With the hoopla of a circus coming to town multiplied a hundredfold, the video game industry introduced more than 1,000 new titles to retailers and the press last week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
I played as many as I could and came to this conclusion: It doesn't matter whether you own Microsoft's Xbox, Nintendo's GameCube, Sony's PlayStation 2 or a personal computer - if you have 50 bucks in your pocket this fall, you'll be able to find a game that's right up your alley.
Hollywood's influence is playing a huge role in the titles unveiled for release later this year. Among the movies with game attachments that surfaced at E3, as the trade show is commonly called, were Spider-Man; Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones; The Scorpion King; and The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.
Like more than a few movies this summer, many games will be sequels to previous titles, some of which first appeared on earlier-generation consoles such as the Nintendo 64. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness; Metroid Prime; The Legend of Zelda; Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4; and ATV Off Road Fury 2 will keep game makers' franchises going.
Still others will be geared toward telling stories in a more-detailed, cinematic style, thanks to increasingly powerful hardware and sophisticated software.
To get everyone excited about what's coming, video game makers put up hundreds of monitors in the Los Angeles Convention Center's cavernous halls showing game trailers (snippets that look just like movie previews) for fantasy role-playing, first-person shooters and third-person action games.
Along with 60,000 other E3 attendees, I got to play prerelease versions of several titles. Not surprisingly, some crackled with the electricity of a light-saber fight and others bombed like a dud torpedo. Here are a few of the best you'll find on the shelves this season:
Nintendo's pipsqueak plumber hasn't been in a new adventure for years, but if you like Mario, you'll love his return in Super Mario Sunshine (late August for the GameCube). Mario, on vacation on a tropical island, is forced to clean up paradise after a villain begins polluting the area with sewage and filth. A hydro-powered weapon allows him to fly and clean at the same time.
At the opposite end of the maturity spectrum is Infogrames' Unreal Tournament 2003 for PC online play. (A version called Unreal Championship will be released for the Xbox this fall.) In this first-person shooter, you'll be able to lop off arms, legs and heads and watch blood squirt as you move through five home worlds.
The graphics, with highly detailed, complex textures, are so good that water moves like a real liquid and the Northern Lights shimmer like the real thing in the night sky.
I kept asking what was the point of the multiplayer role-playing game Star Wars Galaxies - An Empire Divided. The best I got from LucasArts Entertainment representatives was the game's slogan: "Live the saga." Well, that's what you'll be able to do online via PC, PlayStation2 or Xbox. You can take the role of any of hundreds of characters in the Star Wars universe who appear in time just before the original Star Wars movie takes place.
Each profession, whether bounty hunter or canteen owner, has a list of goals. You can try to achieve them or just wander the galaxy, discovering new worlds. LucasArts envisions having more than 2,000 people online at any given time with the PC version, which will appear by Christmas. Console versions will go online next year.
989 Sports says it wants NFL GameDay 2003 for the PlayStation2 to really look like a TV broadcast when it's released in August. So its developers sat down with Fox Sports to talk about stadium camera angles and ultimately decided to frame the video game shots just as they are on TV. The new release will also have more hot routes, 300 types of tackles and 275 types of catches.
Activision developers melded Hong Kong fighting cinematography with the action-adventure style of Hollywood for True Crime: Streets of LA. Available for the PS2, Xbox and GameCube early next year, this third-person action game allows your character to go on 20 main story missions in a 400- square-mile swath of Los Angeles generated from satellite, video and GPS data.
The graphics are done so well that during game play, many objects that never get destroyed in other games, such as bottles and tables, will be smashed to pieces if you're thrown into them.
Another good-looking, third-person action title is The Getaway, by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, which has developed a photorealistic, 24-square-mile view of London for its setting. The free-roaming, 3D game will be available for the PlayStation2 in November.
You can drive or run through missions, but it really won't matter for the first few hours, because you'll be too busy trying to figure out whether the developers really did reproduce the actual cracks in London's sidewalks.
It's an unlikely source, but the U.S. Army is heading into video game territory this summer with titles aimed at both entertainment and recruiting. One of two games it showcased at E3, Soldiers, plays like few others. As a player, you'll have to figure out what goals to set and what resources you'll need to succeed in the Army. If your goals are a great car, a pretty girl and lots of party time, think again.
Developers built their interactive story engine from scratch and have used photocell animation to create a unique graphical look and feel. The free game is PC-based and will be available with gaming magazines and online.
For younger children, Nintendo created Animal Crossing so that both kids and parents would have a game to play on the GameCube. Players get jobs, buy homes and live in a virtual village of little animals seven days a week, 24 hours a day. According to Nintendo executives, parents playing in Japan have become so engrossed in the game that they play after their children go to bed.
Animal Crossing can be played on the GameCube and GameBoy Advance. Players can design costumes for both on the GBA, and the GBA can unlock bonuses, including an island that is unreachable with a Game Cube alone.
The animals arrive in America on Sept. 16.
Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator 3 offers yet another round of aerial combat and "ground pounding" missions in World War II Europe. Bombers have been added to the mix of fighters, with almost 30 flyable planes now in the lineup.
This fall's release of this long-running franchise uses the same physics engine as its predecessor but features a new graphics engine that can provide superb ground detail up to 1 kilometer from the plane.