A few thoughts on E3 2012

I didn’t opt to go to E3 this year, but caught up with all of what was happening thanks to the miracle of the internet as Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo broadcast their press events to the world. So far, it’s been what I expected: the companies are playing to their strengths and Nintendo is the only one to talk about new hardware. Ubisoft and EA also had their press events yesterday making it a busy Monday of watching and analysis. So what did I make out of all of it?

Microsoft wubs your smart phone and tablet…especially if they’re running Windows 8

Microsoft opened with Halo 4 which everyone expected and showed a slew of games for their Xbox 360. No new hardware was shown off, but they did make a big deal out of software with SmartGlass allowing your smart phone or tablet to hook up with your Xbox 360 and do things like pick up on a movie you had been watching on a smart device and switch over to your living room TV. Or see if your friends are also playing Halo 4, using a tablet as a Halo peripheral tied into the Waypoint app while you’re playing.

Microsoft’s theme of connectivity and versatility were no doubt aimed to take some of the wind out of other advances being made in the smart device category by Nintendo (which rolled a pre-show out on Sunday night). You can also bet that this is laying the kind of connected groundwork that the next console will cue off with, whenever that arrives.

They’re not exactly copying Nintendo’s lead, either. It’s the next logical step to taking it to the next level themselves rather than continuing to rely solely on game developers to show them the way. Using your smart phone or tablet to bid on items or integrate the game experience while on the go?

Not a new thing. As one example, last year EA talked up how their Sports Football club was going to integrate the experience across as many platforms as possible such as Facebook. Now they’re pushing that experience with FIFA 13 to new levels using smart devices more directly…and Microsoft’s own angle isn’t that different in exploiting what their audience already have.

EA shows off…what it should be showing off

EA’s presentation was also low key with everything being shown as what everyone had already heard of. Dead Space 3 looks great, especially with drop-in drop-out co-op (cue Army of Two jokes here), and Madden NFL 13 also took time to demonstrate the cutting edge engine running underneath the trips, tackle pushes, and physical attributes behind every player. If there’s one thing that you can count on EA for, it’s that they love to play with new technology underlying the titles they put out.

A new SimCity is also due out on both Facebook for social butterflies and an actual retail release for solo players. But now, it’s also going social with multiplayer turning those neighboring cities into potential friends. Or enemies who won’t think twice about building pollution spewing factories near you.

BF3 Premium was also announced which sounds like COD Elite. A $49.99 price tag is attached to it, but it promises five new expansions over nine months with more guns, more vehicles, more everything. It’s like an old school expansion pack – only stretched out over nine months.

Medal of Honor: Warfighter was up next. It’s a pretty first-person shooter, and I’ll leave it at that.

One genuine surprise was hearing that EA had snagged the UFC license meaning that THQ is out of the game after their contract runs out. What’s even worse is that THQ also initiated a mass layoff of employees at their San Diego studio as a result. And on a Monday, the first day of E3, of all days to do it on. From what I understand, EA laid out the dough to acquire the license which THQ (in its current financial situation) probably saw as a positive as it continued to streamline its operations.

The conference ended with some footage for Crysis 3 which looks “okay”, but I’m kind of sick fighting in jungle scenarios. Halo 4 showing off jungle/forest fighting didn’t make me all excited, either.

Ubisoft continues has fun making games and creating new things

Ubisoft’s press conference was focused on what it set out to do and it introduced quite a bit of Assassin’s Creed 3, Zombi U on the Wii U, and surprised everyone with the infowar IP of the show, Watch Dogs.

Far Cry 3 was also shown off, Boobisoft style, and featured…more shooting in a jungle. Didn’t I do this already in Just Cause 2? Anyway, it looks like it could be interesting. But I’m not all that excited over this as much as I am over the next game.

Watch Dogs is why I play games and is something that I would expect Ubisoft to put together. They always find ways to turn topical subjects of the day into an explosive experience and Watch Dogs’ pseudo world of the “near now” with a guy whose cell phone can hack into traffic lights to cause accidents, allowing him to dive into a cover shooter and take out his target and then disappear, sounds great. It’s like a rebel against a modern version of Big Brother where you’re not told if you’re being watched. You simply are. Only this time, you have a magic wand to turns the system against itself.

