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E3 for the whole family

Paul comes over all casual

Every year the games industry gathers around the collective campfire and tells stories of their past and future. E3 has long stood as the biggest and most exciting of these, garnering not only the best people and games but the most engaging fireside tales. These days, it stands as a revised and reconfigured happening - perhaps more of a jamboree than a centralised cook out.

But as the various marketing machines start to converge on LA, does this really matter to us Mum and Dad casual gamers. Well, yes and know. But much as the catwalk eventually hits the highstreet, these are undoubtedly the games we and our offspring will be playing in the coming months. So perhaps E3 matters most to Family Gamers as advance notice of the games the people we care about will be hoping to enjoy through the coming year. And this year more than ever, E3 has been about targeting us casual gamers directly, with games, experiences and hardware tailored to get us playing games more.

Let's take a look at what the big three platform holders (Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony) had to say in their keynote speeches.

Microsoft

Microsoft had a strong presentation that delivered to both hardcore gamers (with games such as Gears of War 2, Resident Evil 5, Portal Still Alive, Final Fantasy XIII and Fable 2) and casual games (with games such as their karaoke title Lips and Rock Band 2). They have a strong lineup of games arriving through 2008. Now is a good moment to do a bit of reading up on what these games are about. Although some have some pretty adult themes, there are some fascinating experiences to be had here.

The big news for the family audience was Microsoft's clear recognition that this is an important market for them. With this, they unveiled a new family friendly interface. Drawing on an Apple iTunes-look with smooth pictures scrolling in and out, with Nintendo Wii-like avatars representing each player, with a little nod towards Sony's upcoming Home interface with these online friends standing around in the interface. As they put it "here we are at the community channel -- instead of a list of friends, you actually see them. You can chat with or send messages to your friends, but there's something new: create a Live party, private groups of up to 8 people, always connected and chatting as a party."

Nintendo

Even before Microsoft started their keynote, Nintendo had stolen their thunder with the announcement of a new MotionPlus add-on for their ground breaking WiiMote controller. "Every slight movement players make with their wrist or arm is rendered identically in real time on the screen, providing a true 1:1 response in their game play." This enhancement promises to deliver the one to one relationship between controller and game we have talked about in so many reviews. This "Wiimote 2" enhancement is coming with Nintendo's follow up to Wii Sports - Wii Sports Resort.

They continued their strong focus on software that enabled everyone in the family to play together with Wii Music and the much anticipated Animal Crossing on Wii, titled City Folk. Wii Music enables those of us with little musical talent, and the very young, to grab a controller and play instruments as diverse as Saxophone, Piano, Trumpet and Taiko Drums. Animal Crossing is well worth looking into for family, as it offers a fully interactive real time world in which to live, work and play. The Wii version enables more activities than ever before and truly turns it into a social experience - not least because it comes with a Wii Speak microphone to sit on top of your TV, and enable you to talk to players in other locations.

More serious gamers didn't get so much attention this year from Nintendo. The main games on offer for them was a first party snowboarding game - Shaun White Snowboarding, and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the DS. They demonstrated the snowboarding on stage with the man himself (gold medalist Shaun White) and it looks like this will be the cream of the recent glut of recent snow-balance games.

Sony

Sony had one the biggest and glitziest presentations this year. Their focus was largely on upcoming games, and these were largely for hardcore gamers. They rolled out some of their impressive first party titles that were due a refresh on their new machine - God of War III and Resistance: Retribution. These are a couple of the games most teenagers are going to be itching to play, so again a good chance to get read up on what they have to offer your tribe.

Sony's family friendly offering was delivered through their downloadable games on Playstation Network (PSN). A new Ratchet and Clank game, Quest for Booty, is particularly interesting as it is being offered at a much cheaper price and focuses on shorter, quality experiences rather than the summer blockbuster approach of previous games in the series. Something that us causal gamers appreciated (often not having time to get through the longer titles). Other games of note on PSN were Pixel Junk Eden, Crash Commando and Rag Doll Kung Fu.

This was rounded-off with the unveiling of their new social warfare title, called Massive Action Game (MAG). This technology enables groups of 256 players to interact within one theatre of war, be broken down into teams of eight each with their own missions. For those of us that play combat games it is a mouth wateringly human experience. That said, one wonders what other play scenarios this technology could be used for if it were not presupposed as a militarised gaming environment.

To conclude...

This all adds up to a lot of information and some very interesting (and some slightly scary) sounding games arriving through the rest of the year. The new Wiimote add on and Wii Sports Resort has to be a highlight for me, although I'm also looking forward to seeing how God of War III looks on the PS3. Then of course there's the prospect of letting the kids loose on Wii Music. As we said, now is a great time for parents and gamers alike to gen up on what's in store.