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E3 2006 - Day Three

After three crazy days, the lights are off, the doors are closed, and there's nothing left to do now but watch E3 2006 disappear in the rear view mirror. Although to say "disappear" suggests actual movement, which rush hour in Los Angeles on a Friday certainly does not guarantee. And so while objects in our mirror are still closer than they appear, it's time to take a brief look back at the highlights of day three.

Now, when most people think of E3, they imagine lavish, theatrical displays with props, booth babes, blaring audio, and multiple view screens. And that's not wrong. E3 is indeed filled with such demonstrations from all the big companies. In fact, we had to walk by, through, or otherwise around these extravaganzas on our way to each and every appointment in back room cubicles, public cafes, or even open hallway floor space to huddle around a laptop to see the next adventure on our list. Yes, if there was any doubt that the adventure genre was a niche market in a much larger industry, our experience at E3 certainly confirmed the point.

But there was one exception among adventures. While not quite on par with the EAs and Microsofts of the show, a single developer did have an impressive presentation to show off its upcoming game. Not Ubisoft, not Funcom, not any of the few names that might leap to mind at first (and if you even THOUGHT of LucasArts or Vivendi, go to the back of the line). No, the developer in question is Track7 Games. If that results in a resounding "who??", you're probably not alone. Track7 is an independent developer from Greece that is currently producing Theseis. If that name doesn't ring a bell, either, it most certainly will before its targeted release at the end of this year.

A full 3D, direct control adventure, Theseis is set in modern day Athens, and centers around a pair of journalists specializing in cult phenomena. Their research explores unknown facets of Greek mythology, and their discoveries expose an ancient conspiracy that could ultimately threaten the future of mankind. A third-person game using a "follow cam" and keyboard/mouse combination controls, Theseis does include such physical activities as running, jumping, and climbing, and it will inevitably elicit kneejerk reactions about its perceived similarity to Tomb Raider. Its focus is clearly adventure, however, not action, and the developers are committed to finding the right balance of physical activities to suit the story and increase immersion without alienating the more conventional adventure gamer.

From Athens to Istanbul in three easy steps, our next stop was with Momentum AS, the developers of the near-futuristic thriller Culpa Innata. This game is also in full 3D, but it's a traditional adventure in most respects. The game is set in a (seemingly) Utopian society driven purely by economics, in which most nation states have come together under one World Union. But all is not what it seems in the Union, and the shocking murder of one of its citizens in the neighbouring "rogue state" of Russia becomes the responsibility of peace officer Phoenix Wallis. Her investigation attracts the attention of an underground group of dissidents, and sets in motion an escalating series of events that draws her deeper and deeper into a conflict of ideologies competing for her loyalty. While familiar in its gameplay design, Culpa Innata is a narratively ambitious game, focusing heavily on character development and storytelling in a unique world so like our own in some ways, and yet so foreign and unfathomable in others. The game is nearing completion, so you'll soon be hearing much more about this title (incuding our own upcoming preview, of course).

Culpa Innata
AGON: Lost Sword of Toledo
Broken Sword: The Angel of Death

 

Leaving Turkey, it wasn't too far to Hungary, where we met with Private Moon Studios, whose AGON: The Mysterious Codex has recently been released. It's been a long time since we saw the third instalment of AGON, leaving many wondering if another episodic game had stopped well short of reaching the finish line. Fortunately for fans of the first-person adventure series, it turns out that AGON is not only alive and well (though admittedly delayed), but they also offered us a sneak peek at plans for the fifth episode once Lost Sword of Toledo is out later this year. So why the delay? Well, one of the reasons is that Private Moon has been busy working on another game.

Remember FMV? It was all the rage at one point, the veritable hula hoop of adventure gaming before buckling under the weight of oversaturation. It's fashionable to bash full motion video games now, but unless the names Tex Murphy and Gabriel Knight (from The Beast Within, that is) mean nothing to you, you'll know that the format has plenty to offer the genre in the right hands. Private Moon is currently working on Yoomurjak's Ring, a full-length FMV adventure that originated from a contest in the town of Eger, whose municipal government was seeking ways to promote the town. The story itself stars a journalist named Jonathan Hunt, the great-grandson of AGON's Samuel Hunt. Arriving in Eger, Jonathan discovers a series of clues relating to an old book that may very well lead to the existence of a time machine, and it's up to him to pursue the mystery and finish the research. Yoomurjak's Ring is assured a release in Hungary, but the developers are actively speaking with international publishers about localized versions.

After our trip to eastern Europe, it was back to France to meet with Lexis Numérique, the developer of MISSING/In Memoriam and the upcoming EVIDENCE. Having already seen the latter in our appointment with The Adventure Company, we were able to turn our full attention to the project that I will very humbly, quietly, and subtly champion as the:

Most Promising Adventure of Show: Experience112

It's far too early to do more than speak conceptually, and in no way is this a poor reflection on the other incredible games we saw that are much farther along in development, but our early look at Experience112 showed an innovative title with unbelievable potential. I was already intrigued by the premise of the game from what very little I'd heard prior to our meeting, but after hearing about it more extensively, and seeing it at least partially demonstrated in action, I am now totally on board. And I mean that both figuratively and literally, as the game begins on a grounded old ship, through which you'll direct a young woman facing a series of environmental obstacles.

Now, I said "direct", not "control", and in Experience112, that difference is anything but semantic. You are not the woman, nor a character in her immediate presence, but a remote observer watching her through onboard cameras. It is from this detached position that you'll need to assert your influence in order to guide her through the challenges, using only the various controls at your disposal, none of which allow you to communicate verbally with her, though you can hear her speaking to you. By doing so, you will also uncover clues about the woman's identity, your relationship to her, and the mysterious circumstances in which you find yourselves.

After Experience112, perhaps only one game could manage not to feel like a letdown, but thankfully that was exactly what was planned. Broken Sword: The Angel of Death is of course the fourth game in the acclaimed series starring George and Nico... Or is it? The lovely French heroine has been conspicuous by her absence in the game's early screenshots and story descriptions, featuring George with a beautiful blonde instead. But not to worry. The developers were simply having a little fun with worried longtime fans. The blonde is an integral character in the story, but Nico is indeed back, with yet another new hairstyle and voice, but still as sassy and sultry as ever. The game itself looks like classic Broken Sword, though this time using a combination of point and click with the 3D environments first introduced in BS3 (with an optional direct control scheme). It certainly shows every sign that the hard lessons of the previous game were taken to heart and the weaknesses improved or removed in the new title. We'll have plenty more to say about the game in the coming weeks, including the all-important non-gratuitous pigeon AI! What other game can boast THAT?

As far as games go, that's a wrap from E3. Our own E3 adventure had just barely enough time for a last-minute, futile loot-seeking expedition, so now there's nothing left but the tears and traffic. On that note, then, let us sign off one last time from on-location reporting, and we'll be back with a few final thoughts after we've all gone our separate ways and had a chance to ponder and reflect -- and by that I mean sleep for two days straight. After that, we'll have more previews than you can wave your cursor at, so stay tuned.


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