2010 was a tough year for video game fans looking for originality in their entertainment. Nearly every hit title released in the past 12 months was a sequel, spinoff or adaptation of an existing game. While a few big-budget follow-ups were fantastic – Halo: Reach, Red Dead Redemption – they were vastly outnumbered by endless Guitar Hero/Call of Duty/Tony Hawk sequels. Sadly, none of last year’s anticipated originals (Heavy Rain, Alan Wake) seem successful enough to spawn ongoing franchises. So while dismembering zombies in Dead Rising 2 is as delightful as ever, it’s not hard to spot a nasty crop of sequelitis spreading across the gaming industry.
A similar fate could have befallen Otronicon V 6.0, the latest version of Orlando Science Center’s annual video gaming expo for gamers, families and educators happening Jan. 14-17. Instead of retreading the same ground, though, the science center shook things up by snaring a partner whose absence from previous Otronicons had been glaring. Electronic Arts, the high-profile, multibillion-dollar game publisher behind Madden NFL and Medal of Honor, operates a major development studio right here in Maitland and is the star of this year’s Otronicon.
EA Sports will hold an exclusive demonstration of game-related technology you definitely didn’t find under your Christmas tree. If you watch ESPN’s NFL or NBA coverage, you may have seen EA’s Virtual Playbook in action. Like an embryonic holodeck, the system captures video of a commentator explaining a real-life sports play and inserts his or her image into a video game simulation of the on-field (or court) action. Even the new Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move accessories can’t create this kind of virtual environment, and until now it’s never been seen outside the ESPN studio. But at Otronicon, you won’t just see the “amplified reality” generator put through its paces – you can put yourself up against the onscreen avatars of professional athletes.
In addition to Virtual Playbook, guests will also find the EA Sports Arena with game stations for sampling the latest editions of EA’s games, including NBA Jam and Wii Active, along with an exhibit, the Emotion of Sport, which consists of concept artwork created during the development of EA’s games.
Electronic Arts may get top billing for its Otronicon debut, but that isn’t all that’s new at this year’s conference. Sure, the Rock Band stage is back (complete with concert- style light and sound rig), as are the DaVinci surgical robot, Lockheed-Martin aircraft simulators, and 501st Imperial Legion Star Wars Storm-troopers, but there are also some surprises in store for returning gamers.
Local game company n-Space will demonstrate its new Wii game TRON: Evolution - Battle Grids on the eight-story CineDome. Stop by and ask the n-Space folks about how they avoided bankruptcy by laying off most of their staff in October – after completing said game for Disney. Or ask why they’re demoing a low-definition game on a supersized screen; with 480 lines of resolution to stretch over 80 feet, each pixel should be a two-inch smear.
The Pursuit of Happiness Foundation, which works to make video gaming accessible to everyone regardless of disability, will demonstrate some custom controllers designed to be manipulated with minimal movement – or even with the mind. The foundation will show off a brain wave-based game, codenamed Project Redbird, designed to aid in occupational therapy.
After 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday, the science center will usher the kiddies out for an adults-only Otronicon After Dark experience. Video game-inspired bands The Rules, Jeux On and BFUNK20XX will perform live, and Saturday’s Cocktails & Cosmos party features DJs from Side Project, cash bars, mural artist Mason Flippin and food from 4 Rivers Smokehouse. Most importantly, the grown-ups will get a turn on the vintage machines in the classic arcade, which is always the most popular part of Otronicon with the over-30 demographic.
Longtime event sponsor Full Sail University seemed omnipresent since the first Otronicon, but the for-profit trade school has been scrubbed from this year’s press releases. Full Sail says it had other projects this year that made it difficult to participate in Otronicon, so instead, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy will be hosting workshops in game design. It’s hard to imagine what the event will be like without Full Sail’s glossy advertisements in every corner.
Finally, event veterans and virgins alike will be fascinated by the Virtusphere, a virtual-reality “locomotion platform” that allows you to walk around a computer-generated environment. Once inside, you’ll feel like you’re strolling on Star Trek’s holodeck, while to outside observers you’ll look like an idiot in goofy goggles flailing around inside a giant hamster ball. If that doesn’t perfectly encapsulate the gaming ethos, I don’t know what does.
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