Yesterday Sony held their E3 2009 press conference and they had a lot to live up to. The day before Microsoft wowed both the press and the consumers with their impressive line-up of exclusive games such as Alan Wake, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Crackdown 2. But the showstopper at the Microsoft Conference was the reveal of their Project Natal motion camera and the accompanying Milo AI tech demo which showed some amazing motion and recognition tech all done via a camera without an aid of a controller. To some this put Sony on the spot as many were interested to see how exactly Sony compete against this impressive line-up and amazing tech. But did Sony show enough to slightly turn the tide in their favor or are we looking at yet another year of the PlayStation brand staying in last place in the console war?
Surprisingly despite the various leaks or early media showings that happened prior to the show there were still many surprises at the Sony conference many of which were game related. For the past few years the PS3 has had an extremely impressive line-up of exclusive 1st party games that really push the power of the system and are one of the reasons why consumers are willing to lay down $400 to buy the console. Sony certainly didn’t disappoint in establishing the wow factor the console can pull off as using Uncharted 2 as the first stage demo gave quite a few people face melting moments. The first Uncharted was truly a visual showpiece for the PS3 and the latest installment simply takes the tech to the next level. The vistas shown in the demo yesterday along with the smaller touches like the explosion effects and animation are truly amazing and this clearly seems like a title that lives up to the statement “not possibly on 360.” Now that isn’t meant to start any flame wars or is a small sign of my favoritism towards Sony but honestly the tech and visuals in Uncharted 2 is one of the few occasions where the game couldn’t have been done to that level if it was multi-platform and we all know that games that truly show-off the power behind a console are the ones that usually sell the most. Could Uncharted become a massive holiday hit this year and become one of the bigger PS3 franchises? Yes it could but ultimately its success lies in the marketing for the game, something Sony has been extremely iffy with this gen, and positive word of mouth amongst gamers. The first Uncharted had positive buzz but it was slow to reach 1 million units sold which was a shame considering the product. Hopefully this won’t be the case with Uncharted 2 as it definitely deserves to be a hit this year.
Another impressive game and key pillar to the PlayStation brand this year is the massive online war game MAG from Zipper Interactive (Socom). This was the first public demo of the game in action with a 256-player battle going on and the game seemed to deliver the goods. Of course the visuals are bit lower than what we expect from the PS3 but what do you expect when a game has 256 players running around? The one thing that I found interesting based on the demo yesterday was the general feel of gameplay and the way the map, or at least the one shown, was laid out. MAG definitely isn’t following the more direct tactical approach of Socom and instead slightly has the vibe of a game like Call of Duty 4 except on a larger scale. Despite being a short demo I’m really interested in getting my hands on MAG but the big question is if consumers are ready for it. Later this year gamers will be getting games like Modern Warfare 2 which has a massive following and gameplay that players are antiquated with. MAG on the other hand may come off as a daunting game due to the amount of players and some may not even give the game a shot because of that and the fact that it’s a new IP and isn’t “proven” yet. The concept of MAG and its intricate leveling system, player command set-up and of course the gameplay is really interesting but I have a feeling it could be a tough sell to the more casual audience since I’m sure war game buffs and hardcore online FPS players will make the initial jump to the game. But if Zipper can deliver an entertaining experience that makes players feel constantly rewarded for playing and immerses them in a feeling that they’re part of a massive battle then I think Sony has another key franchise on their hands.
Words simply can’t describe how I feel about “The Last Guardian” without me sounding like more of a mush mouth fanboy than I already am. The buzz and anticipation for Team Ico’s next game was through the roof even before the year-old internal video leaked. When we got our first look at the final product the game easily became one of the most anticipated PS3 games and easily one of the best looking games we’ve seen on the console. The design of the Toriko, the creature, is just jaw dropping and the animations and feather design is unreal. There were a few moments in the trailer where it just looked real. That probably sounds a bit like fanboy hyperbole but the lighting; design and visuals really help make the creature seem like a living thing that looks real despite it being an odd looking griffin thing that doesn’t exist in our world. Another thing that makes “The Last Guardian” a game that I think could become a massive hit and potential game changer in the industry is the emotional bond between the boy and Toriko. The bond between the two in the game may be obvious but it doesn’t seem like Team Ico is pushing it down the throats of people and this emotional bond is only made stronger with the actual player and their own personal experiences, something that in a way propels the game past what Peter Molyneux is trying to do with Milo.
Perhaps the worst kept secret of Sony’s show was the new iteration of the PSP. For the past few months there were rumblings of a new PSP model and of course the lid was officially blown last weekend with leaked episode of Qore which featured the new PSP model, PSP GO. First off I must say the system looks sexy as hell. Some may have wanted a clamshell design similar to the DS but I find the look of the PSP GO and the button placement to look quite nice and the smaller touches like the metallic circles around the d-pad and face buttons really give the system an added visual pop. Is the system solid in terms of new features? I feel it is though there are some out there who would’ve preferred to have an OLED touch screen or the much wanted dual-analog sticks/nubs. Having those would’ve been nice but in the mindset of the PSP GO simply being the latest redesign of the PSP and not its successor I find these tech/feature omissions to be acceptable.
