E3 2010: 3D, Games and Peripherals Galore
Let's clear the air on this right off. It's not that I'm too old to want to sit around all day and play video games - I'm not! It's just that I'm old enough to have to respect the responsibility that have been thrust upon me. With that said, I guess the only real difference between me and the fan boys and gals streaming into the Los Angels Convention Center for the Electronic Entertainment Show (E3) is that I can remember the shows predating it - like the Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Chicago when the founders of E3 first tried to drum up interest in an all-video game show. Who'd guess that E3 would go on to become THE venue for video gaming and gamers to hunger for each year. This despite the economy and the somewhat lackluster response of the game companies to push the envelope beyond the expect game genres.
So while I'm not jaded, I do have a bit of a veil-piercing eye that sees through the "Promo" girls and the glitz and sizzle that the booths dotting the North and South Hall are brimming over with. I'm as interested in the trends from smaller companies as well as large that loom towards gaming that does more - hardware is another story though so let's get that out of the way first.
As most gamers know, the big three - Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony - rent out a hall to do their own dog and pony show as E3 gets underway. Forget about huge productions though - the days of a company like Sega touting a console (Genesis) on the Sony movie lot with an appearance by Michael Jackson are so over (yeah, I was there, but preferred the tour of Paramount and the chance to stand inside the mockup of the Star Trek shuttle the following year).
Now about those shows - for sure each of the heavyweights touted software games. But they also pushed out a bit of hardware on the crowds, to some enthusiastic responses I should say. Microsoft expects to have their Project Natal (it's now Kinect, get it?) out this year - it's a no-hands controller that your whole body can get involved with. Sony lobs the ball back with the PlaystationMove - a lighted bulb at the end of what, to me, looks like a karaoke mic, and which needs a Sony Video-cam in order to be able to define movements with even more excruciating detail.
Nintendo, meanwhile, already went this route twice--so it's their 3D DS that is being hawked. I managed my 20 minutes seated across from a squad of clone-like Demo girls (women?) and have one thing to say about it: it's very cool. The top screen uses a lenticular screen that is on the inside to create a 3D effect that you see without glasses. It can also be enhanced/decreased through a slider. Games that are programmed for it provide a 3D effect that doesn't cause headaches, at least during the demo I participated in. Tossing a ball and a frisbee to the little doggie in the game that'll be out when the unit arrives gives a chance to see how the effect works both laterally as well as front and back. But on the way out this guy points out the two cameras on it and takes my pic with my hand in front of my face. Looking at the results on the screen I can see a better than fair approximation of 3D space between my hand and face. I can't take the pic with me--there's no way to save or send it, the guy says. And since March of 2011 is now being touted as the launch, I'll be keeping my hands to myself for about a year.
3rd Party Partying Hardy
Overall games are bigger, louder and definitely higher-resolution than ever before. Violence, danger, excitement, big explosions and lots and lots of cutaway video scenes remind us just how passively boring television can be. Some examples follow:
Warner Interactive was a bit crazy -- here you had a company with games based on Batman and Superman and The Justice League and Lego, cartoon-oriented and definitely for the younger set. But because they had bought out Midway, you also had clamoring for attention a new Mortal Kombat game - not that you could play it, but the video clips running bring a whole new meaning to the word "pain" even for this long thriving franchise. Example: Two guys are beating the beejeepers out of each other and as the screen goes to black, one stands over the other and brings down his spinning hacksaw-toothed disc and proceeds to chew up the ground between the other guy's legs....
Why they're referring to Activision as the 800 lb. Gorilla I dunno-except with perhaps the exception of Electronic Arts. The big A is huge in content as well as presence. More Guitar Hero for sure, another Transformer title ("War for Cybertron") and tons of games that pretty much let you blow things up real good. You get tired just moving through the booth, much less looking at all the stuff that's there.
Lucha Libre: Heroes del Ring
Massive booths aside, you don't often see a wrestling ring as part of a company's decor. But since wrestling is all about the "look," I can't find fault with Lucha Libre: Heroes del Ring. Especially since I've got one of those outrageous face masks to wear. It seems our youth group was more interested in staging mock wrestling matches (scripted) than participating in community service. Of course here you get to use all of your skills--including chairs, mixed martial arts and other implements that are handy.
I've yet to quite understand what to make of Disney Interactive. Sure, I get that every property of multiple years of animated glory can translate into video games--including Toy Story most recently. But hard core isn't exactly what Disney is known for. Nor what I was looking at - which was a neon-lit nicely rendered motorcycle ala Tron. Which just happens to represent TRON: Evolution, based on the movie which will revisit the computer-enchanted graphic adventure that, at the time, was neither computer enhanced nor very adventuresome. Thirty odd years and CGI powered computing later should change the equation but the moment I "strapped"myself into one of the Tron cycles I pretty much forgot about the time difference and just started laying down those glowing lines on the grid.
