E3 Archive

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E3 2010 Preview: Epic Mickey

If there’s one thing I learned from my extended visit to the Disney Interactive Studios booth at E3 2010, it’s that Warren Spector’s (Deus Ex, System Shock, Ultima Underworld) has gotten the people at his new studio, Junction Point, to drink his game design Kool-Aid.

Multiple times throughout my demonstration of Epic Mickey, the point of player choice and consequences was hammered home at almost every section of the game. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s Spector’s signature game design element. Give the player the freedom to choose how to solve in game problems and give these choices weight through tangible consequences in the game world. It was a huge part of what made Deus Ex so beloved and it’s clearly an integral element in his first title for Disney, Epic Mickey.

Epic Mickey is an ambitious action-adventure-platformer title being developed exclusively for the Wii. The gameplay can be broadly described as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time meets Super Mario World with the water spray backpack from Mario Sunshine. Mickey will have access to paint and paint thinner, which allows him to manipulate the game world by erasing or creating objects and environments. None of these mechanics can be trumpeted as truly original, but their blended execution is what makes this game stand out.

Visuals:

I was told that the overarching aesthetic theme of the game is “lost and forgotten” Disney characters and places, including Walt Disney’s first creation, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. Disney buffs should also be ecstatic to see the attention to historical detail that Junction Point has poured into this game. I’ll admit to being a bit of a “casual” Disney fan, so I could only smile and nod as the Junction Point rep repeatedly pointed out structures (such as the Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse) and landmarks in the game that were once actual buildings and rides decommissioned from the real Disneyland itself. “Tickets” are also used as a form of currency in the game as a nod to the days in which you actually needed tickets to go on the rides at Disneyland.

Even the cutscenes are animated like an old Disney cartoon from the 50′s. You definitely get the feeling that you’re playing through a labor of love with this game. The attention to detail and presentation is just jaw dropping. What impressed me even more was the excitement and passion with which the Junction Point rep used to describe the game for me. Out of all the games I played at E3, Epic Mickey was the one I spent the most time on simply because the developer had so much to say and show from it.

Gameplay:

The E3 demo was broken up into three distinct areas: Ventureland, Skull Island, and Steamboat Willy. Each of these “maps” seamlessly transitioned with one another despite having vastly differing gameplay elements.

Ventureland was a lot like visiting a town in Zelda. The focus on this “quest map” was on NPC interaction and problem solving. Here, the choice and consequence mechanic was clearly on display. One of my first tasks was to help Smee the Pirate win over a ladyfriend in exchange for a quest item. He’s unsure as to what kind of gift to get her. By doing a little investigating around town, I figured out that she loves roses, so I told him to get her some roses and boom, Cupid played, quest item received. Had I been lazy and just told him to get something else, she would have been less than impressed and taken it out on poor Smee who in turn would have charged me money for the quest item, rather than handing it over in gratitude.

Another situation involved Tiki Sam, a shop keeper, who tasked me with collecting three masks in exchange for another one of the quest items. Now, here’s where attention to detail can pay off as a player. If you pay attention to the screen as you’re talking to him, you’ll notice that there’s a few masks on the floor behind him in the shop. When you exit the shop, you can actually see a little opening behind some bushes that will lead you to the back door of the shop. Once inside, you can nab a mask without him noticing. If you try to take all the masks, though, he’ll catch you and impose a stiff penalty on obtaining the quest item you need.

I find stuff like this fascinating because they blur the line between “good” and “bad” in a game. Too often, games will purport to offer players a choice, but really only have one style of play be “right.” Epic Mickey looks to add a little grey area in how you approach things. The situation with Tiki Sam is one in which stealing his mask actually ends up saving you time and money compared to the “morally right” choice. The Junction Point rep explained the reasoning for offering an “evil” choice as getting back to Mickey’s roots as a “mischief maker.” Sure, I’ll bite on that. It’s certainly no bigger stretch than games that force a character to act on the straight and narrow all the time.

