E3: Sony Conference
Sony had a tough act to follow after Nintendo’s crowd-pleasing performance, filled with innovative hardware and tons of new games and trailers. Sony would also announce some new hardware along with some innovations in its current console, but was it enough to steal the show?
The conference lead off with Sony announcing 3D games for the PS3. Let's not get confused here, this doesn't mean 3D graphics, but instead adding depth perception to games, making some objects appear closer to you than they are. The bad news? You'll need a new, not-so-cheap 3D TV, and only 3D supported titles will be able to take advantage of the technology. Oh yeah, and you'll need to wear those dorky 3D glasses (score one for Nintendo's 3DS for not needing those).
Is it gimmicky or is it the future? It's one of those things you need to view in person to gauge how much it enhances your immersion. The big demonstration of 3D was in the reveal for Killzone 3. The 3D effects were enough to impress the audience, though some problems were noted, like the loss of a focal point with different layers of depth in the picture. Killzone itself looked like, well, Killzone: a post-apocalyptic world filled with muted greys and brutal firefights. Sony announced that 20 titles will feature 3D by the end of the year.
Sony's response to the "motion control war" emerging between the Wii control inputs and Microsoft's Kinect is Playstation Move. Clearly inspired by the Wii remote, the Move is a wand-like device with several buttons and a glowing orb at the end, which is used for movement detection. Jack Tretton, CEO of PlayStation, took a direct jab at Kinect by saying that games need buttons as they provide precision and detail not attainable by body motion alone. Move is the best of both worlds, combining Nintendo's motion-with-buttons approach with Microsoft's focus on precision and camera integration (Sony's EyeToy camera is needed to use Move).
The proof, of course, is if the hardware translates to good gameplay. Game company The Workshop showed off their upcoming title, Sorcery, and how Move's precision allows for a wide range of gestures and actions. The player controls a wizard that uses different spells; unlike a traditional RPG each spell has more than one way that it can work. Utilizing different gestures through the Move's wand the player directly controls the character's wand; one gesture when using the fire spell will send a shockwave for doing damage, while another will create a wall of fire to block advancing foes.
Precision was a theme of the presentations as EA came out to demo Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. A lot of time was spent showing off just how precisely Tiger's golf club adjusted to movements from the player's wand. It was impressive, though nothing that hasn't been achieved by the Wii now that it has the Motion Plus add-on to the controller.
Sony finally got to answering the big questions, revealing the release date and price of Move. Move hits the US September 19th and Europe just before that, September 15th. The Move controller will retail for $50; it will be bundled with the Eye Toy for $99 and the PS3 for $400. In other words, it's cheap if you already own an Eye Toy, but if you don't, two Move controllers plus the camera will cost more than Microsoft's already pricy Kinect, which will go for $150, when you include the $20 for the add-on controllers (much like the Wii remote’s nunchuk attachment). Will it be worth it? It comes down to how well received the games are and how intuitively Move works with them.
Everything after the segment on Move was a bit less exciting. There isn't much to say on the PSP front, except that Sony's hired an annoying, loud kid named Marcus to market it (Sony continues to fail at marketing their handheld). The only new game announced was God of War: Ghosts of Sparta, which I'm personally a bit indifferent towards. The rest for the PSP was reiteration of upcoming titles like Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and Hot Shots Tennis.
Sony also revealed the much-rumored paid online service, Playstation Plus. For $50 a year players will have access to exclusive beta access, game demos, automatic patch downloads, and some free games; Sony's giving out Wipeout HD and a couple of PS Minis as incentives for signing up! The bonuses were vague, however; we'll have to see how much value is in the service.
A couple of other big names rounded out the conference. LittleBigPlanet 2, shipping later this year, is upping the ante on their creation abilities, allowing players to make pretty much any genre they want. Media Molecule showed off a racing game, space shooting and, best of all, sackboys shooting rocket launchers! A big surprise was that Portal 2, previously assumed to be PC exclusive, is coming to the PS3. Valve got big applause for a sequel that promises more mind-bending puzzles and the addition of an online co-op mode. Gran Turismo 5 made yet another E3 appearance, sporting hundreds of hyper-realistic cars and dozens of real-life tracks. inFamous 2, now with a scrawnier and younger looking protagonist, was announced for 2011. A final surprise was that the old assumed-to-be-dead franchise, Twisted Metal, will be brought back to life for the PS3. The game looks as gruesome and chaotic as ever, and looks to bring online vehicular deathmatches to a whole new level.
So, did Sony sink or swim this year? The fact that they only devoted a tiny bit of their presentation to the PSP (and most of it was focused on their new ad campaign) does not bode well for their portable division. With the 3DS's promise and the iPhone's increasing library of games, I have to wonder if there will be a place for the PSP in a few years. Most of what they showed is in "yet to be proven" territory; 3D looked nice on a giant presentation screen, but how will individual consumers like it when everyone must don glasses just to see what's going on? Is the Move really that much more precise than the Wii remote, and even so, does it have the game library for the casual audience to justify spending $400 on a new console bundle?
Outside of Twisted Metal and Portal 2 there weren't many earth-shattering reveals for Sony this year. Surprises may not be needed for success, but they help with leaving an impact on those who attended. Sony's game lineup is strong and presentation was solid, but "above average" may not be the grade they're looking for. In the end I believe the best games will determine if Kinect, Move or Wii motion controls reign supreme, just like how the best games will determine who will win the fight for your wallet's cash this holiday season.