Once you get past all of the livestreams and interviews and spin, E3 is really designed to do one thing. It's there to give the world a glimpse into the future of video games. The press reports on what they see, the retail buyers try to get an idea of which games are going to require larger orders, the analysts... well, they analyze, I guess, and the fans tend to go wild and watch as much of it as they possibly can.
For me, it's usually a tiring, but very rewarding week. It's exciting to see this stuff first-hand and watching the announcements unfold in real-time is positively thrilling, even if we usually know somewhere between 40 and 80 percent of the big announcements ahead of time. Right now, I'm stranded in an airport, getting ready to head south for a week of pre-E3 presentations. It's an interesting bit of pre-show that gives one a good look at what the actual show is going to be. And most of what I see this week will be under embargo. In exchange for getting this early look, I agree not to talk about it until E3 begins. That might sound weird, but it's a reasonably fair trade that helps us prepare for the show itself, which has gotten so big that it's impossible to see it all during the actual show.
With that in mind, this is, more or less, the last time I'll get to speak completely freely before going "behind the veil," so to speak. Here are some of the things I hope we'll find out over the course of E3 2011.== TEASER ==
Nintendo's New Console
Obviously, this is the big question mark, though that question mark has gotten a bit smaller over the weeks as more and more developers start to slip out whatever details they've heard as work begins on crafting games for Nintendo's next machine. The rumors sound like they're true, and all that "embedded screen in the controller" stuff sounds like it's actually going to happen. And other publishers have gone on the record in vague terms, such as Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot, who has said that his company will be able to "leverage a lot of the work" that it's already doing for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. That can only mean that Nintendo's box is at least as powerful as those machines and will have the sorts of controllers it needs to have to duplicate those other consoles' experiences.
But how powerful will it really be? Will this be a full step up? Or a Dreamcast-like half-step that puts Nintendo slightly ahead of the current machines? Actually, maybe a better question is something like "what does a full step even look like right now?" Or how about "they can't really be serious about shipping this thing with only 8GB of internal storage, can they?" Sounds like they can. But until we see the games, it's impossible to know for sure if that'll have any meaningful impact on the games themselves. Also, will it interact with the 3DS at all? How will the controller-screen-things be used? OK, maybe that's more than one question. But I suspect you'll all agree that this thing is already most interesting thing at the show... that we already know to expect, anyway.
Hardware news rules the show. It always does. While select members of the press got an early look at Sony's next handheld in Japan a little while back, E3 will probably be the first big blowout for the device. Expect newer versions of games we already know about and announcements of new products for the platform.
We'll also probably hear more about the North American release of the system, like a launch date and price, as well as whatever details they've got on how the device's 3G connectivity will work in this territory.
Oh, and hey, how about the name? They can't keep calling it NGP, can they? Unless Sony's cooked up a good name that still abbreviates to NGP, I can't imagine they'll keep the name. Also, while we're chatting, they can't possibly call it the PSP2, can they? After all this time with "NGP" as its codename, reverting right back to the basic, common, expected name doesn't sound like a great idea. If it's still coming out this holiday season, now's the time to get the real name and firm details about availability out there.
I just want to know if more of the games will be able to do things that can't already be done better on a full-sized console. Or if it'll let me hook it up to a TV and play there, but that's one of those "we work on video of video games and if it isn't easy for us to capture video of the device, it's hard to for us to cover it" sort of desires, I guess.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
You know, for as easy as it's gotten to talk shit about the way Activision does business and the future trajectory of the Call of Duty franchise, it's still just about as easy to get excited about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. But the slider that governs the reasons that excite me about the game has shifted. For Modern Warfare 2, said slider was all the way on the game itself. As far to the right as possible. 100% game. This was Infinity Ward, the series' original developers, returning to create a sequel to the game that shifted the way we think about first-person shooters across all platforms. World at War, still a solid game in its own right, was immediately overshadowed. This time around, the situation has changed. I certainly enjoyed Black Ops, but it's hard not to let all that peripheral stuff creep in. Can Infinity Ward, now apparently being bolstered by two additional studios, do it again? Are the right people still in place to create Modern Warfare 3? Or did they all jet off to form Respawn? The story behind the game, for me, has become at least as interesting and exciting as the game itself. Can they do it again? That, for me, is one of E3's most interesting questions.
