Thursday, May 11, 2006

E3 2006: The Theoretical Fantastic

I was at E3 today (Thursday ) with Ben Ormand (also known as the Best Human Being Ever), and while I'll have a longer wrap-up on Monday, I saw two overwhelming, dominant themes.

The first, and by far the most important, is that this E3 was catastrophic for Sony. Absolutely catastrophic. This morning at 10 a.m., there were literally hundreds of people in the Nintendo area, and the wait to try out the Wii games (which required entry into a special section) was over an hour long. Almost right next door, there were PS3 games on display, and the crowd around them was two deep.

That's two as in two people per game.

There's no way to spin that. It's the biggest gaming event of the year, Sony has the most powerful (allegedly) console ever created playable on the show floor, and nobody gives a shit. There were additional games upstairs, and there was a short line (by E3 standards) for that, but it in no way discounts playable games on the floor being virtually empty.

Do you know what Sony did when they announced a $599.99 price point? They made themselves irrelevant. I wonder what it feels like to be 3DO.

Think I'm exaggerating? Just wait. Developers who have games in process will complete them, but there will be a tremendous number of PS3 exclusives that will get moved to the 360 platform. Early adopters will buy the first shipment of PS3's, but no one besides Sony has deluded themselves into thinking that they can build a user base in the U.S. at that price.

The only difference I could see in the visual quality of the PS3 games versus the 360 games was that Sony used higher-quality and larger displays to show them. When the games were on similar displays, as with Madden 2007, they looked identical.

So here's the situation: Microsoft showed 10x the number of games, they looked as good as the PS3 games, and the PS3 costs $200 more.

One word: disaster.

Dominent theme number two: Nintendo absolutely kicked ass. There were unbelievable, stunning lines to try out the Wii games. And, thanks to DQ reader Erik Peterson, who works for Nintendo, we were able to skip that massive line and take the Wii controller for an extended test drive.

Man, I still hate the name "Wii."

But here's the important thing: Nintendo's won. They've won because they carved out a market space in which they can win. Microsoft and Sony have thrown incredible amounts of money into creating consoles that can display increasingly complex graphic environments. Nintendo does not have the resources to compete in that space, and to their credit, they're smart enough not to try. The Wii creates less complex environments, but offers more unique gameplay.

Is it more fun to make a motion than press a button? Yes. Having tried the controller myself, I no longer have any questions about that. Being able to generate topspin in a tennis game by swinging low to high felt fantastic.

Here's another example. In Metroid Prime 3, I needed to unlock a compartment to open a door. I moved the controller to center the compartment, moved it forward for my onscreen hand to grasp the handle, turned the controller to turn the handle, and pulled back to pull the handle out, which opened the door.

How did it feel? Phenomenal. It felt absolutely "correct" and completely natural. Besides getting to play the Guitar Hero 2 demo, it was the best single moment of the day.

Will it get old to keep making a motion to generate an action? I don't see it getting any older than pressing the "A" button a thousand times like we do now.

One more note on the controller: aiming in Metroid Prime 3 was just great. It felt like you were holding a mouse in your hand--that's how precisely and quickly you could aim.

I'm sure there will be some crap games that are solely gimmicks to support the controller--no question. But I'm also sure that there are going to be some classic, addictive games on this system as well.

Here's what's really important: anyone who is a fan of Nintendo is automatically going to buy the Wii. In other words, they've totally captured their base. And by offering both unique gameplay and an ideal price point at $249 (which I strongly believe will be the launch price), they have perfectly positioned themselves to attract new users.

Will the 480p maximum resolution hurt them? It would if they didn't have the controller. I'm as much of a resolution whore as anyone, though, and it won't stop me from buying the system.

So here's the shocking development at E3 2006, and I am one hundred percent convinced that I'm predicting this correctly: at the $599 price point, the PS3 will not only be unable to overtake the Xbox 360 in installed base, but it will ALSO be unable to overtake the Wii.

So there's your stake in the ground. On its current course, the PS3 will not be second in the new generation--it will be third.

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