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E3 2010 Impressions

No I was definitely not in attendance for E3.  Hopefully I will have the chance someday.  The good news though is that every year the Electronic Entertainment Expo is so popular that many sites on the net allow you to stream live footage from the show.  Not just some, pretty much all of it.  Through some live viewings and some recorded viewings I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what new stuff “The Big 3” each have to offer, especially Microsoft.

Let’s crack into the others first.  Admittedly I didn’t see all of NINTENDO‘s show but I certainly saw enough to tell me that regardless of who you think “won” the show, Nintendo knocked it out of the park.  Everyone knows what the Wii is, what it does and what makes it different.  This allowed Nintendo to take a different approach than Microsoft and Sony did, who both had new peripherals that needed some justification.  Nintendo simply said “No new knick knacks or add-ons, we’re going to assault you with awesome new games.” and that’s pretty much what they did at the end of the day.

A new Zelda game is on its way in the form of The Legend of Zelda:  Skyward Sword and despite a bad demo that had nothing to do with the game itself (the infrared sensor on the Wii was getting too many signals from people’s devices in the crowd), we all know it’s going to be great.  GoldenEye is making a long-awaited return, which will rouse excitement in pretty much anyone that’s played the original.  A new incarnation of NBA Jam was also introduced, boasting 100+ unlockables and the possiblity, but not promise, of online play.  I’m still fuzzy on whether this is going to be a Wii-exclusive or not, but I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else.  Lastly a new Kirby game is here, and god damn does it look good.  I was so impressed with the minute or so of footage.  Called Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the title is taken quite literally since everything in Kirby’s world is made of cloth.  Kirby has a whip-like implement that lets him grab/swing onto things and manipulate the environment, creating a cool effect as if you’re pulling or pinching a piece of fabric.  Got a jump that’s too far to land?  Just lash out and scrunch the background to move the other ledge closer.  There are so many possibilities for this type of gameplay.  I’m very excited for Nintendo owners on this one (and jealous, hopefully I’ll own one soon!).   The biggest surprise was a return of Donkey Kong Country on the Wii.  To be honest I’m sure it’s great but it looked a lot like the old game for N64 just with updated graphics.  Fixed side-scrolling game play without much depth.  Nintendo fans will probably go crazy for it anyway, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I’m sure it will still be a solid game at the very least.

Oh and I almost forgot to mention how they closed the show:  By officially introducing the Nintendo 3DS.  Now the only negative of this segment was that the 3D technology wouldn’t show up on screens and obviously someone playing on stage would be too small for people to see.  That’s what I’m assuming at least, since Nintendo only talked about it and offered a chance to experience it at their booth after the presentation.  People in the know have reported it’s the real deal though:  3D technology you don’t need to wear glasses for.  I’m very, very interested in this.  I haven’t seen one single negative comment about it so I’ll go ahead and assume it’s as cool as it sounds.  They did unveil a 3DS game old-schoolers will be chomping at the bit for:  Kid Icarus Uprising. Yep Nintendo was bringing out all the old favorites this year.  Also announced were Paper Mario 3DS and StarFox 64 3DS. No one is sure whether these are ports of the same games or brand new installments however with the “64” in the StarFox title at this point I’m convinced they’re remakes until I hear otherwise.

All in all I thought Nintendo kicked butt.  People can speculate on E3 all they want, but let’s be honest.  For us gamers we just want to see new games that we want to buy.  Nintendo gave us that, and with the 3DS it seems like they probably covered the “new technology” aspect at the very same time.  Overall a nigh perfect showing if you ask me.

So how did SONY do?  Well we learned Gran Turismo 5 is coming on November 4th.  Thank god.  I’ve never seen a release date as enigmatic as this one for a game so many people have been ready to buy for years.  Oh well, probably for the best quality-wise.  Killzone 3 was also unveiled for February 2011 as well as a new Little Big Planet game.  Sony did their job as far as keeping their main franchises front and center with PS3 owners.

