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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sony E3 presser

Sony rounded out the big 3 E3 pressers, and while having the benefit of going last, had less than an hour to make any adjustments (if needed) in response to Nintendo's just completed press conference. The "press" crowd in attendance seemed a lot more animated than the other two platform attendees.

Their intro video was pretty slick, both in showcasing titles, and in providing the sub-text of power, growth, expansion, and history ( along with an explicit "One World. One Vision." background vocal riff).

Jack Tretton, President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA), lead off, and he was engaging and entertaining, despite a stated admission of nerves.

Tretton said 364 games are coming out on PlayStation platforms (PS3, PS2, and PSP) this year alone, designed to meet "Every taste. Every Budget. And Every Need."

He also made some understandably bold words about 2009 being everything they wanted.

Of the titles he listed out of the gate (Modern Warfare 2, FFXIII, Rock Band: The Beatles, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Ratchet & Clank, and Heavy Rain), only the last two are PS3 exclusives.

Tretton led off with PS2 numbers, and touted it and its 2,0000-game library as the "perfect family console", and continued the party line of PS2 being the gateway drug to PS3 (he used different words).

Sony grew install base by 22 million units over the last year, and has 24 million worldwide PSN accounts, and said there will be more than 35 PlayStation exclusives this year.

On the games front, Tretton led off with Infamous, the PS3 exclusive which is selling and reviewing extremely well. Smart to show current success representative of what the PS3 can do commercially, technically, and critically.

Naughty Dog showed Uncharted 2: Drake's Fortune canned single player gameplay, which looks Assassins Creedish (in a good way) in places, and I like the duck, cover, and related combat and evade mechanics (Naughty Dog, like Sony dev Insomniac knows how to push the hardware). The game launches its multiplayer beta tonight (at least for those that bought Infamous).

MAG (one year later) finally got to show off its live multiplayer gameplay. Zipper Interactive guys brought us Socom, and now they bring us massive online firefights at a whole new level. I like what they've done with things like the player-controlled helicopters with mini-guns bringing in players who have died and respawned. I can't tell if the footage was "live live", or "recorded live". They said "live", but the live narration was a little too matched to events onscreen. The game comes out this fall.

Shifting to the PSP, Tretton gave a brief history of the handheld (hardware and software). The large number of titles he listed for teen and tween girls felt a bit like a bulkhead against the same kind of fare on rival Nintendo's handheld platfroms. But Sony'll be releasing a lavendar PSP.

Kaz Harai, President and CEO Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc., absent at last-year's Sony E3 press event, took the stage to talk about changes to the design and features of the PSP that have built its successor -- the PSP Go. Not meant to be a replacement for the PSP or PSP 3000, per se, it will be marketed alongside those platforms. It will launch October first of this year, and sell for $249 / 259 Euros (the same price as when the PSP first launched).

All PSP titles moving forward will also be available via digital download (in addition to UMD for the non-Go versions of the PSPs).

There was a brief aside that PSP toolkits will drop 80% in cost to developers, which is a smart move in making it easier and lower risk for developers to get content onto Sony's handheld platform, and seemed an unintentional rebuttal to Nintendo's just-previous press conference statement that the Nintendo DS is low-cost platform on which innovative game developers can take risks.

Sony also smartly announced their new "Media Go" initiative / service / technology (I'm not sure the degree of each the "thing" addresses each), which replaces the current media interface. Media Go will make it easier to access media across the PSP, PC, and PS3 platforms, hopefully heading in the direction of a more leverage able media experience for a company that has a massive content library frankly not getting into Sony platform holders hands.

The PlayStation video service will be available natively on the PSP and PSP Go shortly, and Sony is launching new content from a host of content providers, from Showtime to Viz Entertainment.

Kazunouri Yamauchi (Polyphony Digital) annnounced Gran Tourismo PSP, and showed it running on PSP Go -- a launch title running at 60fps, 800 cars, huge number of tracks (and tons of variations on each track). It looks to be the be-all end-all of the full Gran Tourismo experience, and tailored to the unique features fo the PSP platforms (including the networking and social aspects of the platforms).

Harai re-took the stage to introduce Hideo Kojima (Kojima Productions), and he introduced Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker -- a PSP Go game that takes place 10 years after the first Metal Gear as a "true sequel" set in the 1970s. Kojima is deeply involved in writing the script and producing the title, and several Metal Gear Sold 4 devs will be involved in its production. The game will be published by Konami.

Tretton rejoined the stage to announce Resident Evil Portable. He also announced other PSP titles including Little Big Planet, Socom, Jack & Daxter, Motorstorm, Monster Hunter, Harry Potter, Guitar Hero, and more, coming to PSP this fall.

