/25 in the next few months. “Most of the new crew coming on board will be going to Galway” explained Killilea, “there’s a lot of Irish guys and girls abroad” who want to move back to Ireland. “A year ago Star Cave Studios was only a dream”, he said, while on the subject of games development in Ireland he ambitiously states, "We're going to be no. 1".
On the Irish games industry and government support, Killilea said that Enterprise Ireland “are doing some great things, but we still need for the government to allow Enterprise Ireland to help us out more”.
Star Cave’s flagship game is titled ‘the 14 Tribes’ and is based on the mythical Ireland of the folklore character Cuchulainn. As an action-adventure game for PC and Xbox, it should include leprechauns in some form or another, “it’s not based in Galway, but it includes the 14 tribes of Galway”.
Closing time at 4pm on Friday hits in a strange way. A mixture of sadness as they start to role the carpet off the floor, relief that the madness is over for another year, the dread of going headlong into LA rush-hour traffic (even for those who weren’t driving), and the anticipation of a year’s release of games, and at least one console launch. If E3 2004 was ‘the year of the sequels’then E3 2005 was ‘the year of the next generation consoles.’
Author’s Bio: Cian Ginty is the editor of the Irish computer games website Games Toaster [http://gamestoaster.com/ ], and former editor of Gamire.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org