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volume 1, issue 38

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Beaker's Bent:
E3 99: Apparently I need to have more attitude.






By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff

I've been designing games professionally for three years and thinking about designing them for most of my life (when not playing them). I tend to present strong opinions, but I want to make it clear that these are only opinions, and I don't want to come off like some of the famous names in the industry who seem to think that selling a lot of copies of a game and getting attention from the press makes them an expert on everything about making games. My tenet is that if you claim to know everything, you're missing out on the fact that there's always something new to learn, some other opinion which is worth considering, some experience you are still lacking...

t would be hard to go to E3 and not write about it, but in the usual Beakerís Bent style this isnít going to be a typical E3 column. So if youíre looking for a summary of all the products that were showing, which company threw the best party, or other typical stuff like that, go over to one of the traditional news sites.

This is only the second E3 Iíve actually been to Ė my first show was 1996, the last one in LA, when I was showing off the recently-shipped Terra Nova for Looking Glass. By 1997 I had moved out to LA while E3 had moved to Georgia.

In typical industry fashion, the only people who can count on attending a trade show like E3 when it is in a different city are either clueless marketing and management types from the rarified executive wings or a development teamís highest muckety-mucks. A few "lucky" junior team members get sent off to be the true slaves of E3 and do all the actual product demoing while the afore-mentioned executives and managers run around networking, gladhanding, and usually failing to note or even comprehend the important design and technical features of competing games.

I got to sleep off the pre-E3 crunch at home during the Georgia shows, but now that E3 has returned to LA, things are different. For those of us who live here, attending the show is fairly easy no matter what position you hold since there are no airline tickets or hotels to worry about. Because my current project is still unannounced and wasnít showing, I was in the enviable position of being able to wander the floor with no responsibilities at all.

E3 feels enormously different when you attend as a free agent in your own car in a city you know. The loud noises and shiny lights which seemed so impressive to a newbie developer from Boston booth-slaving for Looking Glass were far less overwhelming this time around, freeing me to concentrate on the more important aspects of the show Ė the products, and the people who are making them.

After a day of walking around the floor, capped by some hanging out at GODís daily parking-lot after party across the street, one thing became clear: developers have really gotten full of themselves in the last few years. Now donít get me wrong, I worked on Trespasser and one of the things that distinguished our team (and led to our eventual downfall) was our own arrogance.

But the Trespasser arrogance was mainly focused on technical subjects Ė and despite the fact that our game was weak in the gameplay department, which is of course the most important aspect, individual parts of its technology have yet to be surpassed, most especially in the realm of detailed outdoor environments. Taking a look at 3D games at this E3, it seems like the order of the day for human-scaled games is still indoor engines. Outdoor engines like Tribes and supposed "indoor/outdoor" engines like LithTech 2.0 still only seem able to handle very low outdoor object densities, meaning that their "realistic environments" still look like injection-molded plastic with a couple model trees here and there. (Whoops, thereís that arrogance again!)


(Continued on next page)


Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Beaker's Bent is © 1999 Rich Wyckoff. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. We have ways of making you talk.