The 2017 Electronics Entertainment Expo is only a month away. Nintendo will be showcasing the Switch, while Sony and Microsoft are set to demo their latest hardware, plus hundreds of incredible games will be on display. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better time to be alive for gaming enthusiasts.
Well, besides 1997, that is. The third #E3 opened 20 years ago in Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center in the era of the Nintendo 64, the #PlayStation, and MS-DOS. Some of the greatest games of all time were unveiled that summer at E3 '97, so get ready to be knocked back by a wave of nostalgia courtesy of this list of highlights.
Front And Center FPS Franchises
In the mid-1990s there were two options for first-person shooters: Doom and games that looked like Doom (Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein, Quake, etc.). But that was about to change with the introduction of two groundbreaking franchises in Half-Life and Unreal.
In 1997 Valve Corporation had its first chance to show the gaming world what it was capable of creating. The company’s debut title #HalfLife was an FPS with a brain. Instead of just shooting everything on the screen, players had to solve puzzles and use the environment to progress through the seamless world.
Half-Life became the mother program for the popular competitive shooters Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2, and the franchise spawned fantastic spinoffs that included the Portal series. Twenty years after Valve first appeared at E3, the company has plugged itself into gamers’ lives through its massively successful #Steam platform (and Half Life 3 is still unconfirmed).
Epic Games also went from game developer to industry innovator with the help of its success at E3 that year. At the expo the company revealed a team-based #FPS called Unreal. It was instantly a smash hit, but the real game changer (literally) was the framework Epic Games created to develop Unreal. The Unreal Engine was a software developer’s dream, licensable to anyone who wanted to create a high-powered, graphic-intensive games.
Since its debut in 1997, the Unreal Engine, currently in its fourth iteration, has been used to develop hundreds of games across every gaming platform imaginable. It was even used to create graphics for the popular children’s show LazyTown.
A Solid Step In The Right Direction
1997 saw the launching of several major franchises, although most developers didn’t yet know that they were about to spend the next two decades printing money. Grand Theft Auto, Dynasty Warriors, and the quarter-eating arcade series Time Crisis all started with announcements at the ‘97 E3.
Although Metal Gear Solid wasn’t the first game in the stealth-action series, it jumpstarted the modern era of the #MetalGear franchise. The story played a pivotal role and the stealth mechanics were central to successfully progressing through the game. Players could storm through the NES Metal Gear games, but Metal Gear Solid made it mandatory for players to master the art of keeping quiet.
Attendees at the event only saw a basic trailer of the game on the convention floor, but they were hooked on its movie-like presentation. A year later, Metal Gear Solid released to tremendously positive reviews and record sales. After five core story games, multiple spinoffs and several remakes, Metal Gear Solid is rumored to be appearing at E3 again this year with a possible new title in the series.
2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the first Final Fantasy release, and #SquareEnix is showing lots of love to the beloved franchise. Along with anticipating the Final Fantasy XII remaster that releases in July, fans are absolutely going nuts for the still-in-development remake of, arguably, the series’ most popular installment, Final Fantasy VII.
By the time E3 opened in Atlanta back in ‘97, #FF7 had sold millions of copies in Japan. This expo was a chance for North American and European audiences to see the Western version of the game in action. Because it was featured at the convention, the game generated overpowering demand that blew retailers away.
When FF7 finally released in Western markets, the #RPG genre had finally infiltrated the rest of the world, ensuring that it would be a long time before there was truly a final fantasy.
Eat, Prey, Love
Yes, Prey debuted in 1997, and yes, a game also called Prey released this month. But no, these aren’t the same games, although the original Prey was in development for more than a decade.
In 1997, 3D Realms (of Duke Nukem fame) and Human Head Studios revealed concept demos for Prey’s portal creation mechanics. Following the convention, the game was delayed and shelved several times, but never quite canceled. In 2006, Prey was finally released by 2K Games for the #Xbox360 and PC.
A sequel began development shortly after the first game’s release, but in 2009 ZeniMax (parent company of Bethesda) acquired the rights to the Prey franchise. Bethesda canceled the sequel in 2014, and started working on the Prey reboot that released this month.
The Golden Age Of Nintendo
Imagine standing on the convention floor at E3 in 1997. Nintendo had just released a new console that had so much consumer demand, stores couldn't stock the shelves fast enough. Everyone was talking about a crazy new Zelda game and gamers were ecstatic for a recently released Mario Kart. Is it 1997 or 2017?
As it's likely to do next month, Nintendo spent the 1997 E3 convincing the world that it was winning the latest generation of console wars. Back then, the company's champion was the Rumble Pak-pumping #Nintendo64. The now-immaculate Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time briefly appeared in the form of an awkward concept video, while Nintendo showed off playable demos of Banjo-Kazooie, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Yoshi’s Story.
But it was another FPS that stole the show at Nintendo’s booth: GoldenEye 007. Rare’s masterpiece for the Nintendo 64 began its rise to legendary status at E3 that year. Fully playable and just two months from its release date, GoldenEye was the game everyone had to experience.
It was fortunate that GoldenEye absorbed everyone’s attention or else the world might have noticed the notoriously bad Superman 64, which also debuted at that event.
Some Adventures End Too Soon
Unfortunately, not everything shown at E3 survives to release day. Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans is one such game.
Coming off the back of tremendous success with Warcraft II, Blizzard decided to make a point-and-click adventure based on the lore of the real-time strategy game. E3 attendees were treated to a demo and trailer for the upcoming #Warcraft franchise project. Lord of Clans centered on the rise of Thrall, an orc who would grow up to become leader of the Horde.
Although the game received positive attention, Blizzard canceled it in 1998. Fans were so disappointed that an online petition was circulated, demanding Blizzard resurrect the project. The petition generated enough buzz that Blizzard released an official response explaining its decision to toss the game.
The good news for Blizzard and its fans, however, was that the company also showed a demo for an RTS game called StarCraft. And we all know how that one turned out.
Other Notable Games At E3 '97
- Quake II
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
- Resident Evil 2
- SimCity 3000
- Tomb Raider II
- Breath of Fire III
- Ultima Online
- The Curse of Monkey Island
- Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
- Dead or Alive
- Age of Empires
It's difficult to believe that one convention could showcase so many awesome games. Of the titles featured that year at E3, many would go on to smash sales records and have continued to easily chart on so many "best of all time" lists.
E3 takes place June 13–15 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. What are your favorite games featured at E3 in 1997? What are you hoping to see at E3 this year? Sound off in the comments below.