E3’s come and gone once again. We’re left with some things to be really excited about. Others, not so much. It’s interesting to see how people’s perspectives change from the week leading up to E3 to the week after the event. Going in, Playstation 3 was at the top of most people’s lists and with the backlash following the announcement of the official name of Nintendo’s next console, they were pretty close to the bottom. Since the Xbox 360 is already on the market, Microsoft certainly didn’t have the hype train running full force as they did last year. But that’s not to say people weren’t excited to see what they had to offer. So, how did they all fare and what do we have to look forward to in the coming months? Let’s a have a look, shall we?
Perhaps the most anticipated events at E3 are the pre-show press conferences. This is where all of the big guns come out and and for the most part, where the announcements are made. Being a GameSpot member, I was able to “tune in” live for the big three conferences and find what’s in store the moment it’s announcement – with the exception of the Microsoft conference at least, which was delayed by about an hour. First up was Sony…
Going into E3, I was super excited to hear when I could get my hands on a PS3, for how much, and to catch a glimpse of the final controller – since last year’s unveiling of the “batwing” controller was less than stellar. Let me tell you, I was one disappointed and down-right angry dude at the end of that conference.
After boring us with stats and sales figures (actually, they only ever mentioned units shipped, not sold), the subject changed to the PSP – where they continued to boast how well the portable console has done. One point in particular, set me off instantly. “…in the US alone, more than 670 non-game UMD titles have been produced. And more than 18 million units shipped to market. And 23 UMD video titles have sold more than 100,000 copies.” He failed to mention that as of February of this year, Paramount Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video and even Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have scaled back UMD production and even cancelled previously announced titles due to poor sales. It might also have something to do with the fact that UMD movies are anywhere from $6-$12 more than their DVD counterparts. I cannot wrap my head around the idea of paying that much more for the same product and having to watch it on a 4 inch screen with headphones. On the flip-side, there were some cool new enhancements announced that will be rolled in the coming months. A camera, GPS and Voiceover IP phone service were among those mentioned.
When it came time to talk about the PS3, one of the first things mentioned was backwards compatibility. It’s been promised that the PS3 will be able to play all PS2 and even PS1 games. This is hard to believe as it’s been mentioned that the PS3 is using software emulation for the older titles, similar to how the Xbox 360 handles Xbox titles. Hopefully they’ve found a better solution for backwards compatibility via software emulation than Microsoft and we will indeed be able to play every game from the PS2 and PS1 library, but I’m not holding my breath. The PS2 literally has parts from the PS1 built in, which is why it plays PS1 games flawlessly. This won’t be the case with the PS3 and it’s really hard to imagine emulation being that rock solid. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Next up, they brought the creator of the Gran Turismo series on stage to show off “Gran Turismo HD”, which was essentially GT4 with boosted visuals at a higher resolution. They showed a bunch of footage from a couple different tracks that looked like a replay video. Sure, it looked nice. But how do we know this isn’t a pre-rendered video like they the majority of the stuff they showed at last year’s E3? Not impressed at all, and that’s not to mention this is the 5th game in the series. Nothing like promoting something new with something old.
After the GTHD demo, they went over to an eye-toy demo of a PS3 game where they basically dropped cards on a table and characters popped out of them and battled in a turn-based fashion. They moved the cards around under the characters and it was cool to see their hands and the cards looking as though they were apart of the action, but it just seemed very gimmicky.
They continued to show more pre-rendered trailers and announced a few more sequels, the same old sports titles and some more Japanese war games that feature massive battle sequences that we’ve seen so many times before on the PS2 and even the PS1. Overall, boooring! Finally, they get to the controller. It’s a fuckin’ silver DualShock. Are you kidding me? The same tired design that felt dated on the last console is back. I’m sorry if there’s fans of the controller out there and I know last year’s “batwing” controller was ridiculous – but this is beyond lame. Even now, picking up a PS2 controller after using an Xbox controller feels like a rinky-dink, cheap toy. Not to mention the primary control mechanism is still a d-pad. Playing a FPS or a third person action game where you control the camera with the right stick is no fun when you have average hands and you have to sit there with your thumbs positioned merely an inch and a half apart. Oh, but we haven’t gotten to the good part yet – what makes it unique. It has motion sensing capabilities. You can twist and turn the controller and whatever’s on screen will react accordingly. They went into a demo of Warhawk – a flying game unveiled at last year’s E3 where some dude flew a futuristic plane by moving the controller around. Needless to say, he looked ridiculous and by the way he was flipping the controller around, it looks like you’ll find yourself with some serious wrist problems in no time. To top it off, they mention that the PS3 controller will be lighter than that of the PS2. So it will feel even cheaper. Oh, and there won’t be any rumble. At least two out of the four shoulder buttons are analog. Yes! I found a positive! That was tough…
To wrap up the conference, they announced the price points and release dates for all markets. There will be two models of the PS3 – one with a 20 GB harddrive at $499 USD, the other with a 60GB harddrive at $599 USD. It will be released in Japan on November 11, 2006 and all other markets the following week, November 17. At this point, after so many disappointing moments, those numbers and the two models were like a slap in the face. It was and still is almost impossible to get a premium bundle of the Xbox 360. Think that, plus 3 colour variations. I can picture it now – I’d want the more expensive package in black and I end up having to settle for the cheap one in white. Not cool at all. But hey, Sony’s not Microsoft and maybe they’ll have their shit together for launch and actually have enough stock to go around. After all, the PS2’s launch was… oh, wait. I remember seeing a PS2 for sale behind the counter at a pizza shop for $900.
So, that was just the press conference. There was still the entire week to straighten out that mess with awesome, playable game demos and maybe some cool shit to announce that they purposely left out of the conference. But that didn’t exactly happen. Things just seemed to get worse for Sony. There were reports (GameSpot, Joystiq) that Sony had tacked-on the motion sensitivity aspect of the controller merely “a couple days” prior to the conference and in interviews when asked about controller, most developers stated that they weren’t aware of the motion sensitivity before the announcement at the conference. There was even a post on IGN which has since been removed, stating that one of the playable demos on display for the PS3, Assassin’s Creed was running on an Xbox 360. Ouch!
Needless to say, Sony dropped the ball big time. I was seriously thinking about picking up a PS3, but now I really don’t know. Maybe if a third party releases a better controller and there’s some awesome games released at launch. It’s gonna take a lot to sway me in that direction, though.
Still to come – my thoughts on what Nintendo and Microsoft brought to the table and a look at the games that have me right stoked.