The Steamboat Willy stages act as a sort of transition in between game maps. These are “Super Mario”-esque platform stages with a very slick black and white “Steamboat Willy” presentation. In the demo, Mickey passes through one of these to get from Ventureland to Skull Island. At first glance they definitely give a *wow* impression, but once you got past the very cool visuals the gameplay is pretty standard 2D platform fare. Mickey can jump on enemies’ heads and even double jump to reach platforms and collect items. The actual level structure itself was fairly pedestrian. It might be interesting to see more inspired “platform map” designed in the full game, but I won’t be heartbroken if there aren’t simply because the visuals are so cool.

Finally, Skull Island showed off the “action map” portion of the game. It plays similarly to the overworld in a 3d Zelda game except Mickey is armed with his paint and thinner rather than a sword and shield. In fact, Mickey’s even followed by a little Navi Faerie-like companion named Gremlin Gus. He offers you little hints and comments as you come across places of note. I found it really interesting that he acts as a sort of conscience too. Use your paint thinner to eliminate a lot of enemies and he’ll say something like “Hmm, you’ve been using your paint thinner a bit liberally, is it really necessary?” I can see it getting annoying for some people, but personally it made me question my actions a little bit. Was there a better way of handling these creatures? Am I really murdering the lifeblood of the game world?

When all is said and done, any game starring Mickey freaking Mouse that gets me to question the morality of my actions is doing something right in my book.

For live gameplay videos with Warren Spector narrating, check out the 2 videos below:


Screenshot Gallery:

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E3 2010 Preview: Vanquish

Shinji Mikami may not be the household name in video game circles that Hideo Kojima or Shigeru Miyamoto is over here in the States, but he deserves to be. Mikami-san designed a little game called Resident Evil, have you heard of it? (For retro game players out there, he also designed the Aladdin game on the Sega Genesis – remember how awesome that game was?)

His latest game is Vanquish and the best way to describe it is if Gears of War and Virtual On had a love child in a Matrix program set in a futuristic Cold War. It’s a third-person action title using elements of cover with fast moving mech-suits and a little bit of “bullet time” thrown in for good measure.

I was excited about the title before the show and my hands-on time at E3 did not disappoint. Gameplay centers on the ARS (Augmented Reactor Suit) your character wears. Similar to Crysis‘ nanosuit, it bequeaths upon you some extraordinary powers. For example, you can use it perform some very slick sliding manuevers to quickly move from cover to cover. The ARS also allows you to slow down time when you’re sliding around or vaulting over obstacles. As “played out” as time-slow abilities have been in recent games, trust me, you’ll be glad to have them in Vanquish because there will almost always be a crapload of things happening around you. It can get pretty challenging to aim and fire from the hip while zipping around a level willy nilly at 100 mph.

Which brings us to a defining feature of Vanquish – its sense of speed. The game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. This game is fast. Within moments of picking up the controller you can easily tell the game is no mere Gears of War clone. Rocket propelled sliding will bring back memories of adrenaline rushing while jetting across a map during a dizzying Virtual On match. It’s almost become a signature feature of Japanese action titles to incorporate 60FPS as we’ve seen with Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. (Interesting note: Mikami has had his hands in both of those titles as well) It makes me wonder how awesome a 60fps Halo title would be, but I digress.

In addition to providing you with fun powers, the ARS also acts as your defacto “life bar.” There’s a shared meter between your time slows, slides, and shields. This introduces an interesting strategic dynamic into the game. Do you slide out, John Woo style, attempting to take out all the enemies at once, but leaving yourself to being killed if you’re less than perfect? Or do you take it more conservatively, but risk getting overwhelmed while under cover? It’s an interesting trade off, allowing the more gung-ho to make gutsy moves while not making strategy trivial.

If all of this sounds like a lot to take in, well, it sorta is. I admit to being a bit overwhelmed once the friendly Sega rep handed the controller over to me. Like Tony Stark taking his Mark-1 Iron Man suit out for the first time, I stumbled my way across the battlefield initially. I slid when I meant to take cover. I jumped when I meant to slide. There’s definitely a learning curve to this game. It’s no Ninja Gaiden, but it’ll definitely take some practice before you’re sliding and shooting with the grace of a gun-toting ballerina. I can’t say i figured it out completely in the fifteen or so minutes I played the game, but I most assuredly envisioned a short-term future in which I was Optimus Prime starring in Hard Boiled.

