E3 COVERAGE #1
It's that time gamers of all types and ages have been anticipating for what seems like forever. There's a feeling that this one will be the best ever, throwing in a few eagerly-anticipated surprises amongst the second (or third, or fourth) helpings of all the things we already know to look forward to. It's a time when old sensations can be relived in better form than ever, while new ones are waiting to thrill us in ways we could never have imagined.
Sorry, appalling joke: complaints to the usual address. But the build-up to E3 is hitting fever-pitch around now and everyone is laying down their expectations and hopes for which games will be given pride of place during the three console manufacturers' conferences and which third-party will try and steal the show from under their noses. For all those who don't have to go there and swelter in the apparently witheringly sweaty humidity of the Los Angeles Convention Centre, making predictions is a major part of the fun of E3 tradition (as well as looking back at quite how wrong you were afterwards). This year I'm going to look a little further forward, at how I anticipate us all feeling in the aftermath of the show and taking a guess at how the gaming landscape will have changed, if at all. See you on the other side, folks...
MICROSOFT (XBOX 360)
Although the expectation is that this will be the biggest E3 ever, that gets said every year. In reality, I think it will much harder to pick out conclusive 'winners' of the show from the so-called 'Big Three'. It will be more a case of a number of individual talking points across the three conferences than any one overwhelming success.
Post-E3, Microsoft will find themselves in a more difficult place than they are used to, I think. The success of the 360 has hinged on the console being firmly planted at the heart of the gaming mainstream. They are the Jerry Bruckheimer of console manufacturers, unashamedly focusing on delivering nothing but what the average gamer is looking for: a non-stop library of violence, sports, cars and online competition. This is far from a criticism: they've done it brilliantly and anyone owning their console knows exactly what they'll get and third-parties know exactly what to offer without fail. Where Nintendo have innovated their hardware and Sony have encouraged experimental software, Microsoft have taken the stand that people already know what they want and handed it to them on a plate.
The problem is that the concept of the gaming mainsteam has changed since the Wii and Microsoft have their eye on those big new-gamer cashflows that Nintendo have exploited so expertly. Natal is doing what any good competitor should do, taking a successful innovation and making it bigger and flashier. It doesn't take Michael Pachter to anticipate out that it will almost certainly be the centrepiece of Microsoft's conference. The problem is that this sudden change of tack from one type of gamer to another (and Microsoft more than any other company have narrowed their definition of what a 'gamer' is to within an inch of their sweaty palms) is that you risk alienating the people upon whom your success has been founded up to this point. 360 gamers hate the Wii and everything it represents, so even a sniff of so-called 'casual gaming' infecting their 'hardcore' mindset is likely to be greeted with nothing but derision and hostility. Natal's early demonstrations haven't convinced (especially that recent rafting game, presented with a family making fools of themselves in a very Nintendo fashion) and I'd imagine that those nerves will if anything be a little more on-edge after the conference.
That said, Microsoft aren't stupid. They know who their consumer base is and won't let them abandon ship without a fight. Rare will chip in with a big online title. In addition to the mini-games and creepy child simulators, there will be a handful of more traditional genre games compatible with Natal to prove it can serve the needs of both audiences. Sports games are the best bet: a skateboarding game is almost certain (it was a key part of last year's demonstration), as is a fighting game of some sort, while EA will come through as they always do and make upcoming FIFA
games work with the tech. Let's just hope there won't be another 'Bam!' moment while taking a World Cup penalty. A shooting game is a strong possibility given its status as the quintessential 360 staple, but if it does happen, will be in the experimental stage to adapt to how players react to it. Outside Natal, expect sequels galore, gore and guns. Lots of guns. 360 gamers will come away from this conference happy in the knowledge that there will more much more of the same for them to enjoy as they have been for these past five years, but perhaps a mite concerned that they aren't the apple of their benefactor's eye anymore.
SONY (PLAYSTATION 3, PSP)
Sony will also be showing off their push in motion-controlled gaming, adopting Nintendo's model almost verbatim, albeit with a big glowing ball glued onto the end for good measure. But while Sony have tended to be followers rather than leaders in terms of hardware innovation, they've cultivated a strong experimental streak in their software with relatively niche titles like Heavy Rain
finding success and their own LittleBigPlanet
and ModNation Racers
putting creation and distribution of gaming content into the hands of players.
Unlike Microsoft, who are pitching largely to Nintendo's new audience, Sony will try and capture the best of both worlds. Their early Move minigames have shown the eccentric streak that old and new gamers alike tend to appreciate (speeding down a hill on an office chair), while the controller's near identical design to the Wii remote means that third-parties will be coming to the table with several years' worth of experience designing games around that form of input – albeit now a more responsive version. FPS' are the traditional genre the Wii remote does best and will be the genre Sony shows off to prove that Move can suit everyone's needs. Sony know that the Wii has had a lot of excellent traditional games to provide the basis for Move's success, plus the fact that gamers tend to sneer at anything until their manufacturer of choice makes it, whereupon they defend it with their lives. Expect a lot of converts to pointer-based aiming and more post-E3.
