by Ken Gagne

Only a year after the Olympics, the city of Atlanta once again swelled. This time, 40,000 retailers, developers, press media, and other industry members stormed the Georgia Dome and World Congress Center for the third annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, or trade show. Attendants had three days to explore 535,000 square feet of 486 exhibitors displaying over 1500 new titles. This was the first E3 in which no new home gaming console was released, allowing software to take the primary focus. 

Nintendo didn't steal the show, as it had in past years, but it did have a powerful lineup of software. Banjo-Kazooie, formerly code named "Dream," was announced for the first time and is slated to be their big seller this holiday season. It stars Banjo, a musical bear, and Kazooie, a bird that lives in Banjo's backpack. Players may switch between the two at any time or perform several combination moves, or even be transformed into a number of other animals by the witch doctor. Banjo-Kazooie relies heavily on the Super Mario 64 game engine; it appears to be a great game, but without many innovations. The game is to be releleased the week of Thanksgiving. 

Starfox for the Super Nintendo system was the first game to use the Super FX graphics chip, and its sequel, Starfox 64, is first to support the new Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak. This device slips into the memory slot of the controller and provides force feedback to the player. For example, when gamer's Arwing ship is hit, the controller will vibrate a little; when the ship crashes, the controller shakes a whole lot. The game itself uses a more 3D environment than the original and includes several game modes, including four-player simultaneous battle. Due on June 30th, Starfox 64 will surely be a big seller this summer. 

Other Nintendo 64 titles due in 1997 include: Goldeneye, based on the James Bond movie; Tetrisphere, a 3D puzzler; Aero Fighters Assault, a seek-and-destroy flight simulator from the makers of Pilotwings; and Bomberman, the ultimate party game with up to four players. Long-anticipated sequels F-Zero 64 and Zelda 64 were shown on video, but were not playable. Both will be available in 1998. 

Nintendo also announced they will be charging a lower royalty for third parties to release games. This means consumers will not be paying anymore market prices above $69.99. Unfortunately, Nintendo of America is not putting any new development into 16-bit Super Nintendo titles. The remainder of what's to be released is mostly old titles hitting the shelves again, such as F-Zero, Super Metroid, and Arkanoid. 

Nintendo's main competitor in the market today, Sony, was not without its own new flagship titles for the PlayStation. Blasto was one of the new titles with a Buck Rogers and The Tick mixed theme. It is a clumsy jump-and-shoot adventure with a Tomb Raider interface and cartoony graphics. 

If not for Blasto, then players will buy the PlayStation for Final Fantasy VII alone. This role-playing game continues a long series of successful titles from Squaresoft which, up until this point, ran on the various Nintendo systems. Final Fantasy VII — called such because this is the seventh game in Japan, but only the fourth in America — is comprised of three discs containing real-time battles, pre-rendered graphics, and an involving storyline. Watch for this one in early September. 

Several other titles will guarantee Sony strong sales in 1997. Sequels to some of their past bestsellers, such as Crash Bandicoot 2, Tomb Raider 2, Jet Moto 2, and Cool Boarders 2, will all be released soon. Original software will also be a part of their lineup, such as Parappa the Rapper and Spawn: The Eternal. 

Sega has had a hard time capturing a portion of the console gaming market, despite strong software lineups. A few weeks before E3, a price reduction on the Sega Saturn console system, Netlink Internet hardware for the Saturn, and the Saturn-Netlink package was announced. This points the console at a selling point matching that of Sony's and Nintendo's systems. Many future titles, such as Saturn Bomberman, will be multiplayer both live and across the Internet, via Netlink. 

This year's E3 Sega booth included a number of Sonic the Hedgehog titles, such as Sonic Jam, a compilation of Sonic games that appeared on the Genesis. There was also Sonic R, which is a racing game using an over-the-shoulder perspective and starring Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and the rest of the gang. Sega Ages is another collection of old Sega titles, such as Outrun and Harrier. 

There has also been a change in Sega's policy regarding their support of the PC platform. Previously, they would release games to the Saturn, and follow with their computer counterparts six to twelve months later. Future titles will be simultaneously released for both systems. This may foreshadow a move on Sega's part to publishing computer software only, considering the dismal sales of the Saturn. Stephen Race, chief executive officer of computer software giant Microprose, noted, "… take a look at the history of the video game industry; it's never tolerated more than two successful companies at any one time." 

The shelves of all three systems are also being lined with hits from third parties, such as Capcom. Their third monstrous fighting title, Darkstalkers 3, will be appearing on both PlayStation and Saturn, as will Marvel Super Heroes. The Resident Evil line is exploding everywhere with Resident Evil: Director's Cut on PlayStation, which is an expanded version of the original; Resident Evil 2 on PlayStation; Resident Evil on Saturn, including a new survival mode; and Resident Evil on PC, courtesy of Virgin. A pair of adventure games which had only a cult following in the arcade will finally make it home when Dungeons & Dragons Collection arrives on the Saturn. This title includes both Towers of Doom and Shadows of Mysteria, side-scrolling action games set in a popular fantasy world. 

The Electronic Entertainment Expo provides a glimpse into the future of the industry it represents. "E3 is the culmination of thousands of interactive entertainment industry professionals, each with their own ideals, coming together to advance the industry as a whole," said Hal Halpin, publisher of Show Daily, the official E3 magazine. With so much to see and test, it is clear that some of what was shown will maintain what is already a popular source of home entertainment the sustenance required to continue well into the 21st century.

This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 23-Jun-97