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E3: View From the Cheap Seats

07.13.2007

I'm not going to lie to you, I was not at E3 2007. In fact, I've never been to an E3. The last convention I went to was a BeatleFest with my mom... when I was 15. Anyways, I am a huge gamer and love watching the press conferences that come out of E3, GDC, and CES. So, with Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony presenting yesterday, I wanted to throw my opinion into the mix. I'm taking a look at each one of the press conferences and saying my piece. If you vehemently disagree - get to steppin'.

MICROSOFT:

HOT: GEARS OF WAR on PC, RESIDENT EVIL 5, XBLA

NOT SO MUCH: ROCK BAND, REGGIE BUSH, SCENE-IT CONTROLLER, HALO EDITION XBOX 360

Microsoft was the first out of the gate and started well enough with a fan rendition of the HALO theme song. They followed it up with the first ever ROCK BAND performance. Peter Moore (Microsoft Corporate Vice President) played on stage with three of the developers in what I can only to describe as the lamest karaoke performance ever. ROCK BAND sucks the coolness from GUITAR HERO and straps it down with more lame controllers to buy and a karaoke-like experience. The fun of GUITAR HERO is the fact that you don't need real musical talent to have a good time. You can drink some beers and still have a good session. ROCK BAND looks like it's taking a more-is-better approach that focuses on selling peripherals and not focusing on realism.

Peter Moore screwing up a demo at E3

Peter Moore (who I, personally, love as a game exec) also had the misfortune of presenting the latest version of the XBOX 360: XBOX 360 HALO EDITION. This might have been a great idea before fanboys had already, oh, I dunno... BOUGHT THE SYSTEM. Or perhaps placed their pre-order. This once again looks like a company aiming to suck money away from gamers just for a some shiny new duds. There is no real hardware change and not worth the big deal surprise announcement. I'd rather hear more about the new XBLA games.

On the positive, seeing GEARS OF WAR on the PC was exciting. However, even more important was seeing it in action and hearing about the new levels. So far, GEARS OF WAR is the best current gen title in release. I'd say its influence on gaming culture is second only to Wii SPORTS. To see more content is great news and ensures that this is a franchise likely to survive for years to come.

Also in the plus column, a slew of great looking XBLA titles are in the pipes waiting. In particular, HEXIC 2, MARATHON: DURANDAL, and BOMBERMAN LIVE look like great new additions. Having Sega supply some classics was also quite an uplift.

Another major plus, RESIDENT EVIL 5, looks outstanding. I was really hoping to see something about DEAD RISING 2, but RESIDENT EVIL 5 is just as good. Although the game won't be out this year, we won't have to wait longer than a year (I hope). Thank you CAPCOM.

"You know what I'm sayin!"

In bad news, the hands-on demo of Madden 2008 with Reggie Bush was a painful event to behold. It wasn't Reggie's fault as much as it was the over-scripted banter from Jeff Bell (Corporate VP of Global Marketing). Bell telling Reggie to play "O" while he'll play "D" may be the lamest moment of the conference. If you can't sound like you know anything about football, don't pretend. That's how baby seals die.

Bell also had the honor of presenting a new XBOX 360 controller, that I'd like to refer to as The Nuke. This controller is designed to work with a new title, SCENE-IT. The controller looks silly as all hell and was almost the worst new peripheral of the show. Luckily for Microsoft, Nintendo showed up to take that honor.

Overall, the Microsoft presentation felt weak on new (good) announcements and almost like an afterthought. Did they assume that this new E3 would be too weak for innovation or revolution? Or did they blow their load with the HALO 3 Beta earlier this summer?

NINTENDO:

HOT: SUPER MARIO KART, SUPER MARIO GALAXY,

NOT SO MUCH: Wii WHEEL, Wii FIT, Wii ZAPPER

In the past year, Nintendo has gone from has-been to front runner; expectations for E3 were especially high. With the press conference over and done with, they also left me underwhelmed. Specifically, Nintendo's new controllers are gimmicks. Instead of being storytellers, Nintendo has branched off into the world of gimmick gadgetry. Wii FIT looks like a fad and weakens the game market. I can see the Wii FIT pad hiding in the basement gathering dust with ROB the Robot and an old Track 'n Field pad. While I loved BRAIN AGE on my DS and I think there is a huge market for portable brain games, I don't see fitness games and brain training as a huge market on full consoles. The big issue here is that Nintendo put an exercise game as the closer and not a classic in the making like SUPER MARIO GALAXY.

This awesome trailer should have been in the press conference!

In other disappointing news, Reggie announced two new controllers. One is a silly looking wheel for MARIO KART; the other is a silly named device called the Wii Zapper. From a distance these two look like another set of disposable controllers designed for one or two games and then shuffled away in a drawer somewhere. I would much rather see a new controller set free from the Wii Remote (like the Wavebird) instead of what was offered.

