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E3 2011 in Review

The Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 took place this week.  We’ll break down each conference and spotlight our most anticipated games announced at the show.

Microsoft

Oh, you’re making more Halo games?  And more military shooters are coming?  Wow, I couldn’t have guessed that.  The demographics on the Xbox are very clear (males who like first person shooters).

The Kinect games look terrible; they’re all exactly the same thing just with different graphics.  As robot geeks already know, the Kinect sensor has more value as a robotics sensor than a gaming device.  It seems evident that Microsoft’s purpose in entering the home video game market is to create a set-top box.  Project Draco, the one Kinect game we are interested in, wasn’t shown at all.

Now they’re trying to implement Bing and voice recognition.  I’m sure that will go smoothly – the video was totally embarrassing (“Xbox. Bing. TV show.  Xbox.  Bing.  Movie.  Xbox.  Bing.  I’m talking to my television.”).  Nearly everyone considers their conference to be a total failure.

We dish on Sony and Nintendo after the break.

Sony

Sony’s conference was much better than Microsoft’s, opening with a sincere apology for the recent PlayStation network hacking incident. Already the network is back to 90% of its former capacity.  They followed this up with an impressive demo of their hit franchise Uncharted. The PlayStation Move, Sony’s motion controller, is pointless.  Like the Kinect sensor, the Move was created solely because they feared Nintendo’s market share.  Sony finally announced that the HD versions of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, two of the best games of all time, will be released on September 27th for the PS3.

The Vita was undoubtedly Sony’s trump card. The original PSP has faded into obscurity outside of Japan, so the threat of the Nintendo 3DS is very real.  They had some impressive demonstrations showing off both the graphical fidelity of the new machine and its unique touch-based controls.  Among the games showcased in the sizzle reel was a stunning looking 2D sidescroller called Dragon’s Crown by Vanillaware.

Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown, for PS3 and PS Vita

The big news was its price: $249 USD for wi-fi only and $299 USD for 3G wi-fi, matching the price of the Nintendo 3DS.  The audience audibly groaned when Sony announced their partnership with AT&T, which was definitely a low point.  But at that price, its better graphics and strong developer support could make all the difference in their battle with Nintendo. Europeans won’t be happy with the price in Euros, which is approximately a hundred dollars more, but Sony has successfully prevented sticker shock in North America.

Nintendo

Nintendo’s conference was exciting but also very disappointing.  The Last Story, Xenoblade, Pandora’s Tower, and Dragon Quest X are absent from Nintendo of America’s release list!  Xeno Blade has already been confirmed for release in Europe, so there is no reason not to bring it out in North America.  The Wii has another year (give or take) of shelf life and there isn’t much to get excited about other than the new Zelda.  Considering Nintendo’s new philosophy is deeper, wider gaming experiences, they need to begin appealing to their core demographic now to smoothly transition to their new console.  If the new console is coming out in 2012, why did they bother making another Zelda for the regular Wii?  They could have made it with superior graphics for the Wii U.

What Zelda could look like on the Wii U

It turns out the leaks were mostly accurate: the new system has a unique controller featuring a 6 inch touch screen that can stream content from the console into the palm of your hands.  Gamers will rejoice at the ability to continue playing their Wii U even if their family hogs the television, and there are some unique game design possibilities.  Unfortunately, Nintendo didn’t announce a firm price or release date, and they weren’t ready to show any real games for the device.  The system will be powerful enough to handle ports from the PS3 and Xbox 360, so in a sense it feels like they’re playing catch-up to experiences gamers have been enjoying for years on their competitor’s platforms.


Luigi’s Mansion 2 for the Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo’s 3DS line-up is looking fantastic, which is good because it’s off to a rough start.  The system has only been available for a couple of months, so Nintendo wasn’t ready to announce a price drop, but when the PS Vita launches this holiday season, it seems likely that the 3DS will shed $50 from its asking price.

As usual, Nintendo seems out of touch with reality when it comes to its pricing model (they only recently announced a budget line for the Wii, which is clearly on its way out).  Nintendo also launched the 3DS’s e-shop, but like the virtual games on the Wii, the games are way over-priced.  They’re charging $5-$6 for black and white games made twenty years ago in a time when you can buy brand new iPad and iPhone games for less.  Granted, most of Nintendo’s games are better than the crap in the App Store, but I expected original GameBoy games to be $1.

At least Nintendo finally invited EA onto their stage for the first time this year.  Considering EA has been a fixture in the industry for so long, and has made presentations for both Sony and Microsoft, it seems utterly ridiculous that it took Nintendo this long to extend an invitation their way.  They should be even more inclusive moving forward because plenty of other developers could use the support.

Conclusion

Everyone likes to pick the “winner” of E3.  It’s a toss up between Sony and Nintendo this year.  On the one hand, Sony’s PS Vita is looking slick and is priced to match the 3DS (Sony is clearly selling it at a loss).  On the other hand, Nintendo showcased 5 or 6 must-have 3DS titles from their most popular franchises, almost all of which are being released before the end of the year.  Anyone looking to buy a handheld gaming console will have a lot to think about.  I can’t get excited about the Wii U until I see some games for it.  There were quite a few stupid examples of how one might use the controller in the demo video (who wants to mount that thing onto a gun, or put it on the floor to show a golf ball when teeing off?).  I’m more interested in the fact you’ll be able to use it as a browser, stream movies, and play games on it when others are using the television.  Next year should be very interesting.

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