Four Days of E3: Sony Press Conference

Finally, we’ve saved the best press conference for last… okay not really, we just didn’t have the time to write about it in the past week. So, sue us. Sony, the dominant force in video games in the past 15 years, has a lot to prove to both the so-called hardcore and mainstream video game fans. A company that’s still looks up from 3rd place in PS3 console sales for the third consecutive year, Sony has to bring a lot more to the table to convince fans, that their video game brand is still relevant. Is the third time really the charm? Let’s find out.

Unexpected Self-Deprecating Humor

One of the more surprising things that came out of the Sony presser is not some new game announcement or what’s in store for the Playstation brand. It was Sony’s candor and self-deprecating humor that surprised us. Jack Tretton, CEO and President of SCEA, joked about how he’s thankful that people showed up to the presser because of all the product leaks. Kaz Hirai also joked how the PSP Go is also known as “the worst kept secret in the game industry.” Not to be outdone, Jack Tretton also joked about Hannah Montana games as being important to the Sony brand. Which was promptly followed up by an enthusiastic “WOOOOO!” from a few people in the audience.

More Live Demos, Less Fakery

For the past 3 years or so at E3, Sony repeatedly promised to showcase more games than their competitors. But time and time again, they haven’t delivered anything tangible, or anything that was actually playable, until now. Sony delivered the goods this year by showing actual in-game footage of their first party lineup. Uncharted 2, MAG and God of War 3 are among the few that Sony fans, and gamers in general have been waiting to see in the flesh, with no gimmicks or misleading tricks.

PSP Go Attempts to Take Out the iPod Touch

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Hmm... I don't know if this is the iPod killer Sony is hoping for.

In the last 10 years, Sony’s once dominant Walkman brand has been reduced to dust thanks in large part to Apple’s intuitive iPod portable music player (and bullish marketing). Now, Sony is trying to return the favor by releasing an update to the PSP — the PSP Go.

The PSP Go has similar specs of the PSP-3000, except that it doesn’t accept UMD and has a smaller screen. Instea, it has a built in 16 GB flash memory and has a slot for Memory Stick Micro M2 for up to an additional 32 GB. To tie it all together, Sony also announced their take on iTunes with Media Go, a PC application to access the Playstation Store for the PSP and PS3. Sense Me, Sony’s version of Apple iTunes Genius playlist, analyzes your media library and will automatically create playlists based on your mood.

The one major setback for the PSP Go is the exorbitant price of $250 (that’s $50 more than a 360 Arcade!) Understandably, the iPod Touch is priced at $230, so I can understand where Sony is coming from. However, much like the Xbox 360, the Sony PSP has a hardcore gamer reputation. This attempt to expand the audience will only alienate the more experienced gamers and non-gamers unfamiliar with Sony’s offerings will only gloss over the product.

Hideo Kojima the Weapons Dealer

Hideo Kojima took the stage once again, and like an arms dealer, he’s selling ammunition to the ongoing console war by presenting Metal Gear Solid Peacewalker for the PSP. In a somewhat subdued “backstab” after his brief appearance at MS’ press con, Hideo Kojima announced that MGS Peacewalker is written and directed by Kojima and the entire MGS4 staff is also working on the title. Which leads me to believe that MGS: Rising for the Xbox is getting the shaft much like how Kojima didn’t want to get involved with the NES port of the original Metal Gear, because he thought the system was inferior to the MSX. Just saying.

Playstation Home

Sony shows a quick video of a few people in their normal lives who then transition to their online Home avatars. They show off some new content like Street Fighter outfits, the games that you can play on Home, and themed areas like the Uncharted Home space.

Frankly, still not sold on Home at all. I once tried to login onto Home when it first launched and it gave me a connection error and I never tried again since. I’m not quite sure exactly what Sony is trying to accomplish with Home. Is it their answer to Xbox Live? Is it their attempt to cash in on the Second Life crowd? Whatever it is, Sony is dedicated to make it work.

Surprise Announcements

Sony announces that Rockstar is going to be working on a new IP called Agent. Agent will be exclusive to the PS3 and Sony claims it will do for the PS3 what Grand Theft Auto 3 did for the PS2. Without any other information, concept art, or screenshots, these are very bold words indeed. Grand Theft Auto 3 defintely help make the PS2 what it is, but as far as Rockstar’s track record with new franchises? Let’s just say we have yet to see a Bully 4: San Andreas.