The PSP Go clearly seems to be a test system for the eventual PSP2 especially in the field of digital distribution. Sony has been testing the waters with DD for the past year by featuring PSP games available on the PSN Store but this is their first big step in the field since the PSP GO is a digital distribution only device. Sony does seem to have their stuff together as far as how users will go about downloading games and other media on the system with launch of a slicker and easier to use PSN PC store so hopefully users won’t have flashbacks to when they first accessed the PSN Store when the PS3 launched which we all know was truly a nightmare to download media and navigate. Will the PSP GO succeed in the field of users accepting DD only games? I think it well as the reception of the PSP games made available on the PSN Store and the recent DD only release of Patapon 2 seemed to be well received among consumers. As long as the prices are kept at a reasonable price and the speed of the service is solid I think the PSP GO can become quite a successful system in the field of Digital Distribution but that’s if people actually buy the PSP GO.
It seems the PSP GO is in a bit of a quandary. The system seems extremely solid in its design and features and feels like a worthy redesign instead of being a one off thing but the one problem is who is going to buy this? When you release a redesigned product that costs $249 which still has the same graphical capabilities as the existing and lower priced unit and the same core features then you’re asking for a bit too much. Even as a Sony fanboy and “collector” of PS products who already has three PSP units (1 NA launch, 1 white JP model, and 1 God of War slim model) the price point of $249 definitely made my wallet cry a bit. Being the fan that I am I’ll of course take the hit and buy it at launch but not every consumer is as big a fanatic or has disposable income as I do. Sony seems to be marketing the PSP GO more towards the savvy consumer who hates the caveman tech that is disc based media but are there enough consumers like that will actually go out and buy the system? I have a feeling the initial sales of the PSP GO may be a bit tepid at launch due to the high price point and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of consumers who pick up games like Gran Turismo and LittleBigPlanet PSP later this year will be playing those games on a regular PSP and not the PSP GO. If Sony lowers the price a bit then it’ll be a successful product but until then I think it’s going to be an extremely niche product.
Of course the biggest part of the show was the reveal of the long rumored PlayStation motion device. When Dr. Richard Marks (creator of the EyeToy) came out I was extremely happy as I feel the EyeToy is perhaps one of the biggest pieces of under-utilized tech. Most of us know the EyeToy/PS Eye from the simplistic demos that involve players hitting things or scrubbing windows but yesterday Dr. Marks proved that the device is capable of a lot more. While the motion demo wasn’t as smooth as what Microsoft showed the day before it just felt a bit more real since you could see more of it in action compared to the paint and ball hitting demos that Microsoft showed. The Natal tech is impressive but until we see it in action through some of the games that were shown in the demo video the case on whether it truly works in a proper games aspect is still a bit unknown. The PS motion wand may not have been shown in a true gaming sense but the brief tech demo sections involving the FPS gun view, sword combat and archery section really prove or at least show that the device is capable of properly working in a real gameplay scenario. I was also blown away by the 1:1 movement of the device especially in the section where Anton, the demo assistant, wrote names with perfect precision and accuracy. The Wii has 1:1 in Wii MotionPlus but at times things still seem a bit off and not as refined as the PS3 motion tech did. But as is with the case of the Natal tech whether or not the PS3 motion tech works is all dependent on the games and who they’re geared towards. Based on the Natal montage vid Microsoft seems to be marketing the device towards families and the casual audience so it’ll be intriguing to see how Sony markets the device and if they’ll try to appeal towards more of the core gaming audience by providing original and “real” games that use the motion device.
Will the PS motion wand turn the PlayStation 3 around into a success and push it past Microsoft? It’s honestly a bit too early to tell since neither motion products are finished or on the market but if the PS device is marketed properly, has good games and has a decent price it could help sell some units. But in order for that to happen the PS3 is going to have a much needed price cut as most consumers may not be willing to spend $400 on a console plus additional costs for the motion to device to play a game. If Sony manages to drop the price and provide compelling software that fully utilizes the motion device in proper games then I think we could see a slight shift in the future. Seeing how the motion device wars between Microsoft and Sony shape up next year will be very interesting.
Sony had quite an impressive showing yesterday that managed to meet or exceed what Microsoft showed both in the field of games and the motion technology. Once again the upcoming line-up of games looks amazing and I am really looking forward to seeing more of the PS motion device in the future. The general feeling of Sony’s conference once again seemed a bit low-key and not as in your face as it has been in the past and Jack Tretton was quite surprising as a host since he honestly seemed excited about the games that he was talking about and wasn’t dull when he was on stage talking like some of the Microsoft and Nintendo people felt like in their presentations. It seems like Sony has an impressive and diverse enough line-up that should perform well and help propel the system but in order for these games to truly become hits and Sony to improve the current market standing the PS3 really needs to get a price cut so it’s more accessible to consumers who don’t have $400 to drop on a videogame system. The future of the PlayStation brand definitely seems bright but it’s just a matter of making the PlayStation experience a bit more accessible to people by having their products be priced a bit more modestly.