Davesto’s E3 2010 Afterthoughts

E3 has come and gone and, of course, driven the gaming media into an overdrive in the past week or so. Big announcements, pre-launches, sneak peeks etc. have kept many people busily running around talking about all things gaming. As usual the Big Three – Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony – held their pre-E3 conferences for major announcements. Following the tradition of the past few years, pre-E3 leaks have taken out quite a bit of the wow effect from announcements, but that didn’t really dampen the excitement of these conferences. So what are the things that matter for the next year or so in the increasingly competitive video gaming market?

Microsoft

Without a doubt, Project Natal, or the now officially stamped Kinect, is the main player for Microsoft this year. The ‘not so new now’ gaming giant has gone through the phase of buying out exclusives in ‘hardcore gaming’ and is now ready to tackle the new ‘casual’ market that Nintendo had successfully opened up. There were quite a number of software being shown at the conference using the Kinect motion capturing camera. However, as far as we can see, most of them are Nintendo clones – fitness software, dancing games, sports games, driving games, and even a HD big screen version of the My Pets and ‘Nintendogs’.

The cats have grown up in HD!

Personally, I think it was quite a bit of disappointment. With Kinect one would think that Microsoft would have come up with something more original after all the fanfare with Project Natal. A set of HD clones of Wii games? What were they thinking? Then again Microsoft is not always about originality, but building on what other people already have and make it look better on their own portfolio. So on that note one should not be surprised that Kinect ended up become a HD Wii.

What I found more intriguing is the long rumoured 360 Slim and (finally) the integration of WiFi router into the machine. I always felt that 360 is a rip off because it requires you pay fork out another hundred something dollars just to connect it wirelessly online. Obviously 360 was rushed to the market to create a market lead, but the lack of certain standard and basic features such as an in-built WiFi router was unforgivable. Apart from a sleeker design and smaller size, the hard disk is now on par with PS3 Slim. What’s more important is that the slim version is apparently immune to the infamous Red Ring of Death – time will tell on that one. However, with the PS3 Slim in the market for a year now and HD-DVD officially dead, would the 360 Slim attract new clientele apart from current 360 owners who want a new console? That is something to be seen in the next year.

Been to the gym lately?

Nintendo

Without a doubt, the biggest thing to pop out of  the Nintendo conference is the 3DS. The company finally showed the successor to the MULTI-MILLION DS family, and with much hype. So did it live up to expectations? So far reports and feedback in the industry are largely positive. The selling point of 3DS is that you don’t require a pair of hideous glasses to play games in 3D. The way Nintendo did it is by overlaying two screens together to create a 3D effect, somewhat similar to the 3D slide viewers we had when we were kids. A smart move, but then it means you will be only able to see the best 3D effect at a certain angle. Nintendo and other industry personnel said that this is not a problem, as with handheld consoles you usually play it at a certain angle, so it won’t drop a tax on your experience. However, with 3DS also introducing gyro and motion sensor, that could be a tricky thing in the future, as part of the gameplay could be to move the console or toggle the console around – the 3D effect will definitely be affected. But then this is up to the developers to find the solution for this. Being Nintendo I am sure they are on the case.

Hm...when are you free sexy?

3DS, apart from providing a handheld platform for 3D gaming, also introduced the slide pad (or the flat analogue stick) and buffed up the graphics. The 3DS now boasts that the graphical capability is on par with their GameCube, which could mean that the DS family will be competing with the PSP directly in terms of graphic display. Also, the introduction of the slide pad sounds like a direct challenge or answer to the really annoying analogue hub that PSP has.

3D or not, it's still a head shot!

There was a whole slate of software announced for 3DS such as Project Sora aka Kid Icarus, Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, Resident Evil Revelations and more are all jumping on board. Would this be Nintendo’s answer to Sony’s PSP and Apple’s iPod Touch? That will be interesting to see.

Nintendo also announced a number of new software such as a new Zelda, a new Kirby, a new Golden Sun, and the one that sent people into excitement was the remake of Golden Eye.

