The Electronic Entertainment Expo, known to gaming fans everywhere as the mighty E3 has always been renowned as the Mecca of game announcements. With Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and many other third party publishers all in attendance, you can always expect to see some outstanding presentations and show reels. Significantly reducing the size of the expo in 2007 and reducing the number to between 3,000 – 5,000 was disheartening, but this year certainly felt like a return to form. With 41,000 journalists and gamers packed in it easily retained the title of the world’s largest video game convention.
I could list about thirty games I was impressed with at E3, but that would be as boring as watching a Playstation 3 update (or Xbox 360, for all you brand loyal psychos). So instead, these are the top five announcements that shocked or impressed me.
5) Project Natal/ Milo
If you asked me about a year ago what Microsoft had planned for future, I wouldn’t have been able to guess this. Project Natal is an add-on sensory peripheral, sitting below or on top of your TV like the senor for your Nintendo Wii. Apparently you won’t need a controller at all for the games that use Natal, relying on speech and gestures instead. This might sound like an eye toy with a microphone attachment, but when Lionhead Studios unveiled Milo nearly everyone was taken aback.
Peter Molyneux introduced the boy on screen named Milo, capable of recognising our face, speech and emotions. Walking along a riverside in the tech demo, he can react to the user with his own choices and emotions. At one point he threw a pair of goggles to the player and wouldn’t proceed until she had pretended to put them on properly. Project Natal was analysing her movements here to make sure that she was acting properly for the next step of the game. Milo then invites her to touch the water, showing her reflection and allowing her to cause accurate ripples with her hands. It was fascinating to me, an experience similar to Flower rather than a ‘true’ video game. At another point she drew a picture of a fish, held it up to the peripheral and allowed it to be scanned. Milo then understood what the drawing was and gave an opinion on it.
Of course, the entire presentation could have been faked with pre-scripted questions and reactions. However, there would have been no advantage for Lionhead Studios to do this – as Molyneux explained, this isn’t a game coming out any time soon. How could character interactions change in other titles with this technology? Interrogating suspects in Call of Duty? Drawing out plans for a Real Time Strategy? Motion and voice control may have been science fiction a few years ago, but suddenly it feels very real…
4) PSP Go
This revelation should have been the talk of E3, but it lost any sense of shock thanks to some leak-age on the internet a week before hand. It may be another upgrade of the trusty Sony handheld, but how often do we really get to see a console being announced!? Even though I’ve bought a PSP Slim & Lite recently, I was still intrigued and impressed by what this had to offer.
Firstly, being half the size and weight of the original console makes this a sleek bit of tech. Unlike the Nintendo DS and PSP which will just about fit in your pockets, this rendition should be much less cumbersome. With 16GB of flash memory, you can forget about having to purchase yet another memory stick for your save files. Though nothing like the Apple iPod, this kind of space should comfortably store thousands of music tracks, movies and photographs. The slide out control pad will be a love or hate feature, but I personally like this ‘Sidekick’ mobile look. There should be another slot here for further external memory too, giving you more space than you’ll ever need. A second analogue stick would have been nice (especially as fans have been crying out for it’s inclusion for years) but I presume the current controls will work just as well.
Intergrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi will allow users to download games and movies from the Playstation Store this time (in a similar style to the DSi ware). Apparently though, the PSP Go will ship without the UMD slot. This is a bold move, potentially making an entire generation of games obsolete. Whether you will have to download all of your games, or if a new disc format will be used is anyone’s guess. This isn’t the move I expected Sony to take, but it’s certainly an interesting one. Perhaps this could be the device to take on both DSi for games and the Apple iPod Touch for multimedia?
3) Super Mario Galaxy 2
Nintendo didn’t really have a lot to prove this year and so I don’t blame them for playing it safe. Most of their big name franchises have been released on the Nintendo Wii now (Brawl, Mario Kart, Metroid, etc) and yet they’re still shipping more units than they can count. No More Heroes 2 and Fragile looked like strong third party titles, but it was the announcement of a new Mario platformer this year that got everyone talking.
A sequel to Super Mario Galaxy doesn’t sound very exciting on paper. Yet think about it, this is the first time two 3D Mario adventures have appeared on the same platform. That’s pretty special, because Nintendo are renowned for putting an absurdly long amount of development time into their key brands. Critics scored the first outing high and from the looks of the trailer Galaxy 2 will be just as inventive and enjoyable. I’m not surprised that they’ve kept it in space either, because not only were the planets incredibly fun to explore… but you can’t really do better than space, can you? With Yoshi tagging on for the ride this time, it looks like our favourite plumber is still on form.
2) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I will admit that I have never played the first Uncharted, nor do I know anything about the franchise. However, the demo that Sony took us through this year was incredible. Presumably everyone else thought so too, as it won the awards for ‘Best of Show’, ‘Best Console Game’ and ‘Best Action/Adventure game’.
Firstly, this game looks simply beautiful. The scenery is rich with detail, even down to clothes flapping individually on a washing line. The draw distance is also astounding; you look into the mountains beyond the city and truly believe that you could go there. Nathan Drake’s animations are realistic and fluid, scaling the sides of buildings and jumping over rooftops as helicopter bullets shatter the windows to your side. This is everything that games like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia wish they could be. Exciting combat, platforming and exploration all rolled into one. None of this was pre rendered or CG footage either, it was all being played first hand to the public. Boasting the most technical showcase on any platform is a big claim, but Naughty Dog sure weren’t lying.
1) The Last Guardian
Team Ico is something rather special to me. This developer has only previously released two titles (Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) but each one was so powerful, so emotional that they now have something of a cult following. Formerly known as Project Trico, the trailer for The Last Guardian at E3 showed a boy befriending a giant feathered creature. Part griffin, part sea eagle, part whatever you think it is, this is one cute companion that you’ll be using to progress through the game.
There was no play test, but the trailer itself showed all the right signs to me. Desolate environments, lonely and artistic to explore? Check. Tear jerking, emotional bond between characters? Check. Thought provoking puzzles? Not sure, but most likely check. If you’ve never played a game by Team Ico, I can’t recommend their work on the Playstation 2 enough. Always thinking outside the box, it’s great to see this developer still churning out triple A titles.
My words don’t really say enough for these E3 announcements. If you’re interested in some of these, check out the videos and let the footage do the talking.