05 June 2009

My Opinions of the E3 2009 Press Conferences: Meh

So E3 2009 is just about finished, and I had a chance to catch tidbits of the 3 major console players' press briefings at the opening of the expo, and I have to admit that, with the exception of a few (and I mean few) announcements, I was overall particularly unimpressed with all the companies. It seemed that each of the companies had little to offer consumers this year that was completely new, and each of the three showcased a lot of sequels to previous games. Perhaps its the lack of ingenuity and creativity, or perhaps in this recession-wracked economy the companies are trying to play it safe and milk the cash-cow that is their previous franchises. Whatever the reason, only a small number of announcements actually sparked my interest, and I'm sure my sentiments were echoed by many. Although I missed a majority of the live announcements since I was at work and listening to the announcements at the same time, having to pay attention to other things from time to time or even coming to log into the announcement broadcasts late, I did get to see the bulk of what the companies had to say. To sum up all 3 players' announcements: "meh." Here's a short rundown of what did pique my interest though:

Per Microsoft's usual attitude about always having to be first to present at any large event, Microsoft kicked of this year's E3 with its usual over-the-top fanfare and its inclusion of unnecessary guests. Now, I logged in to see the live webcast a little late, but from the transcripts of the live blogs that were available for me to see, they kicked off the show with a little business and with the Beatles on stage - wholly unnecessary for its unveiling of Rock Band: The Beatles in all honesty.
While on the topic of Rock Band, why is it that whenever they choose to include content from another band that they have to completely re-package the entire game? Why can't they just sell 1 game that has the capability of expanding to the different bands through downloadable content - especially since Xbox's bread-and-butter is its online system that prides itself in digital content delivery? Whatever...
Now, I missed a number of announcements, and one in particular that I would have loved to hear live was the announcement of the ability to buy full retail games on Xbox Live on-demand through online distribution. This was a very nice addition considering its first trial at it back when it began distributing the first Xbox games for purchase and download not too long ago. I did not miss, however, the announcement of Last.FM integration, NetFlix queue management (which should have been there a while ago and really isn't too big of an announcement considering I remember a proof-of-concept Windows Mobile app was released not too long ago), 1080p HD movie and TV show downloads (but still no Hulu love, apparently) and party watching, and Facebook & Twitter integration (yay! but it doesn't look like they integrated it very well in my opinion).
Then came the Bungie announcement. At this point in the announcement, I had to laugh, only because there was no real introduction, no company and game propiganda, nothing. Joesph Staten just came up on stage, said "So are you ready for a demo of Halo: ODST? Okay, let's start" and that was it. It was, as always with Bungie, a very impressive demo, but what really got me interested is their teaser trailer for their next Halo game, Halo: Reach. Part of me became as giddy as a schoolkid, but the other part of me slumped my shoulders and thought "What? Another one? Don't you have any other ideas?" Then again, Halo set up a pretty vast universe and I can see Microsoft and Bungie's attempts at providing the war's story from multiple points of view.
But the most impressive part of Microsoft's E3 announcement came in the form of Project Natal. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, it is a project in which the Xbox 360 is controlled by actual body movements, much in the same way movie producers use motion capture systems to generate the movements of 3D characters without having to hand animate it, reducing production cost and decrease production time. However, unlike the theatrical systems, Project Natal uses no special suits. Also, it has features for facial recognition, voice recognition, and a host of other cool technologies that very well may change the way games are played. I was very impressed with the rough technology demo that they demonstrated, and believe that it may go a long way now that they've demonstrated it, and may actually go to production in the near future. This could very well lead to online meetings with our Xbox Live avatars where we could interact as we would in normal life, but part of me can't help but think that that 10% of people that tend to ruin things for the other 90% will end up doing the same shenanigans on Xbox Live by doing some lewd act. Oh well, such is Live.
Overall, I was somewhat impressed, especially since Microsoft seemed to have a lot of larger titles to offer this year, even though most of it seemed like minor additions.
