AMN @ EA Studio Showcase ’06

Previously known as EA’s Hot Summer Nights, the dethroned name for the massive gaming publisher’s biggest annual press event, EA’s Summer Showcase ’06 took place Thursday at EA’s gigantic headquarters based in Redwood City, California. Highlighting the juggernaut third party’s titles for current, next-generation consoles and PC, this year’s media gathering was certainly interesting. Evident from the number of attendees, the showcase just screamed out the bewildering excitement for the next-generation of video-games.

AMN witnessed the entire event with a rather extensive stage presentation at the headquarters’ main auditorium led by eminent company executives, representatives, and producers to start off the day.

EA’s Summer Showcase ’06 is about to begin!

The presentation began amidst a surprised crowd as several members from the USC Trojan marching band played an eye-opening fight song, followed by a formal introduction by EA’s Jeff Brown. But before Brown could talk about all of the great games ahead, he briskly mentioned of an upcoming “terrifying” game from a game which he had recently seen. Excitement ringed the air as the talks started inside a filled auditorium of the nation’s leading game journalists. With a quick emphasis on Crysis, Spore, Army of Two, Medal of Honor: Airborne, and Fight Night (PS3) as being the only games without any appearances during the day, the presentation has seemed already like a sports-oriented gathering. We were right; as NCAA Football 07’s release got reminded to us, as being one of the top 10 best-selling franchises every year. The game comes out next Tuesday.

When signs of Madden seemed to be on the horizon, instead, EA quickly turns the tables by introducing Mark Jacobs; President/CEO of Mythic Entertainment [coincidence?], recently acquired by EA. Jacobs expressed that “talks with Electronic Arts after Dark Age of Camelot’s release was on the horizon.” After focusing a bit on the history of his company, Jacobs concluded his presentation with a 2007-targeted Warhammer (PC) trailer and emphasizing that “EA and Mythic together will work on a roadmap on Dark Age of Camelot in the future.”

The USC Trojans Marching Band

Just one of the many buildings at EAHQ

Following Jacobs was a familiar face – Valve’s Gabe Newell – as he presented us an updated trailer for Half-Life 2: Episode 2. With a few new implementations including walker-like robots and the toning of the game’s cinematic physics, which will be headed by former Weta Digital employee Gray Horsfield, with focuses on new particle systems and foliage. Newell then discusses the satisfaction of episodic gaming, in that feedback, more releases, and risk capabilities in the system will allow for an overall better experience for the consumer in return. He then goes to show off an amazing PC title called Portal (working title), which technically takes the portal element of Pray and attaches it to a gun to solve all kinds of crazy puzzles, including moving objects and such.

From there Newell unveils the surprise title that Valve people have been longing for. With an exaggerated art style with “painty” characters and a 60’s spy feel, Team Fortress Classic 2 will be included in the multiplayer mode of Episode 2. The classes remain intact and the news comes out of nowhere as the franchise was once thought of being dead.

Newell ends his rather satisfying presentation with the tidbit that Half-Life Episode 2 will ship for Xbox 360 and the PS3 simultaneously with the PC. The games will include all of the old HL2 game leading up to the newest episode. Basically, console gamers will now have everything that a PC gamer would dream about concerning Valve. Could Team Fortress 2, CS: Source and Portal also be included with the package? If so, then the deal is set as possibly the best value for the next-gen consoles to date. More info will come from Valve in the Fall, possibly at Leipzeg in Europe,

After yet another spectacular trailer from Battlefield 2142 (PC) showing off the new gunships, turrets, and classic style of BF play, EA’s Steve Gray comes on showing off concept art and the new trailer from Lord of the Rings: The White Council. The action RPG is set before Bilbo finds the One Ring, when Frodo is only 10 years old. The characters’ likenesses are all intact with the game, with new voice-over work from Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, and Cate Blanchett being showcased. Gray’s talk finishes with his team’s aimed goal at having the impressive visuals shown in the trailer as being the actual graphics for the final product. Based on what we saw, the statement was certainly a bold one.

Kudo Tsunoda of EA Chicago’s Fight Night fame then comes up with a new game trailer that we just can’t talk about quite yet. [More on that in the coming weeks.] Moving on, we get to EA Tiburon’s Dale Jackson who explains the 360 version of Madden NFL 2007 presented by ESPN. Other than the new Superstar: Hall of Fame mode for the next-gen consoles, we see new gameplay camera perspectives, including several features that were eye-opening for hardcore sports enthusiasts. First, players will now be able to control specific positions throughout the entire game solely, such as cornerback (guarding passes), wide-receiver (moving routes + catching), and even linebackers, and the offensive and defensive lineman. The new Madden Gamer level gives players a game-based rank that they can compare with similar Madden owners which is measured by achievements and time spent with the game. Madden NFL 2007 (Presented by ESPN) for current and next-gen consoles [excluding PS3 and Wii] will be releasing on August 22nd.

Madden on the Wii was then played on-stage by Jason Armenise of EA Canada which finally showed off some really cool implementations with the Wii controller. The live demo with the controller and nunchaku, showed the pointer-style free-motion control that gamers were able to play at May’s E3. You can even use the nunchuku to juke, the remote to stiff-arm, and raise them both up to pump up the crowd (or down to calm them), with more emphasis on defense as being a cool way of “jumping” in the game via the controller.

Jeff Brown then comes to the stage and affirms EA’s support towards Nintendo’s Wii next-gen console. Tiger Woods, NFS: Carbon, Harry Potter, SSX, and Godfather are also coming to the system, bringing the overall EA Wii count to six. Also confirmed: Wii controller functionality on all of those games. All of them.

Just when things seemed to have died down, EA pulls a few more surprises. Senior Producer Brent Nielsen of EA Canada then shows off NBA Live 07 for the Xbox 360. Other than revamped superstar controls [which now has: updated dynasty, mock draft, ESPN Insiders, a rumor mill to research in-game], and UI implementation, the popular hoops franchise will now include several impressive ESPN integrated features. The first is a live ESPN Radio podcast, which streams straight from ESPN to EA’s servers and can be played live while playing NBA Live. ESPN Motion videos and a scrolling ESPN sports-ticker are also accessible or free online via the main menu, and are constantly updated every 15-20 minutes a day.

AMN’s Ray Almeda enjoying a hole-in-one.

AMN’s Navin Prasad… so close.

Need for Speed: Carbon is the last title EA shows off at their presentation, as a vivid Canyon race tells the story of the character from NFS: Most Wanted returning to his home city after a 5-year stint. Demoed by one of the creators behind the SSX franchise, Larry LaPierre, the game looks great, fun and most of all, fast. The customization features are also extensive, including car body, spoilers, hubcaps, hot-rods – literally everything imaginable for the car-heavy extraordinaire. As the PS3 and Xbox receive their fill of in-game footage, LaPierre mentions that the title covergirl Emmanuelle Vaugier will also be hand during the afternoon.

Room for Need for Speed Carbon

After the presentation, AMN continued into EA’s basketball gym which was completely revamped with carpet, game kiosks, and a centered handheld station. Overall, the event was gigantic success with the night ending with a rather relaxing cocktail party – complete with live band, hors d’eouvers, and… cocktails. AMN will have full hands-on previews and impressions of each of the titles showcased at EA’s Studio Showcase ’06 over the weekend.

EA’s revamped gym turned game-zone.

The mobile handheld area.

After hours of gaming… a cocktail party.

Expect our exclusive previews and full-length interviews with the producers of EA’s upcoming lineup very soon.