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The E3 Grind Continues

SANTA MONICA--For the third straight day, Santa Monica was overtaken yesterday by about 5,000 videogame journalists, analysts and game makers. The Fairmont Hotel was home to another full day of press conferences, which began at 8 a.m. with Take-Two Interactive showing its line-up of 2K Games, 2K Sports and Rockstar Games. I came in towards the end of that conference to attend the THQ press conference, but I spoke to people who attended and a running demo of Grand Theft Auto IV--the game that will vie with Halo 3 to become the best-selling game of this year--was shown. I heard the game looked pretty solid on next generation. The GTA games have always sold like gangbusters based on gameplay, not on graphics. So the visuals won't be an issue.

One thing about the new E3 that several game publishers have told me is that the press conferences (outside of the big three-Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft) do not work in this new format. The time it takes for one company to empty the small ballroom (which only holds about 200 people--out of the 3,000 attendees) makes a lot of the conferences start late and it's quite a mess getting in and out the small press room that leads to the ballroom. While press conferences feature videos of games or short demos, journalists can get hands-on time with the games over at the Barker Hangar or in the hotel suites.

The THQ press conference wasn't as jam-packed as yesterday's Electronic Arts or Activision press conferences (likely because its 9:15 am start time was impacted by the MTV Games/EA Rock Band party the night before, which went until the early morning and featured Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal).

THQ opened its conference with a pair of WWE Divas, Michelle McCool and Michelle, who entered the stage area with their theme songs and videos blaring. They played WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 on Wii, which was built from the ground up to take advantage of the motion-sensor controllers. In essence, the game was so easy to play, even a pair of WWE Divas could do it successfully. The game allows players to use real actions, like moving the controller in front of your face to perform a John Cena taunt. Punching an opponent is done by physically punching the air. These types of controls work great for wrestling and it was obvious by the end of the match that both girls were a bit winded. THQ's WWE game franchise has sold over 30 million units to date and it's debut on Wii should work perfectly on this mass market console.

Another game aimed at the broader gaming demographic is Cars: Mater National. It's a virtual sequel to Disney/Pixar's hit film. THQ previously created a videogame-only sequel to The Incredibles a few years back. The new game, which ships for six platforms, expands the gameplay of the original with a larger Radiator Springs, new mini-games and new characters. THQ shipped games based on Ratatouille just before the release of Disney/Pixar's latest film. The gaming demographic is expanding on next gen as Xbox 360 versions of these kids' games are now routine. THQ is also bringing these new games over to PS3.

One of the most original games I've seen (and later played at THQ's suite at Shutter's Hotel) is Le Blob. The Wii exclusive concept came from some students in the Netherlands. THQ bought the game rights and enlisted its Australian studio, Blue Tongue, to turn it into a game. Players play as Le Blob, a colorful character who rolls around Chrome City (a world devoid of color because of an evil regime) and literally paints the town red, and blue, and green. The primary colors can be combined to create other colors. As the city is painted, new music is introduced and the world begins to evolve. It's a beautiful game to watch take life and its simplicity is as addictive as Bandai Namco's Katamari franchise. It's hard to categorize this game into any of the current game genres, which is a good thing. This is the type of original game the industry needs more of.

The third game in the Destroy All Humans franchise, Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon, ships for next gen consoles, including a game designed just for the Wii. A Fox TV show pilot is also in development based on this property. The new game is set in the '70s and gives Crypto the ability to destroy entire buildings with his new flying saucer. On foot, he can shoot anal probes into humans and stop time.

For the more hardcore gamers, THQ showed video of its Conan game, which is based on the classic novels, as well as Frontlines: Fuel of War. Frontlines is set 20 years in the future and takes place in a world in which oil supply has almost run out. War has broken out between an alliance of China and Russia and the U.S. and Europe. There's actually a theme going on in which near-future games are taking current events and exrtrapolating potential outcomes virtually. LucasArts' Fracture, which I saw yesterday, blends hot button issues of today like stem cell research and global warming and incorporates that into its war games. Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2, which shipped a few months ago and is set in Mexico, is another example of this trend.

Rounding out the press conference, THQ showed videos of its new off-road racer, MX vs. ATV Untamed, Moto GP 2, Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights and Stuntman: Ignition (a game that puts you behind the wheel of a Hollywood stunt man). To close things out, THQ brought out the current UFC light heavyweight champion, Quinton Rampage Jackson to show the first next gen video of the new game, which will ship next year. The mixed martial arts sport, which has taken off in recent years in part do to SpikeTV's reality series, offers a very different type of gameplay than WWE or boxing.

--John Gaudiosi

John is a freelance journalist covering interactive entertainment and the video game business for more than a decade for The Washington Post and other online and print publications.

By Sara Goo  |  July 13, 2007; 9:09 AM ET  | Category:  E3 2007
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