Friday, July 13, 2007
E3 - Game Over
Two days, four hotels, one airport hangar and billions of polygons later and another E3 has come and gone.

So, before my eyes adjust to the sunlight, let me quickly tap a few final impressions from the show.

Wii Love The Wii Board
I got a chance to step up on Nintendo's new Wii Balance Board and get a little taste of their latest innovation Wii Fit. And I have to say, it's pretty cool. Initially, I haven't been the biggest fan of the Wii's control system.

As a "core" gamer, I'm more comfortable with the button mashing controls of say the Playstation or XBox. But this year, after seeing how developers have really found a way to create innovative new ways to play using the Wii controls, I've definitely warmed up to the idea.

Factor in the Wii Balance Board and the Wii Fit game, and Nintendo has once again changed the conversation in terms of how developers are going to approach gaming over all.

While I don't think that Wii Fit is going to replace your gym membership, it IS fun to play with. And you can immediately see the potential for the system in the overall gaming arena.

Sequels, sequels, sequels...
This year's E3 seemed like a lot of "been there, played that."

To be fair, a lot of titles are getting their first play on next gen systems and truthfully they LOOK amazing. But after seeing so MANY different sequels to games, I didn't get the impression that I was really seeing anything new.

Yes, "Halo 3" is a sequel - but Halo is an empire bent on world domination.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the very few titles I saw that really caught both my eye, and the eyes of gamers at the convention was Activision's "Call of Duty 4." The reason, aside from being a great looking game, it has taken something that has been a proven formula, and given it more than a fresh, new look - it's giving players a fresh, new way to play.

I wish there was more of that this year.

Play Differently, Play Together

I will say that some of the most innovative things I saw this year, came in fact from the PC side of gaming. I spoke to a couple of developers about the way they're trying to change things up and many of them are moving towards offering players access to the actual tools that help shape their RPG's (role-playing games, for you noobs).

This concept, of allowing players to create their own adventures or game modules opens up the conversation and offers the chance to let gamers put their own creativity into the mix.

Obviously, this type of activity works best in a PC environment, where gamers can work with tools outside of the confines of the game itself and certainly, online connectivity only adds to the expansiveness of the gamers' community.

However back on the console side developers are also working on ways to give gamers the chance to expand their play experiences, too.

I was treated to a very innovative and exciting demo of "Little Big Planet" from Sony that won't be hitting the market until sometime in 2008, but when it does, it's going to potentially change the game of gaming.

For now, I'm hoping to actually get some time to play outside this Summer.
It looks like I'm going to be mashing quite a few buttons come Fall.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
E3 - Day 1... Are Wii having fun yet?
Phew!

Talk about a challenge! If the idea of the newly revamped format for E3 was to make things easier for members of the media and the video game industry to conduct their business, I'd say: take your game back to the lab, you've got quite a few bugs to work out.

Meanwhile, let's talk about the games!

While the story from E3 for the past couple of years has been about "console wars," this year - it's mostly about content. And the most exciting developments I've seen are those games that are being made for the Nintendo Wii.

(Ironically, Nintendo just announced today that manufacturing problems could lead to a shortage of Wii's this coming holiday season. Read about it here.)

As the Wii has quickly risen to be the second best selling console on the market, developers have worked really hard to try to tap into the power and possibilities of that deck's unique control system.

I spoke to a developer from a company called Pipeworks who is putting the finishing touches on a ew Wii enabled "Godzilla" title for Atari about what the Wii means in terms of creating games.

He described the process as being very much like old-school game development where the rules for play aren't necessarily written in stone and the options for how creators can steer the direction of the game are nearly endless thanks to the nature of Wii's controls. He told me working on "Godzilla Unleashed," due this Fall, has been one of the most enjoyable experiences he's had in a long time.

Let me give you some highlights from the companies I visited with today:

Capcom:

There's another chapter in the "Devil May Cry" series coming for next-gen consoles (PS3 and 360) that taps into the higher powered graphics capabilities of those decks to great effect. As a fan of the series, I have to say, it looked great.

"Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles" is a Wii-exclusive title that makes use of the system's wireless controllers to turn the zombie hunting franchise into a unique point-and-fire first-person shooter. For fans of the series, consider it something to tide you over until "Resident Evil 5" is released in 2008.

The real standout of the bunch is actually a game that's aimed more towards younger players called "Zak and Wiki." An original title for the Wii, "Zak and Wiki" is essentially treasure hunting game with dozens of puzzles that requires players to use the Wii's controllers to solve. It's incredibly eye-catching and actually a LOT of fun to play. I'm told it tested well with the 8-year old set, but I have to say, I enjoyed it as well.

EA:

As EA is the largest video game publisher in the business, they actually have two locations in which they are showcasing their new titles. I'll be able to see more of their 18 titles tomorrow (seriously, they are putting 18 titles into stores this year) but as for what I saw today, all I can say is... "Doh!"

It's all about "The Simpsons" for me. I got a chance to preview the game a few months back and was able to give you a first-look at it in a "Pop Digital" segment CNN.com. You should really see it now. The developers at EA are putting a LOT of work into making their virtual Springfield, more vibrant and more brilliant than anything you've seen in previous Simpsons inspired titles. It's one of my "can't-wait" games of the season.

I got a chance to see a demo of "Rock Band" which expands Harmonix's wildly popular "Guitar Hero" concept into a full band. It's interesting and certainly fun to look at, but honestly, I don't know how this is going to play out in homes. Group play is great, but to me - it seems like next generation karaoke as opposed to cooperative play gaming.