Vanquish practically begs for a cooperative and/or an adversarial multiplayer component. Unfortunately, the game is single-player only. Still, it won’t prevent me from including the game from my most anticipated list of 2010. I’m all for developers concentrating on making polished games and if that means omitting potentially half-assed components, then more power to them.

Japanese game designers may have been slow over the years in “getting” how a proper first/third person action shooter works, but you’d be hard pressed to remember those days after some time with Mikami’s Vanquish. Definitely look for this original title when it comes out this fall on 360 and PS3.

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E3 2010 Preview: Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

Sonic the Hedgehog’s gone through a rough time since the glory days of the Sega Genesis. We’ve been given so many unfulfilled promises of “This is the return to the Sonic you know and love!” each year that the announcement of a new Sonic game is akin to an announcement that there’ll be a new Madden game out in the fall.

Well, after having checked out Sonic 4: Ep 1 at E3 this year, I’m gonna go ahead and say this is the return of the Sonic you know and love!

All joking aside, if there were a game for that cliche to actually hold, it would be Sonic 4. The developer I sat down with reiterated that they tried to keep the feel of the old Genesis-era Sonic titles and that if you were to put this game in the timeline, it would fit in right after Sonic and Knuckles. (yes, the one with the crazy add-on cartridge) Since that’s the last time I remember having actual fun with a Sonic title, I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s a good start.

The game certainly plays as such and is a fairly delightful (if not entirely familiar) romp down memory line. I can say the game looks sharp on the iPhone and will probably look better on the iPhone 4. It’d probably be my platform of choice as it’s a great game to play on the go in bursts. The tilt controls were pretty awkward and difficult, though. You can check out the video walkthrough further down for a better idea on how the game looks.

An interesting thing you may notice about the game is the ominous “Episode 1″ subtitle attached. Sega promises 16 levels in EP1 with more episodes to follow after. Now, I’m not so sure why a platform game that’s light on story needs the episodic title treatment. One reason might be to release new level packs soon after, but my efforts to narrow down the timeframe for new episodes were unsuccessful. The best I got was tentative agreement that they would come out faster than Half-Life 2 Episodes. I think we can all agree that’s not saying much.

Regardless, if you’re in the mood for a nostalgic 2D platformer, this game should excite you. Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 will be released on the iPhone, XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare “later this year and priced competitively.”

Developer Gameplay Walkthrough:

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E3 2010 Preview: Halo Reach

I gotta admit to poppin’ a little stiffy when Bungie revealed that the Halo Reach campaign would incorporate space combat in the vein of Wing Commander or Colony Wars. I love a good space dogfight and can only hope there’s more of it in the full campaign than the couple of minutes we were shown at the Bungie booth at E3 2010.

Bungie confirmed that up to four players playing the campaign co-op will be able to pilot a Sabre in the game. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to do so in player vs player Matchmaking. Yeah, I’m disappointed too, but Microsoft’s got a hell of a spinoff game idea if they ever wanted to, you know, print some money.

Campaign Space Combat Gameplay Video:

“Firefight 2.0″:

Building on ODST’s Firefight game type, Bungie’s added a lot more customizeability to Reach’s Firefight. Some the things we’ll be able to change are the number of rounds in a game, the types of enemies we face, and the weapon/armor ability loadouts that we take into battle. From there, we can save the customizations and upload them to our Bungie File Shares for others to download.

At first I was concerned that this would fracture the player base, but Firefight’s four player focus on cooperative survival means that each game will be fairly self contained. Each player is going to be dealing with the same conditions in a given play session. I just hope there’s a better way of discovering and playing the best user generated gametypes. I always found it difficult in Halo 3 to find and play custom gametypes that weren’t available in matchmaking buckets.

In the live gameplay video below, you’ll also see the unimaginatively named new weapon, “Target Locator” in action. Frankly, they could have called it “stapler” for all I care. Nuking stuff from orbit never gets old.

Finally, for those who played the beta, “Generator Defense” actually turned out to be a test for Firefight 2.0. I’m glad it turned out to be a gametype tuned for AI enemies. As a player vs player gametype it got very one sided and frustrating at times.

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E3 2010 Recap And Big Picture Musings

After making it alive out of downtown Los Angeles last week, I thought I’d start the week off by posting my big picture E3 2010 recap first and then work on putting up individual title previews as the week progresses, Memento-style. I’ve got a ton of good stuff from E3 and I’m just one dude, so bear with me this week while the sausage is made.

