E3 2011: Sony’s PS Vita takes centre stage

For me, and perhaps many other people, the highlight of Sony’s press conference today was the PS Vita (the handheld formerly known as the NGP) and the games for it.

Sony announced that the WiFi version of the Vita would sell for US$250 and the 3G model would sell for US$299. New Zealand prices aren’t available yet, and expect them to be significantly higher if pricings for other hardware launches are anything to go by.

However, if Sony has it priced right and it’s comparable to Nintendo’s 3DS then we could have a handheld console war on our hands!

Sony’s Jack Tretton opened the conference talking about the recent PSN outage, apologising for the outage and saying it was a very humbling experience for the company. “We want to convince you why Playstation’s stronger than ever, but not just us telling you but you experiencing it yourself,” he said.

Nathan Drake’s triumphant return

A demo of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception started things, and it blew me away. Uncharted developer Naughty Dog says the game is raising the bar for PlayStation 3 games and it showed game hero Nathan Drake on what looks like a luxury liner as he makes his way to the bowels of the vessel. He takes two bad guys out from behind then punches out a patrolling guard.

Drake moves deeper into the ship. Now he’s in a lower deck but gets ambushed by baddies: there’s a fire fight. An explosion. “I gotta get outta here,” says Drake, as he tries to escape the ship. The ship starts listing from side to side, and Drake gets trapped under a metal object under water. He frees himself and is now swimming underwater. He’s out, climbing through a hatch, and seems safe but suddenly a huge torrent of water appears from behind him. The demo ends. The game is due out in November. “Amazing guys. We’re going to sell a few copies of that bad boy,” says Tretton.

Insomniac Games shows off Resistance 3 and Sony says PlayStation 2 games, Ico and Shadows of the Colossus, are being remastered in HD and coming out this year. So far, everything we know.

Then Sony throws in something I didn’t know about: a new PS branded 24-inch 3D display that sends two images simultaneously to two pairs of 3D glasses: each person sees a full-screen view on the same monitor rather than a split screen. I think I’ve got that right. It’ll come with a pair of 3D glasses, HDMI cable and Resistance 3 thrown in. It’s going to retail for US$499.

Other games announced include NBA2K12 for PlayStation Move, a new Sly Racoon game and Bioshock Infinite, which will have some form of PlayStation Move support. There will also be a Bioshock game appearing on the PS Vita.

Vita: apparently it means life

Now it’s time for information about the Vita. Sony’s Kaz Hirai says the PlayStation Portable was central to the evolution of the digital living room and Sony had high expectations for the PSP in the years to come but the PS Vita brought new ways to interact with “your world, your friends and your entertainment”. Hirai said Vita meant life and the front and rear cameras would provide Augmented Reality experiences and the Vita “blurs lines between entertainment and your real life”.

Games for the Vita – 80 are in development – include the poster game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and it looks like an Uncharted game on PS3 has been shrunk down and stuck into the handheld. You’ll be able to use a conventional control method to manipulate Drake around the game world or the Vita’s 5-inch OLED touch screen or the rear touch-sensitive pad to make Drake jump to ledges or take out enemies. Or probably a combination of both. I wonder, though, how much using your fingers will obscure your view while playing.

Other Vita games include Modnation Racers (where you’ll be able to rub the touch screens to build tracks or manipulate the environment), Wipeout 2048, Little Big Planet (you use the touch pads and tilt function) and Street Fighter vs Tekken, which features a playable Cole Mcgrath from Sucker Punch’s inFamous series.

That’s day one of E3 done: tomorrow it’s Nintendo’s turn to wow the gaming world with the expected showing of Project Cafe. I see that the press conference is at 4am, New Zealand time. I don’t know whether my body can take another full-on work day with a start that early but we’ll. I’ll take the laptop and see if the wireless signal reaches my bed – then I can watch it under the comfort of my duvet.

E3 2011: Xbox press conference – where Kinect rules the roost

OK, here’s my take on the Microsoft Xbox press conference that was held today (4.30am New Zealand time, so no wonder I’m a little tired now) and it was a press event that had a raft of Kinect games on show and a brief glimpse of where the Halo franchise is going.

The 90-minute Xbox event was dominated by Kinect, with Xbox’s Don Mattrick introducing the “next wave” of Kinect titles which showcased the device’s gesture and voice commands.

