Continuing Coverage of the 2005 E3 Expo!
Friday, 20 May 2005
After a relaxing drive through the more interesting portions of downtown LA, our fearless crew finally made its way back to the convention center for another round of exciting E3 coverage. There are simply too many games and too much going on at E3 to cover it all in great detail here, so we’ll just hit the highlights.
Shattered Union (2K Games)
Tucked away at the very end of the 2K Games display area was an intriguing upcoming title called Shattered Union. This game caught our eye because it bucks the trend of other RTS games and instead opts for a turn-based approach. Additionally, it contains both a tactical and strategic mode so that you can fight from state to state, but also from street corner to street corner. In SU there are seven factions that formed when the United States splintered apart in 2015, leading to open warfare for dominance of the North American continent. In the demo we watched the Republic of Texas fight the California Commonwealth.
There appears to be some depth to this game, including a political reputation which waxes and wanes depending on your actions (hint, using nukes is a good way to turn the rest of the factions against you!). Rather than endless resource gathering and micro-management, players expand their monetary reserves by expanding their empire. The major unit types we observed in the game include M1′s, Apache helicopters, infantry and high altitude bombers, and even nukes, and players can acquire any available unit assuming they have enough cash. Turns last one full day each and the game is played on realistic terrain overlaid with a hex-grid system, giving it a more serious feel than your ordinary RTS click-fest. A more in-depth analysis will be necessary to see exactly how deep the game really is…
Patrick Pace, the gentleman who walked us through the demo, said it is currently scheduled for a fall 2005 release.
|A view of the various factions available in Shattered Union||Units advance across a desert battlefield with the aid of attack helicopters|
|Nukes are a sure-fire way to turn world opinion against you fast!||The 3D graphics engine offers a very easy-to-use camera control system|
Age of Empires III (Microsoft)
This Best of E3 nominee was on our must-see list of games for this convention. The game picks up where Age of Empires II left off, and there have been significant improvements, most notably in the area of military unit behavior and formations, as well as the addition of a Home City and removal of the Wonders. There are eight civilizations to choose from, and you must survive through five ages to win the game.
The most striking change from previous incarnations of the game is the graphics engine. There are numerous and very impressive details to this game which help to totally immerse the player into the game world. We saw flocks of flying geese, grazing farm animals, jumping fish, and some of the most realistic water we’ve ever seen in an RTS game to date (one programmer spent an entire year perfecting the water model!). But the graphics aren’t just eye candy, Age of Empires III is one of the first RTS games to ever incorporate a fully functional physics model similar to those designed for FPS titles. We watched as artillery took apart a building piece by piece, causing realistic damage to the structure, as well as flying debris which can also affect nearby units just as you’d expect in real life. Likewise, artillery hitting a formation of infantry will throw them around like rag dolls, even propelling some backwards over the side of a cliff.
Wally Wachi, the representative from Ensemble Studios told us the game is about 70% complete, and is estimated to hit the streets in the 2005 holiday season. This is one of the best looking RTS’s we’ve ever seen, and the gameplay was equally impressive. This will be on our holiday shopping list.
|Formations have been considerably improved since earlier AoE titles||Wally Wachi explains the numerous enhancements to AoEIII’s graphics engine|
Officers (Game Factory Interactive)
Of all the games we saw at E3, this was one of the most interesting and innovative we previewed. Expanding on our earlier interview with Nikolay Demchenko, we were able speak with him in person to get the latest scoop on how the title is progressing. Games like this blur the definition of what Real Time Strategy games are all about and are re-defining the genre. Officers is not about resource gathering, spending money, or researching technology. Instead, Officers concentrates more on military strategy and tactics. Rather than rewarding the player for being the fastest clicker, or massing the most units in waves, Officers requires sound military planning and execution. Players are rewarded for successful missions by getting control of larger and larger groups of units (you start with control of a squad, and eventually gain control of an entire division).
Although not the most cutting edge graphics engine we’ve previewed, Officers does have a very respectable engine that is capable of displaying surprisingly large outdoor areas with up to 1500 units on the map at once. The game reminded us somewhat of Battlefront’s Combat Mission series, although it uses real time throughout, rather than CM’s simultaneous resolution system. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the engine seemed more than capable of handling the units in a realistic fashion while in real time. Players are free to zoom around the battlefield with a fully functional 3D camera system, giving the commander multiple views of the engagement. There is also a second camera mode that allows the player to observe the entire battlefield from a high vantage point. The unit animations and attention to detail on the maps was fairly impressive, especially when considering each map can be up to 25 square kilometers.
