E3Expo 2010 Tuesday Report

Tuesday, June 15 ReportThe start of E3Expo 2010

Air Combat

If you don’t already know, look here

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog

…and here.

DCS: A-10 Warthog

Land Combat and Console
ConManly and Magnum’s Big Adventure

ConManly and friendsConManly got his first taste of the gaming industry today, as his eyes were opened wide by the spectacle that is E3. Along the way, he got to meet such meteoric celebrities as Vern (Mini Me) Troyer and Adam Sessler (G4 TV). What a great day it was for our youngest SimHQ staffer. But ConMaly did notice that a common and disturbing theme was 3D gaming by Sony and Wii copy-cats. Everything being hyped seemed to involve movement and mini games for fat little children with ADHD. ConManly says: Let the Wii be a Wii. Yes Xbox, you need to ditch Forza Kinect, and Playstation you need to ditch the rave-friendly controllers. And if I want to play video games, I want to get fat doing it. When I want to exercise, I’ll play a real game or go to the gym (and as the booth babes can tell you — he does just that).

E3 is definitely stuffed with new and fancy entertainment. With big names like Gears of War 3, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, Fear 3, Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) and Medal of Honor there are plenty of things to look at. The world of sims was, as usual, relatively limited. However, there were several shooters with a realistic aroma, as well as some casual games and a few ‘toys” that held ConManly’s and Magnum’s interest…

Ghost Recon: Magnum and ConManly went to Ubisoft’s booth no less than five times today, and every time all they found was a long line for a closed room preview. But we promise you boys and girls, Magnum and ConManly will carve out a place in line early tomorrow and get the goods on this next installment in the GR series.

SOCOM 4: ConManly checked out this new title from Sony. Lacking experience with the previous SOCOM games, he found SOCOM 4 to be a pleasant surprise. It is a third-person, cover-based shooter that uses cinematic gameplay and scripted events to create a pleasurable experience. The demo had a mission where NATO troops are attacked by militia armed with infantry and armor. In a nutshell, kill baddies, hear some plot-filled dialogue (with good cut scenes), and call in an airstrike. This is by no means a sim, but is a good action game that grips the gamer with great graphics and intense action.

Medal of Honor: EA’s Medal of Honor was out on the Sony’s floor, so ConManly had a go at the multiplayer beta. His first impression was that it is almost a final product. The graphics were good and the combat was polished. It is slower-paced than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but has similar weapons. If you had to compare to anything it would definitely be Battlefield: Bad Company 2. It was all and all a good game, but with all the similarities to other recent titles I am curious what new gaming experiences it has to bring to the table.

Medal of Honor

Homefront: Can you imagine this nightmare scenario: North Korea invades the west coast of the USA. Let me tell you, that’s one big, fat nightmare. And anyone who has it is dreaming — seriously. Yet that’s the premise behind this new shooter title which pits the gamer versus North Korea on US soil. To advertise at the show they had uniformed DPRK “soldiers” marching in the halls. If that’s what you face in the game, the biggest threat might be laughing yourself to death. But we will have to check it out more later.

Need For Speed – Hot Pursuit: Magnum got some time to teach ConManly some of the finer points of police pursuit tactics with EA’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Regrettably, Boy-Wonder ConManly wound up schooling the seasoned cop in the game — twice.

This latest NFS title was presented by none other than our ‘favorite’ EA developer dude, and while Magnum admits that he found the game sinfully entertaining even though it’s only an action racer, he thinks it could be great fun for a casual break from simulations with his buds on it Xbox Live. It’s very similar to the game of the same title from years ago. ConManly thinks of this new EA title as the polar opposite of rFactor. It was a delectably horrible arcade racer that was mildly fun. If you are eight years old, or Magnum, or feel like a break from games that challenge your mind, this might be worth renting. Lamborghini police cars? Really? At least NFS Hot Pursuit knows it’s a light-hearted game doesn’t pretend to be anything more.

Sony PS3 Update: Sony announced games will be on Blu-ray discs. WIth several times more data capacity than DVD discs, the move seems like a great idea and has potential to up the graphics on PS3 games and possibly set Playstation games on a higher level than Xbox.

Motorsports

WRC: As Game Director Fabio Paglianti reminded us at our meeting today with the Milan, Italy based software developer Black Bean, there has not been a new rally simulation offered for over 5 years. Fabio is managing the much anticipated title, WRC (FIA World Rally Championship), which he says will be released near the end of September. Four of your SimHQ E3 team members were invited to get a little hands on with what we were told was a roughly 70% working model of the sim. Did he say a late September release and only 70% complete? Yes he did. Hmmm. I know that game devs pull some pretty horrendous hours, but that sounds mighty optimistic to my ears.

