By Curtis Westman
Every year, tens of thousands of video gaming press and fans convene in one single, sweaty venue to ogle scantily-clad models and discuss videogames. Well, until last year. This was, of course, the Electronic Entertainment Expo — E3 for short. E3 had gained a reputation in recent years (likely due to the rise in blue-collar reporting in the form of blogs. Oops) for becoming a forum for fanboys and fangirls instead of the mainstream press and industry event it was meant to attract. So they scaled back the event to be more of an industry event and less of a ‘medium’ event. Fewer fans, more private meetings, fewer games, more savings for developers, and less booth babes. No more week-long waits for a megaton announcement from the Big Three of console gaming, no more staying up nights to watch streaming video of business executives trying to appeal to the masses. Well, kind of.
The biggest difference this year was that there was less video gaming news. What was announced was mediocre, paling in comparison to the excitement of recent years and mostly focusing on software we already knew was coming out. Part of the reason for that is we are now thick into the next generation console war, whereas in the past two years new consoles were announced. That said, it’s worth mentioning some of the highlights from each of the Big Three’s conferences.
Nintendo had the most prolific showing, though the festivities were lackluster compared with last year’s on-stage Wii Tennis party. Arguably not the most exciting announcements of the festival, Nintendo’s are the easiest to mention without a video-feed.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
Just over a decade ago, the Sega Saturn was released to lukewarm reviews. There were few games that took advantage of the new 3D capabilities, and none that really took advantage of its hardware. Few that is, except for one game, released by Sonic Team in an attempt to jumpstart a new franchise. This game was NiGHTS into Dreams… , an innovative adventure through a lush, colourful 3D world. The game was like nothing anyone had seen before — to some, a bad thing, but to others, a fantastic new direction. It sold poorly. Despite what many look back upon as ingenious gameplay, the game borrowed too much from the arcade to convince gamers that it was a new experience, and looking for the same kind of stuff as they had been playing in the arcade, NiGHTS left a poor taste in their mouths. We believed it would never get a sequel. Until now.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is a direct sequel for the Nintendo Wii, making full use of the motion-sensitive controls. The trailer is, for the lack of a better word, flamboyant, but such is NiGHTS. Whether or not it succeeds financially is one thing, but it’s guaranteed to at least strike awe into the hearts of some.
Nintendo Wii Balance Board
Mario and everything-else-important creator Shigueru Miyamoto was again at the event, this time demonstrating his new creation, WiiFit — similar to WiiSports and Brain Training, WiiFit is supposedly a way for people to train their bodies with their videogame console. The new hardware is just wacky; the Wii Balance Board is what amounts to an electronic bathmat. How it controls is somewhat mysterious, but we know that through pressure-sensitivity, standing on the board will affect the on-screen action. Miyamoto mentioned that its obvious use after WiiFit was played out was a snowboarding game.
After almost a year of waiting, finally at least two of the games we were told were launch-window have been given definite release dates:
Smash Brothers Brawl – December 3rd, 2007
Super Mario Galaxy – November 3rd, 2007
Sony’s conference was much more software-driven, and executives tried as hard as possible to keep from mentioning dwindling sales numbers and instead spin positive on the future releases for the most powerful console of the next generation. Though software was their main goal, nothing was more interesting than their announcement of a new SKU for the PS3 lineup. The 60GB model out now has dropped in price only nine months into its life cycle, to a point of $499 USD. To some, a $100 drop isn’t enough to warrant a purchase — to others, it’s an invitation to buy Sony’s new 80GB model, priced at $599 with Motorstorm bundled.
Frankly, it’s a little strange that Sony isn’t really dropping the price as giving more for what they’re charging. 20GB more. Hurray?
Take it with a grain of salt, but Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe president David Reeves says that it’s just the next step in phasing out the 60GB model completely. He also said the PS3 would release in Europe before it did in North America though, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In 2005, before the PS3 had even been released, Sony showed footage of what they said was real-time PS3 gameplay from an upcoming game sequel, Killzone 2. It was stunning and fake. Fans were quick to call out Sony on using pre-rendered graphics in place of gameplay footage, a fact that was later confirmed by several media blogging outlets. Killzone’s first sequel was released not on PS3, but on PSP, and to mediocre reviews. Now though, Sony has released footage of actual gameplay footage from the new PS3 installment of Killzone… strangely enough, titled Killzone 2.
I’m not a fan of FPS games, generally, but I have to give credit where it’s due, and this game looks beautifully rendered. Gameplay seems boring and generic, but goddamn is it ever pretty.
Microsoft Xbox 360
The Microsoft conference was slow. There was a lot of hype about games we were already expecting and not much else. The major announcement was that the 360 consoles would be coming in new colours. Army green, as well as pink and light blue have been announced as upcoming swathes. Among upcoming games for the console gaming market leader are Assassin’s Creed, Rock Band, the forthcoming Halo 3, the beautiful Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, and a curious trailer for a new The Simpsons game, of which not much is known.
Here is hoping that next year’s expo is more like the circus of yesteryear, when Hideo Kojima oil wrestled Hironobu Sakaguchi for killer app supremacy. Oh, wait. That was just my dream. My sweet, precious dream.