That can't be real... can it?
At this year's E3 - possibly the craziest, hottest, loudest and sweatiest trade show on the planet - the big story was which next-generation console would come out on top. Desperate to emerge victorious in the all important tech race, both Microsoft and Sony, shall we say, showed us the 'potential' electronic experiences we will all be enjoying this Christmas with the 360, and next year with the PS3.
If you haven't seen the trailer for Guerilla Software's Killzone 2 on PS3, check it out. Apart from looking like something beamed into a games machine from the future, it raised more than a few eyebrows among the gaming public, once of course, they sat down and had a drink.
They questioned it. Not in a "I don't think the PS3 can produce graphics like this," but "I don't think the PS3 can produce in-game graphics like this." Many have questioned the real-time authenticity of the footage. Indeed, it seems almost too good to be real. In a recent interview, Microsoft's J Allard had a sly dig at Sony's tech demo shenanigans: "I was looking forward to the games, because the tech demos - you remember the old man from last generation - I didn't buy a game on PlayStation 2 that had that kind of facial geometry." Allard himself believes that Sony's tech demos were a little optimistic, saying that: "In terms of theoretical performance, maybe five years out, maybe it's possible."
Although it's quite obvious that the Killzone trailer isn't exactly what gamers will get from in-game graphics come next spring, Sony's Phil Harrison came out defending their tech demo policy. In a recent interview he said that none of the E3 game footage clips were real-time, but running off of video because: "If you make a presentation to two and a half thousand people, you're going to put some of it on video just to be on the safe side."
Asked how representative the footage was of the final product gamers will actually get their hands on, Harrison said: "I think very. I think depending on the game, different games took a different approach to their way of expressing what the games are like - but clearly, something like Motor Storm uses more cinematic, replay-like cameras than you would ever enjoy in-game. So that makes a big difference... But everything is done to spec."
So, to be fair, Sony hasn't claimed the Killzone trailer specifically to be a representation of in-game play, but they knew what they were doing when they showed it to a cheering and gasping audience at their pre-E3 show. They knew the mainstream media would use it as an example of what the PS3, a machine '10 times as powerful than a PC', can do. And that, for Sony, is more important than pleasing the entire game media junket that has descended on LA this week.
Halo on 360? To be or not to be? That is the question
Backwards compatibility is something now recognised as a key to any console's success, particularly early in its life. Sony realised it with PS2, allowing gamers who had purchased a PlayStation to use their games on the new machine, as well as extending the potential game catalogue by thousands. Nintendo have finally realised it with their Revolution, which will play GameCube games and allow users to download NES, SNES and N64 classics for emulation. Now, with the 360, you'll be able to play all your old crummy, dusty graphically extinct old-generation Xbox games to your hearts content. Or will you?
At E3 this week rumours emerged suggesting Microsoft's new console wasn't as backwards compatible as their MTV bonanza led us to believe, due to, err... incompatibility. In response to our wavering faith, Larry Hryb, aka Major Nelsen, the Xbox Live Director of Programming, has revealed all in his blog: "At launch, Xbox 360 will be backward compatible with the top Xbox games. Our goal is to have every Xbox game work on Xbox 360. You will NOT need to purchase a new 'version' - your original games will work on Xbox 360."
What he really means is that because the 360 will attempt to emulate older games, some (as anyone who has attempted to emulate anything on their PC before will know) simply won't work. So all Microsoft can do is try their best to make sure the most popular Xbox games, like Halo and Halo 2, will definitely work, and then move onto the less popular games.
It's a dangerous game. From Xbox team's point of view, though, there is little they can do. The 360 uses such fundamentally different hardware to power next-generation games that the emulation route is the only viable option. If Microsoft are targeting the mainstream gamer with 360, as clearly demonstrated by their MTV show, then a backwards compatibility issue could seriously hamper sales. And if Microsoft doesn't clarify their official line on the subject, I expect an unhappy Christmas for their customer service staff.
