Thursday, May 11, 2006

E3 Shenanigans

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is in full swing in Los Angeles, and this year's show is a little extra-special because it ushers in the next generation of consoles (admittedly, the X-Box 360 is already out). Check out Gamespy's E3 coverage here.

As I said, the X-Box 360 is already out, and Microsoft are using this year's E3 to add further momentum to their initial advantage by pushing out new features and loads more games. The big news so far for the 360 are the confirmation of their HD-DVD add on for the console later this year (no details though), the teaser for Halo 3 out in 2007, the announcement of Grand Theft Auto 4 along with exclusive 360 only downloadable content, and a service called Live Anywhere that allows games on mobile devices and Windows Vista to interact with 360 games. The BBC has a good summary here.

The big announcements were set to come from Sony and Nintendo. Sony finally provided details of their eagerly anticipated Playstation 3, and it seems most people were left more than a little underwhelmed. The games on offer apparently didn't surpass what is available currently on the 360. Talk about bad first impressions. Sony has also shamelessly cribbed from Nintendo - they've cobbled on some form of motion sensor to the controller (at the expense of the rumble / vibration feature). The key piece of info from E3 is the price - $599 (or $499 for the castrated version that comes with a smaller hard drive, no HDMI connectivity, and some other stuff taken out). That's a good $200 more than the full featured 360, and at least $300 more than Nintendo's Wii is expected to be. Read more about it here.

Speaking of the Wii, Nintendo came out on top with an impressive demonstration of their controller and a promise of 27 games available by launch. No price or release date yet though(4th quarter this year at the latest). Game demos will be playable at E3, and most people that've tried the innovative controller claim it's a blast to use and makes the game experience more immersive. The major downside is that graphically the console doesn't look that much different to the existing Nintendo Gamecube; Nintendo is focusing purely on the interface and the way it will change gameplay. BBC details here. And one last thing, I'm beginning to kinda like the name...

What's the point of this post without my $0.02? I think the Wii looks like a blast and is certainly the most interesting thing to happen in the world of video games for some time. The interface might not be great for every type of game, but for many it will be. Imagine controlling the swing of a tennis racket by moving your arm as you would while holding a real racket. Or turning the controller in your hands like a steering wheel to control a vehicle in a driving game. Or aiming your gun by pointing the controller at the screen in a first-person shooter. There's probably loads of interactions and gameplay designs people haven't even thought of yet. Of course, if the system isn't implemented well it could end up being a disaster, but the early word is good. Couple that with a low price point and I'm sold.

As for the other two, which are competing on the same playing field, I'd lean towards the 360. They both offer stunning graphics and high-def images that require ridiculously expensive TVs to view. They're both aggressively pushing the online gaming experience, but Microsoft has a head start and a clear advantage. The price point for the 360 is way better and the difference in performance doesn't appear to be all that great (for the moment). Plus, MS seems to have quite a few games being lined up for release before years end. PS3 will have a blu-ray drive as standard, but again you need the high-def gear to get anything out of it, and it's not yet clear if blu-ray will become anything more than a bit player in the home video market.

At the end of the day it all comes down to the games - if MS has a comparable selection to whatever Sony has, then I'm Xbox 360 all the way. Unless Sony make something of that motion detection they've developed, but I wouldn't put money on it. I'm betting Sony won't dominate nearly as much this console generation. It might even be close to a three-way split, with Nintendo and Microsoft eating out of Sony's market share. Whatever happens, it should be an interesting couple of years ahead for console gaming.

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