Contrary to what some sensationalists will say, the gaming industry is not crumbling before our very eyes. E3 2010 was not a complete disaster, nor was it an undeniable success. It was, for lack of a better term, average. Generally, the most memorable E3 years tend to be those where new console generations are announced or a blockbuster game franchise debuts on said new consoles. Unfortunately, we just happen to be in the current generation’s mid-life point. A new Halo title for Xbox 360 just doesn’t have that “wow” factor of being the first Halo title on the Xbox 360. In spite of this, it was still exciting to try out new ways of playing games in the form of motion and 3D gaming. Whether or not this actually panned out…well that’s an issue we’ll get to.

The Press Conferences

I want to address the “Big 3″ press conferences first. Video game pundits and fanboys alike take part in the yearly ritual of declaring “Who won E3?” as if  the show was a competition. I’m not going to pretend I’m above this sort of thing, so here’s my ranking of the press events:

1. Nintendo

2. (tie) Sony and Microsoft

Nintendo’s event was far and away the most compelling of the show. It was tightly presented, contained minimal gaffes (only miyamoto’s controller issues), and had the most “surprises” in terms of great games we didn’t know about prior to the show (Goldeneye, Kirby, Donkey Kong Country, Epic Mickey). To top it off, Nintendo announced a new piece of hardware that we had heard only rumors of before, the 3DS. With a robust roster of developers and franchises (e.g. Metal Gear, Resident Evil, Kingdom Hearts), the 3DS looks like it’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year.

Sony’s event wasn’t as embarrassing as Microsoft’s, presentation-wise, but didn’t provide much in the “wow” department. A new David Jaffe-helmed Twisted Metal game is pretty cool, but it doesn’t quite carry the weight of a Donkey Kong Country or Goldeneye remake. An appearance and endorsement by Valve’s Gabe Newell as “best” platform for Portal 2 was a huge coup for Sony’s credibility. Playstation Move wasn’t as cringe-inducing as Kinect’s demos the day before, but didn’t do much to sell the platform as anything more than a glorified Wiimote.

I had already written about Microsoft’s presentation last week. It had some really cool moments (ESPN and New Xbox 360s for everyone!) balanced by some facepalmy ones too (every word uttered by an executive, Kinectimals). Overall, I felt it evened out to around Sony’s level once I took into account the peaks and valleys of the presentation.

As a short aside, I really feel that Apple has raised the bar for geek press events since the iPhone announcement in January, 2007. Steve Jobs’ and crew are incredibly well rehearsed keynote machines. Say what you want about the guy, but he doesn’t give ho-hum or embarrassing (wifi issues withstanding) presentations. Every time you hear him talk, you can’t help but feel the urge to buy whatever he’s selling to you. Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft? Not so much.

The Show Floor

If you’ve never been to E3 before, the best way to describe it is an indoor Times Square. There is an overwhelming rush of sensory overload the moment you walk into either of the large halls. Gigantic 100+ inch HD screens pepper the showfloor. Disneyland-like booth constructions, like a haunted house or a post-apocalyptic shelter, are the norm. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve seen indoors.

There’s no way I could see everything at the show, even over the course of three days, so I tried to sample the titles I’ve been anticipating prior to the show along with the new hardware that was announced. I also kept my eyes and ears open for stuff people were buzzing about and caught a couple of interesting titles I would’t have thought of otherwise.

All three console manufacturers (Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft) and virtually all of the major games software publishers had a presence at the show. Countless other small games publishers and accessories manufacturers had booths as well. There was even a company called “Gamer Grub” that sells “performance snack foods.” Yeah. Really.

Other than Blizzard (who are so big they have their own yearly expo, Blizzcon), the only major games publisher that was conspicuously absent from the show floor this year was parent company Activision. However, the big A-B’s presence was still felt during the week as Uncle Bobby Kotick put on an absolutely ridiculous $6 million concert/party on Monday. We’re talking indoor fireworks and a private concert that would put many music festivals to shame. (some artists: Eminem, Rihanna, Chris Cornell, deadmau5, David Guetta, Usher, Maynard James Keenan, Jane’s Addiction) I mean, why spend the money on an E3 booth when you can just throw the most insane party ever. Fuck Cirque du Soleil’s Kinect premiere, why didn’t MTV broadcast this event?

