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.

Four Days of E3: EA Press Conference

The big three of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony were the most anticipated press conferences of E3. However there were a few other major publishers who had press conferences of their own. Among these publishers, it doesn’t get any bigger than Electronic Arts. Since they have no hand in any hardware development, they were 85% game announcements, footage and gameplay during their conference. Oh and about 15% Jedi too.

Tease that Hair Girls!

EA started out with a bang, showing the newest trailer for Dante’s Inferno which was developed by Visceral Games. The game, based loosely off of the poem The Divine Comedy, has protagonist Dante fighting through the levels of Hell in order to rescue his beloved Beatrice. Now imagine going from a rendered look into Hell to games for tweens! (Well maybe it wasn’t such an odd transition after all) In what was an odd way to follow it up, EA introduced two games aimed towards tweens, Littlest Pet Shop and Charm Girl Club: Pajama Party, the latter of which had an on-stage demonstration of virtual teasing of hair.

So check it out EA. I understand that tweens are probably a great market to go after. I mean it’s not like you guys were the only publisher to do this at the show. I also understand that this kind of stuff makes your investors drool and dollar signs appear in their eyes, but this is E3. There is a certain type of audience that actually demands these press conferences to be broadcast live on TV and on the Internet. To put it bluntly, this type of audience couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what the new tween game sensation is. Even worse than not caring about these games, it also makes you as a company seem really out of touch to the audience you are presenting to. The pain was soon over and they quickly moved on.

Need for Speed: Nth Edition

Next up was Need for Speed: Shift. This Need for Speed takes it back to the tracks and now supports what they call profile styles. It’s like an RPG where you gain points and level up depending on how precise or aggressive you drive and it tailors your gameplay as you grow. It looks very Project Gotham Racing-y and looks like it’ll be a solid contender on the racing front even if Microsoft’s Forza 3 did look much more impressive.

RPG’s in Fantasy and Space Flavor

Next up were trailers of two of Bioware’s games, Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2. Dragon Age looks like a very gritty and dirty fantasy setting RPG. It’s less Dungeons and Dragons and more like a scene you would find painted on the side of a van that includes a heavy metal chick in a chain mail bikini. From some early reports of gameplay, you get to build characters from the ground up via skill trees. It sounds much like an MMO and in fact had heard that a demo involving a hard boss felt like playing a raid dungeon in World of Warcraft if you had to control every single person.

I don’t know much about Mass Effect 2, having never played the first one. However watching this trailer does make me want to go out and play it before Mass Effect 2 comes out. Especially since I hear you get to transfer your character over if you’ve completed the first game. Not much to say except the whole question about whether Sheperd was dead or not immediately gets thrown out the window in the first second of the trailer.

Sports, sports, sports, sports!

Of course no EA event is complete without some mention of their best selling franchises. Nothing mind-blowing was announced, but a few cool things. Fight Night 4 is launching a week early on June 25th and they showed some live gameplay of it. They said the game is so realistic that certain punches will slip through blocks and it can register whether something just glanced your body or hit head on. On the same vein as boxing, EA announced they will be working on EA Sports MMA – Mixed Martial Arts. Interesting as UFC seems to be the one that comes to mind when I think of MMA. So we’ll see if EA can compete with that established franchise, who’s games already have many of the well known MMA fighters.

On the football front, they showed off EASports.com which launched that day. It’s a community webpage for all their sports titles and among one of the unique features they toted was the ability to build an NCAA team for the upcoming game of the same title. Once the game launches you can take that team and transfer it. Also, Madden now has an online franchise mode where you can create tournaments, fantasy leagues, trading for Madden online or your iPhone.

Casuals Rake in the Dough

Next they talked about their answer to Wii Fit which was EA Sports Active. They showed a video showing off people who have used EA Sports Active and had positive testimony. It felt like a really bad infomercial (I lost 25lbs in 30 days!). However, for as much trash I can talk about this new rise in video game workouts, the sell through has been so successful for EA that a sequel is in the works. Next up the casual fron a live gameplay footage of Grand Slam Tennis, with surprise guest Pete Sampras. Grand Slam Tennis will take advantage of the new Wii Motion Plus.

Brutal Legend’s Star Studded Cast

Tim Schafer, who I never knew was so awkward on stage, came out to talk about his game Brutal Legend. It’s looking like a great cross between Overlord (you control minions), Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (you use the guitar to cast spells a la the ocarina), and Devil May Cry. A trailer was shown highlighting the celebrities who provided voice work. Along with Jack Black some other famous metal stars in the game are, Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, Lita Ford and the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. Game looks awesome and as I’ve yet to play a Tim Schafer game, I’m hoping this one is just as good as his others.

These Aren’t the Developers that You’re Looking For.

