E3: FINAL THOUGHTS [Author: Lum the Mad]

Anarchy Online: I didn’t get a lot of time to spend with this game. The clients were all running a new version that seemed slicker and much less crash prone than the current beta. There were always quite a few people trying to get a chance to play the game. Is it ready to go? We’ll know in a month.

Asheron’s Call 2: No gameplay on display at all. The engine itself is much, much improved from the AC1 engine; whatever other knocks AC2 may pick up, a lack of eye candy won’t be on the list. Anything else about the game? Couldn’t tell you.

Atriarch: didn’t get a chance to see it.

Dark Age of Camelot: There were two dev teams I talked to at E3 who were just really, really happy. Those two are Verant Austin’s SWG team and Mythic. Mythic knows they have a winner on their hands, and judging from the interest distributors were showing DAOC, others do as well. The city of Camelot is probably the best realized city I’ve seen in a fantasy MMOG (it’s a tossup between that and Qeynos, but if Mythic does a good job populating Camelot they should win). However, DAoC is evolutionary, not revolutionary, and that turns off some folks, especially those who hate the Everquest-like whack-and-level model. It remains to be seen if DAoC will have depth beyond that – although the amount of work being put into the questing system and the melee skills shows promise.

Destination Games: I had almost forgotten that Richard Garriott had this almost supernatural ability to carry off lying to you to your face while still being likeable. After listening to him tell us that Lineage was one of the best MMOGs on the market today, I remembered.

Earth and Beyond: I’m not sure about this one. It could be a lot of fun, and it could be a total mess. There wasn’t a whole lot of gameplay on display, and what we did see seemed pretty simplistic and rudimentary. With a game so close to open beta and release, it could be a danger signal. The game’s graphics were shockingly ordinary considering the quality of the screen shots we’ve seen thus far. Either the ‘screenshots’ on the EAB site are really renders or whoever put togther the EAB demo needs to be hauled out back and shot.

Everquest – Shadows of Luclin: The upgraded graphics looked all right if not particularly mind blowing (the armor models all looked quite sharp, but the human model looked pretty dopey). Not really sure it deserves all the hype it’s gotten from the mainstream gaming press, though. If there’s a hit in the frame rate or performance for most players the new client will get chunked out the window faster than you can say “Third Dawn”. The real value here is in the new zones, race and class. New content has always been Everquest’s lifeblood and SOL should be no exception to the rule.

Jumpgate: didn’t get a chance to see it. Nice manual.

Motor City Online: didn’t get a chance to see it.

Neverwinter Nights: Looks really, really cool. Don’t think it will work too well as an MMOG replacement though. Actually, I think it will probably shine as a way for people to practice game design by making homebrew single-player modules.

Planetside: It looks like a state-of-the-art shooter. The question is, does it play like a state-of-the-art shooter with hundreds of people buzzing around in your general area? Other writers have questioned whether Verant can charge $10 a month when Tribes and Counterstrike are available for free. Those writers, I suspect, have never seen the fanaticism a virtual persistent world can generate. The monthly fee won’t be an issue. Playability will. In a shooter lag is death. In MMOs lag is a fact of life. Not a good combination.

Shadowbane: There were two groups of people Shadowbane’s demo was aimed at: potential distributors and the hardest of the hard core. Joe Media wanting to see a cool online game? He was over at the Anarchy Online booth next door. I personally was surprised that there wasn’t a client on display – especially since there basically was one last year (it was playing a film loop due to the lack of net connectivity in the GOD lot, but playing said loop through the Shadowbane engine). I was given a number of reasons when I asked why, including a lack of time to prepare due to the ongoing beta and a desire, instead of a closed door engine demo, to make a presentation that everyone could enjoy. You know, for all those people who hung out in the Anarchy Online booth instead.

What about the video, the only actual evidence of the last twelve months of Shadowbane’s development? The Shadowmaniacs ate it up. If the video wall showed nothing but a shot of Warden’s head chanting “Strength and Honor” over and over again, the Shadowmaniacs would have eaten that up, too. To me it looked like the same stuff they showed off last year, only with a better color palette. It makes me wonder what Wolfpack has spent the past year doing. Game design? Yelling at websites? Contract negotiations to crush? You tell me.

The kicker is that Shadowbane seems to be a pretty kickass game. They could have done a MUCH better show. Maybe Wolfpack is starting to believe their own hype machine and think simply preaching to the choir will get their game out the door and profitable. If that’s the case, I hope you don’t mind paying $50 a month for Shadowbane.

Shrimp Flavor Potato Fries: Dear god, those were horrible. How do Koreans eat that stuff? No wonder they invented taekwondo. I’d want to kick some ass too.

Sims Online: didn’t get a chance to see it.

Sovereign: didn’t get a chance to see it.

Star Wars Galaxies: If you blow this game off because you think Verant is demonspawn, to quote the VAK proverb, “great, quit, less lag for me”. While no gameplay was shown except for a brief bout of space combat, the entire demo just oozed a familiarity with and love of the Star Wars mythos. It was crafted by artists. It showed. THAT is what dazzled everyone who saw it, more so than the T&L and the underwater refractions and whatnot. And with that level of artistry, one is more inclined to accept the promises that are being made about the gameplay. Plus any game that allows me to be Admiral Lum commanding the ISD Snarling gets about 6,000 bonus points.

World War II Online: The graphics on this one are EXTREMELY primitive. I was really shocked at this; it looked 5 years out of date. Added to that the spartan user interfaces and no one will be playing this one for the eye candy. I watched a three-way battle between two tanks and a plane and it seemed fun if somewhat chaotic. Still, the graphics are REALLY going to hurt this one; they’re that bad. I’m not sure what Playnet is thinking with this game. Unless the game is hardcore realistic enough to attract the wargaming grognards who get into fierce arguments over muzzle velocity (I couldn’t really tell – it didn’t look like it) they’re going to be competing for users in a crowded marketplace against titles like Planetside and Tribes 2. And, given what I saw, a Pearl Harbor looks likely.