The Takeaway Themes

I came away from E3 2010 taking away 3 prevalent themes: Motion Gaming, 3D Gaming, and Sequels Galore. I had originally intended to elaborate on these themes in this recap, but ended up with a 3000 word monstrosity, so I split this up into another article. You can read that here.

Here is the TL;DR version:

  1. 3D Gaming - They work as advertised. The effect isn’t annoying and is actually kind of cool. Not significant enough to warrant replacing your home theater or current Nintendo DS, though.
  2. Sequels Galore – We’re getting too many sequels too frequently. They’re becoming too predictable and unexciting. It’d be great if we increased the time between major franchise entries at the very least. Ideally, the interim years would see the release of more original titles.
  3. Motion Gaming - Mixed bag here. The first party Kinect and Playstation Move titles were generally uninspiring, but there were a couple of standout third-party games that make convincing arguments for buying a motion gaming controller. Dance Central by Harmonix and Child of Eden by Ubisoft are titles that couldn’t have been done with current consoles and provide truly fun experiences. If I had to pick between the Kinect or Move, I would go with the Kinect. Simpler, cheaper, and true hands-free motion gaming is hard to argue with.
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Three Major Themes From E3 2010

3D Gaming

My two biggest concerns with 3D gaming going into the conference were: “Does it work without being a hassle?” and “Do I really need 3D in my games?” After some hands on experience with 3D, I came away from E3 2010 with an answer to at least one of those questions.

I had some hands on time with both the Nintendo 3DS and Killzone 3 on the PS3. Microsoft was conspicuously mum on the 3D front, deciding to focus all its energies on the Kinect. (I believe Crysis 2 is the only 3D enabled title on the 360, but didn’t have a chance to demo it) On both the PS3 and 3DS, I could say that the 3D definitely added a sense of depth that wasn’t there before.

Nintendo’s 3DS worked as advertised in bringing a 3D display to the venerable DS platform. Although most of the demo content was not playable, they served to show off the 3D display fairly well. Watching the Resident Evil and Metal Gear 3D tech demos, I could definitely see distinct people and environments in the foreground and background.

Sony was wise to feature a snowy level to show off Killzone 3 in 3D. Falling snowflakes clearly popped out without becoming distractions. HUD elements and updates were made salient by the added depth. As for the 3D glasses themselves, I can attest that I didn’t even notice them once they were on. In fact, they fit comfortably over my existing glasses without much issue. All in all, I was fairly impressed by the fact that going 3D on the PS3 didn’t detract from the experience at all.

The meatier question is if 3D enhanced the gameplay experience at all, and based on what I experienced, I’d have to lean towards no. Talking with Killzone developers at the Sony booth made it crystal clear that the actual game itself was identical with the 3D version. Apparently, you’re not missing anything crucial by not going 3D, just some visual eye candy. I came to the same conclusion after the 3DS hands on as well. Of the playable games there (Nintendogs and a novel face-mapping picture shooter), none showcased any mechanics that couldn’t be done with current hardware.

Perhaps I’m being too idealistic about my expectations for 3D. After all, visual eye candy can be a big draw in playing new video games. My issue with 3D currently is that developers aren’t building titles from the ground up as 3D titles. They’re adding it in their games almost as an afterthought. It’s just another bullet point for hardware manufacturers to sell new devices. The reason Avatar was such a big draw for me in 3D was because James Cameron intended for viewers to watch the film in 3D. Most films use 3D as a gimmick, a way to charge more for tickets. When compelling, high quality games start coming out using 3D in an integral way, that’s when I’ll start to take a real hard look at it.

If someone handed me a free 3D enable TV, sure I’d play the 3D version of Killzone 3 on it. It was kinda cool and didn’t cause me discomfort or anything. Would I redo my entire home theater for the experience? No, it’s just not worth it yet. The same goes for the 3DS, albeit on a much smaller scale. I might end up picking one up simply because I’m a gadget junkie, but I’d actually be more excited about the games now possible with the added analog stick rather than the 3D display.

