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Games

The End of E3 as We Knew It

The final day of the new E3 Media Summit literally ended with a funeral. Independent game publisher Gamecock, which set up shop at The Hotel California, an unofficial E3 hotel, held a funeral procession that began on the beach of Santa Monica and ended in Venice Beach about 30 minutes later.

A collection of about 100 gamemakers, support staff, friends and family, made the march complete with a band, coffin, and plenty of costumed personnel. After the eulogies, which lamented the end of the overblown, cacophonous and massive E3s of old, the gamemakers held a party. For those familiar with the gaming industry, many of the Gamecock developers came from GOD Games (Gathering of Developers), a group of talented programmers known for doing things on their own terms. (At some of the old E3 shows they'd caravan in Winnebagos from Texas and camp across the street from the LA Convention Center.)

With the end of the new E3, there seems to be plenty of room for improvement. One of the venues used for the event, The Barker Hangar, which is located away from the core E3 hotels, was a ghosttown from what I heard. I didn't even venture to it because of meetings in hotel suites. Another thing that needs to be resolved is the over abundance of press conferences. There were conferences in the ballroom all day Wednesday and Thursday, forcing attendees to choose between attending press conferences or meeting with game companies.

Next year, one designated press conference day would be more than enough-even if it means adding an extra day to E3. Otherwise, the show offered a more relaxed environment with plenty of LA sun, great hotel food, and quiet meeting rooms. Some rooms, especially at Le Merigot where Sony, Atari and Electronic Arts were set up, were as hot as last year's E3 booths, but they seemed to be the exception.

The big games of the show delivered on their promise. Microsoft, which rented out the entire Viceroy Hotel, delivered great playable game content for Xbox 360 and PC. While its kick-off press conference was poorly executed, the actual games shipping for Xbox 360 this fall and beyond offer the strongest line-up for this year.

Bungie Studios played through a portion of the first campaign level from Halo 3 and the next generation visuals and enhancements to weapons and vehicles make this the game of the year. There's certainly the potential for this game to break the records of Halo 2 from a few years back, as well as help the company sell some more hardware. Halo Wars, a new real-time strategy game from Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires), has the potential to open up this genre to a whole new audience. Designed from the ground up for Xbox 360, this game is set 20 years before Halo 2 and introduces a new story, new vehicles and a whole new style of action and strategy gameplay to the mix.

Bioware, arguably the best role-playing game developer in the industry, has delivered what looks like its best game yet with Mass Effect. This sci-fi game blends action, deep character-driven gameplay and a complex, open-ended story line with multiple paths and many endings. Much like Halo Wars, this game should appeal to both the core gamer and can lure many casual gamers into a genre that they might otherwise have tried. Another game that stood out for Xbox 360 is Fable 2, a very different role-playing game. This fantasy game is being designed by Lionhead Studios to be accessible to all, thanks in part to a combat system that revolves around one-button controls.

E3 is over and all of the games will take some time to truly sink in, but the videogame industry appears healthy. (Microsoft predicts games will overtake the fledgling music industry in sales this year). As more gamers gravitate to this entertainment at an earlier age and play through to their old age, gamemakers are making a concerted effort to keep the core happy (and busy buying many games all year) while introducing new players to interactive fun.