E3 wows with glimpse of cool stuff to come
Every spring, the video-game industry converges on Los Angeles to make announcements, make merry, and generally show off. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is a week of flashy press briefings, multimedia demonstrations, and extravagant parties.
This year, there was a wealth of great games to see and sample, including Alan Wake, Batman: Arkham Asylum, BioShock 2, Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, NHL 10, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Wet. Here are a few others that stood out at E3 2009, which took place June 2 to 4.
Project Natal eliminates the need for any kind
of game controller.
Forget about today’s motion-sensing controllers. Vancouver’s Don Mattrick, who oversees Microsoft’s interactive-entertainment division, wants to get rid of the controller altogether, or at least make it less vital to the game-playing experience. In an interview at E3, Mattrick said he’s been thinking for 10 years about how to remove barriers that prevent people from becoming gamers.
The answer is Project Natal, a peripheral coming to the Xbox that offers facial recognition, voice control, and full-body motion sensing. In a demonstration of the prototype, Natal instantly identified my body shape and selected an avatar that was a decent approximation. Within seconds I was flailing my arms and legs to direct virtual balls at virtual targets. It was difficult to tell that the balls weren’t real.
Whether games use the Natal interface will be up to their developers. Mattrick said he’s certain that some Xbox games will still be produced for use with thumbstick controllers. Not having to use those controllers could simply be another option available to players. Natal will lead to a “renaissance of new ideas and experiences”, Mattrick said.
Some of the top games due to arrive in the next 12 months are coming from Electronic Arts’ BioWare. BioWare’s studio heads, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, told me they’ve essentially got five games in the works: the PC and console editions of Dragon Age: Origins (“The PC and console experiences are very different,” Zeschuk said), Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect Galaxy for the iPhone, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The latter will be the first massively multiplayer on-line game to include audible speaking voices for all characters.
Muzyka said this year’s E3 marked what was probably the studio’s best-ever appearance at the trade show. He added that the gameplay demos looked better than the cinematic showpieces they displayed at press conferences and on massive screens on the show floor. I saw Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 behind closed doors. Muzyka was right.
Joy Ride and ModNation Racers
Racing games have always been a big part of the video-game scene. At E3, two Vancouver developers revealed that they’ve been working on interesting twists on the genre.
BigPark is bringing Joy Ride to the Xbox Live Arcade as a free-to-download, free-to-play game. After customizing a car to drive with your Xbox avatar, you can take part in races on fun, ever-changing tracks or zip around in the virtual lobby, where you can do stunts with your car like it was a mere skateboard.
United Front Games, on the other hand, is taking advantage of the popularity of Sony’s Little Big Planet to deliver a similar experience in the form of ModNation Racers for the PlayStation 3. With a motto of “Race, create, share,” this game is still about fun and wild racing, but it also makes it dead simple for players to create their own tracks, which they can then race on with friends.
From the wacky mind of Tim Schafer, designer of the subversive Psychonauts, comes this heavy-metal action-adventure game. Brütal Legend stars Jack Black as Eddie Riggs, a roadie for a band who ends up in an alternate world where demons have enslaved human beings.
Brí¼tal Legend, coming in October, would be a standard action-adventure were it not for the sharp writing and clever, referential design. Schafer, who has been a metalhead since high school, has created his own fantasy world, complete with the heroes of his youth: Lita Ford, Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister, and Ozzy Osbourne. His singular vision has resulted in one of the most hilarious games you’ll ever play.
This completely original game, created for the Nintendo DS, will be published by Warner Bros. this fall. The objective is always the same: capture the star. There are action levels, where you need to navigate to the star, and puzzle levels, where you have to find the star by following the clues. The catch is that there are no predefined solutions. You solve the puzzles by invoking objects. Typing axe makes one appear. Typing lumberjack brings into play a burly bearded guy who picks up the axe and chops down a tree topped by a star, causing the star to fall so that you can pick it up. But the same result could have been achieved by typing whale and having a whale crush the tree. Or by creating a stack of chairs to climb in order to reach the star. There is no wrong answer.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Coming from Konami for the Wii, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable, this reimagining of 1999’s original Silent Hill is unlike any of the other games in the horror franchise. It starts in the first-person perspective in an office, where a nice man explains the clinical process. Players answer a series of yes-or-no questions. “Do you enjoy role-playing during sex?” “Have you ever been unfaithful?” “I like to relax with a drink.” The man—a doctor?—reviews your answers and makes a comment. Then the game shifts to a third-person point of view, and the scene is a car crash on a winter’s night. After waking up in the crashed car, a man, armed only with a flashlight, searches for his missing daughter. In this game, there’s no fighting. If something is coming, you run.