I honestly thought that my trip to E3 last year was going to be my only trip.
The KmartGamer project folded, I moved from Arizona to Massachusetts and haven’t had a job since, and I had even contemplated putting my writer’s pen down for good. There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding E3 recently, which makes sense given that we’re just three weeks away. I was excited for those who were going, some of whom I’ve befriended on Twitter who are attending for the first time… but was OK with watching and reading stuff from home.
More recently, I’ve found my writing stroke again, thanks to a phone meeting with Nathan from Popzara Press a few weeks ago. He provided me with an opportunity to talk about industry sales and trends, and to bring Armchair Analysis to a new audience of readers. The terms of the opportunity were perfect for me, and I was given a lot of latitude to work at my own pace. I’ve been busy since then, thanks to that meeting and due to earnings season providing me with plenty to talk about. Once earnings season ends, E3 news would likely take over and I figured that I’d react to press events and other announcements as I have every year.
E3 was something that Nathan and I had talked about before. Attending E3 last year was possible because Kmart and Sears did everything; I wasn’t working enough to afford a trip to Los Angeles and I really didn’t (and still don’t) have many contacts “on the inside”, so those concerns were alleviated. All I really did was show up as expected, follow my itinerary, and put together some content. I told Nathan that I didn’t have any of these luxuries this year, and we tabled the discussion for awhile.
Last week, I was asked to submit my press credentials for E3. I really didn’t think anything of it, given how late in the game it was. I sent the information along, and thanked Nathan for thinking of me. It means a lot that someone that I’ve worked for over only a few weeks would have the confidence in me to think about sending me out to Los Angeles. The KmartGamer trip was more of a contest, even though it briefly became something bigger. This was different… and besides, I had no way to get out there or pay for anything, given my current state of unemployment. I had nothing to lose.
I received a rejection e-mail this afternoon. I had expected it, and forwarded it to Nathan with my gratitude. I am happy just having found what feels like a great opportunity to get back into writing, so this was less a disappointment and more a sign that we’d move on to other things. But then… things changed.
I received a second e-mail from E3 registration stating that my application had been approved, along with my confirmation barcode, while chatting with Nathan. He then dropped the biggest bombshell: Popzara Press is handling the travel and accommodations. I was– and still am– floored. We’ll be working out final details this week, but, barring any unforeseen circumstances…
I am going to E3 once again.
There’s a lot of preparation that has to happen between then and now. I am unbelievably excited and honored to have this opportunity. I’m going to be working with Nathan to hopefully set up some appointments for the event, and I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to network with some people out there. It’s going to be a different experience, and a big step for me professionally. I’ll be getting business cards ready to go, and I’m hoping to do a little more hands-on this year to go with more meetings and conversation.
I want to publicly thank Nathan and Popzara Press for having confidence in me and for making this happen. I’ll be providing the best coverage that I can, and learning a lot along the way. I look to reward that confidence by providing info and impressions from the show floor and giving readers my perspective on the controlled chaos that is E3. I’m also going to meet Armchair Analysis inspirations like Jesse Divnich, Michael Pachter, and Kevin Dent again this year– and that’s going to be a personal highlight for me.
Let the planning begin.
E3 is getting close, and GameTrailers has posted a Bonus Round talking about what to expect from Microsoft at the event. During the video, Michael Pachter says something very interesting:
They (Microsoft) told me don’t expect a lot of game stuff, expect a lot of dashboard, interface, multimedia.
There has been some pretty negative reaction about the possibility that games will be taking a back seat to other content during E3, but nobody should be surprised. It’s a natural progression for Microsoft, especially given current trends. Video games are now but a piece of the overall puzzle for Microsoft, and the company must find other ways to get more consumers interested in the Xbox brand. Streaming media is huge right now with consumers. Music, movies, television shows, sports, and other content are all streamed into homes across the nation and around the world, and positioning Xbox hardware as a central hub for this content is a wise move. The annual $60 subscription fee that consumers pay for access to these services makes some money for Microsoft on a regular basis.
As console video games continue their sales decline, Microsoft needs to figure out ways to attract consumers that want more than a “game machine”. Securing content partners and making announcements at E3 makes sense as it provides non-gamers with more reasons to consider purchasing an Xbox device if they don’t have one already. Perhaps having the hardware will entice consumers to buy a few games along the way– either on disc or digitally– and help to ease them into gaming or to even welcome them back if they’d become otherwise disinterested. The challenge is selling the hardware to those who may not necessarily want it.
We’ve seen this before.
Sony marketed the PlayStation outside of the core gaming consumer base, trying to appeal to an older audience. The strategy worked, as over 100 million units were shipped worldwide between 1995 and 2005 and PlayStation became a respected brand name. Expanding your consumer base is key to making more money. It’s fair to say that core gaming consumers will buy hardware if the software is worthwhile, comprised of returning favorites and new IPs… but more casual consumers who only have a passing or mild interest in games need something else. We saw this during the last console generation with the ability to play DVD movies on the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. Casual consumers could buy consoles as DVD players that could also play games, making them multipurpose devices. Here in the United States alone, more than 46 million PlayStation 2 units have sold at retail, making it one of the most successful platforms of all time.