Still, we were able to drive at one of four host countries in almost any of the current 2010 WRC season teams, cars, and drivers. Maybe I should be more specific. We were presented the opportunity to control a rally car with a gamepad, which for all of us, was about as revealing as watching Fabio demo drive a rally stage on a console. In Black Bean’s defense we found this to be a common practice in 2 of the big three that we were able to demo today, GT5 (wheel), F1 2010 (gamepad), and WRC (gamepad). Those of us predisposed to the omnipresence of black helicopters suggested that the practice is to hide poor physics modeling. Could be. No way to know without a wheel.

In Fabio’s words, “The purpose of the game is to feel the real driving experience of the rally.” Focusing on to the phrase driving experience, as well as listening to the list of proposed features, one could believe that he is serious about delivering on this promise to all three platforms that the title will support, XBox, PS3, and PC. Our demo was the PS3 version.

What we like. All of the cars were highly modeled, including such details as radio antennas and mud splatters that washed off during creek crossings. There are two levels of external view, as well as cockpit and hood views. The latter was the one that Paglianti seemed to be the most proud of, and in some ways it presented the driver (here I go using that term loosely again) with the best view. There was some interesting damage modeling presented, like a flapping hood, and in the press kit, unlatched doors swinging wildly as the rally driver continued on through the stage, rather than pause to make field repairs on the race car’s body. Doors, trunk, hatchback, and hood are deformable, repairable, and will affect performance.

More than one of us found that road surfacing was rendered beautifully, and in particular I liked the slightly damp looking tarmac. I saw at least one mixed surface stage, and Fabio stated that the surface look and feel would be based on the actual stage conditions during the season in which the rally is usually run. In other words Sweden will be in snow, and Mexico will be on loose gravel.

Multiplayer modes include turned-based and concurrent stage modes. In the concurrent stage mode, collisions will not be allowed, but ghost vehicles will represent competitors. A player will be able to download quick ghost stages set by other WRC drivers in order to compare their times, lines, and methods.

Concerns. Granted, this is a very early look at a title that will likely have more graphic tweaking in the months ahead. A sharp-eyed SimHQ staff member noted the absence of anti-aliasing, and other advanced graphic processing effects. The game looked harsh, and in some ways cartoonish when compared to recent dirt focused driving games, such as Dirt2.

As mentioned earlier, we were not given the chance to sample WRC with a wheel and therefore will hold off making judgments on Black Bean’s promise to deliver an accurate physics model. When I asked Fabio if they had consulted any rally drivers, he replied that they had and that perhaps I may have heard of him — Sebastien Loeb. That being said, what really concerned me is that in viewing the video included in the press kit, Making of WRC, in which there were many shots of the developers at work, never did I see a wheel. Not one. XBox and PS3 gamepads abounded. Perhaps this is to reassure investors that the game will have mass appeal. As is only fair to a title this far from completion, we will keep our fingers crossed and hope that by September, rally simulation fans will be pleasantly surprised. I remain guardedly optimistic.

F1 2010: Remember how in Monday’s installment we said that there were always surprises at E3? And how we said that Codemasters weren’t coming to this year’s show? Well — SURPRISE! We found out on Tuesday that Codemasters was at the show, briefing the media on F1 2010 by appointment only. We quickly set up a meeting with F1 developers Andy Gray, Stephen Hood and Paul Jeal later on in the afternoon.

First thing you notice is that the user interface and menus look a lot like DiRT 2. There’s good reason for this, as the game makes use of the EGO engine and by using some of the formatting of DiRT 2 the team was able to spend more time on things they wanted to develop — such as physics. That’s fine by us, especially since the in-your-face, abrasive tone of the DiRT 2 GUIs has been toned down and made a bit more refined in F1 2010. That makes F1 2010 feel a bit more “Monaco” and a lot less “Trailer Trash” than DiRT 2, and that’s a very good thing.

114 F1 games have preceded Codemaster’s first foray into recreating the pinnacle of motorsport. With that in mind, the dev team has tried to make something special and to go beyond the past products — an easy task considering how uninspired the Sony years were. F1 2010’s career mode starts with a press conference where you announce your contract with a team, although it’s really just a cute way to get you to establish your player profile and game options. The focus of the career mode is to give you a more rounded appreciation for what it’s like to be an F1 driver, not just the view from the cockpit. Gameplay of the career mode is objective-driven and has several lengths of racing ‘contract’ to choose from. The longer the career contract, the lower-end of a team you start out in. In the lower tier teams, your objective may only be to score some points. In a top-tier team, career goals are much more demanding.

