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RPS-ish At-ish E3: Day 1, Part 2 - EA

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Dear RPS Readers,

Thanks for the interested comments in response to my first post! They have warmed my heart and girded my loins for the rest of the week. Straight after filing my first report I had to dash (well, walk leisurely) across downtown Los Angeles to get to the EA press conference, held at the Orpheum Theatre – a truly gorgeous restored vaudeville theatre where they shot the theatre scenes for Last Action Hero. Which wasn’t as thrilling as accidentally ending up at Union Station (where they filmed the police station scenes for Blade Runner) yesterday, but interesting none the less. In a round about way that sort of sums up EA’s press conference, too. Not hugely thrilling, but unquestionably interesting.

My personal highlights/moments of interest:

– It was a great day for cute urban animals – After Fable 2’s lovely sparrow, Rod Humble introduced Sim Animals with a video featuring a odd little squirrel. I love squirrels (particularly the black variety you get in Toronto) and Sim Animals was interesting for featuring entirely gesture based control – it looked very Black and White, but of course it’s coming out for the Wii and DS only, so there’s really no point mentioning it, other than the fact I like squirrels.

– Of course, Rod did go on to chat about The Sims 3 a bit. Mentioned the recently launched Sims 2 Store where you can purchase items online (so expect to see a lot more of that) and announced that Sims 3 will be available in direct digital download as well as retail at some point in 2009. Promised “the most complex characters ever in a video game” and showed a neat video of what he called gameplay footage (but didn’t really seem to be.)

Cleverly, Sims 3 seems to have kept the art/poly count essentially the same (and why not?) but increased everything else, with the video showing a town that felt truly alive, telling the short tale of a Sim that had obviously become a local celebrity being spotted, causing Sims to call each other excitedly, leading to an impromptu concert and block party. If that kind of emergent behaviour can actually happen in a full town of Sims that you can scroll around seamlessly… Well. It might be sexist to say this, but if you aren’t freaking out with anticipation as a result, your girlfriend certainly is.

– EA Redwood Shores’ Glen Schofield showing Dead Space. Is this the true spiritual successor to System Shock 2? The utterly horrifying enemies make me think so. Too much was made of the “strategic dismemberment” concept (gore is so passé) but the other ideas – like the lack of a HUD (even the inventory floats in the game world as a sort of virtual projection, not sure if that’ll please Alec or not) are cool. PC version on October 21st, apparently.

– A live demo of Mirror’s Edge. Demonstrated on PS3, it showed only a little bit more than footage has already – some fighting (including the promise that you can complete the entire game without firing a single bullet) and some puzzle solving (really just “how am I going to get up there?”) – but what is, for me, becoming the most impressive thing about Mirror’s Edge is the uniquely European aesthetic. Very cinematic, the obvious reference points are District 13 and Run Lola Run, but it actually reminds me most strongly of the current wave of hip Scandinavian cinema. Is that an unbearably wanky response? Possibly.

– Will Wright came out with his usual (though not offensive) shtick – “wacky” PowerPoint slides and irreverent humour. He’s cute, but other than a bit of boasting about Spore Creature Creator’s numbers (with absolutely no mention of all the cocks!) the only thing that was new to me here was that David Lynch created a creature. It’s a surprisingly normal creation from the man who created Eraserhead, but whatever. It’s David Lynch!

– Peter Moore came out and revealed his latest tattoo – a big picture of Calvin peeing on a PC. Well, he didn’t, but that would have been amazing.

– Nucleus and Rupture. Probably the “biggest” announcements of the press conference, Nucleus is a cross-platform gamertag – everything from PC to mobile – and Rupture is a sort of MySpace social networking thing for challenging your friends to beat achievements. So if you just hit level 10 in Warhammer Online you can challenge your friends to do the same thing before the weekend is out, or something. It wasn’t particularly clear why Nucleus and Rupture need separate branding – shouldn’t Rupture just be part of Nucleus?

– Did you like Mass Effect? I didn’t. I thought it was absolute tripe despite its lovely conversation system and excellent characterisation. Bioware’s Greg Zeschuck appeared and showed a clip of Dragon Age: Origins that did so little that your interest level is absolutely going to depend on how much you liked Mass Effect. He did say it was a “spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate” but I don’t believe him.

– Gabe Newell popped up, looking a little healthier than he did at GDC (I worry about the man) to show what is genuinely interesting news about Left 4 Dead – that it features dynamic difficulty (always a gamble) and entirely new character designs – but in about the least enthusiastic manner possible. Still, out on November 4th!

– Finally, John Carmack turned up to reveal that id are now an “EA partner” and to show a bit of Rage. It was so short (they’re obviously holding on to the good stuff for Quakecon) that it was frankly outstaged by Dead Space.

And that was that! EA’s press conference was interesting for almost a complete lack of gasp worthy announcements, and even though the US press did their bit by whooping inappropriately at every opportunity there wasn’t a lot of buzz in the air. It felt very much like the company’s attempt to explicitly point out that it was “not evil” – “hey, look everyone! We’re allowing lots of different studios to make lots of lovely and innovative games. You knew about basically all of them already, but when you see them all lumped together you can see WE’RE NOT EVIL, ALRIGHT?”

Still, kind of interesting anyway, especially considering that outside of EA Sports, EA are pretty committed to the PC platform, with titles like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space easily the kind of games that could have been console only. But they’re not.

So hooray!

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Mathew Kumar

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