The Tangent: E3 2010: E3 Exposition

The TangentFinal thoughts on a stunning showing.

In the last article, we focused on Microsoft’s showing of the Kinect motion controller. I had intended to write a similar article about the respective appearances of Sony’s Move and the Nintendo 3DS, but I ultimately decided it could be better contained in a single, final summary. That, and I nodded off early by accident that night. Otherwise, this was all carefully planned.

So we’ll touch on each conference, including a brief circle back toward the lingering reactions to Microsoft’s showing, and just a few games that ring strongly with TSSZ readership. There have been bloody, gruesome wars over the ecological impact of Steel Diver, after all, and we’re here to resolve that.

Since the Microsoft conference will feel a little like a retread at this point, let’s skip straight to the Nintendo showing. And what a showing it was. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Nintendo feel threatened, and the money and capabilities they possess but so rarely put on full display can be jarring. In a strange sense, this showing could be deemed a slight failure in their more recent mantra and general approach to the Wii, with only Wii Party fitting the usual simple, white-washed “approachable” look they’ve carefully cultivated. The rest of the conference was almost entirely dedicated to the the return of old licenses and series, employed in what the gaming community would deem “hardcore games,” although it feels a bit misleading to refer to Kirby in a yarn world turning into a little beeping car as hardcore. Unless they give him the angry eyebrows. Either way, the gamers in us probably aren’t that concerned about Nintendo neglecting to make another run of accessibility-focused titles, we’re squealing at the return of our favorite franchises, including remakes of classic games with improved graphics and using the 3D effect they’ve tantalized us with. And the way Nintendo chose to present the hardware, instead of telling the press to put on 3D glasses and simply running a trailer, they brought out dozens and dozens of actual 3DS units, stating that the 3D effect was one that had to be uniquely witnessed. For those not at E3, it’s hard to enjoy just being told how good the 3D effect is, but there’s no question how highly many spoke of the effect after seeing it firsthand. The reactions to the conference were overwhelmingly positive, many stating that Nintendo’s showing would not be beat. Oh, how little they knew. But more on that later.

Sony’s conference took the more predictable route, right from the beginning asking people to don glasses for an extended 3D presentation, but I won’t deny that their presentation was solid the whole way through. I laughed at first as their choice of subject for the first Move demonstration, Sorcery was the type of showing Microsoft needed at their conference.Sorcery, played right into some Harry Potter jokes about the motion controller. Quickly I fell silent as they demonstrated a very playable, very natural gameplay mechanic, with the motion controls serving to flavor the experience without overkill. Still, I wonder if someone’s going to find themselves with a mouth full of Move after trying to swig a potion too quickly. There had already been some detailed exposure to Move software previously, including a 30 minute demo just prior to E3, so it wasn’t truly striking, but it was presented solidly. One aspect that did sit sourly with me is that many of the games on display, even Kevin Butler on the very conference hall, are designed to be played ideally with two Move controllers. Other games, such as SOCOM 4, are designed for a Move controller and a Navigation (Nunchuk) controller. While it’s true a DualShock can be substituted for the Navigation controller, I question the long-term practicality. So at current counts, even assuming you already had the Playstation Eye camera, you’ve reached $130 USD to play games in single player mode, with reduced two player functionality. Suddenly a $150 Kinect is a little easier to swallow, considering it will support as many players as the games will allow.

One other thing that stood out about Sony’s conference was the lack of surprises. They were a few, including the infamous one teased by Valve for weeks, and the big Twisted Metal reveal at the end, but between some unfortunate leaks, some Pre-E3 exclusives, and some official early reveals, there were a lot of titles that could’ve been excellent surprises, but simply ended up presenting a more fleshed-out presence than a true reveal. Speaking of Valve’s surprise… Steamworks on PS3. That’s an interesting trade-off Sony made. Much of Steamworks is designed to do what PSN already provides, but to allow Valve to handle content like updates and saving through their own approach… it’s no wonder Gabe stepped out on stage and played nice, despite some of his prior downplay of the platform. This is a big gateway for them to get Steam into the minds of console gamers. There are plenty of console players who’ve never heard of the platform, even if they’ve played Left 4 Dead or The Orange Box. In a sense, this even offers Valve an additional leverage against Microsoft. Steamworks on PS3 is the real surprise about all this, not Portal 2 on PS3.

Circling back now, we should touch on Microsoft’s presentation. The Kinect was such an overwhelming presence that it actually became difficult to me to recall the other parts, and I had to rewatch parts of the conference to remind myself what was shown. Rising was an appealing part, demonstrating a detailed system to cut clean lines through stage objects, and people, at any desired angle. Gears 3 had a predictably Epic showing, Halo Reach echoed Halo: CE maybe just a little too closely, even if that was the intent; the conference was not shy of impressive demonstrations. But when you think back to it, all that comes to mind is Skittles and adults acting like easily-amused six-year-olds. As I said before, one of their biggest failings with Kinect was not demonstrating more hardcore, focused gamplay with it, save for an uninspiring Forza demo played standing up. The perception coming out of the conference was so bad that the corporate VP of Microsoft Game Studio spoke up to defend their showing, and James Mielke, producer of Child of Eden and formerly of EGM and 1UP, was not shy about his opinion of them not showing the Mizuguchi game. Not until he felt the feedback from his comment, of course. But in all, you can’t say Microsoft walked away from E3 with their head held high, even if the reveal of a quieter, slimmer Xbox 360 launching that week did receive some favorable feedback.

