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Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) Part 2: Great Hardware

by June 24, 2009
Hardwares Rocking at Activisions booth

Hardware's Rocking at Activision's booth

Game consoles come and go every few years, but peripherals are eternal. There’s always something new to add to the game console, whether it’s a wireless headset so you can talk to your game-mates or opponents (some complete with 5.1 surround), a waterproof game controller to keep the sweat from frying the game buttons, or taking a Nintendo Wii past the point of no return with a spring loaded light gun (making it much easier to pick off the cluckkers in Redneck Chicken Riot - just don’t tell PETA).

check out: Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) Part 1: Great Games

Nor has it been unusual to find upgrades to existing products, for example Nintendo putting out the Wii MotionPlus to basically enhance and increase the sensitivity and gesturing abilities of their point and click controller.

Perfect Shot

But while such peripherals have been a mainstay of the video game scene through the years, it’s only recently that hardware designed for and made to enhance specific games and genres has been introduced.

dumbbellsAnd which can range from something as simple as weights to use with exercise tittles for the Wii (with one of the two dumbbells holding the controller within its plastic, 2 lb. shell) or a Yoga mat emblazoned with Hello Kitty to attract the younger/hip set.

Yoga mat

So as I made my way through the multiple convention halls, I kept my eyes open for games that DID more, because they came with a hardware component.

Exercise and fitness have started to get a big play - helped along by interactive hardware that can make the effort rewarding (perhaps aided by guilt too). So rather than just providing an exercise game, Ubisoft’s Your Shape works with a video camera to make shedding the pounds and firming up more sensible. It removes the need for a controller by having the camera track the player’s movements during the workout and provides a “virtual you” on the TV screen with specialized routines.

D-Box ChairBut to really shake, rattle and roll requires something up close and personal. Which is why there’s a long queue for trying out D-Box’s newest baby. These are the guys who make motion shakers that can keep you from ever needing Ex-Lax. At its most basic, the D-Box tech was designed to integrate with a movie being played and translate onscreen actions into physical movements to affect the person watching. So as the film plays, scenes where motion occurs gets translated over to devices placed so that the chair or couch you’re seated in starts rocking in concert.

D-Box in actionThis will work with video games as well, which is why they’re showing off the $3000 GPH-120 Hybrid Motion system. This self-contained experience will give your body a real workout - how could it not with two actuators designed to deliver the movement sensations of pitch, roll, heave and intelligent vibration? As in hitting acceleration levels up to 2Gs and getting the freedom of pitch, roll and virtual heave (immersive yes, but let’s keep the heaving virtual please...). Being demo’d were racing games like Grid (Codemasters) and Need for Speed Undercover (EA) along with others. And provided you’ve installed enough of their tech in the frame, for sure you can get all of the smack-down from D-Box compatible discs. With Universal saying they’re going to make their Blu-ray Death Race encoded, as well as other studios jumping in with titles too, going back to sitting on the couch while things only shake on the screen really sucks!

Looking for 3D, Strum and Scratch

So now I’ll tell you what doesn’t suck - 3D. And there’s plenty of games being demonstrated using 3D-ready TVs and polarized glasses.

3D MarshalBut still I can’t say 3D has really grabbed the attention it should. But maybe the Avatar 3D game based off of James Cameron’s upcoming live-action 3D movie can change all that. However, while the Ubisoft booth is wide, spacious and inviting, getting in to see the demonstration is much more hostile. We’re itching to get on the other side of that theater room sunk into the bowels of the booth - where a 3D-ready HDTV with an external Sensio 3D decoder is working its third-dimension way with the game.

So what is new here? How the 3D is being created, is what. So I looked till I found Michael Malynowsky of Sensio, the Canadian folks providing the 3D technology for the title. The skinny on what makes this application of 3D different than the others that have come before is “that the 3D is being created and streamed ‘on the fly’ as if it were a live event,” he says.

Malynowsky goes on to point out that the 3D content is streamed in real time - with high resolution from the game as it is being played. "Our approach to doing 3D comes from a vast experience with sporting events so we know there can’t be any kind of uncompromising compression going on that could create motion blur or jagged motion. We treat the gaming screens being generated as if they were live action being filmed. This is the real stuff,” he says.

guitar hero 5Moving back into the thick of the crowds, I’m reflecting on how there’s two ways to keep a successful franchise fresh. Going over to Activision’s huge exhibition shows me that they’ve got both locked: the first being to build upon the existing concept, so in this case we get Guitar Hero 5 with such niceties as being able to play with any in-game instrument combination (multiple vocalists, drummers, guitarists, bassists) among other options. But there’s also a new guitar to “strum” as you rock out with the hits from such luminaries as Tom Petty and Bob Dylan - the slider bar of the redesigned and re-skinned guitar controller allowing for a more personal play, with enhanced in-game effects. Plus there’s interchangeable faceplates (hey, looks are important too!).

