I said before that Nintendo's booth this year was the most popular booth ever at any E3. I don't think people realized that I meant that literally. This video should drive the point home.
Last year's E3 was probably the worst I've ever seen, so I was reduced to giving out backhanded put-down awards. This year, I only have genuine good things to say.
Best Game of the Show: Spore.
Spore is really on another level from everything else. The high concept looks like it's starting to gel into a cohesive experience. There are 6 different phases of the game, each one of increasing scale. Each phase has it's own editor. If I remember right, the 6 phases are cellular, creature, tribal, city, civilization, and space. The transitions between these modes are looking seamless and great, especially the transition of zooming out from the surface of a planet to seeing the whole planet and rotating it around, and the transition of flying around in space and landing on a planet and going to the surface view.
Spore showed off an even better looking creature editor than ever this year, and a new twist on the "sporepedia" that's basically a pokemon-style catalog of which creatures/buildings/whatever you've seen so far. You can click on any item in there (such as a creature) to see a trading card of that thing. They said you can print out the card and maybe play a trading card game based on the creatures (wow, I'd love to design that for them, hehe). Also, every item is labeled with the name of the person who made it. When you make a creature, it gets uploaded to Maxis's master database and other players can see that same creature (or building or whatever) in their world. You can also see how other creations by a creator you like, and you can see how many other players have seen or used your creations.
Spore is an amazing thing both technically and conceptually. It's a game that can only exist when the following 3 things collide: 1) the extremely unusual intelligence of a game designer who looks mostly outside the game industry for inspiration (go Will Wright!), 2) a team of great, solid people to support him and and believe in him because of past success (Sim City, The Sims), and 3) the infinite resources of EA, both in terms of money and in the power to contact any expert in any field that Will needs to talk to. A Magnum Opus game like Spore might a one-time event in our lifetimes.
Best Action Games: God of War 2 and Heavenly Sword.
Two wins for Sony, here. God of War 2 has great graphics for a PS2 game, and the same deep understanding of visceral gameplay and well-timed combat as ever. If it weren't for Spore, this might be this year's Game of the Year.
Heavenly Sword has amazing graphics. It's one of the best looking games at the show for sure. It also seems to have a handle on good combat, partly because it's a blatant copy of God of War (it should be called Goddess of War) and partly because the game's combat designer admitted that his he has a good background in playing Virtua Fighter and an even better grounding in Street Fighter. Considering God of Wars combat designers are also veterain Street Fighter players, it seems foolish for any game company to invest millions of dollars in a melee combat game without hiring expert Street Fighter players to guide it. Yes, I'm serious.
Best Peripheral Game: Eye of Judgment
Yeah Guitar Heroes 2 is nice. No one cares about PSP peripherals. But Sony did get on my radar again with this "enhanced reality" card game. Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT use the EyeToy. It will use a proprietary camera that will ship with the game, and that camera doesn't even have an actual product name yet.
In Eye of Judgment, the camera points downward at a game board with 9 squares. The squares start unowned by any player, and the first player to own 5 of the 9 squares wins the game. You place physical cards on the board (kinda like Pokemon cards). They represent monsters that will fight for you. The novelty is that when you look at the TV screen, you you can see that the cards are summoning 3D monsters that sit on top of the cards. The 3D monsters fight each other, adding a lot of flashiness to the card game genre.
The technology was a bit buggy, but that's understandable for an early prototype. Also, all those flashy monsters interactions took waaaaaay too long. The game itself looks like it's shaping up not to be fun. I would love to design a game for that system if I were in any position to do so, but I'm not. "Enhanced Reality" games like this could be a big new category someday, though.
Best Presenter: The Girl Who Gave The Spore Demo I Saw
I don't know who she was, but she was one of the best presenters of anything I've seen in a long time. She was a blonde woman with a ponytail and a chisled, pretty face. She had a thorough understanding of what she was presenting, was clear and articulate, and had to roll with the punches in a very unpredictable demo that involves interacting with AI that has emergent behavior. She was able to deliver a whole lot of information in a very short time without it seeming rushed. Whoever she is, I hope her boss sees this.
