Sony E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Sony’s press conference wasn’t particularly kind to those of us who live in the UK. Not because it didn’t mention much about Europe but because it was on so freaking late! To top it off things were running late so what should have started at 1am instead began almost twenty minutes later. Not a massive amount of time unless of course it’s 1am…

Anyway, onwards and upwards and Sony began proceedings with an official apology from Jack Tretton regarding the PSN downtime recently. They couldn’t exactly ignore it and despite mumblings within the community that they would do just that, Sony have proved they are a humble company after all and do value their image and development studios dearly. It was classy and well done, almost as much as the segway between negativity and positivity regarding PSN; start by apologising and end with “isn’t it awesome? Well it’s going to get more awesome too!” referring to the many video and music streaming services either on or coming to the PS3.

Naughty Dog made an appearance with a playable demo of Uncharted 3 to wow the audience though after seeing the new Tomb Raider game, I wasn’t as wowed. Don’t get me wrong, Uncharted 3 looks good, very good with all the usual Nathan Drake stylings that make for a fantastic third person action adventure but, and it could very well have been the live feed, the demo didn’t feel like it came on leaps and bounds from Uncharted 2. Then again, said game was really quite special so perhaps it doesn’t have to and perhaps my incredibly tired eyes saw things differently. Still, the action looks superb with the demo showing Drake sneaking his way around a ship, taking out guards and being chased by a huge wave of water that did look incredible. Naughty Dog have done wonders with their water physics it seems. Another must have for this holiday season? It’s definitely looking that way.

Again Sony pushed their commitment to 3D entertainment as hard as they could with almost every demo and trailer in 3D – for anyone in the audience with 3D glasses of course. But they realise that not everyone has a 3D capable TV or even wants to upgrade to one seeing as they can be a tad pricey. The solution? Produce a 24 inch PlayStation branded monitor and two pairs of glasses for $499 plus throw in a copy of Resistance 3 for good measure. That should sort it right?

To keep with the whole 3D love, Sony also announced God of War Origins, a 3D and HD remastered version of the PSP God of War games which, to be honest, doesn’t do a whole lot for me though it’s a series with legions of fans so I’m sure it’ll sell well. What did tickle my fancy was the Ico and Shadow of Colossus HD collection that will also be in 3D. Team Ico’s legendary games were meant to come out not long ago but were pushed back until later this year. The inclusion of 3D is probably why.

Ken Levine of BioShock fame took to the stage to show off another dazzling trailer for BioShock Infinite, a game not out until next year but already looking amazing. He went on to say how in the past, he’s not been too kind towards motion controls particularly Sony’s Move. However they’ve some how made him change his mind (cough huge wads of cash cough) and now he loves the device because it isn’t just about waggling a HD wand but so much more. Levine spoke of enhanced interactions with Elizabeth, the female hero of BioShock Infinite, by using the Move controller. What ever could that be?

What I found quite bizarre about Sony’s conference was how their next handheld is meant to be coming out later this year but it didn’t seem to be shown with the gravitas that a new system deserves. The official name is now PSVita and all I can think of is Ryvita, the tasty health food snack. I’m sure that will dissipate soon much like the giggles after hearing the name Wii for the first time. It also has a price of $249 for standard Wifi models and $299 for ones that are both wifi and 3G capable. No doubt Sony are making a considerable loss for such a relatively low price but they need to match the 3DS in order to compete. Graphics and processing power be damned, if the 3DS is having a hard time selling a $349-$400 PSVita will definitely struggle. Expect prices of £220 and £250 here in the UK.

One PSVita title that really looked good was LittleBigPlanet. A series which has now graced all current gen PS systems with each one adding a little more magic. The PSVita version does so with its touchscreen controls utilising all the tools from the PS3 in a smaller, maybe even easier to control, pocket port, making good of all the features PSVita has. Take pictures with the camera and instantly import them into the game is one example. Graphically it looks lovely but could well have been faked so I’m taking the footage with a pinch of salt but still, LittleBigPlanet on PSVita may just be a the one game you need to make the system make sense. And with touch controls, the kinds of levels and experiences created by the users are likely to be similar to bite-sized iPhone games, adding another feather to LBP‘s already downy cap.

A good show from Sony but I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything. A few odd choices were made and the delay was a little annoying though handing out multiple 3D glasses and getting everyone to their seats must have been a pain. Next up however is Nintendo this afternoon at 4:30pm BST which is the conference I’m most excited about. Not long now!

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Beyond the Labyrinth looks ace

One of the main grumbles about the 3DS is lack of software with more promises of future releases than actual dates and with the launch games predominately being revamps of old titles, consumers have been reluctant to upgrade of buy the system in the numbers Nintendo had hoped for. Along comes Tri-Ace, the team behind Resonance of Fate and Star Ocean, with Beyond the Labyrinth and jaws are pleasingly dropped at the first screenshots (via Siliconera).

The game may still lack a release date and for that matter any real detail but from the look of it, Beyond the Labyrinth is at least making good use of the 3DS’s processing power. Famitsu bagged eight screens in total (see them all here) and state the game is a dungeon RPG featuring a talkative female who may or may not be the lead but is clearly important since she’s the first character shown. It probably goes without saying the look of Beyond the Labyrinth is reminiscent of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus which is another exciting prospect.

But other than the handful of screenshots and it being called a dungeon RPG, very little else is known. Though Tri-Ace do like to experiment with combat mechanics, opting to not always stick to the regimented ideas of JRPGs. It’s possible Beyond the Labyrinth will continue this tradition but it’s just as possible that there could be no fighting whatsoever but instead an emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving. Either way it’s worth keeping an eye on this game’s development for the art-style alone if not anything else.