Sony also announced (not in these words of course) that they’ve found a way to charge people for their online service.  Looks like it’s going to be $40 or so per year.  Can’t hold it against them quite frankly.

Of course the big deal was the PlayStation Move.  With Microsoft also planning to reveal more details of their motion control device, Sony wanted to make sure they could counterpunch.  To be honest, I don’t like this thing.  It’s operated by two wands with glowing bulbs on the top that look like something out of a cheesy ’50s sci-fi movie.  They look very cheap.  Also, since last year I could never get over the fact that you wave the wands yet you still have a bunch of buttons to press.  Seems more like an unnecessary tweak to the Wii controller more than a revolution.

One thing I will say though is that Move performed very well.  Those buttons I hate so much enable you to do a ton of things.  Shoot guns, manipulate the environment, and anything else you can think of.  Basically it’s a simple upgrade to a normal controller, but you’re doing everything your character normally would do with a standard controller but you’re actually controlling their movements.  Okay, I don’t even think I can convince myself.  I’m just not much into these devices.  Sorcery was the demo everyone was praising, but I wasn’t totally impressed.  It looked fun, but I’m not sure for how long.  It also didn’t really speak to the possibilities, if any, that would open up for developers using Move.  Check out the video below and judge for yourself though.  Overall not a mind-blowing show for Sony, but they showed up and did what everyone hoped they would do.

Now on to MICROSOFT.  Ehhhhhh.  Okay I’ll admit it:  I still have a little bit of fanboy in me.  Now I’m old enough to not hate on other consoles (if you have one I hope you enjoy it, what do I care?), but on the flip side I want Microsoft to be the king because I’m an Xbox guy.  I don’t want to ever doubt the purchases I make with them.  Well I wouldn’t say I’d go that far when expressing my displeasure with their presentation, but man I really was disappointed.  I saw the negative comments going around, I didn’t get sucked in, but after watching I can’t do anything but agree with them.

So the show started with the trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops. Okay let that sink in for a second………they started the show with a multi-platform game……using a trailer that we’ve already seen.  Yeah, way to get everyone psyched!  Show how you’re different from the others Microsoft!  Seriously, WTF was with that?  Okay fine, I’m over it.  I’d wager that Black Ops is going to be cool so we’ll let it slide.  Then they follow up with Metal Gear Solid: Rising. The trailer amounted to a minute or two of cinematics then some gameplay.  This game looks great.  It looks a little more sword-oriented than I would have hoped (I want Snake and I want guns) but I was still pretty excited after seeing it.  You can run around like crazy with a katana slicing anything in sight like awning supports, whole cars, even watermelons lying around (and slice them in perfect wedges I might add).  You can also slow down the action and adjust your cuts on enemies and yes the cuts are accurate and the body parts chop up exactly like you want them to.  Really cool.  I’ve been pretty put off by how many cutscenes are involved in the Metal Gear series lately, but I like what I see so far and I’m still anxious for the newest one to be on the Xbox 360, even though it’s still another multi-platform game.

Next Cliffy B took the stage to demo Gears of War 3, along with 3 friends playing across the way opposite him.  Yawn.  I’m not a Gears fan, but I didn’t see anything different from the first two games.  Run around, shoot alien brutes from cover, repeat.  I don’t have anything against the game, it’s just not my taste, but there wasn’t anything to make Gears enthusiasts slobber and nothing to make people like me want the newest version.  It was just…..four people hanging out playing Gears of War. The forced chatter between players was annoying too.  “I’ve got a gun for you Cliff, here!”.  “Save me!”  “All right, all right, take it easy.”  Bleczinski then said there was a new mode called Beast mode that you could play at the developer’s booth, then promptly left the stage.  Pfft.

Peter Molyneaux came out to say “Hey Fable III’s still on the way” then show a short trailer.  Frankly the one I saw on the XBL dashboard was way better and it’s not even close.

Then we were treated to a live action, overly dramatic trailer showing extreme close ups of a gladiator, with the title Codename: Kingdoms appearing at the end.  Anywho….

