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E3 2003: Building a Better Mouse Trap
by Fricka

E3: Electronic Entertainment Expo, Los Angeles, CA May 14-16, 2003

Games, games, everywhere... and a good many of them massively multiplayer online games. One may have thought that the scramble created by EverQuest's success would have been tempered by other multi-player titles' generally agreed upon failure to take EQ's MMOG crown -- but you could see this just wasn't so by a quick glance around the E3 floors.

A few of the games I honed in on were: World of Warcraft, Lineage, Mythica, The Matrix Online, Planetside, Star Wars Galaxies, and EverQuest 2. All are unreleased. Also showing at E3, though already in a released version: Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis (expansion releasing this Quarter), and Eve. Console game versions of multiplayers games, including EverQuest Online and Guild Wars could also easily be found.

Similarities

Perhaps it was partly the fatigue of having to drive for hours to E3 each day through LA traffic, but I felt a little overwhelmed by this year's crop of mmogs. And because of that that I just didn't feel the tingles in my keyboard using fingertips that I get when I see a truly unique game. Instead of being struck by how much variety these games had to offer, I was struck with how similar they were. What follows are themes I found throughout the games and my take on which game excelled in each category.

Mounts
One overriding element I discovered in the multiplayer game front is that mounts for one's avatar were being pushed as a big feature. In Dark Age of Camelot's expansion, you can ride sharks (though you can't make them attack people), in the upcoming World of Warcraft, you can ride gryphons (ditto on the attack ability). One of Planetside's draws is the vehicle selection choice for tranportation and offensive capabilities, and in EVE you essentially are your vehicle. In this area, WoW's treatment impressed me the most, riding on gryphons, high above game terrain was at the same time visually appealing and was also intriguing in that it introduced a new level of game play where previous game experience in MMORPGs was restricted to underwater and on ground. EVE, though already released, was also impressive in this category but for more practical reasons since part of the game's focus is on equipping your ship properly and of course one's vehicle is used for multipurposes.

Customizable Interfaces
Movable stat and other information windows, hotkey programming, multi communication channels -- it seems these have become the "standard equipped version" of games these days. No one game in particular stood out to me in this area, but of course I didn't jump in and start remapping all the game keys to my own preference -- that might have been an amusing prank to play on the demonstrator, come to think of it ;)

The new mmogs have a much greater ability to customize your avatar. Every game I saw had gone beyond the simple choosing of X different faces on X different bodies. Variables abounded from the already exisiting height choices in current games, to facial customization in a close up view that could have you choosing hair and eyebrow color as seperate items (this seen in EverQuest 2). For the clear winner in this department, I give Star Wars Galaxies the nod in the avatar customization department. It's customization options go to the point of chin width and lip fullness, and the interface for customization is quite commendable and well beyond click-through-a-slide-show interfaces.

Avatars were also given more "personality" in the latest crop of games. Emotes came standard but more involved animations displaying moods also seemed to abound, as well as sound effects. Clothing is also an emphasis. The Matrix Online employees 2 people whose sole job is to come up with the outfits for the avatars. The Matrix storyline of course had the leeway that the "armor" employed does not have to look functional, because of this, The Matrix will undoubtedly come out on top for "armor" choices. However, Mythica's promised emote and emote chain sequencing system may cause it to stand out a small amount over other games.

New Elements

Fighting styles
Two of the games previewed had fighting styles implemented in a character's movements: EverQuest 2 and The Matrix Online. Characters would display fighting styles such as pugilism or eastern martial arts styles and advancement of a character's skills would influence this event. This addition is one of the major differences between EverQuest and EverQuest 2.

Cut scenes and extended animation sequences
It seems that new game makers have turned to these devices to address the immersion factor of rpg games. In the EQ 2 demo two avatars interacted with each other leading up to a fight, vocalizations (purposely inteligible) were heard as it became clear a confrontation was about to begin. In Mythica, cut scenes showed were played during a group's take down of an interesting creature that fell only to rise again as a greater threat. In this latter example, cut scenes could be by-passed. The Matrix Online uses "bullet speed" to re-create the time slows effect seen in the movies it has not yet been determined if only the combantants or the combantants and any spectators will witness time this way. I'd say The Matrix Online edges out EQ2 in this department, though I wondered if as time went on the charm of the sequences used in any game would lose their appeal.

In Closing

So, game makers have come up with their mousetraps. Some are loaded with cheddar, others with brie. Name your tastes, go forth and choose. Space tickle your fancy? Star Wars Galaxies may be your ticket. Or try Eve for a "furthest reaches of space" feel. Immersion in Norse mythology with a solid story line your style? Mythica is looking to serve your tastes. Or perhaps Science Fiction back on land? The Matrix Online for you. As I watched and listened to all of these tasty offerings I couldn't help but keep one thing in the back of my mind. It's the players that make the game in the end. Every mmog player I know agrees with that sentiment. It's what keeps them playing. All the extras game makers are putting on these games are not going to amount to much if the player base thus "caught" is not one you want to play with.

~ Fricka

Upcoming articles: For further details on selected games, I'll be uploading, E3 2003: What Caught My Eye. And If you've been to E3 yourself, tally up your score in E3: The Game.

Official Web Links

Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis - Mythic Entertainment

EVE - CCP, Simon and Schuster

EverQuest II - Sony Online Entertainment

EverQuest Online - Sony Online Entertainment

Guild Wars - Arena Net, NCSoft

Lineage - 7 Day Trial - NCSoft

The Matrix Online - Monolith, Ubi Soft, Warner Bros

Mythica - Microsoft Game Studios

Planetside - Sony Online Entertainment

Star Wars Galaxies - Sony Online Entertainment

World of Warcraft - Blizzard Entertainment

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