Monday, June 1, 2009

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien + E3 Day One

I'm going to update this post a little later tonight with more thoughts, but rather than another liveblog, I've just opted to tweet about it on Twitter while it's airing.

On the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert opened congratulating Conan, and in that, acknowledged that he's about to start losing a lot of viewers at his show's 11:30 initial broadcast time, now that he's up against Conan.

Overall, it was a fantastic premiere. The show opened with Conan checking off a to-do list in New York, running across country - passing through major cities - to Cheap Trick's "Surrender" until he reached his studio in LA, eventually having to bust through the door to get in, having left his keys on New York City. Then he did a monologue - with lots of back and forth with Andy Richter, who's returned to the show after departing from Late Night back in 2000. (I still remember watching the special show on which he left back then, in high school. There's Andy Richters everywhere!) It's great to see them together again, with the top notch comedy chemistry Conan and Andy have always had. I miss Joel Godard already, as he was a hilarious announcer for Conan on Late Night, but I don't blame him for moving on and retiring, considering his age. In his new position out on set, Andy's returned about halfway to being Conan's sidekick again, though we didn't see too much of the Max Weinberg 7 - now "Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band" tonight. But I imagine we'll see them in more comedy bits as the show continues, considering how important they were in the comedy on Late Night. The show's opening theme's basically a new version of the same old opening theme from Conan's Late Night days - it's great to see Conan sticking to his previous show's feel, not abandoning his roots.

The new set's basically a new version of his previous sets, though with the band and desk/couch's locations reversed, and generally larger than those previous sets in the smaller studio. The show has a higher budget feel in general, and a few Late Night writers turned up in sketches on the premiere show. The monologue was kind of a mixed bag, with a little of it feeling a little bit like it was trying to help transition Leno fans over to Conan's style of humor, but for the most part, it was still very much in line with his Late Night years.

After the monologue, Conan showed his first Tonight Show remote - helping out on a local tram tour, which was as funny as you'd expect from Conan, who excels at taped remote segments, improvising his way through everything. Then he did a segment to the song "Get Out of My Dreams and into My Car" in which he drove his 1992 Ford Taurus around LA - "if it's cool enough for New York, it's cool enough for LA!" - and getting everyone's attention, impregnating one woman by simply looking at her from within his car, and even making Fabio shake his head in envy.

The first show's guests were Will Ferrell, who came out in a cart carried by men dressed up as ancient Egyptian servants - upstaging Conan - and then went on to repeatedly bet that the show wouldn't last at all. He was promoting Land of the Lost, which seems potentially worth seeing, since it costars Danny McBride (The Foot-Fist Way, The Pineapple Express) and Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies, which just recently returned to the air on Saturdays on ABC for the final three episodes of season 2.). Pearl Jam performed as an appropriately epic musical guest. And I missed anything after that, since something went wrong at the local NBC affiliate and the screen just went solid pink for the next hour or so. Fortunately, all of the important stuff aired properly here.

Bonus! E3 Day One Thoughts

Yeah, I think I'm just going to discuss E3 a bit each day this year instead of doing my painful mega posts like in the past that nobody really read anyway.

Microsoft had their conference today, and Nintendo and Sony will have theirs on Tuesday. They unveiled this Project Natal motion sensing controller - a sort of more functional variation of Sony's Eyetoy webcam concept, which they're going to try to integrate with all Xbox 360 units now. A gutsy move, for sure, but I'm not getting swept up in the predictable wave of insane "Microsoft will destroy Nintendo now!" hype that the internet's full of. Hype around E3 tends to be ridiculous, anyway - it's a feature that isn't a required standard controller, one strike against it there. Devs don't have to use it, and that's a big part of what helped to kill the PS3's SixAxis controller's push for its tilt controls' use. In order to move game controls forward as a standard, new controls have to be a part of the main controller, not an optional peripheral in addition to a traditional main controller. Strike two comes in that they're launching this mid-gen, and that makes mainstream adoption even more unlikely. And strike three comes in that this is something they're launching for a userbase that has largely rejected this sort of thing - a base they've helped encourage to be very antagonistic toward innovation and different types of gameplay, largely in the face of Sega. This is the same crowd that was angry when they unveiled their new menu system with Mii knock-offs that don't integrate into games in meaningful ways, nor were they designed with the kind of gaming integration functionality in mind that Miis have, missing the point entirely. A bold move on Microsoft's part, but as interesting as it looks, webcam controls still lose something at this point in lacking a physical controller through which to interact with - something the Wii pulls off, and will continue to even better when MotionPlus hits this year - but I don't think it's going to create this tidal wave of 360 innovation and pop cultural appeal that will suddenly smash the Wii like the fanatics insist. The generation and future of the industry are still Nintendo's, and my overall feeling right now is that Project Natal may end up being little more than an effective gimmick with perhaps a few games that use it well and don't end up being big hits. But nonetheless, kudos to Microsoft for doing something new that steps things up - even midway through the gen - and encourages the competition (Especially Nintendo) to step things up even further next generation.

