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The Life of P

Tag: nintendo

E3 2012

The Queen’s diamond jubilee could not have been better timed for two reasons. Firstly, it provided two days off work that lined up perfectly with the opening of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in LA, meaning I could watch all the live-streamed press conferences with friends. And secondly, the weather was rubbish so I did not even need to feel guilty about staying indoors. Rather than a continuous stream of gaming related posts this week, I thought it best to save my thoughts on the big announcements for a single post afterwards. Take a deep breath: this could be a long one.

The easiest way to tell what to expect from the Big Three (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) is by considering the drinking game rules for the conferences. This year one would drink every time:

  1. tacked-on, unnecessary use of Kinect/motion controls are announced;
  2. a celebrity clearly does not understand the game (s)he is promoting; or
  3. dubstep is heard (seriously, every other trailer?).

Rule 1 alone would have ruined the livers of those watching the Microsoft conference, although (perhaps in the wake of Skyrim) they are now pushing far subtler integration for core games, based primarily around voice rather than motion. In Splinter Cell: Blacklist, for example, the player can attract a guard’s attention by calling out to them, “hey you!” whilst it was suggested that Fifa 13 may penalise players for swearing on the pitch! The big announcement was Xbox SmartGlass, which allows smartphones and tablets to integrate with the Xbox. The most promising thing being that Microsoft is not trying to push this as a selling point for Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets, but is supporting Android and iOS devices too. It is the smart move but not one I was sure they would make.

Sony, meanwhile, largely ignored the floundering Playstation Vita and instead focused on its strength in console exclusives. The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic follow-up to the Uncharted trilogy is looking superb, with the player character aided by the young girl he is protecting (who now looks slightly less like Ellen Page than in the initial trailer). Rather than shooting away or being entirely passive like most companion AI, she instead helps out primarily when the player needs it, buying some extra breathing room. Meanwhile Quantic Dream’s awkwardly titled Beyond: Two Souls, using the motion capture and engine from the Kara tech demo, actually does star Ellen Page. The actual gameplay is up in the air, but it looks like a fast-paced supernatural adventure with a focus on subtle, realistic human interaction.

Nintendo had a lot to prove with the Wii U following a somewhat muted response to the console announcement last year. It became clear that they are serious about trying to win back core gamers and not merely courting the casual market they found with the Wii. However, despite a reasonable display of third party support and an exclusive zombie title ZombieU, it remains unclear why we should care. Its share price dropped following the somewhat lacklustre performance, wherein the most promising announcement was Lego City: Undercover, an open world GTA-style city in which the player solves crimes, along with the usual tongue-in-cheek Lego humour.

Interestingly, between Microsoft’s SmartGlass and Sony’s Vita integration with the PS3, both now have effective “tablet” support with the potential to undermine the uniqueness of the Wii U’s control system in the future. However, this could well be a blessing for Nintendo — if developers are able to incorporate similar functionality into all three, there is a greater incentive to support the Wii U with new titles where Wii support was often overlooked because of its radically different controls.

On to the big game announcements:

Watch Dogs from Ubisoft Montreal generated the biggest buzz, having been kept totally under wraps and debuting with both a trailer and gameplay. Think Matrix-style hackers with access to a glut of personal information on everyone, operating in an open world city by way of GTA and Deus Ex. It hints at a whole network of hackers collaborating to protect one another, though it is unclear whether this represents multiple protagonists, co-op or an MMOG. Big budget new IP in a world of sequels is always a welcome surprise.

Assassin’s Creed III appeared in pretty much every press conference and is looking great, despite my apathy towards Revelations, the last title in the series. The American Revolution setting freshens things up wonderfully and, although I had concerns about the open-world approach, climbing through the trees seems to make traversal as comfortable as in cities. Also: sailing ships.

Star Wars 1313 looks like it could be the remedy for those not enthused by recent titles in the franchise (and indeed, the franchise itself of late). Set on galactic hub Corsuscant during the original trilogy era it eschews the now-ubiquitous Jedi and lightsabers in favour of a mature bounty hunter tale. And using a tweaked version of the very latest Unreal 3 engine, it looks gorgeous.

Tomb Raider is a game Crystal Dynamics have earned the right to make. After paying their dues with a series of sequels faithful to the original games, Lara is now very much theirs, so they are rebooting the character with an origins story. And it looks brutal. Enough so that it has stirred some controversy as a result of the experiences through which she is put, but that is what forges her will to survive and we root for her throughout. Tycho at Penny Arcade rightly refers to both this and The Last of Us as fundamentally disempowerment fantasies.

Dishonored is the other big new IP, offering a surprising level of creative freedom in its assassination gameplay, set in a cyberpunk world courtesy of the designer of Half-Life 2’s City 17. The player has a large arsenal of Bioshock-style powers at his disposal in order to get the job done in a variety of ways. The debut trailer was great but the recent gameplay trailer left me slightly underwhelmed so I was glad to see much more polished demos on the show floor. Really the tagline alone is enough to win me over: revenge solves everything.

Halo 4 is, at first glance, much as one might expect. However it is clear that while maintaining its core, 343 Industries are keen to strike a new direction with the franchise they inherited from Bungie. In single player that means a new world inhabited by the Prometheans, with links to the Forerunners and new weaponry. Meanwhile multiplayer Spartan Ops offers new episodic, narrative co-op missions each month.

Those are what I took away, so over to you. Anything I missed? What was your game of the show?

