Relections of the 2005 E3Expo

Commentary by…

ChunxTom “WKLINK” Cofield

Tom “20mm” Hayden

Doug “guod” Atkinson


Chunx

Just like every E3 I’ve been to, this one was fairly overwhelming in scope and activity. guod and I warned newbies WKLINK and 20mm to be prepared to come away with the a profound feeling of disappointment in having not “seen it all.” Because you really can’t see it all, it’s just that huge of a show. But with some good planning, we saw what we needed to see, and got the information out to our readers. And while seeing all the new toys and gadgets was neat, like every E3 I found that the company I kept, in the form of the SimHQ staff and dedicated simulation developers, was the real highlight of the show. And now here are a few of those highlights:

WKLINK’s driving adventures in LA traffic.

Poor WKLINK, man was he seriously abused on the freeways by LA’s hardened commuters. See WKLINK lives in a region where he shares the highways with drivers that are fairly conservative, cooperative and polite. Although he was the sole driver on our rental car agreement, it quickly became clear to us that he was probably not the best fit for the cut-and-thrust, dog-eat-dog style of LA freeway driving. Tom would patiently wait to move into an exit lane, only to have LA drivers take advantage of his courteous (some might misread it as indecisive?) driving behavior by cutting him off, taking the space he was angling for, or cruelly blocking him out of an exit. WKLINK would eventually suffer a momentary mental ‘break’ from his courteous style, which would typically translate into an abrupt, last-ditch play for a lane, only to narrowly avoid an accident. Riding shotgun with Tom would have been more humorous if we hadn’t had so many near death experiences. Seriously, it wasn’t that bad, really… heck — I used to take student pilots out so I’ve definitely been in scarier situations…. well, a little scarier, anyway.

Zoom Zoom.

Driving the various racing sim cockpits (VRX and VGT) was an absolute blast. Unlike most aircraft sim-pits, the racing cockpits weren’t just a different way to sit while driving a racing sim; these babies add a whole new dimension to the experience with their superb tactile feedback sound systems. The realistic noise and vibrations that these cockpits impart to their drivers really enhances the sense of “feel” that is so necessary for driving a virtual car at the limit of adhesion. Although expensive, these cockpits added dramatically to the sense of immersion, actually improved driver performance and were a treat to play with — again and again and again — at this year’s show. Poor WKLINK got pretty frustrated trying to pull guod and I from the VGT cockpit, but at least if he lost us, he knew right where to find us. Then again, so did E3 Security…

A Relentless Boss.

Man, what a pain in the rear SimHQ’s president can be! I mean, when a SimHQ staffer gets to attend E3, it’s supposed to be fun, right? Days on the convention floor, nights enjoying all that LA has to offer… Not so this year. For me, this was the most difficult E3 to cover, because of guod’s nagging insistence that we produce content every night before bed — sheesh! That translated into a) very little beer and b) very little sleep for the SimHQ reporters on the scene. But we did get to watch guod work his web formatting magic as he took our copy, fresh from the memory stick, and format it into the beautiful HTML pages y’all got to enjoy. As a result, guod got the least sleep of any SimHQ’er at the show, typically only 2 or 3 hours a night. I think (hope) the long hours were worth it for our members, and if it was, don’t forget to give guod a big “THANK YOU” for his efforts. I know he deserves it.

The Staff’s E3 “Strategery.”

This was also the easiest E3 to cover, because of guod’s careful coordination of interviews, and our general efforts to plan our daily activities months before we threw our little pink bodies into the maelstrom of chaos that are the E3 convention floors. This was Andy, Bubba, Pygmy and my biggest lesson learned from E3 ’02, and it was good to see that SimHQ’s corporate memory was able to take steps this year to make our convention trip as effective and efficient as possible this time ‘round. We knew where we needed to be, and when, for just about every minute of the show. Even so, we still had some “slop time” built in between interviews and briefings to see things we hadn’t seen before… or to get in a few extra hot laps on GTR on one of the totally cool racing simulators!

The Big Shift.

Although I am always impressed by the incredible amounts of cash spent on the various vendor displays for E3, I think the thing that left the biggest impression on me this year was the dramatic shift in simulation support away from big-name publishers and towards the “labor of love” independent development studios. This year UbiSoft, previously the last big-budget defender of sim titles, has seemingly discarded the sim genre like yesterday’s newspaper. At E3 2002 they displayed LOMAC, IL-2FB, Ghost Recon, RS3 Raven Shield, and (a WW II Destroyer Combat game). This year, they failed to show Silent Hunter 3, refused to discuss the PC version of Ghost Recon 3 and generally acted hostile or aloof to any press questions about upcoming PC titles. Likewise Microsoft’s PC game display was anemic in comparison to previous years, and there was no one around who could discuss the lucrative Flight Simulator series. Finally, Thrustmaster, previously known for boasting the biggest display of controllers at E3, was noticeably absent this year.

