Tuesday, June 2, 2009

E3 2009 Day Two

Here we go. A look at day two of the Electronics Entertainment Expo 2009. I stayed up too late keeping up with Nintendo's conference earlier, so I'm just going to keep this succinct and focus on third parties over the remaining days - the worst of the expo's over now, anyway.


Nintendo's conference was pretty nerve-wracking this year. Mostly due to a fact that they didn't seem to have learned much from what upset people about their conference last year. Too much focus on things like the Wii Fit Plus expansion to Wii Fit, a beautician sim, and rehashing coverage of MotionPlus from last year. (Way too much rehashing from last year, in fact - no offense to her personally, but the fans wanted less Cammie Dunaway, more Reggie Fils-Aime, more Satoru Iwata, and some Shigeru Miyamoto (The creator of Mario, Donkey Kong, and more - the father of modern video gaming.), who didn't even attend this year, likely due to Swine Flu concerns.

Eventually, though, they brought out more than enough big titles to safely say that Nintendo won E3 again this year. None of the big three had a stellar performance - probably enough to please their respective fanatics each, at least - but Nintendo edged out the other two with ease in terms of appealing software, as far as I'm concerned.

Following the original DS reintroduction of classically styled Mario, Nintendo unveiled a New Super Mario Bros. title for the Wii - 2D sidescrolling gameplay with 3D graphics, and up to four player cooperative play. They also announced Super Mario Galaxy 2 for 2010 - their first direct sequel to a 3D Mario game. Very much a good thing in this case, though, considering that the original Super Mario Galaxy was easily the best 3D Mario platformer to date, and one of the very best games to come out in this past decade. Platforming bliss. They also revealed Metroid: Other M, a new reenvisioning of 3D Metroid on the Wii from Team Ninja (Tecmo's development team behind the recent Ninja Gaiden games and the Dead or Alive series, now free of leadership by the notoriously misogynistic Tomonobu Itagaki, who lost his job last year.) following Retro's incredible first person Metroid Prime trilogy (Which was released between the Gamecube and Wii).

On the DS, they announced the third Mario & Luigi RPG (Following the original on the Gameboy Advance, Superstar Saga, and its DS follow-up from years ago, Partners in Time.), which looks as hilarious and fun as its predecessors. They showed the upcoming third Legend of Zelda Wind Waker line title, Spirit Tracks, which follows Phantom Hourglass (Also on the DS), bringing the Wind Waker setting to a continent rather than a vast ocean, with its world now navigated by train rather than boat. Something we've already known about for a little while now, but nonetheless an exciting title. And they also unveiled the third Golden Sun game by Camelot - one of their best second party developers, which I really hope to see work with Sega on the Shining series again eventually - bringing the series into full 3D on the DS. More things to be happy about.

They also took some time to highlight some of their bigger third party titles coming to the Wii and DS, from major third party first person shooters - which are finally starting to get the treatment they've deserved with the Wii's phenomenal control scene for first person gameplay - to their excellent lineup of Japanese RPGs on the way. (At this point, just about every Japanese role-playing game on the Wii has been announced for western release - something I'm elated about, as a lifelong fan of the genre.)

And post-press conference, they announced even more games that aren't getting enough attention by many who are predictably more fixated on labeling Nintendo as a failure at E3 because their press conference disappointed. And there's no denying that they disappointed - there was a lack of energy, and in general, they really could have organized their presentation better. In particular, E3's more of a time to focus on their traditional longtime fanbase, not the newer expanded audience with things like beautician sims, some seemingly shovelware titles that really don't deserve much of a nod, and the Wii Fit expansion. (Though MotionPlus deserves its fair shake, as the most important peripheral unveiled at E3 this year.) There's plenty to criticize, but there's even more to be happy about when you look at the summation of their showings.

In their post-conference announcements, they revealed Endless Ocean 2 - due out in fist quarter 2010, roughly two years after the original hit in January last year - as well as Monado: Beginning of the World (A 3D RPG that resembles Monster Hunter), Span Smasher (A pinball-esque action game), Line Attack Heroes (A quirky 3D fighting game). Then on the DS, they unveiled Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box, Fossil Fighters, The Glory of Heracles (the RPG franchise's first official English release), and Picross 3D. Following those, they also confirmed a bunch of DSiWare downloadable titles based on the popular NHK mascot Domo-kun and some new WiiWare franchises. Sin & Punishment 2 was also playable at their booth. Shigeru Miyamoto has also recently confirmed from Japan that the new Wii Zelda game is coming along well, and he wanted to unveil it at E3, but they didn't plan it. THIS is something that should have been in their press conference. In fact, everything in this paragraph should have been.

