by Ken Gagne

Games years in development were playable. Titles still years in the future were first seen. The power of home consoles was doubled, yet system size shrunk. The most incredible — and most disappointing – advancements in gaming software were experienced.

And the public couldn't get in.

For three days, Atlanta became the site of the fourth annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3. This was the second and last year Atlanta would host the Interactive Digital Software Association's show before it returns to the city of its birth in 1999. In a market that has grown to $7 billion in 1998, E3 offers developers, the press, and other trade members to see first-hand where the industry is headed in the form of 1,600 new games.

Among Nintendo, Sony, and Sega, no single company stole the show; each had an impressive lineup. The Nintendo 64 is receiving a long-awaited deluge of titles, with focus on reincarnations of classics. F-Zero X is a sequel to the first Super Nintendo racing game. This 64-bit racer features over 30 pilots and hovercraft, speeds above 1000 KPH, and courses that twist, turn, plummet, and soar. The racing was impressive, but the graphics lacked any details or extras.

A more important release for Nintendo is Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.  When the original Nintendo was launched in the mid 1980's, the first Zelda game helped revitalize the video gaming industry, and each consecutive installment has similarly brought new life to the system on which it appeared. Zelda 64 takes the hero Link through adventures in Hyrule, a world 3D in nature, similar to Super Mario 64. Link's arsenal and abilities are wide, yet their implementation is simple. Combined with excellence in graphics and sound, Zelda will surely live up to the expectations of Howard Lincoln, chairman of Nintendo, when he called it "the biggest game release in history." Available November 23rd, Lincoln expects two million units to be sold before the year's end.

Shown on video was Perfect Dark, a sequel to Goldeneye which does not employ any of the James Bond characters or setting, but does play almost identically. Named after the heroine, Joanna Dark, the title is due in 1999 and will pit players against enemies of both this world and another.  In comparison to Goldeneye, Dark is said to have graphics twice as good and enemies 200 times smarter.

Despite the forwarding march of technology, Nintendo's ten year-old Game Boy continues to be popular. New hardware and software will ensure its continued success. Today marks the release of the camera and printer peripherals. With these tools, gamers can take black-and-white photos on the Game Boy, edit them, then print them on sticker paper.

Pokemon rides the Tamagotchi, or virtual pet, wave that recently swept through both sides of the Pacific. Gamers will be able to collect 150 monsters through raising, training, and trading. The game will launch on 29-Sep-98, shortly after the five-day-a-week cartoon begins airing on 05-Sep-98.

And finally, the Game Boy will receive the color enhancement players have longed for. Game Boy Color will be released on 23-Nov-98 with a palette of 32,000 colors, displaying up to 56 simultaneously. The best news is this new system will play, albeit in their original colors, existing Game Boy games, while Game Boy Color titles can be played in black-and-white on the classic Game Boy system.

Not ready to be undone, Sega came to Georgia with their new system. Sega has teamed up with NEC, Hitachi, and Microsoft, among other major players in various technical fields, to create "the ultimate gaming system." The Dreamcast, formerly given such code names as Katana, Dural, and Blackbelt, is a 128-bit system which was shown behind closed doors to select members of the press. Only one unnamed and incomplete game, a shooter, was shown, and operating at only 20% system efficiency. Despite these handicaps, it was the most impressive graphical display of power anywhere seen since the Nintendo 64 first appeared at E3 two years ago.

The Dreamcast's launch will be in Fall of 1999, a full year after is Japanese counterpart hits the shelves. This leaves Sega with a large gap in the American market, as the Sega Saturn is near the end of its run.  Sega showcased its recent titles, House of the Dead and Panzer Dragoon Saga, and its summer releases: Burning Rangers, a firefighting simulation; and Shining Force III, a role-playing game. All Sega's other titles were intended for the PC or arcade. The Saturn is likely to see its last software release this summer. What Sega plans to do between then and the Dreamcast's release remains to be seen.

Sony's booth was large in size but not variety. Most titles shown were sequels or rehashes — fun, but unoriginal. Twisted Metal 3, Crash Bandicoot 3, and the annual editions of various sports titles constituted the remainder of their lineup this year.

The PlayStation's strength laid instead in third-party development. The usual sequels and special editions from Capcom will bring Street Fighter, Megaman, and Resident Evil back, but the potency of Square's and Konami's releases will secure a strong market position for Sony's console.

Square, creators of Final Fantasy VII, will release Final Fantasy VIII in America next Fall. Square will escape frompublishing under Sony, and will release four titles this year in partnership with Electronic Arts.  Parasite Eve and Xenogears are role-playing games with strong graphical qualities; Brave Fencer Musashi is an adventure title; the sequel to the innovative fighting game Bushido Blade will also appear. All are due in the Fall.

Even more of a jack-of-all-trades is Konami, which is publishing a variety of genres on both Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, but primarily the latter. A previously unannounced title was Silent Hill, which looks like L.A. Confidential meets Resident Evil. After a dismal sequel to their classic side-scrolling shooter, Contra, was released two years ago, Konami is trying again and going back to the series' roots. C — The Contra Adventure combines the best of 2D and 3D action in what is shaping up to be a title worthy of the Contra name. Other entries in the role-playing, fighting, and sports genres exist, but their big seller will be Metal Gear Solid.

MGS is due in October and is a sequel to a series not seen in America since the early Nintendo days. Players are put in control of Solid Snake as he attempts to infiltrate an enemy base. The focus is on stealth and covert operations, not confrontations. With realistic graphics and high-tech equipment, MGS creates a perfect spy environment.

As another year of the E3 concluded, it left its audience with high hopes for the future. Jumps in technology and revisiting classics has combined the best of both worlds, and gamers will be the ones who ultimately benefit from this increase in choices, quality, and quantity. "It's important that we all understand that the interactive entertainment business is a mass market now," commented Howard Lincoln. "We're almost as large as the movie business and should pass them up very soon."

This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 01-Jun-98