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Pre-E3: The Promise of Innovation in Games and Technology for the Xbox 360.
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
date posted: 01:32 AM Sun May 7th, 2006
last revision: 11:59 PM Sun May 7th, 2006

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Click to read.Let\'s face it, there\'s never a bad time to go to E3. The Electronics Entertainment Expo is the video game industry\'s way of boldly exclaiming \"who\'s your daddy\" to the world through every media channel available, be it print, television, or dedicated internet media sources like yours truly, GamesFirst! If you haven\'t been to E3, just nuzzle up nose-to-glass to the biggest TV you can find, put in some bassaholic house music, crank your amp up to eleven, and play about two minutes of every game you can get your hands on for about 3 days straight. That\'ll give you a pretty good impression of the event, unless you have a press badge, in which case you\'ll need to do all of that while having cocktails handed to you and being molested by a sweaty guy trying to slip his card into your back pocket. Hell, you should probably try all of that anyway; it kind of grows on you.

After all, we return year after year. We\'d climb right into that creepy Clockwork Orange chair with the head restraints and eyelid clamps if we thought we\'d get an exclusive view of The Twilight Princess. We shift through the detritus, put up with the lame sequels and endless knock-offs, suffer dehydration and migraine-inducing electronic overkill, because we, like you, are gamers and we can\'t wait to find the next great game, the next work of interactive art that takes us all by surprise.

Some years have more potential to deliver this than others. This is one of those years. The next generation of technology is already in our homes and cresting the second wave of games, and systems are coming from the biggest names in the industry later this year. However, what makes this year so exciting is that for the first time in a long while, the industry is looking to reinvigorate itself through innovation rather than repetition. Like many, I couldn\'t be more excited to get my hands on the core controller for the Nintendo Wii. But let\'s not overlook the untapped potential of the current focus of every minute of my free time, the Xbox 360.

Microsoft seems to have taken a ball that Nintendo tossed into the air years ago and ran with it. I\'m not sure how it is that all of Nintendo\'s hype about \"connectivity\" back in \'03 has only just come to fruition with Microsoft\'s Xbox 360, but I have that thing connected to every electronic device in my house, including the Quesadilla maker. Its ability to serve as an entertainment hub for the entire household, bringing us streaming media and user-friendly PC applications, allowing us to compete and communicate with our friends across the globe, along with its intuitive design continues to captivate me. There is a wealth of games and technology I am looking forward to discovering at E3.

As a console gamer, I tend to gravitate toward streamlined comfort-the deep couch, the widescreen HDTV, surround sound, and a reliable game system with a solid interface. This has left me a little removed from the unpredictable, sometimes frustrating, and often revolutionary world of PC games. But now the 360 is promising enjoyable experiences with online community based game genres that were formerly only worth playing on the PC, namely quality strategy games like Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II, and MMORPGs featuring characters close to my heart, such as those from Marvel Comics.

Normally, when I think of console RTS games, I can\'t muster too much enthusiasm. Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II may change that. More that just a port of the PC version of the game, The Battle for Middle Earth II promises to revolutionize the genre for consoles by replacing the formerly clunky and limited PC-light controls with a new and intuitive system designed for the 360. With a quicker and more reliable analog-controlled icon, as well as instant menus initiated by the triggers, this may be the kind of streamlined interface that finally makes the console RTS enjoyable. And what should waging battle against Orcs with an army of hundreds be, if not enjoyable? The Battle for Middle Earth II also utilizes Xbox Live for online multiplayer games, something that many misguided, one-player console RTS games sorely lacked. This, along with an original storyline that ties into both the movies and the books, taking players to new lands to encounter new races, makes this title one to anticipate this summer. I will be seeking this game out as soon as I hit the show floor.

Details about the upcoming Marvel MMORPG have been slim. Little is known about the title, other than it is in development with Sigil Games Online, makers of the upcoming Vanguard: Saga of Heroes MMORPG for the PC, and that it is often spoken of in league with Microsoft\'s continued effort to make typically PC oriented games work on both platforms, as witnessed by the recent release of Final Fantasy XI on the Xbox 360. As a comic book geek I am excited that the recent trend of creating quality comic book adaptations for different media is continuing not only in film, but in the video game industry as well. As a gamer, I simply cannot wait (until 2008 no less) to bring the MMORPG to my living room, where I can get comfy and settle in for the long haul with some of my favorite characters, and the added bonus of a centralized community like Xbox Live to play in. In truth, I\'m not expecting a barrage of news about this title, at least not at this show, but if there is so much as a trailer, a clip, or a mere mention of this game, I will write about it in excruciating detail.

If these two games have gotten my attention, and for only finally making an effort to use innovative translation in crossing the PC/Console divide, then the promise of the truly unknown has me utterly on edge. Only one place in the whole of E3 can deliver on that level, the belly of the beast, Kentia Hall. For anyone unfamiliar, Kentia Hall is the like the flea market of the video game industry, where unproven, unfunded talent shows their products to anyone and everyone. You will find some gems, some duds, along with insane products like hydraulic battle chairs for your PC. Oh, and porn stars and playmates, promoting their latest interactive fair. Normally, I am a passive wanderer of Kentia Hall, taking in the sites with a little distance and humor. This year, however, I will be actively seeking the latest way to overextend the use of my 360. I am sure there will be new and innovative ways of interacting with your PCs, i-Pods, et all, sharing and creating media, and interacting with the games. Be it a collection of graffiti-tagged faceplates, a detailed replica of a bazooka to use with Ghost Recon, or a wireless device that will allow my 360 to jumpstart my car, I look forward to discovering it.

For the first time in years, I think E3 will have more to offer than the trailer for the next Halo or knock offs of Splinter Cell and Grand Theft Auto. This year there is some actual innovation working to bring genres long mistreated by consoles, and new technology to the living room. The Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360, and who knows, maybe the PS3 will surprise me. E3 is mere days away, and I am looking forward to discovery.

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