The definitive guide to what you can expect from the games industry's biggest event.
E3 Press Conference: Nintendo
With a new console to unveil Nintendo might end up having the strongest press conference almost by default. There’s nothing like a hardware launch to stimulate the senses, and Microsoft talking about integrating Skype into Xbox Live certainly won’t change that.
The question is: what does Nintendo have in its fabled box of tricks? Recent rumours suggested a console with more power than an Xbox 360 and a six-inch touch-screen embedded in the controller, but I’m sceptical about their credibility. Nintendo’s design philosophy is grounded in taking affordable, established technology and using it in innovative ways, and Project Cafe’s rumoured specifications would make it an expensive proposition for both company and consumer.
However, Nintendo has more money than God, and while it won’t abandon motion control I believe that Iwata and co. now realise how much of the Wii’s success was based on a gimmick rather than true innovation. Whatever Project Cafe turns out to be, it will have to be kinder to third-party developers than the Wii. Nintendo has been winning a race against itself for the past five years, but it might be about to launch a console that has more in common with the Xbox 360 than its own predecessor.
The problem is the 3DS. The handheld launched to great initial success, but since then it has faltered. Is 3D enough to sell such an expensive an expensive device? If the games were there it might be a different story, but right now there is a paucity of compelling software. E3 is the perfect platform to address the situation, but Nintendo will have trouble fitting everything in.
In terms of software, Nintendo’s press conference will be divisive. I have long since lost interest in new entries for Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Nintendo’s other hallowed franchises, and I long for the day when the grand old man of gaming finally gets around to making a genuinely original IP for the core audience. I’m not an especially pessimistic person, but I can’t see this E3 changing that, and, if anything, Nintendo might well start to look more out-of-step with the needs and desires of the core gamer than ever.
Maybe, Just Maybe: Will the Vitality Sensor be revealed as a unique-selling point of Project Cafe? Will Nintendo ever get around to telling us just what the hell that weird finger-thing actually does?
E3 Press Conference: Sony
This year, circumstances have conspired against Sony. With The Last Guardian, Uncharted 3 and the NGP all due to launch in the next six to twelve months it has the most impressive list of known properties going into the event, but Sony has taken some significant knocks in the last few months, and addressing them will be its highest priority. Chief among them is the recent PSN breach, and it will take all of Jack Tretton’s considerable personal skills to finally draw a line under the situation.
But it doesn’t end with PSN security. The abject failure of the PSPgo is a glaring black mark against the company’s record of successful product launches, and while the NGP seems better conceived and more appealing in practically every way, in the age of the iPhone and the iPad Sony still needs to name its price and tell us why it will be worth the money. Even with marquee names like Uncharted and Hideo Kojima in the software line-up, the handheld’s incredible specs represent a gamble that Sony really can’t afford to lose.
Last year’s press conference was dominated by Move and 3D, neither of which has made any significant strides since then. Move, in particular, desperately needs a lift in the face of the Kinect’s strong sales, so expect to see a second, hopefully more impressive wave of software for the underwhelming peripheral.
Ultimately, if you’re only interested in the games then, divorced from the politics, Sony may well have the strongest show. Beyond Uncharted 3 and The Last Guardian there’s the Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus HD remakes and Resistance 3, with possible announcements for God Of War IV and Quantic Dream’s follow-up to Heavy Rain - supposedly a science fiction love-story. And then there’s Agent, the Rockstar PS3-exclusive announced two years ago and then promptly forgotten. Is this the year that we find out just what the hell it is?
Maybe, Just Maybe: The highlight of last year’s conference was the moment that Valve’s Gabe Newell took to the stage, burying the hatchet with Sony and promising PS3-owners the best console version of Portal 2, complete with Steamworks support. Now, Valve has good reason to lose faith in Sony’s online service, but nothing would bring the PSN debacle to a close like Newell taking to the stage again to announce a bit more Half-Life. A very long shot, but hey, hope is all we have.