E3 2010: First-Party Face Off

Martin delivers a cutting analysis of the big 3's performances

You might think the first-party E3 conferences are all about cataloguing the software and hardware of the future. That's partially true, of course, but the real joy is watching suited executives prancing around awkwardly on stage and badly reciting their auto-cue script. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are universally guilty of this.

What did E3 2010 add to the executive table, then? Well, Microsoft's Don Mattrick gave everyone attending his conference a free slim 360. The only way to make a pack of tired, malnourished and underpaid games journalists clap harder would be to tell them Square Enix has found a way to bring Aeris back to life.

Mattrick, Senior Vice President for Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business Unit, is almost definitely the kind of guy who will point at himself in every mirror he walks past. He's like an executive Fonzie. I imagine him driving a top-down convertible around twisting mountain paths at weekends and then shaving with Gillette.

As for their games, Microsoft threw their 'core' games out at the start of the conference with a mix of nonchalance and disinterest. Halo: Reach, Fable III and Gears of War 3 are what we've got to be excited about, and it seems as if the only spark of creativity shared between the trio is their collective choosing not to use motion controls. All three are exciting but entirely self-explanatory.

Then it was straight onto Kinect, the hands-free motion controller formerly known as Project Natal. Mattrick stepped offstage for this, probably to check his Facebook, and left delivering the presentation to executive rockstar Kudo Tsunoda. You realise the reason Microsoft hired Kudo, a man who wears sunglasses indoors like it's a sacred religious requirement, is because he's the only man in videogames who can naturally hide his anguish from having to deliver a speech about mini-game compilation Kinect Adventures with a straight face.

The presentation for the eerily advanced device felt like it went on for about three hours. But at least it all makes sense now. This is what everything has been leading to, and why Microsoft bought Rare in a deal supposedly worth around $500 million in the first place: to make a shameless copy of Wii Sports. With Xbox avatar support, naturally.

The technology is undeniably fancy - it's only one firmware patch from becoming sentient and declaring war on humanity - but the implementation of its software seems to be light-years behind. For every nice feature, like how you can wave at the machine and it will automatically sign you in to Xbox Live, there was the implication that we should all be excited over The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout (but this is how I saw the apocalypse starting anyway - Ed).

Of course, none of this is aimed at me. Or you, probably. It's for the mainstream audience, and Microsoft is pouring a lot of money and time into getting it right. There's no doubt in my mind Rare's Kinect Sports will be the most gorgeous and entertaining version of Wii Sports on the market.

So, here's the sad truth about E3 2010: if you're not really interested in motion controls or first-person shooters then you might as well get a new hobby for the next couple of years. Thankfully I'm still quite a fan of the FPS, but what about people who aren't obsessed with crudely shoehorned jingoistic sentiments and kill:death ratios?

Sony were just as bad, showing every single Playstation Move game under the sun but focusing mostly on a game called Sorcery. Here you guide a little wizard - let's call him Parry Hotter - through dungeons with the power of Playstation Move. The game looked fun but a bit simple, and would probably be an absolute doddle if you were just using the DualShock 3. At least Sony was prepared to announce a price for their new waggle stick.

The company also devoted a big chunk of time to getting someone from EA to come on stage and play Tiger Woods 11 with Playstation Move for ages, all while cracking jokes about his golf swing and making par. The on-stage executives exchanged pleasantries and golfing anecdotes, presumably forgetting they weren't currently attending a Vice President's Anonymous meeting. At one point the Sony suit publically declared that, if the EA suit's product could help him improve his real-life game, EA would be getting loads of money off Sony in the future. Welcome to the world of business, everyone!

Still, Sony were making a far more conceited attempt to keep the 'core' audience sweet, including wheeling guerrilla marketing persona Kevin Butler (who is presumably not allowed within 200 miles of a FIFA event) on stage to give a rousing speech about how great it is to be a 'sitting' gamer. Then they unveiled their strategy to keep the flatlining PSP fresh on the market: a couple of new adverts.

Okay, it wasn't just a pair of adverts - a new God of War game was announced - but it seems a large chunk of Sony's ideas men have decided what the people want is an expensive marketing campaign. I'd rather an analogue nubbin that isn't so painful my thumb doesn't feel like it's going to fall off, but maybe that's just me.

As for the games, the first-party titles on show were Killzone 3, LittleBigPlanet 2, Gran Turismo 5, Motorstorm: Apocalypse, inFamous 2 and an stealth announcement of a new Twisted Metal. I'm still not entirely convinced Gran Turismo will ever come out, but the others are all as self-explanatory as Microsoft's effort.

Online reaction seems to have pegged 'Nintendo' as the winners of E3, with the company announcing new Zelda, Donkey Kong and Kirby games. Yes, they are also self-explanatory. The biggest surprise was a reveal of a new Kid Icarus game, which came as a bit of a surprise after the 20-odd year absence for the series. Oh, and Nintendo executive extraordinaire Reggie Fils-Aime made everyone laugh with an overworked analogy about spinning yarns.

Coincidentally, I'm convinced Reggie Fils-Aime is actually from another planet. So much so, in fact, that when I finish writing this article I'm going to immediately watch Men in Black, paying special attention to the scene where Will Smith's character Jay looks at the board of registered aliens living on Earth.

Activision also popped up to announce an exclusive GoldenEye remake for the Wii, featuring a trailer that shows Pierce Brosnan being replaced by Daniel Craig and a focus group waxing on about their cherished memories of the N64 original. One man proudly declares it was the first multiplayer game he could play for four hours straight. Presumably if he tried to play it for four hours and one minute his brain would explode, but Activision cut to gameplay footage before allowing us to find out.

The most exciting reveal, perhaps, was details of Nintendo's 3DS. There's no date or price, but it's got some fancy specs and the 3D feature works without you having to wear a pair of ridiculous glasses. It's also going to have ports of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid 3. It sure puts Sony's PSP marketing campaign into perspective.

Of course, this is E3 and we're gamers, so it's mandatory to declare winners and losers. If I was being objective I would say each company comfortably achieved what they set out to do, but seeing as that won't go down well on the internet I'll say I was most impressed by Nintendo. Still, my hopes for Nintendo were so low after last year's Vitality Sensor announcement that Reggie Fils-Aime could have just sat on stage for an hour reading this week's copy of Grazia and it would have been a dramatic improvement on last year.

E3 Trailer