The Fascinating People That Keep Our Genre Going.

Conversely, I was very impressed by the dedication, perspective, vision and enthusiasm of the “little” developers like Rod Chong (SimBin/10Tacle), Scott Gentile (Shock Wave), Rick Ladomade (XSi) and the folks at Bohemia. If it weren’t for these guys, I’d lose all hope in ever seeing a quality simulation title ever again for the PC. Instead, I came away from E3 with my hopes buoyed by the dedication and vision of these incredible folk. Now my only concern is that the titles they produce will be enough to keep the HOTAS and FF Wheel industry viable.

Hangin’ With The SimHQ Team.

Finally, I once again found real enjoyment at E3 because it once more provided a venue for several of the SimHQ staff to get together and just hang out, enjoying our hobby together and sharing our thoughts, philosophies and ideas about the simulation industry, our families, jobs and other interests. I wish we’d have recorded the dinner conversation that guod, 20mm and I had on Friday night at a posh LA restaurant. It was one that I think everyone would have liked to participate in, as it ranged from simulations, to flying, to racing and even leadership and management styles. Having the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas in person is something that I hope the SimHQ team can do again in the future.


Tom “WKLINK” Cofield

A couple of things came to mind as I sit back and contemplate the event that I got to see.

“Consolitis” is a condition that probably will have no cure.

I saw some pretty cool looking stuff coming out on the Xbox 360. In the past, the PC environment was superior to the console environment in three major categories; complex game rendering, upgrade ability and graphical superiority. Over the past few years many PC gamers have developed an almost snobbish attitude toward their console playing brethren.

Well, with the advent of High Definition televisions one of the major limitations of consoles was minimized. While a standard TV never could approximate the resolution of the PC monitor an HDTV could come damned close, and now at a cost that an average person can afford. All that was needed was a gaming system that could take advantage of this kind of technology.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I saw that technology at E-3. What you see now are games that look good on a $2500 35 inch RCA HDTV, not just on a 5K monitor of the same size. Since the cost of such sets will just continue to drop you will see more and more of these in more and more homes. With those sets you will see an Xbox 360.

To quote a beer commercial; Microsoft’s move was brilliant. By coming out with a system that takes advantage of this technology almost one year before its competition, MS is doing what Sony did five years ago, corner the console market before the competition can respond. Sony’s Playstation3 will probably be an improvement over the Xbox 360 but in one year, who will care? Just like the PS2 is the dominant game box in today’s console environment, the Xbox 360 will take the ever crucial high ground in the next battle of the consoles.

What does this mean for PC gamers? Well, unlike some folks I don’t think that the Xbox 360 will take the place of PC gaming. For one I highly doubt that the new console will have the kind of storage for the kinds of games that PC gamers want. I am willing to bet that most games for the Xbox 360 will have increased depth over past console titles but they still won’t have the depth of real PC games. PC games will still, for now at least, has the advantage in complex game rendering.

In addition, PC games will still be the cutting edge for game development and as such there will still be a continued demand for hardware that maintains that knife like edge. I am not sure we will see the explosive growth in PC hardware that we have had in the last six years but I am pretty sure there will still be growth in the market. A few years ago there were the naysayers who predicted that PC hardware and software progression would be stifled by the development of the Xbox. That hasn’t happened and I doubt it will happen with the Xbox 360, the PS3 or any other console box. One of the biggest limitations of the console is the inability to improve the graphics or the speed of the console. For this reason I do believe that PC gaming will always be the cutting edge of gaming development.

So, there has been some discussion on our site as to the potential for us to cover console type games (if and when they ever get to a PC simulation quality). To be honest, there are arguments on both sides that are compelling. Here are my opinions.

We are not named PCsimHQ.com. We are SimHQ.com and if there is a simulation title that fully meets our criteria as a simulation, then we probably should review it. I know I might be branded a heretic by some folks for even thinking of such a thing but in the future I suspect that we will run into a console title that will give us pause for reflection.

Now having said that I suspect that a true title that fits our criteria will be either a long time coming or it will never appear. It will take more than pretty graphics to bring a review from me. The PC world is filled with vacuous PC titles that don’t even come close to the simulation criteria and I doubt that games like Falcon 4.0 will make it to a console anytime soon. However; if we do start to see realistic games that fill our requirements, plan on a review.