Tretton re-stated PSN has 24 million users (11 million in North America), Sony has seen 150% growth in console install base (I'm assuming that's across all platforms), and more than 90 unique titles this year alone.

He also said more than 50 PSOne titles will launch this year on PSN, starting wtih Final Fantasy VII from the PSOne on PSN today. I know people who's heads just exploded.

PlayStation Home currently has 6.5M users (and Sony wants us to know they have an 85% return rate), and Home Spaces are on the rise. They showed a brief video showing its growth and pervasiveness, but for me I didn't understand the differentiation between it and, say, Second Live branded islands.

Sony showed a really impressive PS3 title sizzle reel. With so many games and no title or developer / publisher text, I struggled to determine what the titles were, how many there were, how many were duped, and which were exclusive.

Agent from Rockstar North was announced as a PS3 exclusive. Rockstar can certainly deliver polished innovative content, and maybe Agent will take them in a direction with as high a caliber, but not the social contention, of the GTA series.

Reps from Ubisoft took the stage to show off Assassin's Creed II, set during the Renaissance, and shifting the story and character development to start with a non-assassin (who will become one). Using Renaissance personalities like inventor Leonardo DaVinci, new game mechanics like flight and the double-handed assassination (which got a great crowd response) are additions over the last game. Thirty total weapons (things like the smoke bomb) are available in the game, plus an additional 6 if you play and unlock them from Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines on the PSP. Both titles will be available holiday 2009.

Tretton used the PSP / PS3 connectivity in Assassin's Creed for what sounded like a launch point for more connectivity discussions, but instead showed new footage for Final Fantasy XIII.

Much bigger, Sony announced PS3-exclusive Final Fantasy XIV Online, I believe slated for 2010.

Tretton then intro'd next-gen successor to the controller / EyeToy synergy -- "true, one-to-one tracking" via the EyeToy and a prototype motion controller (alternately called that, a wand, and I think just an "Eye"). They showed off a variety of tech demos, which were interesting and representive of the functionality. Sony's message is you need both the camera and the controller.

Given the tech demo and the stilted presentation, I wonder if this was originally planned for the Sony presser, or was reactive to Microsoft's Natal announcement Monday.

I liked the RTS tech demo, because it showed a concrete game demo application, as did did the combat demo (sword and shield, throwing stars, and archery). Tretton says the tech will launch Spring 2010, which seems extremely aggressive.

Shifting gears, Sony announced Little Big Planet will be getting a ton of new content. PS3 owners tell me LBP is a console mover for them.

This was an stepping pad to announce another PS3 exclusive from United Front Games / Sony San Diego Studios -- ModNation Races (the next incarnation of the "Play. Create. Share." umbrella that includes Little Big Planet).

This game and customization looked like a ton of fun -- very stylish, and the track editor looks intuitive and powerful (5 minutes to create a brand-new track with variable elevations, levels, mountains and lakes, hills, props, weapons, upgrades, etc.).

Sony announced PS3-exclusive The Last Guardian from Team Ico / Sony Japan Studio. Looks freaky cool (the giant animal looks like a ginormous cross between a coyote puppy, gryphon, and a rat).

There was also a quick tease of Gran Tourismo 5, which I install has a huge install base for the franchise, but it felt really disjoint after the Ico reveal. Not sure why it wasn't used to bridge the conversation from Gra Tourismo PSP to the larger sibling platform. That's how I would have done it.

Finishing off, Sony live demoed God of War III as an appropriate capstone to the PS3 exclusives.

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Nintendo E3 presser

Nintendo's E3 presser was geared toward toward "innovation and surprises", and "everyone's game".

Cammie Dunaway started the event, and despite using very biz analytic language like "even Mario is not enough to attract all people to our category", she at least did lead with the company's major strengths, intro'ing a brief Mario retrospective, which was a lead-up to a new Super Mario Bros. for Wii. The game has four-player, drop-in co-op (or not, if you're petty), and is is coming Holiday 2009.

Wii Fit Plus -- An updated, configurable version of the company's hugely successful workout and strength training software. It will be will be available this fall, and ship with the Balance Board, or as a stand-alone title for those folks who were able to get their hands on a Balance Board.

Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage to (re-)announce the MotionPlus add-on hardware (he's a very polished, articulate Nintendo advocate). The precision-control nature of the MotionPlus is, I think, going to very much help with fine-grain, core game mechanics, and the cutesy sky diving demo was a very good way to introduce the Wii MotionPlus Resort pack-in (?). The game is a collection of mini games to demonstrate (and get experience with) the new Wii remote add-on.

the Wii MotionPlus Resort demo lagged a bit from sky diving to archery to basketball, but while the banter lagged in the last demo, at least Fils-Aime brought the smack talk to the mini-competition. (I want him to the bring that snark to Microsoft and Nintendo.) Wii MotionPlus Resort launches in July.

