Probably the most memorable thing from today’s Microsoft press conference was the reveal of the Natal, the motion sensitive device that Microsoft has been working on. Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux said it will revolutionise the gaming industry, and it has the backing of Hollywood director Steven Spielberg.
While it’s true that Molyneux has a bit of a reputation for talking things up before they’ve reached gamers’ hands, if Natal really works as Microsoft showed doing, it could be pretty impressive by the time it's unleashed upon the world.
During today’s demo of Natal, a woman on stage knocked down blocks and kicked back balls, stacked up against a wall, all by jumping up and down, and waving her head, arms and legs around. In another demo, a man used a virtual painting program, where he gestured as if he was throwing paint on a canvas, to make an African scene complete with baby elephant (created through the use of two people and a couple of pillows).
At the end of the demo, Molyneux came out and told the media about the game (was it actually a game?) that Lionhead has been working on that has a virtual boy called Milo in it, who could interact and react to what the gamer is doing. The video that he showed was pre-recorded, so could have been scripted and the boy programmed to react to the woman’s actions and commands, but still, it’s pretty impressive technology.
Of course, technology like this won’t come cheap so it will be interesting to see how much a piece of the Natal action will cost when it comes to retail.
In terms of other stuff we saw today, game-wise, Modern Warfare 2 was looking pretty spectacular, especially the opening sequence, called Cliffhanger, where you have to follow British SAS soldier Captain “Soap” McTavish along an icy cliftop ledge, all the while being buffeted by driving wind and snow.
At one point you make a leap across a chasm, but fail to clear the jump. Just as it seems that all is lost and you’re about to plummet to the ground, McTavish pulls you to safety. Thrown in set pieces like that and a riveting chase through a forest with snowmobiles and Modern Warfare 2 is shaping up to be perhaps the game of the show (OK, I know it’s a bit early to say that, but you know …)
No doubt you’ve heard that Hideo Kojima is doing a Metal Gear Solid game for the Xbox 360, called MGS: Rising, and that Bungie has been secretly working on another Halo-based game, Halo: Reach, which is due out next year some time.
Then there was Alan Wake, a supernatural thriller where a writer who moves to a small American town to respark his writing career ends up having to search for his wife who has gone missing. My interest was piqued by the trailer that Microsoft showed. It's got a really supernatural feel to it, with the short game demo we saw taking place in a forest. IT's almost got a television series feel to it, with "Previously on Alan Wake …", "tonight on Alan Wake ...", "to be continued ..." flashing up on the screen. Gamers who loved Silent Hill or horror games are going to lap this one up.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is looking good, too, with a rougher, more edgey Sam Fisher, and I loved how they overlay instructions (Infiltrate Building) and context sensitive commands almost transparently over an object, almost projected on to it. It just looks cool. (Don't have any pictures of that, sorry!)
Let’s talk about EA, now. While some of their games were a little ho-hum (for instance, some game for girls called Charm Girls something and the Littlest Pets), EA’s blockbuster titles are looking sharp, especially Tim Schaefer’s Brutal Legend, Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic and a new one by Pandemic, The Saboteur, which impressed me.
In The Saboteur, you play Sean Devlin, a street-tough Irish racing mechanic seeking personal redemption in the game, set in Nazi-occupied Europe. The interesting thing about Saboteur is that the game world is almost devoid of colour, apart from the occasional splotch here and there, denoting enemies or targets. Pandemic says that as Devlin reduces the Nazi threat, colour will return to the game world.
The Old Republic ended the EA press conference, but what a way to end it. The trailer was an impressive tour de force featuring the forces of good squaring off against the forces of darkness. There were lightsabres, blaster fire and jet packs all over the place.
The E3 floor show hasn’t even started yet and already E3 2009 is off to a pretty good start.