E3 Day 0: Maul’s Rant (editorial)

My gut reaction: E3 Preliminaries: We R Dissapoint

Its Day 0 at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles. The demo floor isn’t open, so while a few booth display photos have leaked out (things like the upcoming Castlevania DLC for 360 Arcade), we really don’t know what we’re going to find out there.

We all got a taste today, however, when Microsoft and developer Ubisoft held early press conferences to show off their new goods a day before the competition. But that taste so sweet in my imagination, ended up being that of bitter, bitter disappointment. I know now why E3 has become a ‘press only’ affair. Its so that publishers and developers don’t have to look at our faces, stupefied by the poor selection of products on the stage, and so they don’t have to hear our snarky, cynical comments first hand. Instead, Microsoft and Ubisoft have used this opportunity to stand on the stage of disillusionment.

Or, at the least, they’re just really shitty showmen.

Microsoft:

Microsoft started off with a bang: trailers for Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3, and Metal Rear: Rising. All of these games look pretty fantastic from the trailers, and we hope to bring more news about them as the week continues. But where we expected to see gameplay demos, hear more news about the functions and developments of these games we got, “moving on”. Yes, the section reserved for ‘hardcore gamers’ lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of a few trailers for previously announced titles.

From there it was straight into Microsoft’s Project Natal, now renamed the Kinect. Shit.

Now, I’ve no problem with motion activated games. I’ve been a supporter of the Wii and its motion controls for quite some time. Its been my outspoken opinion that motion controls will need to grow and develop for gaming to evolve and continue to thrive. With each new generation, ‘simulation’ has increased as a factor in the game design, as we try harder and harder to simulate experiences that might be impossible, or at least fatal, in the real world. But, no matter realistic the graphics and how immersive the sound might be on your latest Call of Duty or what have you, the problem still remains that the simulation ends at the controller in my fingertips. Breaking down that barrier is going to require that we find ways to create peripheral vision, simulations for other stimuli, but firstly, motion control.

But however we get there, this is not the way to introduce it to the marketplace.

You see, Microsoft (I address you directly here), the issue is that you have a market made up almost entirely of hardcore gamers. You’re going into your tenth year as a gaming platform, and over the past nine this group has raised you from some enigmatic, often mocked noob system, to probably the most successful brand in this generation. You need to keep catering to that group. Oh, I know, you see the Wii over there, and you see how its sold a gagillion more systems than you have. But every Wii owner owns like 3 games. How many 360 games have each of your customers bought on average? Probably around a dozen (number derived from a focus group of the 3 guys sitting around me). Software is where you rock, and where you make all your moolah. Why is that? Because when the 360 launched you decided you were tired of only having the ‘casual market’ with Halo and Madden games and bought rights to every goddamn hardcore game franchise out there.

And what do you do now? You decide that you need to dedicate a few more years of R&D to getting back more ‘casual gamers’. Hey, its cool, expand the marketplace and all that; but don’t forget who put you where you are today. Your press conference today had no one in mind other than the same market that bought Wii Fit… and I’ll tell you now, I doubt those fatties with dust collecting on their Fit boards are down to buy another system.

Maybe a motion sensor Halo? Star Wars, I guess, is a start. But then, they’ve done that before

The conference ended with a look at the new model of the Xbox 360. We would have liked a little more about this. All we got was a look at the system, and the release date: tomorrow. We got promises that the system would run quieter, but no demo. Obvious improvements are the built in wi-fi and the huge 250gb harddrive. But how about this: is the system more reliable. Let me ask a question of the guys sitting around me again… yes of the three of them, the average number of Xbox 360′s they’ve gone through is 5. I know my roommate has gone through 3, and another fella back home has gone through 6. Red Ring of Death is a problem that has been plaguing the system since day 1, and has never been solved. They still kill themselves, many still scratch disks. Here is the perfect time to fix the issue and show some respect for peoples’ investments in the hardware. But, we’ve got no promises. I guess we’ve nothing to hold Microsoft liable for if its lifespan is the same as the last one.

Now, I can’t say that the 360 is going to have a bad year. They’ve got a few damn good games worth getting excited about. I can’t even say that the Kinect is a bad idea, its a necessary first step towards motion games. But, I can say that they had a poor presentation. A Wii Sports knock-off, a Wii-Fit knock-off, and a pretty lackluster racing game. That’s a showstopper right there.

Though the big M did graciously announce that everyone in attendance was going to get a free 360 system from the new model.

