Archive for May, 2004

E3 2004 thoughts…

Monday, May 17th, 2004

I finished work at approx 5.15am on Wednesday, 12th May 2004. The final E3 build was done. I went home for a couple of hours of sleep and then got up and went to E3.

After going through the 1.5 hour queue for badge pickup, we got in and went straight into the South Hall and to the EA booth. I tried to get in to see Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, but I didn’t feel like waiting. Apparently the first day was very busy. Instead we toured the hall and checked out the games. Met up with Sylvene and Berek (aka Carolyn & Mathew) in the afternoon and had dinner with them that evening. Thursday we finished up with the West and Kentia Halls.

Final Fantasy XII: Very, very good character modelling and animation. Facial animation also superb. But I found the environments a little bland. The new combat system takes a little getting used to as well. I’m not sure yet whether I like it as much as the old.

Front Mission 4 I’d had a look at beforehand with the demo that’s been out. I hope the game is something special because frankly the graphics are terrible.

Everquest II looked very shiny. I chatted for a while with Gordon Wrynn and asked him about a few things, including what approach EQ2 would have towards the bazaar/auctioning. He was a little tight-lipped about that, but I’m sure EQ2 will include the ability to auction while offline. Also, EQ2’s “tutorial” section onboard ship almost puts Nvidia’s sailing ship demo to shame. Very nice ocean graphics.

Played a little Tabula Rasa (Richard Garriott’s new MMORPG). It was OK, but it didn’t grab me. I didn’t really get to grips with the combat very well. A few other disappointments: Katamari Damacy (“sticky ball game”) – didn’t find the controls nearly as intuitive as I’d hoped they would be. Donkey Konga – looked difficult and fairly limited, although they are using the controller for at least one other game. In the “more of the same, just what we wanted” category were DDR, Karaoke Revolution and the Taiko drumming game.

Geist I thought was a very interesting concept but I hear this is the second year it’s been at E3. Get a move on. Zelda: Four Swords Adventure also looked a lot of fun and I am looking forward to it. I like the idea of having to control 4 characters to solve puzzles, etc.

Some of the best games of the show were on the EA stand, and I’m not just saying that. Burnout 3 looked amazing and Goldeneye: Rogue Agent showed very well. Booth babes were a mixture. Some were hot (Crash & Burn), others were very cute without being overtly sexy (Nintendo). Some were “nice body, shame about the face”.

Overall, the show was a bit of a disappointment. End of the console cycle, a lot of sequels, and nothing much to get excited about yet. Neither the PSP nor the DS generated much of a buzz since they were not generally accessible and didn’t have many games showing.

Dear Friends

Tuesday, May 11th, 2004

Last night I went to the “Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy” concert at LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was a really great experience.

We arrived shortly before 7pm for a 7.30pm start. Getting there was no problem at all and the parking was ample. Great venue. Many many fans were there (of course); we saw a few in costume as we came in and made our way down the queue for the merchandising stall.

The queue was long… not the longest I’ve been in by any stretch, but long enough. The merchandising stand was in fact the only bad part about the concert; small stands, way overpriced programme ($25!) and they ran out of t-shirts in any size except small. And there was no CD on sale! I didn’t get anything in the end.

I bought the tickets online at the beginning of March, through a website which gave me “take it or leave it” choices on prescribed seats each time I went through the process. I hit the site multiple times and took the first tickets offered in my chosen price range. I figured (rightly) that for a concert and venue like that, no seats would be bad. Ours turned out to be about the best in the house, short of sitting next to Uematsu-san himself! We got front row centre in the terrace section which gave us a great overview of the orchestra, and prime view of the 3 huge video screens hung above.

Nobuo Uematsu received cheers and a standing ovation when he came in and subsequently any time the audience’s attention was focused his way. James Arnold Taylor (the voice of Tidus from FFX) presented the pieces in groups of 3, and through the evening he had a few jokes with the gamer audience (e.g. “forgetting” which instalment of FF a certain piece was from – and eliciting a chorus of prompting).

The first half featured half a dozen or so pieces, highlights of which were fan favourite “Terra’s theme” from FFVI and “Dear Friends” itself from FFV. The orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic) also performed the love theme from FFIV although to my ear the oboe interpretation was a little free at the start. Perhaps I am used to listening to the version I have on CD.

After a short intermission (we didn’t bother to go outside of the theatre) we were treated to more, including Aeris’ theme from FFVII and a medley from FFI-FFIII. The audience couldn’t hold back a cheer when the Chocobo theme made its appearance! A short teaser for the upcoming “Final Fantasy VII: Advent’s Children” during the piece of the same name also drew murmurings as we saw a shot of Cloud’s sword, stained and dull with age. The programme finished with the “Final Fantasy” main theme.

Well, everyone knows that an concert doesn’t finish with the end of the programme, and this was no different. After a brief word from the conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Uematsu-san came up on stage grinning and playing the crowd’s applause and laughter. His first words (“Good Evening. I am Nobuo Uematsu”) drew a big laugh even before the interpreter repeated them in English. He thanked the crowd and all his supporters both musical and in the gaming world, and he introduced (to gasps and murmurings as the crowd recognised them) Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy, and Yoshitaka Amano, chief artist of the series.

At one point Amano-san clearly had a lot to say and went on for a long time in Japanese (drawing laughs from the crowd each time he seemed to stop only to continue), and we cheered the interpreter as much as Amano-san himself. After a final address from Sakaguchi-san, the orchestra launched into the unannounced finale: “One Winged Angel” from FF7. The Los Angeles Master Chorale also performed this piece, as had done with the opening piece. We noted that the vocal volume was a little low, perhaps because the video screens were partially blocking us.

It was my first time at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and it was impressive. The LA Philharmonic also more than lived up to expectation. I found it interesting to wonder what their reaction was when they first found out that they would be playing videogame music. How many of them have even played videogames, let alone heard of Final Fantasy? But it’s true, as Uematsu said, that music has no boundaries. All in all it was a fantastic night out and a marvellous, groundbreaking concert.