Articles » E3 2002: A Developer's Perspective
By Jeff Fiske (5/27/2002)

For potential fans of TMill's games who want a glimpse of what is going through our minds after observing the twisted cultural train-wreck called E3, here is a brief snapshot from a sleep-deprived developer with an overfull schedule, revealing what he got from the show. If you want to find out what the "latest and greatest game" is on X, Y or Z platform, we direct you to professional coverage sites such as GameSpy, or IGN, if you want to read a pseudo "developers diary" from our Design Director Jeff Fiske, read on...

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated...
Sometime in 1997, because games finally could be played on a medium that supported FMV(Full Motion Video) Hollywood decided it was going to jump into gaming. The term “electronic entertainment” became popular and many questioned if so-called ”traditional computer games” would survive.

[Insert Joke here]

In April of 2000 I sat with my chin on the floor, with 10,000 other developers, distributors, and industry professionals at CGDC as we watched the first prototype in real-time of Sony’s Play Station 2. I was pleased that millions of people would be able to play games at home that prior to this device they could only play at an arcade. I should not have been surprised about the fallout and simplistic conclusions that fell from this presentation: once again, many in the games industry predicted the death of the PC game.

While I realized the ”next generation” of console games would give us piles of fun games that looked fantastic, and sold millions of copies on great looking machines, I also realized the reason why I enjoyed PC games 20 years ago (Apple II at the start) is the same reason I enjoy them today. I enjoy playing recent games like Dungeon Siege and Empire Earth, and older games like Empire, MOO, MOM, Civilization, Lords of the Realm, any of the City building type games and X-Com. None of these games can be enjoyed on a console. These games offer you a chance for intellectual stimulation that is non-existent in 90% of what is available on the consoles, and is more appropriately played in the somewhat geeky confines of the ‘office’ where most people keep their PC, vs. the somewhat social setting of a living room couch and a TV.

So I was expecting a major push to the consoles, which I saw, but to no surprise to me I also saw that the PC games lineup was even stronger than last year - I am sure there were many puzzled marketing executives who wondered why they gave up on the PC, particularly when they stood back and looked at their shoddy console lineup compared to Nintendo, and then at the strong presence of EA and Microsoft on the PC. I am not sure, but aren’t there just a couple more PC’s than consoles on the planet?!!

On to the Show
Well here we are in May of 2002 and another E3 has passed. I recall many games from last year that have not come out, the lack of presence at the show on the part of publishers that used to be cornerstones (Interplay, GT Interactive). It was also interesting to see proud newcomers taking larger pieces of the show floor like Take2 Interactive (publisher of our good friends at Firefly Studios).

It is hard to say exactly what I saw and did not see for two reasons: First, there is a growing trend each year to NOT show to the general public the latest and coolest games, but really only what the publisher believes is definitely in the sales channel for the upcoming fall season. Therefore there may very well be some incredibly cool new games coming on the scene that I could not see without press credentials and an appointment. Check out the websites listed at the top if you are interested in what these might be. The second reason is that we were incredibly busy at the show meeting with our publisher, pursuing additional project opportunities, doing interviews with journalists, and touching base with old friends, so we did not have much time to walk the show floor. What I saw in the time I was on floor brought me to the following conclusions:

The games that Tilted Mill intends to bring to the industry will stand out at shows like E3 for their creative ways of using the PC medium to allow players to experience a certain strategic role of leadership, while immersing him/her in a setting that is rich and compelling. Our games will stand out at experiences on the PC, not just as products in a Genre, or a Brand, but as a new way of being entertained with a ‘PC Game’. Sure we take advantage of NVidea chip sets to blast through 3d visuals to the screen like an Xbox does, we will have products that you can purchase at Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart or your favorite “mall du jour”, just like Nintendo or PS2, and yes we use the same operating system that Warcraft, Harry Potter, and the rest of the PC Games will use, but that is really where the similarities end.

For all of us at Tilted Mill we are glad to see that we are the only development studio who always strives to offer both a new strategy experience in a compelling setting, often using a new game methodology. Oh there were games we saw that were great and will be tons of fun to play like Age of Mythology, Rise of Nations, or for the hardcore gamer Praetorians and Medieval Total War, but we feel there is still lots of room for something special. Blizzard seems to have successfully transferred the setting of Warcraft to their MMPRPG, so the setting in that game is compelling and the simplicity of the interface made me chuckle. But we didn’t see anything that puts you as deep into the environment of a particular setting that our games promise to do, while maintaining the flexibility to explore and create your own path and destiny for the people you represent either as an RPG or as a strategy game.

What we saw still seemed to be very much overly limited and controlled by the designers, with curtailed scenario exploration, or game mechanics that have been done over and over. There did not seem to be any games that allowed for the long term development of a personal empire, within a compelling setting which you had flexibility over. Though our first project may not seem like a great leap forward on the surface, someone at the show pointed out to me the difference between just being different and being truly innovative. Geez it is really hard to write about this stuff when I can’t reveal what we are doing. Funny, I am sure when we are able to discuss the title with the public, it will be hard to communicate just how immersive the setting will be and how transparent the interface will seem!!

Back to E3 - The other thing I took away is that our current technology looks as good as anything we saw at the show (better than most), and sounds much better. As a developer, you are always paranoid that you will go to the show and discover that you have been leapfrogged in terms of technology or even worse, in terms of gameplay. What I saw made me wonder if we were the only ones who even think about these things! I look forward to next year when Tilted Mill can come to the show and spark the imagination of unsuspecting gamers from around the world.

Maybe I am overly biased. Maybe I did not have enough time on the floor. I can say comfortably that while I look forward to playing many of the titles mentioned in this ‘report’ I am confident that our first game will surprise many developers and pleasantly surprise all of our fans. After all, when is the last time some gibber-jabber hype lived up to expectations? Time will tell.

What, it’s over already?
Thanks for indulging my (partially self-serving) rant. Hopefully soon we will be able to show you why all of our outrageous claims about role playing, strategy and innovation are not pipe dreams to get you to come to our site but are explanations up front about what is coming next. I don’t want to say that everyone will enjoy our games - many will not as they would rather do something less socially constructive than the subject matter of our games, or more visceral or rushed - but I do believe that those of you who enjoy strategy games with a themed setting will enjoy Tilted Mill games in a way unlike you have experienced in the past. Certainly nothing I saw at E3 this year would leave me to believe otherwise.

Oh, and on a closing note, that thing about PC games being dead? The best booths at E3 the last two years running were EA and Microsoft. With the exception of Blizzard, if I got only my PC strategy games from Microsoft, and my other PC games from EA, I would be a satiated gamer.

'til we have more news, thanks for reading...

Jeff Fiske,
Chief Game Geek