It's all about 3D, Move and the games for Sony.
This morning at a lavish event in the Shrine Auditorium, Sony held their Press Conference in front of thousands of eager faces. Some of them sun-kissed a healthy shade of red by the Los Angeles heat, others just looking sleepy from the aftermath of Activision's extravaganza last night. As the queues outside piled up, it was fairly safe to say that there wasn't going to be free consoles thrown around at this gig.
However, Sony certainly didn't spare any expense in the event itself. A comprehensive catering service meant that ice-cream, fresh fruit, beverages, meat on sticks with meat wrapped around them and plenty more treats were all on hand. After a short while, toasting the tops of our heads in the heat, we were allowed into the grandiose historical theatre.
To kick things off, we heard from SCE President and CEO Jack Tretton who was, unsurprisingly, full of kind words for the company that pays his wages. He touched briefly on Sony's success but more importantly mentioned that we are currently four years into PlayStation's ten year vision for their future of entertainment. It was hard to believe that the PS3 is already nearly a pre-schooler at four years old, but Tretton indicated that the next six years will push the envelope further still with the same console.
To demonstrate this, Kazuo Hirai took over centre-stage to talk about 3D technology and Sony's place in the rapidly expanding medium. He openly boasted that Sony had paved the way for high-definition movie watching thanks to Blu-ray technology and that they will do the same for 3D viewing. Hirai stated that Sony will do for gaming what James Cameron did for 3D movies with Avatar. It's a bold claim, but with Sony's track-record it might be justified.
Showcasing PlayStation's formidable lunge into 3D gaming was Killzone 3. With the entire audience wearing super styley 3D glasses, we witnessed a live demo of the upcoming Killzone, a game that has been engineered from the ground up to take full advantage of 3D and the existing PS3 hardware. Possibly it was the theatre's mammoth sound set-up, or effects from heat-stroke, but the 3D demo was pretty mind-blowing. Seeing your gun reload right in front of your face proved to be distracting, but it certainly feels more immersive. One has to wonder though, what would a long gaming session in 3D be like? Even after a seven minute demonstration, the senses were suffering overload. Regardless, Killzone 3, whether 3D or good-ole' fashioned 2D, does look set to please fans of the series. In our short preview we saw jetpacks, some very daunting enemy AI and a bucket load of explosions. Killzone 3 is scheduled for release February 2011.
Sony also made mention of several other gaming titles that will make it to the third dimension including Gran Turismo 5, Crysis 2, Mortal Kombat, Tron: Evolution, NBA 2K11 and a Shaun White: Snowboarding game. Those without 3D technology don't need to worry, as the PS3 Blu-ray capacity discs will be able to hold both the 2D and 3D versions.
Of course, the other trump card up Sony's sleeve in the conference is PlayStation Move. Peter Dille, marketing guru for SCE announced that Move will be in stores this September. While there was no direct mention of New Zealand or Australia at the conference, we have since had details from Sony NZ for release date and pricing.
With three contenders all trying to nibble on the motion-controller pie, Sony PlayStation were eager to express why Move is... well, superior. When combined with Sony's EyeToy camera (which is a compulsory peripheral for Move to work) it offers the most accurate and precise motion tracking when compared to the Wii and Kinect. The Move “wand” or “ice-cream controller” has three sensors that talk directly to the PS3 hardware. The EyeToy camera tracks movement as well, giving game developers a huge amount of data to collect and transform on screen. PlayStation Move promises near-perfect 1:1 tracking, opening the doors to a plethora of gaming goodness.
It was around this time that the press conference was interrupted by the enigmatic Kevin Butler (or Jerry Lambert as he is called in the real world). Known for his on-stage antics and sharp wit, Butler took complete control of the stage and had the crowd in the palms of his hands as he spouted one-liners like they were going out of fashion. He made a direct attack on Microsoft's Kinect by claiming that “buttons are kind of important for a first-person shooter”. Later he mentioned how nice it is to have a boxing game where your characters actually have arms... and a neck. An obvious jab at Nintendo's Wii Sports.
In order to demonstrate Move in action, a new IP called Sorcery was presented for the first time with a live demo. Sorcery lets you play as a young wizard apprentice, casting spells and drinking potions. Except with Move, the game looked like a very logical step to show off the new hardware. Players will be able to move their “wand” controller and see their on-screen wizard move his wand in exactly the same manner. Casting spells requires flicks and twirls of the wand, allowing the player to have complete control over their choice of attack. Players will even be able to pick up potions and literally drink them by holding he wand controller over the head as if it were a vial, complete with a colour changing knob to indicate when a potion can be consumed. It all sounds like Harry Potter, but Sorcery will be a great test for the Move hardware and could prove to be an enjoyable gaming experience at the same time.
Moving on (no pun intended), we were passed onto EA Games who presented a new downloadable add-on for Tiger Woods PGA Tour '11 that allows for Move compatibility. Holding the ice-cream controller with both hands, the game recreates the feeling of holding an actual golf club. The 1:1 responsiveness means that the game has no pre-recorded animations and instead every movement is tracked perfectly on screen. Move also means that it can track the speed and strength of your swing, so hitting the ball to the green will actually take the full power of a real golf swing. Tilting your wrist to open up the club face and changing your stance will be an important factor to getting your ball out of the bunker or the rough. Overall, it's promised to be the most realistic golfing experience to date in a video game. It will be available as a download patch via PSN but so far no price or release date has been announced.
The Move section of the presentation was concluded by mentioning that controller add-ons will be available for current PS3 owners this September. A special PS3 pack with everything you need for Move, plus a bonus game will also be available at launch. Other existing games that lined up for Move functionality are Heavy Rain and Resident Evil 5, which will receive PSN treatment later this year.
Sony didn't forget about their little handheld either, but sadly there was no mention of the rumoured PSP2. Instead they quickly noted that the PSP is still going strong and will still be supported by Sony, stating that there will be 70+ PSP games released before the end of this year alone. Some of the titles mentioned were Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake, EyePet, Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Invizimals and a new God of War game titled Ghost of Sparta.
Moving onto the PlayStation Network, and we were told that there are over 50 million users in 58 countries connected to PlayStation Network. It makes sense then that Sony would look to capitalise on these loyal gamers, so it came as no surprise then when Sony announced PlayStation Plus, a subscription service to access premium and exclusive content. This will include access to digital content, priority on betas, free themes, PSP minis, access to Qore (the online PlayStation video show), and discounts on other titles and whatever else can be thrown our way via the PlayStation Network.
And while Sony re-iterated that the current PlayStation Network offering will remain free and unchanged, it does essentially bring in a ‘premium’ pay service, not unlike Xbox Live. It will be interesting to see if the content can convince gamers to shell out USD $49.95 a year (likely to be around NZD $69.95 - $79.95).
Overall, the Sony press conference was structured and professional. But it lacked any surprise announcements and did feel a bit too long for the content it had to deliver. But with Move just around the corner, it's safe to say that we'll be hearing plenty more in the months to come.