Console video games have had their rise, and are now seeing a gradual decline. That doesn’t mean that Microsoft should abandon ship. It simply means that altered strategy is warranted to maintain strong sales of its hardware. Physical media playback isn’t a feature in demand as it used to be, so touting streaming media becomes a key feature to attract buyers– and to assuage retailers who fear that video games are on the way out. Sure, Xbox hardware can play games if consumers want it to… but it can also be a one-stop source for Netflix streaming, ESPN sports on demand, YouTube, music videos, and a lot more. It becomes less of a game console and more of an entertainment device.
Entertainment Evolved. It’s not just the title of Microsoft’s E3 press conference… it’s the company’s strategy moving forward. We had better start getting used to it.
After three consecutive nights with three hours of sleep apiece, walking into a closed meeting room at 10am and seeing Star Wars Kinect didn’t seem to show much promise. After all, other sites had been less than kind to the game and the reaction during Microsoft‘s press conference wasn’t exactly warm. When I volunteered to test the game for a group of my peers and the other members of the KmartGamer team, I didn’t have high expectations… but when the demo was over and my pulse was racing, I wanted more.
The demo had two different modes of play: Jedi Training and Jedi Destiny.
Jedi Training is just as it sounds; Yoda guides the player through the control basics, including using the Force, lightsaber combat, and basic movement. It’s hard to put into words how cool it was to wield powers like Force Push and, by just using your left hand, thrust battle droids away from you. These powers have always been associated with simple button presses in the past, but with Kinect’s body tracking abilities, players can execute actions as though they really are “in the game”. Moving a downed ship from spot to spot requires more concentration (at least in theory), so both hands are used to guide the ship to its destination. It almost requires players to think like the character that they’re portraying; even the most skilled of Force wielders can’t just zip a large craft from one place to another; slower, more deliberate movement is needed. That’s what is expected and works best when performing the same action in Star Wars Kinect. Lightsaber controls are dictated by the right hand, and the tracking seemed spot on; side to side slashes, vertical cuts, and even more elaborate twirls and twists were all registered by the Kinect sensor and brought to life on the big screen.
Jedi Destiny puts the player’s training to practical use in the Cloud City of Bespin. The city is in turmoil, taken over by battle droids, and it’s up to the player to stop the invasion of the Trade Federation. The action is on rails– much like SEGA‘s Star Wars Arcade– but it’s no less fun. Combining force powers and lightsaber skills, I dispatched plenty of droids and felt unstoppable as I was able to use Force powers and lightsaber skills at the same time. Facing Destroyer droids was a more difficult task, as extra body movements were required to leap towards and over them to get an advantage. Some of the body tracking movements for side rolls and jumps did feel a little inconsistent; they were great when they worked, but the on-screen character would have been full of holes when they didn’t. Thankfully, dying in the demo wasn’t possible. I did manage a couple of impressive feats, including taking down three battle droids with a single Force Push action (something that our LucasArts guide hadn’t yet seen before), while making my way from Bespin’s exterior to inside near the infamous dining room where Lando’s betrayal takes place and various corridors.
The demo concludes inside of the Carbonite Chamber. Two hooded Sith warriors appear out of the darkness, each dual-wielding lightsabers. I stood, ready for battle… and the demo ended there. I was tired, but exhilarated. I felt like a Jedi, minus the physique and droid companions. I wanted more, but that desire would have to wait.
I completely understand that some people are expecting more out of Star Wars Kinect. After all, the arcade experience has been all but dead for years and players seem to be looking for something more. Conversely, I had an absolute blast playing the demo. The game represents a chance to get closer to unleashing your inner Jedi than ever before without the need to hold a controller or learn a button layout. Most of the controls were intuitive and easy to learn. It’s an accessible experience, even at this early stage, and we still don’t know all of the content that we be included in the retail version when it lands this holiday season.
I’m more excited for Star Wars Kinect than I was going into E3, and, to me, that indicates that the demo was a success. It wasn’t perfect, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy my time with it. The arcade experience shouldn’t be considered a detractor; if you are willing to look at the game for what it is– instead of what you think it should be– I think that there’s plenty of fun to be had later this year.
If you’re a console gaming fan, like I am, you probably remember where you were when the name and specifics of Nintendo’s Wii follow-up were announced. I was in a Starbucks on the morning of June 7th, a few hundred feet from the Nokia Theater where Nintendo was holding its press conference. I also remember exclaiming out loud something to the effect of, “That’s really what they’re calling it? Wii U? No. NO!”
I started to make judgments in my head immediately. The controller looked like an iPad. The name was just weird. My hopes were a bit dashed that this new hardware was going to be as great as many were hoping. I was hoping that I’d get to see a little bit of it during our KmartGamer session with Nintendo, but I’d already registered a first impression.
It would be proven wrong.
