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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.

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Miscellaneous

The Week of Low-Key Gaming Announcements

This week has seen by my count 4 big titles confirmed in a low-key way. First there was Pikmin 3. Miyamoto told the press that the game was well into development. Killzone 3 was confirmed as being in production at Guerrilla Games by Jack Tretton and now today two more big announcements have been made by way of press release or online interview.

The first was the 3DS, the supposed successor to the DS family of handhelds which will apparently hit stores in Japan around this time next year. I’ll have more on that soon. There’s too much to go into here.

The second was the confirmation of LittleBigPlanet 2 by Sony, who recently wisely bought Media Molecule. All of these are obvious sequels. Perhaps the companies behind them felt they were so obvious that it wouldn’t be worth trying to hide them back until a big game show like E3 because by then the secrets will probably have been exposed anyway.

Regardless of how they got announced, I’m excited for at least 3 of these 4 offerings, and that’s not to say KZ3 will be bad, I’ just can’t see myself playing it.

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Miscellaneous

Playstation Move – A Perspective

Sony announced what was then known tentatively as the “Playstation Motion Controller” at E3 last year. Back then, while we didn’t know a lot of the finer details, what we did know was that it appeared to be far more accurate than the Wii Remote, even with motion-plus and that it could provide a more tactile control system for possibly more hardcore type games as well as casual ones. Something that Natal can’t really claim.

A couple of names have been rumoured for the final product since then. Those were Arc and Gem. In the end Sony decided on a simple name that clearly described the purpose of the device.

One of my initial concerns about the move was that they never showed a supplementary device to hold in the other hand with an analogue stick, as Nintendo have with the nunchuk. I feel as if motion control, to be used in a more hardcore way and to provide the best experience, you need to have elements of classic control as part of the overall setup. Sony now have announced their take on the nunchuk formula in the shape of the subcontroller which boasts and analogue stick, a couple of face buttons and possibly a trigger on the back as well as being wireless.

While many will simply say that Sony have stooped to simply copying Nintendo, my view is that a device like this is practically a must have for many types of games. For example, I was a big fan of Grand Slam Tennis on Wii which used a motion-plus remote and nunchuk combo for the optimum control. Having precise analogue stick control of your character makes it easier to focus on your shots and not where your character is standing. My hope is that now EA Sports will be able to simply translate across the same control scheme essentially, but the Move will allow greater accuracy and a more fun tennis experience, while also providing HD graphics and probably better online play. For this type of game, it really removes any chance of me buying the Wii version.

I also loved Tiger Woods 10 on Wii last year. It made great use of motion-plus as well and didn’t use the nunchuk which allowed complete freedom of movement. I expect the PS3 version, which has already been confirmed to support the Move when it is released, to take all the great elements of the Wii version and multiply them.

Of course, not all games are suited to motion control and it’s really personal preference as to whether or not you feel you would rather use classic or motion for different genres. I personally prefer classic control on a lot of my Wii games when given the choice. Mario Kart, F1 and more are much more fun with the more precise duel analogue setup of the classic controller. On the other hand, I can’t imagine playing Excite Truck, Wii Sport and Wii Sports Resort, Boom Blox (and bash party) and others any other way.

Gamers shouldn’t feel threatened by motion control because I’m confident that they won’t become the norm. They will be great in some ways, limiting in others but I think there will be a choice for gamers as to how they play.

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Miscellaneous

Nintendo News

So in the last couple of days Nintendo have been holding press conferences in Australia and the US where they’ve announced several things. The most obvious being the release date of the DSi XL in the US while the surprises were that Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid Other M have both been given release dates, and not just release dates in the autumn like we all expected, release dates in the May to June timeframe, with Galaxy 2 coming first and Metroid no more than a couple of months after. These are also presumably coordinated worldwide launches for both.

Whether or not I actually buy these games when they come out or not (Mario Galaxy 2 is more likely but I need to play more of the first before that), I am excited for everyone who is either a hardcore Nintendo fan or just a gamer wanting good stuff to play regardless of platform. Nintendo could have easily just done what we’re so used to seeing in the games industry, which would be to just put out both games in the Autumn / Winter timeframe and just rely on the long term successes like Wii Fit and Mario Kart and all the others to carry them through the year until then. After all, New Super Mario bros. will eternally have new in the name so therefore it will continue to sell.

However, Nintendo haven’t sat back and let the profits roll in for once and instead are being really aggressive by putting both these big games out in mid-year. Of course, they’re partly doing this to leave room in their release schedule for Zelda and possibly another game or two later on in 2010.

The sceptics will surely be pointing out that with the massive profits they make on hardware and software (which costs far less to develop than for other systems) they should have been making much more great games since it became clear that the Wii was going to be a runaway success, which of course it has.

While that is true, take solace in the fact that Nintendo are seemingly finally getting their act together.