Wednesday, July 11, 2007

My fine lines and dark circles are more prominent

E3 (which I believe stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo) has been the games industry's chest-thumping bandstand for years now, as console manufacturers, publishers and developers all vie for the attention of millions of gamers and their billions of moneys. Often acting as a showcase for the forthcoming games of the Christmas run-up and following year, the E3 ballooned into a braying behemoth, with a swollen attendance level and ever-expanding budget for those behind the the scenes.
After last year's zenith, a number of gaming's big hitters realised that the cash squandered on promotional activities looked set to eclipse any return on investment, especially as game development budgets spiral and margins shrink. They decided that E3 '07 would be a much more modest affair, paring things down to the bone and cutting down the bombast and 'booth babes' in favour of the event's real focus - the games.
Many a net pundit worried about an empty space in the calendar, a dearth of juicy games news that would hopefully be picked up by other international events, but it seems the big three players have merely taken advantage of the current techno climate. With the three home consoles all offering some sort of downloadable content facilities or net access, why fork out for a thumb-fun festival when you can just beam the teaser trailers direct to your potential customers?

Those worried by the E3 shrink should now be fully satiated by the eager ejaculation of electronic elucidations.
The internets are positively plastered with up-to-the-minute soundbites, screenshots and trailers, and indeed it is these trailers that explain the ease with which Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft stepped back from the merry-go-round. Short of demos released for each and every title, the trailer is the best way to give you an idea of what a game may be capable of, carefully edited to get you salivating for more content and the impending release.

There is a lot of promise on the horizon, and a lot of potential for all three parties, but there really is only one game that I am interested in:

Halo 3 got me to buy a 360 recently, picking a machine up when I saw one cheap enough in time for the September release.
Halo got me to buy the original Xbox, despite having played through the game from start to finish on friend's machines.
Halo 2 got me to stay online, shooting at shrill-voiced American teens as the adrenalin coursed through my system and I played into the small hours, feeding off that twitch-game hunger for 'just one more go'.
Despite the repetitive latter act of Halo, the mindless (though fitting) rush of the flood when compared to the cunning of the Covenant and the endurance-testing grind of the Library, Halo has won a place in my all-time top games.
The kind of game you can come back to years later, I have played through some levels of Halo dozens upon dozens of times, with fun melee runs on easy modes and a hard-fought battle against overwhelming odds on Legendary, the enemy AI and precision aiming of pistol fire and grenade lobs still ranks amongst some of the best in the First Person Shooter genre.
Even the cheap-shock non-ending of Halo 2 didn't taint my affection for the series, as I returned again to replay choice sections and try and find those bastard secret skulls.
Alongside the sublime coding, the Halo storyline has a lot of background depth, even if it does sometimes manifest in the trite (the main character Master Chief, is named John 113, which is also a bible reference...). Usual space marine grunt frag-fests barely make an attempt at a coherent storyline, but the portrayal of the alien Covenant's systematic, faith-fuelled eradication of mankind enjoys a substantial background beyond the games, and makes for a passable sci-fi tale (as evidenced in the tie-in novels by Eric Nylund and Wiiliam C. Dietz, The Fall of Reach, The Flood and First Strike. The first and last are pretty good, freed as they are by not being tied in by the in-game plot, but I have not yet read the newest Halo universe book, Ghosts of Onyx).

I have been looking forward to Halo 3 since the second I finished the second game, and despite the possibility for more big flaws as found in the previous instalments, and the surrounding cash-in circus that includes wallets and bags, the Real Time Strategy game Halo Wars, and not one but two different special editions of the game itself (the turbo-bastard edition of which I pre-ordered weeks ago), I don't doubt that I will be hugely satisfied and probably surprised when it finally finds its way into my disc-tray.

I am sold, hook, line and sinker.

The only other E3 tidbit to excite me was the news that Bungie's (for they are the developer of Halo) precursor to Halo, Marathon, is coming to Xbox Live Arcade in a natty enhanced mode. I have been aching to play this since I first heard of it (you can see the historical reference in the title, that Halo later shared with it's use of the Spartan codename for the enhanced soldier you play, and the Mjolnir codename for his armour...more in depth examination of the background to Halo can be found at this excellent site, as well as links to fan art, stories, videos and untold amounts of crap -