Shadow of the Colossus and Ico remake adds Trophies, The Last Guardian may contain Move

The port of Team Ico’s Shadow of the Colossus and Ico may have a ghastly box-art but at least the upscaled graphics will be a wonder for the eyes. In an interview with Dengeki Online (via Andriasang), director Fumito Ueda said : “[Both games have] become HD, the textures have been redone to go along with that, and also PS3 Trophy support.” On top of these glorious new texture, Sony’s championing of 3D has made its way into the collection too. Ueda continued “Originally, we weren’t planning on making them 3D compatible, but it was decided upon suddenly when we determined compatibility would be a possibility. Neither Ico nor Shadow were made with 3D in mind originally, but they do fit it well I believe.” I’m not so bothered with Trophy support or 3D for that matter but new textures could make the already beautiful world look that much more stylised. But the quirky charm of the PS2 graphics did contribute to the feel of the game so I hope those elements aren’t lost in the upgrade.

On the subject of 3D, Ueda was questioned as to whether his next big game, The Last Guardian will include the feature: “We’re still looking into this. In its current state, we’ve pretty much used up the full system specs. However, we’d like people who don’t normally play games to play, so if it can reach these people, we’ll think about it. With this meaning, it’s not the case that there is absolutely no plan for support.” So basically they’re looking into it but aren’t ruling it out if it works. And what of Sony’s other new baby, Move? Ueda stated that if they do implement such a peripheral, it’ll be in addition to normal controls. Phew.

Shadow of the beast

Once no more than a rumour, the recently confirmed HD revamp of the two most significant games in our beloved hobby have been insulted by shoddy box art. Team Ico’s wonderful Ico proves the foolishness of the argument about games being ‘too short’ and Shadow of the Colossus showed us the cruelness and importance of video game death. Both are making their way to the PS3 at some point in the future (Sony are yet to decide the date), most probably by PSN but seemingly a store-bought version is also on offer. Swedish retailer Webhallen.com outed the box art which has all the grace and dignity of an injured ferret. While it’s true that once bought, what’s on the disc is more important than its housing but these two titles are tremendously artistic (yes games are art) and a complete package of style and brilliant gameplay should be considered. Especially when you think of how Sony pride themselves on making ad campaigns that are more pompous than informative – remember This is Living?

I may be making mountains out of mole hills on this one as is Kotaku who alerted me to the story but is it too much to want a touch more class in this medium? It is? Oh, okay then.

Lost In Shadow E3 2010 trailer

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Hudson Entertainment’s Lost In Shadow was shown at E3 to a pleasantly receptive crowd. The trailer above is what they had the fortune of watching and is a welcome peak to the majority of troughs on Nintendo’s WiiWare service. We first heard about Lost in Shadow back in September of last year and its story of a young boy’s shadow who is trying to reunite itself with the boy. The Ico inspired art-style is enough to win me over so far but we’ll get a better idea of how it handles when Lost in Shadows is released later this year.

Fable III will excite rather than annoy

Earlier this week, Peter Molyneux claimed that his Fable III announcement at yesterday’s X10 event would piss off fans of the franchise. But from what I heard there really isn’t anything to get pissed off about and on the contrary, new features to look forward to. The game begins with the hero from Fable II at the age of 18 but has some important visual differences. The art style retains the same distinctively British flair but no longer will there be an on-screen health bar. Instead: “We made the health bar one pixel and we thought, ‘What are we doing man? No one is going to do that. Let’s do what shooters do so well and make the world your health bar,'” said Molyneux. Brilliant, this kind of approach would mean less distraction from a depleting block of colour.

So what’s next? Touching. For each of the Fable games, non-playable character (NPC) interaction has become more and more important and Fable III goes even further. Inspired by the awe-inspiring Ico and its guidance through hand-holding, players can actually grab hold and interact with NPCs as seen in the tramp-dragging image below. Other things like holding the hand of your child and feeling them react to the environment completes the experience.

Similar to the changing of the hero’s facial features, weapons now morph depending on how we play the game. If you’re into slaying the innocent, your sword will drip blood whereas only disposing of the evil makes it glow. Girth and length of a weapon relates to the regularity of fights and how long we decide they last while killing certain creatures effect the overall shape – smooth or spiky for example.

Around half-way through Fable III, the added task of ruling is thrown upon the player as they become a King or Queen of the land. Rather than an RTS scenario, choices are what shape the world like allowing or denying the passing of laws. “Conventionally, a game is all about a hero’s journey,” Molyneux states. “You start weak and build up your power, take on the bad guy and then the credits roll. We decided why stop there.”

All of the above effect how many followers you accumulate which is how Fable III displays your experience. The more you have, the higher your experience. Trying to become the world’s greatest ruler by promising the earth will have its repercussion though so a sense of realism must be instilled: “On the journey to becoming king… the temptation is to promise everything. Then you become king and you realize, ‘Oh shit baby, this is not so simple.'”

Why would Molyneux think any of these would piss us off? If all the ideas come to fruition, Fable III could be a very important point in western RPG evolution. More importantly it could be an incredibly enjoyable and touching experience, re-igniting all the emotions caused by its predecessors. I can’t wait.

{Images and some info from Kotaku}

My favourite games of the decade

Over the last ten years, we’ve had the pleasure of consuming some amazing stories, touching characters and utterly beautiful graphics mixed with outstanding audio techniques. Was it the best decade in gaming? Possibly. But also a very significant one. Developers opened their arms wide to embrace a new market ready for tapping – the casual gamer. Nintendo’s success of the WIi and DS, Sony’s knack of borrowing their idea and Microsoft’s desperation to jump on the band wagon has made for some very good gaming – both in casual and hardcore experience. But enough of my rambling, continue reading to see my top ten games of the last decade. In no particular order of course as it was hard enough picking only ten!
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