I came to Nintendo's briefing pretty late, at about the time when they were just announcing the Nintendo Vitality sensor. Nintendo's E3 announcements, for lack of a better phrase, sorely disappointing. Numerous Mario games were apparently the huge games to come from Nintendo this year (next to the Metroid announcement), and, really, the only game that captivated my attention was Super Mario Galaxy 2 - I was actually pretty excited about that after I've been having so much fun with Super Mario Galaxy (although I am still pretty far from finishing it - I just don't have enough time to play it through completely). I think Nintendo was really riding on the DSi's recent release to take the spotlight away from their lack of great announcements, but I have noticed a large paradigm shift with Nintendo to games and hardware designed for relaxation and health (hence the Wii Fit and the Wii Vitality Sensor). We'll have to see how things pan out for Nintendo this year, but I pray they don't go the way of Sega...
Sony, like Microsoft, loves to pour money into their announcements. They expect that the glitz and polish will sell them more units across their platforms, but I don't believe in it and, again, I was mostly disappointed with their announcements. With the exception of the PSPgo, which I think has a lot of potential (especially now that they have digital content distribution), it was a huge yawn-fest for me. I've never been a Sony fan, and the PS3 has been the biggest lackluster unit ever (although its hardware is definitely impressive, its games library is very poor).
The announcement of the PSPgo was an important one, as it was the first portable gaming device that didn't require you to have to go to any store (other than its online one) to purchase games and other content. However, it poses many questions for those who already have a PSP, mostly important of which is: how can they play their UMD-based games? Later reports showed that Sony is working on a "good will" program, but it still does not offer up the entire library for the PSP. Makes me wonder if the homebrew community will jump in and save the day by providing working copies of those unconverted games so that they work on the PSPgo.
A game announcement that caught my eye was that of MAG. It is a massively multiplayer online game, but in a scale never seen in online games before. It supposedly will support up to 256 online players simultaneously on the same level - all playing with/against each other! Incredibly impressive, I would say, and sounds to me to be a game that would definitely be worth playing. Unfortunatley, I must wait, and wait I shall do - wait for the reviews of my peers, of course (I've long stopped listening to gaming reviewers since they've been known to skew their angles because they were paid off).
And then there was the Final Fantasy XIII announcement. Yes, another Final Fantasy game. Joy. I have to wonder why it is that these games just keep coming out with the same name. I personally don't understand their appeal to gamers, and have yet to find one that I actually enjoy playing. I probably could enjoy them if I really sat down and played it, but I would have to force myself to play it and that would automatically cause me to not enjoy it. But, like the end of the Halo: ODST announcment when they showed the teaser for Halo: Reach, Sony decided to do a Microsoft and reveal a teaser for Final Fantasy XIV. Is this how the industry works now? Show a game that will be coming out soon, but immediately show what will succeed it? Isn't that counter-productive? Wouldn't you then be having the two games compete with themselves despite coming from the same money-making franchises?
And finally, there was the announcement of Sony's own motion controlling system, which was unnamed, but I'll just call their "wand system." Taking a chapter out of Nintendo's book, Sony opted for a remote-like wand system to demonstrate their motion capture system, and made the arguments that for many interactions, some sort of hardware was needed to increase the level of realism in a game, a direct stab to Microsoft's controller-less Project Natal. The announcement was about as impressive as Project Natal, but since the wand system had some bit of hardware to go along with it, it is likely that we will see Sony's system make it to market before Microsoft's. But either way, you could definitely feel the rivalry between Sony and Microsoft this year in terms of the motion control implementations.
Overall, there wasn't really anything spectacular, new, and totally exciting coming from Sony this year. Unfortunately I have to be harsh, considering I've never been a Sony fanboy, but I'd have to say I'd expected as much from them.
As it can be seen, I was rather unimpressed with the results of E3 this year. I hope that the companies really step up to the creative-plate and really wow us next year. I think they need to be slapped in the face again after having ridden the wave of success in the last couple years without fear of losing profits. But if they continue to give us re-hashes of tried-and-true franchises, eventually we will grow tired and people will stop buying the games and systems.

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