In the next few weeks, Electronic Arts is backing the MotionPlus technology with upcoming titles Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 and Grand Slam Tennis, and SEGA's Virtual Tennis 2009 will support the tech, as will Red Steel 2 from Ubisoft will only be playable with the Wii MotionPlus.

Square-Enix will be releasing Final Fantasy the Crystal Bearers exclusively for the Wii. They are also releasing an exclusive version of the Kingdom Hearts.

On the DS front, Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story looks like a great RPG, and will finally be out in North America and Europe this fall.

More exciting for me, Nintendo announced Golden Sun is coming back to the DS.

Dunaway came back to the stage to push the low cost of Nintendo DS development, coupled with the the huge install base, as a lower-cost way to take risks. That was a subtle (and I think wise) message to slide in the presser -- "prototype innovative gameplay on the cheap, and if you hit, hit big!"

THQ will be releasing author James Patterson's Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion for the DS. Style looks to smack of the Phoenix Wright franchise, and is obviously going after an exclusive demographic. Interesting.

Ubisoft's Cop: The Recruit looks to be a very slick, stylized GTA China Wars-esque DS offering for core gamers.

There was also a tween / pre-teen girl's game for the DS that I missed, but it plus the THQ and Ubi titles were all about showing the platform demographic and genre diversity. Dunaway kind of hit people over the head with it, but it's a valid differentiator for the handheld.

Dunaway then provided a market update on the Nintendo DSi (surpassing 1M units, plus there were 400,000 DS Lites sold, etc.).

FlipNote -- That user-generated mini movie content software for the DSi -- will be available this summer. I likes.

Mario versus Donkey Kong: Minis March Again (think branded Lemmings) for DS will allow for creating custom , shareable levels, and is available next Monday.

WarioWare DIY -- Glad Cammie told us it was short for "Do It Yourself" :-, is a title that lets you create and share your own games. This one plus FlipNote may make me upgrade to a DSi.

Starting this summer, photos from DSi will let you update photos to Facebook. Facebook is doing well; wonder if they have something to announce with Sony at E3, not that they've covered Nintendo and Microsoft.

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks -- A DS gift for the franchise lovers and the Nintendo faithful hardcore.

Worldwide president Satoru Iwata took the stage, interestingly, to talk about Nintendo's research and market segmentation. He said Nintendo's research of North America, Japan, and 6 other countries showed an "Active gamers" (across all consoles) addressable market of 395M, and those that "Might Play" number ~149M -- his point being "for every two people actively playing games, there is a third, waiting to play").

Mr. Iwata said he has a goal to provide games that work for experienced and novice players at the same time. Lofty goal. I support it, as long as it doesn't suck for both.

He also announced the Wii Vitality Sensor, to expose "the inner world of your body". Think one of those pulse thingies you see at grocery story blood pressure stations. But, not as shared.

Dunaway re-took that stage to announce a new 3D Mario for the Wii -- Super Mario Galaxy 2 (another gift for the franchise and Nintendo faithful).

Fils-Aime re-took the stage to announce 3 exclusive titles for the Wii that are more targeted to the Core gamer:
  • The Conduit -- A great-looking FPS from one of my personal favorite devs, High Voltage Software (published by SEGA)
  • Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
  • Dead Space: Extraction -- Zorsis's baby. Which looks super slick and scary.

From Nintendo itself (plus Project M and Team Ninja), came Metroid: Other M -- looks to be a great addition to the franchise (Metroid plus deeper story plus Ninja Gaiden-esque gameplay).

And that finished up the presser.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Microsoft E3 presser


Three different live feeds, stuff was slow as all get-out.

Anyway, freaking exciting stuff.

It started out with the announcement that 1 vs. 100 should be live tonight, Rock Band Beatles looks fantastic (and had Beatles on-hand to amp up the coolness, and has exclusive song "All You Need is Love" for the Xbox).

Square-Enix (producers from Final Fantasy XIII) took the stage, and demoed the game running on the 360 -- A big (to me, kind of surreal) deal for gamers / industry folk. And they announced a spring 2010 release date.

