This week the video game companies reveal their secrets at the industry's annual virtual dog and digital pony show, E3. While expo attendees get hands-on time with the latest games on the trade show floor, most attention goes to the press conferences held by the three console makers: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. This is where the three outline plans for the rest of the year and beyond, teasing gamers with new announcements, parlayed with massive amounts of marketing pomp. Imagine if the Oscars were all about the movies that were about to come out instead of last year's movies you forgot to see, and you've got the idea.
Microsoft's conference revealed a new slimmed-down model of the 360, and reiterated several big name games like "Halo: Reach" and "Gears of Wear 3," but the big push was the controller-free device named Kinect. Using a camera and microphone combo that sits above your television, Kinect can see what you're doing and hear what you're saying. The camera is smart enough to track specific body movements across multiple people, meaning a family can stand in front of the TV and pantomime jumping hurdles in a track and field game.
Xbox 360 is hooked up to Kinect, a voice and motion-driven interface will allow owners to navigate the 360's menu, including such future-forward abilities as pausing movie playback by simply calling out "Xbox, pause." Kinect is expected this November, but Microsoft did not announce a price. This has raised the eyebrows of gamers - who are already a little dubious of the initial spate of Kinect games that are awfully derivative of the kind of games Nintendo has been delivering on Wii for years.
Ironically, Nintendo managed to sidestep their usual reliance on the kind of casual motion-controlled "lifestyle" gaming that has thus far defined the Wii. Previous E3 shows have hinged on market-pleasing but gamer-grating fare like " Wii Fit"; for this expo, Nintendo focused on a series of new installments in familiar franchises. Nintendo had previously announced a new "Metroid" and a new "Legend of Zelda," and added to that new games for "Kirby, "GoldenEye 007" and "Donkey Kong" to the Wii release list. The Kirby game, subtitled "Epic Yarn," stands out from the pack thanks to a daringly different look that makes the game seem as if it has been stitched together with scrapbooking cloth.
Nintendo's biggest focus of this year's E3 was the successor to the hugely popular handheld Nintendo DS line: the Nintendo 3DS. Although physically similar to the dual screen clamshell of the existing DS, the 3DS will allow 3D images without the need for glasses. The flagship game release for the 3DS is "Kid Icarus: Uprising," but Nintendo revealed a multitude of upcoming 3DS games from such franchises as "Metal Gear," "PilotWings," "Resident Evil" and "Animal Crossing." The 3DS also has two cameras on the back of the unit so gamers can take three-dimensional pictures. The 3DS does not yet have a formal release date nor price.
Sony, still lagging in sales behind the other two, came to E3 with a punchy presentation designed to poke fun at the competition. Jumping onto the motion control bandwagon with PlayStation Move, Sony wants to appease both casual and hardcore gamers. The Move borrows the form factor of the Wii Remote and adds a camera like Microsoft's Kinect to create a device that Sony says is more responsive and precise. Just as in the 360 presentation, Sony's marketing efforts showcased happy families jumping around the room playing casual, easily accessible games. Unlike Microsoft, Sony boldly set a price point: $50 for the Move controller and $100 for a bundle that includes the Move, the camera and a game. Sony also promised Move support for a decidedly not-casual game, the bloody shooter "Killzone 3," which is expected early next year. Move itself will hit store shelves in September.
Claiming themselves the leader in 3D, Sony arrived with a lengthy list of 3D-optional games, including the long-awaited "Gran Turismo 5." Sony has a lot of skin in this game since they manufacture 3D television sets, but with the cost of those sets still high, Sony has a lot to worry about. Sony's 3D system will require wearing special glasses, which is another sticking point that could interfere with widespread acceptance of the technology.