Dj Hero scratchingThe other way to deal with a franchise is to expand upon it by moving in a new direction while not forgetting where it got its roots. DJ Hero has the creds to do that: not just because hip hop, R&B, Pop and electronica are immensely popular, but also because becoming a DJ and leading the crowd is a great part of the experience. So instead of a guitar you're scratching and blending, sampling and cross fading the tunes - yeah, this turntable-shaped controller will probably do more to introduce Gen Y/ Z to turntables than any ad campaign. And of course there’s all the graphics and club settings you could ask for (most of which would never let me in).

DJ Hero tunrtableAll this is helped along by the addition of two powerhouses in the music scene, Jay-Z and Eminem. Both will be contributing tunes as well as collaborating on a specially branded edition with an even more advanced version of the game’s turntable controller (as in a traveling case that turns into a performance ready DJ stand and two exclusive music CD comps with greatest hits and new stuff from each artist). Talk about vibe!

I Want To Hold Your Controller

Beatles groupNot to be outdone, if perhaps more Baby Boomer oriented, The Beatles: Rock Band will be providing the songs from the Fab 4 digitally remastered, as you play along through views consisting of the evolution of the Beatles through time. Stylized animations of the guys is extremely well done, plus there are all the landmarks and touchstones - from their first appearances in Liverpool through those in New York and on to the psychedelic years.

Beatles hippes

Beatles rock band instrumentsFrankly, any fan would enjoy just watching and listening. And with downloadable music coming later on it just keeps on giving - whether you’re on bass or guitar or drums, the visuals will blow your mind. So okay you say, that’s great but what about the hardware? Well, yes of course there is hardware - ti’s the instruments. Rather than glomming some buttons, there’s the option to use replicas modeled off of the guitars, bass and drum set played by John, Paul, George and Ringo. That’s gotta make it wild.

Rock Band beatles different instrumentsBut not as wild as my trying to recreate my skateboarding days (in case you’re wondering, I quit quick after two skinned knees and a hurt elbow). So maybe you’d think that playing at Tony Hawks would be cool - you’d be wrong. Using a controller to do tricks and stuff is so lame that I never bothered with a single game.

But now that there’s the RIDE (Tony Hawks RIDE to be exact) I might revise that opinion. Because it’s not just some piece of plastic that you shake your hips at; it’s designed to respond to the actual kinds of moves that a real-life board can make. So yes you’d better plan on having enough space to move around on this thing, as it uses motion sensing to interact between what you’re doing on it and the on-screen action. No wires for connecting to the console - natch.

Tony Hawks Ride

Off the Show Floor

FishingTaking a flight of stairs off to the side led me to a series of small conference rooms tucked away up on the second level. Here amidst the quiet away from the crowds and the food court, I encountered some big fat fish leaping to the sound of splashing water - on the TV screen. Now those who say that fishing is an “active” sport have probably never really gotten into it. For me, using a rod is more zen like - the proper equipment and the proper attitude combining for a few minutes of activity followed by long periods of calm.

So it makes sense that a game like The Strike comes with an interactive fishing pole to simulate the “feel” of fishing.  Realistic lakes, life-like fish behavior and an abundance of boats, lures, rods and reels to use - it’s like Madden for fishing!

Fishing Rod

Yooster green screenSticking my head into another room provides two positive results: the first is that there’s a plate of cookies and cans of soda waiting to be grabbed. And secondly, Yoostar is showing off a unique green screen system that doesn’t just let you record yourself before the camera, but also insert yourself into clips of commercial movies, TV shows and NBA moments. Using the digital web cam and mike, you watch on a PC (or Mac) the scene that you’re going to insert yourself in and act it out - the software taking care of removing the actor from the scene as you replace him/her. So as an example, I took over for John Belushi as he/I got into the converted cop car with Dan Akroyd (by swiveling the chair it almost looked like I was scooting behind the steering wheel).

The cool part is that I could also have done this character replacement on the passenger side or even got “into” the car behind both of them. A built-in TelePrompTer helped to insure the right words were being said and the final results can be saved and shared with others online. Wish I could have tried out my Brando in the Godfather clip, but as I didn’t have an appointment it was nice of them to give me this much of a demo.

But mostly I wish I had more time because security just announced that E3 is closing and everyone has to leave. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Activision Guitar Hero 5, Tony Hawks RIDE, DJ Hero  www.activision.com
CTA Gaming  Dumbbells  www.ctadigital.com
City Interactive Redneck Chicken Riot  www.city-interactive.com
D-Box GPH-120 Hybrid Motion system  www.d-box.com
Harmonix Music Systems (www.harmonixmusic.com) and MTV Games The Beatles: Rock Band
Nintendo  Wii MotionPlus  www.nintendo.com
Nyko Perfect Shot  www.nyko.com
Playwet Waterproof game controllers  www.playwet.net
Sakar Accessories Hello Kitty Wii Fit Yoga Mat and travel case. "Biggest Loser" jump rope, wrist weights   www.sakar.com
Sensio www.sensio.tv
Ubisoft Avatar 3D, Your Shape  www.ubisoft.com
XS Games  The Strike  www.xsgames.biz
Yoostar Yoostar Green Screen www.yoostar.com