E3 and the Evolution of Video Games

So I’ve been watching the three console makers’ press conferences at this year’s E3, and it’s been an interesting experience. For those of you who don’t know, E3 is the annual video game conference in LA, where big announcements are made as to the direction that video games will be heading in the future. I’ve been pretty much a lifelong gamer, starting with the Atari 2600 and Game n Watch, moving on the original Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance, Playstation 2, Gamecube, DS, Playstation 3 and Wii. I also have gamed extensively on the PC. The only two major platforms I’ve missed out on recently are the PSP and the XBox. (DKC won’t let me get any more junk to put under our television.) Of course, recently my gaming experience has changed. These days, I play more with TRC than alone. Super Mario Galaxy, WiiFit, MarioKart–I’ve been much more into the family friendly titles than the other ones I used to play heavily. As TRC gets older, I’ll likely be able to start drifting back toward the not so kiddy games, but in the meantime, I really enjoy whatever time I can spend gaming. It’s relaxing and fun, and it gives me a good way to play with my son.

Anyway, that’s all a preface just to explain where I stand right now in relation to video games. I think I look at these conferences differently now than I would have five or ten years ago. So what did I see that excited me? Let me take them one at a time:

Microsoft–Definitely the biggest announcement they made for me was their Natal project. Just as the Nintendo Wii took the control scheme away from complicated remotes and toward intuitive gaming, Micro$oft appears to be trying to take the control away from remotes at all. Natal uses a camera to let you control everything onscreen with your body alone. This is really intriguing, and I’ll be interested to see what happens with it. Of course, they haven’t yet said when it’s going to be released, so it’s likely a year or two off in the future. And it makes me wonder two things: first of all, how responsive is it? A lot of gaming requires precision control, and if all you can get with something is generalities, then it can quickly get old. Second, just how far can this intuitive gaming go? Let’s face it: gamers aren’t the world’s most coordinated bunch. One of the best parts of gaming is being able to vicariously be coordinated and skilled at something. Pick up a virtual sword and go to town. But if that virtual sword just replicates everything I do in real life . . . Well, in real life I’m not a swordsman. Know what I mean? There has to be a balance between real life movement and in-game skill.

That said, Microsoft had a lot of cool announcements and games they talked about, including incorporation with Netflix and Facebook, online movies, and more. They have a lot of cool exclusives, and I might need to end up getting a 360 sooner or later. We’ll see.

Nintendo–Compared to MS’s conference, this one was pretty boring. But at the same time, the games they discussed for the platform got me much more excited than what they were selling over at MS. Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario Wii, Metroid Other M–just a lot of cool stuff that I could see myself playing in the near future. If TRC had been watching, he would have been very excited. And that’s where Nintendo’s been raking in the bucks–appealing to a wide variety of people. In video game circles, the company’s dismissed as pandering to the general public, while “real gamers” go for Sony or MS. That’s a stupid mindset, and one that will quickly get you in trouble. I’d prefer everyone to be getting into gaming, because it would mean more material for me to play, and more players to play with.

What did Nintendo have for hardware? Well, they had the Wii Motion Plus, which promises to make control with the Wiimote more precise. It comes with Wii Sports Resort, a game I could see TRC loving, as well. Then they had . . . the Wii Vitality Sensor? Huh? It measures your pulse rate. I dunno about that one . . . seemed like a waste of plastic to me. In any case, I walked away from the conference not as intrigued as after MS, but more excited for the games.

Sony–MY REACTIONS HALFWAY THROUGH: Hmm . . . They have yet to honestly wow me. The games are okay, but mainly too adult for where I am right now. I own a PS3, and I want to be excited for these games, but I just couldn’t get too hyped. And the redesign of the PSP? Again, it left me wanting. Don’t get me wrong–I love my PS3, but I love it as a bluray player, not as a game console. I only own one game for it, and I haven’t played that one all that much. Maybe this will change in the future . . . who knows?

MY LATER REACTION: For some reason Sony waited until 1.5 hours in to unleash their biggest surprise. They’ve got a gorgeous 1:1 motion controller coming in spring 2010. They only had demos for it right now, but I was blown away by how accurate and precise it was. Everything I was worried about with the 360 version, I had no worries with here. Maybe this is the sort of thing we’ll be seeing from the Wii when the Wii Motion Plus comes out, but if that’s the case, Nintendo did an awful job representing it. Sony made me really anticipate this technology. Really impressive, and it totally changes my outlook on the PS3. Now if they’d just get Netflix going on their console. And if some games weren’t exclusive to the 360 . . .

In any case, that’s all I have time for today. Any of you out there follow this sort of stuff? Have you heard anything from E3 that I ought to reconsider? Discuss away.

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