We are a unique brand of gamers, and thank God for that.

If you decide to go to E3 I suggest two things; earplugs and Motrin. The South and West Halls are not for the epileptic, that is for sure. I was bombarded by more noise than at a Judas Priest concert. It was loud, bright and obnoxious. It was also filled wall-to-wall with some of the ugliest people I have ever seen. It looked like a walking Clearasil commercial in there. It was plugged pore heaven.

The only real bastion of sanity in the entire sea of scantily clad booth babes and computer geeks was Kentia Hall, where the adults seemed to hang out. I loved Kentia, where 1C, Bohemia Interactive, Tri-Synergy, 10tacle, CH, Saitek, Naturalpoint and Aerosoft had their booths. I swear the average age of the gamers in Kentia hallway had to be at least 10 years above the age of the people squeezing in to see the latest PS2 games.

Some people asked why I didn’t spend more time looking at some games like Company of Heroes. Well, part of the reason was that I couldn’t tolerate being in the South or West Hall any longer. There were some cool exhibits there, EA’s Battlefield2 was cool, America’s Army was nice (and sound proofed inside where you could talk to someone) but half the time you ended up hoarse from trying to yell loud enough so the person you were in contact with could hear you. I have a suggestion for some of these companies, set up the bling bling booths in the South or West halls but if you want to talk to the gaming press set up another small one in Kentia, where you can actually talk at a normal volume.

Most pleasant places and disappointments of the event.

Best place and most exciting developer for simulations has to be 1C right now. I really wish 1C would start selling games directly in the US and bypass some US distributors. Many of the games that I am anticipating are going to be handled by 1C that include Whirlwind of Vietnam, WW2 RTS and PT Boats. If there is one company that is still friendly to us PC fanatics it is 1C. Congrats Anatoly, if there is one company that I can still count as a simulation friend it is 1C.

Another pleasant place had to be the Bohemia Interactive section which gave me probably the most exciting game to come out of the entire show. If you are excited about Battlefield 2 or Delta Force just wait, Operation Flashpoint 2 will blow your socks off. If, and I mean if they pull this off, they will completely change the shooter genre. People who think HalfLife 2 is cutting edge will chuckle at the primitive nature of that game. I am serious — what Bohemia is trying to do will revolutionize the genre. Get excited folks, I know I am.

My biggest disappointment? It had to be Ubisoft’s booth. Ubi has gotten a case of big britches and it is showing. When we asked about a potential add-on to Silent Hunter III or any word on Silent Hunter IV, we were met with blank stares at the media check-in booth. The people that represented Europe and the US apparently had NEVER HEARD OF THE GAME. They refused to even discuss a PC version of Ghost Recon 3 — something that makes me question Ubi’s commitment to creating a computer version of the game. This kind of attitude toward simulations appeared to be prevalent over their entire booth.

Games like IL-2 and PC versions of Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear put Ubisoft on the map and they are paddling away from their base as fast as they can. I for one left the booth in disgust. I hope you guys enjoy the console market; you will have plenty of competition there. You alienate your PC base at your own risk.

Other disappointments? Well, probably the increased trend toward consoles in general. I don’t have a problem with console games, they have their place, but I do have a problem with crap and a lot of those games are pure crapola. There was more time and money devoted to a ‘Bratz’ console game setup than there was to most legitimate simulation titles in the main halls. I about barfed when I saw that.

I am a realist here, I know there is a greater profit margin from some junk pre-teen game than there is from a realistic shooter but I find it hard to believe that Ghost Recon3 for the PC would be less profitable than ‘Bratz’ for the console.

Final opinions and recommendations.

If you are thinking that consoles will take over the world, well don’t give up total hope. I think the biggest combat shooter to come out of E3 will be a PC only title (OFP2) and while flight simulations are not all that strong, they are still there. Even the wargaming genre is there, albeit in very limited form. We will have to adapt and there may be a time when a console title will be indistinguishable from a PC title. I don’t think it will be anytime soon, but who knows. I do know this, there will be plenty coming out over the next year and a half to keep me busy.

 


Tom “20mm” Hayden

What do you get when you combine video games and the platforrms / peripherals to run them, 547,000 square feet of exhibit space in the Los Angeles Convention Center, flashing lights and blasting music and outright noise, with over 70,000 people from around the world, 99.999% of whom you have never met? Right, E3 2005.

