Thursday, June 3, 2010

Looking Forward to E3 2010

When I was a kid and started reading gaming magazines there was one event that I always looked forward to: the Electronics Entertainment Expo – E3. All the best announcements from the biggest video game companies came from this event.

The last few years have been very toned down. The video game industry was seeing some odd times, and the reaction was to make E3 a closed event, shrinking its size and grandeur immensely. Still, I (and Cole) have always said one day we’d like to go to an E3.

This year looks to be the return of the massive, media event that I remember from those gaming magazines a decade ago, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about some of the stories and announcements I think we’ll hear about (or at least hope) at this year’s E3.

You might remember that last year I wrote about the Best Announcements from E3 2009 and that’s something I might do again after the event ends. I’m actually going to attempt not mentioning any of the items on last year’s list that have not yet come to pass. This list is more of a prediction, which could contain some outright anticipation, optimism, and just a little bit of intrigue.

I’d also like to add that this list was actually a list of six, but by the rules that govern all things here in Five-O-Rama Land, one had to be culled. An honourable mention goes to The Last Guardian, a spiritual sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus for PS2.

5. Virgin’s Online Gaming Service

Richard Branson, adventurer and multi-millionaire, is not new to the video game world. You might recall in the NES and SNES/Genesis days that Virgin Interactive made all kinds of licensed games – both good and bad – for Disney, 7-Up and even the Dune novels. They also worked on region specific editions of all sort of titles in Europe like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Command and Conquer, and even Devil May Cry as late as 2001.

Since then they’ve been out of the game – I know, I kill me – but in 2007 Branson announced that he was working on a form of downloadable video game service. The project appeared dead, but that may have been premature. Apprently Branson has been given time at this year’s E3 event. A British electronics magazine, MCV, seems to think that his could be an announcement on a new Online Only video game service from Virgin, and so do I.

Why would I be excited about this? Well, honestly, I don’t know that I am. When I first heard of OnLive, I thought it sounded like a pretty bad idea. My tune has since changed, however. OnLive is a pseudo-platform-based video gaming system. Basically you pay a subscription fee - or possibly pay-per-title? - but you actually have a unit, some sort of small black box, which pulls the games from “the cloud” and streams them to your TV.

I’ve always been a console gamer. I like getting a system, buying titles for it; I actually feel like I have something substantial and operational. With PC games you could get software that might not work for your machine. Then you have to upgrade or buy a whole new unit to play it. With a console, I know the games will work right about of the box. With the idea of OnLive, basically it is a way of streaming PC games to your TV; just something I’m not interested in.

Virgin’s service is reported to be something a little different. We’ll have to wait for Branson’s address at E3, but the rumblings are that this will be an online service that will match, and compete, with the current-gen consoles, with multi-platform games from their libraries and even its own sort of challenge or trophy system. One thing I’m supremely annoyed with myself over lately is that I currently own all of the video game consoles on the market, with the exception of the PSP (which I really want for the remakes!). For some reason I felt like I needed all three (Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360… not to mention the Nintendo DS) so that I could get all of the cool games coming out. It’s too much! Really, it is. When the next console war hits, I’ll be choosing a side and sticking with it. With a service such as Virgin could propose that might not be an issue. I could get all the multiplat games, exclusives, and more, on-demand download. That could be very cool!

I won’t go on about this anymore, suffice it to say, I’m definitely intrigued and looking forward to hearing more about this service at E3 – should this come to pass.

4. Retro Studios Next Game

Who are Retro Studios? They’re an in-house development company for Nintendo, and have only produced three games to date: The Metroid Prime Trilogy. You might remember in my Best Announcements of E3 2009 list that I mentioned a new game in development by Team Ninja, which will be the newest installment to the Metroid series.

When asked why Retro Studios wasn’t developing Metroid: Other M, their answer was that they were working on a different game. So what game could Retro Studios be working on? The hope is that they are taking another classic Nintendo title, something almost long-lost or a stagnant series, and bringing to the current-gen in a big way.

