News: E3 2012 – Day 1 Highlights

E3 (Electronics and Entertainment Expo) is back for another week long celebration and showcase of gaming and entertainment.  The first couple of days are just pure announcements from the major studios.  The first day included major news from Microsoft and Sony.  Both companies play pretty big at wooing the tech savvy and hardcore gaming audiences and this year was no exception.  Here are the highlights…

Microsoft

Xbox SmartGlass

The most exciting announcement from Microsoft this year wasn’t a game, it was this very interesting companion application for Xbox that will be available for Windows, Apple, and Android phones and tablet devices (and Windows PCs).

It’s actually an idea that’s been stewing at Microsoft for a good 10 years. I remember seeing technical demos and videos about this from way back, but it’s exciting to finally be seeing part of the original vision become a reality.

There are 2 core features provided by this software.

  • The ability to experience your entertainment content (video, music, possibly even web browsing) on any device you own, from your android phone to your iPad, and your TV via the X360.  The ability to transfer that experience seemlessly between those 3 screens as Microsoft likes to call them.  So, a scenario might be that you’re watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones at home on the Xbox.  You’re going on a trip somewhere, but want to continue watching the show on the road (not while driving hopefully).  The software would allow you to pause the video on your TV and continue exactly at the frame you left off on your giant size smart phone or your iPad (recall this will work on Android tablets, phones, Windows Phones, PCs, tables, and Apple iPhone and iPads).  So, it’s kind of like what Apple TV or a number of other companies currently offer, but it’s not limited by platform.  It’s most exciting because you’re not limited to the experience on just Microsoft devices.
  • The other core feature expands this connectivity between the 3 screens by allowing for unique experiences to be shared across the devices.  This goes for not just the aforementioned video, music, and browsing, but also for gaming.  Using the Game of Thrones example.  Imagine if you were watching that same Game of Thrones episode on your phone/tablet and were back in the house.  You transfer the video over to your TV again to continue watching on the big screen, well your portable device suddenly changes into a rich interface to what you’re now watching on the TV.  So, with Game of Thrones your phone or tablet might suddenly become a map of Westeross and the interactive map would show you exactly where in the GoT world your episode is taking place.  You might also be able to see in realtime as you watch the episode, where other characters are and drill into what their doing, maybe even jump directly to that part of the episode by selecting that character on the portable software.  The possibilities are endless.

So, overall a really great new software product that if executed on as I hope it will, could revolutionize the way we experience our entertainment across devices.  The most interesting thing about this, however, is that Nintendo announced their Wii U console at last years E3 and it has a very similar capability to this setup, but ofcourse with Nintendo it’s isolated only to the device and not portable to other systems.  This could very well destroy Nintendo’s Console business without even trying.  Could this be the first steps towards Nintendo going the way of Sega with this announcement?  This seemingly pedestrian software product could do to Nintendo’s console business what the iPhone and smartphone gaming has done to Nintendo’s handheld business.

The public’s reception of this new feature will be one to watch very closely as it could change the face of the gaming entertainment business as we know it.

 

 

Dashboard Enhancements and Internet Explorer on the X360

Also announced and shown off were updates to the 360 dashboard software.  The interface is much snappier and the voice features have been greatly improved.  Microsoft has even added non-english language (Spanish was demoed) support.  It was pretty amusing to hear someone navigate through the dashboard via spanish.  I believe the demoer was Arabic so, the accent was just giggle worthy.

The announcement that seemed to get cheers was the introduction of Internet Explorer web browsing on the Xbox.  It’s unclear which version of the browser they’ll be introducing and what plugins will be supported.  I speculate that limited Flash support will exist, similar to what Microsoft is doing with their Metro Internet Explorer 10 implementation on Windows 8.  Most sites are updating to use HTML 5 though so, I think long term we’ll be able to view any website content fully.  Navigation, which has been the primary reason the browser wasn’t already implemented, will be available via Kinect and/or what appeared to be the SmartGlass app.  So, you’ll be able to scroll and select links by using your phone/tablet software.  I predict this will be the preferred method for most users.

