E3 2006 in a nutshell

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E3 2006 in a nutshell

E3 is generally a themed event, with one or two issues dominating the whole proceedings and all other facets orbiting around this. This year as well as last it was the consoles which ruled. Two years ago it was blockbuster titles like Half-Life 2 and Doom III which held centre stage.

I sometimes think that E3 is too big, too loud and too flashy to be of any use anymore. We get the big announcements and flashy press conferences in well managed set-pieces, but unless a title can showcase something spectacular up front it will get lost in the mist. Who would have known about “Warhawk” this week if not for the fact that Sony had to fall over themselves to scratch up one title to showcase their new motion sensitive controller with? Not flippen many, I’ll tell you that.

If you’ve been following closely, name me but twenty of the new titles you’ve heard about, but not showcased at a console press conference, and give me three salient details. Go on. I dare you. No, don’t Google it.

At the moment, with the dust still settling, E3 just looks like a mass pile of press releases, each more ardently “next-gen” than the last, assets, picture galleries, announcements big and small. Most journalists who had to submit copy throughout (ala online ones, for most monthly magazine journalists it’s not quite so heavy a schedule) probably can’t remember half of what they wrote about. I can vaguely recall covering some of the new games and technologies out of the early part of the week, but it’s all really a haze.

What happens next is we all go to bed for a week (ohh, if only…) and then attack the morass in order to systematically prepare previews, interviews, features and filler between now and September, when we actually begin to see the E3 games slowly come to market. So, if we were keeping an eye on E3 in order to see what the next big RTS, TBS or MMORPG is going to be, you have my sincere apologies – that comes next month, when we find that press pack down the back of some piled up desk and think to ourselves “Ohh, that looks good.” The penny will drop, eventually, but E3 is only really the starting gun to set everybody loose.

One thing E3 is good at showing us is the macro view, and this year we got plenty of it. With the next console scrap approaching in November we’ve learned some key points from the hardware and software makers:

  • Physics is in. Everybody is talking about having real physics, and while I would suspect that half of them – let me say exaggerate – about their games having decent physics modelling, you can bet the big boys will have it. It’ll be the next facet by which we judge blockbuster titles.

  • Destructible terrain is in. This leads into physics of course, but not since Red Faction have we seen such a buzz about being able to tear up levels. Combined with real physics it has some good potential, allowing you to do dynamically what really could only be achieved through contrived set-pieces previously. The old clichéd one about rolling things down hills to kill enemies shall soon be a constant reality.

  • Motion sensitive controllers are in, obviously. The real vindication of any move in business is when your competitors follow through, and it’s probably an even bigger vindication if they weren’t previously considered to be competitors you could actually compete with. Nintendo is leading the field, Sony’s attempt isn’t looking like more of a tacked on extra at the moment, and it certainly isn’t as dynamic looking as the Wii, but that may make it more popular with traditionalists (rich traditionalists, mind you). Expect Microsoft to be releasing a new controller soon.

  • Portable gaming is in. Forget the joke about Paris Hilton not being able to remember the name of her own game (the fact that we now know what it is probably lends itself to the theorem about all PR being good PR), from games on mobile phones to the Nintendo DS and the PSP, portable gaming has vindicated its existence in the past year. With the big players promising to tie their portables into their consoles we can only see it growing, with Nintendo and Sony diverging in their strategies, and Nintendo appearing to be winning at the moment. Microsoft to release a handheld? I’m not so sure – but anyway, what do they need a friggen handheld for, they have Windows Vista.

  • PC Gaming (or “Windows Vista Gaming”) is in. Some had, as is fashionable to do when the console wars are heat up, been writing off PC gaming recently. Up until now Microsoft’s “Games for Windows” campaign has been a bit less than a joke, but with their cross-platform gaming, including tying the Xbox 360 and Vista together, we’re going to see PC gaming become more tied to the Xbox 360. As Microsoft cleans up with the PC gamers you can expect to see Sony edge into this market as well. The PC games don’t look half bad, either.

  • Value for money is way, way out. The price of consoles is going up, and so too is the price of games. Let’s not even consider what all these added extras, like online gaming, and thaose fancy accessories are going to cost us. Consoles have for a long time been touted as cheaper, more stable alternatives to PC’s for gaming. The way things are going this will soon be a historical fact. Yes these consoles do look spectacular, but frankly there’s a limit to what I’ll pay for something that will, by the time of the next product refresh, look like the hind end of a baboon compared to what the cutting edge can manage.

  • The graphics card war is quiet. After three month product refreshes neither Nvidia nor ATI were in the mood to start a Wiing competition at E3. Expect them to hold their guns in reserve until we’re closer to the release dates of many of the more machine-breaking titles later in the year.

I’m sure there’s more that I could cover, but I’ll let my colleagues offer up their E3 impressions as the week goes on. You’re not going to see many great games released in the next four months, but you will hear a lot about them we can assure you. The PR Happy Slap season just opened.

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