Comics & Games Retailer
Taking Stock of E3By Oliver Chin
From May 12-14, 2004 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (www.e3expo.com) celebrated its tenth anniversary. Bigger, brighter, and more boisterous than ever, this business' US revenues ($10 billion in revenues in 2003) now dwarf the motion picture industry ($9.5 billion for box office receipts).
Even in a recession, the video game economy still thrives at the expense of other amusements such as the toy biz. Michael Redmond, a senior analyst with NPD, explained the paradox (New York Times, June 7, 2004), "…children are getting older at a younger age. As you start to get older, you start to come away from traditional toys. Video games are pushing that forward."
Compounded to that are video games' increasing yet ambivalent social impact. A few weeks earlier, Susan Sontag analyzed the US military abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison (New York Times magazine, May 23, 3004), "It is hard to measure the increasing acceptance of brutality in American life, but its evidence is everywhere, starting with the video games of killing that are a principal entertainment of boys -- can the video game ''Interrogating the Terrorists'' really be far behind?...Violent crime is down, yet the easy delight taken in violence seems to have grown...America has become a country in which the fantasies and the practice of violence are seen as good entertainment, fun."
Broadening the Base
In this chaotic cultural climate, E3 again manufactured PR from the midst of a product upgrade cycle. With no new platform or computer chip to unveil, the biggest news was that Sony Computer Entertainment cut its Playstation 2's price to $150 to match Microsoft's X-box. Now the TV console battle increasingly looks like a two horse race between the PS2 and the X-box, which are 50% of their original prices. Though latter hasn't turned a profit, its technological capabilities are gradually winning the hearts and minds of influential software developers.
Running for show, Nintendo has been forced to defend its handheld dominance. Intending to launch its "PSP" in Japan in late 2004, Sony has positioned it as a "21st century Walkman" which is a multimedia player of music, movies, and games. The PSP lined up over 100 game makers on both sides of the Pacific to make good on that last claim, but priced more than $300 (for its UK debut), it will be for early adopters only. The creator of the omnipresent Game Boy, Nintendo countered with its announcement of a "DS" model which sports a flip case that has a "dual screen" inside which gives more real estate to both game action and information.
But the rest of the wireless world wasn't standing still. As the market for downloadable games for mobile phones continues to heat up, Nokia has chosen to create its own propriety handheld device as well. Labeled a "mobile game deck," Nokia's N-Gage QD hit stores in Europe, Africa and Asia. Tripling as a phone and MP3 player and priced to move at $60, it hooks up with other players using Bluetooth or GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), the latest extension of the cellular phone network of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications).
In between the rumors of the anticipated X-box sequel Halo 2 and the drools at a dizzying array of booth babes, hundreds of announcements for new games competed for attention. In one camp were the comic book themed titles.
Just as TV animation mines past hits, Konami pressed the advantage with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 for the PS2, X-box, PC, Game Cube and Game Boy Advance in October 2004. Four players can inhabit the shells of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael to joust Shredder's foot soldiers. Not to be outdone, the resurrected Atari jumpstarted the Transformers, where viewers can play as Optimus Prime to locate on Earth the long lost robots called the Mini-Con, which can power-up the Autobots against Megatron's Decepti-clone army from the world of Cybertron.
No stranger to going retro, SNK squeezed another 3D game (Maximum Impact) out of The King of Fighters franchise and also announced SNK vs. CAPCOM SVC Chaos, where 36 brawlers from multiple universes get punch drunk (as portrayed in ComicsOne's recent Hong Kong adaptation). And still a survivor, Sega of America teams up with Warner Bros. Interactive to co-produce the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) version of the sci-fi neologism The Matrix. Wheeling out guests is tried and true, so NCsoft presented artist Joe Madureira who autographed his magazine cover for their new MMOG Tabula Rasa by Richard Garriott, the creator of the famed Ultima. Here too people can done new warrior identities in a virtual galaxy that is threatened by an evil force known as the thrax.
In the other camp were the high profile summer movie tie-ins. Sequelitis is the name of the game, as Activision lined up with Shrek 2 and Spiderman 2. Both blockbuster franchises have guaranteed their game spin offs instant popularity. But the web slinger's initial game was enormously successful in its own right, and #2 promises more of the same as Peter Parker and the Black Cat square off against Dr. Octopus and a host of villains. Leaving little to chance, Activision also announced a 3D role playing game based on everyone's favorite anti-heroes, X-Men Legends, who battle the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
THQ followed suit with a 2005 release of the recent The Punisher, which asks players to ask themselves the amoral question "What would The Punisher do?" However its upcoming tie-in with the next Pixar movie "The Incredibles" in November 2004 will undoubtedly benefit from better buzz.
Capitalizing on its relationship with Universal Studios as it did with The Hulk, Vivendi Universal pushed cinematic synergies forward with Van Helsing, as the monster killer hunts Transylvania's Count Dracula, while duking it out with creatures like Frankenstein and the Wolfman with extreme prejudice and lethal weaponry. Next is the Vin Diesel vehicle The Chronicles of Riddick, which may prove infinitely superior to the movie. Here the fast and furious one makes a prison break from the aptly named Butcher Bay, and doesn't spare the ammo in this dynamic first-person shooter.
Industry heavyweight Electronic Arts' chimed in with its own triple-header. The first followed the Oscar award winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, and presents a real-time strategy game The Battle for Middle-earth, and the role-playing game The Third Age, where you can choose the side of the Fellowship or Sauron. The second is timed with the new flick Catwoman where the bodacious Halle Berry plays Patience Phillips who is resurrected by an Egyptian feline to fight evil and penalize her murderer.
EA's third entry is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (whose box office gross surprisingly surpassed the first two movies). Here you can play as the prodigal wizard (or the feisty Hermione and the hapless Ron) to study spells and explore hidden dimensions at Hogwarts to battle Sirius Black who has escaped from the Azkaban prison and its twisted guards known as the Dementors. Ironically this brings us back full circle to the current state of global affairs. Hopefully teens will learn enough from this futuristic edutainment not to repeat the sins of the present.