It’s easy to get lost in the tumult of the E3 chaos. Games that aren’t marketed with the impact of a thermonuclear bomb can sometimes be overlooked, but the fact remains that there are always good games in the works, no matter their PR power.

I was witness to this truth during a visit to the Sunflowers booth, where Black Sea Studios and SEK were showing off there newest games, Knights of Honor and ParaWorld (working title) respectively. Both were based in very solid genres, but tried enough new things with interface and appearance that there should be plenty to distinguish them from the heavyweights.

I first got a look at Knights of Honor, which I’d read a bit about and already had some expectations for. There was a good deal of refinement that still needs to take place within the interface and presumably the gameplay itself, but there’s certainly plenty of time in between now and its release for polishing. Knights of Honor fashions itself in the mold of empire sims past, encompassing the grounds of Old World Europe in medieval times. The conquering roles are played by your Knights, eight in number, and will be the leaders of your armies to lands and kingdoms you wish to bring into your fold. As you progress through the game, the kingdoms (and their kings) will have measured amicability, meaning that you will have choices to make regarding your approach to acquisition. A king with a soft hand and peaceful nature will respond more strongly to an arranged marriage of royal children or beneficial trade agreement, while an aggressive and insular king will require more aggressive tactics, like subversion or outright war.

Naturally, there needs to be some scalable form to all this. The World view will present a basic peripheral map of the regions, each colored on a degreed scale denoting their alignment to you; one gradient may mean neutrality or obeisance, another might mean quiet detraction or open rebellion. The Close view is where the player will put skirmishes to rest and throw down the gauntlet in siege or battle. All of this happens in real time, which is the biggest departure from the empire sim norm. While none of this seems remarkably new, Knights of Honor definitely has a personality of its own. With its many Knight classes, building and tech tree structures, and diverse battle units, this should be a promising RTS to watch for come September of 2004.

SEK presented a new twist on the hero-driven RTS mold with its new title, ParaWorld, a working title meant to shorten the lengthy game description of “parallel world”. This is literally where the three characters to choose from have been sent by a malignant evil. The key to each of these characters is their place amongst a tribe, and the tribes are dynamic social and political structures that the player must entrust, build in strength, and unite with the other tribes in ParaWorld. Besides the existing and considerable dangers of tribe conflicts, the environment of ParaWorld is a prehistoric Eden, filled to brimming with a very eclectic set of dinosaurs, all constructed in as much detail as possible. Each of the dinosaurs will have a place in the chain of survival and sometimes warring with other tribes. SEK has taken great pains to bring this world to life – it’s apparent in everything from the verdant glades to the dinosaurs themselves. This is one beautiful game, meant for close encounters and immersive maps.

Like any other RTS, ParaWorld uses buildings and an established tech tree to upgrade existing abilities, along with the usual advancement for the hero character. If certain criteria are met, real-world historical figures will be available for collection and addition to the tribe, partly for collectible entertainment, but also used for their strategic value. The example I was given was Charles Darwin, and one can only imagine the advantageous possibilities of possessing the father of evolution. ParaWorld doesn’t even have a solid release date yet, and things are already looking mighty bright for it. Everything from menu interface to unit structure to the appealing graphics are all in a good place and pace to become a big name for SEK and Sunflowers.

Between the cerebral maneuvering of Knights of Honor, and the alluring, fantasy RTS cast of ParaWorld, Sunflowers has two very high-potential games that, given the time they have, will profit from a gamer public that would do well not to pass these two games by.

- Tim Eller