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Games Convention 2008 Preview

Luke readies the ground for Leipzig

With E3 firmly despatched and the unsurprising batch of 'mixed reviews' consigned firmly to the 'stuff to consider for next year' pile, we're now looking ahead to the joys of continental Europe; Germany, and more specifically the former East German city of Leipzig. Leipzig has become synonymous with the Games Convention, and despite grumbles about location, transport and accommodation, the annual shindig is now easily Europe's most important gaming showcase, while the expo has grown in stature year-on-year.

With the German publisher's association, the BIU, set to hold a rival show in Cologne come 2009, 2008 will be a crucial year for Leipzig's aspirations as the de facto European gaming event destination. That said, with a strong line-up promised, particularly from third-parties, GC 2008 could cheer up those that fear for the festival calendar following E3's conclusion in the States. So, without further ado, lets take a look at what we can expect, beyond beer, sausages and press-party vomiting, when we head to the former Soviet Bloc from Wednesday next week.

The platform holders

With Nintendo and Microsoft having blown their respective loads all over their respective E3 conferences last month, it is little surprise to see that Ninty in particular aren't even planning to put in an appearance at Leipzig. According to the platform holder, they prefer to focus on smaller, local, consumer-facing events in Germany, which is perhaps the reason for their omission this year. That said, the fact that they held a glitzy ceremony at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, during E3 only last month, suggests that beyond Wii Music, Animal Crossing and GTA for the DS, the firm has perhaps little it wants to draw attention to at present.

That said, Microsoft arguably had the lion's share of the bombshells during LA's event, and they'll still be in Germany, even if they are forgoing the press conference it would seem. Redmond will instead use the show to reinforce all the goodies we learnt of at E3, so we'll be treated to more on Lips, Fable 2, Gears of War 2, not to mention Halo Wars next week. Might we dare hope that Bungie's postponed announcement will also emerge? Who knows, but you can be sure that Microsoft won't want to be far from the headlines with a crucial festive season now looming.

Still, having impressed stateside Microsoft will probably be generally happy using Leipzig to consolidate, while the majority of (impartial) eyes will probably be on Sony, who despite winning the buffet gong in LA, didn't actually tell us about anything particularly new. 5pm CEST next Wednesday will see the world's gaming press gathering to see what Sony will do to combat Microsoft, who have announced lashings of new games, especially in the crucial casual category, while also delivering a sucker-punch with the announcement that Final Fantasy XIII will be out on the Xbox 360 at the same time as the PS3 in the West. Some major announcements will be required, and the fact that the platform holder have scheduled a conference suggests we can hope for a few new tidbits, beyond E3's announcement of a new online shooter, MAG, DC Universe, and a US movie service. Sony are already booked in to show us Heavy Rain and Killzone 2, so we're hopeful of some new details on those, while we'll inevitably go hunting for peaks at LittleBigPlanet, Home, et al.

Something on God of War 3 might help steady the nerves, but really some brand new announcements are what's required to help the platform holder vie with Microsoft's seemingly constant PR assault. Leipzig matters to Sony, perhaps more than ever.

The third-party publishers

So, beyond Sony's need to silence the dissenters, Games Convention 2008 is perhaps more than ever going to be about the third-parties. If E3 was relatively quiet on this front; the platform holders taking centre stage, then Leipzig could see the roles reversed, publishers looking to kick-start their festive campaigns with a strong showing in Germany.

We're hopeful of some new game announcements for starters, the press conference scheduling holding all manner of promise. EA look imposing as the first firm to deliver their media briefing, Wednesday morning revealing to us what the publisher have up their sleeve to help take the wind out of Activision Blizzard's sails. Konami are also set to speak, and we'll be looking for word on their future releases now that the buzz from Metal Gear Solid 4 is beginning to subside.

Later in the day will see Ubisoft talking up their line-up, but with word reaching us that the French publisher will deliver their conference in German, we're struggling to imagine much beyond a translation of their US event. Still, maybe Jade Raymond will get an airing?

Wednesday afternoon will see Activision conferencing, and with the now-giant publisher officially skipping E3 (in favour of a press conference-come-garden party in Little Tokyo), we're hopeful of some new details from them - even if Christmas 2008 is a likely focus. Warhammer Online is also the subject of a dedicated Goa conference, while Atari (including Phil Harrison, we hope) will surely use Leipzig to continue their move into casual and online gaming. We'll be surprised if Alone in the Dark gets too much limelight, however.

Midway will wrap-up Wednesday's third-party showcasing, and we might expect some fresh news from them, especially in the light of this week's staffing shake-ups which saw 90 developers departing. If ever a publisher needed a morale boost it was Midway.

Beyond the obvious mysteries of the press conferences, we'll also be checking out some of the biggest upcoming games, through interviews, behind-the-scenes previews, and the usual show floor crawling. Blizzard's wares should be a particular highlight, as we sit down to interview the developers of World of Warcraft, and take early glimpses at StarCraft II and, oh yes, Diablo III. The likes of Mirror's Edge are also likely to titillate, alongside Spore and word on the new Need for Speed game.

Champions Online will be getting out attentions, too, and we'll be continuing the MMO theme with a look at Empire of Sport as well as the new Mines of Moria content heading to The Lord of the Rings Online. Beyond these otaku-bating delights we'll be going more action-focussed with Operation Flashpoint 2, Saints Row 2, Fuel and the intriguing new Red Faction from THQ.

Fallout 3 could be one of the biggest releases this year, so it also seems fitting that we'll be sitting down with designer Peter Hines as well as snatching some hands-on time with the new action-RPG; which could be one of the games of the show. Codemasters' multi-level Damnation will also be previewed as we look to cover some of the delights missing at E3.

In conclusion

With third-parties looking to vie with the platform holders for limelight we could be in for a Games Convention to remember, especially if Sony deliver some much needed good news ahead of the Christmas rush. We're also hopeful of unturfing a few hidden gems on the show-floor, as well as mixing it up amongst the excitable consumers who give this expo somewhat more 'soul' than the 'financial briefing' ambience of E3. Who knows, maybe Intel's press showcase will hail the re-emergence of the PC format? Stay-tuned to this site for all the latest, and we'll see you on the other side of the wall...

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