at E3 2009

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's that time of year again, when gaming journalists, game developers, and a whole host of eccentrics descend on the Los Angeles Convention Center for E3. Unlike the snoozefests of the last two years, E3 has returned to the bright lights and huge booths of the past. It's far better off, and this year's convention has produced plenty of huge news.


Microsoft kicked off the week with the announcement of Project Natal, a camera that captures the player's movement without the use of a controller. While it wasn't playable on the show floor, it'll be interesting to see how it's actually utilized in real games as opposed to target renders.

While Microsoft may have dropped their camera controller bombshell first, Sony's own camera control one-upped it in nearly every way. The camera is used in conjunction with a physical controller, and it can place objects in your hand when displayed in the game. It's certainly easier to see it in action than describe it, but the demos they showed proved that it will be an entirely new gaming experience. It utilizes true 1:1 motion, and can track your actual position in the room. They showed us a demonstration of how it can be utilized in first-person shooters, and stressed that they will be making games for the "hardcore" crowd (not just casual titles like the Wii churns out). What was really amazing is how the camera places weapons in your hand. We saw an onscreen image of a developer holding a controller, and the controller was easily changed into a sword, bat, racket, and whip. It really looks like you're holding it in your hand, and it seems like it could be a huge feature for action games.

Sony had far and away the best press conference, showcasing some truly incredible gameplay footage from Uncharted 2 and God of War III. Massive Action Game was demoed with 256 players, and the action was on display without a hint of slowdown. The new PSP Go was heavily pushed, featuring 16 GB of internal memory and no UMD support. Hideo Kojima announced a brand-new Metal Gear Solid title for the PSP that will follow Big Boss's years putting together Outer Heaven. Assassin's Creed 2 appears to be very similar to the first one, with plenty of jumping into hay bales and sitting on benches. Oh, but this time you get wings to awkwardly fly around Italy with.

Nintendo certainly improved upon last year's dreadful Wii Music-heavy conference, but it was still the weakest of the three. Even with the MotionPlus being released soon, it seems that Sony and Microsoft are pulling ahead of them in the motion control race. While there wasn't any real bombshells, the big N did show off some intriguing new titles. New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2 look phenomenal, and the addition of the Team Ninja staff to the Metroid series is certainly interesting. Other announcements weren't met with as much fanfare, especially Style Savvy and Women's Murder Mysteries for the DS. The biggest "WTF" moment was certainly the announcement of the Wii Vitality Sensor. It apparently measures your pulse for some reason, but how it will be used in games was never elaborated on.

After two days on the show floor (and one more to go), I've had a chance to see and play a good amount of the Big Three's upcoming releases. Left 4 Dead 2 was fast-paced and entertaining, with some new enemies and melee weapons. 2K's Borderlands resembles Fallout 3 if it had vehicles, four-player co-op, and more of an emphasis on action. I'll have a long day on the show floor tomorrow, so hopefully I'll have some hands-on impressions of God of War III, Uncharted 2, Batman Arkham Asylum and more.

Random notes from LA:

- Today there was a fairly large group of Fred Phelps-esque picketers that had signs reading "Cheat Codes Can't Save Your Soul", "My High Score is in Heaven", and "Trade Your Playstation For a Praystation"

- Apparently having Price is Right tickets does not mean you will be attending Price is Right

- Seeing Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show live is incredible

- Everyone that rides the busses in LA is bitter and cranky

- There are no stores in Los Angeles that sell underpants. Do not forget to pack underpants.

- If you go to a bar and the doorman asks if you're there for the Motorhead release party, say yes. You will get free food and beer.

- Despite my hopes, the La Brea Tar Pit is not cool at all. Do not walk for 25 minutes to get there like I did. It's a murky pond with some black crap in it.