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Played Out - E3 2011

I've been waiting anxiously for the sun to come out this year, so of course it finally did the days I'd already set aside to sit inside and watch corporations put on stilted performances meant to convince me to buy their products. This week is the video game industry's biggest circus - the Electronic Entertainment Expo - and circuses often feature stilt-walkers, hearkening back to the adjective used in the first sentence. Last year Microsoft even hired Cirque du Soleil for the unveiling of their controller-free motion device, the Kinect, and Cirque means "circus" in French...

So yeah... I watched all the big company conferences, and I'm going to summarize them here for you, the non-gaming audience. Or at least that's what I intend to do before I inevitably veer off into some crappy philosophical diatribe against my own derivativeness, blogging on the same subject half the internet's already rambling about, with the same, nonexistent level of direct perspective on the matter. You know what everyone has a direct perspective of? The sun! I should really be recording my personal tale of weather, and thus contributing real, experiential, anecdotal evidence to the human archive. Yet instead I've chosen to bypass atmosphere for the vacuum of opinion, relaying to the reader information already infinitely accessible through modern media. I am not a reporter. I am not a recorder. I am little more than a self-fulfilling rambler, only just now beginning on what he purportedly intended a paragraph before...

Microsoft's conference got me super-excited. For books. The only exclusive, non-Kinect game I recall being featured was Gears of War 3... a game that is already finished and admittedly delayed to serve as this year's big holiday release. Meanwhile, the entirely too long Kinect section of the show seemed to be aimed at really young babies who have had their brains removed. I'll admit that, almost 5 years into the Wii generation, I've grown skeptical of motion gaming's potential... or at least its potential to thrill. Yet Microsoft approached the subject as if nobody knew the Wii existed, hiring a bunch of ham-fisted Kohl's models to demonstrate incredible innovations like *gasp* sports games! Please watch this video, especially the football part. It demonstrates the complete contempt Microsoft's conference planners must have had for their audience's intelligence.
Undoubtedly some great motion and voice applications remain for gaming. Microsoft seems to believe its greatest potential lies in generating internet memes.

EA started out by poking fun at the conference cliche of bringing celebrities on stage to sell, when it should be all about the games, right? Fast forward 30 minutes...

Hosted in previous years by a Joel McHale whose asking price surely jumped, Ubisoft this year put their show in the hands of a character titled "Mr. Caffeine." I DON'T UNDERSTAND!!! This is your multi-million (billion?) dollar company's biggest public platform of the year, and you put your message in the hands of a man who opens with a Wii dick joke.

On the other hand of the spectrum we have the absolute public speaking ineptitude of so many of the presenters across all the conferences, with much of the problem arising from detached over-scripting, but there has to be a happy medium. You know, maybe someone who can talk normally and sincerely about their product? Smile when a normal human would smile? Realize that people stopped laughing at Wii dick jokes a long time ago? Jesus. It's not that hard. Hire me.

Although Sony was the last of the major console manufacturers I patronized, I've actually come to anticipate their announcements the most (especially since Nintendo's never gonna give me another Earthbound). Sony seems to be the company most willing to invest large amounts of capital into niche products such as Flower and the upcoming Last Guardian, aka the products self-conscious gamers constantly bring up in the fish market when you're trying to pick out the day's best haddock and they're screaming in your ear, "Games are art, man! They're Dicaprio's, or DaVinci's, or whatever! Art!"

That said, Sony didn't really didn't inspire with software this year. Games such as Uncharted 3 expectedly impressed; however, the remainder of the presentation was hardware heavy. They're still pushing their Wii variant -- Move -- for no discernible reason. They have a new handheld coming out this winter, which is called the PSVita and is impressive in most aspects other than its name (including a $249 starting price point). And, being the television manufacturers they are as well, Sony continues to push 3D, something in which I have no interest at all...

Or don't I? If the goal of E3 were to sell me on something I otherwise wouldn't have bought, Sony comes out the victor. Two aspects of their 3D presentation impressed me. One was their offering of a $500 television package later this year, and the other was the possibility that multiple players, each wearing their own set of glasses, could essentially play split-screen on a single television without splitting the screen, through polarized imaging displays or something. If it works, it's cool, and it's totally future.

Here's the narrative, in short: The surviving forefather of modern games simultaneously has to play catch-up with (above all) the processing power of its competitors whilst offering something worth a new investment, and it already announced it would be attempting to do so Tuesday with the reveal of its next-generation Project Café. Interesting branding, eh? Well now that Tuesday is over we know that it's actually going to be called WiiU. All I can think about is how that name rhymes with Peeu, as in "That stinks!"... whether it actually will or not.

And I truly hope it won't. After all the fun I have with every other system and every other game, Nintendo is my Cameron Richardson - the one to whom I want to come home and not have reject me for constantly and creepily referencing her in every one of my posts. I can't help it that they're replaying Harper's Island on the Chiller network! We're all watching it!

Not too much is certainly known about the console itself, but journalists are already getting their hands on the WiiU controller, which is generally agreed to be the love child between a classic controller and an iPad.

The high-def screen in your hand can be used to display alternate images, or to completely absorb the image from the television in the case that your naggy wife comes in and demands to watch The Voice. I don't really think the latter example is something Nintendo should be focusing its design around. Real gamers have dedicated televisions and learn how to control their wives, or can at least tell them to watch the DVR feed via the cloud or something.

What I care about is/are games, and the WiiU is far too early to speculate upon in that area right now. Buzz surrounding the controller functionality is good, and third-party developers seem to be on board -- a welcome presence in the face of the Wii's desolate software decline -- but Nintendo has nothing to show so far beyond a few inconclusive tech demos. Here's hoping...

And if I were to make any grand conclusions about E3, from my aforementioned distant throne of irrelevant judgment, it probably would be, "Here's hoping." The potential is there for everyone. This is still a major growth industry with tons of money to be made. All the game-changing risks being taken right now, however, seem to be with hardware, leaving the same crop of games to be remade with different shades of polish. They're good games, to be sure, but I've yet to see a new intellectual property this year with any sort of intellect. It's mix-and-match style with shooting and slashing, with almost nothing to be seen on story.

In other words, I hope there are surprises waiting for me beyond the press conferences, when I'm actually playing the final game products. And I hope those surprises don't include Mr. Caffeine.

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  1. Blogger P. Arty | 9:12 AM |  

    Nice post, Dr. (Based only on your review) this year's offer seems pretty weak!

  2. Blogger Sean | 8:03 PM |  

    Tom Ca-lancy.

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