E3: How Did Everyone Grade Out?

E3 is over, the previews have been written, and the fallout from the big three press conferences has settled. Two new systems were officially confirmed and announced, and Microsoft showed that they are dedicated to shoving Kinect down our thr– I mean, dedicated to getting the most out of their Kinect hardware that they can.

For a staff with only three active writers, we all have diverse opinions. For one, I tend to favour Sony’s systems, even if I loathe the company itself. Donavan’s obviously our Nintendo guy, and Aileen’s pretty much happy as long as she has a JRPG to sink into. With these differences of opinion, how would the three of us see E3?

We already have highlights written up from when they happened. Check out our initial reviews of the Microsoft conference I did, the Sony conference that Aileen wrote about, and Nintendo’s, written up by Donavan.

Let’s take a look at what the rest of us thought about all three conferences.

Microsoft

Christopher Bowen: I hinted – OK, outright said – in my write-up of the conference that I wasn’t impressed with Microsoft’s heavy focus on Kinect. However, they have to be taken seriously. They have enough going for them – by far the most popular online service in console gaming, a heavy tie-in via Games for Windows Live, a lot of tie-ins to non-gaming services like Netflix and ESPN3, etc. – to the point where they can not only try to force consumers into buying the Kinect as if it was a necessity, but also to pressure developers into supporting the device. That was the major takeaway here: with the exception of Activision, everyone else talked up Kinect interoperability. They’ve shown in the past that they’ll leverage their strengths to force uptake on new technologies (hello, Windows division), and this looks to be no exception.

However, as a gamer, I’m not exactly thrilled. I don’t own Kinect, nor do I intend to for at least awhile. Even if I owned it, I can’t get much out of it because my playing area isn’t conducive to playing motion games, especially those that demand practically an entire living room to be effective. As a 360 owner, I feel like I’m being held ransom. “If you want to get the most out of your games, you better buy this $150 peripheral! And hire an interior decorator to rearrange your house so Kinect recognises you!”

Outside of Kinect, I noticed a disturbing trend that really extends to all of the consoles. Just about everything Microsoft announced was either a sequel or a reboot. New Call of Duty! Remaking Tomb Raider! Gears 3! UFC 3! Forza 4! Halo 4! Halo 1, again! The only bright ray for me was Ryse, which is – get this – a Kinect game. Is it sad that the only quality, original title seems to be a Sesame Street game? Also, the one game I’m really, honestly excited for isn’t going to be a Microsoft exclusive title (Mass Effect 3).

This was an exciting press conference if you’re either a big time believer in Kinect, if you are intrigued by the non-gaming content that Xbox Live has to offer, or if you’re Peter Molyneux, but if you’re Peter Molyneux, EVERYTHING excites you. If not, this was a total dud.

GRADE: D

Aileen Coe: The word of the day at Microsoft’s conference was Kinect, and just about every game announced had some form of Kinect support. Minecraft getting a release on the 360 is noteworthy, though I’m curious as to just how they will implement Kinect in that game. Modern Warfare 3 looked like just another Call of Duty game. The Tomb Raider reboot could go either way. Mass Effect 3 looks good, though the way Kinect is used in that game seems superflurous, if voice recognition is the only way it’s being used. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier seems to use Kinect better with weapon customization, but it’s questionable just how well it will work, especially holding your hands like you were holding the actual gun. Same goes for spellcasting in Fable: The Journey, where it looks like you’d be gesticulating wildly to fire off spells – those playing magic heavy characters would probably tire out quickly at that rate. Dance Central 2 had the best use of the Kinect, allowing both players to dance at the same time, which the first game didn’t have. Kinect Star Wars was something a lot of people envisioned when they saw the Wii’s motion controls, so Microsoft gets some credit for actualizing that concept. Halo 4 seems as though it’ll at least turn out decently, despite the change in developers.

I have to say, I was rather underwhelmed by Microsoft’s offerings this year. There wasn’t much new announced, and most of what was announced wasn’t anything terribly exciting. The Kinect compatibility seems forced in some games, and actually using the Kinect at all will prove cumbersome for people who don’t have big enough rooms for it to work properly, and it felt like the games were being used to push Kinect even more.

GRADE: D

Donavan Tucker: Months preceding their E3 press conference, Microsoft had been relatively quite, especially amongst the disaster that was the PSN hacking. That, and the fact that E3 was indeed right around the corner, led many to believe that Microsoft would have a solid showing this year. I have to admit: I was a little underwhelmed.

I was more impressed by the non-gaming content, which isn’t necessarily a good thing if your company’s main objective is to sell games. I’m still not sold on Kinect, but I thought the voice enabled movie and live television search features were cool. Out of the numerous games announced and demoed, only a few had me thinking “must buy.”

