E3 2009 coverage live from Los Angeles!
Lucy and Tristan recover from all the dazzling lights and over-loud sound effects to bring you their thoughts on how Microsoft did at this year's conference.
Lucy: So there we have it guys – the big guns are out. It was a ridiculously awesome event, and as I said to Tris immediately after we got out of the conference, I’ve never seen so much money in one room before. Paul McCartney had a minute cameo, for God’s sake.
Microsoft has truly pitched it high this year. The main focus of their event seemed to be ‘bringing the community together’ – ie aiming to get everybody who’s not a ‘gamer’ into video games. The way they did this ranged from the casual (introducing Twitter and Facebook to Xbox Live) to the downright creepy (Lionhead’s alarmingly realistic AI program). Regardless of whether they’re going to achieve what they’ve set out to achieve, their E3 presentation was nothing short of epic. It was like being battered over the head by a crazy mad scientist. Who happens to be a billionaire.
Tristan: Felicia Day appeared! Wooo!! Ahem.
Yeah, as Lucy says, this thing was so extremely ostentatious. I mean come on, can't you feed thousands of hunger-stricken kids for the price of getting Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney onstage for less than a minute? That, along with the brief cameos by Yoko Ono, Steven Speilberg, etc, just felt way over the top. But boy did it make an impression - it certainly fitted with Microsoft's theme of going all in with this here gaming business. They said early on that they weren't going to bore people with charts or stats or back-patting (which got a lot of cheers) - and they certainly delivered, with game after game getting demoed, and announcement after announcement coming thick and fast.
While the Xbox exclusives were a good bunch, and the expansion of the Xbox into some sort of demi-god of multitasking was predictable, all the Project Natal stuff really sealed the deal. I'd say it doesn't matter whether it actually works or not - the demo reel made it look pretty damn cool, and people will take notice. All of this combined made the conference quite a success in my opinion - you might not be too thrilled about some things, or just don't give a toss about social networking on your Xbox, but you can't deny that Microsoft went all in with this press conference. Personally, I think they got results - and now the onus is firmly on Sony to deliver tomorrow. And hey, Nintendo as well, now that they're actually a competitor to Project Natal.
But did you see the Left 4 Dead 2 trailer? Weeeee! Time for some more LAN gaming goodness, this time with melee weapons I see! Can't wait.
Lucy: The Beatles: Rock Band makes me want to buy Rock Band. That’s it. The graphics on this thing are better than any music game to date, and the mixture of that stylized 2D animation with 3D CGI was stunning. And finally, FINALLY, we can harmonize when we’re singing, instead of blandly keeping the same tune or ‘accidentally’ singing the a capella part….and to top it all off, some token Beatles action! Bringing Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison onstage was full respec, although I really would’ve liked to have seen Yoko Ono rocking out with a plastic guitar in her hand instead of the somewhat subdued appearance she made here. At least Ringo and Paul had some banter. And what banter! ‘This game is really good!’ ‘Yeah, it’s got great graphics.’ Fan service aside, it was incredible to see them in the flesh.
Tristan: Yeah man, vocal harmonies will rock - handily, we already have three microphones at home!
So the move from gaming console to multimedia do-it-all continues. The Xbox 360 will soon be able to get music streamed via last.fm, which looked pretty cool. And we can confirm that, yes, movie buying/renting will be available in New Zealand! Hurray. Hah, but I had to laugh when they said they were going to offer streaming 1080p. That ain't happening in NZ, buddy - not with our broadband. Still, nice to see that we are included. We've also been informed that the Facebook and Twitter features will be making their way to us as well. Interesting how 'mainstream' that stuff is now, right? You've got to wonder what we'll be using in a couple of years.
What we probably won't see in New Zealand is a deal with Sky to use the 360 as a high-def TV broadcasting box. That would be really awesome, but while the US and now the UK are firming up deals, don't expect to see it down under. Luce - what were your thoughts on all this multitasking? Is it getting to be too much?
Lucy: Well, people seem to really dig the Netflix thing here, and I can imagine it working one day in New Zealand. Obviously the broadband in America can handle a 'no disc, no download, no delay' instant 1080P HD streaming, but we'd be lucky if we saw that sort of thing in a couple of years. The social networking integration I'm not so sold on. Most gamers I know wouldn't pause their game to jump on Facebook and boast about their high scores. It's as I said to you afterwards, Tris - the more functions a console has that's not gaming related distances me from the gaming itself.