Finally EA’s press conference closed with Bioware’s upcoming MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. While it would have been nice to have heard some announcements regarding whether it will be subscription based or not or to see some actual gameplay footage instead of a CG trailer, the trailer rocked nonetheless. It showed off a massive battle between an army of Sith and an army of Jedi and a female bounty hunter in mandalorian armor thrown in for good measure. This MMO will feature something that no other MMO ever had, voice acting for every line of text. It sounds like even when you go talk to someone to hear about a quest it will be fully voiced. For an MMO, this is truly groundbreaking and they said this could possibly be one of the biggest voice over projects to ever exist in gaming, period.

This is not your Grandmother’s EA.

EA certainly has come a long way in the past few years, where previously they were known for milking franchises (not to say they still don’t) and for developing really shoddy games. Among this list alone are plenty of games I’m now excited to hear more about. (Still on the fence about Pajama Party) Most of these games I had no information of prior to this conference. So keep up the good work EA and oh make sure you never lose your grip on Bioware.

Four Days of E3: Nintendo Press Con

Day 2 of E3 has wrapped up and from it came Nintendo’s press conference. Nintendo had been lambasted by more of the hardcore fans for last year’s E3 press conference. With Nintendo’s major announcements being Wii Sports Resort and Wii Music, it was hard for many of those hardcore fans to be excited about the upcoming year. Did Nintendo learn their lesson from last year’s press conference and actually provide exciting news for these same gamers?

While I won’t go into detail about every point they talked about, I will touch upon what I think were their highs and lows.

Real Games for Real Gamers!

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Finally! I hope the next iteration is a console version.

On the high point of their press conference, they finally announced a few games that hardcore gamers would care and be genuinely excited about. Mario returned in two flavors, 2D and 3D. On the 2D front you have New Super Mario Brothers. Old school Mario platforming gameplay, but now you can play with up to 4 players. Mario Galaxy 2 looks to have the exact same gameplay as Mario Galaxy but with a couple of new items. So it feels a bit like an expansion pack, but it does have Yoshi so I can forgive it for that.

They actually focused a bit of their new releases segment on RPG’s which is great since the Wii is really lacking in a top name RPG. Final Fantasy: Crystal Bearers hopes to be this game and it looks fairly impressive. I just hope it’s a full fledged RPG and not a Diablo-ish dungeon crawler like the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles series. They chose to revitalize another series that hasn’t been seen since the days of GBA, Golden Sun DS. Honestly, I wasn’t blown away with it, and I was a big fan of the first two. I guess it’s been so long it just looks a bit generic for my tastes, but hopefully it’ll prove me wrong.

Samus Bounces Onto the Wii Again

The biggest announcement for me was Metroid: Other M, which is being developed by Nintendo and Team Ninja. The game looks to be a mix of 3D action, a la Ninja Gaiden, with 1st person shooting a la Metroid Prime. (No word if Samus was “enhanced” to Dead or Alive size) It looks like the next gen Metroid I always wanted since I never was too fond of the Prime series. The trailer showed fast paced action, what looks like quick time events and many familiar faces including everyone’s favorite villain Ridley. So kudos for Nintendo for actually showing off games most hardcore gamers would care about.

Trailers are the NEW Gameplay!

However Nintendo’s press conference was not without their share of lows. For all these great games they showed off, they were all trailers and we all know trailers are never true indicators to what the game actually plays like. So even though I am excited about all those games, I will have to reserve judgment until I see some actual in-game footage.

Nintendo Loves their Peripherals

Even lower than that however was Nintendo’s biggest push of the conference, the Wii Motion Plus. Already announced last year during the conference, they showed off the Wii Motion Plus in action. Frankly, I was not impressed. They were using Wii Sports Resort and Grand Slam Tennis to show off the range of motions the Wii Motion Plus could do, but it was hard to translate that to people not actually using it. When all is said and done too, these were all just mini-games that really took advantage of the Wii Motion Plus. When will a developer really come up with more innovative uses for the Wiimote?

This is a Joke… Right?

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You can now play "pull my finger" on the Wii. How forward-thinking!

Lastly, not quite a low point, but more like a “uhh….what?” moment. Sataru Iwata came out and did his best impression of a lullaby by talking way too long about bridging the gap between casual and core gamers. Now with that long speech you’d think something totally spectacular was going to come next, something that would steal all the thunder away from Microsoft’s Natal. What he delivered was this. Leaving the audience and myself completely baffled, you’d also think he’d show off something amazing to go along with it. Nope! He left the stage shortly thereafter. I felt like I had been rickrolled by Iwata.

Sorry No Ravi Drums This Year

To sum it all up, Nintendo’s press conference definitely had it’s share of exciting games to look forward to on the Wii and DS, but ultimately their press conference felt very lackluster. I mean really, what was up with them showing pictures of casual people enjoying the Wii and DS every 10 seconds? I felt like I was in a Nintendo infomercial. I’m sick of peripherals at this point and that new Vitality Sensor is quite possibly the last straw. Stick to good games Nintendo and you’ll get back the audience that has long since deserted you.

