That’s right. Sokay is at E3 and nobody else will give you the breaking story on the games YOU want to play! Anyway, I’ll let you know how it went. For me, Nintendo was the show, so I’ll start with the other guys.
Microsoft had a lot of Kinect going on, lots of games that look like the same stuff they’ve been putting out for years, and some X-Box 360 Slims laying around (which I’ve got my eye on). Kinect looked pretty cool, but I wasn’t blown away by anything. You can read about Microsoft elsewhere.
Sony’s attractions I must check on again tomorrow before I can give a fair assessment of their presentation. They had a lot going on for the new Castlevania and Marvel vs. Capcom games, but they weren’t really worth mentioning (another 3rd person beat ’em up and the MvC franchise goes 3D–sorry if you love those games, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking). However I did try out the PS3 Move controller with the new Socom game and was very satisfied.
I don’t find the Wii controller very good with shooting games; one’s aim always has to be offset a little to be accurate, but there’s no way to correct it with calibration. It’s unfair to make a comparison after just one game with the Move given my extensive experience with the wiimote, but I thought the Move felt a bit more on-target. I’ve always been a mouse and keyboard man when it comes to any sort of FPS experience, and I hate the wiimote as a replacement, but the Move wand did very well. I also found it to have a wider range of motion while manipulating the on-screen cursor. I assume this is because even as you point the wand away from the television, it’s still within view of the camera and therefore position data can still be used by the game. But I only got to play one game and that kind of stuff can be subtle, so it’s hard to tell if I was just imagining things. It’s also difficult to tell how much of the differences between Move and the Wii is purely algorithmic rather than being rooted in the hardware.
As for SOCOM, the game seemed pretty good, but again, nothing particularly new (other than the Move compatibility). SOCOM’s controls felt nice, which is saying a lot because I’ve found the controls on most of these run/cover/shoot 3rd person shooters to be so terrible I have no idea how they become popular, Kane and Lynch 2 is one such game.
I wasn’t particularly interested in the first Kane and Lynch, but the sequel caught my eye because of the “video camera” look it achieved. I’ve long thought that a lot of computer generated effects look ironically realistic when viewed through a video camera (I remember recording Gran Turismo 3 once). The modern audience is accustomed to reality through a video camera, but the devices are incapable of delivering very much data, which makes simulating reality through these machines relatively easy (See Cloverfield). Kane and Lynch 2 takes advantage of this and while many surfaces still appear too smooth or shiny for reality, and the visual defects don’t match the game’s HD resolution, it does attain something unique with its graininess, steep gamma curve, occasional auto-focus error, video quality lens flares (versus those of epic 35mm lenses) and camera shake as if it is handheld by an operator struggling to keep up with the action (even if it’s a little annoying now and then). However, the rest of the game was uninteresting.
Finally, Nintendo. I had already spent part of this morning hearing about the “bombs” Nintendo was dropping at E3 from Bryson (and rousing his loyal defense of the Zelda series when I speculated on flaws in the new motion based control scheme–unfortunately, I was unable to verify its performance today). When I first arrived at the expo, I was disappointed by the small selection offered by Nintendo. Some wiiware and sequels to games I didn’t really care about, but then I realized there was another Nintendo presentation in the next hall and that’s where all the action was. By the time I got there, things were just about wrapping up. I took a look at Donkey Kong Country Returns and Zelda: Skyward Sword, both of which look promising. But there was no time to play because as soon as I got near the place a woman brushed me aside and bellowed “5 more people to see the 3DS, ONLY 5 MORE PEOPLE!!” I made myself one of those 5.
Nintendo had glass cases containing very pretty 3DS models adjacent to a very long line which led to a tightly secured platform containing 200 girls tied to Nintendo 3DS demos (some of whom were literally attached to the machines). There was actually a set of eyes dedicated to watching every single demo up there. The demos weren’t much and most were only videos showing off the 3D effect, but it was worth seeing.
For those that haven’t heard, the 3DS has 1 screen which displays images in 3D (without requiring glasses) in addition to the lower touch-screen present in the current models, 2 rear cameras for capturing 3D images, and other upgrades I won’t go into like a PSP style analog slider and a faster processor. What you may not have heard is that the 3D effect can be controlled with a little dial on the right side of the 3DS. Push the dial all the way down and the image is plain 2D. Push the dial all the way up and it’s really hard to focus on the screen (because of how REAL it is). I usually preferred only a slight 3D effect. If you pushed it up too high the image could be a bit disorienting and I noticed what I’ll call ‘illusionary artifacts,’ meaning that I didn’t see artifacts in the image itself, but I could see them as a part of the optical illusion.
I played a 3D pong game which was nearly identical to an old shockwave game. One demo took a photo of the my face, mapped it over a 3D model, stuck a helmet over it and had me shooting balls at my own head. Both the pong and ball shooting games took advantage of the rear cameras to use reality as their backdrop. I was aware that the 3DS had TWO cameras on the rear and was therefore capable of capturing 3D video, but the demos didn’t seem to use that effect. I asked the nearest girl (who was glued to my DS) and she insisted that yes, the 2 cameras were displaying a 3D image (and slid the 3D dial up and down while everything in the game EXCEPT the camera image warped in and out). I could’ve sworn she was lying to me, but after she said Xevious3D used the 2 cameras too (even though Xevious didn’t display anything from the cameras) I was pretty sure she was just confused.
Xevious3D was a bad experience because it was difficult to focus on flying and grounded enemies simultaneously. And Nintendogs in 3D was basically the same as Nintendogs in 2D, however they did allow the puppies to approach and lick the screen if you held it up to your face.
I watched video demos for a long list of classic games, Mario Kart and others, but the only really special one was Kid Icarus. If this E3 has anything to say about it, Kid Icarus will be THE game on the early 3DS. Not only does it look generally impressive, but where it seemed most games would treat the 3D effect as a gimmick (like most movies), Kid Icarus appeared to use it very well. What I saw were dynamically deep images of well composed shots that allowed the eye to settle on a focal point and enjoy the game. For a long time I’ve been wondering how long it will take developers to understand 3D, get over its weakness and use it well as a part of gameplay, not just another graphical effect. If that little video demo means anything, Kid Icarus will be a step in the right direction.
I’ve got development work to do before the Indiecade deadline passes me up, and life in the real world so I can’t be killing my hours going to trade shows and telling you people about it, but I’ll do my best.
-Christopher J. Rock