Activision

Speaking of "Guitar Hero," the latest installment of the game "Rock Legends" includes former Guns and Roses and Velvet Revolver axe-man Slash as a playable character. I spoke to the top-hatted rocker today and learned that he's actually a HUGE fan of the game and jumped at the chance to be a part of the new edition.

Warner Bros. Interactive

A new pair of Looney Tunes inspired games are actually very, very promising.
Yes, you've seen other Looney Tunes games, but not like this... now that Warner Bros. is producing the games themselves, they're able to tap into their library of classic cartoons to come up with games that are more directly influenced by the characters' long comic history, creating a play experience that is every bit as fun for fans as it is for the younger gamers they're created for.

A console game titled "Acme Arsenal" gives Bugs, Daffy, Taz and the gang an incredible Pixar inspired look -- while a title for the Nintendo DS, "Duck Amuck" takes that classic Daffy toon and puts an entirely new spin on it. While I'm not a DS user, this one game actually made me want to go out and buy one. It's that good.

On the more grown-up side, I was treated to a work-in-progress version of the sequel to "F.E.A.R." It's so hush-hush, it doesn't even have a name yet. What I can tell you is that when this first-person shooter is released in 2008, it will literally blow you away. You can be a part of the naming process at http://www.nameyourfear.com/.


Tomorrow, we'll visit with Microsoft, Nintendo, EA (again) and more...
Check back for the highlights as well as screenshots.
E3 - First Impressions
While the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo doesn't officially kick off until today, things got underway last night in Santa Monica, California.

You may have heard that this year's event is going to be a very different affair from what has come before. Gone is the massive spectacle inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. No more super-sized light and sound shows at the various vendors' booths, no more "booth babes." Instead, E3 is spread out across four different Santa Monica hotels - as well as several other locations around Los Angeles where press conferences are to be held.

At a pre-event gathering, it was described as "an event in transition."

So, it only seemed appropriate that Microsoft kicked off this year's conference at a high school amphitheater.

There's something ironic about Microsoft staging their press event at Santa Monica High School. With the format for this year's event designed to cut down on the number of rabid gamers who would inevitably sneak their way into the convention center, what better way to keep prying teenage eyes away from what you're eventually going to be marketing to them in the Fall than by setting up at the one place they wouldn't be caught dead near in the middle of July?

As for the highlights:

Microsoft saved XBOX 360's most hotly anticipated game of the Fall, "Halo 3," for the end of the event. After more than 90 minutes of eye-popping, bowel-rattling game demos displayed on their massive multimedia stage set, the "Halo 3" trailer fell kind of flat.

While there are no plans for a price cut, there are plenty of things for XBOX 360 users to be excited about.

Microsoft is partnering with Disney to bring the studio's massive library of films to the XBOX Live Marketplace. The company has moved aggressively in the area of video-on-demand and adding Disney's movie's and shows available to their users, Microsoft says they expect to expand their online community to 10-million members by this time next year.


New Orleans Saints star running-back Reggie Bush helped show off this year's edition of EA's "Madden." And while Bush certainly dazzles on the XBOX controls nearly as much as he does on field, it's hard to tell just how much EA can improve on their game this year after making the jump to next-gen last year.

Other trailers and demos that caught my eye for XBOX 360 included:

Activision's "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare"
Bizzarre's "Project Gotham Racing 4"
Mistwalker's "Lost Odyssey"
Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed"

Now, we move on to one-on-one meetings with various game developers where they'll try to convince me that theirs are the games that will be THE game to have this holiday season.

I'll be blogging my impressions and get deeper into some of the game-play details once I get a chance to have a hands-on demo.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Notes from Live Earth
Live Earth, the global mega-concert for the environment, ended with the crowd on its feet, going wild for "Message In A Bottle" as Kanye West and John Mayer joined The Police onstage for the final hurrah at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

This last leg of the Live Earth day was an eight-hour concert event featuring an impressive lineup, including Melissa Etheridge, KT Tunstall, Dave Matthews Band and Keith Urban.

All the artists performed for free, passionate about the cause. Keith Urban told me it was a challenge for many of the artists to actually make it to New Jersey because they were on summer tours ... but they did.

Urban played in Dallas Friday night, arriving in New York around 4 a.m. Saturday morning. He was then up for his soundcheck at 8 a.m., then back onstage that afternoon to perform.

He said even though the trip and schedule were difficult, it was well worth it. Urban was planning to hop on a plane right after our interview to go see his wife, Nicole Kidman, in Australia where she is filming a movie. He couldn't wait to see her ... and get some shut-eye.

As is the norm when covering a large-scale event, my crew and I were hit with some unexpected challenges and surprises. The power blew out in the area in which we were set to do an interview with Tunstall minutes before we were to go live on CNN.

We scrambled to set up an alternate location about 100 yards away, but the publicist for the concert wouldn't allow KT to walk that distance through the crowd. As they waited on a golf-cart escort, the minutes ticked away and I ultimately had to tap dance for CNN and CNN International without KT because -- naturally -- the golf cart didn't show up in time.

KT and I did finally get to chat on camera, and she was terrific -- an environmentalist since she was a kid. She has offset carbon emissions from the making of her CD by planting a forest of 6,000 trees in Scotland, and she uses bio-diesel in her tour buses.

The day was hectic, but I did get a chance to take in a few performances. Roger Waters (founder of Pink Floyd), Kanye West, and The Police were incredible! The audience even did the wave a few times before the Police took the stage. You could feel the excitement, both for the music and the message. (Check out our gallery)

The success of Live Earth will be difficult to gauge. Al Gore hopes people are inspired to make personal changes in their lives and put pressure on political leaders to change policies on pollution. He maintains the event was more about raising consciousness and less about raising money.

That's a wrap from Live Earth!
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