SO I just spent most of last week at the annual orgy of promotion and glitz known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo. My feet are sore, but I saw a lot of cool stuff, and over the next several installments of this column I’ll tell you about what I saw.
I’ll also feature my Big Five – the five games I was most excited about the show.
So let’s get started!
First of the Big Five: Gabriel Knight Returns!
A Legendary Hero Returns: Gabriel Knight
This one is a no-brainer. Jane Jensen and her team have rebuilt her original 1993 classic Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. It’s a one-to-one remake, which means it’s pretty much the same game, with a few differences.
First of all, obviously, it’s got modern graphics. Gorgeous, colorful, modern graphics with a warm, appealing palette. A few of the puzzles have been tweaked and the interface (and cursors) have been streamlined and made more intuitive.
I like a clean interface, and I particularly admire how the game now handles dialog. When you enter into a conversation with another character, the screen changes. You see the faces on either side of the screen with the dialog choices in large, easy-to-identify plaques down the center of the screen. The facial modeling in this view is excellent, also.
I have two concerns which I’ll explore more when I have the full game:
It will be a welcome treat to be able to revisit this legendary game soon!
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
PC, Mac, iPad, Android
Sometime later in 2014
So You Want to be a Scoundrel: Quest For Infamy
Creating a “retro” game is always risky, because if you make your game TOO old-fashioned, you run the risk of gamers thinking about how much better games have gotten, at least technically.
As I checked out the latest build of the game, I was reminded what a good job the developers have done in hitting the sweet spot between scratching that nostalgic itch and accommodating modern gaming. The game has a gorgeous, storybook look but an interface that’s much less clunky than the games it’s evoking (good-bye, text parser).
Another thing I liked was that, while you play a set character (a male named Roehm), you not only get to choose from three classes, but this choice occurs organically within the first few minutes of the game play, based on choices you make.
You can choose to have voices on or off. You’ll be able to play the game in either full-screen or windowed mode (I like choices).
The game also keeps track of how you treat others. What this means is, the more you act like a tool, the more “Infamy Points” you’ll accrue.
Another cute touch: During a drinking game, the interface reacts to your inebriation level in a cute way.
Also – and this is key – the script is VERY funny and knowing. It looks like it could be a blast to play.
PC, Mac, Linux (mobile later in the year)
Game Changer or Expensive Gimmick?
When Facebook recently ponied up two billion dollars for the Oculus Rift, it raised many a skeptical eyebrow. Really, Facebook? That’s a lot of green for a new gaming toy.
What IS the Oculus Rift? Well, it’s a Virtual Reality (or “VR”) device that you wear on your face. It turns your entire field of vision (well, most of it, anyway) into the game world.
I had three chances to play with this provocative new toy at the show.
The first one was for the game Alien Isolation. Alas, I was disappointed. Because I basically couldn’t see anything. Let me explain.
It turns out that the Oculus Rift headset actually needs to be calibrated to the individual user’s face. Tiny differentiations in eye width and position can throw off the device’s ability to focus. When the OR becomes a consumer product, and you buy it, calibrating it to your own face will be the first thing that you do when you get it out of the box.
But alas, in a decision I call, at best, questionable, the folks at OR decided to not bring any calibration capability to E3. Instead, they simply brought a bunch of generically calibrated units. Anyone who’s face was slightly out of the norm was out of luck.
Enter Your Faithful Correspondent. I squeezed the not particularly comfortable, gigantic headset over my glasses and saw…not much.
It was like that moment in junior high school biology when you look through a microscope for the first time and you’re the only one in the class who can’t see the neato paramecium on the slide. You just see a lot of out-of-focus smudges.
The OR team valiantly tried everything to get my unit focused, but it was not to be. I was sorely disappointed, particularly because the game (in which you strive to avoid, rather than fight, the alien) seemed like it would be a great showcase for the device’s technology.
Luckily my next two attempts were a bit more successful.
I tried a space combat game, and while the images were blurry, I could at least make out basically what I was seeing. It was rather thrilling to have my entire field of vision taken up by the game.
Finally, I got a chance to try out the Oculus Rift one more time with a game called War Thunder from Russian developer Gaijin. The game recreates actual battles and has a tech tree that allows you to fight in realistic recreations of the tanks and airplanes used in the war.
I had the heady experience of taking off in a small plane. It was VERY realistic. So realistic, in fact, that I got a bit dizzy for a minute. The Gaijin guy assured me that Oculus Rift knew about the dizziness problem and were working on a solution for the release model of the game.
Unlike the fanciful recreations of wars depicted in such franchises as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, War Thunder is a WWII game that glories in historical accuracy. While it’s not my kind of game, for war history nerds it could be heaven.
I also should point out that, if you wear glasses for near-sightedness, you must keep your glasses on when you play with the Oculus Rift. This is a bit dodgy, as I have very expensive glasses and didn’t love the idea of jamming them into this device. Also, in addition to the Oculus Rift device, you also have to put on headphones, which means you have what feels like several pounds of equipment clamped to your head. It’s not that comfortable, and it’s difficult to imagine anything but a short play session being desirable.
However, we still don’t have a release date (or price point) for the Oculus Rift, so it’s entirely possible that these issues will be mitigated before consumer release.
It’ll be very interesting to see what happens with the Oculus Rift. With the power of Facebook’s deep pockets behind them, they’ll be able to weather marketing stumbles better than many new technology companies could. So they’ll probably get more than one chance to convince the gaming public that they cannot live without this device.
As an aside, I can easily see the OR finding success in another arena. Remember when the Segway PT came out in 2001, the manufacturers were hoping it would be a consumer product. That never really happened, but the Segway has found a successful life as a corporate/industrial product, being used by police departments, movie studios, guided tours, etc. (I’ve taken wonderful Segway tours in Portland, Minneapolis, Munich, and Berlin.)
I can totally see the Oculus Rift finding success in training dangerous or difficult jobs – mine field clearing, bomb disarming, interviewing Justin Bieber, etc.
What do you folks think about the Oculus Rift? What are your predictions for its future?