E3 Conferences 2010 Round-up

By Matt Bailey

E3, or the E3 Media and Business Summit, is the computer games industry's biggest event of the year. Many moons ago it was called the Electronic Entertainment Expo and took place in LA Convention Center. Well, despite the new name and a quite a few changes since then, the event is back in the Convention Center in 2010, and the three big console hardware manufacturers each staged media briefings before E3 kicked off in full. Below we take a look at each conference and what was revealed on stage.

Click to jump to a company: Microsoft | Nintendo | Sony

Microsoft - Kinetic, Core Gamers, Slim 360
As is now becoming tradition, Microsoft began the round of conferences on the Monday evening (or morning local time) with a big focus on “Project Natal”. Well, what used to be called Project Natal as one of the big announcements on Monday - in a previous show overnight - was the official name; Kinect. Featuring a terribly boring logo the technology itself thankfully looks rather exciting, and it was demo’d live on stage in many different forms in Microsoft’s pre-E3 conference.

But before that, in an apparent effort to assure the so-called “core gamers” that this new technology - which will dominate the console in the years to come - won’t alienate them, we saw a display of games which should appeal to that audience. Titles played live on stage included Call of Duty: Black Ops and Gears of War 3, with new footage from Metal Gear Solid: Rising and Halo: Reach. Crysis developers Crytek are also working on a new Xbox 360-exclusive called “Codename: Kingdoms”.

Fable III was also on-stage before we swtiched over to lots of sweating in the Kinect demos. Kinect Sports and Kinectimals ticked the family-friendly boxes offering something similar-but-different to the likes of Wii Sports and EyePet respectively. There was also a Forza-based demo from Turn10 Studios, with an actual product promised for next year, but we don’t know whethere this is Forza 4 or a Kinect-based spin-off.

Third-parties were also present with Ubisoft’s fitness title Your Shape particularly impressing, alongside Dance Central from Harmonix. A favourite was the lightsabre-focused Star Wars game on the way next year from LucasArts. On display in addition to games were other Kinetic features, like navigating menus “Minority Report”-style, or issuing voice commands to the console. There’s even new video chat features that integrates with Windows Live Messenger on the PC. Kintec itself is due for a November 4th release Stateside, but no details on when it will come to Europe.

At the end of the show we got a well-hidden treat; the new slimmer Xbox 360 (it was hidden inside the case of the existing model). The black, angular box looks very stylish and is a quite a significant redesign for the console, with an internal power supply, built-in 802.11N Wi-Fi, a 250GB hard disk drive (in a different style to existing drives), and 5 USB ports. It’s smaller and should also be a lot quieter too - but should arrive in stores for the same price the existing Xbox 360 Elite is selling for. We don’t have a confirmation on the European release date, but it should be fairly imminent as the console is already going on sale in the US this week.

Andy Daniel's Impressions Microsoft put on a fantastic media event which was very streamlined, delivering the perfect amount of information in a timely manner. Kinect; although an odd name, I'm warming up to it a lot, and it was demonstrated tactfully. The launch titles are to be expected, but Ubisoft's Your Shape and Harmonix's Dance Central stole my imagination and covered it in fairy dust. The slim Xbox was the best reveal, and well hidden (until the last minute). All I want now is a slim Xbox with a Kinect! Mission accomplished Microsoft!

Nintendo - Zelda, Kirby, Donkey Kong, 3DS

Nintendo got stuck straight into their conference by showing off one of their big hitters; a new Zelda on Wii. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the name of the MotionPlus-enabled title, and it was demoed live on stage. The use of MotionPlus provides for a high level of accuracy for the bow and the sword, and the game certainly looks entertaining. It also, however, looks somewhat bland, but with the game not due until next year, maybe the visual style will get a shake up between now and then.

A range of impressive new titles were on display at the event, and likely to please Nintendo’s fan base for a change. Two particular highlights were Kirby Epic Yarn and Donkey Kong Country Returns - both presenting side-scrolling platforming action, with the form offering a wonderful visual style and great new concepts, while the latter returns to the style of the classic Rare-produced releases with something equally exciting.

A curious appearance came from Activision’s remake of the classic N64 shooter GoldenEye. Unlike the horrible EA sequel from a few years back, this looks an attempt to truly recreate the feel of the original, except with the curious change of Daniel Crag as James Bond rather than Pierce Brosnan who starred in the original film. Will be interesting to see how this shapes up as we only got a trailer at the conference.

The focus of the event was, as expected, going to be on the unveiling of the Nintendo 3DS. The company announced the handheld before E3, but it’s only during their press conference that Nintendo actually confirmed the name and showed off the handheld itself. It features a widescreen screen offering 3D images without the need for special glasses - polarised or otherwise - with the ability to turn the intensity of the 3D up or down, even all the way off. There’s also two cameras for taking 3D photos, as well as the usual DSi features such as the inside camera and an SD card port. The handheld also looks for other 3DS machines while it’s in sleep mode via the built-in WiFi support. It will also be compatible with existing DS and DSi games.

