E3 2011 - Sony Conference

June 6th, 2011

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.


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.


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.

E3 2011 - Microsoft Conference

June 6th, 2011

Yes, it’s E3 time again, and time for another series of pseudo-liveblogs, as I detail my expectations for each of the major console-makers’ conferences, update the post with my initial reactions as I watch the live streams, then top it off with my immediate impression on the overall success of the conference and opinion on the direction the company is taking - all of that compressed into one semi-comprehensible post per conference.

Well enough preamble. This year marks one of my more anticipated E3s in recent years. Both Nintendo and Sony will be unveiling major new hardware this year, and this time we’re not talking about a more accurate motion wand or camera (although those may be components in Nintendo’s product). New console/handheld gives us a further view into the future of gaming, letting us get a picture of what we can expect for several years down the road. So what does this have to do with Microsoft? Without the easy excitement of new hardware, they will need to go much further with a pure games lineup to attract the same level of excitement as Sony or Nintendo.

Leaks suggest that we will be seeing a remake of the original Halo ,Gears of War 3, and Forza as at least 3 of Microsoft’s heavy hitters this year. Undoubtedly there will be many Kinect titles as well. This is pretty consistent with the exact same Microsoft we’ve seen year after year: Lots of shooters and racing games balanced with casual games that the vast majority of the type of gamers that would watch E3 will not care about. It seems like the question I’ve been asking of every conference for the last 4 years is whether they can strike a good balance. Microsoft has had a fairly checkered history in recent years, often expending long chunks of time on inane casual games like You’re In The Movies or Kinectimals, which have attracted more mockery than excitement. The announcement of Dance Central 2 may promise welcome comedy relief with more hilariously awkward dancing, but the big hope this year is that we see more games for Kinect that can appeal to gamers over the age of ten.

My personal hope this year is to see some great-looking new XBLA games. XBLA was completely ignored at last year’s conference and has been the source of my favorite games on XBOX360.

Anyway, looks like my pre-conference musing time has run out as the conference is about to start!


Our cold-open this year is (unsurprisingly) not someone playing Rock Band, but rather a live demo of Modern Warfare 3. MW3 is a non-exclusive third-party game, but maybe Microsoft has some sort of exclusive DLC they will announce? Nope, nothing Microsoft-specific.

Next, a live demo of Tomb Raider - wouldn’t not have thought I’d be saying that a few years go. Wow, opening is brutal. Is Tomb Raider a survival horror game now? Impressive looking, but again not an exclusive

Hooray, Mass Effect 3 next! One of my most anticipated games of E3. But once again, not an exclusive - although I guess ME2 took a long time to come out on PS3. As rumored, ME3 will support Kinect with voice recognition. I will be playing this game on PC, but I guess they could do voice recognition on PC without additional hardware, right? Other than a microphone. Oh man, you get to speak the dialog lines yourself. That will get old really fast. You can also give voice commands to your squad that seem much less efficient than using a controller. Pretty disappointing. I hope there is more of ME3 elsewhere.

Now we will see how Kinect can be used in Ghost Recon. You can use gestures and voice to navigate through menus (for some reason the audience cheers this…?). You can also shoot by opening and closing your fist. Can’t really comment on how well that works without trying it, but I think some healthy skepticism is warranted.

If you’re keeping count, so far 3 of the 4 games that have been shown have been modern/future shooters.

The next presentation is on the XBOX Dashboard. We’re seeing the same sort of voice commands that already exist on Kinect, but the Dash now looks like it has Microsoft’s Metro theme from Windows Phone 7 / Windows 8. Makes sense, and anything is welcome over the existing horrible dashboard. Microsoft announces that Youtube and Bing are coming to 360. I could probably not be less enthusiastic. Oh wait - the voice search lets you search XBLA - that’s actually pretty useful since the existing browsing method is so inefficient.

The 360 is finally bringing live television to the US. But is this available for non-Gold subscribers? If so, that’s pretty neat.

The president of UFC is now coming on stage. This may be a good opportunity to go get a snack…

“At our core, XBOX will always be about games. From this point on, everything we show will be only on 360.” - Good, I was starting to wonder.

Oh man, Gears of War 3 clip set to War Pigs. Bros must be happy (now 4 of 5 demoed games are squad-based sci-fi shooters)

Ryse: A swordfighting Kinect game. Audience cheers as if they have forgotten what happened to this type of game on Wii.

Halo Anniversary edition (another squad-based sci-fi shooter)

Non-shooter game demo: Forza 4. If only racing simulators were not so boring.

Fable: The Journey - I’m surprised by this one. After how poorly Fable 3 was received, I really thought they would take some time off from the series. Seems to be fully Kinect-based and we see the character driving a horse and casting spells with gestures.

Minecraft coming to 360 with Kinect support - interesting announcement. A lot of my friends play Minecraft, though I doubt they would prefer to do it on 360 rather than PC.

More Kinect reels. You can navigate a virtual Disneyworld in Kinect. Children on stage again this year. First gif material of the conference so far. A demo of Kinect: Star Wars - again, this game will have a lot to prove after the Wii Star Wars titles. There seems to be a rather significant lag between the presenters motions and their reflection on screen - about half a second. Seems to result in wild Wii-like flailing rather than real control. Sesame Street Kids Game.

OK, Dance Central is back. Presenter calls out how stupid his dancing was last year, so at least they’re conscious of it. This time we get professional dancers. The routines are still completely cheesy though.

Conference is wrapping up, and our big finish is…a CG trailer for Halo 4. And that’s that.


So, what to think from this conference. A lot of time was dedicated to Kinect - at least 2/3 of the conference. This probably isn’t very surprising, considering that Microsoft sold a ton of Kinects last year and in many ways that sparked the resurgence of the brand. But as someone who does not own a Kinect and doesn’t plan on getting one soon, there was almost nothing for me. Another major thing to note is that most of these Kinect demos appeared to be pre-recorded. Probably a wise choice given some of the problems with live demos in the past, but it doesn’t really instill a lot of confidence in the technology. We all know from the Wii that even with a great concept, flawed execution can completely ruin a game, so much of this stuff is still wait & see.

Other than the kids’ games, Microsoft still suffers from the same issue that it’s had for years: relatively homogeneous offerings. Modern/near-future/sci-fi squad-based shooters were at least 80% of the showcased games for enthusiasts. Once again, no XBLA games were covered, despite the fact that even the XBLA games we already know about would have brought some welcome diversity for people who don’t want sci-fi shooters and don’t have kids.

Well, we still have Sony’s conference this evening and Nintendo’s tomorrow morning, and both will likely have more for the enthusiast.

What’s new, Tigerlily?

May 12th, 2011