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E3 2011: Who Had The Best Press Conference?

E3 2011 is over.  We got lots of great game coverage and peeks at distant titles. But the real meat of the event came from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo’s press conferences. How did they do? Well, let’s take a look at the good, bad, ugly, and then tally it up. Before we go any further… these articles are about the press conferences only, not the meetings going on behind closed doors or the demos on the show floor.

Microsoft:

Going into Microsoft’s press conference, no one really expected much from the company. Sure, they had Gears of War and Forza 4 on the horizon… but really not much else. Oh, and that Kinect thing.

Well, we got both those games… and not much else.

To be fair, Gears and Forza both looked pretty good, but didn’t really add anything new to the table. The opening demo of Modern Warfare 3 proved to be quite impressive, but also didn’t really resonate because it’s not really an exclusive.

Then came Kinect… and boy was it painful to watch.

The child actors were bad enough, but most of the games looked downright sluggish. Star Wars Kinect in particular looked like a painful and frustrated experience. Not one did the lightsaber controls look slow, but the fact that the character actually ran towards enemies on their own is going to be an immense source of frustration. By the end of the demo, the game ended up looking like a poor man’s Jedi Outcast.

Fable: The Journey didn’t fare any better, as it distilled an RPG into an on rails shooter. While the gestures looked somewhat cool… does anyone really want a game where you have so little control?

Admittedly, seeing Mass Effect 3 was fantastic, but the actual Kinect integration felt a little shallow. Saying the responses on the dialogue wheel seemed to be unnecessary and time consuming compared to simply flicking the control stick and pressing A. The squad commands seemed much cooler for the fast and loose play style, so that’s a plus. However, for players like myself that like to pause with the power wheel to look around and assess the situation before assigning strikes… the voice commands don’t hold any value. Still, for combat, there’s a decent reason to use Kinect.

The games aimed at children did a decent enough job of moving in on the Wii’s territory. The Sesame Street game in particular looked like a great choice for parents to play with their children. Ryse holds a certain amount of promise, but after seeing the Star Wars demo it seems like a nearly impossible prospect to pull off without making it an on rails affair. Obviously, we’ll have to wait to hear more, but there’s too little on Ryse to make a real judgment when the rest of Kinect’s line up is so underwhelming.

The announcement of the search function integrating Bing and Kinect could actually prove to be pretty useful for the interface, so that actually managed to impress. The problem is… who really wants to spend the money on Kinect when that’s the device’s most useful function? Furthermore, the early announcement of Microsoft putting their version of cable on X-Box Live is HUGE and could be real competition for Netflix. Though we didn’t see the details of the coming service, it’s something to be excited about.

Sure, at the very end we got a pretty Halo 4 trailer… but the general execution of the unveiling really became too little too late. Yes, the trailer was cool, but it didn’t really show us anything to be excited about other than the return of Master Chief. The Halo Anniversary addition is also nice, but it’s something we knew about for months.

The Verdict: The Microsoft Press conference was exactly what we were expecting, only more painful because almost none of the Kinect demos looked good. If this is their attempt to win over the hardcore crowd for Kinect, then they hit the ground with a lifeless thud. The cable announcement is a rather big deal, but will only really come into play in the coming months. While there were a few decent demos… the press conference was a mostly lifeless and boring affair with a few cringe worthy moments.

C –

Sony:

As I said in my previous article, Sony entered E3 in a tough position following the PSN hack. Luckily, they came right out of the gates and a heartfelt, serious, and sincere apology that set the right tone for conference.

Then, Sony brought some serious game.

The Uncharted 3 Demo came out of the gate swinging with an impressive level set in the heart of a tanker, followed by a fantastic trailer for the overall game. Likewise, the trailer for Dust 514 was both technically impressive and held a lot of promise. The Resistance 3 demo didn’t exactly impress (is anyone really a fan of that franchise?), but it wasn’t terrible. In addition, the new Sly Cooper trailer was quite adorable, even if it was only a teaser. Starhawk also looks interesting, even though it would have been nice to have seen more of it. The HD remakes of the Metal Gear, God of War, and Team ICO games also look fantastic.

The games for the Move didn’t exactly drop any jaws, but they worked for what they were. I can certainly see kids enjoying Medieval Moves a great deal. Furthermore, announcing that big games such as Bioshock Infinite will support the Move is an interesting prospect, even if they can’t back up the quality of the interfaces quite yet.

The Playstation Vita became the real star of the show once it took center stage. While the name is rather silly, the system’s capabilities aren’t. Not only do the graphics look great, but the gameplay has all the essentials covered. The Uncharted game looks great, even if the touch controls make the climbing a little too easy. What really sold the capabilities of the system for me was the ModNation Racers demo which gave both touch pads some wonderful applications. Designing tracks looked like a breeze, not to mention fun. With support from LittleBigPlanet, the new Streetfighter vs. Tekken, and a new Bioshock game, Sony will hopefully have a launch lineup that will steam roll the 3DS’ starting roster.

