LOS ANGELES, MAY 8, 2000 — Microsoft will offer hands-on previews of 16 new PC games and two new pieces of gaming hardware at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) — the most the company has ever unveiled at the annual event. And convention-goers are likely to get a sneak peek of the company’s Xbox video game console.
“E3 is the opportunity for us to show off our upcoming titles and get people — particularly those in the gaming industry and press — excited about the work we do,”
said Robert Bach, senior vice president of Microsoft’s new Games Division.
“So, it’s certainly a very important milestone in the annual development of our games plan.”
Microsoft’s sleek, modern exhibit space at the Los Angeles Convention Center will offer more than 50 individual stations for convention-goers to try new games and new versions of several of its best-selling titles, including Combat Flight Simulator 2, MechWarrior, LinksLS 2001, and Age of Empires II: The Conquerors .
With most of the new titles not due in stores until later this year, it will be the first time many at E3 have seen the games. Microsoft will also give those in attendance a chance to try out its new SideWinder GameVoice, which allows players to use voice-activated commands and communicate with other players via the Internet.
Microsoft’s E3 space will include a semicircle of side-by-side, soundproof booths, where convention-goers can try GameVoice’s headset and eight-button control pad. The device, which is due in stores this fall, allows players to chat with teammates or “razz” competitors who are next door or halfway around the world, connected via the Internet. They also can use the headset to issue verbal commands to games.
Unlike other game headsets, GameVoice comes with all of the software to set up the chat and command-and-control functions.
For E3 attendees who want insights into how Microsoft’s most popular games were created, some of the company’s top game designers will be on hand daily from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Among those expected to attend the three-day convention is Bruce Shelley, co-designer of Age of Empires, and Chris Roberts, creator of Wing Commander and E3 1999’s Best of Show game, FreeLancer.
The biggest “question mark” for Microsoft at E3 is whether to offer convention-goers a sneak peek at Xbox. The company began conducting an online poll of gamers last week to gauge enthusiasm for an open preview of the game console, which isn’t due in stores for another 1 1/2 years.
The irreverent poll, located at http://www.xbox.com/ , offers three choices. One advises
“Bring it on, Bill. Clad yourself as Raven (the game unit’s unofficial mascot) … and show some kicks and hooks before introducing it.”
“Just cram the X into a little glass case and stick it on the show floor.”
The other suggests restraint:
“It’s too freakin’ early to show off the goods in front of the other guys.”
Seamus Blackley, Xbox Advanced Technology Group Lead, said early results indicate gamers want Microsoft to make a big splash with Xbox at E3.
“Since it’s more than a year until launch, we hadn’t planned to go whole hog with Xbox at this year’s E3,”
“But, what the heck. If gamers want us to, we will roll out something that we planned to use in the future. For a few weeks now we’ve been working on a special property. We will bring it down to honor the fans’ request.”
Although the new game console is still early in development, Microsoft predicts that Xbox will offer the most realistic video game experience ever. It will include three times better graphics than any system on or planned for market, a broadband Internet connection, a 3-D audio processor and a hard drive — something never before offered in a game console. . Also, since the console is structured similar to a Windows-based personal computer — complete with an Intel processor, 3-D graphics chip and DirectX API programming ability and the ability to use — Microsoft predicts game-designers will have an easier time making titles for Xbox.
“They don’t have to go down a big learning curve. They can get started today, and work on a PC to develop games for Xbox,”
“We think that is going to enable developers to produce fabulous games, even in the short 1 1/2 years we have until launch.”
The online poll isn’t the only evidence that game fans are eager for the arrival of Xbox. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. console game owners chose Xbox over Play Station 2, Dreamcast and Dolphin as the machine they would purchase today if available, according to a recent survey by Fairfield Research. No other brand got more than 25 percent in the phone survey of 1,000 gamers in March.
Microsoft hopes Xbox isn’t its only hit at E3. The company is confident its newest PC titles will fare as well as many of its current games. Microsoft was the top PC game publisher in sales last holiday season in Japan and much of Europe. During the same time period, Microsoft was the only publisher with three titles — Age of Empires II, Flight Simulator, Flight Simulator Professional — in the U.S. top 10, based on sales.
Bach predicts E3 attendees will give many of the new games rave reviews.
“Our PC games portfolio continues to get better and better,”
“We are driving toward being the leader in that marketplace.”
Combat Flight Simulator II: The second in the best-selling CFS series puts players in the fiercest World War II air battles of the Pacific theater. Players fly American Corsairs and Wildcats, and Japanese Zero and George planes, and receive advice from former U.S. and Japanese pilots. Release date: Holiday season 2000.
MechWarrior 4: Players can command more than 20 80-ton war machines — including seven new machines with customizable weapons, armor and sensors — in tundra forests and arctic worlds. For the first time in the game’s history, the player isn’t a grunt private, rather a commanding hero in the center of a complex story of betrayal, revenge and honor. Release date: Early 2001.
Crimson Skies: Set in a fictional 1937, this new game lets players become Nathan Zachary, a dashing air pirate who always gets the girl. The game, conceived by Jordan Weisman, creator of BattleTech and MechWarrior, includes 24 missions and 12 specially fitted fighting planes. Release date: September 2000.
Age of Empires II: The Conquerors: This expansion of the best-selling Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings provides more content and a new historical setting, including new civilizations such as the Aztecs, Huns and Mayans. Release date: September 2000.
LinksLS 2001: Players can create and play their favorite course with this upgraded game’s Arnold Palmer Course Architect program. They also can compete online for money in the Virtual Golf Association Tour against other PC golfers. Release date: Fall 2000.
Motocross Madness 2000: The sequel to 1998’s Racing Game of the Year offers new stunts, tracks and daily player rankings on Microsoft’s online game site, Zone.com. Among the options: races in the Costa Rican jungle or the Bank One Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. Release date: June 2000.