Macworld Expo: A view from the Gaming Pavilion
SAN FRANCISCO (IDG) -- The world may not have ended with a bang last week, but MacWorld 2000 certainly feels like it's started with one. The initial excitement following Jobs' announcements seems to have followed conference-goers into every corner of the Moscone Center, including the Gaming Pavilion -- the area of the show inhabited by the game vendors. Attendance in the Gaming Pavilion was undeniably high, to the point of it feeling swamped by fans crowding to see the latest and greatest in the afternoon.
There's a nice breadth of software houses represented this year in San Francisco. The biggest booth by far belongs to MacSoft, who have rows of G4s set up demonstrating new and recent releases. Driver makes its first appearance in a slick-looking playable alpha, and is getting a good deal of attention. It's certainly looking impressive at this early stage, with physics that make the car you control act like the V8 monster it resembles.
Civilization: Call to Power is set up for people to play, as is Falcon 4, Total Annihilation, America's Greatest 3D Arcade Games, Bingo, and a number of machines running the featured Unreal Tournament. First available for sale today at the Expo, interest in UT is naturally high.
Almost making the most noise is the Imeron booth. They're drawing a constant crowd with their Intensor chairs, which are set up to show Unreal Tournament, Rainbow 6, and an iMac playing the "Lost In Space" DVD. Offhand it looks like more people were lining up to test out the Intensor chair than saw that particular film in the first place.
The only thing louder than the Imeron setup is the National Macintosh Gaming Championships, perhaps in part because they simply have a larger number of Intensor chairs set up. Clusters of machines were showcasing wholesale carnage in the first rounds of the Quake III tournament, among other competitions run on Thursday. Spectators gathered around the perimeter of the cordoned-off area, where they were often exhorted by the Championship hosts to toss their own hats into the ring, with bursts of disco lighting obliterating any threat of calm or quiet between matchups.
Having set up an on-location broadcast studio for the occasion, Bungie is drawing its own crowds. The first edition of their "bTV" went off without a hitch, and the machines showing playable versions of Oni are always busy.
A brief conversation with Bungie spokesperson Jennifer Ho revealed that Bungie is showing two multiplayer levels at MacWorld; the game's certainly come a long way since E3. For the MacWorld demo there are 2 machine pistols present, and Konoko can now disarm opponents and actually hold one weapon in each hand, John Woo-style. There's a new UI in place, and the recently introduced particle effects look as good as the architect-designed levels feel.
Much quieter, almost squirrelled away into a corner, is Blizzard. As promised, there's a version of Diablo II up and running, which secures them a constant stream of onlookers. Graphic Simulations have also followed through on their promise, showcasing Baldur's Gate alongside F-18 Korea Gold and Descent III. F-18 Korea Gold, featuring internet multiplayer as well as OpenGL and 3DFX support, is nearly ready for release.
The Baldur's Gate on the show floor is a late alpha, and the game should be heading into beta in about two weeks. The only hitch is that the beta candidate will not include multiplayer; in fact, Graphic Simulations are considering releasing Baldur's Gate first as a single-player experience, and subsequently sending out an update that would include the multiplayer aspect of the game. Since the single-player is for all intents and purposes done, they're not sure if they want to delay the release of the game any longer than necessary.
Two of the smaller developers, Freeverse and Monkey Byte, are right next door to each other. Freeverse is heavily promoting the HMS Freeverse, their multiplayer online gameserver, as well as Deathground, their strategic board game married to a mob theme.
Monkey Byte has two lime green iMacs showcasing a number of their titles, including the quirky Boogaloopers and the addictive action of Galactic Patrol, and is also receiving a great deal of attention for their distribution of A Sharp's recently released strategy game, The King of Dragon Pass.
Aspyr Media is present with iMacs hung from a framework of black metal tubing. Controllers dangling down allow passers-by to test out some of Aspyr's recent releases featuring Lara Croft and John Madden. Beta2 of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is also being shown, and Aspyr says that they hope to have the first final candidate next week.
Like most of the other vendors, Aspyr's selling their titles on the show floor, and business seems to be fairly steady. Newer titles are naturally the most popular, but good deals on somewhat older items are doubtlessly appealing as well. The vendors seem optimistic that they'll see the most sales this coming Saturday, as potential Expo attendees (and potential shoppers) won't be hampered by work or school commitments.
The general feeling among exhibitors and attendees is clearly positive, so stay tuned while we continue to bring you the latest news and updates from the show floor.
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