I’m writing this immediately after watching the Nintendo Press Conference but the entry won’t go up until the second half is written following Microsoft’s later this evening. Much to my surprise, Nintendo have just blown Sony out of the water. Everything that was wrong with their show — poor presentation, overlong, dull demonstrations, unnecessary ego massaging — was right here, including indirect digs at Sony and a very cool stage door. Sure the graphics aren’t up to those of its rivals, but the new Zelda game looked as though it was easily capable of challenging them in terms of visual beauty. The inclusion of a Sonic game on the console will be a very weird experience for those who remember the Nintendo vs. Sega days.
The Wii (yes, the name remains unchanged) controller was the real star of the show. It is difficult to translate into text the fluid and varied ways in which it can be applied to an incredible number of games and genres (27 games, including Zelda, are playable at E3 and should be ready for launch) from drumming to tennis to sword fights to shooting to fishing. And believe me, that’s just scratching the surface. Their demonstrations showed off not so much the games as the way in which Wii provides a new way of interacting with these worlds. Want to open a door? Just move your hand. A few secrets had been retained about the controller which elevate it far above Sony’s meagre immitation. The “nunchaku” component is motion-sensitive independently of the remote. This allows for two handed motion-play while keeping the analogue stick (rather than two remotes as in other games). The controller also features a speaker which provides additional feedback, such as the sound of a bowstring pulled taut. It’s an interesting idea that will be successful only if used sparingly. There’s a reason we have surround sound speakers in our living room, and I’d hate for them to be wasted.
Unfortunately the release date and price remain sketchy, although they have promised released in the fourth quarter and one imagines a markedly lower price given the machine’s limited power. It is clear that what it lacks in power is more than made up for with innovative design in both the console and games. It was enough to make me consider the Wii as a serious possibility — despite my initial skepticism, this bold move from Nintendo is poised to revolutionise how we play.
Microsoft’s was the best delivered conference, opening with Epic’s Cliffy B introducing Gears of War, then Mr. Xbox Peter Moore taking centre stage for the rest of the show. With the console already available, there wasn’t much for Microsoft to reveal other than the expected peripherals; a camera, an HD-DVD drive, and a steering wheel will be available by the end of the year. Their real news was in game releases and developer partnerships, including the surprise bombshell that Grand Theft Auto 4 will be available on the 360 as soon as it is released, ending Rockstar’s longtime Sony lock-in deal. Combined with Square Enix, Microsoft has taken a huge chunk out of Sony’s exclusive titles. Microsoft’s developer acquisitions ensure more exclusive titles, Rare producing the inovative and unique Viva Piñata, while Lionhead Studios announcing Fable 2. Saved until the very end was the highly anticipated and somewhat inevitable Halo 3 trailer, somewhat underwhelming compared to last time, but boasting impressive in-game graphics nonetheless.
The reason for the tight security around the event became apparent when the future developments of Xbox live were discussed by none other than Bill Gates himself, attending E3 for the first time. Although at first a little too reminiscent of Wayne Solinski, it picked up fast as he discussed integration with PC and mobile platforms through Live Anywhere, included as standard in Windows Vista. This unification of gamers is what Sony are trying to emulate but it’s a tough act to follow with the rapid uptake of Live. Further developments bring music and film media to consumers through the same Live interface, and suddenly we remember what this whole console war was about in the first place — both companies struggling to get their multimedia box into every living room.
Overall it seems that Sony have lost focus in trying to span the gap between Nintendo’s innovative control mechanisms and Microsoft’s high-powered multimedia and online connectivity. There is a good chance they will miss the mark on both counts, leaving their console outpriced and outgunned. The fanboys will buy it nonetheless, but of the big three they’ve certainly come out weakest from this year’s E3. All that remains now is for people to try this gear out!