Archive: E3 2007
Posted at 10:17 AM ET, 07/14/2007
The End of E3 as We Knew It
The final day of the new E3 Media Summit literally ended with a funeral. Independent game publisher Gamecock, which set up shop at The Hotel California, an unofficial E3 hotel, held a funeral procession that began on the beach of Santa Monica and ended in Venice Beach about 30 minutes later.
A collection of about 100 gamemakers, support staff, friends and family, made the march complete with a band, coffin, and plenty of costumed personnel. After the eulogies, which lamented the end of the overblown, cacophonous and massive E3s of old, the gamemakers held a party. For those familiar with the gaming industry, many of the Gamecock developers came from GOD Games (Gathering of Developers), a group of talented programmers known for doing things on their own terms. (At some of the old E3 shows they'd caravan in Winnebagos from Texas and camp across the street from the LA Convention Center.)
With the end of the new E3, there seems to be plenty of room for improvement. One of the venues used for the event, The Barker Hangar, which is located away from the core E3 hotels, was a ghosttown from what I heard. I didn't even venture to it because of meetings in hotel suites. Another thing that needs to be resolved is the over abundance of press conferences. There were conferences in the ballroom all day Wednesday and Thursday, forcing attendees to choose between attending press conferences or meeting with game companies.
Next year, one designated press conference day would be more than enough-even if it means adding an extra day to E3. Otherwise, the show offered a more relaxed environment with plenty of LA sun, great hotel food, and quiet meeting rooms. Some rooms, especially at Le Merigot where Sony, Atari and Electronic Arts were set up, were as hot as last year's E3 booths, but they seemed to be the exception.
The big games of the show delivered on their promise. Microsoft, which rented out the entire Viceroy Hotel, delivered great playable game content for Xbox 360 and PC. While its kick-off press conference was poorly executed, the actual games shipping for Xbox 360 this fall and beyond offer the strongest line-up for this year.
Bungie Studios played through a portion of the first campaign level from Halo 3 and the next generation visuals and enhancements to weapons and vehicles make this the game of the year. There's certainly the potential for this game to break the records of Halo 2 from a few years back, as well as help the company sell some more hardware. Halo Wars, a new real-time strategy game from Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires), has the potential to open up this genre to a whole new audience. Designed from the ground up for Xbox 360, this game is set 20 years before Halo 2 and introduces a new story, new vehicles and a whole new style of action and strategy gameplay to the mix.
Bioware, arguably the best role-playing game developer in the industry, has delivered what looks like its best game yet with Mass Effect. This sci-fi game blends action, deep character-driven gameplay and a complex, open-ended story line with multiple paths and many endings. Much like Halo Wars, this game should appeal to both the core gamer and can lure many casual gamers into a genre that they might otherwise have tried. Another game that stood out for Xbox 360 is Fable 2, a very different role-playing game. This fantasy game is being designed by Lionhead Studios to be accessible to all, thanks in part to a combat system that revolves around one-button controls.
E3 is over and all of the games will take some time to truly sink in, but the videogame industry appears healthy. (Microsoft predicts games will overtake the fledgling music industry in sales this year). As more gamers gravitate to this entertainment at an earlier age and play through to their old age, gamemakers are making a concerted effort to keep the core happy (and busy buying many games all year) while introducing new players to interactive fun.
Posted at 10:02 AM ET, 07/14/2007
New Gaming Trends Widen Market
Parents and politicians will be impressed at two new themes the game industry is embracing. The first is the rise of the exercise game.
Konami launched this revolution in Japan years ago with Dance Dance Revolution and had two new games on display at its bungalow outside of the Fairmont Hotel during this year's E3 Media Summit. Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party includes both the dance mat for leg exercises and introduces new a Wii controller for arm movement that lets players get a full body workout. Dance Dance Revolution Supernova 2 for PlayStation 2 adds 70 new songs to the hit franchise.
Nintendo had its working prototype of Wii Fit running at its booth at the Loews Hotel. With a large number of female gamers already flocking to Wii, the aerobics and yoga exercises will likely be a big hit. Kids and gamers of all ages won't even know they're getting a workout playing the fun, full-body mini-games like ski jump and soccer heading. Ubisoft's Rayman Raving Rabids 2 features new four-player party mini-games, including one that requires virtual swimming at top speed. With the success of Wii and its "get off the sofa" gameplay, kids are going to shed some pounds while having fun.