We were introduced to Wii U in a locked room. When I was able to touch and interact with the Wii U controller for the first time, I saw a lot of potential that wasn’t there with the initial announcement. The controller may look awkward or heavy to hold, but it isn’t. The screen was capable of some pretty sharp video output, and seeing the Legend of Zelda demo running on the television screen– and then seamlessly moving to the Wii U contrroller’s screen– was remarkable. Being able to adjust the lighting on the fly demonstrated the impressive nature of the visuals, and removing the heads-up display from the main game screen and instead using the controller’s screen was a great idea. It felt like a console version of the Nintendo DS experience, and the possibilities that ran through my head regarding what Wii U could do quickly added up.
The highlight of the gameplay session that we had was with Chase Mii. A cross between hide-and-seek and early maze game ideas, Chase Mii supports up to five players. The player with the Wii U controller gets a short headstart and runs into the distance, using the map on the controller screen to see the locations of the other players and an overhead lay of the land. The other four players have to find and chase down the Wii U player, using on-screen distance cues while watching the screen to see if a glimpse of the escaping player can be had. There is a Power Star powerup that the Wii U player can obtain to make him or her invincible and run faster, but getting that powerup can be dangerous if pursuers are waiting there. It’s reminiscent of the Care Packages in the Call of Duty games; if you get one, it can be a huge boost… but don’t think that opponents aren’t there waiting for you. The game ends when either the Wii U player is caught, or if that player eludes capture for a set period of time. It’s deceptively fun and addictive; each of us on the KmartGamer team had a try with the Wii U controller and we all seemed to be in agreement that our initial judgments about the Wii U were off-base.
Although I came away impressed with the technology, there are still major questions about the Wii U that can only be answered as we get closer to the release date for the hardware, which is nebulously scheduled for 2012. The first hurdle to be cleared is pricing, and given that Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata is on record saying that the Wii U will likely cost more than $250, this is a huge hurdle to clear. The Wii had the distinct advantage of being the cheapest console on the market back in 2006, but will not have the same advantage in 2012 in a more challenging economic climate. There’s also the issue to launch software. The stumbles of the 3DS during its launch window should remind Nintendo that strong IPs must be leveraged at launch for the platform to have a chance to succeed, especially given the potentially expensive nature of the hardware. Lastly, there’s a question about the Wii U controller itself. If there’s only going to be one included, there is uncertainty about how games will adapt to using only one along with some legacy Wii controllers.
The lesson to be learned here, however, is that Nintendo can’t be counted out. It’s far too easy to make early judgment calls and be completely wrong about something, and the Wii U is proof of this. If Nintendo can pull things together and release the platform at a reasonable price that won’t scare consumers to the competition, there’s a lot of potential here. The trailers show a myriad of possibilities for Wii U, but this promise absolutely needs fulfillment.
Heading into my trip to E3 with the KmartGamer team, I was looking forward to my meeting with Namco Bandai. I had high hopes for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, plus games like Dark Souls and SoulCalibur V were high on my interest list. I got to see and experience a lot of games during my time with Namco Bandai, but when my time was up, I had mixed feelings.
The first game that I got hands-on time with was Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. My first thought was that it’s a better-looking game than its predecessors. That’s high praise, considering that I have enjoyed every game in the series so far. The game plays fast, the frame rate is smooth, and it’s got a gritty feel to it. At first, the game played with familiarity. Flying the aircraft felt a little too sensitive at first, but I quickly compensated for this and took down a few enemy planes with missile strikes. Things were going well, until I had to enter the close combat “dogfighting” mode. Getting into this mode requires players to keep the target directly in front of them at close range and press the L2 and R2 buttons. It’s not at all intuitive and really ruins the experience that Ace Combat veterans have enjoyed for years. I understand not wanting to do the “same old thing”, but this… this is broken. Worse yet, the experience was damaging enough to kill my personal excitement for the game despite the other positives it has.
Next up was observation time with Inversion, a third-person shooter set for release next year. It’s easy to think of Inversion as just being another shooter, but the use of gravity in the game really does add a unique component to the game. Players can use the environment to their advantage at will, summoning lava or pulling off gravity tricks which seemed a bit similar to Bulletstorm. Enemies can be tossed into the air or grabbed from a distance and pulled towards the player. Perhaps the most interesting part of what I saw was that gameplay can take place on walls or even on ceilings above the action due to gravity changes. Standing on a wall, players have to adjust their approach to combat. Inversion shows promise in a sea of similar shooters.
Dark Souls was my next destination, and I can already tell fans of Demon’s Souls that this game is going to be as good as advertised. From Software has ratcheted up the difficulty; in fact, the person who demonstrated the game for me was having a difficult time staying alive himself. The visuals looked about on par with Demon’s Souls to me, but graphics were never the strong point for either game. It’s about the combat, the challenge, the setting and the online functionality. If you’re going to be getting this game in October, I highly suggest buying a replacement controller right away. That way, when you break your controller out of frustration, you’ll have another right away.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon brings back the bugs with improved graphics and a new squad/class mechanic. Taking down the ant hordes is still fun, and the visuals have been tightened up for this sequel. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sold on the classes and squad mechanics. That’s probably more a matter of personal preference, but I felt like it impeded on my ability to just pick up and play the game. Co-op fans will probably like this, and the $40 price tag should be inviting for many.