Something that might have slipped through the net
During E3 week, so much new game news emanates from that epicentre of electronic entertainment that it's easy to get lost in a gaming haze. One little nugget that nearly slipped through my net was Mythic Entertainment's announcement that they have secured the exclusive world-wide rights to create massively multiplayer online games for PC and console set in Games Workshop's fantasy world of Warhammer. The first Warhammer MMO, they revealed, is set for PC in 2007.
This is fantastic news, not only because I'm a Warhammer fan (although not to the point where I descend on my local Games Workshop every Sunday, fully painted army in tow) but because I'm confident Mythic will do a good job with this valuable license. They are, after all, responsible for Dark Age of Camelot.
Warhammer is perfect MMO fodder. I'd particularly like to see Mythic use Games Workshop's futuristic war universe, Warhammer 40,000 (on which Relic's excellent RTS Dawn of War was based) as inspiration. Not just because a fantasy based MMO is well covered by World of Warcraft, but because there's a gap for a gritty, no holds barred, unforgiving MMO based on the universe of Space Marines, Eldar and Orcs. The thought of starting at lvl 1 with a new Space Marine recruit, along with thousands of other real players, working your way up to higher rank, perhaps becoming a Terminator, or maybe even taking control of a Dreadnought, is a very compelling one indeed. Roll on 2007.
From the rubble emerges a new European trade show
Only days after the entire UK games industry event calendar was ripped to shreds, it was announced that a new trade event, 'Games Market Europe', is scheduled to take place in London on August 31 and September 1 at the Business Design Centre, Islington. GME is being jointly run by game industry PR specialists Barrington Harvey, and Tandem Events, a new venture established by Andy Lane, who was made redundant when CMP, event organiser for ECTS, GDCE and ScoRE pulled out of the UK market, cancelling all three shows.
It's welcome news. The UK, the third largest videogame market in the world, has recently faced the embarrassment of a number of event closures due to high profile exhibitor withdrawals. Lane will, however, find it extremely difficult to match last years European Games Network for scale and publisher support. The question still remains. Why doesn't the UK have a dedicated annual event to rival trade shows in Tokyo and LA?
E3 makes people crazy
There's much fun to be had casually observing the madness at E3 every May. It's especially more fun if you're a safe distance from it all. This week, an interesting piece of news emerged from the belly of the beast itself. Some game journalist actually proposed to his partner in the pressroom. And she said yes! Cue rapturous applause from everyone within earshot of his jubilant cheer (and, no doubt, a strong whiff of sweat permeating from the armpits of sweaty tech heads).
Had he gone mad? Or was it all an elaborate plan to embarrass his partner into agreeing to marry him, or else feel the collective wrath of the world's geeks. Or, maybe, she said yes simply because she loved him. Either way, it's not exactly the most romantic place in the world to ask someone to spend the rest of their life with you. But, to each their own.
Trueplayerz give something back
Videogames often get a bum rap. One minute they're warping our children's fragile little minds, the next turning them into cold-hearted killers. What doesn't get covered is when games are used for good.
A game tournament is a fantastic way to raise lots of money for charity while having a whale of a time. This week Joystick Junkies, the videogame inspired fashion and lifestyle company, announced the start of their monthly Trueplayerz charity tournaments. The first tournament will be held on Bank Holiday Sunday, May 29th at London's Medicine Bar. Players pay Â£3 to enter, and the winner decides what charity all the money goes to. Simple.
I'll definitely be going along, and if you can get down to London next Sunday, so should you (it's all for a good cause after all, a cause you'll decide, if you win). Check here for more details. The games everyone will be playing haven't been confirmed yet, but I can tell you that there are tonnes of game related prizes to win, and the all-girl gaming clan PMS will be making an appearance. Oh, and stick around for the after party. I've been to a few Joystick Junkies shindigs, and they can get quite frivolous.