Sony holds the course

Sony had their own special title to show off, exclusive to the PS3, called Beyond: Two Souls from Quantic Dream. Building on their experience from Heavy Rain and slapping more realism onto their already impressive graphics engine, Beyond stars Ellen Paige as Jodie, a troubled young woman whose ties to a mysterious spirit make her something of a cross between Carrie and Carol Ann. It looks like it could be great, and as disturbing, as Heavy Rain.

Ubisoft also spent time showing off more of Assassin’s Creed 3, this time with a sea battle on a ship that controlled like it was a car on water. But that aside, the scene was spectacular stuff especially when ships traded broadsides with each other as splintered wood and fire licked the wet decks of both boats. Can’t wait.

They also unveiled Assassin’s Creed: Liberation which takes place in New Orleans during the late 18th century starring you as a young, female assassin. And given how Africans were treated in those days in the New World, particularly in the colonies, playing as her is going to open a door of interesting possibilities both setting and character-wise. Kudos to Ubisoft for challenging this kind of material.

There was also more Far Cry 3, this time showing off the four-person co-op.

Wonderbook is a new “game” from Sony using their camera that turns a special book (sold separately) into a piece of augmented real-estate. Tilt the book up towards the camera, and the TV will show pages covered in animated words, pictures, and fold out trees and creatures. It’s really eye catching and from what they showed off, could be a lot of fun for kids and even a few adults that love this stuff. The first Wonderbook slated to be out is the “Book of Spells” written by J.K. Rowling as a small story set in the Harry Potter universe. You play as a young wizard learning their spells with book showing you exactly how to do them. Pretty neat stuff.

HTC is also partnering with Sony over their drive to integrate gaming in with tablets and smart phones. Ending the festivities was a double punch of God of War Ascension which looked every bit as God of War as the last game. And then there was The Last of Us.

Now, as yet another zombie apocalypse game, I wasn’t sold on Naughty Dog’s new IP. But after seeing the gritty gameplay video which dips into desperate people fighting tooth and face-to-furniture-corners for every scrap of ragged breath in this post-apoc world, consider me well intrigued. Especially after how it ended with a shotgun pizza. This guy doesn’t kid around when it comes to defending the girl he’s doing his best to protect.

Nintendo is doing what Nintendo wants to do

Nintendo’s press conference today hit on everything they set out to do – they talked about the Wii U, its capabilities, how they’re integrating more social functions into the system, and how the screen pad controller will be utilized to help free players to sing karaoke facing their audience or challenge and help friends through Super Mario Bros U. It’s exactly what we were briefed yesterday in Sunday’s pre-show.

Games-wise, there was nearly everything you expected from Nintendo. The boring part was in seeing titles that had already been out on other systems making their way to the Wii U. The only stand out was Aliens Colonial Marines which won’t be a launch title anyway. But I wasn’t convinced to get the system on day one.

Everyone knows that there is going to be a new Metroid, Zelda, perhaps further adventures of Kid Icarus and most definitely another Mario, that will all be Wii U exclusives. Shigeru Miyamoto is far from quitting gaming even though he’s decided to tackle different projects to challenge himself with. And I’m totally fine with that. I’m sure the console will still sell well, but there wasn’t too much that I thought was appealing to me. Sorry, Mario. You’re great, but I would have wanted to also see a new Super Mario RPG from Square Enix on the Wii U.

Finishing off the show was Nintendo Land, a set of three games arranged into one package and showing off the capabilities of the controller.

Maybe I’ll pick up a Wii U later on when there’s more to appeal to me in the same way that Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, Sega’s Yakuza series, or Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma does. But right now, I feel like I can afford to wait. No release date or pricing was announced yet, but I’m not so worried about that, either. It’s not as if this Fall is going to see another release war anyway when it comes to hardware. Fans eager to play it will buy it when it comes out, regardless of the price and the date. And Nintendo is going to do just fine.

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