While playing Earth Defense Force, I was tapped by my Namco guide who beckoned me into a small room where SoulCalibur V was being demonstrated behind closed doors. Producer Hisaharu Tago was in attendance for the demonstration, which showcased four fighters. The two new ones, Patroklos and Pyrrah, the son and daughter of SoulCalibur‘s Sophitia. Siegfried and Mitsurugi were the other two characters. The move sets for all of the fighters were largely pulled from SoulCalibur IV, but there were a few new tricks to be seen, including special moves that could be triggered after a “special meter” of sorts was filled up. SoulCalibur V will be taking place 17 years after the events of the last SoulCalibur game, and returning characters will show this difference. Mitsurugi looked to be more affected by the age change, with longer locks and a bit of graying. Despite the age, both characters still maintain their fighting skills as I saw in several matches as demonstrated by a Namco employee.
A few nuggets of information pulled from the presentation included:
- 20-30 characters are targeted for the final game, with a 50-50 split between new and returning characters.
- One of the goals with SoulCalibur V is to win over the hardcore fighting fan.
- The new EX/Super attacks were inspired by the Critical Edge Attacks from Soul Edge; success of these attacks will be based on determining how and when to use them.
- There will be post-release updates to tweak balance, much like Mortal Kombat.
- New characters will be a better fit for experienced players, and will have interesting variations on familiar attacks.
- Expect a more robust solo gameplay mode with focus on the game’s story.
I did ask Mr. Tago if there was a more specific targeted release date and he laughed, adding through an interpreter, that the development team knows that fans are very excited to get their hands on SoulCalibur V and that they’re working very hard to deliver that experience as quickly as they can.
Even at this early stage of development, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to SoulCalibur V. The visuals have already taken a step forward and the new character designs for Pyrrah and Patroklos look great. It’s going to be a long but hopefully worthwhile wait for the tale of souls and swords to be retold anew in 2012.
One last stop on the Namco tour led me to Galaga Legions DX, which is scheduled to see release for Xbox LIVE Arcade and the PlayStation Store sometime this summer. Although Galaga Legions never resonated with me, Galaga Legions DX is a different animal. The game has evolved into a twin-stick shooter, a la Geometry Wars or Super Stardust HD, and the focus is now on eliminating enemy waves as quickly as possible. There are definite parallels between Galaga Legions DX and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, as players are battling the ticking clock more than avoiding death or dispatching enemies. Once that timer starts running, it’s a race to find the quickest way to wipe out enemy waves of ships. Some waves will have an enemy with a bomb that takes out the whole squadron; others require watching patterns to effectively kill them off. It’s expected that Galaga Legions DX will release for $10 (800 Microsoft Points) when it lands this summer, and I’ll be reviewing this game for certain.
My Namco experience, as you can see, was a mix of excitement and disappointment. SoulCalibur V and Galaga Legions are now squarely on my radar and my anticipation for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has been dashed considerably. There were even more games that I was unable to cover in the time allotted, like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, White Knight Chronicles 2, and others. It’s good to see that Namco has so much on its release schedule, and the publisher looks to be giving us lots to talk about well into next year.
The KmartGamer E3 team visit to the THQ booth had a common theme: violence. Gunplay and fisticuffs ruled the experience, and we saw some titles that will make a definite impact at retail over the coming months.
The first game that we got a glimpse of was Warhammer: Space Marine, which is being put together by Relic Studios. In our brief time watching the game being played, the thing that stood out was the combat system and quick transitions from brutal melee combat to ranged attacks. I’m personally unfamiliar with the Warhammer IP, but I can see how this game is a different take on the popular tabletop game. It’s violent and full of action, yet it remains true enough to the source material that fans of the series will instantly recognize a lot of characters, places, and intangibles.
The highlight of the tour was a theater showing of Saints Row 3. I’m not usually one for sandbox games, but Saints Row 3 goes so over the top with its content that it’s hard not to want to at least play it. Delivering DDTs or kicking passers-by in their unmentionables looks like guilty fun, and that’s before beating them with a certain purple personal pleasure toy or calling in airstrikes to dispatch large groups of enemies. Car handling looks smooth, and then flying the VTOL really hooked my interest. The game looks to deliver a lot of content and a metric ton of things to do, either during missions or just on the fly. My interest in Saints Row 3 jumped considerably after the presentation and it was one of my highlights from the show, despite not having any hands-on time with the game.
Before leaving, we got a look at UFC Undisputed 3 in another theater showing. MMA fans should start getting excited now, because Yuke’s looks to have added a ton to this sequel. 150 fighters and separate weight classes, the inclusion of PRIDE, and the promise of more accessibility for less-skilled players seems to make it a far more attractive game than Undisputed 2010 was. Waiting until next year may be disappointing for many, but with the extra development time to polish the experience and make it better, things look very positive for this title.
The THQ experience at E3 was a strong one. Saints Row 3 was definitely the highlight of the booth, but titles like WWE 12, UFC Undisputed 3 and UFC Personal Trainer, and Warhammer: Space Marine look to be great additions for THQ as the publisher continues through its fiscal year.