But all that said, between all of this and their fantastic third party support now, Nintendo easily won E3 this year. Most important peripheral, best game lineup. But their conference was simply lackluster and didn't focus on what the fanbase was waiting to here - they had what the fans wanted them to deliver, and they only talked about a handful of those titles in the press conference. Pay attention, Nintendo - you guys can do better conferences. You've got the goods.


Well, as for Sony... there's not that much to be said, but that they're still desperately grasping at relevance, hoping a day will come when they'll be able to say "See?! We told you we were right to make the same console a third time with ridiculously expensive and hard to program for hardware!"

Of course, they also unveiled a pretty awful knockoff of the Wii remote too - like Microsoft, they're both desperately hoping that releasing motion-based peripherals that don't function as any kind of primary standard control will "crush the Wii" and turn their platforms into massive successes. But that ship's already sailed - not unlike with their late arrival avatar systems following Nintendo's Miis.

I'm still astonished that third parties give the PSP support at all, considering the high amount of piracy on the platform and that the majority of the games sell very poorly.


New peripherals have been a main theme of the expo this year.

Microsoft's hoping to compete with the Wii with Project Natal, which amounts to being little more than an attempt at their own EyeToy/Sega Activator - considering that they've spent years painting motion controls as a "gimmick" and have only shown a few tech demos (Hyped by Peter Molyneux, who's getting to be known as video gaming's patron saint of untrustworthy bullshit), while they've stated in releases that the finished product may not be what they're promising, I have low expectations for it. Bold would have been launching something like this at the beginning of the generation - it's too late to capture the motion control crowd, which has gone to Nintendo. And their userbase has largely made it clear that they didn't want this sort of addition to their system to begin with, just like with the avatar system they created in response to Miis, which hasn't added anything of real value to the system or games.

The PS3's in the same boat - assuming that all they need is an optional motion peripheral to suddenly become competitive, after encouraging their userbase to be antagonistic to everything the Wii stands for before trying to capture it themselves. You can't smoothly go from "Everything they do is a stupid fad!" to "We're gonna do it too but do it better except our features won't have much of anything to do with gaming and will be an optional add-on you don't need!" There's no admission of error, or real understanding of why Nintendo's beating them - just a lot of money being flushed away. But as I've stated before, neither Sony nor Microsoft gets why they're losing, and they're continuing down that same path. At least, to their credit, Sony didn't end up putting a touchscreen on their new PSP Go like the media suspected - it wouldn't have made them any more viable a competitor to begin with. Though the wisdom in continuing to create new PSP systems is questionable, considering its consistently poor software sales (Especially next to the DS) and how extremely mainstream piracy has been on the platform since day one.

Nintendo had three new peripherals for the Wii at E3. Most controversial in its showing in the conference - and frankly probably inappropriate, given that the expanded audience has never been the focus of E3 - is the Wii Vitality Sensor. Simply put, it tracks the user's pulse and other signals from their body as they play, acting as a supplement to the Wii's more physically active games. It's part of their current focus on integrating healthy living and exercise into the video game hobby, as they began with Wii Sports and Wii Fit. They also recently released Personal Trainer: Walking on the DS, a rather innovative and revolutionary title in that it links up with the Wii as the first piece of DS software to integrate Mii avatars from your Wii's Mii Channel, and it comes with a pedometer, which itself links wirelessly to the DS to track various information, stats, and goal achievements in daily walking and exercise. Great ideas and concepts to integrate into game systems with really unique use of these features to promote public health - something that's only applause-worthy, but still not really appropriate for the E3 crowds.

In addition to the Wii Vitality Sensor, Ubisoft also unveiled the Wii Camera that I mentioned the other day, which they apparently worked with Nintendo in developing. As of far, it only works with an upcoming Wii exercise game - a third noteworthy one in addition to Nintendo's Wii Fit and EA's EA Sports ACTIVE - but given its development with Nintendo, I could see it potentially being sold separately and eventually used with additional software. With a concrete release window - unlike Natal and Sony's motion-sensing camera-oriented wands solely being tech demos to be released down the line as pricey peripherals, trying to draw an audience not buying those platforms and alienating the audience that already owns them - funnily enough, between the Wii remote, Wii Speak, and the Wii Camera, the Wii itself will essentially have everything at its disposal that Microsoft and Sony are trying to hype up, and quite a bit in advance, at that. But I'd imagine that developers are no more likely to take advantage of these new hardware elements in combination than they are to jump on board with Project Natal or Sony's motion-sensing Wii remote knockoffs, though odds are that the Wii audience would be far more receptive to those kinds of titles using actual spoken voice and camera elements. (And Nintendo could certainly replicate a number of interesting features from the Natal tech video simply by releasing a firmware update to navigate through menus by hand gestures and so forth, making the Wii Camera compatible with the core system software.) The balance board packaged with Wii Fit's already managed to find its way to success as a peripheral as is, continuing to be integrated into new games, including a new Wii-exclusive Shaun White Snowboarding game as a result of the Wii version of last year's Shaun White game vastly outperforming its high-def console counterparts, despite despite a lack of an open mountain environment to explore. (Something they'll hopefully remedy with the new exclusive release.) Another reminder that controls make the game experience - not higher resolution graphics or any kind of push toward an ugly realism that video game visuals struggle to pull off even now. But original controls and new experiences need to be a part of the standard package, a defining element of the experience - and that's the opposite of what Sony and Microsoft have stood for in the industry, as clumsy conservative forces now stumbling in the face of meaningful advances in terms of gameplay experience. Video gaming couldn't be about staring at a screen and pushing buttons forever, after all - and in time, we're going to get far beyond staring at a screen and waving our arms or shifting around on a balance board, too. These are just baby steps forward toward something much greater.

