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E3 2011

Wii U Controller
Image by ze_bear via Flickr

I think this year’s E3 has been a strong one from all three companies. Certainly a lot better than in past years, especially Nintendo who have not always brought their best in the last several years. This is a quick overview of how I think each of the three big companies conferences went.

Microsoft

Microsoft seemed to be a bit ordinary and predictable in their approach this year, and it does make me wonder who’s running things over there when you see casual games taking the centre stage at a show where hardly anyone is interested in the majority of those titles. Yes, Dance Central 2 should be a great dance game just like the first one was, but I just think they could have mentioned the game with a quick trailer and then moved on to the next game. It just didn’t seem necessary to demo it to the audience they have in attendance.

In terms of the rest of the show, no real surprises. I suppose 2 Halo games are better than one for fans of the series, but anyone could have predicted Halo 4 and that Microsoft would want to jump on Sony‘s HD remake bandwagon for some quick cash.

Sony

I don’t think Sony had the strongest of shows but it was certainly similar to last year’s in being very consistent and safe in a way while still exciting fans with great gameplay demos of titles like Uncharted 3.

The Vita name for the NGP is starting to grow on me slowly. If I had written this on the day the name was confirmed, then I would have not been in such a great mood about it, but now I can see how it may work. In terms of Vita games, I think they’re doing well for a launch lineup, with Uncharted leading the charge with many other strong titles such as LBP, Killzone, Call of Duty and more all in the pipeline as well as the traditional Sony launch games like WipEout and Everybody’s Golf. I’m pretty confident that they’ll be something for practically everyone when the system ships, unlike the 3DS on launch.

Nintendo

We knew pretty much everything about the Wii U before it was announced. Practically nothing was a surprise except the name. Which I suppose looking at it now isn’t really surprising. It makes sense for Nintendo to keep such a successful brand name going rather than risking a whole new identity for their new system.

The most exciting aspects for me to come out of the conference were the slew of game announcements. Not counting all of the games we already knew about, Super Mario 3D and Luigi’s Mansion 2 were the big stand-outs on 3DS. There wasn’t really anything on Wii that we didn’t already know about but the Kirby game looks to be the pick of the bunch alongside Zelda Skyward Sword.

Mario Kart 3D got a new trailer and now we know what the gimmick will be in this latest version, flying and underwater aspects. I quite like the idea of turning into a big glider and actually being able to control your flight rather than following an automatic path when you fly off a big jump, so I’m looking forward to this. I’ll be a little disappointed if they don’t feature bikes as they were so much fun in Mario Kart Wii but it’s not something that will ruin the game if it’s not included, likewise stunts.

Star Fox disappointed me a bit because I first thought this was a new version rather than the previously announced remake, but it seems like they just re-announced the same old game which isn’t ideal really.

A quick note on the Wii U controller. I hope they change a couple of aspects of the buttons. An analogue trigger is a must for realistic driving games and currently they’re not showing this so I hope they add those. I also was disappointed to see that they use the same design of analogue circle pads from the 3DS on the Wii U which to me doesn’t make much sense. The whole reason you would use those on the 3DS is because a traditional stick wouldn’t fit with the clamshell design of the system. Here, you’re not bound by height restrictions and as the controller is already so big, I would have expected full size analogue sticks just like the Nunchuk and Classic Controller. Not having those I believe will negatively affect precision control.

Conclusion

Overall, I think you would have to say that Nintendo had the best conference. A new system is practically guaranteed to overshadow anything else that’s shown, and it proved to be the case here.

The Vita price point of $250 was a bit of a relief but it’s still going to be expensive here. Then again, even if it comes out at the ridiculous £225 price tag the 3DS launched at, then I’ll be a lot more accepting of paying that much for this device over Nintendo’s one.

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Miscellaneous

What I want to see at the major E3 conferences

Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009
Image via Wikipedia

E3 is always an exciting time of year for gamers. We build it up so much, but often are left disappointed or even bemused by some of the things that happen in the big 3 press conferences, especially Nintendo’s in recent years. They’re certainly not the only ones. Sony and Microsoft have both had their fair share of awful, embarrassing shows.

This year is the time for all 3 companies to wow us and justify the mass excitement that goes hand in hand with E3. This is what I’m hoping for from each of them.