We got to see and try the game — but only with a gamepad, which is a curious thing for a racing title that wants to cater to a wide audience. On the one hand, using a gampad in a small meeting cubicle is less space-intensive, easier to transport, and it reflects the method of control for the “mainstream” gamer. On the other hand, not having a wheel effectively denies anyone from making a subjective evaluation of the physics engine’s fidelity (handy if your game’s physics don’t jive with what’s in the “glossy brochure”). Although we had ConManly and Panther try F1 2010 out with the gamepad, it just didn’t give them a feel for how the game responds to input. While we did experience understeer, oversteer, brake lockup, and varied grip levels in all the right places, and cars that took some thought and intuitive effort to control, we just can’t give you a true assessment of the game’s physics from this meeting. How unfortunate for us all that Codemasters chose to show their newest gaming title with a gamepad.

What was unequivocal were the graphics. “Stunning” doesn’t do them justice, nor do screen shots. The demo took place at Spa, and of course it was raining. Codemasters has really captured the look of racing in the rain at this famous circuit. We learned that the final version of the game will include dynamic weather, wherein the track my be wet, dry off, and get wet again over the course of a race. And as the rain subsides, the track dries, moreso in the path of the cars’ tires. Very cool.

Several times, drivers understeered off the track and drove through the kitty litter, which stuck like glue to their tires and showed up in the graphics, gradually subsiding and flinging off the tires as the car drove down the track. Along with that, the grip levels of the tires were also reduced. The devs mentioned that flat-spotting of tires and tire degradation such as blistering were also modelled. Again, very cool.

The game includes provision for both race-level pit strategy, and championship-level strategizing, with elements such as the eight-engine-per-season rule. On-track strategy is also provided, with more refined drafting aerodynamics tied to reduced engine cooling while in the draft, and AI cars that will maneuver to break your draft on the straights. We are intrigued about how this will play out in the Gold version of the game.

Multiplayer has some disspointments. The F1 license stipulates that only 1 car per team can be driven by a player, so the max multiplayer grid is limited to 12 human cars, with no team duplication in a race (thanks a lot, Bernie). However, AI cars can be included to fill out the rest of the grid. Pit strategy and marshal flag sensitivity levels are also adjustable to suit your tastes.

Car chassis setups are pre-tuned by the in-game engineers and offer driver inputs and suggestions to refine the setup, but unlike more hard-core sims like rFactor there isn’t the ability for a player to get his hands dirty and do the actual adjustments himself. That’s in keeping with the game’s focus of replicating the life of a driver, and not a chief engineer. The description sounded almost a philosophical match for SimHQ’s successful ILMS series.

Codemasters have now set a firm release date of 24 September for the release of F1 2010, on Xbox360, PS3 and PC. Rest assured that SimHQ will review this title, and if the multiplayer, strategy gameplay and physics care suitable we might even host a series with this hotly-anticipated new F1 title.

ConManly’s Driver Report: I had to try the demo of F1 2010… ON A GAME CONROLLER! Codemasters, are you whackin’ me?! If anyone wants to hide their physics model from the public, just make them use an inefficient piece of crap gamepad so they can’t feel anything that the car is doing. I don’t even know how to rate F1 2010. It might be good or it might not — I sure couldn’t tell with the Xbox controller, and I am quite comfortable using one. What I do know is that I think some physics are there, but there is also an element of “mainstream” stupidity. A gamer can do a career mode that has drama, and sponsors, and relationships between teams and blah blah blah. I understand they are trying to appeal to a broad audience. Does playing a F1 game with press conference interest anyone, though? It doesn’t interest me. Anyways, it has potential: to either take the podium or crash in a big carbon fiber mess.

Grand Turismo 5: Of all the studios that were showing racing titles, only Sony chose to showcase their new game properly — with a racing wheel and pedals. As a result, the entire SimHQ staff were drawn to the Sony PS3 mega-display like flies to, well, stuff.

Chunx was first up. After confirming with the Sony assistant that he could turn off the game’s driving aids and set the physics to it’s most realistic level, he took a seat in their sim cockpit and selected a Japan Super GT 500 Nismo GTR race car for a trip around the Nurburgring GP circuit. Every sim cockpit in the Sony display was equipped with a Logitech Driving Force GT wheel and pedals.

The car felt and drove as expected, demonstrating understeer, oversteer and power-on oversteer in an intuitive way. Although the physics engine of GT 5 has been extensively reworked since GT5-Prologue was released, the game still had a too-faint feel to the force feedback repsonse and wheel resistance. Entering the short back stretch of the GP circuit, the game abruptly shut off and defaulted back to the user interface. The assistant explained that the game demo was designed to run only for 2 minutes — too short a time to complete a lap at any road course on display, and certainly too short of a time to develop much of an opinion about the game.

