AU Diary: My Day Zero at E3

On Day Zero of E3, I was impressed by the Xbox press conference, absent through misadventure at the EA press conference and exceedingly cramped at the Ubisoft press conference. Here’s my take on what I saw.

After waking up early and blessedly hangover-free, I jumped on the shuttle bus to the Galen Theatre just south of downtown LA. A queue numbering in the thousands awaited me outside the venue of the Xbox press conference.

Going in, there were plenty of question marks hanging over Microsoft this year. What games do they have in the second half of ’09? How would they build upon last year’s Live service revamp? And just what about those motion control rumours?

Coming out, I feel the first-party lineup of Halo 3: ODST and Forza 3, supplemented by third-party exclusives Splinter Cell: Conviction and Left 4 Dead 2, is reasonably strong. Epic and Chair Entertainment’s XBLA title Shadow Complex brought back nostalgic flashback’s to, er… Flashback, that classic platform adventure from the 16-bit era.

Still, only two major first-party titles does look a little weak up against what Sony has already announced for this year. Although it was great to see Alan Wake emerge from a prolonged media blackout, even if it is still nearly a year away from release. And Crackdown 2 and Halo Reach were nicely teased and offer plenty of hope for next year.

Microsoft’s strategy of focusing strong support on third-party multi-platform releases such as Modern Warfare 2 and The Beatles Rock Band is indicative of a new direction that carried across the rest of the conference: partnerships.

Partnerships with Facebook, Twitter and Netflix show a new side to Microsoft, one that is less concerned with buying out competitors and more intent on bringing them under the Live umbrella.

Project Natal promises something extraordinary, even if you couldn’t help but ponder the smoke and mirrors in any presentation given by Peter Molyneux. While the simplistic nature of the prototype demos shown clearly suggested the aim is the casual crowd, it’s enticing to think what someone like Hideo Kojima (who, yes, stealthed his way on stage) could do with such 4th wall breaking technology.

Later, a mishap with my registration – for some reason I wasn’t on the media list, but rather down as an exhibitor – meant an annoying delay that caused me to miss the EA press conference. Still, the upside was a delicious lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen on Figueroa. I recommend the spinach and aspargus linguini.

After lunch I trekked over to Club Nokia to register for tomorrow morning’s Nintendo press conference. Rather than handing out traditional media badges however, I got a yellow band slapped around my wrist, plus a blue one for tomorrow night’s party. This meant nearly 24 hours of wearing a silly band that can only be removed by cutting it off. “They’re waterproof,” said the girl at the registration desk. Great.

Then it was down to the Los Angeles Theatre back in downtown for Ubisoft. Confusion reigned as we were instructed to queue to go inside to collect our badges, then go back outside and join a second queue to actually get back into the theatre. With hundreds of people squeezing through just two tiny doors, and flustered registration staff having to sift through individually named press passes, chaos ensued. Eventually we were told just to go in and to hell with having to prove your credentials.

Inside, it was a strange conference. Yves Guillemot, Yannis Mallat and James Cameron spoke at length about how Ubisoft was integrating games and movies through the latter’s upcoming Avatar. Which was interesting… but they didn’t actually show the game. Or even any clips from the movie.

We saw the same quite spectacular Splinter Cell Conviction gameplay demo from the Xbox conference and a pre-rendered trailer for Assassin’s Creed 2. The new Rabbids and Shaun White games were shown to largely tepid response. A new fitness game for Wii, which uses the first camera for the system, was also shown. Some quite hideous looking Imagine titles brought the mood down even further.

It was left to Brazilian football god Pele to enliven proceedings. And, to be honest, I could care less about his super-deformed football game for Wii, but man… Pele!

Dead set legend.

Ultimately, Ubisoft’s virtually gameplay-free presentation was surely intended to appeal more to investors and retail buyers than the media that comprised the majority of the audience. I’ll actually be seeing the games they didn’t show later in the week. Which’ll be nice.

And that was my day at E3. Now it’s off to have a few quiet ones and prepare for the real first day of the show.


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