The Ghost Recon: Future Soldier demonstration was a bit intriguing, specifically the part where you can assemble and take apart guns with your hands — it kind of reminded me of the PreCrime technology in Minority Report. Still, though – playing shooting games with your hands looks stupid. I mean, do I really want to mimic pulling a trigger by opening and closing my hand? And how about that stance? Anyway, the only game that seemed to do Kinect any real justice was Dance Central 2. Flagship titles like Gears of War 3 and Mass Effect 3 looked good, and the reveal of Halo 4 I guess was somewhat exciting (despite the fact it was leaked hours earlier).

But the one game that did have me grinning ear to ear was Tomb Raider. Though I haven’t played a Tomb Raider game since 1999’s Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, I’m still very much a huge fan of the series — this new reboot looks like the one I’ve been waiting on. Here’s hoping they keep Kinect far, far away from this one.

I can’t help but feel like Microsoft could’ve done worse. They’re trying some new ideas, and I can’t knock them for that. But Kinect — there’s just something about it that keeps me from viewing it as a core gaming utensil, and the fact that their conference predominantly focused on Kinect, left me feeling, uh, dis-kinected.

GRADE: D

Sony

Christopher Bowen: What Kinect is to Microsoft, 3D gaming is to Sony, as they push hard to further exploit their advantage in an experimental field that they control (most 3D TVs are Sony Bravias). They even made a heavy push with a “starter” 3D TV pack, one that will get the interest of the more casual class of gamer that will simultaneously drive interest in the brand and sell glasses. Personally, I could give less than a crap about 3D gaming – for some reason, it doesn’t sit well with my eyes, though wearing glasses might have something to do with that – but it is a growing market that Sony wants to push heavily. With that said, Sony did have a lot going for it outside of 3D gaming. The games they showed were interesting – moreso than Microsoft’s – even though I question why they showed off InFAMOUS 2 when it was dropping the next day.

In terms of my personal interest, the entire conference was won by one thing: PlayStation Vita. I tend to be a power whore when it comes to my systems, and this, to me, was the winner of E3. A handheld that can do a lot of what the PS3 can, has dual sticks, tactile buttons (my number one annoyance with cell phone gaming is the lack of actual buttons), a pretty impressive software list, hardware good enough to support even better games, AND a competitive price point of $299 (since I’ll be getting the 3G version)? Sign. Me. Up. My only concern about the system is if it will sell. The PlayStation brand has been wounded by the recent data breach, and gaming is skewing casual. Will the average gamer still be willing to spend $300 for the right to buy $50 games, especially for a portable unit? Time will tell.Like with any other system, the seller will be the games, but if Sony can get in some of the cross-platform gaming that’s been talked about and make it effective, that’s going to be a very hard sell for sceptics.

It wasn’t all good for Sony, however, as Jack Tretton is still giving Activision CEO Robert Kotick a run for his money as the biggest asshole in the gaming industry. His apology to consumers regarding the PSN outage rang hollow to me, and his jab at the press – saying it was good for us because it gave us something to write about – was a dick move from someone who is not in the position to be making dick moves. Larger companies tend to be a bit tone-deaf regarding their situation, and Sony is no exception. In fact, I hope Kaz Hirai takes over Sony for Howard Stringer (who’s job I’ve publicly called for) and does something about this guy, who has made consistent, never-ending gaffes and has seen his division go from being first in sales in the PS2 era to being third since taking over as the CEO of SCEA. Mr. Tretton, if anyone should be poking fun at anyone, the roles should be reversed. If I was had your results at my job, I’d have been shown the door a long time ago.

I also don’t care for Move being shoehorned into everything. At this point, it is blatantly obvious that the whole idea was a ripoff of Nintendo’s Wii, and consumers have so far reacted in kind: it’s not selling, period. To stuff it into games that don’t need it like Bioshock Infinite is insulting to our collective intelligence.

Overall, PlayStation Vita is great, the games are pretty good, and Sony itself sucks, as usual.

GRADE: C+

Aileen Coe: Just as the Kinect comprised the fulcrum of Microsoft’s conference, so did 3D and the Move comprise Sony’s conference. After a 3D montage, SCEA CEO Jack Tretton started off with an apology for the PSN outage, then quickly moved on. The 3D TV shows some promise for local multiplayer and is good for those living in smaller spaces, though it could be a tough sell for those with larger TVs, even if their current TVs don’t have 3D. The Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta access at Subway was a surprise, but a nice one. I’m rather ambivalent about the huge push towards Move for every game, particularly Bioshock Infinite, after Ken Levine’s vocal skepticism towards it. I get that the Move is one of Sony’s big products, but I don’t like the idea of it being forced into every game to the detriment of playability.

