Love and Hate at Geek Woodstock: Wins and Fails from E3 Day One
Tuesday was E3 2010’s first full day. Without further ado, here’s my rundown of the wins and fails among the big reveals.
First, the wins …
I cannot overstate how impressive the Nintendo 3DS is. This is a device that, upon first impression, feels unbelievably ahead of it’s time. Some of the technology demos Nintendo is showing off are very surprising in their graphic fidelity and immersive 3D effects.
It’s literally as if an alternate world is hovering in the space before you, framed by this little box in your hands.
The 3DS still features a touch screen, like older DS models, but its top display is specially designed for glasses-free 3D and formatted for widescreen. Gaping-mouth disbelief was the most common response I noted while observing people’s initial reactions as they gazed upon the screen straight on for the first time.
Unfortunately, Nintendo was strongly discouraging photography of the screen — not that it would matter, as almost all currently mass-marketed displays are incapable of replicating this effect. Like the original GameBoy, if looked at from the wrong angle the image breaks apart into fuzzy mess. It also suffered from a little ghosting and image separation on some games, but it was easily solved by turning the 3D down just a bit using a toggle on the unit’s right side.
I played the Ridge Racer tech demo, which felt kind of sluggish and was not as pretty as some of the other real-time renders, but it did allow for basic interaction with a 3D object. I didn’t get a chance to check out Star Fox 64, which is probably the one I’d most like to see, but the demos for Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater and the original Resident Evil property Capcom is developing were absolutely shocking.
At their press briefing, Nintendo said the 3DS was a more capable system than its predecessor, but they did not specify how much. I can see now why there were rumors circulating that it could be as powerful as Wii. The Resident Evil real-time demo was every bit as buttery smooth as Resident Evil 5 on Xbox 360, with the added amazement of glasses-free 3D. Same for Metal Gear: a little prettier than Snake Eater on PlayStation 2, with some really cool effects and excellent 3D.
Plus, Nintendo is bringing back Kid Icarus, who hasn’t been seen in his own game since the NES, for a big exclusive to the 3DS.
They also announced a number of major 3D content partners in Hollywood and featured 3D film trailers on the show floor. I also spotted old-school NES Zelda and Metroid in a pseudo-3D, where some elements on screen were offset while others stood out, yet the gameplay remained intact. I can imagine Hundreds of old games being mined for 3D gold on this system.
And if that weren’t enough, the device includes a 3D camera. I remarked to a colleague earlier that Nintendo’s inclusion of a 3D camera, if it’s of decent quality, could prove to be as significant as Bluray on PlayStation 3. Decent digital 3D cameras can be quite pricey and most consumers don’t have the computer hardware to display their images. Nintendo is putting both in their hands. There’s no release date just yet, but if they can hit a sub-$300 price point with the 3DS, expect big things.
The Nintendo media briefing was like a big, wet kiss to anyone who loves video games. It was, in my opinion and those of at least 10 other professional industry-watchers I spoke with, the company’s best E3 showing Ever.
Not only did they have a new console, the big N showed off numerous huge franchises, but they got right into the big one first: The Legend of Zelda.
Link’s return looks to fit a visual style somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, with a brightly colored world and a hint of cell shading, but an adult Link who uses his sword in very different ways.
This is where Nintendo’s genius in pioneering Wii motion controls has begun to shine. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword puts players in direct control of the Master Sword, utilizing the Motion Plus attachment to provide highly accurate movement.
This wasn’t apparent during the briefing, as famed Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto suffered the same fate as Apple’s Steve Jobs during a recent iPhone presentation, when wireless interference wonked out a video chat demonstration. Similarly, Miyamoto had difficulty aiming the Wii cursor and controlling a flying weapon.
When I tried the game for myself, none of these problems were apparent. Link seems to inhabit a watercolor-infused world this time around, and a trailer featured him jumping from a cliff and plunging into thick clouds. Controlling the hero is rather simple, but fighting with true sword movement takes a moment for adjustment. Like all Miyamoto-produced games, it seemed to ease players through the mechanics with a series of natural gameplay moments, teaching as it entertained.
At this moment, it’s my game of the show … But that could definitely change over the next two days.
The Sony media briefing was not that interesting. There weren’t many surprises and it dragged on. As a friend mentioned, the Nintendo conference flew by in an instant, but Sony’s got boring and seemed to run on like a Best Director-winner full of Oscar hubris.
(Speaking of which, in one of those odd, only-in-LA moments, Steven Spielberg literally bumped into me at the Nintendo booth. Go figure.)
