E3 2001 Awards

   Three days of nonstop gaming madness make E3 a highlight of the year. But what games were the highlight of E3? Which made heads turn? Which made heads turn ... away? And most importantly--who was giving out the best free stuff? The GIA answers these and more inane questions in our second annual E3 awards. We wish we could give out trophies, but our respect will have to do.

Game of Show (Non-Playable): Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 2.

Konami not only knows how to make a game--they know how to cut a mean promotional trailer. Though both were playable, nothing new was shown: MGS2 was simply the Z.O.E demo, and Silent Hill 2 was the playable portion from the Tokyo Game Show. It was the movies on the big promotional-screen that grabbed players attention. Even on the noisy E3 showfloor, the twitching demihuman shapes of Silent Hill 2 managed to give more than one editor a jump. Last year, Metal Gear Solid 2 stole the show with its unbelievable trailer. This year, showgoers were more prepared for what Kojima's game had to offer--but it still managed to impress. New characters, locales, and tantalizing story details made this movie as "must-see" as last year's effort. Both of these titles represent what "Mature" gaming should be: thoughtful, engaging titles with adult content--not merely mindless violence and T&A.

Game of Show (Playable): ICO.

Last year, ICO was an uninspired dungeon hack with too many block puzzles. This year, it was a subdued game of quiet beauty. The animation of the lanky, awkward "hero" and the struggling, blind princess is emotionally charged and spot-on. And the non-verbal communication and dynamic between the two is absolutely entrancing. The environments, too, feel like real locales, and not simply "stages" or "puzzles." If the game can keep its tone throughout without devolving into block pushing, then this surprise gem could be one of the PS2's finest moments.

Best Line-Up (Console): Sony.

Going into E3, the question was "Nintendo or Microsoft?" Coming out, the answer was "Sony." With A-list titles like Metal Gear Solid 2, Silent Hill 2, Devil May Cry, Gran Turismo 3, and Final Fantasy X looking better than ever, and new, quirky surprises like Maximo, Gitaroo Man, and ICO being playable, second-generation efforts, the PS2 carried the show. Even Jak and Daxter (or as one GIA member calls it, "Asdf and Qwerty") looks better than expected. Not even the disaster that was SOCOM could detract from the generally positive feelings showgoers had for Sony's booth. Sony has some great games in the pipeline--and they're coming out this year.

Best Line-Up (Booth): Nintendo, Sega.

Nintendo had two new systems on display, and both wowed the staff. GameCube games looked crisp and clean, and the controller was surprisingly easy on the hands. The playable kiosks drew capacity crowds for all three days of the show. Staff reaction to the games varied wildly (and somewhat in proportion to their love of Smash Brothers). But with a $200 price point, Nintendo first-party support, and third parties lining back up at the door, everyone agrees that the GameCube has a promising future. The Game Boy Advance hardly needs explanation--Nintendo has the next 10 years of handhelds in the bag, baby!

Sega's switch to a third party seems brighter than ever. Phantasy Star Online and Super Monkey Ball rocked the GameCube, the Sega Sports lineup makes even EA quake in their boots, and Smilebit is the best thing that ever happened to the Xbox--even if not exclusively. Jet Set Radio Future and Gun Valkyrie were both light years ahead of every other Xbox game (save Dead or Alive 3). Freed from a money-losing console, Sega can continue to innovate and entertain on other platforms. And that's good news for us all.

Worst Line-up (Console, Booth): Xbox

The best way to describe how depressing Microsoft's showing was is that, after E3, multiple editors the GIA spoke with (and even some GIA editors) had cancelled their Xbox preorders. Munch's Oddysee and Halo look great, but the lack of marketable characters in either one keep them from system-seller status. Project Gotham also impressed, with its realistic environments and vehicles. Everything else first-party was mediocre. There's still time before the system launches, so some of these games may be whipped into shape, but things looked grim. Nightcaster and Azurik are both third-person RPGs with elemental spell systems, uninspiring main characters, and camera/control issues. Fuzion Frenzy is billed as a party game, but its dark, dystopian, steel environments, distant camera, and use of colors instead of characters makes it feel more likely to suck the fun out of any party. It's the party game for gamers who are tired of life. Microsoft had some impressive titles for the Xbox: Dead or Alive 3, Jet Set Radio Future, Enclave, New Legends, and Project Ego, for starters. Unfortunately, these games were all shown exclusively at other booths, behind closed doors, or both. If Microsoft wants to win the hearts and minds of gamers, then it needs to start hyping these titles NOW. Because the overwhelming impression a console gamer would take away from their first party line-up is that they're getting reheated PC leftovers.

Best Video Presentation: Konami.

See "Game of Show, Non-Playable" for more on Konami's mastery of the video wall arts.

Worst Video Presentation: Square.