The middle day of festivities at the Electronics Entertainment Expo here in Los Angeles was an exceptionally busy one. This entry is part one of two, as there were eight hours’ worth of meetings and booth tours that took place.
The day started with Kinect demonstrations in the Microsoft zone. Kinect Sports 2 really impressed me. I know that I have been less than enthusiastic about motion controls, but this game does a lot of things well– even though it’s still early. The Football demonstration challenged us to come back from a six-point deficit and march down the field using only four downs. The plays are fairly elementary, but the demo shined when the Kinect sensor was used for voice recognition and body tracking for the player who was the quarterback. The QB has to squat down into a position to receive the ball from his center, and the word “hike” triggers the exchange. Including football as part of the Kinect Sports 2 package is a big selling point for the game as football is extremely popular. Golf was equally impressive as the velocity of the golf swing translated well to the eventual reaction of the golf ball that was struck. Kinect Sports 2 has former members of EA Sports on its development team, so this is one game that I’ll be paying closer attention to as we draw closer to its Winter 2011 release window.
A trip to the Konami booth was next on the agenda, and the publisher’s slate of upcoming games has a lot of variation to offer. Neverdead has the rather unique premise of using the protagonist Bryce’s limbs as weapons and offering an environment that’s largely destructible. Bryce can also separate his head from his body to solve certain puzzles, but if you lose your head, you’re as good as dead. I also spent some time with Otomedius Excellent, which is a Gradius derivative and will be available later this summer. It’s a shoot -’em-up, as you might expect, but the ships are… people. It’s hard to explain, but as long as you keep on shooting, you’ll be OK. I also got to try a little bit of Frogger 3D on the 3DS, which seemed to hold true to the basics of the arcade original, but uses the 3D technology to show height and depth.
SEGA was the next stop, and with it came a demonstration of Gearbox Software‘s Aliens: Colonial Marines and some hands-on time with Sonic Generations. The line to see the Colonial Marines demo was long, but it was easy to see why after seeing the demo myself. It’s a matter of survival as you mut defend yourself from the angry xenomorphs. One of the new xenomorphs that was introduced was one that essentially comes with a shield as part of its body; players are forced to rely on different tactics tom progress, and that’s where the demo ended. The game looks, even at this early stage, to continue Gearbox Software’s successful run of games. Turning to Sonic Generations, SEGA and Sonic Team have keyed on speed and nostalgia– along with the addition of stereoscopic 3D– to fuel this latest Sonic effort. Some of the newly-imagined Green Hill Zone felt a little too automated, but there’s no mistaking the obvious retro feel that Sonic Generations is after. It’s “old meets new”, and that formula is working at this stage.
There’s a lot more to share, but time is short as the KmartGamer team has another early start coming up. As blog posts continue over the next few days, expect to see special content, including:
- Details and impressi0ns from a private screening of an early version of Soul Calibur V
- Hands-on impressions of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon; is change good here?
- Saints Row 3 is as over the top as advertised; wait ’til you read just how over the top that THQ means
- Hands-on impressions with Nintendo’s Wii U controller; does this innovation have the power to be a game changer?
Look for continuing updates over the next few days, including news from meetings with Square-Enix, Sony, and Take-Two, which are slated to happen today. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed for quick blasts and reactions to meetings as they happen. For now, time is short and it’s time to reload for one more full day’s experience here at E3.
Disclosure: As a part of my participation at E3 2011 on behalf of KmartGamer, Sears Holdings provided my travel and accomodations.
The wait is almost over.
Starting next Monday, updates from Los Angeles will begin here on Consoleation and on the KmartGamer website as E3 festivities begin with press events. On Tuesday, the show floor opens with more games than any one person can play in three days. With so much to experience, what are the games that I’m looking forward to seeing or playing? That’s a good question, and to answer it, the Consoleation Hot List was born. While this won’t cover all of the games that I’m excited about, these games are the ones that I’m personally looking forward to getting more information on and eventually covering in the months to come. There’s no particular order here, so let’s get started:
To say that Bioshock had a big effect on me as a video game player is an understatement. My first Bioshock experience was on the PlayStation 3 back in 2008, and I was drawn into the game’s environment, characters, and story. Even as a lesser-skilled first-person shooter player, I was able to experience much of what Bioshock had to offer and it’s been one of the few games over the course of this current console generation that I’ve replayed more than once. Bioshock 2, to me, was a less-impressive experience. It was still a solid game (with one of the best DLC add-ons I’ve ever played in Minerva’s Den), but I wasn’t as blown away as I was during my first trip to Rapture.