I asked guod what I could expect in my first E3 experience and his response was “think a combination of Las Vegas and Disneyland, only with video games”. He was pretty close with that. But in truth, nothing can prepare you for the total sensory overload that E3 is. Somehow in the vast continuum of time and space, ten days have passed since I was there. In that ten days, I’ve had a chance to reflect a little, think on what I learned, what it all means. Gain a little perspective on the experience itself. I’d like to share that with you.

What do you get when you take E3, subtract the video games and exhibits, the platforms / peripherals to run them, the Los Angeles Convention Center, the flashing lights and blasting noise? Right. Peace and quiet! And people.

The people are what I will remember most about E3, after all they are what *makes* E3. People from all over the planet, people with spiked hair, purple hair, no hair. People who, quite honestly were not very attractive, and other people (some wearing next to nothing) who were drop-dead gorgeous. And yes, I did too watch where I put my hands! People rushing hither and thither all over 547,000 square feet of space from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM for four days. Mixed in amongst them, people who are simulation fans. People who share the passions that we do for flight sims, motorsports, naval, and land combat sims. Other people who make the technology that enables us to enjoy this nutso hobby that demands so much of our time and our money, and makes us think about things simulation-related perhaps more than we should. If we were sane, that is.

I think about meeting people for the first time and very quickly finding out how much we had in common via our mutual interest. Even the language barriers could not stop the zest for simulations that we shared. I remember talking about technology and how it works with the simulations that we use. Perhaps how it could be incorporated into a sim under development and seeing a “spark” in someone’s eyes when the rationale hit home. I think about luck and how it really can be just where opportunity, chance, and a simple suggestion at the right time, connect. I’m still impressed with the intelligence and knowledge and skill that so many people have. In technology and in software development. Very bright (and young) folks.

I will always recall once when we walking through the crowd and quite honestly, I was starting to feel a little down. The consoles were *everywhere and the PC simulations seemed to be few and far between.* Just then we ran across some people with more raw enthusiasm than I’ve seen in a long time. They say it’s contagious, and you had better believe it is. Enthusiasm. I got energized all over again, got my optimism engaged and although I leveled out a little, I still see the half-full glass. The future none can see, but stranger things have happened than a bunch of ragtag simmers pulling together and making a difference.

I’ll close with this. I’ve said a lot about people, about how they make things happen, make them worthwhile. And I said before how I much I appreciated meeting and having some time with three SimHQ Staff members that made the trip to E3 this year. It really was a h00t! watching Chunx and guod race simming, Tom C flight simming. You members out there, you have no idea (or maybe you do!) how much these guys know, and how committed they are to the simulations of this world. So, to Tom, Ian, and Doug, thanks guys from ole 20mm. I enjoyed E3, but it wouldn’t have been nearly the same without you there.


Doug “guod” Atkinson

The transformation is complete.

This is my 5th (6th?) E3 show and this year it’s obvious what started as a trend years ago has reached it’s completion: the consoles are staggeringly predominant at E3. Booths that a few years ago promoted PC gaming at the forefront now have their PC titles in the back or the corner of the display. So depending on your perspective, E3 has “hit bottom” regarding PCs.

Does anyone remember the Jane’s display for Longbow 2? I shall never forget Origin’s Kevin Kushner practicing his flight tactics and showing me their proud new baby in the full size Apache mock-up. By comparison with this year, think of PC simulations in terms of the restaurant table back by the kitchen’s doorway.

It took us three laps around the Microsoft booth to find the area “designated” for PCs. Once found it was “decent” in size — but it sure wasn’t predominant — or even close to the stature of the Xbox display area. You’d have thought Microsoft’s corporate color had changed to that gaudy lime green instead of their usual blue.

Most sad was Ubisoft’s lack of attention to simulations. Trust us, we tried to find some information on what’s happening next with Silent Hunter III and the next iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

So is it time to cry doom and gloom, it’s over — we “lost”, and continue with more wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth? Well you could, but there are some new factors coming into play after this years show. Now that the ultimate transformation is complete and the PCs have been dealt the ultimate diminished role at E3, I think we’re on the verge of a renaissance. A new market with new opportunities and new possibilities. The “old way” is gone, but there is still a future ahead for simulations. And the business model could be better than the old one ever hoped to be.

Over the next few weeks SimHQ will be discussing in interviews and editorials some of the “other things” we learned at the 2005 E3Expo. How the sim market is changing. What we can expect to see in the not so distant future. Maybe simulations have a future after all because there are still plenty of people out there who love this stuff and want to see it live on and optimism can be contagious.

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