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E3 2006 - Day Two

If it seems like only yesterday since we last reported in from E3, that's because you're there and we're here. From this end, it seems more like a week ago that the convention began; a hazy, nebulous, extended time period unfettered by such trivial nuisances as sleep and food.

Fortunately for our physical fitness levels, I'd thoughtfully arranged our meetings today pretty consistently at opposite ends of the convention center, thus causing the maximum amount of travel in the minimum amount of time. Strangely, no one from the team has thanked me for this attention to their welfare. On the other hand, the favour was returned in full, as each and every time we arrived in a meeting room, it was short precisely one chair, leaving me standing, crouching, and otherwise contorting myself to comfortably see the game demonstrations. This was true both days, even though we had one less person this time around. Apparently the E3 pixies did a daily head count and acted accordingly.

And okay, actually I didn't really arrange our travel for altruistic purposes. Rather, I looked at the basic floorplan and decided what any normal E3-clueless person would conclude: it doesn't look too far! Whoops. Just for reference, I've included a couple maps below. The first represents the basic layout that guided the schedule-making. The latter is a more accurate representation of the distance between those points once you factor in the game displays and swarm of meandering, aimless humanity between them. So in following our progress, keep in mind that everywhere we arrived, we did so excited but exhausted.

 
Convention Center floorplan; Equivalent travel route

 

That second map might be a bit of an exaggeration, but fortunately it serves as a handy resource for the figurative world tour we took in our meetings today. From Russia to Scandinavia to North America to Paris, it was quite a trip, but one that yielded several pleasant surprises that will be fun for the whole family.

Our first stop was Akella, as we were anxious to get a good look at the Russian publisher's two games based on works by the Strugatsky Brothers. Unfortunately, we saw nothing of Inhabited Island: Earthling, as the sci-fi first-person adventure is still too early in its development for a gameplay demonstration. However, we did see several non-interactive scenes from the whodunnit Dead Moutaineer's Hotel, due out this fall. Although the game has been in production for over a year now, our demonstration was limited to a collection of screenshots, as the developers are still in the process of meshing the art style of their 3D character models with the game's beautiful prerendered backgrounds. But if our original intentions going in led to some disappointment, that disappeared in a hurry when Akella surprised us with a demo of Tanita: Plasticine Dream, a whimsical and colorful adventure reminiscent of The Neverhood in its clay-based art direction, and Samorost in the simplicity of its design, though with a quirky atmosphere and style all its own. The second surprise came in the form of Evil Days of Luckless John, a real-time 3D, cartoony comic game about a loser who runs afoul of the mafia in New York City, and must endure a series of hardships and challenges to overcome his predicament. While the game will feature some action elements, the sequence we were shown included all the elements of a classic adventure. With its humour, charm, and wonderfully stylized graphics, we've got our fingers crossed for Luckless John to soon secure an international release.

Dead Mountaineer's Hotel
Tanita: Plasticene Dream
Evil Days of Luckless John

 

Next up was a visit with Guppyworks, a Scandinavian company that only recently showed up on our radar when they announced their upcoming adventure HCA -- The Ugly Prince Duckling. The playable character, a young Hans Christian Andersen, must work his way up the social ladder by helping the characters he encounters around the streets of early 19th century Copenhagen. Although the plot draws from common fables such as The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl, the story is not a direct adaptation from Andersen's works, but rather integrates elements of his works into his own historical life story. The early screenshots showed tremendous potential for the game, and having seen it in action now, consider that potential to have multiplied exponentially. A classic third-person adventure with options both for direct control and point and click, The Ugly Prince Duckling looks poised to make a LOT of people take notice as it approaches release later this year.

While at the Nordic booth looking at HCA, we stumbled across a detective mystery game called Dollar, written by Swedish best-selling author Liza Marklund. The game already has publishers in several European territories and an English localization is planned, with negotiations in progress, but nothing is assured at this stage. We don't know too much about the game for now, as a gameplay demonstration wasn't available, but we'll certainly be keeping a close eye on the game as it approaches its targeted autumn release date.

After lunch (or more accurately, the time one normally equates with lunch when such a thing exists) we headed over to Her Interactive, where the developer of the Nancy Drew games are currently working on the fourteenth and fifteenth games of the series, Danger by Design and The Creature of Kapu Cave. Danger by Design, which is due for release in July, takes place in Paris, where Nancy is working as an intern for an eccentric fashion designer. When the designer starts behaving irrationally and slips far behind in her schedule, an investor sends Nancy in to investigate the reasons as only a resourceful super sleuth can. The second game takes Nancy to Hawaii for another job, this time as an assistant to an entomologist investigating an unusual beetle infestation. A mystery develops soon after her arrival, which will require help from the Hardy Boys, who happen to be staying nearby while working on another case. As in last year's Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, one of the brothers will be a playable character for a portion of the game, but this time in a more significant role. Fans of the Nancy Drew series can expect more of what they've come to enjoy so far, with a similar style of gameplay, interface, first-person perspective, difficulty levels, and several key mini games. We also had the opportunity to discuss other plans for the company, and the answer showed that Her Interactive is not at all prepared to rest on its laurels, as several new and exciting opportunities are being pursued, in addition to maintaining one of the most popular series in the genre today.

Our final zigzagging, elbow-swinging trek across the convention center for the day ended at the French booth, where we met with White Birds, fresh off their release of Paradise but already eager to look forward. We were expecting to hear about Aquarica, but were instead shown an early demo of Sinking Island, a new mystery game from Benoît Sokal. The game takes place in a towering hotel on a small island, which is rapidly sinking into the ocean under the structure's weight. The player will control Jack Norm, an investigator looking into a murder in the hotel over the course of several simulated real-time days as the water swiftly rises over the island. Intended as the first game in an ongoing series of full-length Jack Norm adventures, Sinking Island forsakes the fantasy elements of Sokal's previous games and brings a much more realistic approach to his new creation, having more in common with his graphic novels than Amerzone or Syberia. We also discussed the future of Aquarica, White Birds, and the potential impact of graphics technology in the genre, but like so many other details, for that you'll have to wait a little longer before we begin our more comprehensive look back at the E3 that was.

But for now it still is, and it's time to wrap up another hectic day (which has long since passed into the wee hours of the morning). Fatigue has completely taken over, and at this point I'm not sure I'm even still speaking in English. The evidence suggests otherwise. So with one day to go, we sign off from day two so we can do it all over again tomorrow.

This article was prepared with invaluable contributions from Emily Morganti, Berian Williams, and Deirdra Kiai.


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