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COMPUTING

Gamestock '99: Microsoft's love-in

March 12, 1999
Web posted at: 8:35 p.m. EST (0135 GMT)

by Nash Werner

From...
Games.net
Gamestock '99 screenshots
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(IDG) -- What do '60s-style love-beads and computer games have in common? Absolutely nothing! Yet, every year Microsoft hosts Gamestock--a press event that shows off its latest gaming lineup, complete with an amusing “flower power” theme--at its Redmond, Washington, campus.

Bring on the games

I must admit I was impressed with Microsoft's upcoming titles. With the help of all-star game designers like Chris Roberts (Wing Commander series), Erin Roberts (Privateer series), Bruce Shelley (Age of Empires), Chris Taylor (Total Annihilation), and Alexey Pajitnov (Tetris), Microsoft plans to publish the games legends are made of. There was a lot to see at this year's Gamestock.

Yet, there was good and bad news for rabid attendees. The good news: The Roberts brothers, heading up Digital Anvil, were showing three distinctive new space-flight sims, all of which look to strengthen their already mythical status in the sci-fi computer-gaming community. The bad news: Chris Taylor, leading the newly formed Gas Powered Games, was not showing his newest title (rumored to be a 3D “Zoo Keeper” RTS with positronic-matrix filtering).

In this article you'll find information and screenshots for each upcoming game. So light up some incense, throw on your favorite Hendrix album, and enjoy all Gamestock '99 had to offer.

Sports

The most surprising thing at Gamestock was the newly reborn MS Sports lineup. I wasn't surprised by Microsoft's courage (read: insanity) in going head-to-head with industry leaders like 989 Studios and EA Sports, so much as how solid these new sports titles actually looked. They seemed good enough to possibly stand a chance in a very competitive market.

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Microsoft Baseball 2000
(release date: April 1999)
Scheduled for an April '99 release, MS Baseball 2000 will definitely turn some heads when it ships with an unbelievable $19.99 price tag! That 20 bucks will get you updated rosters, newly sharpened graphics, and even more motion-captured players.

Microsoft Football
(release date: September 1999)
Going into Gamestock, I had my doubts about a Microsoft football game; I certainly wasn't expecting a major contender in the form of Microsoft Football. Yet, with its seemingly endless number of player animations, smooth graphics, and hints of Internet Gaming Zone support, a contender is what I saw.

Microsoft World Championship Soccer 2000
(release date: Fall 1999)
Remembering just how nightmarishly bad Microsoft's previous attempts at a soccer game were, I approached the mini-tower hosting the WCS 2000 demo very slowly. Luckily, this upcoming version has retooled graphics, enhanced AI, and added camera angles in true 3D. After spending some time at the helm, I must say WCS 2000 looks and feels very promising.

NBA Drive 2000
(release date: Fall 1999)
With so much attention to in-game player detail (faces, hairdos, etc.) expected in today's basketball games, Microsoft's NBA Drive team really had their work cut out for them. From what I saw, the graphics are moderate to decent; fortunately, the designers still have a lot of time left to make improvements.

Space age

Allegiance
(release date: Winter 1999)
Being a massively multiplayer space-flight sim with noticeable similarities to Warbirds--albeit in interstellar skies--Allegiance turned quite a few heads at Gamestock '99. In Allegiance, hundreds of gamers will be able to log on and choose from a wide range of combat opportunities. Whether they're flying starfighters, piloting large battleships, or controlling a craft's weaponry and targeting systems via gunner stations, players will have something exciting and completely different to do when they log on.

“The Dread Brothers Roberts”

If anyone knows space-flight sims, it's the Roberts brothers: Chris and Erin. Their work on the Wing Commander series has earned them legendary status among gaming aficionados everywhere. And now, after leaving EA and forming their own development studio, better known as Digital Anvil, the Roberts have big plans for the future of space-flight sims:

Conquest: Frontier Wars
(release date: Winter 1999)
If you thought Sierra's Homeworld was going to be the only space-flight strategy this year, you were sorely mistaken! C:FW, like Homeworld, is an enormous real-time strategy set in deep space. Focusing on large-scale battleships (in stark homage to World War II's Pacific Theatre), C:FW visually bombarded everyone at the show with features like 3D-modeled ships, multiple races (two in single-play, four in multiplay), and multi-system combat, enabling you to wage war in up to 16 different solar systems!

Freelancer
(release date: TBA)
Freelancer seems to pick up where the Privateer storyline left off. You'll explore the galaxy, trade minerals, haul precious cargo, and, unfortunately, pay way too many intergalactic taxes.

Starlancer
(release date: Winter 1999)
Starlancer will be Digital Anvil's bread-and-butter, Wing Commander-ish space-flight sim. It fact, it'll rival the WC series in every possible way, playing host to an impressive story and groundbreaking visuals. Hopefully, it'll steer clear of the horribly bad FMV actors that have plagued space-flight sims in the past.

Down to earth

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
(release date: Fall 1999)
Bruce Shelley and team are at it again with AOE II: The Age of Kings. This time around, gamers play the roles of Middle Ages nations, all competing for world dominance. Expect this sequel to be loaded with epic enhancements, including an expanded technology tree representative of this particular era, remarkable graphics (buildings are 50 percent to 100 percent larger), and ridiculously entertaining multiplay via LAN or Internet.

Asheron's Call
(release date: Fall 1999)
Striking the heart of a soon-to-be-very-competitive 3D online RPG market, Asheron's Call will go toe-to-toe with 989's EverQuest when it's released this fall. Here's a couple of 3D accelerated screenshots from Gamestock '99.

Full Auto
(release date: Fall 1999)
Full Auto is a 3D combat-racer that, surprisingly, showed a lot of potential in the way of vehicular upgrades, detailed missions (pure racing, deathmatches, and capture-the-flag), and MSN Gaming Zone support for multiplay. In Full Auto, winning players earn money to customize their ride and losing players get a free trip to the local morgue.

Loose Cannons
(release date: Spring 2000)
Given that it's being developed by Digital Anvil, you may have thought Loose Cannons was a space-flight sim. Actually, it's a 3D action/adventure game where you can run around on foot (a la Tomb Raider) or drive a variety of customizable vehicles (a la Interstate '76). Sounds like this could be another interesting hybrid: we'll have more info on Loose Cannon, including its multiplayer mode, as its release date grows a bit closer.

Mid-Town Madness
(release date: Summer 1999)
Picking up the baton in the Madness line is Angel Studios, with its extremely promising Mid-Town Madness. Like Motocross Madness, MTM is a racing game in which you can choose to roam freely around, simply enjoying all the aspects of driving in a virtual world. Unlike Motocross Madness, Mid-Town takes place in the heart of downtown Chicago! With multiple vehicles to choose from, drawbridges to jump, and multiplayer support on the MSN Gaming Zone, Mid-Town Madness is a title to keep your eye on.

Pandora's Box
(release date: September 1999)
In the vein of great puzzle games--well, Tetris mainly--comes Microsoft's new puzzle game Pandora's Box. Unlike Tetris, Pandora's provides 10 different puzzles to choose from. Oh, and did I mention that Alexey Pajitnov, the Russian game-designer responsible for a little game called Tetris, is designing it? Good news indeed.


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