The event opened with a demo of Modern Warfare 3, showing a diver planting a bomb on a submarine before joining fellow operatives in boarding a enemy vessel and shooting their way to the surface and launching missiles. Next up was Kinect – which was the focus of the show – with EA’s Peter Moore saying there would be Kinect support for upcoming Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Fifa and Madden games, as well as in The Sims 3 Pets and Family Game Night 4.

Next up was Ray Muzyka, from Bioware, who was there to introduce Mass Effect 3, a game he said will support Kinect voice in both conversations and in combat. Players will be able to converse with players using voice, rather than the controller, as well as order commands to your squad during combat.

Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot introduced Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier, which will have Kinect support for weapon customisation – you can build something like 20 million unique weapons using arm gestures or voice commands. The demo also showed how you can reload, aim and fire a weapon using gesture rather than the controller.

“Xbox where’s my voice commands, huh?”

Xbox Live’s Marc Whitten saids YouTube was coming to Live and you’d be able to use voice commands to “control your entertainment” (NZ doesn’t even have operational voice commands yet: when are we going to get that, Microsoft?). Microsoft’s search engine Bing is also coming to Xbox Live so if you want to search for a particular game – say, anything with Lego in it – you can go “Xbox Bing Lego” and it will show all matches.

Whitten says Xbox Live TV is going to the United States and around the world (including Foxtel in Australia) but will such a feature come to New Zealand, and if so, when?

Halo and Gears of War 3: for the hardcore gamers

Hardcore Halo fans weren’t forgotten with a trailer of Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary, a fully remastered and remade version of the original featuring the full campaign and seven multiplayer maps, and Cliff Blesinski and rapper Ice-T played a co-op level of Gears of War 3 where Dom and his team had to fight a giant, ugly, google-eyed sea monster.

Blesinski said thanks to the GOW3 multiplayer beta, this game would be the “best and most polished Gears game to date”.

Peter Molyneux came out for Fable: The Journey, in what seems to be a first-person, on-rails Fable with Kinect support.

“Fable has always been about you being the hero but we wanted to know how we can make you 100 times more involved,” Molyneux said. The next Fable game would bring “power and control to your fingertips”. The demo showed a guy controlling a horse and cart, holding his hands out in front holding the reins, then conjuring up magic and spells during some combat. He also slapped enemies.

Minecraft, the game that swept the PC world by storm, is also coming to Xbox 360 as well as two Kinect games for children: Kinect Disneyland Adventures and Tim Schaefer’s Once Upon a Monster.

Use the fork, Luke

The briefly glimpsed Kinect Star Wars from last year’s E3 was shown in demo form today, and the intro showed rancors, cloud city, clone troopers, speeder bikes, pod racing and space battles. “Lightsabre on,” the dude playing the demo shouted – and his blue lightsabre sparks into life. He used force push to move a tank and push droids out of the way. The demo ends with two sith appearing, and both duel wielding lightsabres.

Something that is really interesting to me, though, is Kinect Fun Labs, which Microsoft’s Kudo Tsunoda said would be available for download over Xbox Live today – and it is: I downloaded it this morning but haven’t had a play yet.

Fun Labs is a collection of Kinect tools that lets you scan objects so you can play with them in-game as well as do 3D painting using finger scanning. Fun Labs supports individual finger scanning as well as body scanning, which means you can create an Xbox Live Avatar that looks like you.

Kinect Sports is back with Season 2 and it brings six new sports, including skiing and tennis, plus in-game voice recognition and new gestures. The demo showed a woman playing golf and two testosterone-fuelled dudes playing a game of American football.

Dance Central 2 was also shown off, then Don Mattrick returned, saying that this year Xbox 360 would change living room entertainment forever and that “Xbox 360 will become the bestselling console globally”. He closed the conference by announcing a “new trilogy for the Xbox 360”, then the Halo 4 trailer played, showing a Master Chief on board a damaged spaceship  heading towards a giant white ring.

EA and Sony also have their press conferences today. I missed the EA one – I had to go to work – but did watch the Sony one on a most unreliable livestream. I’ll get my thoughts on Sony’s presser later tonight.

Nintendo’s is tomorrow, where it is expected to show off its next console.