Sequels and Remakes Galore

I’m worried the games industry is falling into the same trap that Hollywood and the music industry did by depending too much on the “guaranteed” money of a blockbuster sequel. Take a look at some of the more ballyhooed titles from this year’s E3: Halo Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Gears of War 3, Twisted Metal, Gran Turismo 5, Portal 2, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and the list goes on and on. What do you notice? That’s right, they’re all sequels or franchise “reboots”.

Part of the reason why E3 gets less exciting each year is that most of the new titles announced are predictable sequels. We know they’re coming and we know roughly what to expect from all of these. Publishers sometimes use this sense of familiarity to sell us on franchises we’d given up on. During my hands on demo with the new Castlevania: Lord of Shadows at the Konami booth, I was asked if I was a fan of old school Castlevania. Naturally I answered,”Of course.” The Konami rep then proceeded to reassure me that I would “love” this new title because it was a return to the series’ roots. Only I couldn’t really tell from the two demo levels I played since I felt like I just played God of War with holy water and throwing daggers. It definitely was a return to a series’ roots, just not Castlevania’s. Later, he explained that the E3 demo was a taste of pure action levels. He reassured me that the famous Castlevania level structure would be present in the full game. I’ll take his word for it.

The point I’m getting to is that sequels are not necessarily a “bad thing.” It’s just that they narrow the possibilities of what developers can create and what consumers can play. With an established franchise, there’s only so much developers can innovate and experiment with there before they run the risk of alienating potential sales. On the flip side, consumers only have so much time and money to devote to video games. Given the choice between say, Call of Duty 7 or Vanquish, most people browsing in the store are going to go with the established franchise. This in turn encourages publishers to devote more and more resources in repeating that “hit” and tighten the leash up on developing brand new properties.

I’m not advocating that the games industry stop producing sequels. Every industry needs its cornerstone products. Hell, I’m personally excited to play each and every one of the titles I mentioned earlier. What I’m suggesting is perhaps a toning down of the frequency of sequel production. Give us a few years to breathe between installments. Make each successive franchise entry a truly monumental event. (Yes, I realize that it’s been a few years since Gran Turismo or Donkey Kong Country entries, but isn’t that why they got the ovations they did in their respective presentations?) Challenge developers and gamers in the meantime. Give us more titles like Portal or Braid or Rez. Who knows, maybe these new titles can be the foundation for a new generation of money printing machines.

Motion Gaming

Microsoft and Sony made their motion gaming intentions known at last year’s E3 with their respective announcements of the Kinect (Project Natal) and Playstation Move. This year, both devices were actually available for everyone to play. I had a chance to try both of them out and couldn’t help but wonder one thing:

What the hell were the first party developers doing for the last year?

The derivative gameplay offered by Sony and Microsoft’s titles left me decidedly dismayed. Kinect Sports (developed by the once proud Rare) was essentially a Wii Sports clone. Kinect Adventures was a glorified Wii Play mini-game collection. And Kinectimals? Sorry, Microsoft, I’m not 9 years old and I don’t need to pay $60 to play with virtual tigers on screen. Sony didn’t fare much better with its lineup either. Beyond your obligatory minigame collections in titles such as Sports Champions and Start the Party, Sony showed some glimmers of hope with Echochrome and Sorcery. Echochrome incorporates the move controller as a light source puzzle game, while Sorcery evokes images of Harry Potter spell-casting. At least these two titles looked like games one would want to play for more than one session. None of the above mentioned games would sell me on a new device, though.

Where was the truly novel and amazing stuff like last year’s Milo demonstration for Kinect? Was it all just smoke and mirrors? Why are we stuck with clones of pre-existing Wii titles? I imagine it must be a low-risk way of cashing in the casual market by showing the general public, “Hay! We can do intuitive casual games just like Nintendo!” I’m not sure if shoving the same gameplay experiences down even casual consumers’ throats will work so well, no matter how much more accurate than the Wii your motion controller is.

