Tag Archives | E3

Nintendo Announces Wii Biofeedback Sensor

wii_vitality2At the Nokia Theater in downtown LA this morning, Nintendo’s E3 press briefing for its new lineup included the expected cast of characters for its Wii and DS platforms. Among the announced products were more than one new Mario game, a new Metroid game, and a new feature for the DS which allows you to edit photos and upload them directly to Facebook. But the most interesting — and least discussed — new announcement was about a hardware accessory for the Wii which provides the platform with the ability to literally take the pulse of the player, while playing.

As shown in these incredibly blurry photos taken at the event, the device that Nintendo execs are calling the Wii Vitality Sensor, looks like a small plastic sleeve into which you slip an index finger. A cable connects the Vitality Sensor to the Wiimote controller.

wii_vitality1The tease for the Vitality Sensor explained that it would give Wii developers the ability to design games that use this type of input—games which can read the player’s physical state in a way that no current-generation console can. In theory, said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, such an accessory could be used in, for example, a game designed to help the player relax and control his or her heart rate.

While this kind of biofeedback in games isn’t exactly new–especially so for Nintendo, which released a short-lived biofeedback sensor with a game for its Nintendo 64 platform years ago — the timing of the announcement is interesting, when you consider that the other two members of the console maker’s club are expected to announce point-at-the-screen game controllers like the Wii currently uses.

I don’t think Nintendo intends to recreate The Journey to Wild Divine for the Wii, but it isn’t hard to see how, combined with the Wii Fit controller, a heart rate monitor would make a pretty useful fitness gaming accessory. A number of developers have been working on games that use biofeedback to train players to relax. A version of something similar for the Wii — which has already brought huge numbers of casual gamers into the console market — would open up the market for so-called relaxation games to a much broader audience.


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Microsoft’s E3 Presser: The Games, With Beatles

xbox360If fancy gimmickry’s a ways off and social console networking doesn’t catch on, at least Microsoft’s E3 press event had some good old-fashioned games to fall back on.

And yes, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were there to lend a hand. More on that later.

Maybe it’s because I’m green on the E3 battlefield, but it seems that Microsoft is making a big push for exclusivity in its line-up. Of the dozen video games announced at the presser, more than half will only be released on the Xbox 360, and in some cases the PC. All of the games had some element of bragging rights for Microsoft.

That started with The Beatles: Rock Band, which will be released for all consoles. Xbox 360 owners, however, will get to download “All You Need is Love,” with the proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders. To mark the announcement, Sir Paul and Ringo indeed showed up, even if their one-liners and lack of musical performance was a letdown.

Additionally, the much-anticipated Modern Warfare 2 will release two map packs that will go to Xbox Live before reaching the Playstation Network.

In another slap in the face to Sony, Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima took the stage to announce Metal Gear Solid Rising for the Xbox 360. The series has long given preferential treatment to the Playstation brand, with Metal Gear Solid 4 considered a PS3 system seller.

The other exclusives weren’t surprising. Left 4 Dead 2, Crackdown 2, Forza Motorsport 3, Halo 3: ODST and yet another Halo game called Halo Reach all have Xbox 360 predecessors. And we already knew that Microsoft had locked up Splinter Cell: Conviction and Alan Wake.

But as a whole, the games segment of Microsoft’s press event is a testament to the console wars. Exclusivity has little benefit to gamers, but it’s not going away.

One last thing: Microsoft apparently didn’t have time to announce this during the press conference, but it will offer full-length games for digital download. You know it was a monstrous E3 briefing when news of that caliber didn’t make the first cut.


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Will Xbox Live Be a Hangout?

xboxlivecardMicrosoft wasn’t shy about its intentions during today’s E3 press event: It’s trying to branch out beyond the typical gamer set. Project Natal is one piece of the puzzle, and so is Xbox Live, for which the company revealed five significant additions and improvements.