Best Proof of Concept for Why the Nintendo Wii Will Reach a New Market: Nintendo Sorts: Tennis
The tennis game used no buttons. You flick the controller up to toss the ball up so you can serve. You swing the controller to hit the ball. That's it. If you swing in a wimpy way, you'll get a very weak stroke. You have to really put some effort into it and move around. Everyone I saw play this game understood it immediately and had fun.
Interlude about the Wii
Note that I played the following Wii games: Tennis, Wario Ware, Pointing Demo: Shooting (aka Duck Hunt), Dragon Ball Z, Metroid Prime, Zelda.
Wario Ware is great (as is every version of that game) and I'd definitely buy it. The duck hunt demo illustrated using the device as a precise pointer. Pointing and shooting large baloons is easy, and aiming at tiny targets is pretty hard, for human reasons more than software reasons. Dragon Ball Z seemed overly designed with confusing controls, just like always. Metroid Prime illustrates that a solid first person shooter is possible. After having actually played it, I can say that it has a pretty good interface that could perhaps rival mouse and keyboard. I was personally clumsy at it though, and people who aren't "core gamers" are going to have just as difficult a time coordinating one thumbstick and one freehand controller as they would with a dual analog. Metroid is very good, but it's a gamers game. Moving the Zelda character through the world is just as easy as any other game that uses a fixed camera angles and a single analog stick (aka: easy). The various free-hand actions and weapons/combat were all implemented well. It will of course sell 10 zillion units.
Most Crowded Booth of Anything Ever at Any E3: Nintendo
I have never seen anything like the mob scene at Nintendo. Lines for DS games like the New Super Mario Brothers and Starfox were pretty damn long. The line to get INTO the area with the Wii was absurd, with something like a 2 hour wait. On thursday, Nintendo closed the line at about 1:30pm becaus they already reached capacity. I was there on Friday, and inside the Wii area (after the crazy line), every station had massive lines. Nearly an hour wait each for Metroid and Zelda, and at least 10 minutes for most other games, probably more. The sheer number of people in and around Nintendo's booth and in the many and various lines was just staggering. It was pretty clear who owned the show.
Also of note: the total number of PSPs I saw in use by actual real people (not paid workers) was ONE. That's right, in 3 days of being on the show floor almost all day, I saw one. One of my friends saw 3 PSPs in that time and another saw zero. Meanwhile, the number of Nintendo DS's was too large to even count, certainly in excess of 100. Every line at E3 seemed to feature multiple people with DS's. Some joined in impromptu games of Mario Kart, several were playing Brain Age, a few were playing Tetris, and some used the Picto-chat to communicate with each other on the very noisy show floor where cell phone reception is spotty at best. I guess a 100:1 ratio of DS's to PSPs is a pretty interesting indicator of the state of the industry.
Oh, that reminds me:
Award for the Games I Will Actually Spend the Most Time Playing: Brain Age 2 DS and Clubhouse Games DS.
These are two unassuming little titles. The new Brain Age is even better than the last, and I'm sure I'll mess around with it quite a bit. Clubhouse games has 38(!!) games on one cart, that I counted at least. Half are card games such as poker, hearts, and rummy. The others are various board games such as chess and backgammon, and there's also random stuff like darts and bowling on there too. I'd probably buy it for chess alone, so I consider the other 37 games to be a bonus. There's a difference between flashy games that look good at E3 and the games I'll actually spend time playing. I'm sure I'll end up pouring hours into both of these games.
MMOs: There were a lot of MMOs. They all seem to involve aiming a reticule, which means I have zero interest in them. Guild Wars builds on it's very strong base of good ideas with even more new good ideas, more classes, more pve missions and story, and more pvp game modes. It reamains in my mind a "theoretically wonderful game." It has the exact same interface problems as it had ever since the alpha test: interface. It's still too interested in making me click-to-move even when I supposedly turn that off. It's still too awkward to pivot the camera without affecting my character's movement. When you click on an NPC or PC, you still get that totally ugly rectangle with only a name in it, instead of something reasonable like a nice border and a portrait. Guild Wars **NEEDS** to drop whatever it's doing and give me UI that functions like World of Warcraft. That is it's number 1 problem, and I wish that would be solved and announced so I can get on with actually buying it and playing it.
