Archive for the ‘Notebook’ Category

E3: Thoughts on Sony’s Briefing13 Comments

88092026KD054_E3_GAMING_CONIn the wake of a massive PSP Go leak the weekend before E3, could Sony still deliver surprises at its press conference? That’s the question everyone was asking as we filed into the Shrine Auditorium for Sony’s PSP and PS3 showcase. With Microsoft delivering the Beatles, Steven Spielberg, and a fancy new camera technology, Sony had its work cut out for it.  Good thing it had some of the best looking games at E3.

Here are my notes on the briefing:

STAGECRAFT: With a gigantic 40×80 foot screen, Sony had the biggest and longest press conference at E3. (Sony briefings always seem to run the longest at E3).  While there was lots of content to fill the time, it was hard to keep up the momentum for two straight hours.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES: “Thank god you guys showed up.” You’ve got to hand it to SCEA CEO Jack Tretton for his off-the-cut remarks to break the ice at the briefing. Out of all the press conferences, Tretton was the only executive confident enough to go off-prompter and talk to the crowd.

BIGGEST MISS: The third party montage videos of PS3 and PSP games. Here’s my question: Which games were rejected? You know when Disney’s G-Force makes the 5-minute reel someone needs to re-examine the length. Why not run these as “coming attractions” before the briefing begins?

FIRST PARTY POWERHOUSE: With live demos of Uncharted 2 and God of War 3, Sony unquestionably had the best and strongest first party software lineup at E3. It was so good big-ticket games that Heavy Rain and Ratchet & Clank didn’t even make it into the press conference.

THE SONY DRINKING GAME: There’s one thing you can always count on from Sony: Mentions of a ten year product life cycle and starting an E3 briefing with talk of the PS2. This year was no exception. Let’s hope 2010 (the system’s 10th anniversary) is the year the PS2 talk can finally be retired.

MOST NOTABLE OMISSION: PSN improvements. Microsoft (Facebook/Twitter) and Nintendo (Facebook) announced new online functionality at E3, but Sony had nothing to say on social networking or new PSN features.

BEST LINE: “So there’s one that didn’t leak out, huh?” — Jack Tretton, after revealing the Final Fantasy XIV trailer.

BEST ON-STAGE DEMOS: Uncharted 2 and God of War. They weren’t only the best live demos at Sony’s press conference, they were the best demos at any of the briefings.

BEST KEPT SECRETS: Despite other leaks, Sony had three solid surprises no one saw coming: Final Fantasy XIV as a PS3 exclusive, Rockstar’s Agent as a PS3 exclusive, and the “Play Create Share” kart racer ModNation Racers.

WORST KEPT SECRET: PSP Go, of course. The only things we didn’t know were the price ($249) and launch date (Oct 1).

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: A price drop for the PlayStation 3. Even though the content looks great, the fact remains that the PS3 is still $399 — more expensive than the PS2 at launch. Without a price reduction, will it matter how great the games look and play?

CONTROLLER WITH NO NAME: Sony rolled out EyeToy inventor Richard Marks to show off his new “magic wand” controller technology with sub-millimeter accuracy.  We got a release date (Spring 2010) but the lack of a name or developer endorsements / real game demos made it hard for Sony to compete with Microsoft’s Natal demo.

M.I.A. AWARD: We didn’t hear anything from Sony’s European studios, or at least what’s left of them. While HEAVY RAIN was at E3, it wasn’t in the briefing. And what abotu EyePet?  That would have been the perfect demo to show a “controller free” experience coming from Sony. (Apparently it was shown behind closed doors to some media).

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E3: My Thoughts on the Xbox Briefing13 Comments

xboxbriefingHow did Xbox 360 do at E3 2009? By all accounts the Xbox briefing generated the most headlines and chatter at the show. With no games announcements since Halo 3 ODST at TGS 2008, Microsoft spent the better part of 8 months saving up news for its star-studded briefing. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were on stage, plus Steven Spielberg who introduced the biggest mainstream buzz-getter at the show: The tech demo for Project Natal, a 3D depth-sensing camera.

