ECTS '99 Wrap Up

Almost a week has passed since the end of ECTS, and Gestalt has finally recovered enough to wrap up the event's coverage here on EuroGamer...

ECTS is over for another year, and the whole circus has packed up and gone home. As EuroGamer's coverage of the event draws to a close we take a look back at the show's highs and lows, and see how ECTS '99 compared to last year's show...

Everything's Gone Green

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Where was everyone hiding?

This year's ECTS was notable for the publishers who weren't there as much as for what was on show.

Activision had again decided to spurn the show, instead showing a limited line up at a nearby hotel. Most of the titles on show were console games, although Battlezone II, Dark Reign II, Soldier of Fortune and Vampire were all there and looking good. There wasn't any sign of Quake III Arena though, just three computers running Q3Test.

Electronic Arts and GT Interactive didn't bother showing up this year either, although the Unreal Tournament party at The Playing Fields on Sunday night gave us a chance to check out GT's most promising game up close and personal.

Perhaps more worrying though was Eidos, who usually have a big brash stand at ECTS with huge monitors, pumping stereos, and lots of scantily clad babes. This year they had retreated to a small room on the gallery, and were only letting in journalists from print magazines...

Times Change

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FAKK2 - having a quiet smoke in Take 2's back room

We weren't able to check out Eidos' line up because of this, but I don't think we really missed much. None of Ion Storm's games were on show at ECTS this year for some reason, and Eidos didn't have anything particularly new to offer unless you're a Lara Croft fanatic.

Eidos announced a big slump in revenue last quarter, and there are rumours of an attempted take over by Havas (who already own Sierra). Whether this has anything to do with Eidos' rather lacklustre presence at ECTS isn't clear, but you know there's something wrong when the booth meisters vanish up their own asses.

They weren't alone though - several developers and publishers were only showing games by appointment in back rooms and closed stands. Luckily most of them were far more friendly to online journalists - Take 2 Interactive, 3dfx, Westwood, Blizzard, NVIDIA and Sierra all made us welcome at their back room showings and press conferences.

In fact Eidos were just about the only publisher who weren't willing to give time to anyone whose words aren't printed on reconstituted tree pulp. It just goes to show how desperately in need of a clue they are...

State Of The Nation

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They might be smiling today, but they're an endangered species

ECTS felt much quieter and more business like this year. Gone were the hordes of teenage geeks that swamped the show last year, and the stands were generally much more restrained as well.

There were also less booth babes than in previous years, which made it easier to concentrate on the games. Maybe the publishers have finally realised that if your games are good the last thing you want to do is distract people with scantily clad totty...

Which would have been great, except that there seemed to be less games on show this year as well. Partly that was because most of the interesting ones were hiding in the back rooms, but a lot of the stands seemed pretty barren compared to last year.

Having said that, it wasn't a total wash out. There might have been a lack of quantity when it came to PC games, but the quality of what was there was generally high. The Hasbro stand had more than its fair share of board game conversions and recycled "classics", but even they had titles like XCom Alliance and Grand Prix 3 to balance things out.

Subculture

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Consoles, consoles everywhere

The PC section of the show might have been fairly quiet, but the consoles put in a strong showing again this year. Most publishers had at least as many console titles on show as PC games, which was a little worrying for a hardcore gamer like myself.

Sony had taken over the same massive side room as usual to show off their Playstation line up (though there was little or no sign of the Playstation 2), and Nintendo's stand was bigger than ever, taking up a full quarter of the main hall this year!

Sega didn't bother to show up, choosing to launch their Dreamcast at an exclusive party a couple of miles down the road instead. Despite this several publishers had Dreamcasts on their stands, including Virgin who were demonstrating MDK2 on one.

Whatever the console manufacturers try to tell you though, there's no risk of consoles outperforming PCs any time soon. The Dreamcast looked fairly good, but it's still no better than an entry level PC in terms of real gaming performance. And by the time Playstation 2 turns up PC owners will already have the GeForce 256 Ultra, Voodoo 5 and Savage 2001...

Highlights

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Crack marketing team, my ass

Interplay's stand - Interplay had turned their stand into a small cinema, with the most comfortable seats in the Olympia. With the sound of gently lapping waves in the background and plastic palm trees on either side of the screen, it was the perfect place to recover your strength and chill out.

The film they were showing consisted of Interplay's "crack marketing team" of bikini wearing babes on a beach in California introducing trailers for Interplay's various games. It was all very tongue-in-cheek and full of terrible sexual innuendo, like introducing a Star Trek game with the words "Do you want to go where no man has been before?"

Unreal Tournament - the Unreal Tournament party at The Playing Fields was packed solid when we got there, and looked like a dead loss at first. You couldn't move, let alone get a game. We actually gave up and went off to get dinner within minutes of arriving.

By the time we got back though the crowds had thinned out a bit, and the game itself was looking incredible. Once the tournament was over we got to try out the game for ourselves, and there was no going back. I finally crawled out of the Playing Fields at 3am...

Lowlights

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Hell On Earth

Virgin's room - Virgin Interactive's little side room was a hell hole. Within half an hour of the show opening each day the place was as hot and humid as a jungle. By Tuesday morning the man demonstrating Planescape Torment had vanished - my guess is he keeled over and died.

The games on show there were very impressive though, and thanks to the monitors being mounted too high I had a stiff neck by the time I left, as well as being drenched in sweat and about to collapse from heat exhaustion. Please Virgin, get some air conditioning next year instead of smoke machines...

Absent Friends - No Electronic Arts, no GT Interactive, no Activision, Sierra with only a tiny closed stand, Eidos hiding in a back room... What's going on? At this rate, ECTS 2000 will be a console only event - Nintendo already occupy a quarter of the main hall, and Sony's side room seems even bigger. If Sega turn up next year there won't be any room for anyone else.

Let's hope that the big publishers get their acts together and put in an appearance next year. I find it a little insulting to Europeans that they all make such a big deal about E3, and then ignore ECTS completely.

Conclusion

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The early bird catches the worm

ECTS '99 was a bit of a mixed bag - there were some great games and hardware on show, but there were also far too many publishers who didn't bother to turn up for whatever reason. Stands at ECTS are expensive, but surely not that expensive?

Although the show seemed much quieter than last year and the games were few and far between at times, I actually had a much better time this year. I hope you've all enjoyed reading our coverage of ECTS as much I've enjoyed writing it!

Next year we'll be back for ECTS 2000, and our coverage should be much better. This year I was covering the entire show single handedly using an antique laptop borrowed from EuroGamer script master Nick Loman, and the site only went live the night before the show.

It's a minor miracle and a big credit to the Loman brothers, Tom Howe, Jay Adair and the rest of the team that things went as smoothly as they did.

Of course there's more to EuroGamer than just ECTS coverage. We'll be ramping up the regular content over the next week or two, starting with a big preview of 3dfx's "Napalm" graphics card tomorrow and a review of Outcast due on Thursday.

If you have any questions or feedback about EuroGamer or any of the previews we've posted so far, or if you're interested in writing for us, drop me a line!

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