E3 begins with a yawn. Can Nintendo save it?

Nintendo at E3The more I watch the recaps of Microsoft’s E3 presentation and the GameTrailers Killzone 2 footage, the more I find myself agreeing with Infendo contributor Malstrom.

I usually agreed with ol’ Mal when he wrote over at The Wiikly, but more recently he said something in a column here at Nintendo that managed to coalesce all the thoughts in my head into one easy to swallow morsel. That morsel? That the Xbox 360 and the PS3 were not the beginning of the “next generation,” but were instead shiny bookends to the last generation.

It’s in this that I find the most hilarious of ironies: That people would discredit the Wii as a “GameCube 2.0,” when all the while it is the “next generation” systems in the PS3 and Xbox 360 that are actually the swan song of the previous generation of consoles; that they are the Last Generation, 2.0.

It’s not a bad thing. Indeed, there are still games to played — games worth playing for that matter — but they are all starting to melt into one another. Killzone 2 is Halo 3 is BioShock. And you don’t have to believe or even like me to see what I’m talking about. Over at Slashdot the comments, literally, speak for themselves.

One person laments the lack of “wonder” at the press conference, saying,

“I watched it live, and I must say it was full of marketing drivel. Not one moment did I feel wonder at what was displayed, only felt like I was being sold something but a really slimy salesman. Which is fair enough right? No not really. I’m not interested in how they are going, or how many millions of dollars they will make, I just want innovation in games.”

It gets a bit blue after that, so I’ll cut it off there. Point is, this press conference lacked inspiration. It lacked panache. Even Halo 3 was knocked around in the couple of message boards I visited this morning (Apparently, it still lacks the graphical chops people have come to expect from it). There were no surprises. New “casual gamers” peripherals and controllers were unveiled, and I moved on to the next feed in my Google Reader.

I mentioned irony before, and I’ll do it again here. There’s a lot of talk about a Wii Bubble, and how it’s set to burst any day now because the system lacks the technical chops to carry the day when compared to the PS3 or Xbox 360. On the technical side of things, I agree whole-heartedly. But that was never in the Wii’s bag of tricks, was it? The only thing I see that’s uncertain about the future of the Wii is just how many new places the software can take the system. Right now, I don’t know. No one can actually know where the Wii can go, because it was designed to disrupt the market and expand it. Those other systems? We know exactly where they’re going. We saw it on display yesterday and today at E3. There were no secrets; no revelations. It was “solid software but no surprises (paraphrased from 4cr).” The irony here is that people keep saying the bubble is going to burst for the Wii when, in fact, after this slew of upcoming PS3/360 games come to pass this year and next, I actually see their bubble bursting. I see a huge innovation hole forming for their game libraries in 2008. What will 2009 see? Try Assassin’s Creed 2 on for size. Or Killzone 3.

This is how democracy the next gen begins, to the sound of thunderous applause deafening silence?

Another comment at Slashdot noted the lack of genuine applause from the audience, and the forced clapping on the part of the MS presenters. Apple they are certainly not, but even still the Microsoft E3 event seems to have gone off with a whimper. We need to remember that this is indeed a smaller, scaled back E3, but none-the-less I am inclined to guess that the problem here lies more with the content than the venue in which it was presented. Anyone else have a mental image of thousands of press people watching the MS event with little thought bubbles over their heads thinking, “this is fine, but gee whiz, I wonder what Nintendo has up their sleeve for tomorrow?”

As I said, I also watched the Killzone 2 trailer today, and never has the uncanny valley been so prominently displayed. As the mercenaries land in amongst the war torn landscape, I find myself laughing at times, not at the voice acting, ironically, which was adequate, but at the faces and mannerisms of the characters. Here we have the toughest of the tough, fidgeting with their weapons and tossing their arms around like rag dolls. The facial expressions were jarring, to say the least, but were somehow overlooked because the “clouds in the background are pretty.” There’s something to be said of the fact that a cel-shaded Zelda title probably boasts more hype right now than a game being billed as a “system seller.” Again, there’s been no advertising for a game like Phantom Hourglass, only word of mouth praise about how the tactile stylus controlled title has redefined adventure gaming. The game sold itself and got a 39/40 from Famitsu. It allegedly got one point off because, while it did have giant enemy crabs, they lacked weak spots and therefore could not be hit for massive damage.

And then the characters landed, and the FPS lovefest began. Soldiers shot up other soldiers in a war torn city and I half expected Master Chief to drop from the sky with the cast of DOOM 2 at his side to battle yet-another-boss-with-a-chain gun (and yes, there is a chain gun boss). And, this could just be me, but why does it always sound so forced when a video game character starts saying “f- this and f- that?” Perhaps I’m too naive.

Do FPS’s work as a genre? Of course they do. But the genre needs an overhaul. This stuff I saw today was neither inspiring nor fun to watch. It was like when I booted up my HD signal for the first time a few months ago. I was impressed, but I immediately thought to myself, “I’m glad I got a great deal, because I definitely wouldn’t pay MORE for what I’m getting here.”

The Killzone 2 trailer music was the best part, which was too bad, given the amount of screen time given to all the “blind shots.” I assume the Killzone team wants us to focus on blind shots because they are an innovative new addition to the FPS genre. Um, guys? Gears of War called, and it wants its blind, around-the-corner shots back. Speaking of GOW, it’s going to be available for the PC, thereby blurring the line between PC and console gaming even more. Super!

Another commenter:

“I’m sick of all this ‘our console is better than the other’s’ crap, I want to see the best games on the right console at the right time. For all three competitors. Their products should speak for themselves.”

True. But I’d argue that one console’s success is already speaking for itself, with very little advertising or marketing of any kind. It’s called word of mouth marketing, and the Wii exists today because of it.

Too many secrets consoles, Marty

Microsoft’s new operating system, Vista, seems like it has a dozen versions, and now MS seems content to give the XBox a dozen versions as well. A new “Halo” Xbox SKU will be introduced alongside Halo 3, leading me to a basic, fundamental question: Why? What MS needs right now isn’t more hardware, it’s software that will need to battle Sony for second place. MS also needs hardware that works. Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal basically called for a full accounting of all Xbox hardware woes today, or else he’d start calling for an Xbox 360 recall.

Nintendo *probably* won’t be revealing any hardware at their presser this week. Can you guess why? Because it’s gong to be all software, all the time. Hopefully Blake gets some hands-on time so we can report back to you later today.

The next generation already began, with a waggle wand 

To conclude, the line that probably pisses me off most these days is when some uneducated jackass says “Wow. That looks awesome. The next generation can officially begin now!” Then a bunch of Monopoly money supplied by Sony of America falls out of their pockets.

Unfortunately, if the next generation did indeed begin with MS and Sony’s press conferences this week, it was met with what one attendee witnessed yesterday evening: “awkward clapping” … and a deadened vibe from audience. I don’t think this much horsepower has been wasted on an audience since the NEO GEO tried to wrestle away the Irrelevant Console trophy from the 3DO in the 1990’s.

That’s not too promising. It leads me to believe there’s something concrete about this Blue Ocean strategy and the video game drift that had taken hold of Japan before the DS showed up to become the most insane system ever created by man. Blake’s live from Santa Monica this week with updates, and I’m more than eager to see what he thought of the spectacle. Or, should I say, lack thereof?