[Special guest post by Phyxie 'cus while Brandon wrote up the content, he forgot to give me Publish rights while he's on vacation. I hope you don't feel like this decreases your enjoyment of his witty repartee any.]
This past week was E3 or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, when all manner of video game creators, journalists and drooling fanboys descend upon Los Angeles to celebrate this crazy industry. This year was particularly interesting as it marked the "official" unveiling of both the Sony PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. People also had a chance to hear about the upcoming plans for Microsoft's gaming endeavors. Having pored over the various articles about the big 3 companies, I will now provide for you, my impressions of how each company fared at E3. Seeing how I wasn't there, and have only the unbiased (ha) opinions of various gaming journalists to rely on, I see this being what can only be referred to as a fruitless exercise. It's either that or a note by note breakdown of "I Love Rock and Roll". Trust me, this is for the best.
Sony had its press conference first, so they get to go first. Well, they revealed pricing and configuration information on the PS3 and all I can say is, "um, what?". First of all, the lower end model is $499. The higher end model is $599. The difference between the two models is that the lower end has a hard drive that is 40GB smaller, no Wi-Fi out of the box, no memory card readers and no HDMI output. The smaller hard drive isn't a big deal, nor is the lack of Wi-Fi and the lack of a memory card reader. Both of those could be added relatively easily, even if it means a larger footprint. What boggles the mind is the lack of the HDMI output. Here's why. The PS3, both versions, will be a Blu-Ray dvd player. Blu-ray is one of 2 competing Hi-Def DVD formats, and the one created by Sony. Part of the Hi-Def standard is the ability to do copyright protection as part of the signal itself, something handled by HDCP, which is part of the HDMI connection Signals that go through something other than HDMI, or go through a non HDCP compliant HDMI port, will be downsampled to the resolution that current generation DVDs are broadcast at. What that means is that when people purchase a $499 PS3, thinking they're also getting a Blu-Ray player, their Blu-Ray player is essentially crippled. Why Sony would intentionally make a player that does nothing to push their new format forward is beyond me. Now, you can argue that most people don't have tv's with HDMI inputs in them anyways, so it's not a big deal, however if that's the case, then why do we need a new Hi-Def DVD format in the first place. Exactly. Personally, I think both versions are overpriced, but whatever. When Microsoft announced the dual pricing stucture for the 360, I thought it was silly, however there's a very important distinction here. In the case of the 360, you can upgrade the Core system to a Premium system, however it will be at a higher price than if you had just bought the Premium system. In the case of the PS3, unless you're handy with a soldering iron and have access to engineering documents that the rest of us don't, you won't be upgrading your low end PS3 to match the higher end one. That's not silly, that's fracking retarded.
During the presentation they also released that the new wireless PS3 controller will directly take on the Nintendo Wii's motion sensing with, get this, a tilt sensor. Whoa. That's some technological shit. I mean, we haven't seen that kind of innovation in a controller since, oh, I don't know, 2001. Well, they weren't wireless that year, but that kind of technology takes time. This "revelation" was met with the chirping of crickets and the inky silence of space as it showed that a) Sony is perilously devoid of new ideas and b) they have no idea how silly they looked. If they came into this looking to steal Nintendo's thunder, they may have wanted to do it with a technology not used by one of Nintendo's own handheld games 5 years ago. Whoopsie. People seemed to be impressed with a number of games for the PS3 shown at E3, notably Assassins Creed and Metal Gear Solid 4, but the press conference and the pricing info seemed to leave people somewhat underwhelmed, which is where I am. Seeing how I just got my PS2, I can expect a PS3 sometime around 2011.
Going into E3, I think people were most interested in hearing about the PS3's pricing information and getting their hands on the Nintendo Wii (that name just is not getting better). The Nintendo press conference was filled with a number of juicy bits, namely that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will be a Wii launch title, available for both the GameCube and the Wii on the same day and the Wii version will make use of the controller, namely for Link's bow, his boomerang and for fishing. Yes, that's right, fishing. They also released information on a title called Wii Sports which will contain Tennis, Baseball and Golf. During the press conference, various Nintendo execs, including Shiggy and Reggie, demonstrated the game, and while a bunch of guys in suits waving around a remote shaped controller isn't exactly the picture of gaming fun you'd hope for, they did look like they were having a good time. The other interesting piece of info is that Metroid Prime 3 is also slated to be a Wii launch title. Now, I'm as skeptical as the next guy when it comes to Nintendo launch dates, but if they can launch with both a Zelda title and a Metroid title, that console will sell itself. Add a new Super Smash Bros game with Solid Snake as a playable character, and a new Mario game shortly thereafter and you've got quite the impressive lineup.