Nonetheless, the conference was on the majority, still about games, and the games shown at this conference were exciting. I even thought the skateboard peripheral for Tony Hawk: Ride looks promising, and I’m looking forward to trying it out tomorrow. For a moment there I thought this was Microsoft’s big ‘motion sensor’ announcement. How naive I was…
I would’ve liked to have seen Tony actually use it onstage however – you can never be sure of these motion sensor thingies until you see them in action. Real-time. With Tony Hawk. We're so spoiled, Tristan.
Tristan: Yes, we really are. Hopefully the Ride game will get that series back on track. So back to Left 4 Dead: it looks like somebody's been playing too much Resident Evil 5. Zombies in the daytime? Craziness!
Looks pretty cool, though - loved it when the narrator talked about running out of bullets and just using melee weapons. Chainsaws and so forth! Looks almost a bit like Dead Rising in that more everyday objects are available to be used in the fight against the undead.
One thing, though: that seemed like a really short turnaround time from the first Left 4 Dead, don't you think? Has that thing even been out a year? I mean, we still play it, and have barely gotten to the latest downloadable content! Ah well, it's a fast-moving industry I guess. What else stood out for you, Luce?
Lucy: Alan Wake was probably the game I’d pre-order based on Remedy Entertainment’s showing this morning. Even in an auditorium full of thousands of people on their Macs and iPhones I still got chills watching the trailer. The slow-mo effects when Alan was being pursued by the ‘dark presence’ were sublime. The voice-over was sort of trite, but I think that adds to the charm of this game. It reminded me of the Evil Dead, actually, with a bigger budget and some dodgy Finnish dialogue.
Tristan: Trite is the word! I liked it though - Alan is constantly narrating over the events, but in the past tense. Really makes it seem like a crime serial, good times. Very happy to finally see this game in action - and nice to see that it looked cool! That whole light/dark dichotomy was well implemented, or so it seemed. You had to shine your torch on the dark beings to weaken them, before finishing them off with a shotgun blast. If the whole game is as good as what we saw, it should be fun to play through. With the lights on, in my case.
Splinter Cell: Conviction and Crackdown 2 were two titles that surprised me with how good they looked. Okay, so the latter was just a cool-looking trailer, but we saw a good chunk of SC gameplay, and it seemed pretty sweet.
I really liked the classiness of the game - it's hard to describe, but it seems so well thought out (which is what you'd hope from a game that has apparently been redesigned from the ground up). The mission objectives pop up as text projected onto walls etc - that was a good sign that someone is putting thought into how this thing is presented. The story stuff also seemed well done, if a little cheesy and melodramatic.
Lucy: The gameplay from Modern Warfare 2. After we saw trailer after trailer today you really learn the difference between a cinematic backed by a Linkin Park song to ACTUAL in-game footage, and Infinity Ward really delivered with something honest. The ‘Cliffhanger’ level they showed us gave me a real sense of vertigo, and looked like heaven on that (extremely judgemental) big-screen. Considering how quickly this game will fly off the shelves, Microsoft has a solid advantage over Sony with initial map-pack DLC being launched first on the Xbox.
Tristan: I haven't played a Call of Duty game since the original hit PCs some years ago - but man, that demo really reminded me of what I liked about that game. Infinity is damn good when it comes to scripted action sequences, so maybe I should pick me up a copy of the first Modern Warfare, huh
Forza 3 was announced as well - to a lot of hyperbole. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time the guy showing it off said, "this will be the best racing game of this generation", I'd have...many dollars.
Who knows whether it'll stand up to that claim - to me it looked like another racing game, albeit a highly polished one. We will get some hands on time with it at E3 (I believe), so perhaps I'll be more impressed then! For racing fans, though, it looks like Forza 3 will please - but will it outshine the upcoming Gran Turismo 5? Stay tuned.
Lucy: Well, I hope it's as successful as Forza 2, apparently the 'highest rating racing game of this generation' according to.... somebody? I was actually a bit distracted by all the dry-ice and the pimping red Audi to recollect....
What I DO recollect was the FFXIII showing, as every 360 fan was holding out for this. The trailer SquareEnix showed, however, looked familiar - maybe because I'd already seen it online in Japanese. Still, it was refreshing to see it in English and on the 360. It looks good. Very good. The transition from cinematic to battle seems fluid, and Odin, who was summoned in this particular battle, is typically gorgeous and huge and OTT as only a Final Fantasy boss can be. Regardless, I think everybody in the audience wanted to see more.
