E3 2009 Preview: The platform holders
It's the video gaming equivalent to Glastonbury or Woodstock. Once a year everyone who's anyone in gaming converges on LA for E3 - the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
For those in the industry it's where a lot of business gets done. For bloggers and other hangers on it's something of a rite of passage. For the gaming masses, it's where their juices get whet for the year's biggest announcements. With less than a week till all hell kicks off in LA, here are my hopes for what will emerge as the big show rolls into town.
Microsoft are first up and will need to come out punching if they are going to be remembered after the hype from the other platform holders. It wasn't until we sat down to research this article that we realised how little Microsoft had given away.
The one big story surrounding them in the build up to E3 has been their rumoured motion controller. This started life as an anonymous tip on a blog but soon gathered weight as details of a 360 motion-sensing peripheral hit the pages of The Wall Street Journal and Engadget. The device is rumoured to be set for release next year and provides a 3D camera to enable a player to control games by simply moving their body. This all makes more sense in the light of Microsoft's design and patents held by 3DV Systems, an Israeli company Microsoft just happened to recently acquire.
One other rumour is that of a new version of the Zune. The ill-fated music player never quite made it first time around, but with Apple going great guns with their MP3 player-come-gaming device (in the shape of the iPhone), many expect Microsoft to return with a Zune device that can play games and interface with the 360.
The last few years Microsoft has emphasised their wide ranging and exclusive game catalogue. Although this has been diluted a little with titles like BioShock and exclusive DLC also appearing on PS3, they are likely to continue this theme with titles such as Mass Effect 2, Halo ODST and Lost Planet 2. Alongside these, which we hope to be playable, are the games a little further off. APB, from Realtime Worlds of Crackdown fame, promises to be a massively multiplayer GTA game is likely to be among these. Forza 3 may also make an appearance although again this is unlikely to be playable.
Nintendo is up next. Sitting happy in terms of profitability and general public adoration, this E3 is theirs to lose. As long as they attend to both their casual and hardcore following Nintendo should come away intact as the new kings of gaming.
The most hoped for rumours from Nintendo revolve around new first party games for their popular characters. A new Mario, Zelda or Metroid title for the Wii would go a long way to repairing the damaged relationship between Ninty and their old faithful following. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata stated last year that the core Zelda teams are hard at work, so let's hope this now starts to solidify into new games. Retro Studios (of Metroid Prime fame) have also been said to be busily working on something, and this again adds weight to the fan rumours for new games from Nintendo this year.
While not part of the central cohort of well known characters, Pikmin is still a strong franchise for Nintendo. Following up on their re-release of the GameCube's Pikmin 1 and Pikmin 2, it seems likely that a proper Wii version of the game comes next. Indeed, Pikmin 3 was referenced in last year's E3 conference and if revealed this year would make us very happy.
The final rumour for Nintendo is the addition of a fully fledged Netflix service to match that found on the 360. Not only would this (finally) make sense of the Wii's absence of DVD support, but it would also move the console into the multimedia arena. Provided that is that the SD card storage solution is up to streaming movies.
Firmer than these rumours, Nintendo have teased some new DSiWare games that make substantial use of the device's extended features - camera and SD card. We hope for a slew of ingenious and imaginative titles to be announced. In addition there has also been talk of fully fledged DSi titles that provide a fully fleshed out game experience that again extends to use the DSi's features.
We also hope to get our hands on the new DS Zelda game - Spirit Tracks. So far we have had some video and screenshots. E3 looks to be the moment when we get our hands on the game and can properly compare how far it has come since Phantom hourglass.
MotionPlus will be central to much of Nintendo's message on the Wii. This iteration promises to deliver the fabled one-to-one controls first imagined (although not entirely executed) with Wii-Sports. Although we have used the controller extension on the likes of Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger 10, E3 will be the moment we can experience what Nintendo themselves can conjure up with Wii Sports Resort - expect queues again.
Rounding the conferences off is Sony, and the general feeling is that with the PS3 coming of age it is in their hands to steal the show. In fact, they have either been more loose lipped or they have a lot more to say - because compared to the other two there are many more rumours and announcements related to Sony.
The big rumour for Sony is that they have an ace up their sleeve - new hardware. Opinion is divided as to whether this will be a new UMD-less PSP, a slimline PS3 or just new colours of existing models.
With a strong line up of (much needed) PSP games on the calendar, and the ability to buy games digitally, it would be the ideal time to launch a new hardware iteration. Having tweaked their original PSP design a few times, we're hoping that they make a break from what has gone before with a device that adds proper analogue sticks and drops the battery hungry proprietary UMD discs.
The other rumour, circulating since pictures were published in games magazines at the start of the year, is for a new cheaper, slimmer PS3 form factor. This device would not only enable them to reduce the price to get closer to the budget 360 Arcade model but also offer an opportunity to add support for new technology such as Bluetooth 3.0. Hopefully Sony's big Blu Hope will get a little more love than just new colours next week. We'll keep you posted.
More concrete expectations are for a slew of PSP games. LittleBigPlanet is probably the best known PS3 title, bringing it to the PSP is not only great in its own right but offers up the opportunity for sophisticated game, level and content sharing between the handheld and the PS3.
Another big name PS3 title soon to appear on the PSP is MotorStorm. We hope to get our hands on the PSP version - MotorStorm: Arctic Edge - at E3. Whilst this may struggle to match the home console for graphical fidelity, it's that famed MotorStorm gameplay we want to see - something that only a hands-on can confirm or deny.
Another expected announcement is from Sony Bend (the team made famous for Syphon Filter and Resistance on PSP). We know they have a major title to announce, although as yet have not caught wind of theme or title. Although this may be another Syphon Filter or Resistance adventure, we're hoping for another new title to bolster the PSP's rather light game catalogue.
Over on the PS3 we are looking forward to having details fleshed out on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The first game was a somwhat overlooked release when the console first launched. Spending more time with Nathan Drake is more than enough to pique our interest. We expect to learn more about the main story and game features, having sampled the multiplayer beta this month.
Other titles that should excite, although less likely to be playable, are God of War III, the ever approaching Gran Tourismo 5 and the technically impressive MAG (Massive Action Game). Of these, we are particularly interested in learning more about MAG - the game that offers full theatre of war gameplay for up to 256 players. Taking the shooter genre and injecting the essence of Massively Multiplayer games just makes so much sense to us.
The new kid on the block will likely make its presence felt this year. Although no press conference is planned, Apple sticking to their inimical in-house style, there will be plenty of third-parties bringing new experience to bear on the gaming media.
This could well be the surprise story of the show with companies as diverse as Konami, Namco-Bandai, EA and Capcom gearing up to bring well-known games to Apple's device. Add to this the iPhone only outfits such as NGmoco with their much anticipated follow up to Rolando and E3 could see the iPhone making surprisingly large waves.
We'll be in LA to bring you all the news, from from every major player.