The same can be said for the DS which is getting a Zelda game, a Star Fox game and a sequel to Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney. Yes, yes and yes! That console is quickly turning into the best gaming investment I've ever made, even if I'll have made it twice when all is said and done. Response to the hands on sessions with the Wii appears to be mixed depending on the games. Some games, like Sports and Metroid appear to be most enjoyable with the new controller, while others, like Madden, are a mess. There's still time for them to fix things up, but I'm a little wary about trying to take "traditional" games like Madden, which requires something like nine thousand buttons to play, and porting it to a system who's remote has 4 buttons and motion control. I think I'm the only person who ever bought Madden for a Nintendo console anyway, and I stopped years ago, so guys, certainly don't go through all of this trouble on my account. I think Nintendo made a mistake by not releasing any pricing information, especially after the Sony announcement as any price under 300 bucks would have made them look damn afforable compared to Sony. Hell, any price comparable to that of a new midsized automobile would have made them look affordable compared to Sony. A release date would have also helped, but I think it's safe to assume that the Wii will be available so as to not ruin Johnny's Christmas. I think Nintendo did the best this year, a surprise I know, by sticking to the games. There's a tremendous amount of potentially excellent content coming out from the House of N in the next year. Hopefully the Wii titles won't be too gimmicky and the DS titles will come out in a steady stream, rather than a wallet and attention crumbling deluge. Good job Nintendo, you done good.
Microsoft was in an interesting position this year in that their new fangled console had already launched so all they had to do was show that they plan on supporting it in the upcoming years. I'm sure they got more out of seeing their competitors' long term plans than sharing their own plans. Based on what they showed this year, I'm sure 2007 will be an amazing year to be a 360 owner, I'm just not as sure as 2006. I mean, sure, Gears of War looks to be the shizzle, but November is a looooong way off and Live Arcade games like Uno and Texas Hold 'Em aren't enough to fill those months, especially considering that the tools required to play both of those games costs about 2 bucks, combined.
The Halo 3 trailer looked pretty damn cool, and the fact that it was running in real time allowed them to show the power of the 360 and make fun of Sony's Killzone rendering fiasco from last year. Word on the street is that they had two 360's set up in case one gave up the ghost. The trailer did a very good job of showing what we could expect without showing too much, as I think they did in the E3 before Halo 2's launch. Hopefully Halo 3 will wrap up the current story line, cause you know they'll be mining that universe for games until the end of time, and they won't have those asstastic texture popping issues from Halo 2. I'm not all that excited about the Live Anywhere set of tools, as I don't play games on the PC, or on my cell phone and my Team Binky persona isn't one that I feel I need to express with every gaming action. I can assure you that if there's a Team Binky tearing up Metroid Prime: Hunters, it ain't me. Maybe if I get my cool ass Treo or SmartPhone (ha-ha-ha-ha) I'll care more about being able to get Hexic achievements via cellular technology, but I doubt it. It's good to see that Microsoft is committed to gaming, by allowing Live gamers to play games on any MSFT supported platform, but I'd be happier with a ton of 360 games in 2006 while Peter Moore calls all gamers flaming assholes. That's just me. I don't think that Microsoft did a bad job at E3, and their comments towards Nintendo have all been surprisingly cordial, even, dare I say, supportive, I just don't think they blew away gamers with 2006's 360 offerings.
I think that this is going to be a very interesting holiday season, especially if the Wii can come through with a kick ass stable of launch titles, and the motion sensitivity isn't just a gimmick. Given how they've been able to elevate the touchscreen in the DS from gimmicky play thing to essential feature, I'm not concerned about that. The launch titles, I'm super concerned about, but I think at the very least we'll have Zelda, and that's like saying at the very least, Keira Knightey is coming to your party. November can't come soon enough.