In good news, MARIO KART is coming and will be online capable. MARIO KART DS online is one of the coolest gaming experiences around and it is fantastic to see this experience coming to the Wii. Hopefully, they won't water the game down with gimmicks like MARIO KART: DOUBLE DASH and spend time on what was done right.

It was also cool to see was the release information for SUPER MARIO GALAXY and SUPER SMASH BROTHERS BRAWL. I am really hoping that GALAXY fixes the wrongs of SUPER MARIO SUNSHINE and so far all signs show progress. While I've never been a SMASH BROTHERS fan, SUPER SMASH BROTHERS BRAWL is definitely a big deal. Gamers that grew up playing months of SUPER SMASH BROTHERS MELEE have to be drooling all over their controllers.

Overall, Nintendo has decided to focus on everyone as a gamer, but by doing so, they risk scaring away their core audience. They risk losing their bread and butter to their competition. By spending all of their E3 capital on Wii FIT, a product directed at non-hardcore and non-gamers, Nintendo runs the risk of losing the steam they've built up this year and last. While I loved Reggie's presentation style and I enjoyed the show itself, I have major doubts with the direction of their products.

SONY:

HOT: PSP SLIM, ECHOCHROME

NOT SO MUCH: LOSS OF BACK COMPAT, ONLINE THIEVERY, RUMBLE

Being a Sony Fanboy is not something I'm known for. In fact, until this year I never owned a single Sony system. No PlayStation 1 and no PlayStation 2. I was that same dude that cheered when Sony's PlayStation 3 fell on its face. Now that a year has passed since the writing was on the wall at the last E3, Sony has made some major adjustments to fix the hubris that characterized the launch of the PS3.

In the positive column for Sony: a nice price drop. The PS3 is still priced too high, but the drop indicates that Sony is not just walking away from the console war. They've adjusted to a major mistake at launch and will add plenty more members to their online network. Gamers should be their top priority for at least the next year and this is indicative of that.

The downside of the price drop is a new SKU with a huge hard drive. Why would that be a problem? This is the same SKU that is in Europe and eliminated backwards compatibility for a lot of games. So earlier adopters of the PS3 are going to have better back compat compared to those gamers buying a PS3. Kind of a bizarre move.

The big winners for Sony this year are the new version of the PSP and the game ECHOCHROME. The new PSP slims down the size of the portable without giving up real estate. And while I'd love to see a slot loading unit, if their priority was more on lowering cost and extending battery life, I'm okay with the same old UMD door system. I'm looking forward to seeing the games load up faster as well.

Holy crap does this look fun!

Making a puzzle game fun and new is not an easy task. It seems that a majority of puzzle games owe some debt to TETRIS, SNOOD, and the crossword puzzle. That is, until ECHOCHROME came on the scene. This game looks like playing an MC Escher lithograph. This game blows FLOW out of the water and has renewed my interest in minimalist games. Sony pitched this just right as being more about gameplay.

Too bad ECHOCHROME is still stuck without rumble because that might add a whole new dimension to the game. Yup, Sony failed to announce any changes to their controller and the tilt features continue to look like an afterthought. We know rumble has to return soon; what could possibly be taking so long?

In other negative news, Sony seems to have stolen everything from XBOX Live except for achievements and a matchmaking system. Downloadable games? (check). Community features beyond your console? (check). Video marketplace? (check). Ability to show off your gaming accomplishments? (check). Ask gamers to pay for decorations to their virtual world? (check). Sony has yet to show any innovation in their online network and interface. Instead they are borrowing from Microsoft, Myspace, and SECOND LIFE and putting them into a much weaker collection of services.

Overall, Sony did much better this year than last in the delivery of their E3 message. Sure, Nintendo may have had better games to announce and Microsoft had a lot more showing off to do, but Sony didn't need to compete. They needed to re-establish themselves as a trustworthy leader in the future of gaming and not just the company that defined that last generation of gaming.

OVERALL:

Finally, my overall impression of the big three is this - nobody came out on top. All three companies made mistakes and launched surprises. None will have the impact of the Wii last year or of the PS3 two years ago. While there was no winner at E3, each company seems to be headed in different trajectories. Microsoft's lame stunt presentations and excessive bombast can't bode well. Just because you're winning with hardcore gamers doesn't give you the right to assume they'll buy anything. Nintendo has decided to avoid hardcore gamers completely and hope that the Wii can be more than just a fad... with fad-like devices. Finally, Sony has its groove back but still has an uphill battle. They still have very few cool exclusives and seems to be depending more on BluRay movies that games.

The upcoming months are going to be great for gamers, with hundreds of new titles and sequels to chose from. But unless I am completely wrong, some of these great new games are going to take a bath because gamers have only so much money to go around. Should they buy SUPER MARIO GALAXY or the new ZELDA? Can they afford HALO 3, a new console, and GRAND THEFT AUTO IV? E3 is a great place for companies to make themselves look and feel good, but the reality of this Winter might turn ugly. All it takes is one major failure or bad press and the whole house of cards falls apart. Lets hope that doesn't happen.

Source: JoBlo.com

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