Obviously, it'll probably sell just fine either way. But the tide of opinion is turning, and I can't help but feel like this game is either going to cement the franchise's position on a slow, downward spiral or shut everyone up for good. Or for at least another 11 months or so.
Speaking of Respawn...
What are they up to? Yeah, I doubt we'll hear about it during the show. At most, we'll probably get a quick mention during a press conference. But with those guys still sitting in lawsuit land, it's hard to imagine them saying anything. That said, I ain't no psychic, and E3's pretty good at throwing you a curveball or two every year.
But what about the other console shooter developers out there? Bungie's already said not to expect their presence at the show. What about 343? Those Halo remake rumors are getting old and we're still not sure what the future holds for that franchise. Then again, with "Halo Fest" set to take place at PAX this year, maybe that's a better spot for a big Halo-related announcement.
The Writing's on the Wall
Will Microsoft play "Connected" by Stereo MCs during/prior to its press conference? Totally called that last year, by the way. While I'm not sure it's what I, as a player, want out of Microsoft this year, I have to imagine that large chunks of its press conference will be devoted to Kinect-friendly software. There's something Alan Wake-related in the works at Remedy, and the speculation puts that firmly in the Kinect camp. I tend to believe that. Remember that old Gears of War Kinect rumor? Wouldn't it be weird to talk about two disc-based Gears games in such a short period of time? At this point I'm just assuming that the Gears thing exists and making ridiculous guesses, but if that thing comes up this year, I almost feel like it has to either be downloadable or built into Gears of War 3. Forza 4, of course, will have to make some sort of appearance, and it looks like at least some of that Kinect-enabled Forza stuff Microsoft showed last year will find its way into the game somewhere.
And What of Sony's Situation?
PSN is partially back and hopefully the healing process can begin. Actually, as I write this, it's down again due to a backlog of password change requests. But you get my point, we're getting close to being able to put this behind us. No huge credit card scams or massive increase in spam has happened as a result of Sony's security breach... yet. I'm still tossing the Sony press conference around in my head, trying to figure out how they'll address the outage. Will the store even be back online by then?
My immediate reaction to dealing with any sort of negative or sad situation is to crack wise. I'm the guy telling off-color jokes in the last row at a funeral. But once the federal government gets involved, it might be best to not make light of something that exposed so much personal information. If this hadn't been quite so serious, I'd say they should trot out that Kevin Butler guy, have him tell a few jokes, then end the bit by having Jack Tretton walking out and firing his ass. The character's pretty tired, anyway, so there's no real harm in painting a fictional character as your scapegoat. Well, except for potentially incurring a load of rage from the large number of angry people and curious government officials that can't take a joke, that is.
So I have to guess the press conference will open with a 15-minute chunk from Kaz Hirai, and he'll recap the situation and talk about the steps they're taking to protect their customers' information more effectively in the future. Companies developing for Sony platforms, especially those trading exclusively in digital goods, could also use some reassurance at this point, as well. Once that's covered, I bet it'll be business as usual.
Obviously, I'm only covering the biggest, broadest stuff so far. But there's more to see and more I want to know about. Here are a few quickies, since this flight's been delayed for an hour and I'm still stuck here on the ground:
- What's Criterion working on? Are they doing Burnout Crash? The next Need For Speed? Black 2? All of the above?
- Will BioWare show enough of Mass Effect 3 to convince the recent wave of Dragon Age II bashers that the company hasn't forsaken its old ways as it chases the MMO crown?
- How many different types of marital aids will appear as weapons in Saints Row: The Third?
- Will Batman: Arkham City play as well as it looks?
- Will Rockstar say anything at all about any of its games?
- Hey 2K! Where's XCOM? Spec Ops: The Line?
- Who's going to walk out on some press conference stage and change everything forever?
- Can Konami possibly top last year's amazing display?
The good news is that we'll all have a better idea about these things in a few weeks. The bad news is that Adidas store in Santa Monica is going to be closed by the time I finally get into town tonight. I know you're at least as broken up about that as I am.