Nintendo

I think Nintendo on paper should have the most to talk about on Tuesday. We all know that their new system will be officially unveiled. From what we know, it seems that Nintendo will be going back to their more hardcore route. Whether or not they simply try to bridge the gap between being too casual and too hardcore or go fully in the traditional gaming direction is unknown, but I personally hope that they put their traditional audience first. Casual games can still exist on a hardcore focused system, but not the other way around.

If they are planning to go fully hardcore with the new system then they have to fully match Sony and Microsoft in every way. If they don’t give gamers the online functionality, community features and other functions that they’re used to, then the new console won’t be able to be considered any truly hardcore gamer’s console of choice in this upcoming generation.

Sony

The NGP will surely play a large part in proceedings on Monday night. You would assume that they’ll announce an official name, but probably not a price or release date. Generally, in recent years Sony conferences have either been ridiculed or applauded. However, the last couple, although they were strong showings, mostly focused on demos for games we already knew about, and that’s not really exciting for an event such as this. I hope they really just go all-out with new game and service announcements tomorrow, and leave the demos for the show floor, or at most a quick video montage.

Microsoft

The general trend I can see in the last few years of Microsoft conferences tend to be towards mostly showing demos for 3rd party games as well as some exclusives. Last year marked the addition of casual gaming with the kinect which I hope isn’t such a big focus this year, but I don’t see them ditching their successful casual programme. They’ve also been known to surprise people by poaching games, mostly from Sony when the PS3 was struggling. Unfortunately, you can also expect to hear news such as early releases for MW3 DLC and other things like that. Halo isn’t a series that Microsoft will be willing to give up on now that Bungie are moving on to new things, so I would be surprised to hear something about a new Halo game from another developer.

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3DS Two Months On

Blue Nintendo 3DS on display in Nintendo booth...
Image via Wikipedia

How is the health of 3DS looking now, just over 2 months since launch? Well, I don’t know about you but after almost 100%ing pilotwings resort about 2 weeks after the system launched, I’ve barely touched my 3DS on. Except to rub the dust off it of course.

I don’t think anyone can deny how useless Nintendo have been in terms of giving gamers great titles to play in the launch window of the system. In this business games and systems come and go so fast that I don’t think it would be going too far to suggest that some people have simply forgot about the 3DS already. Maybe it’s just that Nintendo aren’t worried as they know they can win back the hardcore in an instant with some big announcements.

With that said, there are good things on the horizon. Big titles are going to start coming in the next month or so, and with E3 about 2 weeks away now, surely Nintendo can’t let that show go by without announcing a plethora of incredible games to get everyone excited about their next generation portable again.

The problem is, the games industry doesn’t work like other tech segments. Unlike apple, Nintendo will never surprise people by saying that a game or system comes out that very day. These things take months and years to coordinate. Unfortunately, this means that whatever they do announce won’t bolster the ailing lineup for the first 2 thirds of this year.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to love the 3DS like I have pretty much all other Nintendo systems over the years, mainly because of the awful battery life and 3D that doesn’t agree with me. I’m willing to give it a shot, and I’m keenly waiting to try out some games. I have pretty much every strong title on my lovefilm rental list currently. As far as games I want to buy and keep, Mario Kart 3D and Animal Crossing remain my top two from the games we know about. I just hope we get those this year, because otherwise it’s going to be a very long wait for some 3DS owners I know.

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Miscellaneous

E3 Impressions

E3 this year has been exciting, predictable and uninteresting in equal measure. Nintendo have seemingly fully learned their lesson from the casual-fests of the past and this year really came out strongly with a surprise lineup of hardcore titles we didn’t know about. Nintendo seem keen on continuing their foray into the 2D platforming revival with Kirby and Donkey Kong games for Wii, and surprised everyone with a Kid Icarus game. The surprise was not the fact that it was Kid Icarus, but the fact that it was a title for the newly announced and shown off 3DS and not the Wii, as was previously rumoured.

Last years Nintendo conference was actually very strong for the hardcore crowd, following the disaster of the year before, but they went even further this year to entertain the core gamers who generally attend E3. There were some casual titles this year but they kept coverage of them to a minimum which I thought was a smart move.