Still, Sony was not completely without love for their most loyal fans. The room full of gamers erupted into cheers when Portal 2 and a Twisted Metal reboot were announced. I’m for one most excited about Twisted Metal because they’re finally letting the series’ creator, David Jaffe, just do his own thing. The man’s work has always seemed to carry its own strange and subversive sense of humor, so I’m all for it.
And while the Portal announcement was important due to Valve’s rather public panning of the PlayStation 3, what I think got overlooked was their plan to utilize their Steam digital download service on Sony’s console. It was only briefly mentioned, so I’ll try for more information later.
And all of this is good news for Sony, which really did not impress me.
And now, the fails…
Oh PlayStation Move … I’d mock you if a photo weren’t mockery enough. This contraption is ugly and expensive: $49 for the Move wand with the glowing ball (some games require two), another $29 for the analog attachment (some games require this as well), then you’ve got to buy a PlayStation Eye, which is another $40.
When Sony announced the price for PlayStation Move was just $49, everyone at the briefing collectively gasped. When they announced their scheme to nickel and dime everyone even remotely interested in trying one of their flagrant Wii ripoffs, the room reverberated with groans.
I went to the booth and tried it out, right after spending some quality time on Zelda. There is no question: Sony has more processing muscle and boasts that Move is “more precise” than Wii’s remote, but I couldn’t tell the difference or see how Move is even preferable. This is especially true when one considers, you’re looking at over $240 just so you and a buddy can fight with pseudo-realistic graphics, when it’s not as intuitive as Wii Sports boxing.
Add two of the $29 analogue remotes, required for most games where the player moves in 3D space, plus the $39-59 for a game and you’re well past the price of a PS3. You’ve essentially bought a new console.
All the price hoops consumers have to jump though to enjoy Move with their friends makes me wonder if Sony is hedging its bets on this product.
I ran through some archery, worked up a sweat on their street brawling game and played with a virtual pet. While the graphics were beyond Wii’s range, the motion controls were not and all of Sony’s working concepts have been done and done better by Nintendo. Move is little more than a ripoff, and a seriously clunky one at that. It has a greater chance of success than Microsoft’s Kinect (ugh), but they’re effectively splitting the market by not including it with all future PlayStation 3 units. This is no small upgrade like the Wii Motion Plus.
Sony’s 3D presentation during the briefing and on the show floor failed to impress me. I own a 3D-capable PC and a pair of active shutter glasses for gaming, so this is tech that I’m quite familiar with as a consumer. Sony’s 3D comes up short on depth of field, where an impressive range is very important.
During the briefing, they showed off Killzone 3 in 3D. While the company hopes it will be a “benchmark” for their 3D experience, I’m just hoping they can show depth a little further out than the gun’s barrel. For all their hype about “innovation,” making me wear a pair of polarized 3D glasses at the presser and active shutter glasses to play Gran Turismo 5 was a little disappointing. And seriously, Killzone looked like another generic shooter. Adding “jetpacks” does not make me want to spend $60.
I spoke to a Sony rep about how their stereoscopic 3D will work and was told that PlayStation 3 will display 3D on any 3D-compliant display: meaning, 120HZ monitor owners (like me) are in luck. It’s supposed to work with any 3D shutter glasses as well, but when I inquired specifically about NVidia’s 3D Vision glasses (which I paid $200 for), he couldn’t say if they’re supported or not.
The Sony rep also did not know if the user will be able to adjust the 3D effect, which seemed to be stuck on minimum. Sure, the small depth of field looks cool at first, but not so much if you’ve ever played Need for Speed: Shift or Burnout Paradise on a proper 3D Vision gaming PC. There, users have the option of a scroll wheel that turns image separation up or down. “Maybe that’s in the firmware?” the Sony rep pondered. “I don’t know.”
Still, to game in 3D on PlayStation 3, consumers are looking at a significant investment of time and money: first on research to find a good 3D display, then on figuring out which active shutter glasses to buy. Better (or worse?) yet, one pair of shutter glasses means only one person can appreciate the effect. Add a few more pairs and you’re over $1,000, at least.
It’s just not worth that price.
If I had to rate the console-makers’ initial E3 offerings, Nintendo easily comes out on top with, let’s say a 9. Sony definitely turned in a strong second: even with all their Wii mimicry, Move has a shot at success if third party developers rally behind it. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been almost universally ragged on this year for their bizarre Sunday program, surprisingly lame Kinect demonstrations and the absurd ploy to buy-off the press with free consoles — but I’ll give their booth a shot to win me over before passing judgment.