 

Games in Brief

Several games were premiered and shown off during the course of Microsoft’s press conference.  What follows are the ones that left an impression.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Halo 4

Matter

Director Gore Verbinski has come a long way since Mousehunt.  He’s currently best known for putting Disney (and Johnny Depp) back on the map with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series.  He’s since done other great projects such as the highly recommended animated feature Rango.  Now he appears to be taking a stab at the videogame business with this mysterious game Matter.  Coming in 2013, the game is designed specifically for Kinect and appears to be (from the teaser trailer) a cross between PORTAL and Marble Madness via TRON.

Sony

Beyond

With Heavy Rain, the developers at Quantic Dream made a game that put you at the healm of what felt like an interactive FMV (FMV refers to the non-playable cut scenes in most big budget games).  The dark storyline of Heavy Rain put you in the role of a parent who’s life has fallen apart after his child was kidnapped.  Your goal is to track down the culprit who appears to have resurfaced with another child as victim.  It becomes a tense race to find the child before they receive the same unfortunate fate of your own kid.  The game was a very different experience than players had seen before, both in presentation and subject matter.  Not your typical shoot’em up.  So, needless to say — this new title is much anticipated.

Beyond appears to be a much more traditional narrative from that of Heavy Rain, but with many of the gameplay control paradigm and elements introduced in the original title.  Now of course with the benefit of much better, more natural and realistic performances and graphics from the game characters.

The story has you controlling a character (played by Ellen “Juno” Page) who appears to be the subject of secret government experiments.  It’s basically Firestarter.  Ellen’s character will be playable from a young age all the way through adulthood during the course of the game.  The gameplay shown off shows the character using her telekinetic powers to throw objects around and even as a shield against projectiles and enemy weapons.  Unlike Heavy Rain though, this appears to have quite a bit of action gameplay.

Overall, though we didn’t get to see too much meat gameplay-wise, what we did get a glimpse of bodes well for the final product.

GOD OF WAR: ASCENSION

Not much has changed (at least of what we were shown) in this next game in the franchise.  God of War: Ascension comes out March of 2013 and is a prequel of sorts.  Not that you can really tell though. It feels very much like the last 2 console titles.  There are improvements ofcourse, not just graphically, but also in terms of overall feel of the action, but ours and your bloodthirsty pal Kratos is still as badass and well, bloodthirsty as he’s ever been.

The press conference team demoed a portion of a level that has Kratos tearing the heads off of bleating antelope men (Satyrs), all quite brutal and faster and more efficiently than we’ve ever seen him do it before.  The demo culminates in a claustrophobic battle against a rather large elephant man who Kratos must wear down by hurling the aforementioned antelope men at it. He goes a step further by then sawing his way through the creatures skull, literally exposing his brain and then stabbing it to finish the monster off.  The level ends with Kratos facing a watcher in the water and jumping head first into it’s open mouth. Fade to black.

This is a hard game to miss and if you’re a warm blooded male, this game is already on your pre-order list.

The Last of Us

This game is from the creators of the Uncharted series and just from the glimpse we got of gameplay, I have no doubt that this will likely make a lot of site’s BEST OF lists. The story takes place in a ruined city and involves two characters that you control somewhat cooperatively.  You control the male character (no word on whether both character are controllable independently although I expect it to be the case, at least for multi-player).  Your goal is simply to survive.  The scenarios are really quite well executed and narratively much beyond even Uncharted 3.

The demo isn’t one that excites while reading about it, but to see it play out — quite a thrill.  Developer Naughty Dog definitely has another winner on their hands, possibly even on a larger scale than the Uncharted series.

So, that was Day 1.  Big changes to be sure.  We’ll have day 2 coverage for you coming right up and hopefully some show floor photos later in the week.

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