Sony press conference report
Sony's ability to foul up and grovel in epic, spiralling loops is rivalled only by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David. The two should really collaborate. "The next generation doesn't start until we say it does," the company boomed in 2006, paving the way for this year's revision: 'the next generation doesn't restart until we say it does – though that doesn't guarantee it won't stop again, at the cost of all your credit card details'. We might never know the full, actual extent of April's disastrous hack of PlayStation Network, but we know this: someone somewhere knows your mother's maiden name, and it ain't your mum.
"This isn't the first time I've come to the stage with an elephant in the room," began SCEA CEO Jack Tretton, who negotiated said beast with customary grace and moved quickly, via a brief welcome to new content partner CinemaNow, to the inevitable Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. It's a stormy night on the high seas in this demo, and a very high-water mark indeed for art and technology in videogames. More cutscene than action, perhaps, but that's E3 for you. The strange scratching noise at the back was Hydrophobia taking patch notes.
"Our commitment to 3D is unwavering," stressed Tretton, announcing full 3D support for the God Of War: Origins Collection (the upgraded PSP games) and the Ico/Shadow Of The Colossus Collection, both due in September. "Content is just one of the barriers to 3D adoption, the other is price," he contined, deftly forgetting the one about the Max Headroom glasses and their effect on your relationships. An "affordable," PlayStation-branded TV addressed the second point, at least, and was shown using its 3D tech to interlace two different gameplay sessions, both in fullscreen, at the same time. Splitscreen, basically, minus the split. Madness. The unit will cost $499, plus $69.99 for each additional pair of glasses.
Much was in 3D at this event, which like a stuck record we'll tell you is really very good, and a different proposition to the Ebert-unfriendly nonsense you'll see at the cinema. The stuff that really mattered, though, required neither visual aids nor the BS filter of Ubisoft's earlier briefing. After the frightening regression of Microsoft's Kinect demos, this was Move's chance to shine.
The hard-working NBA2K tried first with its 'NBA On The Move', a supposedly intuitive, partially automated motion-control system aiming for "accessible simulation" in 2K12. Kobe Bryant's a natural on both court and stage, it seems, or maybe just confused the venue for his doubtlessly colossal living room. Whichever, he did good. Medieval Moves: Deadmund's Quest, meanwhile, is an inventory-system-free, first- and thirdperson hack-and-slash puzzler – keep up, please – with motion-chucked arrows and shurikens. Not the Child Of Eden demo both platform holders could have done with, but not laggy light-sabers, either.
"Our goal has always been to provide unique experiences," said Tretton, welcoming Starhawk and Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time to the screen, and CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson to the stage. Pétursson is a man you listen to when he speaks, because he's probably going to demo something like Dust 514, CCP's genuine revolution in plugging a complete FPS into the highly-evolved fabric of Eve Online. The closed beta starts at the end of this year, with a full release planned for Spring 2012.
It was business as usual for BioShock: Infinite (acting smart, looking great), less so for Irrational boss Ken Levine, perhaps the only man who can 'proudly' eat humble pie. This he did by retracting his "uncharitable" words about motion control in earlier interviews. "We're just starting to get our head around what [Move] can mean for BioShock: Infinite," he said, leaving with a sweetener: a BioShock spin-off for Vita, the finally-named successor to PSP.
Meanwhile, the platform-exclusive bits-and-bobs tactic galvanised by Batman: Arkham Asylum continues with bits for Saints Row: The Third, a BioShock 1-shaped bob for BioShock: Infinite, and a digital download prequel – let's call it a 'bib' – to Digital Extremes' newly-announced co-op Star Trek game. We enjoyed Dark Sector; we were surprised by BioShock 2 multiplayer; we trust Digital Extremes. Didn't think much of the footage, though.
As for Kaz Hirai… Well, who doesn't love him? Kaz Hirai could take all that credit card info and use it to fund a new Too Human and you'd still give him the benefit of the doubt. "We have been overwhelmed by fans who recognise the value of a connected experience," he beamed, announcing PlayStation Suite, which makes PlayStation content available on non-PlayStation certified hardware. Android phones were the example, providing a neat link to The Handheld Formerly Known As NGP, PlayStation Vita.
Dual touchpads, an OLED screen and dual cameras, said Hirai, "truly blur the lines between entertainment and your real life." Vita's pitch has two aspects, the first being a vision of comprehensively networked play enabled by 'Near', a social networking framework.
The other is of course games. At its best, the lengthy Vita presentation skipped the bit about promising the Earth and simply delivered it with Sony Bend's Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The dynamic lighting, realtime shadows, expressive Drake, and dual touch and stick controls are compelling to say the least. This is more than just Uncharted in your pocket. "Painting edges," a touch control scheme that simplifies tedious climbing tasks, chains those moves together as you draw across the screen.
As social action RPG Ruin showed off its elegant cloud-based save sharing with PS3, it became clear that the personal microphones were providing a uniquely unwelcome insight into the workings of each presenter's oesophagus. ModNation Racers helped us ignore it, though, with its front and rear touch panel support. You draw splines on the screen, 'rub in' lakes and 'paint' trees, the back panel shaping mountains. Then you jump quickly to the track for a realtime test.
"Crossplatform interaction is functioning in many different ways on Vita," we were assured, and launch title Wipeout 2048 will feature cross-play between Vita and PS3.
The suggestion that 'Play, Create, Share' is somehow unique to PlayStation as anything more than branding is ludicrous and irritating. Still, it was worth hearing just to witness LittleBigPlanet soak up Vita's new functionality like a big hessian sponge. The biggest collective gasp of the presentation escaped to – believe it or not – Street Fighter X Tekken. Capcom's Yoshinori Ono took the stage to announce, via a translator who looked like the late John Peel, a faithful-looking Vita version. Cole from Infamous is an exclusive character, too, and is in a happier place as a mute electric punchbag.
Confirmation of a reasonable price point ($249/euros for the WiFi-only model, $299/euros for the 3G version) and 80 game titles in development wasn't so much reassuring as essential. In no way – not image, catalogue, interface or technology – can Vita afford to underwhelm. Whether it does will have to wait for the honeymoon period – the one symbolised by Ridge Racers on PSP – to end and publisher loyalties be tested. Will the likes of Activision and Ubisoft exploit this wealth of interfaces in good ways or bad? Will augmented reality become gimmick or genre? What will be the classic that couldn't work on anything else? Can we at least have another Ghosts N' Goblins?
With the end (and a hands-on play session) in sight, Hirai seemed in danger of freestyling hyperbole until someone dragged him off stage. Tretton did it tactfully, though, with a gag about Ridge Racer and his own lurid tie. We like him. He's transparent, a necessary front man for a company whose gaffs are often too big to hide, and which has run out of space for hollow gestures.
For the second year running, Sony was fed an alienated audience which Microsoft had confused for a different one. This is E3, not Good Morning America. The show is gradually evolving, yes, the limelight moving to mega-publisher keynotes and pre-E3 soirees, but the job of the platform holder is unchanging: to reassure the audience that there'll be games to warrant investment, and to reassure the industry that there'll be gamers to warrant the games. Important new IPs were in short supply at both events, but Sony seems likelier to discover them.
Tags: BioShock Infinite, CCP Games, Digital Extremes, Dust 514, E3, Hilmar Petursson, Ico, Jack Tretton, Kaz Hirai, Ken Levine, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Move, Shadow of the Colossus, Street Fighter X Tekken, Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Vita, Wipeout 2048, Yoshinori Ono