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E3 2002 Retrospective
May 28, 2002 | Sean Smith

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The Future of Fear
Unreal II: The Awakening and Unreal Tournament 2003

Man, oh man. Nothing you have seen, before or since E3, does these games justice. I've seen the same screen shots you have, and I oohed and aahed along with everyone else, and they did not prepare me.

Individual blades of grass waving in the wind. (Am I only imagining remembering seeing these?) Zooming smoothly in on the disc of the sun and realizing you can see sunspots churning on the surface and flares dancing on the rim. Reflections dancing on the surface of the water and on the walls around it. And the colors.

These are simply the most beautiful computer or video games you have ever seen. The leap forward from Unreal and Unreal Tournament is tremendous: think of the difference between Quake I and Quake III, and you'll have an idea of the magnitude.

Doom III

The Doom III preview movie was the last thing I saw at E3, and I am very, very glad. I arrived at the Expo on Thursday (it ran from Wednesday through Friday) and spent nearly that whole day in meetings: when I finally got onto the show floor, the Doom III Theater in the Activision booth was "sold out." The next morning, I arrived at the theater at 9:30, half an hour after the show floor opened to the public, and was given tickets for myself and my photographer for 3 pm, the last slot available (the show closed at 4 pm on Friday). As it happened, we were the third- and second-to-last persons allowed in to see the preview at E3. Folks behind us who had tickets and who'd been standing in line for an hour were turned away. (Probably an unwise and dangerous decision.)

Imagine that the only first-person shooter you've ever known is the decade-old Wolfenstein 3D, and suddenly you're introduced to Quake I. It staggers you. Now, imagine taking a leap of that same magnitude from what you know today. You can't. There's just no way.

The advance in realism is difficult to wrap the brain around. I could tell you that light sources throw realistic shadows around models as they move in real time, but you've read that already. And unless you're looking for it — or notice it afterward in a discretely snapped photo of the movie, as I did — you won't see it. When someone walks down the street in the real world, do you stop and notice that his or her shadow is doing what you'd expect it to do?

I could tell you about demons that leap at you with a combination of lightning quickness and life-likeness that makes your head snap back, but you'd still be thinking in terms of what you've come to expect from first-person shooters.

Don't get me wrong: this game is not as gorgeous as Unreal II or Unreal Tournament 2003. It's not trying to be. Those games are beautiful and colorful and a pleasure just to look at.

Doom III, however, is dark, almost monochromatic, and disturbing. When id set out to recreate Doom with a new generation of video-game technology, they set themselves the challenge of recapturing the feeling of fear and suspense that Doom engendered, a feeling no game before and few since have succeeded in summoning. Many thought id were setting themselves up for failure; I was one of them, but no more.

[Photography by Alex Kinnan and Craig Moseley.]

Related Links
E3 2002
Age of Mythology
Core Design
Dreamcatcher Interactive
Star Trek Elite Force II
Unreal II
Unreal Tournament 2003
Aspyr Media



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