E3 2002: The RPGs

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Although I have been a crazed fan of computer games for the majority of my life, this was my first visit to the Electronic Entertainment Exposition in Los Angeles, California. Typically referred to as E3, it is the game industry's most important trade show, this year drawing in approximately 60,000 visitors. I really didn't know what to expect, even though I have always read through the extensive coverage the event has received over the years throughout the internet.

The event is held in the Los Angeles Convention Center, and is absolutely enormous in its size. There are literally hundreds of exhibits and thousands of games to feast your eyes upon, all of which are accompanied by loud music, spectacular lighting, and in some cases, a celebrity or two (I met both Carmen Electra and Mr. T, for example). In fact, the event is so vast that there are many games I unfortunately didn't get to spend much time with. I did my best to focus a majority of my attention on role-playing games, especially those that we cover here on GameBanshee. So. without further ado, let me tell you a little bit about the RPGs I spent the most time taking a look at:

Neverwinter Nights: I had scheduled an appointment with Bioware before leaving for E3, so I was lucky enough to get a private one-hour showing of NWN on the very first day I was at the event. The room where the demo was given was filled with all sorts of Bioware trinkets, as well as several computers all sitting at the NWN splash screen. Each computer was pre-loaded with a different type of character, allowing the four of us that were present to fill our adventuring party with an array of different classes. I sat down at one of the computers as Tom Ohle, Bioware's community coordinator, began explaining how to enter the game.

Initially, we entered a large arena filled with several dummies in order to practice combat, spell-casting, and other functions. My particular workstation was configured with a Dwarven Fighter, so it didn't take me more than a minute to become familiar with how to swing my axe. Combat, dialogue, inventory management, and skill execution are made extremely easy with the streamlined interface. It takes very little time to get comfortable with, which is exactly what one would expect after playing Bioware's previous games. Once everyone had their fill of dummy destroying, Tom loaded up a module for us to adventure within.

During this module, I began to realize just how graphically advanced the game is, even though it has been in development for almost 5 years now. As usual, Bioware has paid close attention to detail, with each weapon and piece of armor adjusting the look of your character. In addition, all of the animations are extremely fluid and the spell effects are simply unbelievable. The wizard was stationed right next to me, so I was able to get an eyeful of several spells, including both low and high level ones. Tom suggested that the wizard try out the spell (Weird), which conjured in a gargantuan creature with tentacles. Needless to say, it drew quite a few oohs and ahhs from all of us in the vicinity.

Once we completed the module, Tom allowed us to try out the Dungeon Master role. With a few mouse clicks, you can literally do just about anything, from the placement of weapons and armor, to the spawning of any creature in the game. At first, I just conjured in a few different dragons and forced them to fight one another, but then I found the (Planar Creatures) list and started spawning in demons like the Baalor. Awesome in their power, these things are about the coolest looking creature in any game I've seen. Not only can you spawn them in, but you can actually take control of them as well, allowing you to wreak havoc on any adventurers in the area.

Before concluding our private showing, Tom gave us a few minutes to hone our module building skills. Similar to other Windows-based editors, the module creator comes with its own wizard to simplify the creation process, which proved to be extremely useful since I had never even seen the editor before. In about 5 minutes, I put together one floor of a castle by key-entering its size, choosing a graphical template, and then placing several objects (including weapons and armor) within the level.

Even though I have only experienced an hour's worth of Neverwinter Nights, I can honestly say that this game is by far the most impressive and advanced role-playing game I have ever seen in my gaming lifetime. Without a doubt, the game is going to be a serious detriment to the amount of sleep I get and will definitely take its toll on my social life once released. Something tells me that I will not be alone in my addiction.