Nintendo's also responsible for introducing the brain exercise genre to gamers. Brain Age 2 for Nintendo DS was on display and it offers even more challenging mini-games designed by a Japanese Ph.D. The first three games in the series have been huge hits around the world. That has lead to companies like Ubisoft creating the My Word Coach game for DS and Wii. This game turns vocabulary-learning and spelling into a fun game that aims to make players smarter. Ubisoft is also developing a My Life Coach game that will help consumers plan everything from exercise to nutrition for a more healthy lifestyle.
As Nintendo pushes the envelope and age demographic out from the core with addictive new games like Super Mario galaxy for Wii, the entire industry is making a shift. Electronic Arts, which knows a thing or two about growing the gamer audience with its successful The Sims franchise, looks like it has the ultimate mass market game with The Simpsons Game. This 3D next generation title plays out like a mini season of the show and pokes fun at the videogame industry along the way. The game is as colorful and as innovative as the hit TV show thanks to collaboration with the show writers and creators. And the gameplay is intuitive and addictive enough to allow anyone to join in on the fun.
Even the massively multiplayer online market has been impacted by this trend of opening up games beyond the core. While it has its third-person shooter role-playing game epic, Tabula Rasa, which appeases its hardcore fans, publisher NcSoft is offering the fantasy Dungeon Runners MMO to download and play for free in the hopes of growing this still-niche market. Disney Online's Pirates of the Caribbean Online, an MMO game that's been delayed (again) until the fall, will also offer free online downloads and free gameplay (although only a portion of the world will be open for non-subscribers).
-- John Gaudiosi
Posted at 11:35 AM ET, 07/13/2007
E3 After Dark
When the E3 Media Summit officially closes down hotel suites at 6pm, the show still goes on. Many game publishers use this time to entice journalists and analysts to their booths, courtyards or restaurants with free drinks and food, as well as games.
Sony Online Entertainment and Capcom kept its doors open at the Shutters Hotel for a few extra hours with all of their games available for play. The best game at the Capcom booth was Devil May Cry 4, the latest installment in the action-horror game franchise from the Japanese publisher. The next generation debut of this best-selling series was both gorgeous to look at and much more accessible to play than the last installment. (Capcom actually had to release a second, easier version of Devil May Cry 3 for the U.S. audience last time, because the Japanese gamers like more challenging play.) Also on display was the new Nintendo Zapper lightgun (it's actually just a piece of plastic that holds the Wii Remote and Wii Nunchuck together in a gun-like shape). Capcom is supporting this new peripheral with Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. The device's aim wasn't spot-on, which is something the developer has time to fix.
Next door at Sony Online Entertainment's booth, a trailer was running for the new PlayStation 3 and PC Hollywood action massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, The Agency. This game has the potential to open up the MMO market past the "men in tights" categories. SOE has had success in that department with its EverQuest franchise. The Agency allows gamers to become a spy and get entangled in a global story that will evolve as missions occur. The game will even communicate with players via e-mail and cell phone text messages, since things in the virtual world will continue to happen even when you're not playing. A player can assign the gadget department to design a new car, and when it's ready to drive, and you're not in the game world, the game will alert you.
Electronic Arts held its invite-only get-together outside in the courtyard of Le Merigot Hotel. The star attraction at this party was a baby chimp. She was most recently seen in Fallout Boy's music video and is only 15 months old. The baby chimp was available for photos and tied into the new The Sims 2 Castaway game, which was on display. Other games featured at the outdoor gathering, which had steel drums and a tropical assortment of food, were the Wii dance/karaoke game, Boogie, the Wii trivia game Smartypants and the Wii party game EA Playground.
Dolby, which had Pioneer 5.1 surround sound speakers and headphones on display at the Square Enix and Eidos booths at the Fairmont Hotel throughout the show, held an informal dinner at Voda just a few blocks away from most of the show's official hotels. Dolby had an Xbox 360 running Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter game on display. Also shown for the first time was a non-working prototype videogame headset and amplifier from Astro Gaming. The A40 Mixer/Amp will ship in September for $100 and allow Xbox 360 and PC gamers to communicate clearly while playing games. John Griffin, marketing director of games at Dolby, said that most headphones are great for hearing game sounds in 5.1 but it's often hard to speak into them. With more team-based games shipping, and the need for clear audio communication rising, this device will fill that gaming need. Also shipping this fall from Astro Gaming is a Dolby Digital surround sound headphone with microphone for $250. This device, which is aimed at professional gamers, will work in tandem with the A40.
