E3 Press Conference Impressions 2011
Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo have all just finished their press conferences, and man, was it a good show this year. We got interesting developments from all sides, regarding new games and innovations coming for Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita and now the Wii U.
Admittedly, Microsoft had the least to show to people, since they don’t have a new console or handheld coming out any time soon. They also had the least to prove however since all they needed to do was validate Kinect and the sustainability of their platform, not an entirely new device.
For the most part, they relied on showing the games that were coming out for Xbox for their flash and awe in this year’s conference. Mass Effect 3 was there with new voice commands that could allow you to go through dialogue and control your teammates. This could actually be pretty fun, if I get to say part of the dialogue and then Shepard was the rest of the line. It definitely adds to the immersion. The most intriguing game there was Tomb Raider, surprisingly enough. Instead of just mowing down enemies or simple problem solving, the Tomb Raider is survival based gameplay. Laura Croft uses instinct (which appears in game as a light glowing on certain objects with which you can interact) to solve puzzles and try to live for another ten minutes in her environment. This is a style of game not often done by western developers, so I’m hopeful they try to expand on the concept in a meaningful way. Unfortunately for Microsoft both of these games are coming out for all platforms.
Of course, Microsoft had a ton to show off with the Kinect, none of which impressed me. Microsoft showed off a lot of games that are supposed to be for the hardcore audience. The major catch was that most of these were on rail shooters. Fable: The Journey is a magic shooter. Star Wars is a light saber shooter. Ryse, a game taking place in ancient Rome was the only stand out simply because it wasn’t didn’t look, at least on the little we saw, like an on rails shooter. Games like Umbrella Chronicles and Dead Space Extraction fell into this hole on the Wii, where they took open games and restricted them to on rails action. And they weren’t good as good as the versions that allowed for more exploration and freedom.
Sony was the second of the big three to have their press conference, coming strong with the NGP or as we now know it, the Playstation Vita. It will be on sale this year for $249 US, putting it in direct competition with Nintendo’s 3DS. Coming into E3, there was speculation it could be $350 or $400, and that Sony would market it as a high technology device on par with Apple products (which used to retail for up to 600 dollars, and still do if you buy them without a plan). There will also be a $300 model that has a 3G wireless capabilities attached to AT&T in the US, with other partners to be announced in the future. AT&T doesn’t have the best reception in places like San Francisco (or California in general), which is unfortunately where most of the game reviewers are, so the 3G version may be hit or miss depending on where you live. The graphical quality has been said to be close to PS3 level, though it’s difficult to tell when what you’re seeing is a camera filming a PSVita and then rebroadcasting that to a webstream. The touch screen has possibilities, I liked what I saw of the new Uncharted game, where you could tap the screen to hit the enemies at certain targets. My worry is that the device is too heavy to make that a feasible way to play games. If my left hand gets tired of holding the device up while my right pokes at the screen, I’m probably just going to use the button. All-in-all, the PSVita was a good show and looked have a lot of third and first party support behind it. There are trailers coming out all the time so watch carefully.
Like the Kinect, the Move had a big push, which again, did not strike me in any way. Sony seems to have forgotten to actually put individual games that are based around the controller, meaning they will be tacked on to other games. There was Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest, which looked like a game that should have been released at the Move launch. Sony should be beyond mini-games and generic no story action games for their system. Despite my harping on-rails shooters, at least Fable: The Journey looks like it has a plot. The only exception to my gripes was Bioshock Infinite. Ken Lavine, the game’s designer, lampooned motion controls when they first arrived on Xbox and PS3. So when he says that he’s found an application for those controls that will work in Bioshock Infinite, I can believe him. The guy’s made System Shock and Bioshock, so I don’t think he would embarrass himself if he didn’t have anything to back him up. Lavine has yet to do anything that’s put him in the Peter Molyneux category of designer (crazy hype), and has so far been straight forward and trustworthy with his titles.
Last was Nintendo, and boy was that a doosy. Nintendo announced the Wii U (not the best name, but let’s roll with it) a console that has can reach 1080p resolution graphics, and a controller with an 8inch touch screen in the middle. Nintendo focused on the controller through most of the press conference leaving a lot of people confused if there was even a console behind it and it was another handheld or an attachment for the Wii. However, the controller is actually very attached to the Wii U box, and cannot be taken on the road. What it does provide is a couple unique opportunities. The screen can be used to continue playing a game even while someone else is using the TV. This is probably a convenient scenario for families and roommates, where there is one giant television and everyone wants to use it. Dad wants to watch boring Baseball? Whatever, I can keep playing on the screen. Yet, when used in tandem with a television, it sort of makes the Wii U like a giant DS, where the TV is the main screen and the controller is the touch screen. I expect a lot the applications will be similar too. I remember a lot of DS games that the inventory menu or map on the touch screen. Nintendo showed this exact use during their Zelda demo for the Wii U.
The more intriguing uses involved using the controller as another layer to game. There was a brief demonstration of a shooter that used the controller as a scope and another where the touch screen could be used to send ninja stars. These aren’t amazing innovations, but they’re definitely a start. I’m more curious about the third party applications that could be put on this device. They’ve already announced that the controller can do video chat thanks to a built in camera, so why not add a Skype application. Then I could actually call people with the Wii U, and it could work as a VOIP device. Another cool application would be Netflix. Get a Netflix app on there, and then let me watch a movie on the smaller screen if I want. If someone else wants to use the TV, I can switch my movie instantly to the smaller screen. The only one stopping this kind of functionality is Nintendo, who is known for not knowing how the Internet works and being very controlling, perhaps more so than Apple.
I think this was a pretty good year for E3 press conferences. Microsoft’s was the least remarkable simply because they had less to show. Sony and Nintendo have caught my attention and the attention of most of the gaming press with their new electronics. We won’t know until they come out how useful or fun they are, but it looks good so far. The PlayStation Vita and Wii U show promise. Now, if they can get a games lineup that actually makes me want to buy their product that would be a better start.
Anyway, what do other people think? Am I crazy, overzealous, or do you agree with me?