Games Festival Shows Microsoft’s Creative Side

Las Vegas — Creativity was the byword this week as Microsoft Game Studios announced its newest games with a flourish to match the glitziest city in the world at the Microsoft International Games Festival. This being my first time to get visually assaulted by ‘Lucky Las Vegas,’ I thought I would be too taxed by the tacky to appreciate the new games that Microsoft was announcing. But no! I was so enthralled by the graphics and storylines of these games that I forgot I could walk outside the building and see any one of hundreds of elaborate Vegas shows.

At least a couple of the developers here were working to create games that their wives would play. I could be politically correct and say spouse, but let’s be honest here. Speaking as the wife of a gamer, and I think also for many “gamer widows” who are in fact gamer goddesses incognito, I am excited! I was interested in the feel of many of the games shown, as I think many other women out there will be as well. Look out boys; you may have some competition for computer time.

Right from the start of the festival, creativity, not money, was targeted as the key constraint of the PC game industry. By the looks of it though, Microsoft has both in abundance, and the smarts to use them effectively. One of the stated endeavors of the Games Division is to create truly great games that involve and inspire the players, bringing them into the creation and the world of the game.

Let me tell you about the worlds that Microsoft is creating for us.

The big announcement is a game called Dungeon Siege developed by Chris Taylor, at Gas Powered Designs, which will debut in April. An RPG with movie-like smoothness, Dungeon Siege has more technical finesse than you will ever realize while you’re playing the game. In fact, the whole idea is to create an ease of use-taking the mechanics and loading times out of the game-both to attract new people to games, as well as allowing the players to totally immerse themselves in an incredibly rich world. One of the non-technical breakthroughs I saw in this game was the gender choice. Male or female, whichever you choose, the qualities are equal-Politically Correct PC games, go figure.

Impossible Creatures, developed by Relic Entertainment, Inc. is another new Microsoft Games Division game that will be available this summer. You will not be disappointed by the incredibly versatile graphics that help you combine more than 50 different animals and their various battle-worthy attributes in any number of bazaar ways. Create the ultimate army of deadly beasts that could satisfy anyone from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Moreau. Then send them out to destroy the enemy armies.

I could go on forever about the different new concepts that are going to be coming out this year. There was everything from the “god powers” of Age of Mythology to the epic space adventure of Freelancer, not to mention any of the other half a dozen games that were introduced.

In addition to the beautiful Dungeon Siege and Impossible Creatures, other titles Microsoft is working on include Rise of Nations, which looks like a cross between the strategy of Civilization and the realtime elements of Age of Empires. Look for it to raise the bar on strategy war game quality.

Asheron’s Call 2 also looked promising. With Asheron’s Call 2, you basically get all the cool massively multiplayer stuff you’ve always had, but the graphics engine is now even better. Asheron’s Call always did top the charts in the online persistent world graphics department, but AC2 even blows the original away.

I did mention Freelancer once before but I thought it important to flush out a couple of details. The game mixes 3D space combat with fully 3D character interaction. Basically this way you can actually buy and sell goods and feel like you are an actual space trader. It’s a bit like the old Privateer game in that you can fly anywhere you want within the galaxy, and after all, isn’t that what space exploration should be about? Did I mention how beautiful this game looks?

Those who like their flight a bit closer to the ground will appreciate Combat Flight Simulator 3, which should be out by the holiday season. Flying WWII airplanes in combat takes nerves of steel, especially when they look this real. You will be able to fly late-model airplanes as well this time around, since the game takes place in 1943 and continues till the end of the war.

Golf is not my thing, but Links 2003 looks about as realistic as possible. If you suddenly open your eyes looking at a screen running the game, you can almost smell the dew on the morning grass. Links 2003 allows you to create your own highly customizable player and challenge some of golf’s hottest pros including Sergio Garcia and others. If you are into the sport of golf, this looks like a winning title.

Besides new games, Microsoft is also supporting their existing hits with several expansion packs for popular games. The first is Zoo Tycoon, Dinosaur digs, which adds about 20 new awe-inspiring creatures including the T-Rex, Velociraptor, and Sabre-tooth cat to your existing zoo stable. You have to be careful too, because angry, underfed dinosaurs can bust out into your zoo and turn a peaceful Sunday afternoon into the next Jurassic Park movie.

There will also be a series of Mech Packs to enhance the Mech Warrior 4 game. The MechWarrior 4 ‘Mech Paks will expand the gameplay for the best-selling, award-winning MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, based on the popular game of mechanized combat from FASA Studios. Basically they are taking the popular game world and expanding it, so gamers can finally access each and every mech and just about every weapon ever mentioned by FASA in their literature.

For me, it was only appropriate to be in Sin City for the Microsoft International Games Festival. As the mom of two young children and an avid entrepreneur with several home-based businesses, spending an uninterrupted hour totally enthralled in Dungeon Siege felt incredibly sinful. Now, if I only had four computers, I could get the kids playing Zoo Tycoon, Dino Digs while my hubby is running-well, take your pick, the game of the week-then I could finally get in some quality game time for myself”

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