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E3: (Officially) Day One: The Sequel: Migraine Mania!

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Fallout3

Fallout3There are only so many times you can watch a vaguely militaristic man, armed to his digital wisdom teeth, fire a pulse weapon at some marauding zombie/leviathan/genetic freak/Wookie before the bloom pretty much gets eviscerated from the rose. And I write this after just the (official) first day of E3 — I’ve still got two more jam-packed days of giga-pixeled decapitations to wade through. “Wait, Adam, do you mean to tell me that you’re actually complaining about getting to spend your Tuesday learning about videogames as your job?!” No, dear reader, I’m not, promise. (Before I explain why I’m not complaining, though, mega bonus points to my colleagues Wook Kim and Gary Eng Walk for doing me a solid and filling in so awesomely yesterday.) There was plenty to enjoy yesterday, and I’ll get to all that shortly. But it’s also my job to be honest, and, I gotta tell ya, this isn’t exactly turning out to be a blockbuster E3.

Exhibit A: Nintendo’s morning press briefing, which took placebright-and-early at the famed Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Surely, thecompany with the hottest home and portable consoles around bussed ingaggles of E3-ers from their downtown Los Angeles hotel rooms (anddragged me from my apartment ten minutes away) to the home of no lessthan the Academy Awards because they had something to seriously dazzlethe teeming sea of laptop-tapping jaded journalists and industrybig-wigs? (Whew.) Um, no. And after the jump,I’ll tell you what Nintendo did instead, along with the highlight’sfrom Sony’s confab, and which games made the biggest impressions.

NINTENDO
The presentation started off with a live demo of the upcoming Shaun White Snowboarding bythe flying tomato gold medalist himself, using the Wii’s Balance Boardto ride the slopes. (More on this game later.) It was all pretty muchdownhill from there. Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata took tothe stage to talk up Nintendo’s efforts to “destroy the psychologicalbarrier” between so-called “gamers” and “non-gamers,” so much so Iwondered if they were about to debut a new game called PsyBarrier Destructor!in which you were employed to do just that. Instead, Iwata casuallymentioned that the Mario and Zelda designers are working on newversions of their venerable franchises for the Wii, and then turned itover to the rest of his team to unveil Nintendo’s wares. Here’s what welearned about:

WiiSports Resort: The biggest news by far was theannouncement of the sequel to the title that hooked everyone on the Wii tobegin with — it includes a frisbee-tossing game, a jet-ski game, and asword-dueling game — but with one major caveat: It will come bundledwith something called the Wii MotionPlus, a little square hub ofplastic that clicks into the bottom of your Wiimote and evidently makesit extra-super-sensitive to wrist movement and the Wiimote’s actuallocation relative to your body. So until the game hits stores nextspring, it seems you’ll all just have to dumbly swing in space withyour now-inadequate Wiimotes.

Animal Crossing: City Folk: Long anticipated (so I’m told),the first version of this DS blockbuster is due for the Wii by the endof the year. The biggest innovation is the introduction of Wii Speak, acommunal microphone that let’s you talk with your online AnimalCrossing buddies as you all, say, go fishing at the local virtual pond.You can also explore your own city, which, according to Nintendo, meansan auction house, “happy room,” fashion center and hair salon. (What,no tattoo parlor?) And, like previous Animal Crossing games, yourcharacter lives on 24/7 whether you’re playing the game or not, whichproposes some weighty philosophical conundrums that I’d just as soonnot entertain. (Who wants a visual-stimuli headache to explode into a a full-oncerebral hemorrhage?)

DS games: In but one of eight bajillion mentions of some version of Guitar Hero that we’ll get this week, we were told Guitar Hero: On Tour: Decades for the DS would include “song sharing.” And the only console version of Wil Wright’s Spore — i.e. Spore Creaturesfor the DS — would include “animal sharing.” Then, in the onlyannouncement that roused any spontaneous reaction from the crowd, welearned Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars would come exclusively to the DS this winter, although given the GTAfranchise’s previous MA ratings and the DS’s decidedly family friendlyrep, I wasn’t too surprised that there was no mention about whetherthis game would involve any sort of “fluid sharing.” (As in gas. For the stolen cars. Get your head out of the digital gutter!)

Wii Music: Best I can tell, you shake and button-smash yourWiimote and Nunchuck (and, occasionally, Balance Board) while roughlyin the position you’d play whichever one of 50-plus encoded instrumentsyou’ve selected (violin, drums, trumpet, etc.). Then a pre-set melodyawkwardly tumbles forth from your speakers in the rhythm you’ve createdwith your aforementioned gyrations. With no visual guide for how toplay the music — something Nintendo bragged about several times — itall ends up sounding exactly like a seventh grade band recital, and notin an endearing way. (I know this because four Nintendo employeesdemoed the game by shambling their way through the Mario Bros. themesong, to the horror of most in attendance.) You can record your Mii’smusical performances and share them with friends, but why you’d want tois really beyond me.

SONY
After Nintendo’s presentation whimpered to its conclusion, we alltrundled to the Shrine Auditorium just south of downtown LA for theSony press briefing. Backed by, no kidding, 58 flat-panel Sony TVs (andseven massive Sony monitors, one of which was bigger than somemovie screens), Sony’s only real hardware announcement was that, inSeptember, the Playstation 3 will be available only as a $399 80GBmodel. But there were plenty of software highlights to go around,including the announcement of God of War III (though no release was given). Here’s the rest:

Resistance 2: A extended live-demo — in which ourmuscle-clad hero fires pulse weapons at a skyscraper-sized leviathanmarauding through a demolished 1950s Chicago — duly impressed, as didits announced 8-player online co-op mode and 16-player onlinecompetitive mode. The strong extended trailer at the end sealed thedeal: This was a sequel to watch. It’s out this fall.