Bioshock Infinite not only marks the return of Ken Levine to the franchise, but it also seeks to do lots of completely new things while maintaining enough familiarity to keep fans interested. A city in the sky is a radical departure from the undersea depths of Rapture, and there are lots of themes that the storyline seems to touch on. I’m excited to see the progress that the game has made since it was first premiered. What new information about the characters or about the city of Columbia will we see? How far into the experience will the new E3 demo take players? Hopefully I’ll get to see more at the show.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon:
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a new Ace Combat title, but 2011 brings that drought to an end with the release of Assault Horizon in October. This new entry deviates somewhat from the tried-and-true gameplay formula that we’ve seen from Ace Combat games for over 15 years as close-range combat is now an important piece of the puzzle. Players won’t just be piloting aircraft either– they’ll be manning guns in attack helicopters and focusing more on taking out targets than keeping their planes intact. What remains to be seen is how this new Close-Range Assault System balances with more standard gameplay. One other interesting fact is that, for the first time, an Ace Combat game is going to have a story based in and on real-life theaters of engagement. Author Jim DeFelice has penned the story, which takes place in regions such as Dubai and Russia as opposed to Belka or Yuktobania. This seems to give Assault Horizon a more H.A.W.X.-like feel of realism, which suits me fine.
The trailers for Assault Horizon have been gorgeous, and the Project Aces team has consistently delivered at least solid flight combat experiences. Here’s hoping that my excitement level for this game increases after spending some time with it next week. I think it will.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of sports games, and hockey games are at the top at that list. EA Sports has been on a roll with its hockey games over the course of this console generation, making gradual improvements year after year while delivering great action. The NHL series has made the twin stick method of play into the standard, added a spark to online play with the creation of the EASHL, and the Be A Pro mode has been one of the most addictive and enjoyable additions to a hockey game to date.
The bar looks like it’s going to be raised again with NHL 12. Additions are set to include an increased focus on play in the goal crease, more dynamic goalies and desperation saves, goalie fights, and a new physics system that accounts for more than just player and puck movement. The Winter Classic is also being introduced for the first time, and playing hockey outside during a snow squall sure looks pretty. The Be A Pro mode is getting some refining with new in-game tasks, and the presentation looks as though it’s going to continue to drift closer to the TV-style presentation that hockey games have been missing since NHL 2K5. Others may have their sights set on NCAA Football or Madden, but NHL 12 is getting my full attention at the show.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception:
This probably isn’t a surprising pick, but this game has been on my radar since the first images debuted. Naughty Dog has nailed down a great balance between action and platforming for the Uncharted series and adds likable characters and fun stories that keep players jumping and shooting until the very end. I am a bit concerned about more stealth being added, as I was not at all a fan of it in Uncharted 2, but that’s really the only concern that I have for this game at this stage. I’ll definitely have more to say about it after spending some time with it during the show; it’s going to be one of Sony’s big guns in Q4 and the pressure is on Naughty Dog to work its magic once again.
Modern Warfare 3 vs. Battlefield 3:
The stage is set for what looks to be a big FPS battle in November as a pair of threes– Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3– will be shooting for consumer dollars during a very busy release window. The real question to be answered will be: If I can only afford to buy one, which one will it be? Hopefully, if I can spend some time with both titles during E3, I can begin to form some solid opinions. Modern Warfare 3 is the heavy favorite, but is familiarity going to be enough against Battlefield 3? Will Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer be able to work some magic and silence the crescendo of critics? Can DICE deliver the Call of Duty killer that EA has been looking for? How will Call of Duty Elite factor in?
It’s sure going to be fun trying to find out during E3 and beyond.
These are just some of the titles that I’m going to have my eyes on during the course of E3. The KmartGamer team has set up numerous meetings with the top companies in the industry, so you can count on a lot of information and impressions during E3 and in the days following. I’ll be tweeting as often as my cell phone battery (and the allegedly spotty cell signal at the event) will allow; don’t forget to follow me on Twitter if you aren’t already. I also encourage you to follow my two KmartGamer blogging teammates– Amy Tucker and Stephen Haberman. If I happen to miss something, I can guarantee that one of these two awesome people will. Be sure to follow the KmartGamer Twitter feed for even more E3 goodness, as well as links to some consistently super gaming deals that Kmart puts together.
E3 is going to be huge– and I’m honored to be covering the event. I hope you’ll follow along.
Looking at the calendar, we’re less than two weeks away from what will be one of the most important E3 events in recent memory when it comes to what I call the Hardware Trinity– that is Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. Each of the three companies have issues to address. Nintendo is facing lackluster 3DS hardware sales and the lame-duck status of the Wii until its new platform is launched. Sony has to deal with the aftereffects of one of the largest online security breaches in history and major losses in the last year. Microsoft may seem bulletproof, but the stagnant nature of the Kinect sensor and a slow trickle of software for it call into question the viability of the technology.
Here are some expectations as to what each company will deliver in their press events in order for each to bring its “A” game (in order of occurrence):
At first glance, Microsoft should be able to break out of the gate at 9am on the morning of June 6th with guns blazing. I’m fairly certain that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be one of the first things shown. Microsoft is going to work with Activision to push Modern Warfare 3 very hard for the next 5 months, and Activision should be more than happy to take the stage for the company that’s currently got all of the sales momentum going for it. Obviously, Gears of War 3 will play a major role in the press event as well. There will be other “core” games shown; I believe that Microsoft learned its lesson after last year’s event skewed almost exclusively away from the “core” crowd and felt eerily similar to Nintendo’s 2008 E3 presser that felt almost one-sided (Vitality Sensor, anyone?). No Halo presence at E3, despite the importance of the IP to Microsoft, doesn’t seem likely. The question is… in what form will we hear about it? New game? HD remake of the original? We will see.