That’s not to say all is doom and gloom for these motion inputs, though. Harmonix and Ubisoft both showed great titles that have pretty much sold me on fun experiences that couldn’t have been done on a normal controller. Harmonix’s Dance Central made dancing with yourself (sup Billy Idol) look cool. Full body dance tracking is something that has never been done on a game console before and I’m not sure it could have been done without the Kinect powering it. Not only that, the game is actually pretty fun even if you are a dance club wallflower. Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s (Rez, Lumines) new psychadelic music shooter Child of Eden impressed the shit out of me at Ubisoft’s press event. It’s a bit hard to explain so I’ll let this video demonstration do the talking. Since it’s published by a third party, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one on both Move and Kinect.

Interestingly enough, I think a compelling solution may be to combine both movement input systems as one. I could imagine wanting to hold a controller for a swordplay game, while I wouldn’t want to be holding anything if I was learning a dance routine. Ostensibly Microsoft has more room to work with in this scenario, as Kinect’s camera is much more precise than Sony’s Playstation Eye. It’d be easier to add a control peripheral than to sell users on an expensive new tracking device.

All of this leads us to the million dollar question: Is all this stuff worth it?

For me, Dance Central and Child of Eden have sold me on the Kinect. Hell, the novelty of being able to act out Minority Report almost sells me by itself, shitty minigames be damned. If I had to go with one motion controller solution, it’d have to be the Kinect if just for the simplicity factor. Coupled

With Move, there’s three separate peripherals to keep track of: the Playstation Eye Camera, the Move “motion” controller, and the Move “navigation” controller.

Milkawha?!

I just had to look up all that stuff and will probably get the “motion and “navigation” controllers messed up for the rest of eternity. I guarantee you that the average consumer will get confused by all of this come Christmas shopping time too. Sony will have you believe that their motion gaming is “only” $49.99, but you’ll have to buy a $40 Playstation Eye camera and a $29.99 “navigation” controller in order to get the full experience. You won’t need a new camera for each additional player, but you’ll have to get another set of Move controllers per person. It’ll end up being $200 for a “full” 2-player Move experience, while the Kinect is simply $150 for all you will need.

Pricing issues aside, the Kinect has the added benefit of being truly hands-free. During my Move hands-on at the Sony booth, I had to recalibrate the controller by holding the controllers in several positions like a traffic cop. Each time someone new wants to play, you’ll have to do this. It’s no small annoyance if you have a big group of people wanting to play. Kinect requires recalibration too, but there’s no wristband tethered controllers to take off and pass around.

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E3 2010 Days 1 and 2 Photodump

It’s been an absolutely crazy first two days at E3! I’ve barely had time to sit down and gather my thoughts. Rest assured that over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts and previews on some of the more noteworthy titles I had a chance to get some quality hands on time with.

In the meantime, I’m putting up all of the photos I’ve taken on the showfloor the past couple of days. There’s no captions yet, but you should be able to figure out what’s what.

Day 3 awaits!

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Six Impressions From Microsoft’s 2010 E3 Press Conference

Seriously, if I hear another video game executive speak the words “redefine”, “amazing”, “entertainment phenomenon”, or “transformation” again, I’m going to RAGE quit gaming.

Microsoft’s 2010 E3 presentation was filled with hyperbolic marketing speak, planned pauses for nerd applause, unrehearsed speakers, and awkward catcalls from the audience whenever an attractive woman took the stage. It reminded me of the much maligned Nintendo presentation from 2008 where the Big N just talked about how much money they made and finished with a dude air drumming for Wii Music. Only the strength of Microsoft’s gaming franchises and a couple of other big announcements kept this presentation from real embarrassment.

At the end of the day I do realize that it’s a presentation on video games from video game executives. Still, would it kill them to actually read and rehearse what they’re doing? It’s not a trivial amount of money being thrown at these things, you know. Plus, Microsoft is trying to reach a “mainstream” audience by live-broadcasting this event all over the web and on television. Why take the chance of embarrassing your company and your products on the big stage?