Then we were treated to a lengthy gameplay presentation of Halo: Reach. I have no problem with this, but I think anyone who has any interest in Reach has already played the beta or at least scoured the net for videos and/or info.  Showing more was a no-brainer, but we know what we have on our hands here.  See a pattern forming?

Well thankfully that pattern ended with Microsoft finally unveiling more about Project Na-….ahem, Microsoft Kinect.  Yep that’s the new name for Natal.  I liked the “codename” better, and I frankly haven’t found anyone who cared one way or the other who disagrees.  What’s in a name?  In the marketing age, pretty much everything if you ask me.  Oh well.

So last year we got the gist of what Kinect could do.  No controller required, you just stood right up in front of your TV and Natal scanned your profile and mimicked your every move on screen.  We were shown a paint program and a simple dodgeball-type game.  Nothing special, but it got the point across.  If done right this was taking “active gaming” to a level the Wii just can’t match.  Kudo Tsunoda of Microsoft (who I hate) even took verbal shots at Nintendo, citing that the Natal worked with your entire body as opposed to “preset waggle controls”.

So what has changed a year since then?  Microsoft had pretty much any heavy-hitting developer you could think of on board when Kinect was unveiled in its Natal form at E3 2009.  What did MS have to show for it?  Not a whole lot compared to what we’ve already seen.  Nothing too far forward from what we came to expect from the basic demos of last year and a lot of content that was a little too far on the casual side.  There definitely wasn’t a killer app, and I don’t think Microsoft was trying to fool anyone by acting like their was one either.

I don’t want to go too nuts on the negativity here simply because I’m sure not everyone feels the way I do, especially if they have kids and are interested in something like this for them to play.  I’ll just post the vids and you can judge for yourself.  In my summarized opinion I think Microsoft has spent a lot of money on something that might not do nearly as much as they once thought.  Most gamers don’t want to physically run in place to play Call of Duty for example.  What’s left (again, in my opinion) is something only the most casual gamer would be interested in while still being a video game player at all.  Check out the demos and I’ll close with a few other comments:

Okay I lied I’m going to make some comments, take ’em or leave ’em!  Anyhow, Adrenaline Misfits doesn’t look that bad.  Sort of like an SSX but geared towards the younger crowd.  Let’s see what else there is……

Okay this is a fitness application.  We’re well aware of the Wii doing this and it’s a natural fit for Kinect so why not?  Getting warmer…….sort of.

This is painful to watch, which is why I chose this one!  Dance Central is DDR adapted to Kinect’s abilities.  As you can see while cringing at this vid, it can even teach you how to dance if you so desire.

I know Forza nerds are up in arms about this one, fearing a true sequel will be skipped in favor of this game.  I’m sure they’ll be fine and won’t be neglected.  I don’t think I would ever play this but one thing is it’s absolutely stunning.  The cars…look….amazing.  The fact that you can sit in each car is really neat too, just like you’re in the showroom.  Well not exactly.  You can’t swivel your head and look around too much you just select certain things that the game shows you in more detail.  No clue who would want to hold their arms up as if to drive a steering wheel for an entire race, but here it is if you want to.

This looks ridiculous to me.  It looks like a “for all ages” racing game for kids on the Dreamcast or something.  Just terrible in my opinion.

Seriously what the flying hell is this?  I realize there has to be a virtual pet game of some kind (I guess) but this is a joke to me.  You can’t tell me this wouldn’t get boring in five minutes even for a small child.  How many different things do you really think they’ve programmed for that animal to do?  I’d put the over/under at eight.  This is shovelware with good graphics.  If it were anything more we would have been shown that it was.

Okay I have no idea what the fuck is going on here.  I’ve watched it a handful of times and still can’t figure it out.  It seems like some sort of motion control riff on Rez, at least that’s the closest I can come up with.  Liked the music at least.  Who knows, there could be a really addicting game hidden underneath.

