E3 Day 2, Nintendo, Sony Take A Stand, Rock Band GOTY?

July 12, 2007

Another day near the ocean here in sunny Santa Monica is nearly behind us, and in its wake a number of surprises and disappointments are left hanging in the air. Nearly back to back (to back) appointments and press conferences today have left no shortage of smiles and grimaces across my face, and sideways glances from meeting to meeting have had these same emotions reflected back at me. So what were this day’s most stand out happenings? Hold my hand while we play catch up, won’t you?

While in actuality the second day of E3 related happenings, Wednesday played out as the event’s first official day, with nonstop walking and gabbing from morning till evening. As you might expect, the day began with the one-two punch offered by the Nintendo and Sony press conferences. Both offered few surprises, generally coloring within the lines laid out by rumors and leaked information in the weeks leading up to the annual show.

Nintendo’s event began the day, sleep still lurking in the corners of most of the attending journalists’ eyes. Of course, not even a lack of beauty sleep could keep attendees from participating in inane Pictochat conversations, amazingly devoid of penis doodles. Who knows, maybe we’re maturing in our old age. Of course, I say that and then recall that I saw not one, but two children years shy of 18 at the event.

I suppose the most welcome announcements from Nintendo came in the confirmation of its seminal mascot racing series Mario Kart for the Wii for the first quarter of 2008, as well as release dates for the hotly anticipated Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy for November and December 2007 respectively. With Metroid Prime Corruption coming just months prior, Nintendo was understandably proud of itself at this year’s event, though it will be interesting to see how the company’s high profile titles stack up to those from the competition, Microsoft especially, which has Halo 3 launching within the same window for the Xbox 360.

Also new from Nintendo was the announcement of not one, but two separate peripherals for the Wii, namely the Wii Zapper for light gun style shooters, and a new ‘balance board’ style wireless device, which is to be partnered with a new casual Wii title called WiiFit. Yes, you guessed it, Nintendo is looking to further its wildly popular initiative at capturing non-gamers, and this new title and pressure-sensitive device will let players play a variety of skill games, as well as exercise, all from the comfort of their living rooms.

I’m personally more interested in seeing if the board can be adopted for use in more mainstream games, perhaps as an alternative to more traditional DDR style rhythm games, or maybe even for on-screen track and field style events. Video game history is littered with peripherals that were used for one or a handful of games before being forgotten, and almost everyone I know has bought some new exercise breakthrough, only to find it hidden away under the bed just months or even weeks after bringing it home. We’ll see if WiiFit is any different.

Of course, like Microsoft the day before, Nintendo also played their own numbers game, puffing out their chest before attending media, and Sony did the same at its conference. Unfortunately Sony had to combat some tired eyes and full bellies, having fed media with a fantastic buffet. Though why they felt serving luke warm mimosas at 10 am was appropriate, I’ll never know. Not that I have a problem with early morning alcohol, but these things are supposed to be chilled people!

Back at GDC, I thought Sony hit a home run with Phil Harrison’s keynote, which emphasized emerging technologies and the PlayStation 3’s new Home initiative. It was a change of pace for the company, which had earned a reputation of boring attendees to ears with charts and graphs. In March, I wrote off this keynote as a pleasant change of pace, but fully expected E3 2007 to again lull me to sleep. Thankfully, I was wrong. Sony’s press conference was surprisingly fun and fast paced, with SCEA president Jack Tretton nervously leading the audience through the presentation, which included confirmation of the previously rumored thinner, lighter PSP, as well as some 140 new UMD titles expected for North American audiences. The new PSP will also feature a new “display” button, allowing video to be output via cable directly to a television. Other PSP colors and styles were announced as well, including an “ice silver” model, and a new Star Wars branded handled, which will come packed with Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron, an announcement that was made with the on stage assistance of everyone’s favorite walking carpet, Chewbacca.

Like at GDC, Sony once more sung praises for its Home platform, which is now in Beta. The virtual community played a central role in the keynote, with executive speaking to the audience as in game avatars as well as in real life. This is an initiative that I’m still not completely sold on, though given the addictive nature of games like Second Life, months from now don’t be too surprised to find me all blurry eyed as I sleepily navigate the back alleys behind my own virtual apartment. I’ll be the one throwing televisions down the stairs for sport.

Sony also announced a new partnership with NCSoft, which will bring exclusive original MMO style games to the PlayStation 3 and PSP, an interesting concept since these sorts of titles have enjoyed only limited success in this market thus far. And speaking of partnerships, Sony also noted that it has tied up Midway’s Unreal Tournament 3 as a console exclusive. Epic’s Mark Rein was quick to note to us later that this only pertains to console exclusivity, and the PC community, while historically quick to anger, should rest easy knowing that they have not been forgotten once more.

Perhaps the biggest announcement during the Sony presentation came not from a Sony rep, but rather from Konami’s own Hideo Kojima, who took the stage and confirmed that the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4 will close the book on the series, promising that all of the saga’s mysteries will be wrapped up by the end of the game. It was a bittersweet revelation, but one that was probably due. Now we’ll just have to see if Konami is satisfied in leaving sleeping dogs lie, so to speak, or will, like Bandai Namco with Katamari Damacy, the company simply hand off the property to another director in hopes of recapturing lightning in a bottle.

Still, the game’s new visceral, soap opera style trailer looked deliciously over the top.

The day was also home to a flurry of other announcements from various publishers, though few shook the pillars of gaming like EA and Harmonix’s Rock Band, which will include not only master tracks, but also planned regular downloadable content in the form of individual selections and entire albums (to be kicked off with The Who’s legendary 1971 album Who’s Next). The game will also feature music from rock gods Metallica, who many presumed uninterested in such commercial exploits as video games. In fact, representatives note that they anticipate that “literally hundreds” of songs will available for download shortly following the game’s release.

So throw up horns, and rock on! I’m right there with you.