E3 ’08: Round 3: Sony

The last of the Big 3 Conferences was, in my opinion, the best of the 3 for hardcore gamers, though some of my friends disagree and feel like Microsoft’s was the best. Jack Tretton took the stage and did his usual self-deprecating opening, talking about how nervous he was and how doing the press conferences takes about 2 years off his life. I actually like Tretton more than MS’s Mattrick or Nintendo’s Dunaway or Fils-Amie. He stumbles once in a while but at least he sounds a bit more natural. Mattrick in particular was so wooden and monotone it was like he was channeling Ben Stein or something.

Sony pushed Resistance 2 pretty hard, but we already knew about that. They talked up the PS2 and PSP as well as the PS3, of course. When it came time to talk facts and figures, instead of using the same old power point slides, they used a LittleBigPlanet level with Sackboy running through it, triggering bar graphs to grow from the ground and labels to descend from the sky. It was very entertaining and made me even more anxious to get my hands on the game (coming October of this year).

They oddly didn’t spend a lot of time on Home, showing one brief video of it. Announced a new PS2 Bundle, of all things, coming out this fall. PS2 is apparently the gateway drug to PS3, though we all know every kid in the world wants a Wii and/or DS so they can play Pokemon games.

Their video download service was announced and in fact went live later on in the day. You can buy or rent standard def movies and tv shows, and you can rent HD movies. You can move content from the PS3 to your PSP to take with you. A nice showing but wow, are they ever way behind MS and Apple in this area.

On the hardware front, they announced that the basic PS3 was getting a hard drive upgrade, to 80 gigs. It is still not clear to me if they’re going to eliminate the current 80 gig model (with its additional USB ports, media slots, and most importantly, backwards compatibility) or not. No price change for the doubling of the hard drive size, and so the 80 gig PS3 costs the same as the new 60 gig XBox 360 + XBox Live Gold membership for a year. A nice marketing bullet point anyway..

Beyond that, it was all about the games. 130 games are coming out for the PS2 this year! I guess they must still be selling. Twenty-three exclusive PS3 titles, with 10 on blu-ray and 13 on PSN. Newly announced games for the PSP were Resistance Retribution (3rd person shooter) and Valkyrie Chronicles (rpg). It isn’t clear if the latter is a port of the PS3 or a side-story or what.

New games revealed on the PS3 were Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty, a PSN game that will go for $15 and be out this summer. It looked as good as the blu-ray Ratchet & Clank, it’s just a smaller, shorter game. The PC MMO DC Universe will be coming to the PS3. The MMO space is one niche that Sony has a chance of owning if they put some effort into it. So now we have 3 MMOs headed to the PS3: DC Universe, The Agency and FreeRealms.

God of War III for the PS3 was made official and technically was a ‘new reveal’ but even Tretton kind of downplayed it since it was so obvious it was coming. The ‘blockbuster’ reveal was, apparently, Zipper Interactive’s MAG (Massive Action Game). Let’s hope that’s a placeholder name! 256-players in a modern combat shooter. Unfortunately, my DVR cut out before I could see any footage! Ah, the foibles of being on the outside looking in.

To me, Sony had the best press conference in terms of delivering info about new games to hardcore gamers. I’ll admit that ‘best’ is pretty subjective. MS’s poaching of FF XIII was bigger news than anything Sony had to tell us, for sure. And their Netflix thing was a big non-gaming announcement. But they didn’t show any new games.

I’ll back up my statement with the pretty superfluous observation that there was more applauding and crowd enthusiasm shown at the Sony press conference than there was at Nintendo and Microsoft conferences combined.

All that said, Sony did nothing to offset MS’s lead. I don’t think they’re going to be able to catch up, and if they continue with their “We don’t buy exclusives” party line, Microsoft will keep cherry picking IPs away from Sony.

E3 ’08: Round 2: Nintendo

Wow, I’m already falling so far behind! By the time I got home and watched all of yesterday’s press conference recordings (via G4), there was no time left to write posts!

Luckily Nintendo announced very little for hardcore gamers, so there’s not a whole lot to say. You can’t really blame Nintendo: they’re making money hand over fist with no sign of that ending. Why rock the boat? Cammie Dunaway, who replaced Perrin Kalpan, played up the ‘soccer mom’ schtick to a point of creepiness, with a pasted on smile that rivaled The Joker’s. She even declared that no one was going to remove that smile from her face.

Lots of number and figures, lots of emphasis on the DS and how Nintendo (and 3rd parties, honestly) is pushing it beyond gaming. I guess there’s a ball park in Seattle where you can use your DS to check scores of other games, data on the game you’re currently playing and so forth. They’re trying to extent that kind of PDA/internet tablet to airports and other places. Trying to get you to carry your DS everywhere.

On the games front, they had Shaun White demo (a bit, Dunaway actually played more than White did) Shaun White Snowboarding, which uses the Balance Board. They announced Animal Crossing Wii for this holiday season, complete with a microphone which sits on the Sensor Bar and picks up everyone in the room talking, so your room full of players can talk to other rooms full of players.

They announced Wii Music which uses the WiiMote, Nunchuk and Balance Board to let you play air guitar, as well as air drums, air saxaphone, air piano, etc, etc. It was really hard to get a sense of what was going on with this, but at first glance it didn’t look very compelling. But we’ve got a while before it gets into our hands yet, so we’ll see.

The MotionPlus attachment, revealed Monday, will come with (or without) a game pack-in. Wii Sports Resort brings all the fun of a day at the beach to the Wii. Stuff like playing frisbee with your dog, jet skiing and…uh, sword fighting. Sounds like a smart way to get us all to buy one, though. Who didn’t love Wii Sports?

The only big surprise for hardcore gamers was Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, for the Nintendo DS. No gameplay was shown, just a logo. Still, that one came out of nowhere, and was another blow for Sony, who no longer will have the only handheld with a GTA game on it.

All in all, Nintendo’s Press Conference felt like it was more for the bean counters and less for the gamers. But again, they’re selling hardware as fast as they can manufacture it. Why would they mess with that? Clearly hard core gamers aren’t a big concern of theirs.

E3 ’08: Round 1: Microsoft

Microsoft’s Press Conference didn’t have a lot of new announcements for hardcore gamers who spend much time surfing around, but what news they did break really busted Sony in the chops.

First, Fallout 3 will have “exclusive downloadable content” for the XBox 360 and Games For Windows version of the game. PS3 owners will have to do without, same as they’re going to have to do without when the GTA IV DLC comes along.

But the huge news was that Final Fantasy XIII, long assumed to be a PS3 exclusive and a major system seller, will come out for the XBox 360 on the same day as the PS3 version in English-speaking areas (the Japanese version remains a PS3 exclusive).

There are lots of other announcements made of course. Fable 2 is finished. Netflix’s “Watch Now” is coming to XBox Live (for Gold Members). Incredibly cheesy looking avatars are being added because, presumably, of Mii-envy. Lots of “We really want to get some of that casual market that Nintendo is printing cash from” announcements.

Sony needs to pull off a miracle with its press conference tomorrow. As it stands now, as amazing as Little Big Planet looks, I don’t think it, Resistance 2, and Killzone 2 are enough to keep momentum going. And the XBox 720 is only a couple years away.