Here are 6 impressions I came away with from the press conference:

  1. Awesome Sequels – We saw Call of Duty (7): Black Ops, Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3, Fable 3, and Metal Gear Rising (granted, not a “true sequel” but clearly wouldn’t be a big deal without the name attached) demonstrated. All of these titles look great and will be huge sellers. However, did anyone really need to be convinced of this? It’s cool seeing these titles being played live, but as a fan of previous franchise entries, you’re going to buy them regardless of what Microsoft shows. Where are the original new games? Where’s the stuff that really “redefines entertainment?”
  2. Kinect UI – Finally we’re entering the age of Minority Report-esque screen interfaces. If it’s as responsive as demoed, it could really change the way we consume media on a console. Voice commands? Meh. It’s almost always less cumbersome to navigate via a physical input device. Controller < Mouse < Pointing with finger. Seeking in a video file is a perfect example of how great the interface can be.
  3. ESPN – LOVED this announcement at first. The only reason I even have cable TV is because I enjoy live sporting events. ESPN on my console would save me a ton of money each month from my cable bill. Add an interactive score ticker, HD streaming, rewind/fast forward capability, and some neat polls/trivia widgets and you have a real compelling product for sports fans. Acouple of things tempered this excitement, though. 1) You need to have an ISP provider that plays ball with ESPN. I’m not sure if you need to have cable TV service too, but that would just make things pointless if so. 2) The service is basically ESPN 3, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that we’re not getting a simulcast ESPN-prime for free – that means no Sportscenter, no Around the Horn, etc. We’re getting one off live events at their programming whim. Regardless, it’ll be a welcome addition since we don’t have to pay for it.
  4. Kinect Games – If this is the stuff that “redefines entertainment,” I want my old entertainment back. Kinect Sports, Kinectimals, Kinect Joy Ride, Kinect Adventures, Your Shape, and Dance Central are the Kinect titles demonstrated. With the exception of Your Shape and Dance Central, all of these are first party titles. Let’s talk about the Kinect____ titles first. They all look like Wii Sports/Wii Play/Wii Fit minigame knockoffs. I seriously hope Microsoft isn’t planning to charge $59.99 for each of these, because I’d have a hard time justifying that for a bundle of all of them. Every one of those titles looks like something I would play once and never touch again. Regarding Ubisoft’s Your Shape – *yawn*, “fitness genre”. I will say it looks a lot more useful than having to deal with a Wii Fit balance board, though. Dance Central by Harmonix was by far the most interesting title demonstrated. The technology to execute a real dance-move game has not been available until now and it looks quite fun, even for someone like me who’s normally too embarrassed to dance.
  5. Kinect Proof of Concept Games – We’re treated to a glimpse of the future with a short Star Wars trailer and a Forza tech demo. The Star Wars stuff may as well be CGI without knowing how the actual gameplay works in a live setting. Also, it took us how long to get a decent modern Star Wars game? Consider me skeptical until proven otherwise. As for the Forza stuff, it looks graphically impressive and I’ll definitely want to check it out on the floor. There’s lots of menus and choices to be made in a racing simulation and the Kinect UI should help out greatly there. I can’t help but be concerned over the long term viability of controlling a driving game holding your hands out and pantomiming, though. Where are the pedals? Won’t my arms get tired? Just because something is intuitive doesn’t necessarily make it a great experience in the long run.
  6. New Xbox 360 (Stealthbox) – What? We got an extended demo of a little Asian girl playing with a virtual tiger and barely a couple of minutes to describe an radical redesign of your flagship product? And it’s shipping right now?! Milkawha??  The new Xbox 360 does look pretty sleek (albeit slightly ZOMG STEALTH FIGHTER COMPUTER CASE mod), with built in 802.11n and vastly superior noise reduction. If I didn’t own an Elite, I would jump at the chance to upgrade. As it is, I can’t justify the $299 price for what amounts to more hard drive space and less noise. Definitely a good time to buy an Xbox 360 for the first time, though.

I really hope the Kinetic titles are much better in person. The idea of affordable motion capture technology is very compelling, but most of the titles Microsoft showed here were uninspiring at best. Harmonix has the right idea with Dance Central, but it’s not a system seller. Where’s the Halo or the God of War or the Mario of Kinect?

Sony and Nintendo, the ball is in your court.

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New E3 Vanquish Trailer Has In Game Footage

From Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil) and Platinum Games/Sega comes this epic game of US robots vs Russian robots over the demise of San Francisco.

Yeah.

It does look pretty fun though. I’m reminded of the fast paced movement of Virtual On with the wackiness of Bayonetta and the big budget effects of Gears of War. If all of those hunches play out, we could have a new standard for awesome.

I’ll definitely be checking this out at E3 next week.