in Computers

I’d like a million of you over myself

The majority of the roundeyes at Tokyo Game Show this year were the ones performing on the trade-show stages, dancing for the benefit of Japanese game publishers. It wasn’t always this way. Four years ago, when the US game industry was on less lean times, there were more white faces here. I’m guessing all us gaijin are saving our money up for GDC in 2004.

Four years ago, TGS was a collection of well-lit, stodgy kiosks with a few demo dollies populating the show floor. In the past four years, Tokyo Game Show has decided to become E3, and so this year it was a deafening roar of subwoofers and light displays and two-story papier-mache models and hundreds of pushed-up chickies in microskirts. This environment, while highly entertaining to a straight white guy, is possibly the very least conducive environment imaginable for understanding the quality of a bunch of games. I had ninety minutes where I wasn’t in meetings. So the handful of game notes I present here are my best guesses at how these games will actually play, but don’t take them as gospel. I was distracted.

There was an unusual number of beat-em-up games on the show floor. (Think Golden Axe in 3D.) Koei seemed to be attracting a lot of show-floor attention with Shin-sangokumusuo 3. Square Enix showed Drag-on Dragoon, which had a less pretty beat-em-up mode and a very pretty dragon flight mode.

Square Enix also showed a very basic looking title called Kenshin Dragon Quest. The game itself was unremarkable except for the presence of a sword peripheral and receiver. There was a receiver at the base of the television that could detect the location and orientation of the plastic sword with respect to the receiver, and so people were waiting in line six deep to take a virtual swack at some poorly rendered enemies. The game system is self-contained; apparently the receiver contains a tiny bit of CPU horsepower, enough to render a few sprites. If this bit of kit comes ever comes to the US, it should be relatively inexpensive.

Without a lot of fanfare, Konami showed Firefighter F.D 18, a rethink of Sega’s old Saturn title, Burning Rangers. Konami has improved the smoke and fire particle systems quite a bit; they’re pretty and dramatic now. The controls are very easy to pick up. Games of this genre, in which you play a firefighter or an ambulance driver, really ought to sell better in the US than they do; Konami can probably get an E rating with it, and it’s a cool-looking game that parents might not object to.

NCsoft showed Lineage 2. Two words: Everquest. NCsoft clearly wants a piece of Sony’s online market and the presentation of this online PC game is pretty darn similar to Everquest. They used the Unreal engine and the characters and scenes were quite detailed. NCsoft put some marketing muscle behind Lineage 2 at the show and they took some care to make sure all the game text and help was in Japanese.

Surprisingly, the Sony EyeToy got a lukewarm reception on the show floor, possibly due to a bad two-level booth design that made it inconvenient to actually walk to the demo machines. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that US customers will snap this thing up when it hits US shores. The basic package includes a cheap USB camera and a pack of twelve party games, including the ever-popular Kung Fu. In Kung Fu, you smack down an onslaught of cartoonish bad guys, Jackie Chan style, by swinging your fists, legs, head, or any other objects you happen to have around your living room. The EyeToy peripheral reminds me strongly of Sega’s Samba de Amigo maracas controllers. Sega mistakenly made only 10,000 pairs of maracas for the US market, and rabid fans bought out all Sega’s stock within a few days after release. Let’s hope Sony has the sense to send over more EyeToys if they sell out.

I envision a future TGS where some publisher has the guts and finances to build a trade show booth entirely encased in a twelve-inch soundproof wall. Inside the wall, you can play the publisher’s video games in relative peace. Perhaps you wear headphones, and you experience the game in a situation roughly resembling a home-use scenario. To do such a thing would require a heroic quantity of confidence in a publisher’s products. Until then, it’s subwoofers and microskirts for the lot of you.

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