Let’s make this nice and easy with a list:

Social Networking: Come this fall, Facebook and Twitter will be accessible through Xbox Live. A demonstration showed the usual features, such as status updates and friend lists, presented in the New Xbox Experience’s distinct windows. One feature allows Facebook friends to find each others’ Xbox 360 Gamertags.

“Live Party”: Friends on Xbox Live can watch videos or listen to music together over the Internet. In a brief demonstration, avatars gathered in front of a television (within a television, of course), watching and reacting to the content.

Zune Marketplace: As we heard when Microsoft announced the Zune HD, Xbox Live’s video service will become Zune-branded, but it’ll get at least one substantive change in the form of 1080p streaming videos.

Last.fm: Xbox Live Gold members around the world will have access to millions of songs through Last.fm, simple as that.

Netflix Improvements: My biggest gripe with the Xbox’ 360s Netflix service was the inability to select movies or manage playlists directly on the console. Fortunately, that will change, so a PC is no longer required.

While the Zune and Netflix developments are just tweaks to existing services, the other three announcements go in a different direction. Microsoft wants the Xbox 360 to be a hangout. I can almost sense this ideal of families or friends crowded around the tube, getting a dose of interactive entertainment.

But will people get into it? Live Party didn’t get an enthusiastic response at the press event, and the social networking seems a little clunky for everyday use (especially without a keyboard). I’m reluctant to make a bold prediction either way, but I’m curious to see how this effort pans out.


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“Project Natal” is the Xbox 360’s Motion Control

nadalcamKudo Tsunoda took a shot at the Wii when introducing Microsoft’s answer to motion control today.

“This isn’t a game where you end up on the sofa just kind of using some preset waggle commands,” the project’s creative director said, talking about a physically intense tech demo.

Indeed, the so-called “Project Natal” was impressive, at least from where I was sitting at Microsoft’s E3 press event. As rumored, the technology is a 3D motion-sensing camera that needs no other peripherals to operate.

Video demonstrations included a young man performing karate kicks against an on-screen opponent, his image duplicated onscreen with dead-on accuracy. In the next clip, a girl held her hands like a steering wheel and drove a race car. When she hit a pit stop, one of her family members ran up to the screen and made the motions of replacing a tire.

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We also saw a couple of live demonstrations. In a full-bodied take on Breakout, a girl used her arms, legs and head to hit balls down a 3D corridor. Another demonstrator pretended to throw paint buckets at a screen and created live splatter art.

Finally, Fable 2 creator Peter Molyneux introduced “Milo,” a child that, in a video, interacted with a real woman. In the most impressive moment, she drew a picture, held it in front of the screen, and Milo took a virtual copy, recognizing the color and shape of the drawing. Milo will apparently be demonstrated to VIPs during E3.

Microsoft steered clear from any sort of release window for Project Natal. Everything shown was in prototype, and the initial video shown is “product vision” rather than real implementation. The closest we heard to a timetable is that development kits are going out now.

In my E3 wish list, I said I’d rather see  Microsoft wait until the next console cycle to bust out motion control, but a comment by Don Mattrick, the Xbox division’s senior vice president, suggests that this technology will simply extend the life of the Xbox 360. It seems Microsoft is in no rush to move on to something else.

“We can leap into a new era of interactive entertainment without having to launch a new console,” he said.

You can see the concept video on YouTube.


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PSP Go is All But Official

playstation-logoMarketing photos, video and details on a new Playstation Portable have leaked three days ahead of Sony’s E3 press conference.

The source of the material is Qore, Sony’s official interactive magazine for Playstation Network members, so this was either an intentional leak to preempt the other console makers or a major foul-up. We’re beyond rumor territory now, but Sony will probably keep quiet on this news until Tuesday.

On to the details: The PSP Go includes 16 GB of flash memory and no UMD drive, Sony marketing executive John Koller said in Qore’s video interview. Of course, all the PSP Go’s content will be download-only, and a Memory Stick Micro slot boosts the potential capacity. The screen measures 3.8 inches, which is a half-inch smaller than the current PSP-3000, but the new model is 43 percent lighter. Bluetooth will be included for using a headset or tethering a cell phone, Koller said.

