E3 2000 Wrap-Up
A look at Sega's showing at E3 - By BenT and Fragmaster
18 Wheel American Pro Trucker
One of the more recent arcade games from Sega, 18 Wheel American Pro Trucker recreates the experience of driving one of those behemoths we see on the road every day. Sega has really captured the handling perfectly, so you really feel like you're driving one of these beasts. Although they only run at 30 fps, the graphics are great. The trucks have slick environment mapping all over, and you can see *really* far into the distance. The game plays like sort of a slower racing game, where you have a rival 18-wheeler that you have to beat to the end of a highway. As you would expect from a Sega arcade game, physics and such are very exaggerated and "fun" -- this ain't no sim. Toss in online play and you have probably the first video game trucking sim I could ever claim to be looking forward to.
Sega's Arcade Line-Up
Kenji Eno's latest Laura adventure is headed Stateside, minus a harmless tentacle scene that was thought too controversial. The game is a third person adventure game, and chronicles Laura's latest alien encounter after an arctic plane crash. This game was originally designed for 3DO's ill-fated M2 hardware, but doesn't look too impressive against contemporary Dreamcast games. As with all Warp titles, the style and story have come before control and gameplay, so D2 could be a trying experience for some.
DreamCall is a new long distance Internet phone call service that Sega's concocted with new partner Innomedia. It functions just like DialPad.com -- connect to the net, punch in a number onscreen, and bam! You're talking to someone else, live. An Innomedia rep told us that their technology is optimized for the 56k Dreamcast modem, but will work even better with Sega's forthcoming broadband solutions. There's very little hardware required to use DreamCall; a VMU-shaped device was plugged into the controller, with a microphone/headset attached to it by a thin wire. That's all you need. The DreamCall service will debut in Japan this August, but Sega is unsure if they'll introduce the service to the US. Let's hope so, as it obviously has some interesting gaming applications. One example that was actually running at the show was a little game called Dream Dorobo. Two stations were setup so that the players could not see each others' screens. One person's screen displayed a map of a building that showed enemies, treasure, and the location of the other player. Meanwhile, the other player had a very, very limited overhead view of the interior of the building: the field of view was so small that it was almost impossible to avoid the enemies successfully. The solution, of course, was for both players to cooperate by chatting over DreamCall -- the map guy could give (or try to give) detailed directions to the other player, hopefully helping him make it out of the building alive. When that happens, players switch roles and another building is randomly generated. I didn't have a partner handy with which to try it myself, but the people I watched looked like they were having a lot of fun. It's obvious that Dream Dorobo is just the tip of the iceberg here. Real-time voice communication in console-style games could be huge!
Ecco the Dolphin
One of Sega's big mid-2000 titles, Ecco looks ready to wow gamers. The game is simply beautiful, with great water effects and one wonderfully-animated dolphin. The game seems to play almost exactly like the 16-bit Ecco titles, only in 3D. The first mission involved rescuing a baby whale and returning it to its mother, and as far I saw no one at E3 could actually find the damn thing. Still, there was ample opportunity to explore the game's oceanic environment, and we came away impressed. Sure, I wish they'd extend the fogline just a bit, but overall Ecco looks like an all-around winner. Assuming you liked the old games, of course.
It's been a long time since an original Sega RPG has graced store shelves, but it looks like we won't have to wait much longer. Eternal Arcadia is set in a new universe of airships and floating islands, where bands of pirates are terrorizing the high-altitude civilization of the skies. It's your job to curb this threat, and you can rest assured the plot picks up from there. At E3 Sega had only a basic demo of the game, albeit in English. Most of the game seems to run around 30 fps, and the character models were fairly detailed. I got to take part in a boss battle, and it looks like the battle system is shaping up quite nicely. It's nothing revolutionary, but serves the game well. My only complaint is that there were only three characters in my party; I hope that's not the upper limit. I miss the days of four or even five person parties. Damn you, Final Fantasy VII! Ahem. The English version of Eternal Arcadia should hit stores in September.
Climax's virtual horror house is headed to the states. Illbleed is a unique and ultra-stylish twist on the survival horror genre. There are at least four characters to choose from, and they're rated in categories like eyesight, hearing, smell, sixth sense, physical strength, mental strength, heart strength and blood type. These ratings are important to the gameplay. For example, to get a good rating in the first mission you have to complete it in less than 1:30, with a heart rate of less than 90, adrenaline less than 75, hit points 35 or over and with bleeding at 30 mg/s or under. Odd does not begin to describe it. Actual gameplay is similar to Resident Evil, although the backgrounds are real time and the camera is adjustable. Occasionally you'll set off traps, which serve to scare the hell out of your character and increase their heart rate, adrenaline, and "horror monitor". Combat is your typical survival horror affair, although there's one annoying trait: sometimes when you're hit you fall on your butt, and it's damn annoying to get out of this crouch. Grr. Anyway, the blood effects are awesome, being completely over the top. Really, Mortal Kombat has nothing on this. Monster designs are phenomenal as well... some really good stuff here. Illbleed is due in Q4.