And finally: Game that Will Make the Most Money: World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade
Although it has a great art style (much better art direction than Guild Wars), World of Warcraft looks technically dated compared to every other MMO at E3. The expansion will have two new races (who cares?), level cap increased from 60 - 70, flying mounts (at 70), jewelcrafting and socketed items. It also will probably have tons of new raid content and more half-hearted attempts at small group and solo content that will ultimately keep the game focused on it's current elitist group-only time-ocracy mentality. I *want* to be this game's biggest spokesperson, if it would only stop mimicing EQ, embrace the concept of inclusiveness for all (skilled players and time-sinkers alike, solo and small group players and raids alike), and stop treating the player base overly aggressive Terms of Service.
Anyway, I just wanted to remind everyone that it doesn't matter that World of Warcrft is looking graphically worse than its competitors. It doesnt' matter that it can't show much of anything flashy gameplay-wise at E3. It's well crafted, it's addictive, and it's has fun locked up in it, and it will sell. The power of Warcraft will go toe-to-toe with Halo 3 and GTA. Blizzard please come back to us and stick with the original promises the game made during beta.
- Nintendo owned the show.
- Sony had a few very strong titles, but the PSP is looking shaky. The $600 price tag is mostly irrelevant anyway because they'll only have 2 million units available (if that) by the holidays, so only that hardest hardcores will get one then, and after that the price will drop.
- Microsoft didn't have much of anything inspiring to show, but Gears of Wars looks great of course. Halo 3 and GTA will make tons of money, and Xbox Live is still the best online experience in town. Also, Xbox 360 will probably reach 8 or 10 million units before PS3 even *launches* so Microsoft is doing just fine...but we didn't need to go to E3 to figure that out.
Long report, but I hope you find it useful.
In no particular order...
I played Oblivion for about two hours and found nothing fun about it. I ran around a mostly empty field, chased a deer, found a random dungeon and killed everything in it for zero useable treasure. Finally I went to town and there seemed like a lot to do there, but at the 2 hour mark, I should have had a lot more fun already. The interface is not nearly as good as the World of Warcraft interface I used (mostly Discord Action Bars, but various other mods thrown in), and of course it couldn't possibly be as good. One game has a single, game designer-created UI while the other has an open system that lets anyone create almost anything.
All Oblivion did was make me want to play Warcraft again, since a few of my friends are on Ysera, the newest PvE server. They're looking to do at least 5-man content and to dominate the battlegrounds at 60. Anyone want to join? (horde)
Resident Evil 4 was the best game of last year. God of War was second best. Both were amazingly polished and well crafted. God of War had a good story, RE4 had good everything else.
Brain Age (DS) is awesome. I've had it for a month now because Nintendo's President Iwata gave it out to game developers at GDC. It's exactly what he was talking about last year when he said "games are only one planet of the software entertainment solar system." The entire game you just use the stylus (and occasionally the mic), with no buttons needed. It's not a "game" but it's entertaining and easy to get into.
Bleach (import DS) is incredibly good. It's a fighting game that's almost as good as Guilty Gear(!) and it's on the Nintendo DS! I'm totally blown away that such a good fighting game could be on the DS, but leave it to Treasure to pull that off.
Guilty Gear XX Slash (import PS2). This is the best designed fighting game, period, in my opinion. The GG series has always had soooo much variety in its characters that you can't even believe it. One character has inifine guard reversals, another can control two characters at once, another is the best version of Zangief ever, and so on. The two new characters in Slash are each weird and crazy each have 3 different modes: weak, good, too good. Each has totally different mechanics for going between those modes, and totally different trade-offs. No other game could have *that* much variety and still be a tournament-quality game. Arc Systems, you guys are on another level from everyone else.
Lost in Blue (DS). Seriously, screw that game. It is beatiful and peaceful looking. It has an interesting premise of being stuck on an island and trying to survive/escape. It has interesting use of the DS with digging up burried thing using the stylus to blowing on sparks with the mic to make a fire. It's as if someone wrote a game design for a calming, relaxing game, then gave that document to Itagaki at Tecmo to actually make the game. He must have said "I want the player to die over and over and over. Then die more. Die." Also, the screwy save system makes it so you are afraid to save because at any moment, you might be in an unwinnable situation already. I hope you like redoing the same parts of the game over and over. Being on a beatiful beach and having your character say "ugh...I'm dyyying" is eerie in a very bad way.
