E3 2009: Final thoughts from an E3 vet

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With the cacophony of this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo having died down, I had some lingering impressions I wanted to share:

Sony’s PS3 Motion Controlling Sensor: Even though the prototype dual controllers for this currently look like ice cream cones, Sony has managed to create an incredibly precise means of wireless control that can be applied to its game base. The demo impressed and even if the idea of using invisible controllers to pick up and handle objects seemed a bit strange, Sony was able to offer a more practical ideal by having one of its employees demonstrate how this could be applied to an action fantasy game with one controller representing the sword, another representing the shield and giving the player hordes of armored skeletons to take down. This was only trumped via a demo of how to take down skeletons with virtual arrows, one controller acting as the bow and the other as the arrow. Load an arrow, pull back, let go and the software takes care of the rest.

It’s not applicable to the Mac, but Sony’s apparently refining something pretty useful and this should be pretty fun to use once it arrives in a final form.

Microsoft Natal: Microsoft used part of its press briefing to announce Natal, a technology incorporating a webcam that scans the user and objects and incorporates/interacts with them. If this works half as well as the demo, this could be extremely interesting to play with.

Still, there’s a part of me that wonders exactly how this will be implemented into current titles. The demo video shows a digital character named Milo interacting with a human, the two holding a conversation, exploring Milo’s environment and reading each other’s body language as well as vocal tones to help guide the conversation. It’s hard to guess as to where this can go, but if the technology can genuinely scan an object you’re holding and use it in the game, then this is worth hanging around to see what happens.

iPhone Development: Beyond Electronic Arts (the mighty Blizzard Entertainment was officially absent from the show), very few vendors had specific Mac gaming products waiting in the wings. That aside, there’s no shortage of iPhone and iPod touch developers, the App Store proving itself to be fertile and profitable ground to code for.

With an install base numbering in the millions and iPhone OS 3.0 promising bottom-line-boosting features such as microtransactions, Push Notification, the ability to easily deliver downloadable content and bells and whistles like multiplayer gameplay over Bluetooth, the developers are licking their chops at what lies ahead.

And maybe you should be too.

Left 4 Dead 2: Valve’s “Left 4 Dead” zombie horror survival game has been occupying more and more time in my Xbox 360 and its sequel looks and plays nothing short of amazing. For fans of the original, the new version sports daytime campaigns (think fighting the rushing undead in “28 Days Later”/”Dawn of the Dead” remake style), a better hit model engine, somewhat improved graphics, an option to keep the corpses you kill on the screen (as opposed to magically disappearing), new weapons and incendiary rounds to fight with. It’s not an entirely new game, but the five additional campaigns as well as additional back story about the source of the infection will keep fans (including myself) coming back for more this fall.

Finally, the Windows version runs like a dream. Factor in Boot Camp or your favorite virtualization software and you’ve got something great en route for the Mac.

E3 Resurfacing: For years, the Electronic Entertainment Expo was an institution, known for new releases, amazing parties and stunning amounts of free geek/tech swag. Over time, the event grew, vendors having to outshine each other and spending small, moderate and large fortunes to do so. At its peak, the event drew more than 70,000 attendees, the vendors intervening and stating that they had to spend too much in order to draw the attention they needed.

From 2007 and 2008, E3 almost went fallow, the 2007 event taking place in a Santa Monica Air Force hangar while the 2008 venue brought the show back to the Los Angeles Convention Center to a disappointing turnout. With 200+ vendors and more than 41,000 attendees this year, the show seems back on track and here to stay. What was there was large, impressive, energetic yet still completely manageable, as you could get where you needed to go without having to battle the crowds, still be drawn to something impressive and enjoy the event altogether.

E3 is back, there’s some incredible stuff to see, it’s at a manageable size once again and I can’t wait for next year.

Wii Vitality Sensor: There’s always something that stands out as a bit awkward at an event and this was it. During the Nintendo Press Briefing, company president Satoru Iwata introduced the Wii Vitality Sensor, a Nintendo Wii peripheral that looked like a diabetic finger sensor. The device reads biometric data such as the player’s heart rate and can be used to sense the player’s physical state given this information.

And that was it. Despite Iwata’s excitement over the product, he offered no ideas as to how to use this or games that were currently in development for it. Though this may have a future use, nothing was mentioned and one had to wonder how an R&D effort like this had found its way to the main stage?

The Swag: In spite of admittedly halfhearted swag hunting, I’m two medium t-shirts, a few branded pens, some press packets and several USB flash drives richer. Albeit the swag wasn’t quite up to the massive level of years past, attendees were still walking around with free t-shirts, promotional stickers, pins, free inflatable Wii controllers and other odds and ends that the vendors were handing out for free. Whether the semi-crazed rush to shove a small truckload of free video game merchandise into every attendee’s hands will return remains to be seen, but I’ve got two more days between laundry at this point and I can live with that.

Video Games Live: Perhaps the best way to wrap up E3. After several days of running around almost nonstop, I was able to take a cab up to the Greek Theater, check in and sit down to an incredibly combination of a local orchestra playing video game music to an audience of 2,000+ people. The coordinators have their work cut out for them and after two hours of classic video game music along with themes from newer titles such as “Halo”, “World of Warcraft” and “Final Fantasy”, the audience demanded a two-song encore, which they were only too happy to provide.

Until next year!

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