Jet Grind Radio
Jet Grind Radio was the first game to use the now-popular cel shading technique, whereby polygons are traced with black lines, resulting in a very striking cartoonish effect. The gameplay involves skating through cities and "tagging" objects; that is, spraying your graffiti all over them. Of course, this will draw the ire of the local law enforcement, so soon you'll be on a frantic run from the law as you attempt to tag all the required landmarks in the level. Like Space Channel 5, the game exudes originality and style, but also looks to be deeper in the gameplay department. Coolbeans. We can expect Jet Grind Radio sometime in Q3.
Metropolis Street Racer
Metropolis Street Racer offers the chance to race around a variety of real-world cities in expensive cars. The game features over 40 licensed vehicles and 150 routes, with over 15 square miles of scenery in all. Much has been made of Street Racer's graphics, which is based on tens of thousands of photographs and hours of video footage, but the version on display was graphically underwhelming. The framerate is a bit slow and the graphics featured a slightly jaggy, PSX feel. The game was fun though, and Bizarre has a lot of time to tune Street Racer up, as it's scheduled for an October release.
NFL2k1 and NBA2k1
Tweaked versions of last year's versions with online play and a slightly different graphical style (the players look a bit more rounded). Both these games were setup on LANs at the show for multiplayer and seemed to work pretty well. Lots of little quirks and bugs have been fixed as well. There's no doubt both these games will be improvements over their debut releases, the only question is if Sega can make the online aspects of these games fun and acceptably fast.
Sega's Outriggers was a very cool surprise. Based on the little-seen arcade game, Outriggers is basically Quake-style deathmatch with arcade sensibilities. That means that stealth takes a backseat to hardcore, in-your-face action. The game has extremely good graphics, which maintained a constant 60 fps for the half-hour or so that we played. Single player is rather conventional; it puts you in an environment and you're tasked with defeating a certain number of "terrorists". The maps are small but extremely well-designed; the perfect locations for deathmatch. And speaking of deathmatch, that's where the heart of the game is. Outriggers allows you to play versus other Dreamcast owners via a direct connection or up to four player split screen. We tried the direct connect mode and it played like a dream. Is this Quake III's strongest competition? Quite possibly.
Phantasy Star Online
Phantasy Star Online is definitely one of Sega's most important games going into the latter half of 2000. Think of it as sort of a proof of concept -- if this is a hit, it opens up the floodgates for other massively multiplayer, networked Dreamcast games. If it fails... well, do you really think a Phantasy Star could fail? At E3, the game was only present in video form, in a rather lame trailer that emphasized the fact that up to 6 billion people could potentially play the game. Uh.. I'm sorry, but that's a pathetic marketing angle. It's a good thing they have 6 months to work out the kinks. Anyway, on to the game. They pretty much just showed the footage that's been seen since the TGS: there was a battle with a dragon, a party walking about in the overworld, and a bunch of characters conversing in a futuristic city-like setting. The graphics look very smooth and detailed, with bright colors and a high framerate. Character designs are decent, too. The gameplay that was on display reminded me heavily of the EverQuest, in that the players were running around willy-nilly while a huge dragon attempted to beat the crap out of them. All in all, Phantasy Star Online looks like it's on the path to success. We'll have to wait until Q4 to find out for sure, though.
Quake III: Arena
What can we say, it's Quake III! The game was looking pretty darn good on the Dreamcast. While the framerate was only around 30 fps, the gameplay looked to be 100% intact. The textures seem to be about one notch below the high detail setting of the PC version, and the player models appear identical to their PC counterparts. Even the console is present, although it's pretty useless with a Dreamcast controller. That's perhaps the main failing of DC Q3:A: when you're used to a mouse and keyboard, playing with the controller sucks. Interestingly, Sega had both a mouse and keyboard setup at select Quake III stations, and this improved the game's control tenfold. The DC mouse is a little small and iMac-like for my tastes, but it beats the analog stick any day. The game had one Dreamcast-specific deathmatch map to play, and the layout seemed pretty good. There's not much else to tell -- it was Quake III, on the Dreamcast, and it looks to be one of the most faithful PC ports yet. Quake III: Arena will be blasting our way this fall.
