Thursday, June 17, 2010

TTD EVENT: Electronic Media Exposition Explodes with Dragonly Summations

The Entertainment Software Association's E3 Media Briefing Event has just concluded, and we were right in the thick of it! Or rather, we intended to be; after scoping the show floor out from the rafters, we each decided that getting hot sandwiches at the local Shakey's was a far more appealing prospect than walking around a sweltering convention hall, our nostrils afire with the stink of obese nerds as we attempt to hustle our way into playing the world's newest (and therefore most exciting) game demos with PR representatives staring over our shoulders. Still, thanks to the magic of backdoor entrances and flimsy security guards, we were both able to keep up with the press conferences of three of the big four hardware manufacturers! (Apple's apparently hasn't happened yet, and we couldn't find their booth anywhere. Readers: Let us know if there's something we missed!)

Biggest Surprise
Not pictured: handclaps, cymbal crashes, entire audience of straight-laced game-journos dancing in unison.

PHEN: Child of Eden. Tetsuya Mizuguchi opened up this year's Ubisoft media briefing, holding absolutely nothing as he waved his hands in front of a psychadelic landscape synced up with a driving trance beat. As strange-looking ships flew into view, an on-screen cursor swept across and targeted each of them, sending beams of light out that destroyed each ship, and I realized: this is a Rez sequel. Not only that, but it was shown being played on Kinect! Microsoft's announced Kinect titles made me feel wary about the platform, but Mizuguchi has me immediately pumped and ready to spend real-world dollars for the opportunity to flail my way through another surely-amazing Q? Entertainment product.

SVET: Nintendo 3DS. The existence of the system itself barely counts as a 'surprise'. However, given that we were initially told about this new hardware less than half a year ago with a projected an arrival date of Fall 2011, that Nintendo had screenshots/real-time footage of so many games from first and third-party publishers, that they had hardware that wasn't just an empty, lifeless husk of a case-design (as in years-past), but real, working prototypes attached to some chemical-tasting-but-ultimately-delicious female models... well. Add it all together and you have one of the biggest showstoppers in the history of the event. My favorite part is how the enthusiast community's biggest traditional problem with Nintendo systems (not enough third-party support + limited to games-for-kids) was taken care of with a massive confirmed release-list that includes THQ releasing a damn Saints Row game on a portable Nintendo platform. They even had a promotional video outlining the ways 3DS Will Kill You, for godsake!

Biggest Disappointment
"Annoying" and "black" seems to be the unintentionally-racist combination a lot of nerds are throwing around! Fair enough; he's now white and talks the same way. Have fun!

P: Twisted Metal. Admittedly, I was never a particularly big fan of Twisted Metal, and David Jaffe's newest entry in the franchise was a big contender for my Least Anticipated game this year as well. But I have no beef with Jaffe; my disappointment lies with Sony for choosing Twisted Metal as the final surprise for its media briefing. Sony devoted nearly ten minutes to Twisted Metal discussion, starting with a commercial in which two cabbies argue about how awesome and kick-ass the Twisted Metal series has been, segueing to a guy dressed as Sweet Tooth hanging out in an ice cream truck while Jaffe and Scott Campbell talked about their brand-new Twisted Metal game, including a live Team Death Match demo and concluding with an extended trailer for Nuke mode. The entire presentation seemed to cater to long-time fans of the series, leaving Twisted Metal virgins like myself shrugging our collective shoulders and wishing Sony had ended their show with a real show-stopper like The Last Guardian or the much-anticipated Jet Moto 4.

S: PlayStation Portable. Lately I've found myself in the middle of a cinematic montage in which I offer flowers to/ride a tandem bicycle with/watch movies with-but-not-on my PSP, because I've ultimately grown to love the thing. This is a rare case, though; the PSP still suffers from an image problem, and many people consider it as having run its course, despite how great games continue to come out on it even today. So, no worries; Sony can make up for it with the announcement of a new gaming device with the same on-train-playability that Japanese gamers crave, that capitalizes on the PSP's core strengths with a few interface adjustments and a big hardware boost! In theory, at least. What we ended up getting was a promotional video showing off mostly-already-announced games, a CG trailer for the new God of War, and the announcement of a bold new ad campaign in which Sony faux-executive Kevin Butler takes advice from a tweenage boy about how many suckers to consume every day. I never thought Chewbacca's onstage presence at Sony's 2007 keynote would be considered anything other than the bottom of the barrel, but it was better than virtually nothing at all.

Most Confusing Moment
This isn't what humans look like inside, though! If you like, I can prove it. >:T

P: Rod Humble. Eschewing any formal introduction during the EA media briefing, Rod Humble walked on-stage, scratched his head, and asked, "Did we have any choice in being here today?" This launched into a speech about free will, Greek mythology, emergent gameplay, chaos theory, and the unconscious mind, finally announcing after several minutes of waxing philosophy that The Sims 3 was coming to consoles and concluding his presentation with a short montage video to remind us that The Sims 3 exists. It didn't sound like EA was introducing any new twist on Sim logic for the console release; Humble's presentation could probably have been boiled down to a single slide that said "Sims think for themselves, duders."