New games premiers:
  • Tony Hawk's new game (and new skate deck controller) looks sharp
  • Modern Combat 2 continues to impress, but the trailer looks like the one shown on Spike's E3 preview last week. The live gameplay by the game devs looks stellar (though I'm a bit bummed by it's presentation, because while things like first-person ice climbing and massive snowstorm particle effects are cool, they're a bit slow to show at a presser). Snowmobile fighting was very cool, though. Two Modern Warfare 2 map packs will be timed exclusive to Xbox 360.
Exclusives -- titles secured just for Microsoft's console:
  • Shadow Complex -- Epic's (Chair Entertainment, represented by Donald Mustard) next Xbox exclusive is a AAA XBLA title, and it looks like an uber bastard child of Gears of War 2 and Contra. Still gonna feel weird if Xbox gets an arcade exclusive and PS3 gets a full-title exclusive.
  • Joy Ride -- a Big Park Live XBLA title, which allow for in-game Avatar use,
  • Crackdown 2 -- I was so hoping for this, it looks amazing (though it was cut-scene only), and now the bad guys are super-charged, too. Couldn't tell if this is going to be more of the same(ish) crime family motif, or more adversarial / /co-op / multiplayer, etc. I would like all of the above, please.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 -- I am very surprised at how quickly this coming (I believe November), and that it's an exclusive (in addition to PC, of course; which also helps Microsoft).
  • Tom Clancy Splinter Cell: Conviction -- Looks like it got a much-needed makeover, and looks intense and grittier. I really like how mission objectives and info are projected on the in-game scenes -- almost like playing a French indie action film. Things like the "mark and execute" mechanic may make the thing much more usable (and brutal). It will be shipping this fall.
  • Forza Motorsport 3 -- The successor to the Microsoft racing franchise, from Turn-Ten Studios. Set to be the "best-looking racing game on any platform". The community-inclusion aspect of custom painted cars, community videos, etc. built into the game is pretty impressive.
  • Halo 3 ODST -- Joe Staten showed off new cut scene and playable footage. the playable character is primarily the "rookie" -- alone and separated from his squad. It looks to have nice gimicks for ODST visor and sound-suppressed weapons. And the pistol smacks of Halo CE awesomeness. I also like the gameplay device that flashes back to other playable ODSTs for gameplay diversity and "piecing together the mystery". I don't like that the voices sound like "Red v. Blue" cast voices, which takes me out of the gameplay. It will have co-op (yay!). Ships December.
  • Halo Reach -- The top-secret project from Bungie leaked though a forum gaffe this weekend, the game hits 2010, but people buying Halo 3 ODST will get a beta key for Halo Reach. Halo Whores, unite!
  • Alan Wake -- From Remedy Entertainment, the playable footage they showed gives me hope the the action genre is back. The flashlight-weakening mechanic to weaken enemies before shooting is cool, and the generator start up and flare gun was a cool twist on that.
  • Metal Gear franchise -- Hideo Kojima said the next title, Metal Gear Solid Rising, is in development for the Xbox 360 -- and will feature Raiden. Not sure this one is an exclusive, but given Microsoft's "everything from here on out is exclusive to Xbox 360", it seems like it.

Media convergence:

  • -- Microsoft announced a music deal with, making it available later this year to gold members for free. I know people there, and I am impressed they did not leak this to me. Though I would not have leaked the leakage.
  • Netflix -- They've updated the service to remove needing a PC to set up the download queue, and simplified it -- just click "play".
  • Sky TV -- Brings live TV to the UK. Hey, what about the U.S.?
  • Zune video -- Microsoft's updating the Xbox video library to full 1080p, there's going to be no delay in play, the user experience has been streamlined, and the service is expanding to 18 countries (from 8)

Social Technology -- special versions for Microsoft's console:

  • "Every Xbox Live game, music, and video experience can be an Xbox Live Party experience."
  • Facebook integrated with Xbox Live (friends, photos, status, and sharing screenshots to Facebook from in-game; sounds like games will need to explicitly take advantage of the functionality, and hopefully it's taken advantage of more than the PS3 YouTube functionality).
  • Twitter integration with the Xbox 360 dash (my office mate will hate this, and I will rub his face in it).

Hardware announcements:

  • Super controller "Natal" -- Microsoft announced its own full-body motion capture, voice recognition uber controller. Looks ambitious, and if it delivers -- boy howdy -- "Controller free entertainment". It will work with every past Xbox, and will ship with every new Xbox. Steven Spielberg joined Microsoft's Don Mattrick on-stage in pushing the new technology, is at least tertiarily involved in the project, and will be "coming up with some good stuff" to take advantage of the technology.

    Kudo Tsunoda was on-stage to narrate the demonstration of "Natal" -- I was wondering what he was up to since the Fight Night franchise, and did not expect this. As an aside, I think paint party is great fodder for a drinking game over Xbox Live . I am concerned about the "stencil" functionality :- . Very compelling live demo, though.

    Peter Molyneux was on-stage to show what Lionhead is doing with the Natal technology. The Milo demo -- a virtual boy with emotional demonstration and response -- was stunning. I had shivers. You have to see the video to believe it, and if it's real ...

Anyway, Microsoft is first out of the gate, and their media blackout may have done its job -- I'm 90% ready to declare a presser winner right now.

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