Chris’ Post-E3 2004 Impressions

The Show

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo made it clear that the current generation of console hardware has been conquered. The graphical quality of almost everything at the show was excellent: Devil May Cry 3, Prince of Persia 2, DOOM 3, Metal Gear Solid 3, even the new Crash Bandicoot game had some pretty awesome visuals. All three platforms had an extremely strong show in terms of graphical quality.

The expo also made it clear that the industry is becoming increasingly conservative in terms of game design. Almost every single game on display was a sequel, license, or both. Some companies are trying to cross-bread their licenses (Crash and Spyro appear together in their next outing, Namco is repurposing a Tekken character for Death By Degrees, etc), but very, very few wholly original titles were on display. Notable exceptions included Fable, Second Sight, Notorious, Under The Skin, and Red Ninja.

The big event of the show was the competitive unveiling of Sony’s PSP handheld and Nintendo’s DS handheld. The design of these two systems is a good example of the way the two companies work: Sony’s system is sleek and powerful, but it is basically designed to provide the games we currently play on our TVs in a mobile form. Nintendo’s system is less powerful and much less sexy-looking, but the stylus-driven dual screen already shows amazing potential for new types of game designs. While Sony had technology demos displaying the power of the PSP’s 3D hardware, Nintendo’s demos are almost entirely centered on game design. Both systems are going to be great, but both are also going to target totally different audiences. Personally, I am more interested in the DS, as it is clear that Nintendo is trying to create a system that promotes original game designs.

Apart from their handheld systems, both Nintendo and Sony had a pretty strong showing. Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Jungle Beat was by far the most fun title I played at the show: if you have not heard of it already, it is a deep sidescroller that uses the Donkey Konga drum controller as its input device. Sony was also showing Gran Turismo 4, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Silent Hill 4, all of which looked promising. The highlight of the show, however, was Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube. Not only was it just about the most beautiful game on the floor, it was amazingly fun to play.

The Microsoft booth was disappointing. All the games showing had excellent graphics, but very few of them actually looked interesting to play. Capcom had an excellent booth, including Viewtiful Joe 2, Onimusha 3, the aforementioned Resident Evil 4, and a couple of other really nice titles. Bandai’s Ghost in the Shell game looks really cool, but the control scheme is very weird. Half-Life 2 looked pretty much the same as last year, and STILL wasn’t playable. Vivendi-Universal were showing a cool Tenchu-style game called Red Ninja, which looks like fun but is also cheapened by some gratuitous panty shots.

Speaking of panty shots, there was more digital T&A this year than ever before. Games like Namco’s Death By Degrees seem to have simply given up on compelling game design and decided that the only way they can sell units is to include a lot of shots of the protagonist’s ass. I find this trend is disappointing, but not because some of these games are morally questionable; rather, it is disappointing because sex is not a replacement for quality game design. Death By Degrees is not an original title; it’s Rise To Honor with Jet Li replaced with Tekken’s Nina. The trend of simply taking an established formula and sticking some women in skimpy clothing on it was alarmingly prevalent.

Game Impressions

Silent Hill 4: The Room. Silent Hill 4 is something of an enigma. The game looks like Silent Hill, and most of it plays like Silent Hill, but there is something very different about the latest game in this creepy series. First of all, the game progression has been dramatically altered: instead of wandering around a deserted town as in previous games, each of The Room’s levels are connected by, well, a room. Even odder, the game play shifts from third person to first person when the player is in his room, a first for the series.

When in third person, Silent Hill 4 plays almost like previous games in the series. The first immediate change is that weapon and item selection must occur in real-time: you can no longer pause the game to change weapons. This plays into the second major change: the enemies (which, as always, are scary as hell) have been designed such that it is much more difficult to simply run past them. In the small section I played, simply trying to avoid the enemies did not really work. It is clear that the development team wants Silent Hill 4’s monsters to pose much more of a challenge than enemies in previous games.

However, the single largest change to the series is the lack of a real-time light source. The original Silent Hill pioneered the use of realtime flashlights in horror games, a mechanic that is now almost universally accepted. The series has made a name for itself with its excellent real-time lighting systems, but the sections we saw of Silent Hill 4 had only ambient lighting. Removing the flashlight from the protagonist’s hands has had an enormous effect on the look and feel of the game; instead of everything being very dark, many of the rooms feature muted and foggy lights. Though this change may seem simple, it changed the feel of the game entirely.

Ghost Hunter: Though Ghost Hunter is already out in Europe, it has not quite reached American shores yet. The game is an interesting approach to horror because it revolves around a Ghostbusters-like “trap the monster” mechanic. When you encounter a monster the first thing you must do is shoot it with a special trap. Once the trap is active, you can shoot the monster to try to force it into the trap. This mechanic might be cool, but it seemed fairly lame at the expo. The graphics were nice, however, and control seemed pretty good. I am sure this title will be worth checking out when it eventually arrives in the States.

Resident Evil 4: I have already mentioned that Resident Evil 4 was probably the best-looking game at E3. A simple report cannot really do the game justice. Suffice to say that the game controls very well, feels very different from earlier RE games, and is just a blast to play.

In Summary

Show Highlights: The high polish of many of the titles on display.
Show Lowlights: The almost complete absence of new game design ideas.
Most Disappointing: The increasing amount of energy being spent on digital breasts instead of fun game design.