Xbox did what it needed to do at E3. It showcased a solid lineup of software, made a few platform announcements, and captured everyone’s imagination with Project Natal. But here’s the challenge: With Natal not likely to debut until late 2010 at the earliest, how does Xbox battle the Wii for the next 18 months?

Here are some of my thoughts on the Xbox briefing:

STAGECRAFT: While it ran longer than Nintendo’s 75 minute briefing, Microsoft had the best production of all the E3 showcases. Some groaned that E3 briefings shouldn’t include celebrities, but there’s no denying The Beatles and Spielberg helped Xbox grab major headlines. Still, Halo 3 ODST and Halo Reach would have been a better closer than Molyneux’s Milo video.

STRATEGY SHIFT: At E3 2007 and 2008, Xbox made a point to focus its briefing almost entirely on games coming out within 6 months of the briefing (the same year). In 2009, however, at least half of what was shown is due in 2010, including Project Natal, Alan Wake, Crackdown 2, and Halo Reach.

FIRST PARTY DROUGHT: The truth is that only two first party games are due out in the back-half of 2009: Halo 3: ODST and Forza 3. (I guess three if you count Lips).

THIRD-PARTY CRUTCH: With little in the way of first party software due in 2009, Xbox spent the first third of the briefing showcasing games that are coming to the PS3 as well as 360: Beatles Rock Band, Modern Warfare 2, and Tony Hawk Ride.

NOTABLE OMISSION: Mass Effect 2 was nowhere to be found at the briefing. Which is strange, since it is announced as only coming to the Xbox 360 and PC at launch. If it is indeed a 360 exclusive, wouldn’t Microsoft do more to hype it up?

ANNOUNCEMENT THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE: What about a search function for Xbox Live? Microsoft is hyping its new search engine Bing this week, but we still can’t search through Xbox Marketplace? C’mon!

BEST LIVE DEMO: A tie between Modern Warfare 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction.

BEST MOMENT: The Beatles arriving on stage to introduce BEATLES ROCK BAND.

WORST KEPT SECRET: A tie. Hideo Kojima’s appearance and the Xbox motion sensing camera.

FACT CHECK: At one point in the presentation Schappert said all the games, demos, and experiences from that point forward would be available “Only on Xbox 360″ as exclusives. Yet Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Rising, which debuted near the end of the show, is also coming to PlayStation 3.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Left 4 Dead 2 and Crackdown 2 were two of the biggest announcements at the showcase. But both were treated like throwaways, running as short trailers with no introductions or demos.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: Xbox ran a video promoting user-generated cars in Forza 3. Whatever happened to the “Forza Mobile Garage” paintshop, which Bill Gates promised “by this time next year” in May 2006? Xbox Live Anywhere still has not materialized.

KARMA’S A BITCH: Last year Microsoft slammed Sony for showcasing God of War 3 and M.A.G. via CG trailers with no gameplay. This year the tables were turned: Microsoft debuted Crackdown 2 and Halo Reach via CG trailers. All of Sony’s first party games, meanwhile, were shown with real gameplay.

CONVENIENTLY DELETED: With rows of seats at the Galen Center reserved for “retail partners,” it’s no wonder that Xbox conveniently decided to leave downloadable on-demand Xbox 360 games out of the briefing. Still, on August 30 games like BioShock, Mass Effect and Oblivion will be available to download on Xbox Live.

QUOTE THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN RE-WRITTEN: “By the end of the year Xbox 360 will deliver more choices, better quality and more social entertainment experiences than any other device in the world,” said John Schappert. Um, what about the PC?

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What Is Microsoft Up To With Natal?14 Comments

Games E3 MicrosoftSteven Spielberg introduced it. It has its own YouTube page. And yes, it even made it onto Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. So what exactly is Microsoft’s “go to market” strategy with Project Natal? It’s a question worth considering, since I’ve never seen such a large consumer media push for a tech demo with no firm release date, price or even a final name. If my sources are to be believed, the hardware behind Natal isn’t even final, and a release probably won’t happen until late 2010 at the earliest. Or will it come sooner?