Square's presentation was a mix bag of good and not so good. The digitally-projected footage of games was stellar; the FFX trailer never looked so crisp and clear and Kingdom Hearts surprised everyone by looking really, really good. Unfortunately, there was nearly twice as much fruity footage from the "Advanced Perceptions Institute" and floating faces as there was interesting game footage. The two-hour wait for the theater could have been significantly reduced if Square cut the crap and stuck to the games.

Best Swag: Oh~ Ghost Baby tin, Persona 2 shotglass, foam Game Boy Advance.

The highlight of Kentia Hall, this adorable tin has everyone's favorite president of the Ghost Baby Club, Dan-Dan, giving you a sassy wink from the lid. Character portraits of other Oh~ Ghost Baby characters adorn the perimeter of the base. Everyone who saw Oh~ Ghost Baby fell in love with it, and this tin captures the game's creepy-cute attitude perfectly.

The game may have been out for 5 months, but Eternal Punishment shotglasses are the perfect way to drown your sorrows when you realize that Innocent Sin is likely never, ever coming to the US. Grab a bottle of whiskey and "be your true mind"!

While the actual Game Boy Advances at the Nintendo booth may have been the king of swag, the foam replicas are certainly a fun consolation prize. "Is that a Game Boy Advance?" "Sure is! Here, catch!" Ahh ... that gag never gets old.

Best Swag Bag: GameCube.

This was a tough category this year, what with the PS2 backpack, PS2 satchel, and Xbox shoulder-bag vying for gamers' attentions. The GameCube bag gets the edge, though, because of its interior mesh pockets; exterior, circular CD pocket, and interior pocket designed ESPECIALLY for holding your Game Boy Advance. It even has the GBA logo--how swank is that?

Most Bizarre Swag: a pickle.

Keeping in character, Linn PR's Rob "Pickle" Fleischer was handing out giant pre-packaged pickles to showgoers. Drew says that "they looked like a troll's wang being preserved in formaldehyde," but that didn't stop him (and photographer Rummy) from eating them anyways. Whether that's a testament to the famished state we're willing to let ourselves get into in the name of bringing you the latest E3 coverage, or just a symptom of our stupidity, we leave to the reader to decide.

Best T-shirt: Wipeout Fusion, Hoshigami.

After a few years of E3-fueled wardrobes, an editor can get so sick of gaming shirts that they never want to wear them again in public, ever. But the Wipeout Fusion shirt is so cool that we'd wear it in public--and that's the highest praise we can think of. The Hoshigami t-shirt is also not half-bad, and manages to be tasteful instead of garish.

Worst T-shirt: N/A.

T-shirts and booth babes were two casualties of the industry's down year. It was difficult enough to find any t-shirts at all, let alone bad ones.

Worst Abuse of the Japanese Language: Nintendo enthusiast website.

At the Nintendo pre-show conference, a member of a Nintendo enthusiast website (sporting a headband with the site's name written in Japanese kanji--and matching jerseys) asked the first question. "Miyamoto-sama...," he began. (-sama is an honorific suffix usually reserved for members of Japan's royal family.) "Nintendo de hataraku koto wa...," he continued, asking his question, inexplicably, in pidgin Japanese. Nintendo's professional translator and Miyamoto-"sama" stared at him blankly as he continued for what seemed like a solid minute. Many members of the audience laughed despite themselves at the poor editor's continued persistence. At the end, uncomfortable silence. "I'm sorry," the translator said at last, "but Mr. Miyamoto couldn't understand you. Could you please repeat your question in English?" Youch!

Worst Abuse of the English Language: Sony's pre-show conference.

We're sure that the interpreter for Sony's conference is a lovely woman, but she simply wasn't prepared for the pressures of translating in front of such a large audience. Shinji Mikami, Capcom's designer who prizes cool above all else, kept shooting her funny looks--as if he suspected that her halfway-English was cramping his style. By the time she said that "Silent one was released in 1991" (that is, the first Silent Hill was released in 1998), most of the audience simply felt bad for her. Fortunately, Sony's concluding the conference with a SOCOM demonstration had us looking fondly back to that time ten minutes ago when the nice Japanese woman with the broken English was up on stage.

Best Title Change: EverGrace 2 becomes Forever Kingdom.

Agetec saves a promising game from being branded as a sequel to first-generation shovelware with one deft marketing move.

Worst Title Change: Dinosaur Planet becomes Star Fox Adventures.

Stylish, creative character designs with a distinctive, British flair are replaced by Slippy the Toad. Meanwhile, the GIA's interest in the game drops 150%.

Worst Trend in Game Titles: the subtitle.