Sony fans should emerge from E3 feeling satisfied with what they have seen and excited that Move can offer them new ways of playing the genre games they've enjoyed, decorated with that Sony enthusiasm for the unusual. There's a definite chance of a new PSP as well, taking as much from the DS as Move takes from the Wii, but adding horsepower and hoping to take the wind out of Nintendo's 3DS announcement. There will be enthusiasm, but more than a hint of 'been there, done that'. On the traditional software front, Sony mainstay Hideo Kojima will be given time to expand upon his upcoming Metal Gear
projects, while Fumito Ueda will get everyone sobbing and cheering at the same time when boy and griffin combine in The Last Guardian
(the expected HD conversion of Ico
and Shadow of the Colossus
will be the icing on the cake and probably lead into Guardian
's release date). There's a strong possibility of another 'user-generated content' game being revealed, either a sequel or something fresh (I'd still like to see a dedicated FPS builder on consoles, like an expanded version of the TimeSplitters
or Far Cry
mapmakers), but while no-one will come away feeling like Sony is about to change the world, it should be quiet satisfaction across the board.
NINTENDO (Wii, DS)
Nintendo fans will both be happy at the end of E3, but also perhaps aware (even if it isn't stated explicitly) that it will be time to start preparing for a new home console at the end of next year. Zelda
will obviously be the major talking point and the final top-tier first-party Wii title. Fans will of course be delighted to see the series return, but the noises coming from Nintendo have not shown any great enthusiasm for the massive revamp of the series that is needed, so that enthusiasm will be dampened by disappointment that while the game will be more streamlined and offer a few cosmetic changes to its Twilight Princess
predecessor (as well as being enhanced by the Motion Plus), nothing really new has been brought to the table. As promised, the game will be Nintendo's big Christmas release.
Another title that surely can't fail to appear is Pikmin 3
, which Miyamoto has been talking about for nigh-on two years now. While it has been in development for some time, it wouldn't surprise me if its release date is kept vague: Nintendo will see it as best used to keep gamers on-board up until the announcement of their new home console early-ish in 2011 (for a full reveal at next year's E3, then the traditional November release – Nintendo's all about the short run-ins this gen). Metroid: Other M
will also get a bit of time ahead of its August/September release, although will have a hard time convincing of its credentials to follow the Prime
series. On that note, I don't see Retro Studios offering anything this time around: my expectation is that they'll be hard at work on a launch title for the Wii's successor. For their 'new gamer' division, Nintendo will present Wii Party and the Vitality Sensor game in association with the Heart Foundation as the cornerstones, which Nintendo will get out of the way early on (after the usual rounds of boasting) so their old-school fans can get non-stop excitement from the latter-half of their conference.
Nintendo's big reveal for this year's E3 will obviously be the 3DS, mockups of which are already flooding the internets and with rumours suggesting it will have a processor that comes close to that of the 360. While it will be significantly more powerful than the DS, I can't see Nintendo undermining the Wii in its final year by having a handheld on the market that is significantly more advanced than the home console alternative. The PSP2 will be the more powerful of the two, with the 3DS offering graphics slightly ahead of those from the GameCube-era, just as the DS did for the N64 and the GBA did for the SNES. GameCube ports are not entirely out of the question and Wind Waker
, for all its flaws, would be an excellent game to show off in 3D. Animal Crossing
is considered the strong first-party 'casual friendly' choice, while if Wind Waker
doesn't make it out of the gate then Mario Kart
will probably be there in some form. The success of the DS should ensure plenty of excitement for its successor, even if it lacks the same innovative ambition.
Of the 'big three', Nintendo will probably get the biggest talking points from the Zelda
and 3DS reveals, while Pikmin 3
's unveiling will give them good support. Wii Party
and the Vitality Sensor will dampen old-school gamer spirits as ever, but a couple of strong third-party genre games (notably Activision's GoldenEye 007
rerelease and more than likely something new from SEGA, possibly a House of the Dead: Overkill
sequel given that game's slow-burning success) should keep Nintendo gamers happy enough with what is being presently offered to them, while knowing that the biggest news is still to come.
PC & THIRD-PARTIES
Most of the third-party games lists have already been released, although Valve are expected to come up with something new (Portal 2
will not be appearing) that should, along with a playable Deus Ex: Human Revolution
, keep PC gamers reasonably optimistic even if the resentment will prevail that consoles have become the primary development platform. Given the recession, sequels will continue to be all the rage while new IPs will firmly stick to the big genres (no genius to work that out, though). Jonathan Blow's The Witness
will lead the front on smaller-budget innovation, which will otherwise be restricted to downloadable console titles.
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Kyle MacGregor Burleson 1