EA’s conference? One word for you, Bulletstorm. Don’t watch that video around sensitive ears. Or eyes. Or people at all. This is exactly what normal people think video games are all the time. Don’t we wish. “We” being me and my insane blood-thirsty imaginary friend, naturally. Seeing Dead Space 2 was good, and there were other solid appearances, including the next trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, many people calling it better than the actual prequels by a mile. Nothing too bad to say about the conference, but it didn’t strike me in the way it probably should have. One surprise for me was the lack of appearance by Valve as part of their EA Partners program. We learned why the following day.

Later that day was the Ubisoft conference. The Child of Eden demonstration was stunning, if tricky to follow, and the reveals of a new Eric Chahi game and a stunning new 2D Rayman adventure were high points indeed. Then you hit the low points of strange, awkward ad-libbing by the host, the clear theft of Nintendo’s Vitality Sensor (in some attempt to beat Nintendo to the punch, only to be surprised like most of us by the non-appearance at their E3 showing, in a way mirroring their own early reveal of the MotionPlus two years ago), and the lowest point, a laser tag battle not only mocked by the very conference host, but presented as if they’d invented something completely new, a “real life shooter.” It was embarrassing, and even their concept of a digital scorekeeper has been done before, without tethering it to the range of a PC or laptop. We thought it was the worst conference at E3. We knew nothing.

The winner out of all the conferences? It wasn’t Nintendo, it wasn’t Sony. It wasn’t even UbiSoft and their laser tag war. Without question, Konami put together the most stunning conference of all. And I mean that, stunning. You have to watch it. You will be sucked.

There’s something to be said that for all the major conferences, I don’t once recall lengthy sales talk with PowerPoint charts cluttering up the screen. The companies truly did make it all about the games this time, and I have to applaud that. It’s tempting from their angle to want to beat sales numbers into the heads of some more casual journalists attending the expo, but past the most basic mentions, the temptation was resisted. To celebrate, I created a bar chart carefully detailing the levels of joy we’ve experienced for each press conference devoid of sales charts. And then I burned it.

Now, onto the games… there’s a lot of them. Tons. Even if I were to keep it to the Sonic games, on display were Sonic Colors for the Wii and DS, Sonic Free Riders for the Xbox 360 Kinect, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 for Wii, 360, PS3, iPhone and iPod Touch, and even the promise of a new Sonic title for the 3DS, with details yet to be revealed. Free Riders was mostly lost in the shuffle, but it looks like a quick port to allow Sega an early slice of the Kinect market, I wouldn’t yet expect great things from it. Sonic 4 displayed some minor changes to acceleration and physics, and the iPhone version demonstrating an interesting loop effect not seen in the console versions, spinning the stage around with Sonic’s perception, but there isn’t much more to comment on that hasn’t already been said until further changes are shown. The 3DS title is nothing but a name to the public, so we’ll move on.

It's true, I like to appeal to my sweet tooth with hamburgers. Right before he drives over to the Sony press conference.Now Sonic Colors, here’s an interesting new appearance. Almost out of nowhere, a game clearly recycling the engines from Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Rush on each respective platform, but doing so in a surprisingly appealing way. The Wii version in particular has some touches that add an arcade-like feel to the presentation, enhancing the experience. The Wisp power-ups look like fun, quick diversions that add to the game without overwhelming it, at least in the early stages on display, and the levels appear dense with content, particularly during the 2D sections. The writers behind the game are the same ones behind MadWorld, and already there was a level of humor present in the announcement chatter by Eggman as Sonic trashed his amusement park. I have to say that they’ve made an excellent first impression with the game. Interestingly, it was pointed out by this site’s Ryan Bloom that the Wentos remarks from a year before match this game much better than they did Sonic 4, even fitting his “check back in a year and a half” time frame. Now while anyone could estimate that a Sonic game of certain rough details would be announced around an E3, it does make his claims feel that much more legitimate.

Also there was some Call of Warfare game at the Expo or something. I think it had guns?

The truth is I can only scratch the surface in an editorial without boring you to death, and there was too much awesome at this E3 to pretend I could even come close to summarizing it. But there is one thing I will say for sure: I want a 3DS now. I want it yesterday. Why don’t I have one already? I’m sure at least one member of the press at E3 tried to take a unit home, even if they had to drag the model it was tethered to behind them. And boy, wouldn’t that have been an awkward flight home. Ha, ha, ha!

But probably still worth it.