Nintendo 3DS

Over the weekend I was invited to a Nintendo event showcasing their forthcoming 3DS handheld console. They were taking a small group approach to the demo space they rented near Brick Lane. We were first ushered through two rooms with short live-action presentations to warm us up. The first of these was an impressively detailed Street Fighter stage with a choreographed Ryu versus Ken fight. My inner child could barely contain his glee. The second was distinctly less successful and frankly somewhat unnecessary: a darkened Resident Evil themed room, half lit with actors “protecting” the group from attacking zombies. Unlike the preceding room, audience participation doesn’t work quite so well in what might have been cheesy fun merely to watch.

We then proceeded to the demo rooms with dozens of 3DS stands featuring a range of games. First the hardware itself: this is undoubtedly the best build quality for a Nintendo handheld thus far, feeling solid and robust with a larger 3.5″ 3D screen at the top and the now-familiar 3″ touch-sensitive screen below. The top screen is of the glasses-free autostereoscopic variety and, while the viewing angle is narrow, playing alone one can remain within it comfortably. Interestingly the adjustable 3D effect is not simply on/off, but rather features a slider much like a volume control which adjusts the depth of the effect. Naturally their demo sets were mostly set to the maximum, but I found a middle setting much more comfortable and it’s likely where most people will learn to default. The analogue “circle pad” is a welcome addition (though just the one, like the original PSP, while the PSP2 has upgraded to two analogue controls). I found the placement of the flat Start and Select buttons below the lower screen made them a little fiddly to use. Finally there are no less than three cameras, one front-facing and two rear-facing which can even be used to take 3D photographs, though I did not get a chance to see the results.

So is 3D the proverbial — and literal — game changer? It is undoubtedly a gimmick but, for the most part, one that works. Unsurprisingly, no photography of game footage was allowed, since the 3D effect would be lost. Racing and flying games naturally benefit from the additional dimension as you hurtle off into the screen. Street Fighter looked particularly impressive with its background pulled away and the action in the foreground. It also neatly utilised the touch screen for easy execution of special moves, making the hardcore fighter more approachable to a casual audience. Resident Evil  is undoubtedly part of the launch push because of the franchise’s status, but I don’t think it forms a great showcase for the new hardware. With enemies’ up close the graphics consistently look pixelated (the 800×240 resolution is really only 400×240 per eye) at which point the 3D does little to improve immersion.

Interestingly the one game that took the technology beyond a gimmick into truly fresh territory was the augmented reality offering. Placing a card on a surface, the 3DS’ twin cameras can identify it with depth perception, and create a virtual gaming space wherever you like. Looking through the 3DS screen you can then move around in three dimensions and interact with it. In this case it meant moving around to aim at targets and ultimated defeating a dragon which required maneuvering behind it to hit certain spots. Hopefully we will see more of this originality from developers once they become accustomed to the hardware.

The demos we experienced were all too short to give a good indication as to whether prolonged use would cause eye strain. Certainly I think setting the 3D slider to a middling level will be more comfortable but I would not be surprised if eyes do become fatigued faster. When leaving, I also noticed reps having to turn away a couple who had brought with them a young child, since Nintendo is clearly very aware of the ongoing debate as to the potentially detrimental effect of 3D on young eyes. Marketing a console where the key new feature is not to be used by children will be a difficult line. Similarly the StreetPass system, allowing data automatically to be transferred between consoles in proximity, even while asleep, is an interesting touch that requires careful marketing. Although I think the minimal data held by the console ought to leave little to fear, with privacy concerns on the rise the words “send data without you even knowing” from one rep were alarmingly ill-chosen.

Overall I came away with a decidedly positive impression. A more powerful hardware refresh means better games even in 2D, as evidenced by a Resident Evil game, while the 3D varies between gimmick and — at its best — some genuinely original innovation. Marketed well, there’s no reason the 3DS shouldn’t follow its predecessor’s monumental success. Whether the 3D remains, or we all switch it off within a few months, remains to be seen.

Return Journey

Karleigh at the AirportI will write about the rest of my Stateside exploits once I go through the several hundred photographs from the trip and trim them down into something more manageable (hopefully without the Gallery glitch that plagued my last USA trip and I never actually solved). For now I will just discuss the fairly painless trip back.

Although they were keen to carefully rescan the Nintendo DS Lite I bought Kirsten as a birthday present (the dual coloured ones are very sleek with a matt black interior and back, clearly designed more for business executives than younger gamers), American security surprisingly gave me less hassle than their British counterparts. On the other hand most of the security was at the quaintly parochial Baton Rouge airport, with all of ten gates (a substantial rise, I am told, from its original four).

Ortegos at the AirportJenna brought me to the airport with Karleigh and Clark so, several dozen photographs later, it was pretty hard to tear myself away. Things improved at Bush Intercontinental in Houston as I had a couple of hours to kill drinking martinis in a bar and chatting to a pleasant LA resident who was in town for a radiotherapy trade show. With his girlfriend working in “the industry” (she was a set designer on the short-lived Joey) we discussed the risk of an impending actors’ strike in the coming month. That for me is what travelling alone is really about, and the essence of what Frank Moorhouse meant in describing the martini as a travelling drink.

Shure SE310I also stumbled across a store that was demoing Shure earphones, specifically the SE310s that I have been eyeing for a while, allowing me to try them with my own music. In short they are exactly the revelatory aural experience that I had heard and have suddenly jumped from merely desirable to a must-have purchase. I didn’t dare try the SE530s for fear that their £250 price tag might start to look appealling. The 310s will be more than enough for now. My only concern is that with the foam earbuds (not the rubber ones pictured here) expanding further into the ear canal than I had realised, providing a great sound isolating seal, they may become dangerous for use when walking around the City. That would mean I’d need to carry two pairs of earphones which is cumbersome. Real world testing will be the only way to find out I suppose…

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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