And the best part about the Vita? The prices. $250 and $300 for the wifi and 3GS models is very reasonable pricing and puts the 3DS to shame for the power/price ration. Well played, Sony. Well played.

The Verdict: Sony’s conference may have been a little long in places, but they brought in spades what we want to see the most: the games. The presentation was sincere, didn’t jerk us around, and gave us what we wanted. Really, the only really disappointing part of the conference is the lack of real surprises. We didn’t get any last minute announcements or jaw dropping unexpected twists, but at the end of the day we didn’t need them to see the conference as a success. The lack of Kevin Butler is disappointing, but understandable given Sony’s desire to stay serious and sincere. Overall, the press conference was quite solid, if a bit long and unsurprising.

B

Nintendo:

Nintendo had a massive amount of hype at the boiling point as E3 approached. After Sony and Microsoft’s press conferences, everyone flocked to Nintendo’s show to see how they would upset the playing field.

Proceedings started well, with the announcement of the plans for Zelda’s 25th anniversary. The soundtracks and concerts were really exciting announcements, as was Link’s Awakening for download.

Then… they started talking about the 3DS… and kept talking about it. To be fair, the new Mario Kart and Luigi’s Mansion look good, but a 3D Pokedex, while nice, isn’t going to make anyone buy the system. The 3DS compilation trailer shows off a few nice games, but their release dates were nothing more than “they’re coming!”

So, after the surprising amount of time devoted to the 3DS came to its end, we got the big reveal… the Wii U. In the following moments after the reveal, everyone who voiced opposition to the name “Playstation Vita” suddenly fell silent. The reveal of the controller was interesting and filled with a fair amount potential… but that’s all the press conference really had. After a certain period of time, Nintendo really just felt like that kid who came to class with their homework half done. Sure, Nintendo had a neat controller… but they had no games to back it up outside of a few Wii level tech demos. The flying bird demonstration meant to show off the graphical power of the system didn’t impress in the least, especially after seeing the Uncharted 3 trailer.

Even the demo reel for the coming third party games took footage from the games running on the 360 and PS3. It’s understandable that Nintendo may not have had time to get some games running on the hardware, but if their point was to launch the next generation of game consoles and take themselves out of the Wii era, they utterly failed. In fact, the conference itself was a little confusing in parts. By keeping the focus on the controller, even more questions were raised about the hardware and if it really could dish out the visuals the rumors suggested.

While the barely interactive Zelda demo showed off the (apparent) graphical hardware of the system, it would have been nice to have seen how the controller worked with a demo that didn’t look like it was ripped from the Wii.

The sad part is Nintendo seemed like it didn’t have a lot to say. People come to E3 for the games, and Nintendo didn’t really deliver. Sure, a new Super Smash Bros was announced… but that’s not saying much. Many of the games coming out for the Wii U from third party sources will have already been released in other mediums by the time they get to Nintendo’s console.

So where does that leave Nintendo? In an uncertain position. They have Skyward Sword and maybe a few 3DS titles at the end of the year, but not much else… especially compared to the massive holiday season Microsoft and Sony have coming. Investors also aren’t very impressed, as following the press conference Nintendo’s stock dropped 5.7%. Ouch.

Verdict: Nintendo has a very interesting concept… but that’s all it is. Gamers have become a little more cynical since the Wii came out. Really, it just seems like Nintendo wants to have their cake and eat it too. Can the Wii U really appeal to both the casual and hardcore gamer? It remains to be seen. Furthermore, why is it such a huge selling point to be able to move my game from my 52 inch plasma to a 6 inch screen? Who would seriously want to do that? It just gives parents more reasons to kick their kids off the TV… which is not what kids want. Obviously, judgment on the Wii U will have to wait until the actual games start coming in. But for the time being… there’s nothing to suggest it’s the next big way to play games no matter now interesting the controller is.

C +

Obviously, opinions will vary. I think a ton of people were rather impressed with Nintendo’s show, but in my opinion, Sony had a ton of games to back up their position. It’s really just too early to tell how the Wii U will pan out. With only a few tech demos and shallow interviews… the Wii U (not to mention Nintendo) has a lot to prove. Meanwhile, the Vita really demonstrated it’s capabilities with real games. Microsoft, on the other hand, had real games for the Kinect and STILL couldn’t prove the tech is worth buying.

I know a lot of people are going to name Nintendo the victor and I would never begrudge them that opinion, but in my opinion Sony put on the best show.

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