What caught my attention the most was the Vita. The price was lower than I’d expected, and they managed to match the 3DS’s price (for the Wi-Fi only version), which should help it be more competitive against the 3DS than the PSP was with the DS. That being said, looking back on general hardware trends, it’s been the less powerful hardware that’s dominated with a stronger library, so only time will tell. However, I do think the Vita has potential, depending on how developers utilize the touchscreen and motion sensing capabilities. The “cloud saving” feature will be quite useful, allowing you to play on the go, then pick up where you left off on the PS3. The AT&T exclusivity smarts a bit, but if you’re not using the 3G model it shouldn’t affect you. If the Vita really does end up being region-free, then it will rise higher on my list.

The Shadow of the Colossus and Ico HD collection in particular caught my attention – they’re both excellent games, and considering they’re regarded as the benchmark for artistic (even making it into the Smithsonian exhibit in the former’s case), they will look amazing in HD. I’m surprised there was no word on The Last Guardian to go along with it, but hopefully that will follow in the near future. Overall, there were plenty of big name titles announced, though a good number of them were sequels, and there weren’t many original IPs.

GRADE: C+

Donavan Tucker: For Sony, I think people looked more forward to hearing an apology than they did new games. Well, that and the NGP, now known as PlayStation Vita. Perhaps the most shocking thing about their conference was the announcement of the partnership with AT&T, to be used with the 3G version of the Vita. At least they managed to get the price on point – Vita is competitively priced at $250 (well, the Wi-Fi version. You’ll have to cough up an extra $50 for the 3G version), so those looking for an alternative to the 3DS should be pleased.

Like Microsoft, there weren’t very many surprises. Things people expected to show up did, such as Uncharted 3 and Sony’s ambition to make everything 3D. A considerable amount of games are now getting Move support, which could be a good thing if done right – though I’m not entirely moved by last minute tacked on Move support, as it seems to be the case with BioShock Infinite (after Ken Levine’s vocal disdain with Move controls, I kinda wish he would have stuck with his guns. I wonder how much they paid him?).

Side note: The Wii got away with motion controls because its system was actually built around them, but at the same time, more games failed to do motion controls justice than the ones that actually did. So, in saying that, the Move has the potential to succeed where Wii failed, especially considering the inevitable decline in support headed in Wii’s direction.

Sony’s showing was OK. One of my very favorite games of all time is Shadow of the Colossus, so the fact that it, along with Ico, is being remastered in high definition is a huge plus in my book. I would have liked to have gotten some sort of info on The Last Guardian, though. It’s a shame, really, that it was a no-show. You would think, that with all of the negative attention Sony’s been getting as of late, they’d more than make up for it at E3 – yes, I’m still talking about The Last Guardian.

GRADE: C

Nintendo

Christopher Bowen: I’m beginning to wonder if analysts and I not only see things differently, but if we have a 180 degree different look at the entire industry. When I saw what the Wii U was bringing to the table – a screen on a controller that leads to a bigger screen, with HD, third party support, and backwards compatibility with the Wii – I got excited. To tell the truth, I haven’t been excited about a Nintendo console since the Game Boy Advance, so for this to excite me told a story: as a gamer, I like what Nintendo’s selling with this, which I couldn’t say about the gimmicky Wii.

Two days later, Nintendo’s share price dropped 10%, and analysts were jumping over each other to say that Nintendo failed. I don’t get it either.

What most impressed me about Nintendo’s conference was what they DIDN’T do. They didn’t do what Microsoft or Sony did, which was emphasize something completely unrelated to the games themselves. Microsoft was all about Kinect (which doesn’t play a game), and Sony was all about Move and 3D (also non-games). Nintendo’s whole press conference was “here’s our games, and we have a new system coming. You’re getting Mario, Kid Icarus, Zelda, and everything else you like. Have a ball.” That, to me, is much more impressive than everyone else wringing their hands over using the Wii name, the slow uptake of 3DS sales, and everything else that people focus on but really shouldn’t.

Everyone makes such a big deal out of the “casual” market. What will the “casuals” think, will the “casuals” go for this, etc. Basically, analysts want Nintendo to catch lightning in a bottle again like they did with the Wii, and they think the only way to do that is to specifically cater to an extremely fickle market. I think catering to the “casual” market is a sure fire way to fail specifically because it’s so high risk; if you fail, *splat*. Nintendo can’t afford a splat when going against companies who are perfectly OK to take billion dollar losses in the games industry (which Microsoft and Sony both did for a long time) just to take them out. I say the same thing every time a new system is announced, or something is rumoured: to paraphrase James Carville, it’s the games, stupid. Nintendo has the best first party games out there, and the Wii U is showing heavy third party support, as well. Third party support was the number one problem Nintendo had in the Wii era, and if this holds, it will be a problem of the past. They’ve set themselves up well.

Maybe I’m just a stupid “enthusiast” journalist who can’t see things beyond what I, as a gamer, want – lord knows some Wall Street guys have said just that – but Nintendo has me so excited, I’m not even going to heavily penalize them for using 360 and PS3 footage during their press conference.