There are certainly elements to Natal that don’t add up for me. Why would Xbox aggressively build equity in the “Project Natal” name unless it plans to actually use it at launch? There’s also the photo of the Natal sensor. In its final form it will supposedly be all black, which definitely clashes with the 360’s white color scheme for Arcade and Pro units (the target market for Natal). In addition, why would Xbox spend so much time talking about a “controller free gaming platform,” only to say you first need to buy an Xbox with a controller and then purchase Natal on top of it? That’s not the way to court the Wii consumer. (And let’s face it — Natal is a directly response to the Wii).

Here’s one theory: In 2010 Xbox will launch a “new” re-branded console at $199 that includes the Natal sensor in the box, a new and simplier Xbox dashboard interface, and is aimed at directly competing with the Wii. Perhaps the rumored “Xbox Fluid” code-name will be used, and “Fluid” will be a slimmed down Xbox 360 arcade unit with Natal packed into the box. (The big question: Will it include a controller in the box or not?) Of course Microsoft will still make the Natal camera available for existing 360s, but the consumer push will be focused on converting the Wii audience to this “new” console.

At least I hope that’s Microsoft’s strategy. Convincing new consumers to buy a 360 and then purchase Natal on top of it is a messy and complicated proposition — especially for Xbox, which has never quite nailed the platform marketing. The fact that Xbox is still using a “code name” for the platform makes me think they haven’t yet decided on a go to market strategy.

Meantime, what does Xbox do for the next 18 months to compete with the Wii? The E3 briefing lacked any new mainstream games like You’re In The Movies, Scene-It or even a new Viva Pinata, which makes me wonder what Xbox’s strategy is to court mainstream consumers through the holidays.

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New GTTVs with Madden, Fight Night, BioShockNo Comments

gdc-reggieThis month we’ve been pumping out lots of new original episodes of GameTrailers TV.  And there’s even better stuff to come leading up to E3 in early June.  If you haven’t had a chance to watch them, these are our three most recent shows:

Madden NFL 10 / Mafia II: This episode gives you the world exclusive first look at Madden NFL 10 for both the Xbox 360/PS3 and the Nintendo Wii.  It will be interesting to see if EA’s new artistic direction for the Wii version will work or not. I’ll reserve judgment until I sit down and play it.

This show also has a look at Mafia II from 2K Games, and exclusive new content for Ghostbusters: The Videogame and Prototype. [Watch This Episode at]

Fight Night Round 4: A few weeks ago I headed up to EA Sports in San Francisco to chat with Peter Moore and the team behind Fight Night Round 4.  FNR3 was a landmark game, and the sequel looks to be even better with refined controls and a much quicker response time to your actions.  On the show we also announced that a demo is coming in May, featuring a re-creation of the upcoming bout between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton.  And if that wasn’t enough, we also world premiered a new villain for Batman: Arkham Asylum – Harley Quinn.  The Batman game is looking better and better every time I see it.  We’ll have another villain reveal for you in May. [Watch This Episode at]

GDC 2009: I always love our show from GDC, and this year was no different.  It’s our best show so far this year.  I had a great time chatting with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime about the Wii, DSi and Punch-Out!!  Reggie also gave us the world exclusive multiplayer trailer for Punch-Out!!  It was a big moment for us at the show because Nintendo doesn’t normally hand out exclusive trailers. In addition, we had some other huge scoops in the show: The announcement of the Killzone 2 DLC, and, a little world premiere for a game called BioShock 2.  Like always we brought you the first ever game footage of BioShock 2, and it seems like the fans are digging it.  It’s already up to nearly 1.5 million downloads on GameTrailers. [Watch This Episode at]

As always thanks for watching GTTV.  We have some great shows coming up in the weeks ahead as we countdown to E3 2009.

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OnLive – Coming to Xbox 360 or PS3? It’s Possible7 Comments

blog-onliveBy now you’ve probably seen the news about OnLive, the new “cloud game computer” that streams a game to your TV/PC in real time from a server. (It’s basically the PS3 “Remote Play” technology done on a grand HD scale).  The technology is impressive over a good broadband connection for the PC, Mac, or via a “microconsole” that hooks up to a TV.

