E3 2011: Sony’s Press Conference

Sony held their E3 Press Conference at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena this year. It didn’t have the wow-factor of the Shrine Auditorium that last year’s address did, but this location had the much needed benefit of space – it’s about five times larger than the Shrine by my estimation. But enough of this land surveying, let’s get to the show!

As is pretty common place for Sony’s Conference, they began with a highlight reel of games and hardware in action. It seems that they’re really going after core experiences from the look of this promo video. Funny thing to note: they’re using Apple’s Keynote software for their slides. That’s kind of ironic to me, since they compete with Apple in some pretty big spaces.

Just as Microsoft did with Modern Warfare 3, Sony began with a bang. Another threequel: Uncharted 3. It looks incredible, I’ll give it that. Nathan Drake has always had this weird movement thing going on, but aside from that, it is quite the stunning game. The music is quite intense and it feels like a good horror movie. Visuals later on in the video get really incredible with streaming water (okay, the ship was flooding), lighting and shadow effects looked phenomenal, and the water was the best I’ve ever seen. Yep, I mentioned the water twice – it looked that good.

A strange thing happened from here: the developers went into a different video of Uncharted, this time in 3D, but with a Helen Mirren-like character who spoke like M from James Bond. She sounded like Judy Dench, looked like Helen Mirren, and the whole thing took place in a back alley while Drake was being threatened with a metal prong. Very James Bond to me – odd juxtaposition to the game they just demoed, though.

Moving forward, we jump into another massive blockbuster title: Resistance 3. To be honest, this is a blockbuster, but I’m not sure why. The demo was less than three minutes, and it looked just kinda alright considering the Halos and Uncharteds of the world. Meh.

As a side note, I’ve noticed that audio is not so much a point of discussion anymore, at least for the bigger titles like Uncharted, Halo, or Mario. These big games all seem to get it right. But at conferences like these, will it last for the whole game, or is it just tuned perfectly for their E3 stage demos? We’ll have to wait and see.

Now, while I’m thinking that 3D gaming is cool and all, I haven’t jumped on the bandwagon because, well, aside from the cost, I’m not big into that whole weird glasses wearing thing. But, to Sony’s credit, they’ll have over 100 3D titles for PS3 by the end of the year. And to make things easier to move into, Sony’s unveiled a PlayStation branded 3DTV bundle, including resistance, a set of glasses, and an HDMI cable, for just $499. The screen is 24″, but it’s full 1080p (which is ridiculous for a 24″ set), and it’s got an awesome display feature for multiplayer that lets each person see their own completely unique screen. Kind of kills screen watching games for me, but what can you do.

A move like this sort of hints at a cheaper NGP than we’re expecting? Sony doesn’t ever do anything at launch for less than $500, so this could be huge!

NBA 2K11 was then showed off by developer 2K sports. While the game was incredibly unpolished – to the point of audience member’s hands being blocks of colour – Koby Bryant was there to play live, so that got a lot of oohs and ahhs.

Getting into some Move-controlled gameplay, a new title called Medieval Moves was demoed, and it’s got a pretty interesting dynamic to it: no inventory system. It’s a 3rd person RPG, but without an inventory system, it would seem a bit odd, right? Well, it works pretty fluidly to move between objects. For example, you reach into your quiver to fire an arrow, throw from your waist to attack with throwing stars, or slash to use your sword. They have ripped off Halo with their character names, though. Grunts and brutes in the same game? Coincidence? I think not. Well, okay, probably, yeah, but still. All jokes aside, while an interesting concept, the game doesn’t really impress.

Starhawk was also shown as a minute-long teaser video. Interesting stuff for a mech movie, not so much for a game. But you know it’ll sell a bajillion copies because it’s by the same guys who made Warhawk.

Also shown off which got tons of applause was Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. This one doesn’t launch until Fall 2012, but I’m looking forward to it, and of course seeing more gameplay next year.

Okay, now a big sticking point for me. There’s this new game from the creators of EVE Online called Dust 514, a shooter that actually ties into the EVE experience. Pretty cool, right? Well, sure, except this game is a total ripoff of Halo. Now, before I get my knickers in a knot about this, I realize that I am in fact a massive Halo fan, however, I will point out some insane “similarities” and you tell me if I’m delusional. First off, the armour for the main character (who is by the way in a suit of some kind, a la Master Chief), is called MRC-003. Sounds a bit close to MJOLNIR and Mark 3 to me, but hey, that’s just me. Stolen. The ships in the game have a docking bay at the back and a very familiar dorsal arch to them – could it be because they’re redesigned Pelicans? Stolen. The voiceover of the main character is very Steve Downes-like. Stolen. And the tagline of the game is “one shot can change the course of history.” Are you freaking kidding me? Halo was a giant super weapon and one shot would change, well, the course of everything! Stolen.

Ahh, that felt good. Now Bungie, or Microsoft, or whoever owns the Halo IP these days, go sue their ass.

Bioshock developer came out to tell us that Bioshock Infinite would be coming to the NGP, and then proceeded to walk off stage without anything else. Odd.