Guitar Hero is great and my girlfriend loves it.
Burnout on 360 is an A game trapped in a C wrapper, just like the previous Burnout. Also, it's way to similar to the previous Burnout (same tracks and most of the same features). But at least it's a racing game for people like me who don't even like driving. You can totally smash into everything and knock enemy cars off the road in order to get super-meter. Yay. Why can't I just pick a course, pick a mode, pick a car and go? Burnout 3 had this, and the last two have omitted this obvious, basic feature. Why does it autosave (and force me to wait and kick me out of the track selection menu) when I get a measly bronze medal on a new track? It wastes my time when I just want to restart the track to get a gold. There's a lot that's unpolished about the features, but underneath all that, I find it to be an excellent game.
Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360). This game is a lot better than people give it credit for. It's a reasonable fighting game with some interesting guessing games. Most of the time when you are in a combo, you have the ability to attemt to reverse out (meaning grab an incoming arm or leg). First there were Combo-Breakers in Killer Instinct (bad). Then there was the fixed version called Burst in Guilty Gear (great, you can only do it about once per round). DOA4 has an interesting new take in that you can "combo-breaker" during many, many combos, but if you guess wrong, you just let the enemy reset the combo and own you even more. Also, it has hands-down the best online play experiene of any fighting game. (And Gen Fu rocks.) I don't think it's nearly as good of a tournament game as GGXX, but it's still pretty good, and at least I can play anytime I want (online, there are plenty of opponents). Fighting game players should really buy this game to tell developers that good online play is vitally important.
Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition (PS2). DMC3 was another A game in a C wrapper. The Special Edition really addressed the issues of the last game by toning down the difficulty and implementing a non-retarded save system. You can play as Virgil as well as Dante now, too. If you like action games, it's worth playing.
Capcom Classics Collection Remix (PSP) just came out, by yours truly. It has good presentation and extras in the form of tips, art, music, and game histories. It also has the most configurable buttons ever: you can even turn the PSP sideways (for vertical-oriented games), set your buttons however you like, and even assign functions to various directions on the analog stick. Gamespot rightly called us out as the best networking on a PSP game collection, and best networking on a PSP game, period. Just like in an arcade, anyone can join in (from their PSP, ad-hoc) at anytime, and you don't have to reset your game or go to a staging room with them, or any of that bs that the other game collectiosn make you do. Oh, and this time around, all these games are perfect arcade emulations.
That's over 10 or 12 games I've mentioned. I'm tired even writing about them, much less playing them all!
I just got back from the 2006 Game Developer's Conference, and there is just too much to write about. Xbox 360 magazine (in the UK) wants two articles from me about Street Fighter, Game Developer Magazine (US) wants one about certain game design topic, plus I should write about all the great things at GDC for all of you.
The roundtable discussions about MMO economies were all good (I went to all three of them), Will Wright is on another level as always, Nintendo's speech about disrupting the market was a direct hit, Bungie's founder outlined the business model of his new comany that outsources nearly everything except the core gameplay, Ernest Adams had an interesting new take on story games, Raph Koster left Sony Online Entertainment (after being there 6 years), Linden Labs explained the importance of giving property rights to your players, and there were many other interesting ideas floating around, too.
I have so much to write, that I feel like playing Brain Age on Nintendo DS instead of doing any of it, lol.
I'm about a month late in reporting this, but better late than never. This year's Evolution tournament was in Las Vegas, and it was great. I entered the Super Turbo Street Fighter 2 tournament and the Guilty Gear XX #Reload tournament (aka ST and ggxx).
I know it's bold to say this, but going in the ST tournament I knew I had an actual shot at winning the whole thing. I have it within me to beat everyone there and I have beaten all the big names before in tournaments, it's just a matter of doing it this time. I finished first in my qualifying pool, and this included a match against the Japanese player Mester. He plays Vega (claw) and finished in top 8 before at Evolution. I told Kuni (my friend, another Japanese player) that I would play Bison against Mester even though I was playing Vega the whole tournament. Kuni said "to counter Mester's Vega?" I said "Well, this is America." Kuni nodded, understanding. (In the US, we often pick counter characters but in Japan players devote themselves to a single character.) Anyway, I completely smoked Mester and beat him 4-0 in rounds. I know that match very well and Mester didn't seem to know it at all.