Tristan: Agreed, I would have liked to have seen more - it seems we've seen this particular battle several times before. So it was running on a 360? Neato. But show us something new!
Oh yeah, and how about Halo: ODST, huh? I've never been much of a Halo nut, so correct me if I'm wrong - but don't you think this one looked more interesting than Halo 3? I'm sorry, is that heresy? I actually rather liked the storytelling techniques they were employing, with flashbacks between different members of the ODST squad serving as the levels. I dig that, it seemed interesting. Plus the four-player co-op Firefight mode has me intrigued - we should get some hands on time with it in the coming days, so stay tuned for that.
Halo: Reach was also revealed. So what do we know about? Not a hell of a lot, beyond the fact that a whole heap of nukes seemed to drop, and then a Spartan did a one-liner. Will it be a first-person shooter again? Or another genre entirely? Who knows.
Lucy: As the show began to wrap up, things shifted a gear. Now it was time for the 'BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS', and you could feel the shift of energy in the audience. Don Mattrick was on stage now, and he was most definitely in charge.
Firstly, the Metal Gear Solid-on-the-360 news? Everyone was blatantly expecting from the start. Still, seeing Hideo Kojima 'sneak' up on Don Mattrick was possibly the highlight of the event for me. There was a lot of talk of Kojima porting MGS4 to the 360, but really, what would be the point? The game's been out for ages now. Instead, we have MGS: Rising, a game featuring MGS underdog Raiden. I never found him to be a particularly charismatic protagonist myself...nonetheless, the move to the 360 has been a long time coming for the series. I'm almost breathing a sigh of relief that it's over and done with.
Tristan: Yeah, even though Raiden isn't the coolest of cats, I'm sure 360 MGS fans are intrigued. Not that we actually got to see anything about the game. Boo. And apparently, it's not 360-exclusive - hah, not surprised, we did notice that they were very careful with their word choices.
But yes, big announcements indeed. As I mentioned before, Microsoft came out with their "better than Wii!!" product, Project Natal. The tech demos looked okay - including a 3D dodgeball-type affair and a painting program - but it was Peter Molyneux of Fable II fame that gave the most intriguing (and most creepy) example of what this new toy could do. Essentially, what he showed off was an AI boy called Milo. This kid interacts with you on a whole new level - he tracks your movements with his eyes, he recognises who you are, and apparently even what emotion you're expressing at any given time. The demo video had him interacting with a real person, and it was...well, eerie, right Luce?
Lucy: Yeah, it was. But to rewind a bit, Kudo Tsunoda was fairly aggressive with his presentation of Natal. I wasn't sure about his dig at the Wii, particularly considering how jerky some of those tech demos looked - it seemed a little early to take a dig at VERY similar motion-sensor technology. I have no idea how close you guys got with the live-feed footage, but at this stage Natal looks anything but fluid. It looks like a very shaky Wii boxing. And the 'Splat' program? Wii Art, if there were such a thing. I appreciate what these guys are trying to do, and even though the 'All-American Family' demo video was dorky as hell, you can't help but appreciate the intention to push gaming forward into a new era. I DO agree with 'guest star' Steven Spielberg that making 'technology invisible' is a way of removing much of the stigma gaming has with the mass populous. I just felt that it was a little early to unveil the Natal tech. Maybe Tsunoda and his team will surprise us. I hope so.
And 'Milo?' Incredible. Molyneux has talked for a long time about truly intelligent AI being the future of gaming, and that's what he's beginning to develop. We unfortunately don't get hands on time with the creepy kid, but I can't wait to hear the responses.
Tristan: Agreed. So what are your thoughts? I said above (good lord, 2500 words, sorry readers!) that Sony needs to pull something pretty damn good out of the bag tomorrow - do you think they're on the back foot? Can they pull something amazing off? And hell, same questions but with Nintendo!
Lucy: Or even Nintendo? But what's the end goal I wonder? To be the definitive console? To be the ONLY console every single family in the Western world has in their living rooms? Maybe it's no longer all about gaming. Maybe, with all these new features we've seen today, it's simply about 'entertainment'.
Stay tuned for coverage of our first day at E3 tomorrow.
Tristan: Yeah, 'convergence' and 'synergy' are probably on the tips of their tongues. As Lucy says, keep your eyes peeled for tomorrow's coverage, it'll be madness!