Microsoft's Lineup Unveiled

SEATTLE - Microsoft shows off its upcoming cache of games to Gamestock attendees. GameSpot was there.

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SEATTLE - At Gamestock, Microsoft's annual event in which its new line of games is revealed, the company showed that it's intent on creating diverse cache of titles and that it's not afraid to compete with itself.

No fewer than three car-oriented games were on display. First was Full Auto, a vehicular combat game from Pseudo Interactive. Next was Midtown Madness, an over-the-top urban racing game in the tradition of Microsoft's other Madness games, Motocross and Monster Truck. Also on display was Loose Cannon, Digital Anvil's promising action-adventure game.

Microsoft's line of sports games was also shown. The company has four sports games ready for release this year. They include fully licensed baseball, football, and basketball games, and a world football game - Microsoft Soccer. Matt Millen helped demonstrate Microsoft Football, which had snappy player animations. The basketball game, NBA Drive 2000, played surprisingly well, and both it and the baseball game, Baseball 2000, will retail for around US$20.

Pandora's Box is a collection of puzzles from Alexey Pajitnov, designer of Tetris. Microsoft's online-only RPG, Asheron's Call, has made many improvements, and is now slated for release in fall 1999.

Ensemble made it clear that it is making good progress on Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, the follow-up to its best-selling real-time strategy game. Some of the new unique units (one per civilization), the formations, and the new economic model were displayed. The formations aid greatly in the troop movements, which are a huge step-up thanks to a completely new pathfinding AI. Even though the pathfinding AI was preliminary, it's already better than Age of Empires' AI. Gathering points for villagers and troops, and a host of interface improvements will make this game easier to play; and smarter AI, more technology, and troop options will bring added depth to multiplayer games. Lastly, although we saw nothing of the single-player campaigns, Ensemble did say it would create campaigns based around historical figures such as Joan of Arc and Genghis Khan, so there would be more story and personality in the single-player experience.

It's an annual tradition for Microsoft to unveil a new peripheral at Gamestock. This year, two new game pads were displayed. The first, the Sidewinder Game Pad Pro, is a sleek combination of analog and digital control on a single controller (and on a single pad, with a button that toggles between the two). The code-named " Zulu" controller was Microsoft's attempt to unseat the mouse/keyboard combo as the control scheme of choice for first-person shooters. The Zulu looks like a game pad, but the right portion moves in many directions, allowing players to look around.

Rounding out the collection of new products was Microsoft's space combat simulations triple-header. In addition to Digital Anvil's Starlancer and Freelancer (see accompanying stories) was an intriguing game from Microsoft Research entitled Allegiance. Perhaps the most overlooked game at Gamestock, Allegiance is an online-only, team-based space combat game. Imagine Starsiege: Tribes in space. Teams vie for control of sectors, while one player from each team watches the game from an isometric view and gives orders to the pilots.

Check back tomorrow for a collection of screenshots from Gamestock.

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