Ubisoft, IGN and gaming PR firm BH Impact also hosted post-show parties and cocktail hours.
Posted at 9:09 AM ET, 07/13/2007
The E3 Grind Continues
SANTA MONICA--For the third straight day, Santa Monica was overtaken yesterday by about 5,000 videogame journalists, analysts and game makers. The Fairmont Hotel was home to another full day of press conferences, which began at 8 a.m. with Take-Two Interactive showing its line-up of 2K Games, 2K Sports and Rockstar Games. I came in towards the end of that conference to attend the THQ press conference, but I spoke to people who attended and a running demo of Grand Theft Auto IV--the game that will vie with Halo 3 to become the best-selling game of this year--was shown. I heard the game looked pretty solid on next generation. The GTA games have always sold like gangbusters based on gameplay, not on graphics. So the visuals won't be an issue.
One thing about the new E3 that several game publishers have told me is that the press conferences (outside of the big three-Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft) do not work in this new format. The time it takes for one company to empty the small ballroom (which only holds about 200 people--out of the 3,000 attendees) makes a lot of the conferences start late and it's quite a mess getting in and out the small press room that leads to the ballroom. While press conferences feature videos of games or short demos, journalists can get hands-on time with the games over at the Barker Hangar or in the hotel suites.
The THQ press conference wasn't as jam-packed as yesterday's Electronic Arts or Activision press conferences (likely because its 9:15 am start time was impacted by the MTV Games/EA Rock Band party the night before, which went until the early morning and featured Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal).
THQ opened its conference with a pair of WWE Divas, Michelle McCool and Michelle, who entered the stage area with their theme songs and videos blaring. They played WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 on Wii, which was built from the ground up to take advantage of the motion-sensor controllers. In essence, the game was so easy to play, even a pair of WWE Divas could do it successfully. The game allows players to use real actions, like moving the controller in front of your face to perform a John Cena taunt. Punching an opponent is done by physically punching the air. These types of controls work great for wrestling and it was obvious by the end of the match that both girls were a bit winded. THQ's WWE game franchise has sold over 30 million units to date and it's debut on Wii should work perfectly on this mass market console.
Another game aimed at the broader gaming demographic is Cars: Mater National. It's a virtual sequel to Disney/Pixar's hit film. THQ previously created a videogame-only sequel to The Incredibles a few years back. The new game, which ships for six platforms, expands the gameplay of the original with a larger Radiator Springs, new mini-games and new characters. THQ shipped games based on Ratatouille just before the release of Disney/Pixar's latest film. The gaming demographic is expanding on next gen as Xbox 360 versions of these kids' games are now routine. THQ is also bringing these new games over to PS3.
One of the most original games I've seen (and later played at THQ's suite at Shutter's Hotel) is Le Blob. The Wii exclusive concept came from some students in the Netherlands. THQ bought the game rights and enlisted its Australian studio, Blue Tongue, to turn it into a game. Players play as Le Blob, a colorful character who rolls around Chrome City (a world devoid of color because of an evil regime) and literally paints the town red, and blue, and green. The primary colors can be combined to create other colors. As the city is painted, new music is introduced and the world begins to evolve. It's a beautiful game to watch take life and its simplicity is as addictive as Bandai Namco's Katamari franchise. It's hard to categorize this game into any of the current game genres, which is a good thing. This is the type of original game the industry needs more of.
The third game in the Destroy All Humans franchise, Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon, ships for next gen consoles, including a game designed just for the Wii. A Fox TV show pilot is also in development based on this property. The new game is set in the '70s and gives Crypto the ability to destroy entire buildings with his new flying saucer. On foot, he can shoot anal probes into humans and stop time.
For the more hardcore gamers, THQ showed video of its Conan game, which is based on the classic novels, as well as Frontlines: Fuel of War. Frontlines is set 20 years in the future and takes place in a world in which oil supply has almost run out. War has broken out between an alliance of China and Russia and the U.S. and Europe. There's actually a theme going on in which near-future games are taking current events and exrtrapolating potential outcomes virtually. LucasArts' Fracture, which I saw yesterday, blends hot button issues of today like stem cell research and global warming and incorporates that into its war games. Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2, which shipped a few months ago and is set in Mexico, is another example of this trend.