… of course, this wasn’t true, only ‘Super VIP’ level guests got them. So, TV and celebrity media. It sounded better when they said it on TV, I’m sure.

Ubisoft:

Ubisoft fared marginally better than Microsoft, no help to the Daily Soup guy. Comedy fail. Normally he’s very funny, I swear.

Ubisoft worked in tandem with Microsoft, it seemed, again featuring games for the Kinect. It featured their new Vitality sensor that… no, wait, that’s the name of the one for the Wii. Theirs is called the Innergy. And we had… the same motion sensor game that Microsoft just showed off… using the same script with the same reps. And Laser Tag. A new innovation to a 25 year-old game in that your 360 keeps track of your score for you. I will give them some nerd cred in their game ‘Children of Eden’, which is from the developers of Rez and plays in much the same way. This one will find an audience for sure, and from the trailer looks like the most glorious acid trip a person could imagine.

After a bit, Ubisoft finally changed gears and started making some goddamn sense. They keyed into their main money-makers with Rabbids and Rayman. Rayman, by the way, looks gorgeous. It might just be a simple platformer, but the level design is amazing. We moved on to an intriguing trailer for the far-off ‘Dust’ game. We also got a look at the new Driver game, which looks to be quick and fun, something Driver 3 was not. The story seems a bit… odd, in that your main character is actually in a coma the whole time… is this the first time the ‘its all a dream’ twist is spoiled at the beginning of a story?

Oh, we also got a look at the new Shaun Palmer Skateboarding (leaving Snowboarding behind to compete with the dying Tony Hawk brand), where you skate through a black-and-white landscape, spreading color streaks over the world with your mad tricks. Its kind of a cross between Skate and de Blob. Take a barren landscape, and make it snazzy. Gay it up a little. This ‘meh’ title could have been called Shaun Palmer: Gay it Up a Little, and been a little more to the point. Niche game for a dying demographic.

And the showstopper for Ubisoft’s E3: Michael Jackson Dancing! What’s it like? What do you do? Is it motion controlled? Does it teach you to dance like the man, the legend, the King of Pop?… eh, we don’t freaking know. The presentation, in its entirety, was a trio of dancers re-enacting the Beat It music video. This, followed by a rousing ‘get the eff out’.

Ah. A title screen. Very exciting, thanks for the show, Ubisoft.

EA:

 These guys are just going to be a footnote right now. They had some good game trailers, but all of the games they showed were part of franchises and already known. More info when we get our hands on the demos tomorrow.

Activision:

Despite what they called it, this was not a press conference. This was a concert. There were a total of 5 games announced here. First is Tony Hawk: Shred, trying to breath new life into the faltering skate series (the last title sold a paltry 114k during its Christmas launch); it had people excited until it was announced that it required the skateboard peripheral. DJ Hero 2, follow-up to another weak seller, but at least a game series with some potential left to explore. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, the sixth installment in the series promises to deliver more goodies for fans (how? We don’t know). Call of Duty: Black Ops. Finally we saw True Crime: Hong Kong.

When I say ‘we saw’ any of these, its a bit of a misnomer. There was actually no information given about these games. Again, trailers, and that’s about it. Lots of music was played and sung during the night, but we don’t know if it was from DJ Hero, or Guitar Hero, or just played to keep us enthralled during the hour-long delay that we experienced (technical problems). This night wasn’t about the games at all.

But I will say this: of all the companies out there, Activision is the only one who knows how to present something. This show was huge, with a big venue rented out, free concessions, pole dancers, explosions, and a huge concert line-up on stage. We were privy to Usher, Rhea, NERD, Chris Cornell, Eminem, and the biggest for us was Maynard of Tool singing a cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. In all the concert was estimated to have cost $6-8 Million, according to sources at the event.

Of course, despite the awe-inspiring show (and free, thanks Activison. Next year more rock guests, please), it eventually became obvious that Activision was just throwing money at a problem and hoping it would go away. The problem: no new Ips. All the games shown were sequels to existing franchises, two, maybe 3 of which do not sell… at least, not anymore. Where was the news from Blizzard? Where were the Marvel properties they’ve got licensed? Where was the original material?

Obviously Activision, your concert will make headlines for all the amazing talent you packed into that room, but you forgot to advertize your games.

Here’s hoping for some good hands-on time with your new stuff this week, because I’m sure there has to be more to 2010-11 than smoke and mirrors.

So, its late, and we’re all tired here from a long day of imploding press conferences and exploding stage shows.

After two hours of sleep, we’re back into the thick of it to actually get some one-on-one time with the games.

See you then!