I watched a very good Balrog (boxer) play another good Balrog and I would play the winner. I whispered to Kuni that I was considering playing Honda for this match. Kuni was surprised, saying "You play Honda?" I nodded. He has been my secret weapon for years. Kuni said "It can work." The better Balrog player won the mirror match, then I stepped up with my Honda. Using some "old man techniques" I won the match. My next opponent was two-time US national champion Jason Cole. I've beat him before, it was just a matter of doing it now. We did double blind select and to Cole's great surprise, I picked Honda. Cole picked his main character, Dhalsim. I beat him the first game and this put him in a very bad position. If he switched to Guile to beat me, I would easily beat his Guile with my Vega (claw) and win the match. Cole considered this for a while, then decided to stick with Dhalsim for game 2. It was a good choice because he barely won it. He also barely won game 3 and the match. Close, but the win went to Cole. He had better knowledge of that match than me, so I have no gripes about the loss. In fact, I learned a few things from it.
As an aside, I'd like to point out that I went to another player for advice before the tournament. I call him "The Ancient One," because he has secret knowledge of the ages about ST that exceeds even my own. (His actual name is James Romedy.) I asked The Ancient One, "If I have to play against a Honda player, who should I pick?" Romedy scoffed, saying that there could be no such player. Only Bob Painter plays honda of any US players there, and no Japanese players at the tournament played Honda. I asked him to answer anyway. He said "Is the theoretical player better or worse than Bob Painter?" I said "Assume worse." He said in that case I should pick Bison. The match is *hugely* in Honda's favor, but I can...rely on a certain tactic to beat any non-expert Honda. I said, "Fine, but what if he's better than Bob?" The Ancient One said "Then you should either play DJ(!?) or possibly tough it out with Vega, just don't get behind in life."
The reason I asked him any of this is that I feared losing to Honda more than almost anything in the entire tournament, including playing people like Cole or Choi or whatever. Romedy made a good point when he said that there could be no such Honda player though. So who was my next opponent? A random Honda player that no one had ever seen. I took the wise advice of The Ancient One and picked Bison and did my stuff. The Honda endured. Hmm....he seemed much better than a random scrubby honda. I could play DJ, but it seemed like too ridiculous a move. At this point, I did the losing move of the match: I hovered my character select box on Ryu but did NOT pick him. Instead, I picked Vega. I figured I could tough it out in that silly match, but Vega cannot come back from being behind. I got behind, I lost. Smoked by a random Honda out of no where. My worst nightmare realized. Why didn't I just pick Ryu to counter? That was a really bad loss. I know everyone talks about "would have, could have, should have," but I really think the tournament results would have been a lot different if I could have just avoided that one player. I'll have to actually be able to beat Honda next year. (That guy made top 8, btw.)
There was also a 3on3 team tournament in ST and I would like to point out my claim to fame here. Gian, the Dhalsim player from Japan, was on the winning team in the team tournament and he won the entire singles tournament. I was the only player this year to defeat Gian in a tournament match! I played Vega vs. his Dhalsim and won fairly easily (even though Cole gives me trouble in that match). So yeah, no one else beat him at all in the singles or team tournament except for me.
In ggxx, I got a few wins and finishied first in my qualifying pool, but I eventually lost to two solid players. One was Alex from Texas who plays Slayer. He absolutely smoked me at Texas Showdown 5, and he did very well against me this time as well. I missed a guaranteed sweep that would have won me a round, but perhaps the overall match result would have been the same. I picked Potemkin against him in game 1 for the character advantage (Alex is a known Slayer player) but he destroyed me so bad that I ran back to my main character, Chipp.
My other ggxx loss was to ID. He's one of the best ggxx players in the US and he beat me fair and square. I have no gripes, and in fact the very first thought that entered my mind when he beat me was "I really have to never play Chipp again if I actually want to win at this game." I had prepared a little bit with Faust, but I was not confident enough to actually play Faust against ID or Alex. Next time maybe, if anyone ever practices with me.
That's all for now.