Four Days of E3: Microsoft Press Con

Unsurprisingly, a lot of surprising stuff was announced at the Microsoft E3 Press Conference today. Some are the tried and true franchise we come to know and love, and some are on an extremely fine line of genius and insanity. Here is my post game analysis for the Microsoft E3 Press Conference, in conveniently laid-out bullet points!

Moar Sequels!

The titles announced at the MS presser aren’t really surprising. They’ve shown Beatles: Rock Band, Tony Hawk Ride and Modern Warfare 2 early on, and they all look fantastic. However, I still have my doubts on Tony Hawk Ride and its skateboard peripheral, especially since MS has revealed a revolutionary peripheral of their own, which will be discussed later. There are more sequels later on, in the “Exclusive Games” section.

Final Fantasy XIII Gameplay on the 360

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I may have to rethink buying a PS3 for FFXIII.

A lot of gamers doubt how well Final Fantasy XIII will look on the 360. Personally, I thought that the FFXIII might choke constantly, kind of like Squeenix’s The Last Remnant. So far, it looks just like its PS3 counterpart. The FFXIII devs said the game will release in Spring 2010. What’s surprising about this demo was how short the FFXIII devs stayed on stage. I think they were there for 4, perhaps 5 minutes tops.

Exclusive Games

After last year’s impressive lineup of games for the 360, gamers are starting to wonder, what’s left in store for the oldest current gen console for 2009. Well, it looks like MS will do just fine. They’ve announced games that will be released in the next 12 months, with Shadow Complex, Crackdown 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Forza Motorsport 3 and two titles we haven’t seen in a while, much less demoed — Splinter Cell: Conviction and Alan Wake. Alan Wake reminds me of a cross between Resident Evil 5 and Fatal Frame (and Silent Hill as Joe mentioned to me on chat), presumably without the convoluted Japanese style survival horror gameplay.

Halo, Halo, and Moar Halo

Okay actually there are only 2 Halo announcements. One of them you already knew, Halo: ODST, while the other is the rumored Halo: Reach. Halo: ODST puts you into the perspective of a rookie soldier, set in the timeline before the events of Halo 3. Halo: Reach, according to Intarweb speculation, is presumably based on the events of one of the Halo novels, Halo: The Fall of Reach. I’m always excited for a new Halo game, though I admit, I still haven’t touched Halo 3 yet. LOLZ

I’m In Yer Xbawkz, Doin Sum Social Networking

feature_e3_twitterMS has announced that its Netflix integration has improved with the addition of actually queueing movies directly on your 360, which everyone feels should be a feature on day one! They’ve also announced the invasion of Last.fm, Facebook and Twitter on the 360. Basically it’s a way to tell your non-gamer and non-nerdy friends, how much of a nerd you are whenever you play your 360. Also, to increase your lameness, you can now post screenshots of your gaming achievements on your Facebook account! Sweet!

Metal Gear CONFIRMED! Wait, No Solid Snake?

After months, if not years of speculation of whether a Metal Gear game would jump in the Xbox 360, finally the joke has finally come true… sorta. Hideo Kojima made an appearance at the MS presser and announced Metal Gear Solid: Rising (the new tagline is “Lightning Bolt Action”, as opposed to “Tactical Espionage Action”), where you take the role of Raiden, also known as the poor man’s Snake. Okay that’s not really fair; I heard he was pretty cool in MGS4. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be more manly than his debut in MGS2. Release date is yet to be announced… of course.

Waggling is Apparently the Future of Gaming

Project Natal, Microsoft’s answer to Nintendo’s Wiimote and motion control, does look amazing. However, even though it’s forward thinking and seems to  improve a lot of the motion control problems that the Wii suffers when it comes to complex gestures and control, I think it’s a bit too late for Microsoft to jump in the bandwagon. It’s kinda like how the MP3 format is the defacto audio file format; sure it’s not quite as clear as an audio CD or the other file formats, but MP3s is more widely used and many audio and electronic devices recognize the format. Good luck in finding a reliable audio player that can play your FLAC files. Not to mention, brand recognition is also key. When you hear Nintendo, you know it’s going to be family friendly. Microsoft is not known to be a family friendly company for much of its history. Then again, the enthusiast press was floored after seeing the possibilities of this new peripheral. We will wait and see.

Final Verdict: 7 out of 10(TM)

I wrote way too much, so I’ll summarize this quick. Sequels are unsurprisingly amazing, details on new titles are murky at best, Project Natal might happen, but it might end up becoming like Microsoft Surface. The other dudes will have their own analysis of the Nintendo and Sony press conferences in the coming days. See ya then!