A vibrant cove of electronic delicacies, plump and ripe for picking, awaited digital addicts at a recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. Interactive everything — from video games pushing industry margins to cell phones with spunk — cover each inch of the show floor.
Unfortunately, E3 is an event shrouded in exclusivity. Doors are open only to industry professionals, locking the general public in the gutter. Alas, this is your definitive key to the greatest stunts constructed for 2001, possibly the best year ever for electronic gaming.
Playground with a handle
Mere moments before the tock of 10 a.m., thousands of jubilant gaming gurus were becoming increasingly restless. Running shoes were intact; trigger-finger exercises were being conducted. One attendee, excited beyond scale, was even recording his E3 memoirs on a digital camcorder. And of all the show-goers bouncing in the clutter, not one was planning to deviate from their path.
Once the first entrance door cracks open, a flood of bodies turns directly toward the booth of a little company named Nintendo (www.nintendo.com). Their logo is synonymous with Mario and Pokémon, to mention a couple; their tenure in the pop-culture trade is potent, to say the least. But come Nov. 5, a world of children and adults alike will awaken to the next generation of video games, complete with an arched handle for mobility.
Nintendo’s GameCube, an electronic monster poised to dominate, finally sees the evolution of gaming set at a proper pace, unlike the ultraweak rollout of Sony’s PlayStation 2 last autumn, where the poor quality of software available at launch was trumped only by the company’s failure to meet manufacturing goals for the system.
“In first thinking about GameCube three years ago, we envisioned a system that would allow us to create entertainment which would surpass the common definitions of video gameplay,” says Shigeru Miyamoto, head of Nintendo’s software development. “The engineers have given us just that — a machine that not only excels today, but will continue to break boundaries for years to come.”
The 3-inch game discs are much smaller than standard DVDs, yet can store up to 1.5 gigabytes of data (helping to prevent piracy). And GameCube is a midget compared to its pudgy competitor. Microsoft’s Xbox, which is releasing only three days after Nintendo’s console on Nov. 8 at $299, is rotund, awkward, blundered by technical problems and shortsighted games — and failed to wow critics at its press conference. GameCube is a slight $199 and boasts a fortune of franchise games already (nearly uncountable, the list begins with Donkey Kong). Let the war begin.
Propelled by imagination since the release of Tron, virtual reality has never truly matched expectations. Today, the technology just isn’t available to whisk up such fantasy lands; we can’t hijack brain cells.
However, an alternative does lie in a $69 pair of VR Joy 2000 glasses from VR Standard (www.vrstandard.com). Lightweight and bursting with innovation, this self-proclaimed “stereoscopic 3D” head gear can completely transform the mundane into castle in the sky — and with the VRCaddy, nearly every popular PC title can be converted. Simply load the software, slide on your VR shades and admire the full dimensions on your monitor. Most impressive was a playable version of “Counterstrike.”
Maybe not revolution, but VR Joy mints a new flavor for the gaming world.
“The immersive video category is starting to realize its full potential,” reveals Paul Cha, executive vice president and co-founder of Enroute (www.enroute.com). “Until now, immersive video has mostly been used as an Internet application, and consumers have had to watch it at a low resolution and frame rate.”
And until now, most consumers have never even gathered a clue of what immersive video actually is. Basically, visualize interactivity — a full-fledged, uncut Britney Spears concert on DVD. With precision, six cameras were placed in different positions about the stage at a recent Spears event. They filmed the entire concert, capturing not only every ounce of onstage action, but the audience as well.
After being rendered at the FirstPerson lab, all six images — each a complete concert video in its own respect — are molded into one seamless, 360-degree perspective. With the ease of a DVD remote, users can guide the camera toward Spears’ action below the spotlight, or can rotate 180 degrees beyond the stage to witness the screaming crowd. More complicated shots — dependent upon additional camera setups — can also permit watchers to scan up into the sky or even glance down at the stage floor. Amazingly, amid all this ingenuity, a constant 30-frames-per-second is maintained throughout all footage — a standard for television and video.
Finally, a company that is daring to innovate. Simply glance at Essential Reality’s P5 glove and you’ll be amazed at its possibilities.
“The P5 was a major challenge in numerous areas of both electronics and appearance,” notes David Devor, chief operating officer of Essential Reality (www.essentialreality.com). However, challenge may be an vast understatement.
What the P5 sets out to prove is very basic in concept: your hand — multiple joints and sockets inclusive — is the best video game joystick available on the market. Each bend, each turn, each and every sway — it is all recognized by the P5 glove.
Hence, as with all future tech, the P5 is its own curse. The glove is so complicated, games must be custom built to be fully compatible with it. Thus, only one playable demo currently exists — and it isn’t a very enjoyable trip. It may be a long while before the P5 shakes hands with mainstream success.
Rightfully, with all fresh crops of tech, a price is paid for creativity. But ultimately, the vision endures.Jon M. Gibson has been in 15 auto wrecks, all caused by his tech-geek urge to tweak the GPS installed in his Saturn. E-mail him at [email protected]