The one thing that Microsoft must do is to re-ignite interest in the Kinect sensor. More games are needed– and more quality games are needed, to be more specific. Games that come off as Wii ports are not going to hold anyone’s interest, especially when you consider that the Wii is almost at the end of its lifespan. More original software, including games that are going to interest more than just the passing game player, has to not only be announced… but shown and available for demonstration. It’s true that Microsoft wisely marketed the Kinect and it sold a ton of units; however, what was the last genuine killer app for it? Dance Central is now 6 months old, as is Kinect Sports. As time marches on and new games continue to appear at a snail’s pace, the relevance of Kinect will gradually ebb. Consumer confidence and excitement in the Kinect peripheral must be restored, and quickly.
One last thing to be on the lookout for is some kind of new hardware announcement. Rumors have been flying lately, ranging from a full-on successor to the Xbox 360 to another Xbox 360 hardware revision that adds 3D support. While the exact nature of the rumors has been scattered, the theme has been the same. The other thing that has me leaning in the direction of some sort of new hardware announcement is the extremely limited attendance list for the press event. This makes me think that something big is going to go down that Monday morning, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if it was hardware-related. Stay tuned.
To say that Sony has had a rough past six weeks or so is an understatement. Granted, PlayStation 3 hardware sales for April were promising– thanks to Mortal Kombat, Portal 2, and SOCOM 4– but having no online network for nearly a month and still being without the PlayStation Store (and its associated revenue) is damaging on many levels. Sony has become an easy target for the press and has spawned doubt from its userbase. Sony is hoping that its showing at E3 will wipe the slate clean and set focus on games. There will almost certainly be a segment of the press event that serves as an apology for what happened, but will quickly move forward from that… and it’s the right move.
I’m still expecting a $50 price drop for at least the 160GB PlayStation 3 SKU. Some believe that Sony can’t afford it after recent events, but I think it’s a necessity. The PS3 platform– despite its quality software exclusives and free-to-play online service– needs a kickstart to renew consumer confidence and enthusiasm. I’m not sure that other SKUs will follow suit, but I’ve been calling for this drop over the last few months and E3 is the perfect backdrop for price cut announcements.
The press event should revolve around three main topics: PSN, PS3 software (especially exclusives), and NGP. I’m not sure of the order, but all three of these are major facets of Sony’s business plan for the rest of 2011 and beyond. Sony will rally behind the re-opening of the PlayStation Store with news of some kind of exclusives there. PlayStation 3 retail software exclusives, like Twisted Metal, Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, and others, will be talked up and demonstrated or shown. As for NGP, there are lots of variables at play. Release date, pricing, and launch software are all likely to be covered. Price is the variable that concerns me the most; if the 3DS is struggling at $250, it stands to reason that a $300 NGP will do the same in a challenging economy… even if the software lineup is good. Despite my concerns, I think that $300 to as much as $350 is where the NGP will launch. Timing is less certain to me. Will Sony have enough software in the chute to realistically launch this year? I’m not sure. My gut is leaning towards an NGP launch in 2012, but I will not be shocked if a late November/early December launch window is announced.
After the incredible runs of success that the Wii and legacy DS platforms had, saying that Nintendo is “in trouble” is a silly statement; however, Nintendo is now facing a period of uncertainty that hasn’t been seen in some time. The Wii lovefest is over, even in the face of price cuts for hardware and software. The 3DS has stumbled after a quick start. As we await the unveiling of Nintendo’s next platform, what the company announces for the next 6 months will be very important. Will more titles be added to Nintendo’s budget line of Wii software? Will Nintendo announce price drops for the DSi platforms? Where are the 3DS games that will convince consumers to part with $250, which amounts to being the most expensive Nintendo portable in the company’s history?
What Nintendo announces for specifics when it comes to its new console will be incredibly important. At this point, I am predicting that the price will be at least $300. In fact, my prediction is $349.99 for the hardware. This would be a gamble in several respects. For starters, it would be the most expensive hardware that Nintendo has ever released. It would also, despite being the newest console on the block, be the most expensive one on the market. Perhaps the power of the hardware will justify the price, but anything over $300 is unprecedented for Nintendo. As for the launch date, 2011 doesn’t seem likely at this point. March 2012 seems to be the earliest launch date for the hardware, but that’s atypical of Nintendo’s console launch strategy. Many of Nintendo’s consoles have launched either late Q3 or sometime in Q4. If Nintendo sticks to that schedule, 2012 could be far too late given that the Wii continues to sink in hardware sales with each passing month. Even a title like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword isn’t a definite system-seller for a console that’s clearly on its way out… but more on that shortly. As with the NGP, I won’t be shocked if Nintendo’s new console hits this November… but I don’t see it happening. Launch software is anyone’s guess.
