E3 has become the event to watch for the latest developments in video gaming, and every year the media coverage seems to get a little better. Along with the barrage of previews and interviews, there was plenty of streaming video of E3 on the Net, which was great for those of us that couldn't attend. Here's some of the noteworthy news about online games that surfaced at this year's show.
Bill Gates Talks Windows Vista
PC gamers have come to expect that their platform will be upstaged by big console announcements at E3, and that was the case this year as well with Sony unveiling the lofty price for the PS3. However, the PC crowd did get some attention in 2006, from none other than Bill Gates himself, who made his first ever E3 appearance to show off Live Anywhere, a Windows Vista feature.
Live Anywhere will be a service that essentially extends Xbox Live to PCs and portable devices. Users will have access to their gamer profile and statistics whether they are at a workstation running Windows Vista, playing a game on the Xbox, or on the road with a cell phone running Windows CE. If a game is available on more than one of these platforms, people will be able to connect with their friends for cross-platform games.
They also demonstrated how different parts of the same game might appear on different platforms. Customize a car on your PDA while you're riding the bus, for example, and race that same car on your Xbox at home.
As much as I like seeing this sort of convergence coming down the road, it's probably not enough to make me run out and buy Vista when it's released, especially since XP does pretty much everything I want it to. PC gamers will want DirectX 10 eventually, but I suspect there will be a lot of late adopters.
MS E3 Press Conference Video - GameTrailers.com
Spore made an appearance at E3 2005 and raised a lot of eyebrows. The idea, in brief, is to allow players to create a species of their own design and evolve it from micro-organism to space explorer. This year a much more detailed demo of the game was presented, and it was hard not to be impressed by the technology behind this title. Of course, the icing on the cake is that in the final stage of the game, you will be able to share your species with those created by other people over the Net. The galaxy level of Spore reminds me a lot of Eve Online in the vastness of its proportions.
At this year's E3, actor Robin Williams had a chance to fiddle with Spore's unique character creation tools, and result was an unusually entertaining presentation. Joystiq recorded the session on video, and it's well worth the download if you want to see more of this innovative project. I'm not entirely convinced that Spore will rock the world, but I can't wait to get my hands on it, and I'm sure I'm not alone.
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
It goes without saying that anything World of Warcraft is going to get considerable attention these days. The first expansion for the game, The Burning Crusade, will raise the level cap to 70 and add two new playable races to Azeroth. We've known for a while that the Horde is getting Blood Elves, and Blizzard announced at E3 that the new race on the Alliance side will be the Draenei, descendants of the Eredar.
Flying mounts and jewelcrafting are also on their way, but what I was most surprized to hear is that they are introducing PvP objectives into persistent zones in the new Outlands area. Clearly, a lot of players welcome the idea of more "outdoor" PvP, but it remains to be seen how they will deal with the population imbalance on some servers. Although Blizzard hasn't committed to a release date yet, it can't be that far off.
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
This MMORPG from Funcom is another title that has come a long way in the last year and looks more promising than ever. One unique aspect of it is that the first time you play through levels 1-20, you'll be offline. They're moving away from conventional RPG combat quite a bit, so they want to give players a chance to adjust and learn the game. As I understand it, your second character will be able to go online at any level. The feature that has created the most anticipation around Conan, however, is the ability to build and siege cities.