LittleBigPlanet: Rather than further demo this much-buzzedcreate-your-own-game-levels title (out this October), Sony ComputerEntertainment of America president and CEO Jack Tretton used it topresent a delightfully engaging rundown of Sony’s business statisticsand strategies, giving a whisper of hope to all those sick and tired ofmind-numbing Powerpoint presentations.

Playstation Network: Long dogged for playing second fiddleto XBox 360 Live, Sony spent the longest stretch of its time on stagebuilding up its online presence, including touting new downloadablegames like Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty and something called Fat Princess that looked completely hilarious. Far less hilarious was the notion of Gran Turismo TV, a car-racing enthusiast network you can only watch through the game Gran Turismo 5: Prologue.And while there still was little to see of the Playstation Home (i.e.Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s Miis and Microsoft’s recently announced Avatars), they did announce a new movie and TV download service, launchingas I type this, that’s comparable in price-points, offerings andportability to Apple’s iTunes — although, at this point, only Microsoftoffers downloadable content from NBC Universal.

DC Universe Online: Comic-book artist and professed gamingüber-geek Jim Lee presented the first look at this massivelymultiplayer online game that allows players to create their ownsuperhero (or supervillain) and interact with the canon of DC Comicscharacters. There was debateamong my colleagues whether gamers would really want to play as, say,UltraGary rather than Batman or the Green Lantern, but since I’mwriting this entry, I’ll say that, even with no release date in theforeseeable future (as none was given), the world will soon be a farbetter place once Adam the Loquacious Wonder takes to the streets ofMetropolis. 

MAG: Massive Action Game: A doozy: This mammoth online gamepits up to 256 players against each other in military-style campaigns,each side organized into 8-player squads. Watching the hulking soldiersin the trailer fire weapons at their marauding enemies, impressive asit was, I still kept wondering “what’s going to happen when one side’sinternet decides to go out? That sure doesn’t happen on the real battlefield…yet.”

UBISOFT
After Sony concluded, it was back to the LA convention center forthe rest of the day. Game publisher Ubisoft showed off much of theirwares, and among all the titles, these stood out the most:

Prince of Persia: The newest version for this venerable franchise really caught my eye, and not only because it isn’t titled Prince of Persia 7: Just In Time for the Movie Version.Rendered with a painterly touch that the game designer called”illustrative,” the live demo had me mesmerized with its near cinematicfight sequences and stunning visuals. I should have a chance to checkit out more up-close-and-personal on Thursday, so I’ll report back morein two days.

Tom Clancy’s EndWar: A game you play entirely with your ownvoice. I’ll withhold judgment about how exactly it will work until Ihopefully get a chance to try it out on Thursday.

Games for Girls: Rather than describe these games, I’m justgoing to list some of their titles, because they’re all pretty muchself-explanitory (and all set for the DS in the near future): PetzCrazy Monkeyz, Petz Catz Clan, Petz Horseshoe Ranch, Imagine: RockStar, Imagine: Fashion Designer, Imagine: Wedding Designer, Imagine:Movie Star, Ener-G Horse Riders, Ener-G Dance Squad, Ener-G Gym Rockets. 

Shaun White Snowboarding: Rather than snow-board down apre-set course, players can march up a mountain and ride down it asthey see fit, never taking the quite same route twice. Gnarly.

LUCAS ARTS
My first chance at playing the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed,and all I could score was the Wii version, which I’d be more enthusedabout if I hadn’t somehow whacked myself on the head something fiercewith the cord connecting my Wiimote to the Nunchuk. But it was stillkinda cool to fire a pulse of concentrated force at my attacking enemy.We also got a demo of Star Wars: The Clone Wars — essentially a light-saber dueling game for the Wii — and a new franchise called Fracture — replete with hulking military-like dudes firing pulse weapons at marauding enemies!

FALLOUT 3 (pictured)
After catching this game’s demo yesterday during the Microsoftpresentation — included a hulking hero firing pulse weapons at…well,you get the idea — I got an extended one-on-one sit-down with the gamemyself, and it’s far from a run-and-gun shoot-’em-up. The exactinglyrendered atmospheric vibe reminded me the of Bioshock, one of my favorite games of the last few years. But Fallout 3is about five times more dense, with a sprawling and  open-endedpost-apocalyptic Washington D.C. landscape that you’re free to exploreany which way you like. Case in point: Even though I was supposed tohunt down info on my character’s missing pappy, I instead managed towander into a hamlet I believe was called “New Bethesda” — that’s aftertaking down some nasty giant mole-like creatures and avoiding lakes ofirradiated water — only to have my head blown clean off by a shotgunwielding local. Lovely!

Phew! That was quite the day! With Microsoft, Nintendo andSony’s press confabs finally out of the way, though, today promises tobe a much less harried—and, wonders!, it looks like I’ll finally get myhands on Spore. If they manage to tear me away, I’ll have afull report for you tomorrow. For those of you who’ve read this far, Ithank you, and ask you these questions: What’s your biggest gaming petpeeve? What games are you most jazzed about? And will you ever look atyour Wiimote the same way after learning that all this time it’s notbeen rendering your wrist movements as accurately as it could?!