Remember the old days, when a single one or two-word title would suffice? Some games use it in style, like Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Others, like Maximo: From Ghosts to Glory, seem to acknowledge their heritage without embracing it. Still others, like Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, just make no frickin' sense. (As one GIA staffer commented, "you'd think they named it with magnetic poetry.") Most of the subtitles fall into third category, and the majority of games seem to have a subtitle just to seem cool. Earth to marketing departments: it's not. The worst offender is undoubtedly "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear: Black Thorn." It's the expansion pack to the expansion pack to the author-endorsed game. Right.

Best Monkey-Based Game: Saiyuki.

Koei's honesty in why they're bringing this 2-year-old game to the U.S. now--the popularity of the Son Goku legend via Dragon Ball--was refreshing. Fortunately, the title looks a damn sight better than Monkey Hero.

Best Actual Use of Monkeys in a Monkey-Based Game: Super Monkey Ball.

You're a monkey! In a plastic ball! The great ideas always sound simple when you describe them.

Most Unnecessary Monkey-Based Game: Escape From Monkey Island (PS2).

PC-style adventure games have never found success on console systems. Hell, nowadays, they barely succeed on the PC. So why is LucasArts bringing this title to the PS2? Nobody knows. Maybe sales of fine leather jackets weren't paying the bills.

Most Missed Monkey-Based Game: Samba de Amigo 2001.

Through flying monkey skulls, missed beats, and worse, Amigo the monkey never stopped beaming. But now it seems that the Dreamcast's ailing financial situation has done what no amount of rain on a sunny day could do before: permanently erase the lovable monkey's big grin. Sega revealed that Samba ver. 2000 will be the end of the series; no more Samba de Amigo games will go into production, and the planned Samba 2001 release in America has quietly disappeared. Amigo's passing clouds the future of gaming just a tad; but mourn not for him--he surely would have wanted us to keep on smiling.

Best Use of Booth Space: Enix.

After a year in the off-brand ghetto of Kentia Hall (charming though it is), Enix made its triumphal return to the main show floor with a booth entirely devoted to Dragon Warrior. And nothing screams Dragon Warrior at the top of its lungs (with a megaphone) like a lovable, huggable, 15-foot wide, giant inflatable slime balloon. Visible from all corners of the show floor, the only disappointment we had with Enix's Toriyama-designed dirigible was that no rides were offered. Maybe next year.

Worst Use of Booth Space: Nintendo, the Xbox.

With GC games playable for the first time anywhere, the Nintendo booth was packed to the gills with attendees trying to get their turn at one of the kiosks. If this wasn't enough of a draw, the company was also giving show goers the chance to win a free GBA. Unfortunately, Nintendo chose to put these two star attractions more or less right on top of each other, bringing floor traffic to a crawl and breathing room to a minimum. Thankfully, cramped gamers could head over to the wide-open GBC corner where the new Zelda games (which half the press were already playing in their hotel rooms) and Pokémon Crystal were virtually ignored.

And as for the Xbox itself? The joke may be getting old, but it bears repeating. They say the camera adds ten pounds, but Microsoft's black box is even bigger in real life than anyone was prepared for. One editor suggested Microsoft might find success in Japan by marketing it as an endtable (and developing a matching fold-out futon).

Most Underrated Booth: Koei.

While most show goers buzzed by the Koei booth to quickly check out the sequels to last years PS2 darlings, Kessen and Dynasty Warriors, Koei had a lot more to offer than anyone could have expected from a company best known for low-tech historical sims. Beyond the big budget flash of Kessen II, Gitaroo-Man surprised us its quirky style and addictive gameplay and Saiyuki was leagues beyond, in production values and gameplay, what we expected from a 2-year-old PSX game no one had heard of. Koei may still be a niche company for the time being, but it certainly has all its niches covered extremely well.

Most Confusing Booth: Tecmo.

E3 is where sex and violence mix with the unbelievably cute, and no single booth summed up this spirit of cognitive dissonance like Tecmo's.

  • 3:29: "Hey! Come look at the cute little Mocchi from Monster Rancher! Look! He's doing a cute little dance! Isn't he adorable?"
  • 3:30: "Hey! I think I can see her nipple!"
Most Pathetic Booth: S-Force Sound.

Ever wonder why booth babes exist? S-Force provided the answer in the form of a negative counterexample: no one wants to get caught up in the emotional void of an aging, insecure man desperate for someone to talk to. Though their project was interesting (an advanced positional sound system that will first be implemented in Silent Hill 2), the booth tour was nothing short of excruciating--every sentence out of the poor representative's mouth trailed off and ended with a big puppy-dog stare, practically begging us to say something nice about his product. If Wizard Soft was the zenith of Kentia Hall, this was the nadir.

Most Underrated Hall: Kentia.

