E3 2007

E3 2007: Gamecock’s EIEIO


Midday last Friday, I made my way over to the Hotel California (update: there is an actual checkout time, and you can leave as you like) to check out Gamecock’s mini-conference, EIEIO, which ran consecutively with E3.

Gamecock’s quickly building a reputation as the most lighthearted publishing house in existence, and EIEIO was their brand come alive. Everyone from the Gamecock publishing house was wandering around the premises wearing rooster outfits, inviting people to various bungalows, in which individual companies under the banner were showing off their games. The whole experience felt more like a barbecue at a buddy’s house than a stuffy, over important convention, and on the third of five very long days, it was a welcome atmosphere.

While I was there, I managed to check out three different games: Hail to the Chimp, Dementium and Legendary: The Box.

Hail to the Chimp
Of all the games I was hoping to see at E3, Hail to the Chimp was near the top of the list. Developed by Wideload, the guys behind Stubbs the Zombie, Hail to the Chimp is as far away as it can be from their first game, except in critical tone.

The game’s premise is as delightfully surreal as Stubbs‘. The lion, King of the animals, has died, and several candidates are running for the office, including a monkey, octopus and hippo. Players take on the role of one of these animals and progress through a series of party-style mini-games, many of which center around collecting “clams,” the voting constituency; winners of the games amass votes, and whoever ends up with the most votes wins the overarching campaign.

Narrating the action is a sentient chipmunk, who resembles Tom Brokaw and chatters off fake, animal news-related headlines and provides commentary on the games as they happen. Lead Writer Matt Soell’s fingerprints are all over the chipmunk, and it’s marvelous. He functions as the game’s title and menu screen, chattering away into his headset while a news ticker below parodies CNN’s Headline News: “Moose says hikers were ‘asking for it'”; “Santo [the armadillo candidate] declares war on roadkill.” The team also plans on releasing updates to the chipmunk as time goes on, via Xbox Live and the PS3 network.

Chris Cobb, Wideload’s Lead Environment Artist, told me the team was shooting to be “the Smash Bros. of the next-gen consoles” (it’s debuting on the PS3 and 360), and the similarities between the two franchises are pretty evident. The combat is arcade-y, the strategy is more dependent on the player than the game and it’s a hell of a lot of fun with four people in the room.

When I walked into developer Renegade Kid‘s bungalow, Owner and Creative Director Jools Watsham asked me to sit down and immediately put me in front of a Nintendo DS. “We have a spiel,” he said, “but the game does all the talking for us.” And he wasn’t joking.

Dementium is the last game I’d expect to see on a DS. You play a patient waking up in a mental institution, its walls covered in blood – no real intro to speak of, just a blank slate to investigate. I stumbled out of my cell into a dimly-lit hallway, following a trail of blood, and before long I ran into my first zombie. He was gargantuan and pulling a screaming doctor behind him, and then I realized the blood trail was hers.

The game itself plays like a first-person, but old-school Resident Evil, only darker; awesome! In the few minutes I played through, I managed to pick up a few items, wave a flashlight ineffectively and scare myself shitless when a zombie … thing … came up from behind me in the dark. Adding to the creepy visuals is, like any good horror movie, great ambient sounds – dripping, footsteps echoing – mixed with a believable soundtrack. The whole experience was gripping enough for at least one other reporter to forsake the next stop on the Gamecock tour in order to confront the demo’s final boss.

And this is on a Nintendo platform, which after Resident Evil 4 shouldn’t be surprising anymore. However, Dementium is just another step toward Nintendo’s realization that people over the age of 13 play games on their consoles, something they were very aggressively trying to ignore when I spoke to them just two years ago at CES.

Legendary: The Box
“I want to show you the moment of the apocalypse,” John Garcia-Shelton, Producer of Legendary: The Box. And with a push of a button, he did just that.

Garcia-Shelton took on the role of Charles Deckard, a high-dollar thief conned into stealing Pandora’s Box, which he of course opens and exposes the world to an ancient evil not experienced for thousands of years, and it’s Old-Testament impressive.

In an outdoor scene, hundreds of griffons swoop through the air, snatching up people as fissures open in the ground. Cars go flying as werewolves smack them out of the way and climb along walls, avoiding gunfire from the army. And then, a six-story golem pieced together with asphalt, 18 wheelers and cement medians lumbers its way toward Deckard, swiping aside tanks and automobiles, finally stomping Deckard out of existence. “We love killing Deckard in the demos,” Garcia-Shelton says with an impish smile.

The game itself is scheduled to be episodic, though the first episode will release in brick-and-mortar shops and looks to be a full-length game. You play as Deckard, who in addition to being a thief is pretty crafty with a gun; lucky for you, since the game is a first-person shooter with AI that prefers to flank and avoid fire, rather than running straight into it.

Spark Unlimited, Legendary‘s developer, is particularly proud of their “dynamic spawning,” which takes camera control from the player to introduce certain monsters cinematically. In Garcia-Shelton’s demo, two werewolves burst through a stained-glass window inside a church and made their way toward a group of human soldiers. Then they jumped onto the walls and climbed up the ceiling to avoid an SUV-sized griffon making a similar entrance. It’s pandemonium, just like the apocalypse should be.

Before checking out EIEIO, the question kicking around in the back of my head was how any developer could take a shop like Gamecock seriously. From my side of the press release, their irreverence seems at times infantile, occasionally dated. But the responses I got from all the developers I asked was overwhelmingly positive. Of course, most of the answers started with “Yeah, but,” but they all ended the same way: Gamecock gets what we’re doing, and they leave us alone. In an era where small developers routinely have to choose between acquisition and death, Gamecock’s laissez-faire, goofy-if-charming approach to game development may not be so irreverent after all.

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