ECTS 2002

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Well, after a bitterly disappointing non-event last year, the UK industry’s hopes were pinned on 2002 being the year ECTS came back with a vengeance. The organizers promised us a return to central London – this much they delivered as we all descended on Earls Court.

They also promised us a bigger, better, all-singing, all-dancing trade show – if you interpret "all-singing" as a poor rendition of Kum bay then okay, but otherwise consider ECTS 2002 another lame duck. My only consolation was that the press office had fresh flowers on every table – it’s all in the detail you know.

Okay, so things are a little better than last year. Konami, Acclaim, Infogrames and Ubi Soft all have stands this year, but Microsoft and Nintendo were unsurprisingly conspicuous in their absence. This leads me neatly onto Sony. This year, for the first time ever, ECTS includes a separate consumer show. It’s sponsored by Sony and goes by the name of the PlayStation Experience. As a result, everything is a bit Eau de Sony – but more about the consumer event in my next column.

Disappointment leaves a bitter taste when a whole day of dull product stretches before you. Although all the big name publishers were present, a lot of the stands were easy to miss, as they concentrated their efforts on the consumer show.

Despite the lack of pizzazz and razzamatazz there were some highlights and I’ll be pleased to reveal them to you.

There were only two press conferences this year, one of which featured the legendary Charles Cecil demonstrating the third installment of the superb Broken Sword series. Alas dear GiN readers, I had to turn down my invite to what I am sure was the show’s piece de resistance, but I shall dedicate my time to getting news of the conference to you forthwith.

Ubi Soft had an impressive range of games, including the eagerly awaited Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. I took a sneaky peak at this newest addition to the sneak-em-up genre and I’ve got to say it looks like it’ll be worth the wait. My personal favorite on their stand was XIII, based on a Belgian comic, this FPS uses some tasty cel-shading to full effect.

Acclaim’s Burnout 2 is looking very good indeed and I was looking at the PS2 version, so when it hits Xbox I shall be a very happy girl. Vroom, vroom!

If you’re looking for arcade action, then my personal favorite was Live Action PingPong. Get two arcade machines side by side, give two willing subjects a bat each and watch them swing at an invisible ball as they play each other whilst watching their onscreen alter egos. The cartoon characters range from cowboys to Japanese college students and they play on tables in spaceports, classrooms and even a rooftop. They graphics aren’t great but it looks real funny – he, he.

The ultimate highlight of the show for me was discovering a brand new handheld called the GP32 – not very catchy I know, but keep reading. What struck me about this diminutive gaming machine was the fact that you could see the screen from all angles. More in keeping with the Pocket Neo Geo, the GP32 features a miniature joystick for added maneuverability, two speakers for improved stereo sound and wireless multiplayer gaming. Ahh, now you’re listening.

There’s just too much to say about such a little machine. It’s got a USB port allowing you to download MP3 files and images from your PC. And if that’s not enough, wave goodbye to cartridges – the games come on these dinky, thin as a credit card, floppy disk type affairs called Smart Media Cards (SMC). I played a couple of games and they all looked gorgeous, so all that needs to happen is for developers to start knocking on GamePark’s doors to get their titles on this groovy machine – Capcom is already signing up with Guilty Gear and Breath of Fire.

From the words I had with a girl on the GamePark stand, it sounds like developers could get a better deal than they do at Nintendo and may even stand to make a profit . It’s already on sale in Korea and will retail in the US for around $170. They hope to have it in the UK for around 100 pounds. I’ll be looking forward to that day, for some more handheld action.

Konami made a sterling effort on their stand and even allowed me into their VIP lounge for some air-conditioning and freshly squeezed orange juice. All the tubby nerds could work up a sweat on Dancing Stage Party Edition and chill out with some top of its class soccer action on Pro Evolution Soccer 2.

Apart from these key highlights – thank you guys for brightening my show – ECTS was a dull affair and we have to wonder if it’ll be the last. Even with all Sony’s financial support, it seemed to be flagging and just to add salt to our wounds, Sony couldn’t afford to throw us a party. It’s a pathetic sight, watching industry bods crying salty tears into warm beer at the ECTS bar.

So long from ECTS people. Who knows what another year will bring – more parties at the very least, I hope.

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