Joe, guod, and Chipwich also got some seat time with GT5, but ConManly got to try out the game’s Rally Cars on a gravel road. Having RBR and DiRT2 to compare it to, he felt that GT5’s physics seemed to do a good job replicating this form of racing, although once again the feedback and resistance seemed to be a bit weak. Those of us with higher-end racing controllers such as the G27 and Fanatec PWTS or GT3RS were a bit underwhelmed by the DFGT, but that’s not an issue for the game itself. We just hoped that the force feedback response on those products would be a bit more robust.

What little we did see of GT5 was impressive — particularly the graphics and car variety, and certainly seems to have physics and eye candy on a par with GT 5’s main rival, Forza Motorsport 3. But GT5 has many game elements that set it above the bar raised last year by FM3, mostly due to limitations of the Xbox360 platform. In GT5, multiplayer races can host upwards of 30 participants, far more than the eight in FM3. And GT5 also boasts day/night transitions, something not available in FM3. It also has a wider variety of track surfaces, including gravel rally roads. While we wish GT5 had more robust force feedback effects strength, it does seem like a worthy simulation product, as far as we could tell. We expect that this game will sell many new PS3 boxes for Sony.

Technology

Alienware: Early in the afternoon, Joe led a posse of SimHQ’ers to the Alienware display to receive a briefing on upcoming products from the boutique PC gaming arm of Dell. Brian Dezayas, Alienware Global Product Marketing Manager, greeted us to discuss their new toys.

First up, we were treated to some hands on time with the newest upgrade to the M11x. Reviewed earlier this year by Magnum, the M11x brings the power of a mobile gaming PC to the form factor of a netbook. In fact, Magnum has his M11x here to surf the web and write copy. Several of the staff have tried it out, and fallen in love with it’s near-perfect blend of portability and power.

Alienware's Brian Dezayas showed SimHQ their new products.

Of course, now Magnum will have to sell his M11x and buy a new one, as Alienware is now shipping the tiny powerhouse with Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, up to 8 GB of RAM, and NVIDIA’s Optimus software that saves the NVIDIA 335M video card for gaming specific applications, using on-chip graphics for more mundane tasks without the need for user-selection. Cool. All this adds about $300 to the base price, but sounds like it’s worth every penny for the extra CPU power and battery conservation.

Next up was a look at two new Alienware-branded LCD monitors. Both are 2ms response time units, but also feature some in-monitor processing to help further reduce display latency. The monitors looked great to us, but for a top-of-the-line retailer like Alienware it seemed surprising that they only offered monitors in 22″ and 23″ size, when a 26″ or 27″ would have seemed more in line with their marketing niche.

Finally, we looked at the Aurora desktop, highlighted by a very trick and well-appointed chassis case and liquid-cooled CPU. Some cool stuff crafted with the gamer’s needs in mind is once more on the way from Alienware.

We will close out Tuesday’s Report with some thoughts from Magnum.

Commentary

Magnum’s View: An Observation on Gaming Trends at E3Expo 2010

Personally I was rather disappointed in what I saw at E3 today. Sure it was big and flashy and had a lot of beautiful booth babes. But I discovered three trends today in gaming that I’m not too sure about.

First off is the trend in game controllers. With the announcement of Microsoft’s new Kinect motion control mechanism, followed by Sony’s PlayStation Move, both major game companies seem to be trying to cut into the kid/family market that Nintendo has captured so well with the little Wii. Frankly, in this gamer’s opinion from what I’ve seen at E3 this year from both Microsoft and Sony they are killing true games, and true simulations of any type.

Most games displayed today were made to show off the new Kinect technology and/or the PlayStation Move. I’ve never seen so many gamers move around so much to play a video game. At first glance the extra exercise may seem like a good idea, but on deeper thought I do not like the trend and worry about future games.

Secondly, three companies showcased their new on-demand download type of gaming services. There was the OnLive Microconsole TV adapter, which seemed to be the biggest and most organized service, then there was also Game Streamer, and finally something called igugu Gamerscore. All three are some type of game streaming download service. It does look cool and functional, but anything relying so heavily on uninterrupted fast broadband service can’t be too good. My question: when you decide to play a game, how long do you have to wait before its ready to play? 5 mins, 15, 30? I think more like 1 or 2 hours.

And finally, I see another trend in shooters I do not like. Like copycat killers, everyone now wants to be like Call of Duty — or really to just suckly the teet of that collossal cash cow. That certainly seems to be evidenced by the 8 to 10 new shooters shown at E3. ConManly and I played most of them. All were great, but they all felt like the same game just different environment, location, and/or weapon. So the good news is that their seems to be plenty of shooters coming. Most with an on-rails movie style single player, a robust and stat tracking multiplayer, and something I do like, most have co-op, usually 4 players give or take. The bad news is that imaginative game design and fresh concepts seem to have become a casualty of the gaming wars.

 


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