Game for anything

Forget about the Cannes Film Festival. The place to be last week was Los Angeles at E3, the annual computer games show.
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The Independent Culture
At $39.3bn, the computer games industry is now bigger than Hollywood. A successful game can easily outstrip a blockbuster movie or a hit album. And, as last week's annual games convention, E3, clearly showed, things can only get better. With five massive halls full of expensive stands and eager gamesters, the show is so big that a city the size of LA can only just cope; there were few hotel rooms to spare.

On display was a vast array of titles, many of which were either new instalments in existing franchises or titles boasting strong key elements, such as the announcement from Eidos, the publishers of the Tomb Raider series, that David Bowie was writing the music to Omikron, a much-anticipated adventure title.

The main feature of the show - and the focus of the whole industry for the rest of the millennium - is the so-called "next generation" consoles, the replacements for the existing gaming machines that play through your television. This was the first showing outside of Japan of the PlayStation 2, Sony's exciting replacement of its existing, market-leading console. While the original has sold 55 million units worldwide and continues to be strong, the PSX2 boasts a specification so powerful that no PC can match it. However, as it is not due out until the end of next year at the earliest, Sony and its partners were left to demonstrate new titles for its current PlayStation.

Sega, on the other hand, was able to demonstrate an impressive range of games for its Dreamcast console, the only next-generation device actually shipping. It will be launched in the UK on 23 September, priced at pounds 199, and will come complete with a modem for online gaming. With a 12 to 18- month headstart over its competitors, Dreamcast might yet rescue Sega from the doldrums, after its disastrous Saturn project. Many industry watchers, however, feel that the PSX2's much superior specification - if it can be realised at a reasonable price - will condemn Sega for good.

The final piece in the next-generation puzzle fell into place as E3 began: Nintendo's replacement for the number two device, the N64. Although it refused to divulge much in the way of details, Nintendo's "Dolphin" project will contain a faster processor than the PSX2's but will, like Sony's, use DVD technology. In fact, in conjunction with partner Matsushita, the ability to play Nintendo games could appear in consumer DVD players soon. Nintendo also plans a launch before the end of 2000.

But E3 is about games and next year promises to be one of the most exciting for gamers ever. Here is a selection of the hottest titles coming to a screen near you: Outcast, from French publishing giant Infogrames. Much delayed, but already much feted, this game has won Best of Show at not one but two E3s, testifying to both its quality and its lateness. Outcast is a futuristic adventure that pits you as Cutter Slade, an astronaut who wakes up to find himself in a parallel universe surrounded by strange (but English-speaking, happily) creatures who regard you as a deity.

Daikatana, from Eidos, is even later. It is the brainchild of John Romero, the creator of Doom and Quake, and has been in development for many years. It is a "first-person shoot-'em-up", like Quake, but the action takes place in four eras, from ancient Greece to the future.

Microsoft, now a major games publisher, has its most impressive line- up ever, expanding its sport titles with a football game and the Links golf franchise. It was also showing the first titles from Digital Anvil, the developer run by Chris Roberts, who created the Wing Commander series.

One of Sony's big PlayStation titles will be Gran Turismo 2, the follow- up to the racing game that inspired a Cardigans album. Activision was displaying Quake Arena, the multiplayer-only sequel to one of the most popular games ever, while Nintendo was preparing to export the Pokemon craze to the UK.