The initial release of the game will cover the period between 1939 and 1944 and will mostly focus on the western allies and the German forces. A planned expansion will focus on the fighting on the Eastern Front up through 1945. Nikolay predicted the game would be finished by the end of 2005. This is a game we will definitely be waiting for.
|Players can call on regimental artillery assets to even the odds in tough situations||Officers has an impressive graphics engine that can handle maps up to 25 square kilometers|
War Front and Divided Nation (CDV Games)
Although War Front would initially appear similar in content to Codename Panzers, it’s a much different game. The plot begins with an assassination of Adolph Hitler, sending the Third Reich into an alternate reality where the leaders focus much more on research into super weapons. Not only are the weapons slightly different than their historical counterparts, the explosions and combat are somewhat larger than life – highlighting their new and impressive graphics engine.
The graphics in this game are a significant improvement over Codename Panzers and the 3D engine rivals the best RTS games we’ve seen to date. The attention to detail includes deformable terrain, dynamic lighting, buildings with full interiors, and very believable shadow effects. Weather effects such as rain, snow and darkness all have an effect on gameplay. For example, during a night mission, we witnessed an infantry unit shoot up a flare over a river, expanding the line of sight of nearby units. Not only was it a valuable addition to gameplay, but it looked extremely realistic and helped immerse the player into the game world. There is also an additional player mode allowing you to take control of individual static units (an AT gun for example) and directly aim and fire the weapon against your opponent. This holds interesting possibilities in a game where you might need to hold a strategic point at all costs and you just don’t trust the computer to do so. It obviously adds a degree of depth to gameplay that we haven’t seen before.
Tom Gross and Steve Cherrier showed us the demo and estimated a quarter 2, 2006 release. This game will be on our must-watch list for the outstanding graphics, but also because the gameplay goes beyond the simplistic click-fests of many RTS titles that have come and gone. If this is more than sending a bum-rush of units against your enemy, it could really be something special…
|Check out the cool water effects in this shot. Anyone thirsty?||Notice the exceptional attention to detail in the plants and terrain|
Before we left, we also got a look at an upcoming sequel to American Conquest, titled American Conquest: Divided Nation. This game is focused on the American Civil War and has the possibility for up to 60,000 units on the map at once, and features 9 campaigns. It is currently scheduled for an August 2005 release.
|Divided Nation appears to run on a modified version of the American Conquest engine||Troops advance down a road toward the sounds of the fighting|
Other stops on our E3 coverage included iD’s Software’s Quake IV display. We only got to see a short trailer previewed to the general press, which appeared to be a game combining the graphics of Doom III with the styling of earlier Quake titles. We also popped in to see the new Panzer Elite Action: Fields of Glory. This game has some potential because of a super-realistic graphics engine which was highlighted with destructible terrain, detailed explosions and units, although the gameplay is more akin to an arcade shooter than a serious tank simulation. We also had the opportunity to briefly play with the sequel to Dawn of War, Winter Assault. This was a really fun game and the sequel looked great as well.
|Panzer Elite looks great, but the gameplay may be a bit light for many wargamers||Winter Assault looks poised to take up where Dawn of War left off.|
|The convention center was teeming with visitors from all over the world||Don gathers valuable intel from the Company of Heroes staff|
|Mark H. Walker and Julie Roberts of Armchair General meet with Jim Zabek of The Wargamer and CDV’s Mario Kroll||A view from near the Xbox 360 station over the convention center’s south hall. This was the center of the action|
|PacMan offers his views on the latest wargame graphics to the SZO staff…||Brian briefly considers joining the E3 pole dancers, but is quietly rejected…|
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Thursday, 19 May 2005
Our first day at E3 was hectic, but also interesting. We arrived early, but within a short period of time the convention center was buzzing with activity and swarms of people moving in every direction. The first thing that strikes you is the sheer volume of displays on the convention hall floors. The larger exhibitors like Sony, Microsoft, and Take2 have displays that sprawl over huge areas and come in every conceivable shape, size, and design. It also becomes instantly obvious that many of these exhibitors spent some serious cash on these displays as most are very flashy and sport state-of-the art displays. Many have also had custom platforms built so that press members and other visitors can sit down and play the games on display in style. Some went so far as to have head-to-head and LAN systems set up. Massive numbers of people wait in long lines (3 hours or more) to take the more eagerly awaited titles for a spin.
|U.S. Navy Seals battle against gamers from the audience in SOCOM3: US Navy Seals||The main hall is buzzing with activity as thousands of gamers check out the latest offerings|
Much of E3 is about flash and style. The exhibitors obviously want to catch the attention of the press members and they spare no expense to do exactly that. In fact, there is so much going on and so much activity on the convention hall floor that the whole experience can be a bit of a sensory overload after a few hours. The sights and sounds of thousands of gamers playing every conceivable game together in one place is quite unique.