PlayStation exclusives have been lacking as of late, and it seems like Sony is trying to make up for it a bit with content exclusives. Not necessarily full games, but having some things exclusive to specific consoles can make it more difficult for gamers who want to balance their preferred control scheme with that sweet DLC that you can only get on the other system.

SSX is one of these games, with what I think is a pretty sweet exclusive: Mount Fuji, complete with 10 massive drops, has been recreated – get this – from NASA Satellite imagery! That’s pretty insane if you consider the tech needed to image those things in the first place!

Need For Speed: The Run (or, GTA IV, as I’d call it) is going to have an extra Blu-Ray with more supercars. This exclusive I’m not so sure of. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the extras need to be on their own Blu-Ray. You’re telling me that the developers put so much onto the disk, that you can’t fit another hundred megs of data? I mean, the XBOX 360 version fits on a 9GB DVD, so there’s no way in hell you’ve already tripled the content to fill a Blu-Ray disc. Seems like they’re trying to “add value” by not really adding too much value.

For Battlefield 3, because of the added space of Blu-Ray, they’re going to throw Battlefield 1943 on the disc. Now that’s how you do Blu-Ray.

Alright, on to the event that everyone was waiting for. PSVITA. Ugh, okay, we were all actually hoping that wouldn’t happen, but wow, it really did. The name plaque on the device itself actually looks like a Chinese knockoff. It’s really bad. The partnership that Sony announced with AT&T for 3G service to the device was laughed off, and it was rather funny watching Kaz try to react to it.

Now, Uncharted: Golden Abyss was given its first stage time ever, and it does look rather fantastic. In fact, it looks like Uncharted 3 on a smaller screen! Shadows, real-time lighting, beautiful waterfalls, and on a portable device – it could be the Vita’s killer app. As you would expect, they let you use any controls you want, whether it is touch, buttons, sixaxis, you name it. The game is very flexible in that way, which can only mean one thing: confusion. Moving on…

A game called Ruin was also shown off, and while it looks like a God Of War dungeon crawler, the fool thing about it is that it offers cloud games saves so you can pick up the PS3 version (identical game, by the way) and start playing in exactly the same place. Amazing feature, but this shouldn’t be game specific – it should be a feature of the network itself.

A brand new version of Mod Nation Racers and LittleBigPlanet were shown off for the Vita. In MNR, it literally took about five seconds to draw a track and populate it with items. However, the load times and lag on the touchscreen input was horrendous. The console game had horrible load times as well, so this makes sense, and it is probably pre-release hardware, so maybe it’s not all their fault. There will be access to the entire library of PS3 user-created tracks from day one, though, so that is quite the plus. Are you sure it’s not the PS3 version of the game?

God I really hate the name Vita. Okay, moving on.

Skipping through the boring bits of the conference – mainly Street Fighter x Tekken – we get to a price announcement. And this is a good one. For the WiFi only model, $249. With 3G, add fifty bucks. The TV pricing scheme really did tip us off to the new Sony, and this is one that I like! Apple is really going to have to reconsider their $130 WiFi-to-3G upgrade now. That’s what you get for doing WWDC the same week as E3.

So, now I’m excited. Vita is the same price as the 3DS, so which one would you pick? I mean, I’d go with the 3DS only because it’s not called Vita, but realistically, Sony has pulled a miracle out of its hat. I don’t think they did a fantastic job showing off what it can do in interesting ways by any stretch – after all, we have had the iPhone for four years now – but the point stands that this is where gaming is going, and Sony is finally getting us all there at a very very reasonable price.

Nintendo probably hates and loves this price. They realize that $249 is extremely competitive for all that they’re offering, but by the same token, Sony is likely losing well over $100 for every unit it sells, which means that, if it sells enough and the attach rate for games and accessories is low, they’re not sitting too pretty.

Unfortunately, there was nothing at the show about Sorcery, which let me down a fair bit, and Twisted Metal is still coming as it was on demo on the arcade floor, but wasn’t showed off on stage.

So, how did we do? Well, I said the NGP would kick-ass as a tech demo, and it did and didn’t. Uncharted was pretty cool, although seeing it on the PS3 an hour earlier made it less impressive. I nailed the price for the 3G model at $299, and my question remains: why do we pay $700 for an unsubsidized phone when it has a much smaller non-OLED screen, not quad-core, no true gaming capabilities, no rear touch pad, analog sticks, and so on?

For my other predictions, Sorcery, well, it didn’t happen. Neither did The Last Guardian or God of War, although the latter is being re-released in 3D if you count that. But that’s not what I meant, so I don’t. I think the thing I thought would happen the least – the lower pricing of the NGP – was the least likely to happen, and look at that, it really did. All this while my other what I thought were “nearly for sure” predictions came out to be completely off the mark. Ahh well, we got a $250 PSP2. Sweet!

Tomorrow, Nintendo’s event. And I think it’s still theirs to lose. They’re doing a new console, new exclusive titles, of course, and you know they’ll pull something unique out of their red plumber’s cap. Stay tuned!

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