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As you can see from the photo, the controls are located on a panel that slides out from the bottom half of the device. It looks the the control scheme of the old PSP will remain in this model.

Koller blabbed about a few big-name titles in the video, including previously unannounced versions of Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo. Whoops?

The PSP-3000 will stay on the market even after the Go’s fall release, Koller said. Smart move, because it’ll allow Sony to gauge the PSP Go’s success against a console that uses physical game discs. It remains to be seen how Sony will handle the release of UMD games versus digital downloads. Down the line, that ratio will probably be a good indicator of which direction Sony wants to go (no pun intended).


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The Obligatory E3 Wish List

The run up to the Electronic Entertainment Expo is always full of predictions, rumors and promises, but I’m tired of peering into the crystal ball. Instead of guesswork, here are my wants and needs for the games industry’s biggest trade show:

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From Microsoft: Word on the street is that the Xbox 360 will get a motion-sensing camera to compete with Nintendo’s Wii. No thanks. I’m pretty happy with the Xbox 360’s thumbstick gaming, and I’d rather see Microsoft wait on motion control until the next console cycle, when the company can gather a full stable of game developers behind it. Instead, lets see Hulu support over Xbox Live. A robust gaming handheld, as rumored, would be cool, too.

From Nintendo: This is a tough one. Conventional wisdom holds that The Big N will focus on games instead of hardware this year, maybe with a Zelda or Mario-related announcement to please the fanboys. I’d like to see something that uses the Wii MotionPlus in a mind-blowing way. If such a game involves any Nintendo icons, so be it.

From Sony: Cut the price of the Playstation 3 already, jeez. Seriously though, the most likely rumor — that of a UMD-less PSP — is the one that I like. I desperately want to see what happens when a game console ditches physical media, and Sony has the chance to be ahead of the curve.

From Game Publishers: It’d be nice to hear that the old way of piling up game releases around the holidays is being phased out. Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera has a story today on why this may not happen — basically, there’s still a market for all those games, so no reason to hold back — but as a gamer it’s frustrating. This spring was fruitful for good games, but I think we’re headed for a dull summer before the usual fall/winter pounding.

I’ll be covering the show here in Los Angeles, starting with Microsoft’s Monday morning press conference. In the meantime, feel free to offer up your own hopes and dreams for the future of gaming.


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Let the E3 Hype Begin!

e3logoWe’re a little over a month away from the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo, more commonly known as E3, and Gamasutra has a nice create-a-story to get everyone excited.

If you ever read video game magazines or Web sites in the late 1990s or the earlier part of this decade, you know how huge E3 was for the industry. What started as a simple trade show for publishers evolved into a spectacle of huge announcements, flashing lights and hardly-dressed “booth babes.” For the last two shows, the Entertainment Software Association cut back considerably, stripping away much of the glamor and allowing press by invitation only. The restructuring didn’t go over well. Some publishers backed out of the second show, and Will Wright said the expo “almost feels like a zombie.”

This year is supposed to be a rebirth, with press registration restored, big announcements saved up and, yes, booth babes. The Entertainment Software Association, in addition to claiming that 150 companies will attend, gathered some hype from the big three console manufacturers for its story at Gamasutra.

The biggest hype comes from Microsoft, whose senior VP of the Interactive Entertainment Business, Don Mattrick, said the company’s presence “will completely transform how people think about home entertainment.”

Nintendo and Sony were slightly less restrained. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said the company promises its “full support” to the show, adding that it’s the place “where creativity is on display, and as a ‘sneak peak’ for our entire industry it helps generate excitement for gamers around the world.”

SCEA president and CEO Jack Tretton simply said that the expo is an “ideal place for us to unveil the latest PlayStation news and products at our press event on June 2.”

Would anyone care to speculate what we’ll see at this year’s show? A streaming video solution for the Playstation 3? A new Mario game? Some new integration between the Xbox 360 and the Zune?

We’ll find out in June. (Shameless plug: I’ll be there to cover the show, so feel free to get your live coverage here.)


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