1995 Winter CES Commentary by:
Michael Lambert (mike@bend.ucsd.edu)

Misc Comments -- CES Awards Ceremony

Hiya. I just got back from CES, and wanted to share what I saw. This started out as an "everything else" at CES post, but degenerated into a CES awards post.

I put it here since it really isn't advocacy, and it covers a wide range of topics. I'm not advocating anything with this posting, except maybe that you read it and enjoy it. I do take some potshots at certain companies, but don't take them *too* seriously. I don't believe any game console "sucks" and you won't find that attitude here, even in the more caustic awards.

And now, the envelope please.

THE BEST GAME OF SHOW AWARD to Descent, by Interplay, for the PC. This game takes the Doom concept to new heights without being as derivative and imitative as most of the rest of the Doom clones I saw. It has breathtaking visuals, great gameplay, network and VR helmet support. After playing tons of Doom clones, this one stands far above the rest.

THE BEST CONSOLE GAME OF SHOW AWARD to Toshinden, for the Sony Playstation. This game is incredible. You have to see it to believe it. The graphics are gorgeous, eye-popping and jaw-dropping. I had heard that Toshinden was an incredible game, but nothing prepared me for what I saw. Smooth as glass, with multiple views (close, far, above (!)), tons of texture mapping, and a more involved use of the 3D environment -- characters spinning around, etc. Easily the most stunning console game present.

THE MORTAL KOMBAT III AWARD (for most gratuitously gory game) to Harvester, by Future Vision for the PC. Chainsaws, killer clowns, blood everywhere and exploding bodies. Runner up: Mutant Chronicles, by Playmates, a Contra clone where you shoot the heads off your enemies,they fall to their knees and blood flows all over their body, then they get up and attack you some more until you pump enough lead into them until they explode.

THE VIRTUA HELEN KELLER AWARD (for most boring booth) to Electronic Arts. They had *no* demo machines, and *nothing* available to the public. Media and Important People only. The only thing I saw was a poster for Road Rash III (and it was on the wall, not a take-home freebie). Oh well, EA -- it gave me lots more time to spend with your competitors!

THE DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN AWARD (for most repetitious software) to Sunsoft. Every game in Sunsoft's area was a platform game based on some licensed cartoon character (Porky Pig, Scooby Doo, Speedy Gonzales) except for Death and Return of Superman (a Final Fight clone based on a licensed comic book character) and Justice League (a fighting game based on licensed comic book characters). I'm all for comic book/TV tie ins, but these games were all derivative, repetitious, and dull. Platforms, Final Fight clones and fighters are all *so* overexposed. Is there any originality at this company? Anywhere?

THE VIRTUALLY NOTHING AWARD (for lamest so-called VR device) to the Aura Interactor. This device which straps on to your chest is supposed to let you "feel" the punches, kicks, and explosions from video games. All it really does is amplify the sound vibrations from the game, letting you feel various levels of buzzing over your upper body.

THE VIRTUALLY NEXT TO NOTHING AWARD (for next lamest so-called VR device): Virtual Boy, by Nintendo. Virtual Boy is essentially a red-colored Game Boy matched with a better version of the old SMS 3D glasses. The 3D effect is pretty neat, and the Virtual Boy is a fun little gadget, but it's not VR by any stretch of the imagination. No head tracking whatsoever, and no emphasis on exploring 3D environments in a first person perspective, which is what I thought VR was supposed to be. I wouldn't have a problem with this if Nintendo wasn't trying to push it off as VR.

THE VIRTUALLY AWESOME AWARD (for best VR device) to VF-X (I hope that's right -- I never did get an info sheet from this company). It was a large yellow and black helmet with an eyepiece that folded down right into the eye sockets (close to, but not touching the eyes). I had a chance to play Descent with this, and *wow*! Full head tracking in every direction, without noticeable delay. I want one!

THE STOP! THIS IS SILLY! LETS SEE THE NEXT SKETCH AWARD (for lamest non-Aura-Interactor peripheral award) to whoever did those Star Trek and Nickelodeon PC decorating kits. Yes, you too can drop large amounts of cash on silly plastic decor (such as a plastic monitor border that says Star Trek, a mouse in the shape of a Starfleet Insignia, and a blue plastic keyboard with more useless blinky lights). Next!

THE GENERATION GAP AWARD (for biggest no-show next-generation consoles):to Sega (Saturn), Nintendo (U64), and Sony (Playstation). NONE of these companies displayed their next-gen consoles, at least not to the public. There *was* a Playstation displaying Toshinden, but that was brought in by DGHF. There *was* a Saturn displaying VF, but that was brought in by Softimage. At least those two had physical machines, though. The only sign of the U64 was a demo tape by Silicon Graphics showing what the U64 will be able to do (although there weren't any *actual* demos or real U64 programs being run). At this lackluster CES, any one of the above companies would have created quite a stir had they actually shown their new systems. What were they thinking? Which leads to:

THE FRIEND IN NEED AWARD (for most appreciated, non-essential display) to DGHF and Softimage, for doing Sony's and Sega's jobs. Without these companies, there would have been little sign of the next-next-generation consoles. Sony and Sega -- you should pay these guys!

THE COOKIE CUTTER AWARD (for most retread concept) to all the Doom clones, especially Quarantine (PC), Dark Forces (PC), Heretic (PC), Killing Time (3DO), and others which have been deleted from memory. There were so many games that were Just Like Doom that it was really revolting, and the worst part was the blatant unoriginality. Of all the Doom clones, only Descent managed to take Doom to the next level. The rest seem to be shooting in place.

