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E3 2011 - Sony Conference

The Sony Conference kicks off in a couple hours. The storyline here is slightly different from the Microsoft conference: Sony is coming in off a rough period of PR disaster following the hacking of PSN, although anger seems to have been oddly blunted as hackers have also targeted Defense Dept adjuncts and somewhat less villainous corporations such as PBS.

Sony has new hardware to sell us this year, in the form of the “Next Generation Portable”, which everyone seems to believe will be called the Playstation Vita. And sell they must, as the story of NGP versus 3DS does not look so different than that of PSP versus DS. Sony needs to demonstrate that NGP won’t simply be getting stripped down hand-held versions of games you would rather play on PS3 - a problem that plagued the PSP while the DS flourished with original experiences. They’ll also need to instill some confidence that third-party developers are committed to the platform. Oh, and of course, the PRICE.

From the PS3 side of things, we already know that Sony has heavy hitters ready for the fall, like Uncharted, Resistance, and Twisted Metal. Hopefully we see The Last Guardian, which has been MIA for so long that it took me 30 seconds to remember its name. Other areas are less certain. Will Sony waste our time with another huge segment on adding 3D to games? And what about Move - will we have to roll our eyes through another long reel of random limb flailing, or will Sony quietly sweep it under the rug. We’ll find out at 7PM.

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Well 15 minutes late, but it looks like the Sony conference is starting up. Audience are all wearing 3D glasses, but hopefully that’s not too ill an omen.

Out the gate, Jack Tretton is talking about the PSN outage, “the elephant in the room”, with a lengthy apology. A good step towards combating the “Sony is Arrogant” criticism.

Tretton claims that virtually everything shown in the conference will be playable. Does that foreshadow a lack of The Last Guardian? The first game they are showing is Uncharted 3, and the graphics look curiously bad as we see Drake sneak through a ship that seems to be carrying a cargo of aliasing. Weird, because Uncharted 2 looked a lot better than this. Maybe this is the cost of 3D or maybe it’s just the low quality of the video stream.

Sony proves that they also have squad-based sci-fi shooters with a lengthy demo of Resistance 3. Looks alright. Nothing we haven’t seen in the 6 similar games at Microsoft’s conference.

Sony’s “commitment to 3D is unwavering”. Both God of War and ICO/SotC HD collections are coming this September (yay on the latter) in 3D. Strangely, Sony is releasing a Playstation-branded 24-inch display. Not clear if it is a TV or a monitor (i.e. does it go up to 1080p). If so, I might be tempted to replace one of my monitors. Well, cost is $500, so maybe not this year. Clearly this is a response to the (valid) critique that the large college student audience of the game industry is not rushing out to buy $2000, 50″ TVs for their dorm rooms.

It’s somewhat hard to explain the confounding integration of Playstation Move into Sony’s basketball game. It’s almost the anti-motion control game, because rather than flailing your arms in the motion of shooting the ball, you instead control an on-screen cursor and click on players you want to pass to, then click on them again to have them perform “the best move in their arsenal”. This is further compounded as Kobe Bryant joins them on stage to mystifyingly demo the game by clicking on players in the least engaging way you can possibly imagine. Although somehow the next Playstation Move demo manages to be even more sleep-inducing than the previous one.

Halfway through, and Sony’s conference is not winning me over. More sympathy applause thus far than genuine.

And now for the weird: CCP is on stage announcing a game called Dust 514, where PS3 players will be fighting the action sequences that tie into notably action-free PC MMO, Eve Online. I guess the PC players fly the drop ships and the console players are the marines?

Sony apparently gets the honor of showing off third-party non-exclusive game, Bioshock Infinite, a non-squad-based (but still sci-fi) first person shooter. The first Bioshock was great, so this may mark the second game of the conferences so far that I will buy (the other being Mass Effect 3)! But like ME3, I’ll get it on PC, not consoles.

Finally time for NGP talk with Kaz Hirai.

As suspected, the name is PS Vita (vEEta). “We will be partnering with the nation’s fastest network AT&T” .

Bizarrely, Uncharted on Vita’s graphics look as good, if not better than the PS3 version. ModNation Racers’ demo nearly putting me to sleep. I didn’t even download this game for free on PSP.

MEANWHILE, since the Sony Conference is already running 20 minutes late, I’m reading a press release from outside the conference stating that the non-3G version of PS Vita is launching for $250 in the US. That’s an extremely aggressive price, and really puts the screws to Nintendo who is charging $50 more for the 3DS. Expect a price drop!

Back on stage, a group of taiko drummers has suddenly appeared in some sort of inscrutable segue as a DJ takes the center stage. Is the conference over…? Apparently so.

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So what to say? Overall Sony had better material to work with, yet their conference was more boring than Microsoft’s. The $250 price tag is the big deal everyone will take away, and I currently feel vaguely more confident in PS Vita than in 3DS, but hopefully we will see some exciting 3DS news at Ninendo’s conference tomorrow. It is now Nintendo’s E3 to win.

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