Ubisoft is really pushing their video camera/exercise extravaganza first displayed last year--only now the motion capturing vidcam can play games like skateboarding as well as more action-oriented titles. And for the Wii even! But then I'm more a fan of the upcoming Ghost Recon Future Soldier (Tom Clancy and all).
Gaming companies continue to push their franchises and Dragonball might be a young one age-wise, but it's pretty mature as far as the depth of titles and longevity that seems to be displayed. Next up from Namco is DB: Origins 2 for the Nintendo DS and thank goodness for the English language taking the lead on the title for this one. A sequel, sure, but if you're going to be Goku and fight your way through it all, this is the one to go for. Best part - switching perspective between adventuring and fighting.
Square Enix had a huge screen devoted to clips of upcoming titles and, no surprise, being so close to Disney Interactive why not two new titles mixing anime characters and Disney characters together (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and Re: coded). Not that the Disney guys are into slash 'n hack stuff, but seeing them all 3D shaded with quality voice acting behind them jazzes things up.
Peripherals & More
Last year you could pop up to the meeting rooms above the South Hall and ferret out all kinds of small companies showing off interesting stuff - along with a few items from the "big boys' that they didn't bother to display down at the booth. That particular point of view hasn't disappeared, it's just relocated to the fringes of the two halls. There's something to be said for being closer to the bathrooms and the Snack bar, I guess, but I need my fix, and fortunately it's there. Case in point being Casio . Now my first synthesizer was a Cassie so I know these guys do some cool stuff but their Casio Green Slim Projectors kinda knocked my socks off. A smallish HD 1080p front projector isn't big news unless there's more than just a quality picture these days - jaded aren't we?. So how about no lamp in the unit at all? Does that mean they're using LEDs like Samsung popped into TV sets a few years back? Try again - it's LEDs and LASERS. Pumping the colors are laser beams for the primary images being pushed out - they say - up to a 300 inch screen helped along by LEDs. I dunno about that, but the 100 inch screens in the booth were spot on color-wise, and with a retail of $1000 dollars, that means probably in the low $800s to take home. Considering my LCD front projector's bulb costs $300+ smackers to replace, this could certainly cause some illumination envy.
What would E3 be without extremes? You can practice your driving skills in a racing car by getting behind the wheel of the Inflatable Car For Wii. CTA even gives you some exercise because you have to blow up the car first. Then you sit yourself down, grab hold of the steering wheel (which you stick the Wiimote in) and off you go. Subsonic's a bit more adult - read that as expensive - as the metal frame of the RACIN' PRO mimics the feel of the vehicle you're hoping you could have afforded, say a dragster or a muscle car. The seat, at least, is there, as is a mount for putting a monitor or HDTV flat panel. The game console controls are up to you, although some do come equipped with a steering wheel you can integrate with your own systems. Of course if you're trying to hide what you're doing, then maybe the Playseat America "Office" chair is more your cup of motor oil. It's ergonomic, provides good support and is component-oriented to let you mix and match how it looks and feels.
Dirt in politics makes good reading but on a computer keyboard - not so much. What's a Mother to do? Get CyberClean, is what, even if the placard says it's a Swiss formula (say "Cheese") there's something visceral about kneading this play dough-like material that sticks against a keyboard and sucks up the dirt faster than TMZ. I prefer the slab rather than the jar myself, but considering the way jars were being hawked and sold, seems like a lot of folks agreed.
And finally what would a video game show be without weapons? As someone who has handled real weapons, I much prefer to play games where the worst that happens is on the screen. So as a PS3 guy, I'm keen on jacking up my Call of Duty and similar games with one of those Assault Rifle Controllers. NO way all those buttons would be on an AR15, but for getting a feeling that no controller pad can dupe, it's got added sound effects working (single-fire/automatic) to add to the controls running alongside the trigger and on the barrel. Of course the less sedate might prefer the Sniper Rifle for the Wii, but using it for duck hunting as suggested just seems cruel. And too blessedly easy.
So mature gamers (it says so right on the brochure) should dig the Rapid Shot Machine gun with built-in functionality to replace the Wii remote Nunchuk. It doesn't hurt to have the USB rechargeable battery pull out of the stock like a magazine cartridge either. Or have a built-in speaker and rumble effects.
Like lots of gamers, I'm getting trash talked to, but don't seem to have a way of responding (other than blowing their heads off, that is). But Nox Audio's new Specialist Gaming Headset looks to change that. And not just by being universally adaptive for the major gaming systems either. Crisp audio drivers, a stylish package and a retractable boom mike all help it along. Add a fold up design and comfortable cups that don't chew your ears off after a couple of hours and it sure sounds worth giving them a go.
As does hanging around E3 until whiplash and dehydration sets it - but hey, where else would you rather be?