The opening two days of E3 have seen the big three press conferences (Xbox, Sony, Nintendo) announce diverse and interesting advances and features that gamers will already be eagerly anticipating.
Nintendo and Sony were both expected to reveal new consoles, Nintendo the follow-up to the Wii and Sony the previously unnamed PSVita handheld device.
The Wii U is a bold move from Nintendo, aiming to get the early release market share advantage with a console that is not such a vast technical improvement over either the 360 or the PS3. They’ve been adept at attracting the family and youth markets, but the Wii has been seen as an ‘after dinner’ spectacle rather than a core gamer’s console - it’s uncertain whether a new controller will change this.
Nintendo Of America president Reggie Fils-Aime introduces the Wii U
Having said that, there are some really interesting uses for the controller, creating a viewfinder experience where you use it to explore an otherwise concealed area (with first-person shooter and puzzle games especially), it’s nice to have inventories and peripheral menus away from the main screen and Nintendo have an incredible knack of creating ingenious nuances which will be detailed before its 2012 release.
The key issue would seem to be that although it can outperform the 360 and PS3 graphically, it still seems gimmicky and when compared to Microsoft’s Kinect Nintendo’s new console is dwarfed by their peripheral.
They’ve also noted that the console comes with, and only works with, one of the new controllers, they’re not sold separately and all other players in multiplayer will use Wiimotes. This will allow games with two different arenas, one on the touchpad and one on the TV, but it’s still a decision that will disappoint consumers and limit the technology.
The Wii U console, often hidden behind its controller
Nintendo’s introduction purposely overlooked the main console unit, simply showcasing the new controller which will probably confuse a fair few consumers. The prices quoted by much of the games press seem a little off. Considering PSVita is a similar machine and costs over £200, when factoring in a new console too this looks like a £350 price tag may be more realistic than the £220-250 quoted by the media.
The beginning of the PSVita pitch spoke about “the future of the living room”, but as Sony demonstrated (and continue to demonstrate) with their conviction in 3D, they don’t quite understand what the public want in their living rooms. The announcement of a $500 PlayStation branded 3D monitor will please Sony’s core fans, but at 24” it’s not big enough to replace many high-end TVs and its 3D glasses still carry public scepticism.
The PSVita, which looks pretty familiar
Although it is essentially the perfect mobile gaming device with dual-analog multi-touchscreen and a host of other features, the handheld market is being superseded by smartphones. Uncharted aside none of the demo games looked like they’d be out of place on an iPhone and without the child-friendly appeal of the 3DS, which suffered disappointing sales itself, Sony can’t expect the Vita to turn the tide on their three years of consecutive losses.
This is exacerbated by Sony’s push for the device to become part of the living room as Kinect is miles ahead in that area. Really it’s looking like a battle between Apple and Microsoft for the future of the living room and given the recent PlayStation Network downtime, Microsoft have a massive advantage.
With the Kinect being only seven months old, Microsoft didn’t announce any new hardware. Microsoft’s partnership with the amateur Kinect developer community will wield results that will extend their reach well beyond gaming with Kinect-facilitated cognitive and physical rehabilitation, object scanning, and artistic tools all made available to Xbox Live users through Kinect Fun Labs. The best of these features will be absorbed into the game-making process, Kudo Tsunoda, Kinect’s creative director was keen to impress that there is a lot of hidden Kinect stuff and that the tech is still in its infancy.
Ice T performs with his band Body Count to celebrate his voice acting part in Gears of War 3
The power behind a company like Microsoft is where Xbox’s real strengths lie, partnerships with the biggest TV networks globally will allow them to introduce live TV like no other console, there’s a new YouTube partnership and the voice commands will apply to these new features and the existing ones such as Netflix and Zune.
There’s increased Kinect integration which will be addressed in more detail in the games round-up, but a year after it was formally debuted, Kinect is still the most powerful gaming technology available, Sony can only expect moderate sales with the PSV and Nintendo will obviously benefit from the early release date but it will pay in the long-term when towards the middle and end of the next gen’s lifecycles it is vastly outperformed.
Sony have to see the next-gen as a battle for survival, given their recent issues with hackers and the mass defection of gamers to Xbox, they need to stake their claim strongly.