My E3 2009 Press Conference Impressions


Here are my impressions for the Big Three:

Nintendo: ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.  I was absolutely taken aback by the fact that they completely didn’t show up.  Nothing was revolutionary or interesting; the games were a rehash of older titles, and their nods to the “core gamer” were three titles they had already announced and a new Metroid game.  Oh, and there is the Wii Vitality Sensor: a finger clip that senses your pulse in conjunction with hold your waggle remote in one hand, having a nunchuck in the other, and standing on your Wii Fit board.  No new features for the console at all (no firmware updates).  I’m sure none of it matters and they will continue to sell, but easily the worst press briefing.

Sony: Very well-constructed press conference.  They bookended the presentation with Uncharted 2 at the beginning and God of War 3 at the end (clearly the most impressive games for the PS3).  The structure was great in hindsight, but it didn’t serve the “middle” very well.  Tony and I disagree about MAG (their 256-player online game), but seeing the terrible graphics of MAG after seeing the insane physics and animation of Uncharted 2 (MAG was shown right after Uncharted 2) didn’t work very well as a strategy.  Modnation Racer looks really fun, a Mario-Kart style game with the Far Cry 2 level editor baked in; I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but the Play-Create-Share brand started with LittleBigPlanet and it is their “community” brand for games that will have community features like level/content creation and distribution.  Cool idea to have those in a specific bucket.

Sony’s motion controller did not impress me for a few reasons:  First off, it is a Wii-killer, but only that (no real innovation, just doing it better).  You’ll need to have both the camera and the wands to make it work, which will add to the total price.  And on top of those things, there just wasn’t anything outside of some engineering demos, so who knows how well it will work in games.  This last part isn’t a knock against the product, just the demo of it.  It really just showed the fact that both Microsoft and Sony’s shareholders told them to either make a motion controller or we’ll find someone who will.  Microsoft obviously was told much earlier since their motion camera was much more a part of their presentation (and much further along come demo-time), and Sony probably stuffed that in at the last minute so as not to be the last kids to the motion controller party.

TOO MUCH PSP STUFF!  I know they are really trying to love and pimp the PSP, but they spent way too much time on this.  Way too many game/feature announcements for it, as well as the PSP Go! launch.  More than anything, this part just wasn’t my bag, baby.  One interesting point, ALL UMD titles going forward will be launched on the Playstation Network.  I’m sure Gamestop loves that.

The continual “it’s not just only on Playstation, it’s only possible on Playstation” was getting a little old (Microsoft had a different super-corny bullshit marketing line), especially since they said it 30,000 times during the 90 minute conference, and because they kept saying the exact same line last year in the E3 2008 press conference.  It felt rehashed and embarrassing; the stellar games speak for themselves (although they don’t really say “that” to a gamer that plays more than one console), it just reeks of “trying too hard”.

Microsoft: Definitely had the most “even burn” of the three conferences, although the they had some real duds, the worst of which was the Tony Hawk presentation (I can’t imagine caring less about that game).  Thankfully that and the total throwaway announcement about the Beatles Rock Band games were at the top of the presentation.

Microsoft’s uber-corny catch phrase was “showing, not telling”, and it also got very irritating; what else would you do with the three ultra-huge LCD screens behind you?  Also, I now know where my $50 a year for Xbox Live goes to: Sir Paul McCarty, Ringo Starr, and Steven Spielberg all showed up to tell us how awesome these announcements were.  ‘Cuz, you know…I really trust those three when it comes to my gaming purchases.

Things picked up quite a bit, with excellent showings of the new Splinter Cell and Alan Wake (both incredibly beautiful games), and some breakneck announcements of Crackdown 2, Left for Dead 2, and Microsoft’s own Mario Kart clone, Joyride (which will be free and supported only by DLC purchases of tracks and cars beyond what it ships with).  Forza 3 was also shown, and looks friggin’ incredible, but I’ll never ever play it.

The “fall update” (I’m calling it that since every damned thing is apparently coming in the fall – come on, guys, Sony gave out the Uncharted 2 Multiplayer beta Tuesday night; where’s our love?) has a whole slew of things coming:

– the Video Marketplace will now be Zune Video, and we’re getting instant-streaming 1080p video with 5.1 surround sound (instead of waiting for an 8GB file to download).  It looks like it’ll function much like the Move Player on ABC.COM, where it instantly starts you out at a lower bit rate and ramps it up; there will be a little indicator at the bottom lefthand corner that shows what “level” you are streaming at (1,2,3,HD).  To get the HD level, you will need a minimum of 8Mbps on your download speeds.

– Free Twitter/Facebook integration with both the dashboard and in the development kits (meaning programmers can add a “Post My Stats On Facebook!” button to their games.  Mostly yawn, although I’m sure there are folks out there who will love this.

– Free Last.FM integration.  You’ll now be able to stream your custom Last.FM stations (and set up new ones!) to the dashboard.  No word on whether you’ll be able to do this in-game, but I’m doubtful since the bandwidth to play multiplayer games takes precedence over downloads from Marketplace.  Rich and I have lots of questions about whether or not you can have your music scrobbled (think Pandora so that your custom stations will be more personalized to the things you like) on the Xbox, so I’ll just reserve judgment on how nice this integration will be until we get some concrete details.  Not having Zune Pass integration sucks, though.

– Full Games On Demand.  Great addition; needs to be competitive pricing with retail of course, and newer titles not older.

The motion controller (Project Natal) was the coolest addition so far.  Not so much for the actual motion games, but for the incredible tech baked into it.  If you haven’t seen the videos, you must hit the web and check them out.  My favorite implementations so far are the facial recognition (you walk in front of your Xbox and it logs you in), the Minority Report surfing of the dashboard (we’re there folks), and the ability to have a multi-array microphone that A) uses voice recognition for quiz games on the couch and B) allows multiple people in the room to chat without having headsets and Xbox Live Gold accounts.  The demos they showed were very far along and amazing in their own rights.  The Peter Molyneaux (Fable creator) demo video was hysterical for it’s Molyneaux-ness and amazing for what he is suggesting is actually happening; must see.

Overall, tie between M$ and Sony, and Nintendo’s show was a complete bust.

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