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E3 Features Movie-Themed Video Games

By Bill Andrews




E3, the world’s biggest and best gaming convention, began on Wednesday in the Los Angeles Convention Center and just finished up Sunday. The annual event, short for Electronic Entertainment Exposition, is a chance for companies to showcase their latest games, their newest consoles, and what the future holds for them. Even though it’s a private event, and only members of the video game industry and the media can come, the place was packed: attendance numbered in the thousands.

A big theme this year is the movie tie-in. As of this writing, I have played demos of Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Superman Returns, X-Men 3, The Da Vinci Code, and even Over the Hedge — all movies that are coming out this summer. But it doesn’t end there for the gaming industry’s idea-miners; other demos I’ve played include Scarface, the Godfather, some Sean Connery 007 game, and even an Indiana Jones game (one not specifically representative of a movie). While traditionally licensed games (i.e., games featuring licensed characters from movies or TV shows) have sucked, recent games like the Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth and Lego Star Wars (with the upcoming sequel covering the original trilogy) provide hope for reversing the trend.

Of course, the biggest talk at E3 was about the two next generation consoles to be released later this year: the Sony Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii (formerly code-named “Revolution”). Starting with the goofily-named latter, Nintendo’s ‘booth’ (in reality more of a tent) had an hour-long line to get in, but the time flew because of gaming celebrities on full-sized TV-phones chatting with the line; I shared some laughs with Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario, Luigi, Wario, and many other famous characters. Once inside there were 27 playable games for the upcoming system: the biggest draws included Metroid 3: Corruption, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Super Mario Galaxy. After waiting an additional hour or two just to play some of these, I finally got to try out Nintendo’s crazy new innovation to gaming: the remote-control style controller. Instead of merely pushing buttons or joysticks, thanks to the infrared panel and a built in motion sensor gamers now use the controller itself to aim, move, and focus the action. Many games, such as the three mentioned above, also featured a “nunchuk” style addition to the new controller, designed to be held in the left hand and with a few more buttons and a joystick on it. Even though at first the controls seemed impossibly sensitive (trying to shoot an arrow in Zelda, for instance, proved an exercise in Zen as I strained to hold my hand perfectly still), it was surprising how quickly the new controls felt natural, even intuitive. The comparison I thought of was those crazy looking keyboards where the letters are in two blocks: even though it looks weird, when you try it out your fingers are still in the right places and you can just take off.

The PS3, on the other hand, didn’t have as spectacular a presence as the Wii. It just didn’t have the same impact, or the same emphasis; instead of something new and spectacular, like the Wii, it just felt like more of the same. Which isn’t really a bad thing, of course (Sony does make the best selling console worldwide, after all). At the PS3 pavilion, Sonic the Hedgehog for PS3 was prominently displayed (Sonic was so fast it was literally dizzying), as well as a slew of new fighting and action games. The graphics were, of course, phenomenal, but just like Microsoft’s XBox 360 and even the Wii, it’s really not that big a deal. The difference between the dying generation (Xbox, PS2, Gamecube) and the next is noticeable and appreciable and all, but it’s nowhere near the difference between, say, the SNES and the N64. Many industry leaders are saying that simply improving graphics and processing speed will not be enough for the future generations of video game consoles, that other types of innovation (such as the Wii’s controller) will be necessary to keep gaming exciting and cutting edge.

Sony also featured its current systems, the PS2 and the portable PSP. The former is still going strong, featuring upcoming titles like Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus (a nifty looking FPS featuring Vincent from FFVII) and FFXII (which uses a new truly real-time battle system, and is no longer even remotely turn based). The PSP’s display featured simulated bus seats, airline seats, park benches, and other everyday locations, highlighting the PSP’s versatility and portability. Nintendo’s only other system at E3 was the DS lite, a new updated version of the DS. Both lighter, smaller, and cheaper than the DS, it also looked cheaper, and felt like I could snap it in two (always a danger with frustrating games). The variety of games available to play on it (from the well-known Pokemon to the more intellectual Brain Age) was vast, and ensured that the DS is still in it for the long haul.

The XBox 360 had a ballroom — I mean, “booth,” — but as its Next Generation system was already out, it wasn’t in the same league as the Wii and the PS3. Still, the games available for the 360 (such as most of the licensed game mentioned above, Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run, and the soft core Dead or Alive Xtreme 2) both tantalized and titillated, and even this Microsoft-basher spent a few hours playing the 360.

E3 isn’t just about the consoles, however; all the software companies you’ve ever heard of and forty more were also in attendance, showing off their latest. Square Enix showed a short film (approximately 40 minutes) featuring seven new games, all of them Final Fantasy titles (FFXII, four FFVII spinoffs, and three future FFXIII games). EA games had its millions of games on display, and Konami had fighting games galore. Capcom, K2, Nokia and their goofy N-Gage, and tons more were there, but there just isn’t enough time in the day to do more than mention them.

All in all, the future of gaming looks bright and shiny; whether you want to blow things up, explore distant lands, or stare at scantily-clad computer images, the showing at E3 indicates you’re in for a good year.