E3 'big 3' impressions

· by Steve · Read in about 7 min · (1288 Words)

I’m glad that E3 is back - it adds a little excitement and pizzazz to the gaming calendar, and luckily this year it seemed to be pitched at about the right level - not the crazy-bonkers E3 of old, but big enough to be interesting.

Whilst I think there’s a lot of other interesting stuff going, inevitably the ‘big 3’ console manufacturers are the shows that people pay most attention to, at least initially. Who will out-do who, we wonder? Well, now all 3 conferences have happened, I thought I’d post my highly unscientific, from-the-hip impressions.

Microsoft

Microsoft went first, and I think it’s fair to say that they set the bar fairly high in terms of ‘star’ appeal, rolling out both Macca and Ringo to talk about Beatles : Rock Band, and Hideo Kojima to announce that a MGS game was coming to the 360 (some would say ‘at last’, but personally I have zero interest in MGS, since I like to play games rather than watch them). There were the expected Halo-related announcements (x2), Forza 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 (already covered), Alan Wake finally reappeared and looked good actually, definitely very creepy - perhaps a replacement for the RE franchise which seems to have run out of steam somewhat.

The other major announcement was the worst kept secret in the world, except the name - Project Natal; Microsoft’s play into the motion control arena. It looked pretty interesting - we already knew that Microsoft was acquiring 3D camera technology company 3DV so we kinda knew mostly what to expect, but nevertheless the demos were intriguing. Funnily enough, the face-tracking & emotion detection technology shown in Lionhead’s Milo was very similar to tech I’d seen demonstrated at FMX/09 - the academy there is working on very similar areas using OGRE for the rendering, although the voice & colour recognition was new. I’m still skeptical about the character interaction aspect - AI chat bots have never really worked well in unscripted environments and obviously the demos would have been scripted, so it’s hard to know how well it would work in practice, we’ll just have to see. Obviously if it worked in general terms as well as the Milo demo did, it would be pretty incredible, but I don’t think anyone really believes it will; and to be fair Peter Molyneux was very honest about the fact that the version on show was using lots of ‘tricks’, and was clearly set up to respond to particular things (like the colour of your shirt).

On the game control aspect, I’m one of those people that thought EyeToy was rubbish; this camera clearly is a lot more advanced, so perhaps it will be workable, but I just can’t help but suspect that environmental conditions and practicalities will make it not quite as magical as is claimed. We don’t all have completely clutter-free living rooms, and despite the camera technology and no doubt some clever interpolation/extrapolation software, the fact is that control is still dependent on what the camera can actually see. While it might work for a game where you mostly just have to stand straight-on to the screen waving your arms about, or holding your hands/feet out front in clear view, I can’t see it working in cases where you might stand side-on (tennis games) or other less posturally discrete set-ups, or where you have a living room with a coffee table and random cat intrusions. Much as I’ve been throroughly let down by Nintendo on the Wii front, I have to say that I think having a discrete device involved in the mix which tracks motion is probably more reliable & fast in a general sense than relying entirely on image processing. It’s interesting to see Sony’s take in comparison (later).

Nintendo

Super Mario Galaxy 2, New Super Mario Bros Wii, and Metroid Other M were the primary interesting things to me here. Nothing really startling (even Other M, while interesting in style, is all highly familiar) and really just more of the same with the odd twist, but even so these might give me a decent reason to use the Wii again after becoming thoroughly disillusioned with it.

Other things were just bonkers, or dull. A pulse monitor peripheral. Umm, right. Inevitable Wii Fit sequel. Inevitable Wii Sports sequel. More DS JRPGs. Nothing of huge interest to me.

Sony

I currently don’t own any Sony platforms, but even so like the others the news was mostly expected, barring a few choice things. FFXIV was announced to apparently many gasps, but that doesn’t interest me (FFVII was ok, but these games are too heavily scripted to be RPGs for my liking, and why do they always star teenagers with daft hair?) . Then there was GOWIII of course, bombastic as usual.

Project Trico was demonstrated as Last Guardian, which looks awfully stylishly done and very interesting indeed. The only thing that makes me cautious is that both Ico and Shadow of the Collossus were very artful games, which I could appreciate from a distance, but which I really didn’t enjoy actually playing. When you strip away the artyness and focus on gameplay, Ico was in essence one big escort mission with block/lever puzzles; I hate escort missions and block/level puzzles have been done to death. SotC was at the heart comprised of a chain of scripted boss fights, using the standard learn sequence/find weakness/destroy gameplay. I know I’m entirely in the minority here but while I wanted to like both games, and really appreciated their artistic approach to the medium, I found I’d rather just appreciate them from afar rather than actually play them, because I found that activity surprisingly frustrating and annoying. That said, if Last Guardian manages to be as artful as it appears and manages to not make me hate playing it, it could be one of a few titles which make me want to add a PS3 to my TV cabinet.

Finally, the Sony also had a motion controller on show - they’re really all the rage these days! It seems they’ve decided to use a hybrid device including accelerometers and a comedy pink bauble which the PS3 camera tracks; this essentially seems very similar to the Wii except that the motion sensing is clearly much more refined (Wii Motion Plus might counter that though), and the camera is fixed, watching the controller, rather than the camera being in the controller looking for IR dots above the TV - this is a more flexible setup in practice. I actually think this looks like the most likely of all the motion technologies to actually work well in a huge number of scenarios, because it’s not just relying on one technique (cameras or accelerometers), and both techniques seem very robust, unlike the Wii where it’s a little imprecise. It’s not having to do anywhere near as much processing as the 3D camera of Natal needs to do to operate without any physical controller, so I’m guessing it’s likely to be more responsive; the demo certainly seemed to be very fast. Natal is cool & much more revolutionary (Sony’s answer seems like an evolution on Wii style approaches), but I do wonder whether relying on solely the camera is a good idea, even with that snazzy 3D technology - I think Sony might have the more practical option here.

The one problem both Natal and Sony’s version have though is that they’re add-ons. The Wii will still probably retain its crown in the ‘waggle department’ just because it comes built-in.

So, that’s my edited highlights. Lots of interesting stuff just from these 3, and plenty happening outside that too. It’s good to have E3 back.