To support the launch are a range of new titles including Star Fox 64 3D, Metal Gear Solid, Ridge Racer, Mario Kart, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Paper Mario, and The Sims 3. The only disappointment was the lack of details on a release date or pricing.

Andy Daniel's Impressions Not too bad an effort from Nintendo. Very good to have the 3DS reveal but disappointed with the lack of release date and pricing, despite looking finished. What else is there to do, when it looks like the device is complete?! I love the new platformers, Kirby and Donkey Kong, and GoldenEye was somewhat strange, but exciting nonetheless. Daniel Craig? It looks exactly the same as the N64 too, which reminds me how dated the Wii's graphics still are. Nintendo may be one step ahead with the 3DS, but one step behind with the Wii. Show us some love!

Sony - 3D Gaming, Move, PlayStation Plus, Portal 2
Sony’s own motion-control system, the PlayStation Move, was expected to be the main event here, but Sony-at-large has a bigger goal right now; 3D. As a manufacturer of televisions and a producer of content, the move towards 3D films, television and games is very important to the Sony Corporation, so it was primary focus here at their E3 conference. The audience got to don the specs and enjoy a variety of 3D content, the highlight of which was probably KillZone 3. With or without 3D the game is certainly looking impressive right now with snow-covered levels and more fluid gameplay. Gran Turismo 5 is another showcase title for 3D, now confirmed for the long-delayed game, and we finally got a release date. Well, the Americans did; November 2nd. Hopefully it’s about the same for us too.

Also confirmed and priced up was the long-rumoured premium PlayStation Network service. “PlayStation Plus” will provide exclusive demos and betas, special downloadable content, and some extra dynamic themes and avatarts. There will also be free access to selected PSN-only titles, minis and PSone games along with the ability to try out two full PS3 games for an hour. And if that didn’t sell it to you, it also has the curious ability to automatically grab firmware updates and patches for your games. All this can be yours for £11.99 for 90 days, or £39.99 for a year, which is the same price as Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold subscription. All existing PSN features, such as online multiplayer, will remain free.

But all eyes of the media were firmly on the PlayStation Move. We already knew it existed, knew its name, and indeed many (including ourselves) have already given it a go. Sony, however, used the conference to do something Microsoft didn’t mange to do; avoid alienating the so-called “core gamers” - those who have been buying their console since the beginning. Both Sony and Microsoft are using their motion controls to reach out to the mass market in the way that Nintendo has done so successfully, but by showing the likes of KillZone 3 and on-stage demonstration of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, we saw that PlayStation Move is more than just party games. In fact, a trailer reel showed off echochrome ii, Time Crisis: Razing Storm, and Sourcery - the last of which also had an impressive live demonstration. There’s also updates on the way to add Move controls into Resident Evil 5 and, quite excitingly, Heavy Rain. Kevin Butler, from Sony’s US commercials, also came on-stage to help bridge the divide between the Core and Casual gamers, and make a few joking remarks about the competition too.

PlayStation Move’s pricing and release date was also revealed at E3. For £35 you can pick up the main controller, but to use it you’ll need a PlayStation Eye camera, so if you don’t have one of those you’ll need the combined pack for £50, including some free PSN games. The Navigation controller - the one that comes with the analogue stick - will cost another £25. The release date, meanwhile, is 17th September - well ahead of Xbox 360 Kinetic.

The Move content was hardly much of a surprise however, but there really was a big surprise at Sony's conference, and it didn’t come from Sony themselves. Well, except for Kevin Butler. But the surprise of E3 came in the form of Valve’s Gabe Newell, long-time critic of the PlayStation 3. It seems he’s settled his differences with the console, and announced that Portal 2 is on the way to the platform alongside it’s Xbox 360, PC and Mac releases. And it's claimed to be the best console version (read: better than 360), thanks to support for Steamworks that results from Sony’s more open approach compared to Xbox Live. Steamworks will bring updates, community support and DLC direct from Valve rather than via Sony and the PSN. We’re not sure yet how both will integrate.

Lastly, Sony also revealed a new entry in the Twisted Metal franchise. The series launched with the original PlayStation, and David Jaffe was on stage to demonstrate the new PS3 car destruction title. That's coming out in 2011.

Andy Daniel's Impressions I wonder if the GDC unveil of Move was Sony showing their hand too early. It seemed like they didn't have much new on display here, and their push for 3D didn't take too much effect on me. The unveiling of Portal 2 on PS3 was a very welcome surprise, and the pricing and launch dates of Move were very appealing. I was almost expecting a PSP hardware refresh, but the game lineup was enticing enough. Better than Nintendo, but Microsoft stole the show at E3, and the other two could only attempt to make cool guy jokes about it.

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