Although I’ve only played the first Metroid Prime title, I loved the new gameplay, style and the departure from the rest of the Metroid series. It was an interesting step in a new direction, and I think they need to be commended on that. I really hope that Retro Studios is trying to do the same thing with another old Nintendo franchise – Donkey Kong, Kirby or perhaps Star Fox – and bringing it to the current market in a fun, innovative way. Here’s hoping there is an announcement at this year’s E3!

3. Nintendo “3DS”

The Nintendo DS has got to be Nintendo’s most successful video game system since the Gameboy was released in ’89. With innovative hardware, tons of fun and interesting titles and some great remakes/re-releases, the DS has easily become my favourite handheld ever.

The DS has seen some upgrades as of late, including the DSi – with upgraded hardware capabilities, including a camera, flash memory and downloadable game service – and the DSi XL – a DSi with much larger screens. Then why would Nintendo release a new handheld system right now?

Well, the word is on the street that information about the system was going to be leaked in Japan, so Nintendo of America had to step up and release information about the system, and what better event than E3?

Currently titled the “3DS”, the system has already been announced. Nintendo has stated that it will be a dual screen handheld system and that the screen (or screens) will be 3D displays without the need of glasses or external hardware.

Now everyone remembers the big N’s last try at 3D “handheld” gaming in Virtual Boy. With changes in technology, however, Nintendo – and I’d dare say the average consumer – are much more confident this time out. Reportedly the 3DS will use autopolyscopy, which is a big “sciency” term for using two screens, working in tandem to display simultaneous images. This creates the 3D effect. In fact, most of the movies you see in 3D today use this trick, but with the use of glasses as well - autostereoscopy, in case you were wondering.

With Nintendo’s track record of consoles, and especially handheld systems - with the minor exception of the Virtual Boy - this could very well be the next big thing in handheld gaming, and a real technological feat. Introducing the dual screens with the DS, Nintendo added a lot of innovation to the style of games that could be produced for the system. The same goes with the Wii and its “waggle” controls. People made fun of it a few years back, but now you see Xbox’s Project Natal and Playstation Move coming in and emulating this modernization.

News on the 3DS – and what it might actually be named – is a lock for the Expo. Nintendo has said openly that not only would there be info about their new handheld, but it would be playable at the show. I for one am definitely looking forward to June 15th!

2. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

This one really falls in the rumour bin, but I just couldn’t help myself. At last year’s E3 a new Castlevania title, Lords of Shadow, was teased. A remake/reboot of the Castlevania series, the game keeps some old, faithful aspects like a Belmont with a whip, but creates a whole new story, that may or may not involve vampires – or Dracula – at all.

As exciting as a new, full 3D Castlevania title on the current-gen systems is, I’m a total sucker for the old-school Castlevania titles, most specifically the RPG, Castleroid-style games that branched off from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Very recently a patent went through in the UK for a Castlevania gamed titled Harmony of Despair. As far as unique, music-themed titles for Castlevania games go, “harmony” has already been used with Harmony of Dissonance for the Gameboy Advance. All that aside, the buzz is that Konami has created a new Castlevania title, intended for Xbox Live, PSN and maybe even WiiWare, that will be the penultimate SOTN-styled game.

In this game there will, reportedly, be six classic characters from these series, that may include Richter (Rondo of Blood/Dracula X), Soma Cruz (Aria of Sorrow/Dawn of Sorrow), Jonathon Morris (Portrait of Ruin), Charlotte Aulin (Portrain of Ruin), Shanoa (Order of Ecclesia) and possibly even Alucard Tepes (Symphony of the Night) himself!

From the trademarking information, it’s believed that this will be a single-player title, but also a co-op and versus game. Ideas and screenshots are floating around that there might be a battle between two players – over the net – to take down a boss first, or several friends can co-op Castle Dracula together. Also, the whole presentation will be in HD (Xbox Live, PSN) and will be the first game of this style not on a handheld console since SOTN.

It’s incredibly exciting, and I’m hoping with all the hype and gossip floating around this title that Konami will make some sort of announcement regarding it on the June 15th weekend.