Samba de Amigo
So there are drum games, guitar games, and even DJ games, but there aren't any maraca games. Until now, that is. Apparently perceiving an unfilled niche in the market, Sonic Team has come up with Samba de Amigo, the world's first maraca-shaking video games. Gameplay is simple: just shake your two maracas at one of three elevation levels, in response to the onscreen prompts. Occasionally you'll be required to strike a pose as well, which makes you look absolutely ridiculous. Have no doubts; Samba de Amigo is great, silly fun. The insanity starts in August.
Seaman is a sort of virtual pet simulator in which you take care of a fish with a human face. Hence, a Seaman. (Spare us the easy jokes, please. ;) The game will actually come with a microphone so you can talk to and interact with your Seaman, which is possible with the game's extensive voice recognition technology. Don't be surprised if it talks back, though; Seaman can be one cheeky little bastard. Seaman is aiming for an October release date.
Sega's answer to a certain other GT racer comes equipped with over 100 cars and 22 courses. Sega claims that you'll be able to build your own cars from scratch and that there are over two million combinations possible. Scheduled for a July, Sega GT is looking pretty swell, although the detailed graphics are only running at 30 FPS.
Shenmue Chapter 1
If you don't know about Shenmue by now, you must be living under a rock. The game is the culmination of five years of development by a staff of over 200 people, and the end result is a virtual world that is epic in scope. It's not an RPG, though. Yu Suzuki, head of Sega's AM2 division, calls the game's genre "FREE", which stands for "Free Reactive Eyes Entertainment", or some such nonsense. This is just the first chapter of many, and will serve to introduce players to the game world and plot. Sega hopes to have the English version of Chapter 1 ready for Q4 2000. Let's hope the voice dubbing doesn't make our ears fall off.
Space Channel 5
Space Channel 5 rocks! The game is Sega's first foray into the popular music and rhythm genres, and it looks like they've struck gold. The game plays similarly to the classic Playstation game Parappa the Rapper, but that's where the similarities end. Space Channel 5 follows the adventures of space reporter Ulala, as she attempts to free people who've been hypnotized by the menacing Moroliens. How does she do this? By out-dancing them, of course. The better you follow the onscreen moves, the more people will be freed and join Ulala's fight, causing her ratings to go up and unlocking secret paths. The game is done in a retro-60's/space motif, which just looks stunning. It should be illegal to have this much style! While some may deride Space Channel 5 as a simple game of button memorization, it looks to be much more than that. Space Channel 5 is pure style, digitized and pressed onto a GD-ROM. The game should be available in early June. Oh, and by the way, the English voices actually sound pretty good. Hooray!
That's right, a tennis game. A port of Sega's arcade version, Virtua Tennis's graphics are so good that you'd mistake it for a real match from a distance. The playable versions on display were getting a lot of play, which is a good sign. Looks solid and totally ready for its July release.
World Series Baseball 2k1
Looks and plays a lot like the World Series Baseball games on the Genesis. The graphics look pretty good and the gameplay is fairly solid, but the game still looked pretty rough around the edges, especially considering it's scheduled for a July release. Hopefully this won't turn out to be another NHL2K.
Alien Front Online
Probably the most interesting arcade game Sega had on display. To demo the game, Sega setup four or five arcade machines and four or five Dreamcast displays. Each played Alien Front Online, but the cool part is that they played against each other. The Dreamcast users played as aliens and the arcade machines played as humans. The game is basically a big team deathmatch, aliens versus humans. The humans fight in big tanks and the aliens fight in huge mech-type things. The sense of scale done well, and each race feels suitably "big." I'm not sure if there's multiple levels, but the level I saw took place in a damaged human city and was filled with lots of interactive elements and neat special effect flourishes, especially on the explosions. Supposedly, you'll be able to play people on the arcade machines from your Dreamcast through its modem, but the person I talked to about the game couldn't give any more details on how that would actually work. The Dreamcast version is scheduled for a Q1 2001 release, but the arcade version will be shipping this summer. You can find more info at Sega's Official Page.
Simply put, it's House of The Dead 2 with fire hoses instead of guns. You and a friend grab a hold of the two fire hoses and put out fires as fast as you can. The quicker you put out a fire, the better. The hoses are adjustable, you can shoot focused, flooding streams or a lesser, more widespread flow. Like HotD2, there's bad voice acting and cut scenes in between certain areas which attempt to explain why you're doing all this. Unfortunately, the game doesn't come with a spotted dog or those cool red hats.
This is an odd little game where you drive around in a jeep and rope ostriches and stuff. I didn't see much of it, but the graphics looked nice. I'm thinking that a Dreamcast conversion is doubtful.
Sega Marine Fishing
Basically an improved version of Sega Bass Fishing with more kinds of fish, better graphics, and more interesting environments. Gameplay is almost exactly the same as Bass Fishing, except the arcade machine's fishing reel makes it seem a bit more realistic.
Next: Sierra, TH*Q, and Ubi Soft