One of the first things that struck us was just how many war-themed shooters were being displayed at this year’s event. It seems like everyone has decided to create a WWII or modern FPS. In fact, there were so many new titles of this kind to preview it can be a little bit difficult to keep track of what is what.
|Armchair General publisher Eric Weider poses beside a WWII bunker complex||The folks from GameSpot were very visible and had a first class setup on the convention hall floor|
After a brief stop at the cafe court and a much needed shot of caffeine, we continued our fearless exploration into the depths of the gaming industry.
GameSpot certainly had one of the most impressive displays from the press side of the house. They had an entire team of folks updating and writing material while GameSpot personnel interviewed selected individuals from various game development teams. It was a very professional setup and shows just how far a game website can really go if the people running it have the drive and innovation to keep going.
We met a number of key people from various organizations like CDV’s Mario Kroll and the team from The Wargamer. The folks at NovaLogic were very kind to us and gave us an in-depth preview of some interesting new material from Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. The gameplay was fast and furious, but the AI opponent seemed to use its troops somewhat recklessly, which may not be entirely incorrect given the subject matter. This one is not quite finished yet, so there may be significant changes prior to the release of the final version.
|Brian King was temporarily captured by some of the natives, but was eventually liberated||Press agents were asked not to take photos of Call of Duty 2, but here is a shot of game display|
That wraps up our E3 2005 coverage for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with more specific information from individual games and developers from a variety of different genres.
We’re pleased to announce that StrategyZone Online and Armchair General will be attending the E3 Expo 2005 convention in Los Angeles, California. Brian King and Don Maddox will be there to represent the crew along with several other key members of the staff. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), “Where Business Gets Fun,” is the world’s leading trade event exclusively dedicated to showcasing interactive entertainment and educational software and related products. E3 2005, kicks off at the Los Angeles Convention Center May 18 – 20. Conferences are held May 17 – 19 and the show floor is open May 18 – 20.
The industry’s annual focal point, E3 draws tens of thousands of industry professionals to experience the future of interactive entertainment. The industry’s most influential people leading the most innovative companies come to this event to showcase groundbreaking new technologies and never-before-seen products for computers, video game consoles, handheld systems and the Internet.
Show attendees also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of learning workshops and conferences focused on the specific interests and educational needs of professionals in the interactive entertainment business.
In 2005, about 400 exhibiting companies representing 80 countries will converge on the Los Angeles Convention Center. During E3 2004, exhibitors debuted more than 1,000 never-before-seen computer and video games and related products.
Tens of thousands of industry professionals from around the world attended E3 2004, including software developers, buyers and retailers, programmers, distributors, entertainment industry representatives, financiers and venture capitalists, importers and exporters, manufacturers, resellers, researchers, educators, financial and industry analysts and worldwide electronic and print media.
Games We’re Looking Forward to Seeing
There is so much new and interesting material that debutes at E3 every year that it would be hard–okay that’s an understatement–to pick a handful of titles that we want to see the most. That being said–that’s exactly what we did! Here is a short list of some of our most anticipated games for E3 2005.
|Age of Empires III
Real-time strategy games have come a long way since the original Age of Empires was released, and it’s easy for people to become jaded and dismissive of the genre and its limitations. Nevertheless, this game has all the markings of a classic and we’re eager to see it with our own eyes. Microsoft Games and Ensemble Studies intend to create a game that picks up where Age of Empires II: Age of Kings left off. Details released so far indicate that the developers are putting some serious effort into this release, starting with the breathtaking visuals.
Quality titles dealing with modern tactical combat have never been in great supply, and several recent releases have left us somewhat underwhelmed. We have high hopes that Electronic Arts can reverse this trend when Battlefield 2 arrives on the scene. The other titles in the series have been solid hits and this one looks to be the best of the bunch.
|Dawn of War: Winter Assault
Dawn of War was just a damn fun game. Whether your loyalties lie with the Space Marines and their Emperor, or with the Boyz, Dawn of War was a blast to play. This sequel looks poised to bring it on with even bigger tanks, bigger guns, and better battles. In short, it looks to be “more blastier” than the original…
There are plenty of other games that we’re looking forward to seeing beyond these few. Hopefully, we’ll get to see some juicy stuff that we’ve never even heard of as well. Unfortunately, as usual, many of the more hardcore wargames that are in development won’t be shown at E3. We will be bringing you coverage of the war and strategy games that we do see though. Stay tuned!