1. Portal 2

In 2007 Valve released a game for the Xbox 360/PC/PS3 called Portal. It was really only an “add-on” title for Half-Life 2, their insanely popular FPS series. The game became insanely popular with many gamers and an instant Internet meme superstar. Originally released in The Orange Box, which contained Half-Life 2 Episodes 1 and 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. It was also subsequently released for Xbox Live with additional challenge maps in 2009 as Portal: Still Alive – a title you’ll understand if you’ve beaten the game.

The game is a triumph – oh, if you play Portal, you’re so chuckling right now – and became a true phenomenon. The basics of Portal’s gameplay are that you have a protagonist named Chell – not that you’d ever get that from the storyline – who is locked in a facility owned by a company called Aperture Science. You are given a “gun” that can shoot portals on certain flat surfaces. Eventually you can fire two different coloured portals and you must use them to traverse different areas and puzzles.

The game is so short and sweet, but with its revolutionary gameplay aside, the story is also amazing. We watch as a seemingly insane robot by the name of GlaDOS attempts to trick you through the game, like a lab rat, all for the hopes of making it to the end and cake. You meet such vibrant characters as the Companion Cube, a completely inanimate object that you will most certainly fall in love with, and the cute, disarming robot gunners that Chell finds strewn throughout the game.

I can’t say enough about Portal. Not only did I get it in The Orange Box on the Xbox 360, I repurchased it on Xbox Live just to get the new challenge maps. When Valve pulled some brilliant viral marketing and added content to the game on their own downloadable game service, Steam, a few months back, I seriously considered buying it again. I think the storyline is hilarious, and inventive, and the gameplay is addictive and insanely fun.

Well, guess what!? After so many years of waiting, we have a sequel! This one was confirmed to be at E3, and in a playable demo, but in pure Valve/Aperture Science fashion was actually removed from the E3 press event with this message:

“Aperture Science is pleased to inform you that we have partnered with Valve to announce the gala CANCELLATION of the June 14 Portal 2 event at the Regal Theater. The event will be replaced by a surprise. And even though the cancellation of the event certainly counts as a surprise, we are pleased to further announce that the cancellation of the event is not THE surprise. However, per International treaties regarding the definition of the word "surprise", of which both Aperture Science and Valve are signatories, the time, date and content of the actual surprise will only become available as you experience the surprise.

If you'd like to ask fruitless questions about the E3 Portal 2 surprise or, more fruitfully, schedule an appointment to attend a Portal 2 screening at the Valve booth during E3, please contact Valve's Special Envoy to Surprises, Doug Lombardi.

Thank you for [RECORD SCRATCH].

PS: The surprising record scratch is also not the surprise.”

If you’ve played Portal, you know just how much this completely suits the game. Whether this is just Valve being funny and viral about the demo of Portal 2 at E3, or a slick way of showing off Half-Life 3 at the event with Portal 2 as an addition, isn’t known at this time. All I know is that I cannot wait to get my hands on another Portal game, and I believe that after this year’s E3 I’m going to be left spent and alone, awaiting Portal 2’s eventual release date.


Cole D'Arc said...

i wonder if they'll ever release a Castlevania Collection or two. it would certainly make things more convenient.

it's nice to be excited about the future of gaming again after basically not caring for the last four years. this list being up some very interesting stuff.

very well-written list, by the way. i think you've definitely gotten better. (not saying your old lists weren't up to snuff; they certainly were. just remarking on this improvement)

Shane Patenaude said...

Good stuff, sir, and I'm also looking forward to everything on this list. Even if I can't be at the actual event, I will continue to follow all online coverage I can.

I'm really intrigued by the 3ds and how it'll work and what it will look like. Nintendo has a nearly flawless history of producing systems that seem ridiculous and questionable at first, and then end up slaughtering all competition. So I'm confident that whatever the 3DS ends up being, we'll all be drooling over it come E3.

Also, my guess for Retro Studios' project: Kid Icarus or (please god, make it so) a new Earthbound game.

RyHo said...

Thanks for the kudos, Cole. It's much appreciated. I've been aiming for a more "professional" tone lately.

Now that we've seen the E3 stuff come and go, I'm shocked at your prescience, Shane. I never would've guessed anything Kid Icarus, but it's on the way!