The surprise announcement didn’t stop there. After Sony showed off some footage on Final Fantasy XIII, they announced Final Fantasy XIV which would be a console exclusive to the PS3. It took everyone by surprise and for a second it didn’t make sense. I mean how could Sony announce FFXIV before FFXIII was even finished? It made more sense when it was revealed that it would be the follow up to the Final Fantasy XI MMO. Defintely not a traditional Final Fantasy, let’s hope that Square Enix addressed the problems that many casual MMO players had with FFXI.

The Era of Motion Control Wars

Sony, not to be outdone by Nintendo and Microsoft, announced that they too were working on motion control software. What they showed off was an early prototype of their motion controller. As if to take a cheap shot at Microsoft, Sony mentioned how they think that in gaming there are certain experiences that you just cannot do without buttons. They quickly showed off some tech demos using a Playstation Eye. The presenter was shown on screen and they were able to overlay various objects where the controller was. They believe in finding applications for motion controls that will appeal to core gamers. They ended the demo by fighting a skeleton army using the controller as a bow and arrow.

I think Sony’s stance on making motion control attractive to the core gamer is a daunting task. For me motion control will always be just a novel thing, but I could never picture using it in say a first person shooter or a fighter. That being said, the controller does look more accurate than a Wiimote. The PS3 defintely has more power and capabilities than the Wii, and compared to the Natal, this motion controller actually looks like it could happen sooner rather than later. Now I feel the war between these big three companies has truly begun and as long as all developers continue to innovate it’ll be a great ride.

Little Big Racers?

Next on Sony’s lineup was a game in the spirit of Little Big Planet called Mod Nation Racers. Just like Little Big Planet before it, Mod Nation Racers is a game that will thrive on community content. Except instead of creating platforming levels you’ll be creating kart style race tracks. The game makes it easy to create a track. All you do is drive and the track will auto populate behind you. You can fill in things such as scenery, road terrain, powerup boxes, ramp and hazards afterwards.

The game does look simple enough for anyone to pick up and play, but I can’t help but think that kart racing does not have the same lasting power and creativity that Little Big Planet users have shown. Then again I never thought you could re-create Gradius in Little Big Planet, so maybe the Mod Nation Racer community can accomplish the same thing.

God of War 3 Arrives, Violence Ensues

Lastly the developers of God of War 3 showed off a live demo of the game. The story picks up where God of War 2 ended, with a very pissed off (is he ever not?) Kratos alongside the Titans extracting revenge against the gods of Olympus. Gameplaywise it looks, well like God of War 1 and 2. And I can defintely confirm Chimera impaling.

I think Sony really needs God of War 3 to really bring in everyone who has been holding out. While the first Uncharted and Ratchet and Clank Future have been must haves for the PS3, I don’t think they have the same appeal as God of War 3 would have with it’s over the top violence. The way the audience reacted to the demo, you could get the feeling everyone was on the edge of their seat and wishing they could get a chance to play next.

Now About That Price Drop…

I believe that Sony had plenty of momentum going out of that press conference. Unlike Microsoft which tried to show that they were the multimedia solution for gamers and casuals, and Nintendo who proved you can never have too many peripherals, Sony seemed more focus on the core gamer. Sure stuff like Home and motion control may never pan out to core gamers, but from Uncharted 2, to MAG, to Final Fantasy XIII to God of War 3, Sony is quickly shaping up to be the console of choice for core gamers. One major thing they didn’t announce that many people were speculating was a price drop to their consoles. I think a price drop is inevitable and if done at the right time, it will close the gap between Sony and Microsoft.

The End of an Era?

Not quite. After a very dull first hour, Sony redeemed itself by showcasing actual in-game footage of its games. The presser could’ve been much worse if they kept on talking about the successes of the PS2, the dull unveiling of the PSP Go, and how millions of people are quincying in PS Home. After this presser, Sony have made a bit of a comeback after Microsoft’s dark horse announcement. Even without the price drop, Sony have made a better case that their platform can also have great, if not better games than the 360. Only time will tell if Sony made the right call.