THE SALAD SHOOTER AWARD (for most retread concept, but even less interesting) to the continuous supply of boring platform games. Do we really need Ristar (Sega), Rayman (UbiSoft), anything by Sunsoft, Zool 2 (whoever), Bubsy (Accolade), etc., etc., etc.? At least EWJ had lots of originality and humor, and DKC set new standards for graphics. Why are we going backwards 6 months later?

THE NERVES OF STEEL AWARD (for gutsiest display) to Activision, who had at least four displays for their classics package for the PC. It took some guts to proudly display their collection of Atari 2600 games (including Pitfall, Freeway, Spider Fighter, Kaboom, Seaquest) right next to today's eye-candy fests.

THE ACT YOUR AGE AWARD (description follows) to Sega. Sega made areal point of aiming for the younger set with "Sega Club" games for kids. While games for the really young are a good idea, they seem to be displacing resources and development for the more mature audiences that Sega used to cater to, if the ho-hum selection of new software at the Sega booth is any indication. I expected to see far more 32X games, and of the non-32X games, only Mega Bomberman and Beyond Oasis excited me (and Beyond Oasis is planned for release next *December*. Ouch!)

THE GOLDEN DOLLAR SIGN AWARD (for most expensive setup) to Nintendo. Not only did Nintendo have the most floor space, but they had a geodesic dome that nearly touched the ceiling (we're talking 30 feet here), and a set of conference rooms (complete with front desk) that was bigger than some office buildings I've been in. Is this why Nintendo charges so much per cartridge?

THE GOLD-PLATED CD-ROM AWARD (for most outlandish rip-off) to Mr CD-ROM, a CD-ROM vendor. Mr CD-ROM will be glad to sell you PC titles at amazing prices (examples: Dracula Unleashed and HellCab at $79 (!),Wing Commander III at $79 or $89, I forget which). Not only that, but if you buy 3 titles, you get a whopping 10% off. What a bargain! Of course, if you bought 3 titles there, you could have bought 10 somewhere else...

THE ROLLED-UP ECHIDNA AWARD (for stand-offish behavior) to Sega, for closing off a large section of their area to media and Important People only. A Sega representative I talked with said that everything on the inside was also displayed on the outside. Why do I find that hard to swallow? Maybe since if inside and outside were the same, why bother?

THE PLATINUM HAIR-WEAVE AWARD (for making a little look like a lot) to SNK, for setting up a very impressive-looking booth with their relatively small number of titles (compared to say, Nintendo or Sega). Of course, the MVS, CD, and free-play arcade Samurai Shodown II units didn't hurt! I didn't see anything new displayed, but they sure got a lot of mileage out of what they had.

THE SILVER CONVENTION BAG AWARD (for best freebie promotional junk) to Atari. Atari gave away some cool posters for Aliens vs. Predator and Iron Soldier, as well as Kasumi Ninja headbands (tied on your head by a green ninja). Sure it doesn't sound like much, but it was a lot better than any of the other stuff!

THE BRONZE FOOT MASSAGER AWARD (for most physically tiring display) to 3DO, for locating themselves at the furthest possible room (from the rest of the game displays) that was still part of the convention center. The logic of being so far away escapes me, as there were no doubt more than a few people who (unintentionally or not) totally missed 3DO since they were off in their own little area.

(The following four awards are more a description of quality of exhibit, not quality of games at the exhibits. There's a difference)

THE MACINTOSH USER FRIENDLY AWARD (for best setup of games) to Atari. Atari had the common sense to label their kiosks (to avoid questions of "What the hell is this") and print a control summary for all the games on the kiosks as well (to avoid questions of "What the hell am I supposed to do"). Not only that, but Atari seemed to have the highest percentage of friendly developers who would demo or explain the games. Also nice was the fact that non-playable demos were expressly marked.

THE WINDOWS USER FRIENDLY AWARD (for not quite as good setup) to 3DO. Some games had control summaries, but others didn't, and it was usually the harder ones that didn't. Furthermore, I struggled with getting The All New People's Gameshow (sequel to Twisted) to demo, but simply got frustrated as all I got was FMV sequences. After I was ready to throw the controller, a rep wanders by and tells me it is a non-playable demo, and that maybe they should remove the controller. Maybe so!

THE ANDROID USER FRIENDLY AWARD (for competent but unexciting setup) to Nintendo, for hiring representatives to staff many of the games. Unfortunately, the reps didn't seem to be designers and knew only the basics about the games. Strangely enough, most of the game demo people were women, while the men were all in the conferencing rooms...

THE SELF-SERVICE/VCR-PROGRAMMING AWARD (for setup devoid of humans) to Sega. Outside of the media enclosure, I didn't see a single Sega representative. Games were labeled, but that's it. While not every game needs explanation or a control setup (Mega Bomberman sure doesn't) there are those that could have benefited (Metal Head).

THE HO-HUM, HO-HUM, THIS SHOW WAS JUST HUMDRUM AWARD to CES as a whole. The game consoles did not have a very strong showing, and it seems like serious displays of the newer consoles just isn't going to happen for another six months. No killer games that really blew me out of the water were there (excepting Toshinden, which was brought in by a game magazine) and nothing really buzzed with excitement. I was very glad to go, and had a great time, but I expected to see a bit more.

Hope you enjoyed these CES awards. Questions and comments are encouraged. Thanks!

- Michael

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