While the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2011 is still in progress, the conferences for the 3 big names, Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo are done and dusted. The in-depth details of what’s on offer has already been plastered all over other gamine news sites (and no doubt your Facebook and Twitter accounts); but this is just a little summary of what stood out to me.
I’ve always taken E3 with a pinch of salt. While it’s the major US event for games publishers to share new projects and releases with the masses, it all boils down to the hard sell. The presentation of the publisher conferences matters just as much as the products they’re trying to market, and they don’t always do the job well.
The Xbox 360 played very close to its strengths this year; a user base with a high percentage of shooter enthusiasts (of which I am definitely not), and a still-developing market in the Kinect. Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft Entertainment, informed us early on that the exclusives this year would show heavy support for the Kinect, and they definitely kept to that through the conference.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the perfect blend of Shooter and Kinect-bait. The gesture controls and voice recognition were used to create a very intuitive-looking customisation menu system; but part of me feels that such a cool concept is a little wasted on gun fetishism. On the other hand, the gesture controls for the actual combat look so entirely ridiculous that any sense of coolness flew right out of the window.
Part of the demographic for the Kinect is of course young children; so to demonstrate Kinect Disneyland Adventures (Essentially Kinect Adventures! with a Disney theme) and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, stage-ready, rosy-cheeked children were wheeled onto the stage. These kids are always annoyingly saccharine and are good for a chuckle. But on the other hand, can you imagine these child-demographic games being demonstrated only by adults? Creepy.
Kinect Funlabs is a new e-store where you can download experimental Kinect software other developers have made. There’s a huge ‘homebrew’ community for the Kinect, and Microsoft did a good job of harnessing it. I hope we don’t have to pay for the demos though; they look very bare-bones. The conference was wrapped up with a short trailer for Halo 4; which caught me by surprise – Bungie said that after Halo Reach, they weren’t intending to produce another main-series Halo game. So either Bungie loves consumer money too much to keep their word, or Microsoft is using another developer to keep the cash cow running. Not cool.
Sony offered a much wider range of genres than Microsoft this time around, but they really pushed the PS3′s 3D functions, just like how almost all of the 360 exclusives sported Kinect. Of course, the 3D effect was entirely wasted on us paupers watching the conference through the internet.
There were a lot of solid titles that definitely garnered my interest. Uncharted 3, which was a bit moodier and grittier than I’d like still impressed me with its brighter action scenes in Arabia. inFamous 2 still has me incredibly hyped, but there was nothing that we didn’t already know. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will hopefully be a great sequel to the PS2 games I remember fondly, but I’m sad they got rid of the cartoonish cel-shading.
They also announced some new IPs in Starhawk, a game with an aesthetic cross between Borderlands and Halo, but looking to promise standard-fare shooter action; and Medieval Moves: Deadman’s Quest, which looked like a reasonable first-person action adventure game, but it reminded me heavily of a tech demo demonstrated for the PS Move last year – featuring a similar setting, but a magic-using protagonist. It looked much less polished than this effort, but a lot more enticing in terms of mechanics.
Some of the games mentioned were not specifically Sony exclusives, but instead would have bonus content or Playstation Move functionality; which smacked of them being unconfident in the lineup of exclusives they had. Don’t sweat it Sony, you’re doing just fine. But next time you get 2K Games to demonstrate their next NBA 2K game, don’t have them go by halves. Kobe Bryant can’t hold a candle to the glorious Shaq.
The official announcement of the Sony Vita is a surprise to few (even the name of the then-titled NGP was released a few days back, along with some of its planned titles), but the lineup for release games is looking a lot stronger than the 3DS’ effort. Diablo-clone Ruin and fighter’s dream Street Fighter X Tekken are the titles that have me salivating, but then there’s no guarantee they’ll actually be available any time soon.
The incredibly competitive price of $249 to directly compete with the 3DS is definitely throwing down the gauntlet. The Vita pulls ahead in terms of sheer graphical brunt, but otherwise they’re both host to some very similar features. It’ll come down to the games support in the end.
While Nintendo wasn’t the only company to be releasing new hardware this year, they had been keeping the cards much closer to their chest than Sony has been with the PS Vita. That alone accounted for much of the anticipation for Nintendo’s conference, and they rode that out for as long as they could.
The first section of the conference showed no hint of new hardware info; instead detailing the variety of Legend of Zelda game releases for the 25th Anniversary for the series. A free DSi download of 4 Swords Adventures was what piqued my interest the most, along with the announcement of a soundtrack CD for Skyward Sword… though we probably won’t see that released over in the UK.
Now that’s over, is it time for the hardware announcement? Psyche! It’s 3DS release time. This is still fairly a big deal, but I watched with a hint of scepticism. Last year the support for the 3DS was huge, with many big names like Metal Gear Solid and Kingdom Hearts poised to be released. But the games available on release have been pretty weak, and that wasn’t looking to change. So Nintendo looked to fix that failing with some solid first-party support. And they definitely brought forward some big names.
Mario Kart and Kid Icarus Uprising are my picks of choice, with Mario Kart showing off customisable cars and tracks where your craft can transform into a hang glider or submarine; and Kid Icarus demonstrating some charmingly bad voice acting, and gameplay that heavily reminds me of Sin and Punishment.
Then the Nintendo eShop was brought up. It’s the marketplace system for the Nintendo 3DS, and the update to install it on your system is already live. It functions just the same as the Wii and DSi shops, but in addition to special 3DS software, the range of released DSiWare games (Go and play Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. You won’t regret it.), and a small (and rather terrible) pool of GameBoy games are also available to download. The UK prices seem to be slightly higher than the US ones, though.
Ok, that’s finally out of the way. Do we get the console announcement? Fortunately, yes! The name is announces as the Wii U. Which, while fairly silly, is easy enough to put up with. The revival of Wii/Wee jokes won’t be. They lead the showcase with the Wii U’s controller, a 6.2 inch tablet surrounded by the the kind of buttons you’d expect to see on a modern controller. Only odd thing is the placement of the two analogue sticks – right at the top, even above the D-Pad and face buttons. Why on earth are they placed up there? It might work out to be comfortable in practice, but for now, I don’t think my big, meaty hands can accommodate that positioning.
Beyond the unique controller design, the ‘big deal’ about the Wii U is its processing power and graphics capability. It can now directly compete with the HD-capable PS3 and 360, allowing developers who dismissed the Wii as a non-progressive platform to give Nintendo users the same gaming experience everyone else gets. Which is both a good and annoying thing.
On one hand, I’ll be hearing less chatter about ‘Console Wars’. The scope of games released for each platform are now just that little bit more level. Barriers to entry in terms of developing games for multiple platforms will drop, and I definitely see that as a good thing.
On the other hand, I felt that the limitations of the Wii forced developers to do something different with their games to make them marketable. The Wii U isn’t going to make those developers magically vanish, but the line-up for the Wii U shown could largely be described as “Games the other platforms are already getting”, and that made me a little sad.
All in all, the corporates are starting to get the hang of these Conferences. In previous years, many of these presentations would get bogged down in sales figures, and rambles about company history. But the general populace doesn’t want to hear that, and the journalists in the auditorium sure enough aren’t going to report about it. All 3 conferences were almost all about the new games from start to finish, and I definitely appreciate that. Microsoft didn’t have some new hardware to wow the crowd with, bless ‘em, but that Kinect Funlabs will definitely be something to follow. Never underestimate the genius of homebrewers!