Sony

Similar to Microsoft, Sony showed off its own motion controller Move at its conference. Move looks like a nun-chuck ice cream cone, but boasts more precise motion capture than Wii. A number of titles were shown including a mature Harry Potter style title called Sorcery, which is quite interesting. Sony sure does have better technological muscle as compared to Nintendo and I am glad to see that Sony did not just show another set of Wii clone games as Microsoft did. At the moment on top of a few sport games, people who are not sick of Resident Evil 5 yet will be able to play the game again with Move. The more interesting title to look out for will certainly be Little Big Planet 2 with the new control system to facilitate level constructions. Similar to the Wiimote, Move gets some add on stuff like a gun peripheral to make gaming with shooters more ‘realistic’.

Which colour am I?

Another big thing about PS is the introduction of 3D gaming. Sony showed a number of 3D titles to be launched this month and preached to the crowd that 3D gaming is the future (despite dismissing 3DS). The crowd was excited with the new technologies and I am sure Sony will be able to make impressive 3D games (I’m thinking Wipe Out and Motor Storm at the moment). However, there is a catch here – to take advantage of 3D gaming experience, you will need a 3D TV compatible with PS3 and also multiple pairs of 3D glasses. This immediately sent the cashier register ringing on how much money Sony is going to make out of this.

Our money got a new dimension!

Sony also announced the PSN Plus service that rewards subscribers to a whole lot of new stuff as compared to free membership. This is in a way targeting Xbox Live services as Sony emphasised that online gaming will still be free but subscribers will get new free stuff such as full game trials, free DLC, automatic firmware update before others (does that matter?) and free themes etc. The Plus service does sound promising as it is not an attempt to shut free service users out but provide added value to subscribers. The pricing model was not particularly expensive either. However it was later revealed that free games for subscribers will automatically be locked out if the subscription ended. So that means once you have subscribed and if you have benefited from the service, you are hooked to it as these locked out contents will not be available again until you renew your subscription. So basically you don’t own those games at any point in the life cycle.

After Thoughts

Without a doubt, both Microsoft and Sony are trying to desperately grab the market Nintendo created with Wii. Kinect and Move are the natural evolution for the HD consoles. However, as I pointed out earlier, with Kinect only providing contents exactly like Wii but only on HD, would it be sufficient to capture the audience who already owned a Wii as a secondary console? Games such as fitness and dancing software do not really require HD graphics, so how well they will perform when you already have Wii Fit or Just Dance is an interesting thing to look out for in the coming months. As for Sony, clearly Move is targeted for the hardcore audience with the software it showed on the floor. Move seems to be an additional option rather than something they are going heavy with. More interesting is that for Sony seems to be trying to open up various business models for PS3 to see which one works. That is a dangerous move as they could be burnt on all sides if none of them were handled properly.

Another interesting thing in this year’s E3 is the obvious shy away of pricing in their products. Sony surely pioneered in announcing a ‘target’ pricing for Move and all the required accessories, but for both Kinect and 3DS, pricing of this hardware are still shrouded in secret. With Amazon.com leaking a RRP of US$150, it doesn’t look like Kinect will come with a cheap price tag despite Microsoft quickly dismissed that the $150 tag is a speculated pricing. Nintendo also noted that announcing a pricing at E3 is not appropriate for 3DS as it will take the focus away from the new technology itself. That is an interesting argument but with them repeatedly saying that development cost will be similar as the Cube and Wii, it sounds like 3DS will not come in with an easy price tag either. The thing is both Kinect and 3DS, and even Move’s success are hinging on, I believe, is pricing. Probably none of the Big Three wants to be the first to jump into that and found out they have to lower their ideal price point later.

The coming year will be very interesting, and probably the gifting season at the end of the year will tell us who is the real deal, at least in the motion capture gaming sector. It seems that the competition is heating up again and hopefully the ultimate winner of this will be the gamers.

About the Author

Level up freak. Level 99 is a norm not a goal. Love my JRPGs and RPGs in general. Also love my platformers and puzzle games. Was addicted to Zoo Keeper, Magnetica, Animal Crossing, Disgaea DS, Dragon Quest IX and White Knight Chronicles. Prefer to spend my time away from gaming as an actor although do have a full time job that keeps my mortgage going. But generally love anything creative. And if anyone tells you gaming is a waste of time, tell them you have great eye, hand and brain coordinations that they will never have!