This one was disappointing to me.  You bother to get LucasArts on board with a Star Wars game no less and this is it?  It’s on rails!!!  This really makes me fearful for what other “hardcore” games we’ll see for the Kinect.  This could have been that killer app I mentioned.  No other console would have a similar version.  I know the technology is new but is this the most it can do?  I’d pay no more than $20 for this game as a huge Star Wars fan.  Very scary and hopefully not telling of what to expect in the future.

I admit I think the first mini-game looked fun.  How long that fun would last I can’t say, but it seemed to demand just the right amount of movement from the player.  You feel like you’re using Kinect for its intended purpose but you’re not flopping all over the living room either.  The raft entry was dull.  After one or two runs you’d never play it again, and you certainly wouldn’t be giddy as hell like those two girls playing it.  Eff you.

So what do you think?  I’m not too sure this was what we thought would blow us away when the new E3 was just around the corner.  It’s kind of a bust in my opinion.  I mean you’ve got the shovelware/Wii-type simple applications we all knew were going to be there, but where was the ‘oomph’?  I’m starting to believe this is NOT for typical gamers, which might sound obvious but I’m not quite sure Microsoft posed it that way last year.  This was the new revolutionary thing.  It wasn’t going to be as awe-inspiring as the Super NES or the N64 for example, but it seemed like it was supposed to be a smaller but still significant leap in the same way the original PlayStation or original Xbox were, where you felt like gaming had taken the next logical step.  Not so.  The message this presentation sent to me was “We’ve invested tens of millions of dollars to try and lure in anyone that doesn’t have a Wii yet but wants one.”  Really?  That’s disappointing.

Even worse was the fact that of the other games that are listed are mostly more of the same:  another dance rhythm game, two more fitness games, Kinect Disney, etc.  Quite the letdown for anyone that doesn’t need something to keep their kids occupied or desperately wants their parents to give video games a try.  Well, and the fact that there’s already something for those people:  it’s called a Wii!!!!  Also, how much is this thing going to cost?  Sony unabashedly laid down the price of the PlayStation Move:  $99, then $49 for the controller, and $29 for the navigation wand (whatever).  $180 in total unless you already have a Eyetoy.  Wow I can’t believe Kinect will be the better value, unless MS really screws it up.  $150 is what people keep saying but nothing is for certain.  It could be a lot cheaper than that.  Still, it’s hard to imagine MS going any lower than $50 for games knowing their reputation.  PlayStation Move games will be $39.  Hmm.  Seems like the Kinect base price will be an enormous factor in how it’s received.

Hopefully we’ll see what some of these big companies like Blizzard and Capcom are working on for Kinect, but with what we’ve already seen from other influential developers how can we be optimistic?  This doesn’t seem to be going in the direction we once thought it was.  Only time will tell however.  The people working on these games are much more creative than myself and most other people.  Maybe there are some killer tricks up their sleeves.  We’ll have to wait and see though, because Microsoft didn’t give us any more reason to want a Kinect in my opinion.

Last but not least MS announced a slimmer, sleeker, Xbox 360 console will be available in stores by the end of this week (yeah you read that right).  Frankly there’s no way they’re getting another $299 out of me this late in the game but it IS pretty nice is you’re in the market for a new one:  256 GB hard drive, much quieter, and Wi-Fi enabled.  The Wi-Fi thing actually pisses me off somewhat since for years myself and many others have struggled with whether or not to buy the overpriced wireless adapter ($100).  It’s fairly telling to me that this is what Microsoft ended with.  Not much going on on their front save for Kinect and the stuff we all knew about in the first place.  Right now it’s hard to find some good images of the new console but you can go to Microsoft’s site and check it out.

Well, that’s all from my perspective on E3.  There were other things I didn’t touch on like Virgin creating a new competitive gamer network for real prizes and Microsoft’s deal with ESPN to let Gold members watch replays of sporting events for free, but details and full implementation of things like that are still uncertain.  Regardless of your overall reactions there was plenty to talk about as always.

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