S: Ubi Homeopathy. Ubisoft's presentation was riddled with curious moments that toed the line of balls-to-the-wall crazy; they turned a skateboarding game into Okami, showed off the natural comfort of cubes-as-furniture, revealed the superpowers you get from throwing yourself into a coma, and ended with a spontaneous, contextless tribute to Michael Jackson that they forgot to pair with a game announcement. The biggest offender by far, however, has to be the segment in which NBC sitcom Community's Joel McHale helped demonstrate Innergy, where they hooked a sensor to his fingertip and told him to breathe in and out in a steady, relaxed way -- while having his involuntary bodily functions tracked by the entire audience and holding a conversation with the game's representative. As though that wasn't enough, the Innergy guy started criticizing him when his breathing began to fluctuate beyond normal levels, causing him to have to apologize, which really sent the meter off-track. Once the sales-pitch was made and McHale was left to host the rest of the show, I swear he had to physically restrain himself from belting out an under-his-breath "Ooookay..."

Most Anticipated
Kids: with a steady diet of gunpowder, you too can develop the steel resolve necessary to slice bad-guys into dozens of airborne chunklets!

P: Metal Gear Solid: Rising. Bulletstorm was a close contender for this category; both it and MGS: Rising prominently feature combat that looks totally over-the top in a really fun way, scratching the same itch in that respect as God Hand or Painkiller. However, while Bulletstorm's kill-with-skill mechanic assigns a specific name and point value to the act of grappling a baddie into a point-blank shotgun blast, MGS: Rising apparently allows players to slow down time and dice an enemy to bits with a sword, and the footage released so far has left me grinning like an idiot.

S: Kinect. For most gamers who define their tastes outside the sphere of doing jumping-jacks to get coins/getting fake-tickled by a pretend-tiger, most of Microsoft's Kinect lineup leaves a lot to be desired. However, there are two things that most can agree the Kinect does well, even if it doesn't necessarily appeal to them: games that relate specifically to real-life full-body activities that can be reasonably mimiced while standing in-place without the practice coming off as totally absoludicrous. Dancing and aerobics fall squarely into this category; because of this, the back-to-back Dance Central and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved segments of the Microsoft press conference ended up holding bucketfuls of raw appeal for me. It was certainly better than the workhorse-like way in which the conference opened, in which they alternated back-and-forth between shooting-and-sword games before launching directly into talk of sports -- as though the press conference was laid out as boy segment -> girl segment -> mom segment -> cool segment -> hey look at this Ferrari.

Least Anticipated
Fogerty says some folks are born made to wave the flag, but it ain't me.

P: Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam. Vietnam is rapidly approaching the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of Hoth in terms of market saturation. It's been well-established that Vietnam was a mess -- Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick taught us that ages ago -- and another full-motion-video jungle warzone montage set to Creedence Clearwater Revival isn't approaching the narrative in any new or exciting way. And there's really no new or exciting way to approach Vietnam, since the historical narrative doesn't lend itself to what-if scenarios like the ones explored in C&C: Red Alert or Freedom Fighters. It also doesn't help EA's case that they used the same CCR song six years ago when they debuted a similar game with "Battlefield" and "Vietnam" in the title.

S: Sorcery. While Kinect's offerings to the motion-control format displayed some promise (even if it was mostly outside the realm of "gamer-games"), Sony had a much harder time attempting to distinguish their Playstation Move from a Wii remote with MotionPlus attached. On paper, Sorcery makes as much sense for the Playstation Move wand controller as Dance Central and Your Shape make for Kinect. This analogy falls apart when you consider what kind of games "Wizard Game", "Dancing Game", and "Aerobics Game" individually end up being. Unlike the other two genres at play, Wizard Game requires you to contextualize the action, since human wizards don't actually exist. There are many ways to do this, but Sony chose to present their wizard-game through what looks like a serious story presented in third-person action-adventure format -- and stories that are formed based on business decisions rarely turn out well. Personally, I'm looking forward to the rumored Ape Escape game in development for the device! Nobody-but-nobody cares about the stories in those games.

Who won the media briefings?
"With this device, we plan on printing money in new, three-dimensional formats, the likes of which humanity has never seen."

P: Nintendo. Wii MotionPlus technical issues aside, Nintendo dropped a lot of bombshells at this year's E3 and seemed to have something for everyone: new Zelda, new Golden Sun, new GoldenEye, new Kirby, new Dragon Quest, new Donkey Kong Country, new Kid Icarus, new DS, and Epic Mickey. Svet's already talked in-depth about the 3DS, so I'll just add this about GoldenEye: I can get my late-90s-console-shooter multiplayer fix from Perfect Dark on XBLA, but I'm genuinely interested in how Eurocom's reimagined the singleplayer campaign to fit in with the premise that it stars the Bond from Quantum of Solace.

S: Nintendo. Not to be the GameInformer-style 9.25 to Phen's 9.0, but your tastes would really have to vary wildly from either of ours to dispute this. Nintendo's conference was compact and efficient, running from trailer-to-trailer with very little CNN-targeted business jargon in between, jamming on the nostalgia buttons of every gamer who owned a Nintendo system earlier than 2001 (sorry, Pikmin fans). Most of all, Nintendo's showing displayed their utter dominance of a genre of game that other console manufacturers rarely attempt to enter: the Cartoon Character Action Game. Though new intellectual properties were few and far-between at this conference in particular (there's a characterless submarine game in development for 3DS, I hear), even if Nintendo decided to paste an entirely new set of characters onto the exact same mechanics of any of their star games, the resulting excitement and froth would be comparable to what they are now, if not exactly the same.

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