But could OnLive work on a gaming console?  That’s a question I posed last week to Steve Perlman, the founder.  His answer? Yes, OnLive could work on PS3 and Xbox 360 with no additional hardware required.  You’d just have to download a small client on Xbox Live, and then “stream” games to your 360 much like Netflix streams movies.

Since Perlman has a previous relationship to Microsoft (he sold WebTV to them), I asked if he’d approached Xbox with the idea.  Nope, he said.  OnLive hasn’t spoken to Microsoft or Sony. In fact he expects execs at both companies to be shocked by the announcement.

While OnLive certainly doesn’t need the power of the PS3 or 360, adding this as a “service” on top of an existing console platform might be the gateway OnLive needs to reach a wider audience.  (Nothing would prevent them from releasing their “microconsole” as well, which is expected to be quite inexpensive). Partnering with a console would also help OnLive with one of its biggest challenges: Marketing and distribution.

Of course the bigger question is whether Microsoft or Sony would ever allow such a service on their respective platforms — or see it as a huge threat.  If OnLive works on the Xbox 360 or PS3, it would, in effect, make a “PS4″ or “Xbox 1080″ pointless.  But as the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer? If Xbox was to buy the 100-patent-strong technology, it could make “cloud computing” only possible on the 360 or PC.  Or even release a dirt-cheap Xbox “Microconsole.”

Part of me wonders if we will ever see “OnLive” hit the market in its current form, or if we’re witnessing the birth of the $49 Xbox and we just don’t know it.

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EA Sports Active: Is This, Gasp, EA’s #1 New IP?No Comments


When big game releases come out I usually get called for interviews by mainstream reporters. That happened last Spring for Wii Fit.  On those calls I told writers it was only a matter of time until we heard about consumers losing hundreds of pounds on the Balance Board.  In retrospect that probably never happened – otherwise Nintendo would be rolling those biggest losers out on the talkshow circuit.  Still, Wii Fit must be doing something right to stay at the top of the NPD sales charts.  Maybe the mere idea of getting fit is intoxicating enough.

Which brings me to EA Sports Active.  Let me tell you about the game “home fitness product.”  Last week in San Francisco EA showed the game “product” to the game press for the first time.  I strapped on the leg strap (which snugly fits the Nunchuck to track lower body movements), picked up the Wiimote, and spent a good 5 minutes going through a high-intensity workout that included boxing and in line skating.  As EA Sports PR rep Jen Riley reported on Twitter, yes, I even broke a sweat.  (She is forgiven for this disclosure since she impressed me by correctly spelling my last name on the Wii menu, unaided).

My early review? It seems like EA Sports Active’s more aggressive approach to fitness is the perfect counter to Wii Fit’s focus on yoga and balance.  The visuals even look quite good for a Wii game. I was impressed with the product, its level of customization and ultimately, its market potential. Maybe there will be a “biggest loser” for EA Sports Active.  (Let’s hope it happens before THQ ships the official “Biggest Loser” game this Fall).

But here’s where it’s about to get really weird.  For all the chatter about Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space being great new intellectual properties for EA, could EA Sports Active actually be the company’s #1 new IP for 2009?  As the Killers intone on their latest CD, yes, “This is the world that we live. I feel myself get tired.”  Now you understand why THQ has that Biggest Loser game coming, and Ubisoft’s quick-to-market Gold’s Gym game was announced the week before it shipped. (To be honest we did not aggressively pursue this world exclusive for GTTV, so maybe it was announced earlier).  But wait…in the midst of all this fitness hysteria you really have to wonder WHERE THE HECK is Richard Simmons? Dude, you need a new agent, stat!

One final thought: I’m not sure I buy the whole idea of a “virtual trainer.”  I think most Americans would rather learn a routine and then work out to music or TV, not canned “Good job!” commentary as you hear in Active.  Which begs the question: Are Steve Schnur and his team at EA Trax going to deliver a custom soundtrack for Active?  Or if you really want to get progressive, imagine being able to import your Rock Band songs and listen to them while you work out.

And now I return you to your regularly scheduled hardcore gaming. At least until EA Sports Cooking arrives.

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