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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.