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  A Random Sampling from E3

Written by David Kurtz

In the near future (in other words, once I get back home) I'll be providing a bit more in-depth looks at some of the games encountered at E3 including a run-down of EA Sports' upcoming offerings (some exciting stuff here) and Imperium Galactica 2. But, before departing the City of Angels, I wanted to throw together some smaller bits of information encountered at the show.

First off, I can actually answer the question Tim posed at the end of his Day 3 article...why are there laser guns in the Heroes of Might and Magic 3 add-on? According to a 3DO rep, the back story for the game picks up where Might and Magic VII will leave off--more accurately the potential ending where the bad guys win. Their victory gives them possesion of a powerful artifact called the Heavenly Forge, which enables them to construct any type of weapon they choose. So they build laser guns (seems a natural choice, although I'm not sure how they conceived of them). The advanced units will all be built in the newest city type, the Forge, and accompanied by two new hero classes: the Technician and the Cyborg. However, the representative I spoke with said that these units will be far from first level units. Instead they will be the toughest units in the game, with the highest level units being tougher than the Archangel. However, once all of the play balancing is in place, the cost of building and maintaining these units will insure that they don't completely dominate the battlefield.

Like Tim, one of the most intriguing and exciting new encounters at E3 was Abomination which is very much the spiritual successor to XCOM. With Microprose shifting to shooter incarnations of the XCOM license it's nice to see someone keeping the tactical engine alive. One of the most interesting aspects of the game, to my mind, is that, while you will have a large pool of recruits at your disposal, the top 8 or so will have a little something extra in the way of special abilities. I always developed a unique attachment to the XCOM squaddies you started the game with and these special abilities will give you a concrete reason to keep those core members alive, lest you lose access to that special ability. Some great tactical innovations and the fully 3D world will also provide some fun tactical choices for gamers. For example, if a member of your team is badly hurt, you can actually have them crawl into a crevice and hide until the end of the mission to insure their survival. Little things like that should make for a very interesting game.

Pharaohs, from Sierra, caught my eye early on. The game is built around the Ceasar engine and as such much of the same strategy will be in play. However the religion model is completely different since the Egyptian concept of their gods was very different from the Roman concept. Gods will not get jealous of each other and in general Gods either provide benefits or withold benefits depending on the level of pleasure with the city (rather than getting mad and harming the city). The priests of the temple will confer God-specific bonuses as they wander about; if a God provides and agricultural bonus, for example, a priest of that temple wandering past a food producing site transfers the benefit to that site. Also, living next to the Nile will present extra challenges. The flood level each year will affect the fertility of the land (a series of poor floods could decimate the agricultural sector) and the labor pool will shift seasonally between farming and civic duties (like building your pyramid). Finally, one of the more interesting conceptual parts of the game is the fact that the player istrying to build up the city and improve the overall power and prestige of his lineage for future generations/scenarios (like Ceasar), but the player is also preparing for his own death which occurs when all of the victory conditions for a scenario are met. After that, the player can watch the funeral procession to the pyramid (including all the funerary goods produced by the player while still alive) and then it's on to the next challenge.

GT Interactive were very excited about a pair of titles under the Animorphs license. For those of you who don't know, Animorphs is a best-selling (approximately 34 million copies all told) series of books and (most-recently) a top-rated Nickelodeon show. Aimed primarily at children between the ages of 8-14, the story revolves around a group of kids imbued with the power to transform into any animal who they have come into contact with. Exploration and puzzle-solving along the plot line will be mixed with action sequences involving racing, fighting, and more. Different games are being developed for the Playstation and for the PC. So if you have kids, keep your eyes open.

SSI was showing off a pair of naval war simulations, Fighting Steel, which models surface combat in WWII and Silent Hunter II, which models U-boat actions. Both games are now in 3D environments and will feature a series of historical scenarios (in the case of Silent Hunter II some of them designed with the advice of a surviving U-boat captain) and a campaign. The designer of Fighting Steel, while trying to provide something of a successor to the Great Naval Battles series, is making a conscious effort to simplify the game and allow the player to spend more time maneuvering instead of micro-managing details. Lots of details like national damage control abilities are modeled, however they are hard-coded rather than under player control. Weather and sea state effects on combat are modeled statistically, although in the version we saw they hadn't yet been visually implemented.

Finally, a few random titles that lept out at me.

It's been covered by others, but Homeworld definately looks on target to be a seriously exciting release. What impresses me most is the truly wonderful art direction to the game.

The Sims from Maxis looks very interesting, even if the concept of managing a sim-life may be a bit scary to some. The game looks like fun and that's what really counts. Besides, who among us didn't know deep down that this was coming sooner or later? So what if I end up spending precious hours of my own life managing the virtual life of a bunch of computer alter-egos?

Shogun from EA could be a very exciting game to look out for. It remains to be seen if the strategy element can match up to the gorgeous and easy-to-use battle engine (I was hoping for something more along the lines of Koei's old Three Kingdom games. But, even so, Shogun's battlefield engine is definately exciting-looking. One interesting side aspect is that the combat AI is actually based on the teachings of Sun-Tzu.

Majesty (an RTS/RPG cross) and Diplomacy (the old Avalon Hill game) were perhaps the best strategy news out of Hasbro other than the fact that Birth of the Federation is ready to ship and should be in stores on May 19 (hmmm, that date sounds familiar...). The appearance of Diplomacy may give gamers hope that Avalon Hill isn't quite dead yet.

Sled Storm, EA's Playstation snowmobile racing game was, simply put, an addictive blast to play. I originally sat down to it because I was looking for anything to do that would allow me to sit down, but quickly got hooked and over the course of the rest of the show, kept finding my way back to play it. It reminded me favorably of the older Playstation X-Games title.

Many of the Sega Dreamcast games were very impressive (and some were very ordinary). But NFL 2000 was jaw-droppingly beautiful to put it mildly. The play calling interface left something to be desired, but the visuals were stunning and the game action interface is very simple and intuitive.

Finally, one of the weirdest sights of the show for me was the almost abandoned stall showing Jagged Alliance 2. Nary a representative nor a player near a game I would have thought would be deserving of more attention. Oh, well, maybe everyone knows about it already. At any rate, that game still looks as good as it did the last time we saw it. The conspicuous absence of any TalonSoft wargame offerings in the Take 2 Interactive booth (I was hoping to get a look at the Civil War and Napoleonic strategy games) was unfortunate, but reflected a dearth of wargames at the convention overall that Tim already touched on.

Oh well, there's always next year…

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