Oh~ Ghost Baby, Tomak: Save the Earth: Love Story, Miss Avatar (put your face on a dancing 3D avatar), "Actual Fight" (a fighting game where you punch pads that surround the screen)--Kentia Hall is the place where E3 memories are made! Lord British, the creator of Ultima and founder of Origin Systems, started a new company this year; their first title in the U.S. will be a Korean-developed RPG. It's easy to laugh at how goofy some of these booths are, but don't dismiss the entire hall as a result. Japan, the U.S., and Europe have dominated the market for years, but the rest of Asia is finally catching up, and there's some quality titles and innovation to be found amongst the goofy and nonsensical.

Best Press Materials: eSofnet.

The handcrafted, pssed paper and twine binding made us feel guilty about taking one of these. Almost.

Best Head-Scratching Moment: Square's Kingdom Hearts movie.

Goofy and Donald look up at the sky as operatic music soars in the background. "The stars ... the stars are dying," says Goofy, clearly pained. Meanwhile, a camera swoops over the nighttime London of Disney's Peter Pan, only to stop on a Nomura-designed character leading against the peak of Big Ben. We're not exactly sure how Square's Kingdom Hearts will turn out--but after a video that defied all expectations and reading the unbelievably top-tier staff list, we definitely want to play it.

Most Unlike Survival Horror In Any Way, Shape, or Form: Devil May Cry.

Many GIA members who were left cold by Shinji Mikami's previous survival horror efforts were blown away by Devil May Cry. Why? Because it's ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE SURVIVAL HORROR. When we saw it at the show, we couldn't understand why anyone would classify a game with cool style, infinite ammunition, respawning enemies, and a linear, "mission-based" structure as "survival horror." Even more offensive, people continued to refer to it as such after the show. Dante has NO PROBLEM surviving. He's a total badass. And the "horror" is secondary to the fantastic Gaudi-inspired architecture, fast-paced action, and amazing weaponry. Devil May Cry isn't "survival horror" -- it's much better than that.

Game Least Likely to Kill Zelda: Dark Cloud.

Don't get us wrong, Dark Cloud looks good for what it is: an enjoyable action RPG with randomly generated dungeons. But it's not going to kill Zelda, and its developers clearly never intended it to. Hopefully, the U.S. press won't backlash against it--after all, they're the ones who have been building the ridiculous hype.

Best Skirting of Copyright Infringement: Midas Interactive.

Midas Interactive's line-up of budget priced PSX games easily captured this award, while narrowly avoiding Disney's lawyers. Price-minded Brits can choose from old time favorites such as Goldie, the stirring coming of age story of a young deer; The Dalmatians, featuring 100 or so of the lovable pups; or our personal favorite, Nice Cats, the tale of a rag-tag group of felines who we hear are quite aristocratic. Other favorites include "The Lion and the King," "Legend of Pocohontas," and "Lord of the Jungle."

Best Slogan: Wizard Soft's The Fate, "The Only Network RPG in the World."

If you're going to be deceptive in your marketing - go for the big lie, we say. The Fate brashly shoves aside games like Phantasy Star Online, Diablo, and even the other network RPGs it was sharing booth space with to declare itself the de facto winner in the online RPG arena. WizardSoft's bold marketing should be an inspiration to other publishers. We hope to soon see, "Jak & Daxter: The Only Game in History to Let You Kill Enemies by Jumping on Their Heads" and "Mega Man X6: The First Videogame in Color." Keep reading the GIA ("The Only Gaming Website, Ever") for more details.

Best Use of an Increasingly Popular Trend: Jet Set Radio Future, cel-shading.

When Smilebit introduced cel-shading to the world with Jet Set Radio, they probably had no idea what a popular trend they had unleashed. It seemed like every third game at E3 used the technique. Though some titles seemed to use it as a substitute for creativity ("Look at us! We're cel-shaded!"), many titles used its power wisely; Monster Rancher 3 and Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland look like fantastic games that chose cel-shaded as an artistic, not marketing, decision. Still, the granddaddy of cel-shaders was back with a few new tricks. The high-resolution graphics, full-screen "blur" effect, and color-streaking at high speeds showed that when it comes to manga-inspired creativity, Smilebit's still got it like that.

Most Unplayable Game of the Show, Playable: SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals.

It was bad enough when Sony brought its otherwise smooth press conference to a grinding halt by trotting out a very not-ready-for-prime-time version of this Rainbow 6 wannabe, but imagine our surprise when the game showed up on the floor in "playable" form. Described as "multi-unplayable" by one staffer, SOCOM gave six E3-goers with nothing better to do the chance to experience a sluggish framerate, foggy, muddy graphics, and PSX quality character models before the rest of the world got a chance to point and laugh. We understand Sony wanted a first-party game to show off the PS2's upcoming Internet play - SOCOM, unfortunately, was missing the "play" part.

Feature by GIA staff.
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