Microsoft’s conference was in my opinion the weakest of the 3 main companies. While Nintendo have seemingly learned from the past and decided to focus less on casual games and more on the traditional market and Sony have included a good mix of both, Microsoft have gone in the opposite direction which I think is a bad move. Kinect is the new name for Natal. It’s not a terrible name but I’m sceptical of how well it will work for more in-depth types of games. Can the controller free concept deliver on its promise?

I’m also not a fan of the voice control aspect of the device either. Voice control is hardly new and Sony could probably do it with their eye camera if they wanted to, but so far they haven’t shown anything like that. I just think that talking to a machine is always going to make you look silly and feel awkward.

The most important aspect of this whole thing is that even if the device is great and has good support software wise, will the price be low enough to sell units and more importantly get casual players on board. It will likely cost around £100 when combined with £200 for the system itself. £300 seems a bit steep for a casual gaming family. The Wii is considerably cheaper and while it doesn’t offer the same level of technical power and also requires multiple expensive controllers and add-ons to use multiplayer, the initial outlay will put quite a lot of people off I imagine.

Then there’s the problem of Xbox 360 just not being a very appealing name for anyone other than core gamers. They will have to work very hard with casual game advertising in order to really sell this to the wide audience that Nintendo currently enjoys.

Sony I think had just the right mix of traditional hardcore games like Killzone 3 and Infamous 2 along with Twisted Metal, innovative titles like LittleBigPlanet 2 and their foray into full motion gaming with Move. SIXAXIS was their first, unsuccessful attempt but I think they have the right formula this time around. Move is the perfect motion controller, or at least so far. You combine the accuracy of camera tracking with the buttons and accelerometers of the Wii Remote.

Move seems like the perfect fit for sports games such as Tiger Woods and Grand Slam Tennis, both of which I’m very much looking forward to. It’s far from limited to that one category though. Unlike Kinect, which I feel at this point is somewhat limited in what types of games it can be used in, I think Move has much more potential to fit into many different types of games seamlessly.

I think there are two barriers for the Move to overcome. The first is the cost of buying multiple controllers for friends and family groups, but Nintendo haven’t been set back by this problem so far so I don’t see Sony struggling too badly. Of course, Nintendo supply the Wii Remote as their default controller so that does help them but even so. The other issue could be the complexity of the setup. You need the eye camera somewhere in front of your TV as well as the controllers and possibly a subcontroller (nunchuk or duelshock 3) which is similar to the sensor bar but it could get confusing for some.

Moving away from the motion control aspect, I felt the rest of the press conference from Sony was strong. While there weren’t really any surprises, and Playstation Plus doesn’t really offer much that I would be interested in, I think they showed good demos of great upcoming games, and we now have a release date for Gran Turismo 5 which is very exciting for me.

To point out two negative sections of the show, I would say that firstly Sony put too much emphasis on 3D. The technology is still in its infancy and the TVs and glasses are very expensive. Hardly anyone will actually be buying it and I think they should be keeping it low key for the first 6 months to a year of availability because they’re spending considerable amounts of time talking to only a very small percentage of their customers at this time. At the moment Nintendo are the pioneers of 3D because they’re making it available to everyone for presumably a reasonable price.

They also introduced a new PSP advertising campaign. However, they didn’t lower the price and while they did show God Of War: Ghost of Sparta and announced Patapon 3, they only showed it briefly in a video of upcoming games. To me they are sending mixed messages. On one hand, they want us to consider the PSP still alive and kicking, but at the same time, with no price cut and hardly any talk of new games, you wonder if they even believe it themselves.

I think the lack of a PSP2 could hurt Sony badly in their battle with Nintendo and Apple for the next generation of handheld gaming. Nintendo have already stated that they will release the 3DS before the end of March next year. Will Sony have even announced PSP2 by then? If not then it will be likely at least 6 months or maybe even more between the launches of the two systems, and I don’t think they can afford to give Nintendo a head start. Especially because of all the hype and positive press that the 3DS has had surrounding it at E3 and beyond.

E3 was a massive show with so many games announced and shown off. I can’t really go into everything in this post, but overall I think this E3 was a great show with a lot of interesting announcements. 3DS was the big winner and Sony did a solid job. I think Microsoft have something to prove now especially with their motion control. They did announce the slim system with wi-fi but that’s only good to a point. It should have been done years ago.

I’ll have more thoughts soon, and will be back to more regular posts on F1 and all other topics. Thanks for reading.