Gaming-wise, Microsoft unveiled a few new things. Nothing that's got me too excited, though apparently Hideo Kojima's making a new Metal Gear Solid after last summer's release of IV on the PS3, for the 360, PS3, and PC - a smarter platform choice than any PS3 exclusive, for sure, but after MGSIV was supposed to be the end of the series, I have to say it: Kojima's career is imploding. It's getting to the point where he's not being allowed to make anything else but Metal Gear now, and that series has been effectively run into the ground in recent years. It's basically Tom Clancy style espionage gaming on drugs with halfway-incoherent plots that gamers - who typically don't read anything good if they read at all, and thus don't know what quality writing is - hail as "genius" in its convolutedness and poor planning. (Not unlike the gamers who think of Final Fantasy VII as "brilliant," when its writing is abysmal and outright incoherent.) Rumors are that Kojima may be heading the new PS3/360 Castlevania game as well, as just one other title beyond more MGS. Nothing Nintendo, predictably - as people seem set on keeping Kojima away from the mass market now - and nothing I'm too concerned about in the grand scheme of things. It's hard to say how a non-Koji Igarashi Castlevania would turn out, but at his point, the fanbase doesn't care about the 3D console Castlevania titles, so putting one of those on the HD systems simply wasn't a good decision on Konami's part.

Ubisoft did their conference, and showed that they're actually using the Wii's graphical hardware for Red Steel 2 - something that's nice to see, as the game looks very good in motion, though being a first-person shooter, it's not really my genre. They also showed that they're releasing a camera peripheral for the Wii (Which, while not getting anywhere near as much buzz, is functionally basically just like the 360's Project Natal and Playstation line's Eyetoys. Of course, only Natal is getting a crazy amount of hype that, at this juncture, is largely undeserved under a critical lens.) for some upcoming software, so now all three consoles will have camera features this generation. (In addition to the DSi being the only one to have camera features as a portable.) Some nice stuff for these platforms, at least, and it'll be interesting to see what other sorts of software Ubisoft's Wii camera might end up being used in. Otherwise, they just hyped Assassin's Creed 2, a sequel to a thoroughly mediocre title I have no interest in, and a return to roots for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series (Which I believe was just shown for the HD consoles), which I'm not interested in either. No Beyond Good & Evil 2 - no official platform confirmations for that yet either, though franchise director Michel Ancel's confirmed he's well aware of the demand for the game on the Wii. And not enough on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash Up or Rabbids Go Home on the Wii - if there was any, I missed it - but I'm sure we'll see more on those before the show ends later this week. They also confirmed that they licensed No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle after XSeed had announced it in the past. I'd imagine they probably worked out a financial deal with XSeed. They've also confirmed that Europe will be getting an uncensored, ultraviolent version of the game, after they only got the toned down version of the original, like Japan.

The best thing today, as far as I'm concerned, was TellTale's confirming the return of the classic Monkey Island pirate-based humorous point and click PC games from LucasArts back in the day. They're slated for future episodic WiiWare release as Tales of Monkey Island games. Following their Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and Sam & Max episodic series, Monkey Island should be great. If any developer can handle a revival like this well, it's Telltale.

Square-Enix also launched their Final Fantasy IV: The After Years sequel - a newly released Super Nintendo style RPG over a decade after all the others - on WiiWare today too. 800 points/$8 for the main game, with 300/$3 for each of the other episodes you can download, and $8 for the final, game-ending episode when it drops in September. Not a bad pricing scheme at all, so I had to pick up the main game tonight, as a huge fan of the original SNES title, IV being the second best game in that series by a large margin.


vince akuin said...

It's great that Conan is finally back! Or as Tom Hanks would say, Co-Co Christopher! ;-)

Benjamin Fennell said...

Haha indeed. Complete with chocotacos. Great first couple of nights. :)