Tonight’s Sony E3 press conference was another show full of highs, lows, and bits that dragged horribly, but there was enough compelling content in there to justify its existence.
The company is certainly trying to push its 3D technology. I heard the mantra “3D, 3D, 3D” so often in the first section of the conference that it was like being one of Pavlov’s Dogs, with the expectation clearly being that having the same thing repeated to me over and again would make me want to go out and spend a ton and a half on a 3DTV. (True, I wouldn’t exactly complain if one suddenly appeared in my house, but having only just bought a new 1080p telly at the end of last year, Arnie would doubtless say, “Consider that a divorce.”)
Sony’s strategy is to force 3D into people’s lives in the same way it did Blu-Ray discs, by making enough content supporting the format that despite it seeming way too “future” and expensive right now, there will be enough early adopters to bring some level of momentum. The main problem with the strategy is that the initial investment required is even higher than it was for HDTVs back in the halcyon days of 2005, and so many game developers are inserting 3D visuals that will, quite literally, be seen by less than 1% of the audience. Will bombarding games with it make the difference? Maybe, but another issue is that the benefits of 3D can’t be advertised in any conventional manner. Sony needs to get a serious level of hands-on demonstrations in shopping centres everywhere. The audience at the conference got to see 3D footage from games such as Killzone 3 (which looked pretty spectacular even in 2D), and so it’ll be interesting to see what they made of it.
The other major part of Sony’s plan is their Move controller, which is basically a much more advanced Wii Remote that can do true 1:1 tracking and various other clever gubbins. Just as with the 3D, the tech is being put in many new games to complement the existing control systems, but similar to Microsoft’s Kinetic demos in last night’s press conference, the standalone Move games specifically designed for the new peripheral don’t look as compelling a leap forward as the original Wii Sports did at the launch of the Wii. The live-demoed blatant Harry Potter clone, Sorcery, was a particularly cynical piece of calculated unoriginality, even though it did look like a fun use of the tech. Nevertheless, Move plainly has a lot of potential, though the bundle to be released in September in the US containing the Move controller, the required Playstation Eye camera, and the Sport of Champions game, looks a little steep at $99. (UPDATE: Strangely, we Europeans get a better deal, with Move, the Eye and a demo disc coming in at €59.99. UK price not yet revealed.)
There was a very funny comedy interlude featuring Kevin Butler, the hero of Sony’s ad campaigns in the USA (“We all serve one master, one king, and his name is GAMING. LONG MAY HE REIGN!”), before the conference hit drag-city with the announcement that the handheld PSP console is going to be the focus of a new advertising push. Frankly, this is years too late, and Nintendo’s unveiling of its forthcoming 3DS handheld earlier today (of which, more tomorrow night on the blog) seemed to make show host Jack Tretton lose heart and start rambling through his autocue as if he knew he was already beaten. The PSP section of the show went on for too long, and even though there were some good-looking new games revealed, it seems very difficult at this point for the platform to ever fully recover in terms of software sales.
Skipping over Playstation Plus – a new subscription service (think Xbox Live Gold’s “added value” offerings) that takes your exclusive downloads back after you’ve stopped paying, and sounds a mite mean for $49.99 per year -, there was a live demo of the charming Little Big Planet 2, which promises to greatly enhance the creation tools of the first game, allowing gamers to make much more than just platform games; a very, very pretty trailer of Gran Turismo 5 along with (finally!) a November release date; a trailer for open-world electricity-zapfest Infamous 2; and partnerships with Electronic Arts and Ubisoft for various special editions of games and timed exclusives on downloadable content.
The real showstopper, though, was the announcement that Portal 2 will appear on PS3 (the existence of the 360 version was already known). This was particularly notable because, for years, developer Valve’s head honcho Gabe Newell has slammed the platform for being too annoying to make the extra effort to program for. Continuing his about-turn, Newell even promised that the PS3 version would be the best console version – mainly, it seems, because of integration with his Steam platform on PC which distributes game updates and community features as soon as they become available, rather than having to go through the protracted approval process that Valve’s games on 360 suffer due to Microsoft.
That announcement would have been enough to end the conference on a high, but bizarrely the finale was the unveiling of the new version of a PS1 and PS2 hit, car combat game Twisted Metal, which while popular with the Americans, certainly didn’t seem like enough of a big deal to be the last surprise. It was demoed live and looked fun but nothing all that special, particularly seeing as many people were holding out for more information on Fumito Ueda’s spiritual sequel to classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, called The Last Guardian.
So, a solid conference ended on a bit of a damp squib, but there was enough in there to interest gamers in the new technology coming their way, as well as the big videogames to be released on PS3 over the next few months. The thought of 3D and Move in tandem is an exciting one – it could provide videogames with a greater level of immersion than has ever been experienced before.
Nintendo, however, has its own answers about how to take gaming forwards while continuing to appeal to the widest possible audience, and I’ll be writing about its conference – generally perceived to be the best of the big three – tomorrow. Missed it today, see. Office hours and all that.