Sunday, July 27, 2008

E3 08: Sony Press Conference

By Tyler Barber


On the same stage that Jack Palance did his famous one-armed push-ups at the 1992 Oscars, we saw the comic-book artist Jim Lee do the same. Touché Jim, and touché Sony. Last year's E3 was really a bad year for everyone. Each of the big three press conferences had at least one major embarrassing moment, but this year Sony and Microsoft managed to save face 100 percent (read my write-up on Nintendo's press conference to get the dish on their embarrassing moment. Here's a hint: it was the entire show). And while I would say that Microsoft stole the show, Sony wasn't far behind. Their main shortcoming: not showing enough new games, gameplay, and the lack of surprising announcements (also don't forget that little blight called Home).

Sony's Jack Trentton did an excellent job hosting the event and set the tone at the start by basically saying, "every PlayStation console takes a few years to hit its stride, so forgive us for not blowing you away this year." Which is true, historically. If you look at the PS1 and PS2, it wasn't until year four or five that we saw games like Final Fantasy XII, Grand Theft Auto III, and Metal Gear Solid. So with that out of the way, they continued to show a line-up of expected, but exciting titles.

First was what most people are calling game of the show: Little Big Planet. Last year I gushed about this game, and now my enthusiasm has intensified. This year, they used Little Big Planet as a Power Point presentation. That's right, they presented their sales numbers and projections in-game, in a custom-created Little Big Planet level. I've never heard such a long applause for sales numbers in my life. Youtube it.

Later, they went on to to show a few games, mostly trailers, and even brought exclusive developer Insomniac Games on-stage to demo Resistance 2. If you're unfamiliar, this is basically Sony's Halo. That's terribly reductionist, but very telling, in a nutshell. I was none impressed by their showing. The demo was the most removed from visceral that I can imagine a AAA first-person-shooter being. The stage they showed had this giant enemy (like Godzilla-giant) playing cat and mouse with the player through the roof-tops of downtown Chicago. Everything about the demo was bland, and my actual hands-on with the game later in the day didn't reassure me.

Sony also showed a few new upgrades to the PlayStation Network (PSN) where you can now rent movies directly on your PS3, which would be news if Microsoft hadn't done it already a year ago. But we did get a brief look into some exclusive downloadable titles that are nothing like what you'll find on the Xbox 360's Live Arcade line-up. Fat Princess and Flower were the show-stealers. Fat Princess looks like a Gauntlet-esque, online-versus game that has a story-book art style with over-the-top violence. It's cute meets cruel with unique character classes adding to the complexity. Flower, another "Game-of-the-Show" for a lot of E3-goers, is the next game by the creator of Flow. To hear it from the creator is to fully grasp what it is: a visual poem, telling the tale of a flower's dream. Seriously, that's how he describes it. You control the petal of a flower, guiding it through the wind while trying to pollinate and spring to life various plat-life in fields and gardens. If it's a little confusing, Flower is supposed to be metaphorical in design and presentation, understood when you play/feel the game.

And in what I would describe as a bad Thanksgiving family moment where your meth-addict cousin is noticeably absent, and your aunt and uncle assure you they're doing good in rehab -- Sony showed a little Home in a quick and nervous manner. All we saw was a short trailer of Sony's grand virtual-community feature in its latest state, which looks just like it did two years ago. Seriously, I think they could can this project and no one would care.

Sony concluded with a trailer of the next big thing by Zipper Interactive (the guys that make Socom) which was universally recognized as the worst game name ever: M.A.G. (Massive Action Game). M.A.G.'s claim to fame is that it's a 250 player online shooter with persistent character building similar to Call of Duty 4's online component.


At the end of it, I wasn't rushing to play any Sony games; they really didn't show many. But, I wasn't down on them either. If history is to repeat itself, then we will see a giant library of excellent games that you can only find on the PS3. But, what wasn't a factor
10 years ago is the growing monster that is Microsoft's Xbox 360. And what history really shows is that it's the games, not the hardware, that sets the competition apart.

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