While it’s certainly way too early to dismiss the 3DS platform, it’s painfully obvious that Nintendo is going to need to take a fair amount of time during its press event to show the audience that new software is coming– and soon. Yes, Ocarina of Time is coming in a few short weeks. More remakes are following, too. And then? Aside from the Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid IPs, what else do we have? A new Mario game is certainly important, and Kid Icarus will likely wow the crowd (again), but the real problem is consistency. The conveyor belt of new releases needs to be running more consistently to fire interest. I think that this will happen, but Nintendo must hammer this point home and show a stronger commitment to the platform than it has so far.
That leaves the future of the Wii, and honestly, there shouldn’t be much of an expectation. Whether it’s due to market saturation or the expiration of a fad, the Wii seems to have run its course at retail… at least in terms of hardware sales. The result of price cuts to $150 remains to be seen, but there were cuts in April and yet the Wii finished behind the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This indicates to me that sales will continue to be flat. Wii Play Motion may sell well, but won’t move hardware. The release of Skyward Sword is still very much up in the air; in fact, I still believe that there’s a better than even chance that the game won’t make it to the Wii at all. Nintendo has promised some Wii news, and absolutely must deliver that news by way of compelling software and not trumpeting more movie-licensed games since that’s about all that can be seen on Coming Soon lists for the platform. If Nintendo isn’t launching its new console this year, the company is in danger of losing consumers to Sony or Microsoft without good reasons to buy or keep the Wii.
The E3 press events set the stage for the actual show. They’re where most of the news and announcements come from. They set the expectation level and get people and press buzzing. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will each have a chance to bring their “A” games. The time for preparation is almost over. Starting on June 6th, we’ll all be keeping score.
2011 was going to be a big year for me, when it came to writing about video games. It was the year that I was going to contribute to a website again and become a better and more consistent writer, hoping that my work may be read by lots of people and maybe– just maybe– translate to a foot in the door somewhere so that I had hope of doing this at least semi-professionally. I was also shooting for 2011 to be the year that I finally got the chance to go to Los Angeles and attend what is the biggest event of the year for the video gaming industry: the Electronics Entertainment Expo.
Having moved from Massachusetts to Arizona back in late 2009, travel expenses were going to be less of an issue. I knew that I could get the time off of work. I had even managed to squirrel some money away. The credentials that I needed were going to be taken care of as I was (and still am) contributing to Gaming Nexus as well as maintaining this blog. Everything was coming together… but then this was also the year that the ESA began restricting access to the event. Even though I’ve been writing for years, I didn’t have the traffic to meet ESA demands… and the dream was dead. I had pretty much resigned myself to the notion that I would once again be writing about the show from home.
In the middle of last month, I had read that Kmart Gamer was accepting blogger submissions for a chance to win a trip with their team to go and cover E3 for them. Several of my Twitter followers turned me on to the event, and I thought about it. I had been following Kmart Gamer on Twitter for some time and had been checking out their site, which was different from most other retail portals. It wasn’t just about sales promotions; there were thought-provoking topics and I felt a genuine interest in games coming from the team. I didn’t know if I really stood a chance, though. There are lots of deserving and talented writers out there and I’ve never really “competed” with peers before.
On March 14th, I submitted my entry with this blog post. I received some praise from other entrants, but really didn’t think that I’d have a chance.
I am struggling with putting into words how important this is to me. I’m aware that there’s a lot of work ahead of me, and I welcome the opportunity. All that I’ve ever really wanted is the chance to prove myself on the big stage, and E3 is the biggest stage of them all when it comes to the video game industry. I’ll be posting updates to Twitter from the show floor and will be writing some special blog entries for Kmart Gamer while there, and I’ll be hoping that my cell phone doesn’t die in the process. I’ll be posting some content here, as well, so expect to see special stuff just for you.
Now that it’s official, I’m putting the call out there for things that you’d like to see covered by me at the show. I won’t be at the press events (as I don’t arrive until Tuesday), but I will be on the show floor Tuesday afternoon (June 7th), most of Wednesday (June 8th), and part of Thursday (June 9th). The Kmart Gamer team is working to put together some appointments for me (and my two blogger colleagues, Amy Tucker and Stephen Haberman), but I’ll be looking to cover some other things, as well. Feel free to comment here or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas. I can’t guarantee that I’ll get to them all, but going in with some solid coverage suggestions will help me map out some strategy.
I want to thank the staff at Kmart Gamer for not only giving me this rare opportunity, but also for considering my writing and ability worthy of such an opportunity. I also want to thank all of you out there on the World Wide Web. You’ve all been supportive and encouraging, even when my confidence was fading and I was about ready to just give it all up. Consoleation recently passed the 10,000 hit marker, and that’s a big deal to me. Lastly, I want to thank my family and friends for their encouragement, support, and understanding. It’s not always easy to understand that I enjoying playing and writing about video games, as I have for so many years, but they all understand how important and special that this is to me. To all of you, from the bottom of my heart: I cannot thank you nearly enough.
The dream is alive, and my self-confidence is renewed. The time for excuses, unfortunate circumstances, and “what if” scenarios is behind me. I am looking forward to sharing the experience with the two other very talented writers who were also selected. I’m going to celebrate a bit and try to come down off of this amazing feeling over the weekend, as I ring in my 39th birthday.
After that… it’s time to start preparing for one event that will change my life forever.