Lastly, we get to their third and most important peripheral shown, and the soonest to the market: Wii MotionPlus. MotionPlus was unveiled last year to address complaints about the Wii remote's inability to quite pull off perfect 1:1 interpretations of physical motions. (Largely because the technology itself would have made the controllers even more expensive than they already are, as the priciest part of the Wii to begin with.) Releasing next week - Nintendo's unveiled peripherals at E3 being the only ones coming out anytime soon and making an actual industry and market impact - MotionPlus will be packaged with several major Wii titles for release over the rest of the year. It debuts early next week with EA's Tiger Woods Golf '10, introducing the new Wii remote attachment through essentially flawless golf controls, at last allowing people to experience golf in their own living room with a level of control accuracy not even previous Wii control schemes could quite match. They'll be following that up with Wii Sports Resort, the summer resort-themed follow-up to the Wii Sports pack-in, with an assortment of new games with even more incredibly accurate controls, from kendo fencing to dog frisbee to jet ski racing and more. And later this fall, it will also be packed in with Ubisoft's sequel to their hit - though frequently derided - Red Steel first-person shooter launch title, known for its combination of gunplay and swordplay. (One of the biggest attractions in Wii MotionPlus itself being the potential to create incredible, elaborate sword-fighting combat games now where the game can replicate your every motion exactly on screen. Fans have been holding their breath for some time for a lightsaber-based Star Wars game in this vein. And LucasArts at least seems to be aware that fans are waiting for this.) Being packed in with multiple major titles - likely even more in the coming years - and integrated into the gameplay of more future Wii titles (Whether enhancing the controls for some that can be played with the regular Wii Remote otherwise or being a requirement otherwise), of all of the Wii's peripherals so far, MotionPlus is the most important, and will undoubtedly become one of the most mainstream in its use. And it's certainly added by the fact that peripherals actually tend to sell on the Wii, its audience constantly looking for new experiences, where the HD platforms' audience doesn't stray beyond their traditional, stagnant controllers unless they're playing with things like Guitar Hero controllers - which are still essentially just differently shaped controllers that you only interact with through button-presses. The major divide between the adventurous Wii audience - which you could even look at as gaming futurists in a sense - and the ultra-conservative HD crowd, fixated on their unsustainably expensive graphics, derivative game concepts, and gameplay largely rehashed from last generation.

Lastly of note, Facebook got a great deal of attention at E3 this year too. A new DSi app was announced to link with your Facebook account, allowing you to upload DSi photos taking with its camera directly - just as you can upload photos to your Wii Photo Channel from a DSi - in a feature I'm sure I'll make use of whenever I finally get a DSi. (Hopefully sometime this year, seeing as I seem to be unable to get my older DS model to go online anymore on our heavily secured household wireless network, while the DSi is able to connect to much more secure wireless networks, with the same general features and updatable firmware in regards to network and internet connections as the Wii.)

The Xbox 360 also boasts new Facebook connection features as well, social networking itself only becoming more integrated with the gaming experience, said networking becoming a cornerstone of Gen Y and many people's lives these days. I'd love to see some Wii Facebook connectivity in time too, through a channel or something like that, to share either photos that way, or gaming stats, or anything else, really. At any rate, these are neat little features shown off at E3 this year as well.


Ah, E3. Both the most exciting and annoying week of the year to be a video game nerd. With the big three's conferences over - none of them mindblowing, as E3 tends to disappoint in more recent years - the worst of these posts are over now too.

(Don't worry, those of you who couldn't care less about this topic. I'm planning on blogging about other things this week too. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm just going to do one last E3 post on the third party offerings of note, and that'll be it. There's your cue to breathe a sigh of relief!)

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