GRADE: B+

Aileen Coe: Well, Nintendo certainly had the best intro by having a full orchestra kick off the conference. But ultimately, what came after that was the important part.

The Wii U was unveiled, and while the jokes on the name write themselves, the Zelda tech demo looked good and demonstrated that it would at least have more horsepower than the Wii. The touchscreen controller seems a bit unwieldly, but also look as though a lot could be done with it in the right hands, much like some were able to take advantage of the touchscreen and dual screens on the DS. The ability to use the 3DS as another controller would be quite useful (and I imagine it would also help 3DS sales). It would’ve been nice to see more of what the Wii U itself was capable of doing rather than the passing off of PS3 and 360 footage as such, but with an HD console Nintendo will have more of a leg in the competition with Sony and Microsoft, given the amount of people buying HD TVs. Hopefully the falling of Nintendo shares after the Wii U doesn’t prove to be a harbinger of things to come.

The announced game lineup was full of big names, even if some of them had already been announced before the conference. The 3DS release of Ocarina of Time is obviously a big one that drops next week. I’m very much in favor of a Star Fox game with conventional controls. Kid Icarus finally gets another game after 20 years, his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl doubtlessly playing a big part in that. Speaking of, a new Super Smash Bros for the 3DS and Wii U that can play together sounds rather promising, though I’ll save the big hype until further details come out. Luigi’s Mansion 2 and New Super Mario Bros. are also big news. The Wii U also got other games to round out its lineup, such as Batman: Arkham City and Tekken, with forbodes good thing for third party support for the system. I enjoyed Rhythm Heaven on the DS, so a Wii version sounds like more good times.

Overall, Nintendo provided the strongest presentation without relying so much on one or two gimmicks. All three companies were lacking in JRPG announcements, though there’s other companies to pick up the slack. No hide nor hair of Xenoblade or The Last Story is a bit disappointing, though hopefully one (or even both) will come at some point.

GRADE: B

Donavan Tucker: Expectations for Nintendo were high from the gate; 3DS sales were in a slump, the launch games sucked, and nobody knew what their new next-gen console would do – or wouldn’t do; not to mention, speculations on what it would be called were intense.

Some expected it, some didn’t, but the fact of the matter is that Nintendo had a very strong show. Just about every major Nintendo franchise showed up, and the ones that didn’t were hinted at. The 3DS got the love it desperately needed, in the form of a new, original Mario game built from the ground up, the return of Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion 2, new footage for both Kid Icarus: Uprising and Resident Evil: Revelations, and the promise of a new Smash Bros. Hell yes.

Of course, the biggest moment of Nintendo’s conference (and perhaps the biggest moment of E3) was the unveiling of the Wii’s successor, Wii U. We should have known – no way was Nintendo dropping its Wii brand just yet. Backed by a 6.2 inch LCD touchscreen controller, graphics that are either on par with or surpass current-gen consoles, and a yet to be detailed “deeper” online function, Wii U made a strong impression. I wasn’t blown away at first, but it sank in over time: Nintendo could have another revolution on its hands.

Wii U’s controller is highly intriguing. It’ll make for some interesting gameplay options, and I’m especially impressed with the “Shield Pose” function, which lets you “take the game world off of the TV and spread it all around you, and peer into it from any angle.” I saw a demonstration of it, and my mind immediately began thinking of the many ways in which it could be used. Imagine what it could do for scanning/exploration in a new Metroid game.

From the looks of it, Wii U seems to have strong third party support — and it looks genuine this time. Probably the most common complaint regarding Nintendo consoles is the lack of third party support, and if the developers reel is any indication, then Wii U has some solid early adopters. And speaking of the developers reel, shown in it was footage supposedly meant to showcase games that are coming to Wii U – only they used a great deal of 360 and PS3 footage, which is a tad off putting. I’m really trying not to make that a huge deal, but I do wish more Wii U games were shown.

New details on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword were released, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the brand new trailer – it’s amazing. Also impressive, though a tech demo, was Wii U’s HD Zelda footage. I enjoyed many other tidbits – and I can go on and on, trust me – but I think I’ll stop there. My bias is showing.

In closing, Nintendo nailed it.

GRADE: B


CONCLUSION: For three people with pretty divergent views on what they want, it’s amazing that we were able to come to more or less the same consensus on the event’s major players. We all pretty much agreed that Nintendo won – whether by default or not is up to the reader to decide – and that Microsoft was awful, though in Microsoft’s eyes, that might not be a bad thing as they try to get away from the 360 being a “games” console. Hopefully, the things that we liked will keep their momentum as they get closer to release. And hopefully, Microsoft will grow out of this “Kinect” phase.

Here’s to hoping that we’re big enough to be able to go by next year!

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Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.