Rounding out the press conference, THQ showed videos of its new off-road racer, MX vs. ATV Untamed, Moto GP 2, Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights and Stuntman: Ignition (a game that puts you behind the wheel of a Hollywood stunt man). To close things out, THQ brought out the current UFC light heavyweight champion, Quinton Rampage Jackson to show the first next gen video of the new game, which will ship next year. The mixed martial arts sport, which has taken off in recent years in part do to SpikeTV's reality series, offers a very different type of gameplay than WWE or boxing.
John is a freelance journalist covering interactive entertainment and the video game business for more than a decade for The Washington Post and other online and print publications.
Posted at 6:55 AM ET, 07/13/2007
Xbox for Families
The Xbox 360 is trying to break outside the realm of the hardcore gamers this year, with trivia games and Disney movies available for download. Jeff Bell, Microsoft's vice president of marketing, is hoping that the latest batch of family-friendly titles will promote "family date night" among Xbox-owning families.
"For the first time, we're starting to gain some traction outside the shooter, the core audience [of gamers]," he said.
To that end, the company has a new controller to go with an upcoming trivia game called Scene It designed for people who aren't used to the traditional button-laden game controller.
"It allows us to get past the intimidation factor for non-gamers," said Jim Merrick, a marketing director at Microsoft, who just started at the company after working at Nintendo for a dozen or so years.
But that's not to say the industry is turning its back on those of us who already like video games. One upcoming feature that grabbed my attention is one developed by Electronic Arts, that will take some of the time-consuming nature out of playing some games online with your friends. Don't have time to play 18 holes of Tiger Woods? This new time-shifting feature will let you break it down into separate challenges. You play one hole, then, whenever he or she gets around to it, your friends can play the same hole.
It's sort of like an Xbox 360 version of chess-by-mail.
Halo 3 has a cool feature that will let players automatically record their games to a video game file, and then go in and watch their performance, and their opponents' performance, from any possible camera angle. The game's developer Bungie thinks this will be a way for serious fans to develop their skills. It's also just kind of cool to watch, for those of us who are less serious about our Halo performances.
"A year ago, people were still advocating that we get out of the hardware business," says George Harrison, Nintendo of America's vice president of marketing. Nintendo's George Harrison. It's been a good year for Nintendo, as we've already noted in today's article, but Harrison admits there's one thing he'd like...
By washingtonpost.com Editors | July 12, 2007; 06:10 PM ET | Comments (1)
To show off its games for the E3 trade show this week, Microsoft has rented out an entire hotel, the Viceroy, and decorated this ritzy place with throw pillows emblazoned with an outline of the Xbox 360's controller. Mike Musgrove tries one of the new Wii controllers. This is the...
By | July 12, 2007; 03:36 PM ET | Comments (1)
Now that the Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft press conferences are over, it's finally time to get a look at some video games and talk to the game makers out at the E3 trade show. My first meeting of the show was with Sega vice president of marketing Scott Steinberg, because...
By washingtonpost.com Editors | July 12, 2007; 11:48 AM ET | Comments (0)
The E3s of old were all about flash and sound over substance. But in this scaled-back version of the summit, less of that is taking place. An eclectic mix of Hollywood, however, is still making it into the show. Microsoft enlisted running back Reggie Bush to show up to promote...
By washingtonpost.com Editors | July 12, 2007; 09:04 AM ET | Comments (0)
The new, scaled-down version of the E3 trade show began last night as Microsoft threw a press conference to promote upcoming games for the Xbox 360 and Windows. "This holiday will be unlike anything that's come before it," for video game fans, said Microsoft vice president Peter Moore. Peter Moore...
By washingtonpost.com Editors | July 11, 2007; 10:02 AM ET | Comments (1)
Gone are the huge booths, blaring music, and the never-ending plasma screens filled with digital imagery. There are also no billboards or posters advertising Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo on hotel walls and buses. The new E3 Media Summit, reduced from 60,000 people-plus to about 5,000 people, and relocated from the...
By washingtonpost.com Editors | July 11, 2007; 09:35 AM ET | Comments (0)
Editor's Note: In the next few days, Post I.T. will become home to E3 coverage. @play columnist Mike Musgrove and guest blogger John Gaudiosi will file updates from the show in Los Angeles. DirecTV unofficially launched the E3 Media Summit festivities with the first-ever live broadcast of a professional video...
By washingtonpost.com Editors | July 10, 2007; 03:44 PM ET | Comments (1)