The Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, officially begins Thursday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. All the usual players will be there -- big game companies, small game companies, editors, distributors and the ever-present booth babes -- as well as a few new ones: Jake Lloyd, who plays Anakin Skywalker in the upcoming "Phantom Menace," will make a few appearances to promote Star Wars: Episode I Racer for the Nintendo 64.
But mostly, this year's E3 should be business as usual. Which might seem a little strange, given the level of media attention of late to the issue of violence in games. But while the mainstream media has made much of possible connections between the recent Columbine shootings and video and computer games, the gaming press has been subdued on the subject. In fact, the comment I've heard most often from editors and gamers is, "Who on earth still plays Doom?" The game is old; any serious first-person action gamer would have already abandoned it for the recently released Quake III demo.
Indeed, it would be surprising if game companies spent much time discussing the shootings at the conference. E3 is an industry show, by, for and about gamers, who have seen games blamed for every ill under the sun so many times that they have become desensitized to the anti-game backlash. And so there won't be any keynote addresses or big panels on the subject of games and violence; any such discussions will likely take place among editors or companies in one-on-one situations, if at all. After all, there are Dreamcast games to see!
And there will be a great deal of focus on Dreamcast, Sega's new system, set to launch on September 9 -- the first of the next generation of systems due to outshine and replace the reigning platforms over the next couple of years. However, Sega recently laid off 1,000 employees in Japan and has had all kinds of internal trouble -- and there have been whispers about development companies pulling people off Dreamcast games and sending them to work on Sony's upcoming machine, the PlayStation 2. All of this raises some questions about how well the Dreamcast system will fare. If Sega can show a number of really good games developed internally and by third-party companies, that would go a long way to quieting those fears.
Nintendo and Sony -- the other big players in the console gaming world -- are also developing next-generation systems. Sony's specs on its PlayStation 2 are fabulous (among other things, the PS 2 will be backward-compatible with all PlayStation games), but as yet the numbers exist only on paper. And Nintendo hasn't released specs yet at all. But reports indicated it would announce that its new machine (dubbed Nintendo 2000) would be built around IBM's PowerPC processors -- hitherto confined to the Macintosh -- and dispense with game cartridges in favor of DVD disks. That should give the E3 crowds plenty to talk about.