Best of Show: Resident Evil 4
Runner Up: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

PSP vs DS: DS for game design

8 thoughts on “Chris’ Post-E3 2004 Impressions

  1. The DS is a cheap tacky console trying to sell off novelty value. Exactly like every other Nintendo product.

  2. Also, why no mention of Halo 2 Chris? I knwo it’s a survivial horror site, but you seemed to mention all the other big titles, and for many Halo 2 was the biggest there.

  3. I DO NOT agree about the DS… it was freaking AWESOME! The actual form factor is a bit suspect, but the game demos running on the machine were REALLY fun. In fact, the DS both was full of more innovative game designs than almost the entire rest of the show.

    The PSP certainly looked nice (and as I am developing for it, I believe it will be cool), but it does nothing to advance the state of game design. Nintendo is actively trying to make games that are more fun than what we currently have, and they are doing it by introducing new forms of interactivity. Ultimately, games are fun because they are interactive, not because they have great graphics or a great story or something (otherwise, we’d just watch movies or read a book, right?). The big N is trying to create new ways for us to play, and this effort is totally evident in both the design of the DS and games like Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

    I am serious… I am not a Nintendo fanboy or anything, but their booth had *by far* the highest concentration of fun games of any booth in the show.

    As for Halo 2… I didn’t see it, so I didn’t comment on it. It wasn’t out for just anyone, I guess, or I would have seen it. I am sure it will be great: Bungie can really do no wrong in my book.


  4. The DS has a promising concept, but I’m yet to see any game which uses it’s extra screen as something other than a Radar/Map/Menu. Hardly the revolution we had been promised by Nintendo.

    Donkey Kong does look cool though.

  5. Oh, then I guess you didn’t see any of the demos from E3? Almost every single one used the touch screen in new ways… the ones that did not were no fun.

    Nintendo only had about 10 or 15 demos showing, but even the early prototypes were a freaking blast to play.


  6. the ds is a cheap taty thing with a gimics HUMMMMMMMMMMMM was anolog a gimic nintendo inovation was d-pad a gimic nintendo inovation was rumble pak a gimic nintendo inovation was shoulder buttons a gimic nintendo inovation was true 3d with true 3d camera a gimic nintendo inovation and as for cheap SORRY nintendo are offically nown for the best electronical device build qaulity on planet earth sony are allways fighting legal battles over there very poor buld qaulity and ps2 is designed to last just over 1 year and those massive ps2 sales erm 50% are replacments for BROKWEN ONES simply the truth psp has crap battery longggg loading times only one screen no touch screen SONYFANS YOUR DELUDING YOUR SELFS psp falts poor build qaulity poor battery battery over heating scratchy screens discs flying out disc drives anologs dont work and feel weird anologs stapping off bubbles in screens weird scratchy noises wen you use psp buttons massive dead pixel issues 60 second loadtimes AND LETS NOT 4GET psp is obselete it has no touch screen no twin screen and is only semi portable cuzz of waight battery life and no real way to protect screen or taty little fake anolog button ds is built great runs great has great inovations long battery life zero load times gba player built in and totally new games with twin screen touch screen and mic controls plus pictochat and great wifi online and off line psp has a naff short range wifi and crappy infra red it cannot be taken out for a whole day let alone longer than that its battery is a pathetic 90 minutes with real 3d gaming even the volume can not be turned up as it will drain the battery its taty constrution meens if you drop it SORRY its broken ill challenge any psp owner to a games test and a drop test with my ds any time any place you drop psp from head hight and ill give you a chance and thro my ds from a car travaling at 30 mph ill garantee ds comes out with less damage i no this as we have allready done it psp broke from 5 foot drop on thick carpet floor the ds got thru a drop from upstairs window a drop from a moving bike and a drop from a moving car beleave me if you sneeze on psp it will have problems its a rushed gimicy pile off crap it even needs memory sticks and stuff its not a handheld in reallity in any shape or form nintendo 4 ever

  7. Hi “truth teller,”

    While you are certainly entitled to your opinion, I’d like to limit fanaticism on this site. Please refrain from fanboy attacks. You are certainly free to argue any point you like, but I’d hope that your argument would have a little more merit than “OMG SONY SUXORZ!!!!1one.”

    Also, your writing style makes your post almost entirely unreadable. We’d probably be more likely to read what you have to say if you put some minor effort into capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.


  8. Wow Chris, you are right in every way, as usual. It was totally wrong for me to act all fan-boyish… it made me sound like I was 12 years old or something (in fact, I am quite mature for my 15 years). Per your advice, I also repaired the period key and shift key on my keyboard, which should alleviate some of the reading pain you experienced.

    I’d like to say that I’ve really learned a lesson here. Claiming that one product is clearly superior to another and then becoming belligerent when somebody questions your claim is not only pathetic, it’s also a hallmark of immaturity. From now on I’ll really try hard to formulate my opinions based on personal experiences, not on marketing or on some horrible sense that if I pick the “wrong” console, my life will be a failure. Thank you for showing me the light, Chris.

    – Truth Teller (now really telling the truth!)

    PS: This is the greatest site in the world. Better than google. Thanks for all the hard work!!

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