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E3 08: Sony Press Conference

The following is a stream-of-consciousness report written in the Shrine Auditorium during Sony's E3 2008 press conference, and is intended as color commentary and on-the-scene analysis. For more E3 coverage, check out our rundowns of the Microsoft and Nintendo press conferences.

The scene at the Shrine Auditorium is lively and crammed with members of the gaming press and various industry hangers-on. Hopefully some of the noisy bastards can bring themselves to shut up during the more exciting announcements this year.

The stage, bathed in blue light, is host to seven mammoth stations with a PS3 (on what looks like an IKEA coffee table), 6-10 flatscreen monitors and one giant plasma screen (Sony, naturally). Each one displays footage from a recent (or soon-to-be) triumph for Sony - Metal Gear Solid 4, Pixeljunk Monsters, Gran Turismo 5, SOCOM Confrontation, Echochrome and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Except for the central monitor, which just displays a giant PlayStation logo.

According to an anonymous source, the big reveals today will be God of War III (we called it, by the way - not that it was a tough call to make) and an Uncharted sequel. There's also talk of a PSP game based on "a triple-A franchise," although they're not saying which. We guess it'll be Gran Turismo.

Suddenly, all of the giant monitors switch over to the Xross Media Bar. It's time to start the show. All seven giant monitors switch to display massive PlayStation button logos floating through space from one monitor to the next. Suddenly, the banks of smaller TVs spring to life. Bring up the mood lighting! Cue the machineguns! Damn the torpedoes! GO TEAM!

In seconds, the music has the crowd pumped, and the displays switch to a demo reel that can only be described as "RAGGGH F**K YES." We are treated to a reel of impressive explosions and shots from awesome games both new and familiar. BioShock is briefly featured. Buzz is more prominently featured, which is strange but not entirely unexpected. Yakuza 2? How about that. OH MAN BUZZ FOR PSP. Probably someone will actually want to play that. Maybe two someones.

More PSN stuff. Oooh, Ratchet & Clank Future expansion is a go. Wait, what's that cowgirl doing to that mechanical bull?

OK, the lights dim, here we go. Jack Tretton takes the stage. He's still chubby. Apparently the turkey burgers he mentioned at last year's conference didn't work.

"This is the most stressful event you can ever imagine. It's taken years off my life," begins Tretton before segueing into a brief history of the Shrine Auditorium, paying homage to the Oscar winners who've been here before. Tretton brings up the push-ups performed by a then-ancient Jack Palance during a previous Academy Awards ceremony, then shrugs it off by saying, "Jack Palance is dead and I'm still here."

Tretton begins to talk about the PlayStation brand as giving players "something that was more intense, more vivid and more powerful than anything they'd ever seen before." There's talk about a 10-year vision, being ahead of the curve, blah blah blah. Tretton talks wistfully about the meteoric rise of the PlayStation. Let him gloat. He's entitled. But we'd really all like it if he'd move on to the announcements sooner than later.

Folding@Home? Yes, wonderful. Perhaps next he'll want to tell us about how DDR is being used in schools to help children be less fat. I'm sure the people who are here to write about games are really excited to relay that information to their readers.

"We're here to talk about genre-defining, kickass games," says Jack. Ah, here we go.

"PS3 has more exclusives than any other platforms, with more than 75 titles. And that's just in North America alone," Tretton says before surrendering the stage to Resistance 2.

 

The presentation starts off with a really horrible, Cloverfield-like roar. Lights flash like crazy. All monitors turn to the same feed of a first-person view in som… HOLY SHIT THAT IS A REALLY COLOSSAL MONSTER. Niiiiice. It stomps around buildings, grabs Nathan Hale, and Nathan feeds it a rocket. From the background we can see that we're in… SF? NY? Oh, it's Chicago. Whatever, this is totally badass. Nathan scrambles into a crumbling tower with a flimsy steel staircase and brownish windows, which the monster is lookin in through. It's roaring. It wants him bad, but it's not willing to punch through HOLY SHIT THERE IT IS WAITING ON THE ROOF. Nathan jumps out onto a catwalk and starts taking potshots at the thing. It swipes at the catwalk, demolishing it. Hot damn, this is awesome. I wonder if it'll be as awesome on our dinky-ass TVs at home. Probably not. Better stick to enjoying the moment.

Man that thing has huge eyes.

A claw comes up and grabs Nathan. Nate feeds another rocket into the creature's gullet and gets thrown hundreds of feet, right through a bridge loaded with explosives. Apparently, once he's recovered, he needs to lure the creature under the bridge so it can be blown to hell. The video feed then fades out, leaving the audience with a severe case of explosion blueballs.

The action then gives way to an explanation of what we're seeing. In the 1953 of Resistance's alternate history, America is overrun by Chimera after two years of the alien/mutant plague testing its borders. In 1951, the US lost Chicago to the swarm, leaving it abandoned. Now it's enemy territory. The Chimera hit the US coast in 1953, shortly before the game begins. Also, the game will feature four-player co-op and do its best to bring across a colossal sense of scale - much as it did with our new friend, whom we're tentatively naming the Chicago-Stomper.

We then catch a glimpse of the game's ruined version of Twin Falls, Idaho, along with narration by a president who sounds almost exactly like JFK. Huh. Very stirring speech there, coupled with scenes of absolute devastation. Looks amazing.

 

Tretton's next presentation on the PlayStation brand is built flawlessly into a LittleBigPlanet level, making his regurgitation of facts and figures fascinating. PowerPoint had better watch its ass. One slip-up: Tretton says Sony has shipped "five billion units of hardware," when the presentation behind him clearly says "5 million" in numbers almost as big as he is.

"Starting in 2008, we'll engage in distribution into Latin America as well," Tretton says, adding that Sony has made "more than 50 billion dollars at retail from the PlayStation brand." Yeah, yeah. Fascinating.

Tretton then swoops in with a welcome announcement: the PS3 will soon get its own Greatest Hits line, which will retail for $29.99. About time. The initial lineup will include:

Resistance: Fall of Man
Motorstorm
Warhawk
Call of Duty 3
Fight Night Round 3
Need For Speed Carbon
Rainbow Six: Vegas
Assassin's Creed
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Ninja Gaiden Sigma

"Let's talk about PlayStation 2," says Tretton. No, let's don't. Oh, here we go. Oh Christ. Oh well.

More than 130 titles are coming to PS2 in 2008, Tretton announces, and 128 of them will be shitty Ford-branded racing games.

No, I kid. It'll be stuff like Madden, Yakuza 2, Mercenaries 2, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Tiger Woods (which doesn't look half bad). There's also going to be another Dynasty Warriors game, and more Singstar.

"This is the year that Buzz really hits the big time," Tretton says, introducing the PSP and PS3 editions of the quiz game. Hooray for that. Then he starts talking about Singstar and, you know what, my memory gets hazy at this point.

But! There's a new limited edition LEGO Batman PS2 bundle, on the way, packed with both LEGO Batman and a DVD of Justice League: The New Frontier. So, great news for families with young kids, and also for DC fans who inexplicably still don't have a PS2.

We're moving on to PlayStation Network now? Hot damn, I really hope there's enough battery life in this laptop by the time they get to the important stuff. Tretton starts rattling on about community interhwerwbeurerbehgh… snaps echo across the hall as journalists with more brains than me shut their laptops during this part of the presentation.

Oh, here's something exciting. A brand-new title on the PlayStation Network: Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty.

Shorter game, lower price, but still all the intensity you'd expect from an R&C game, says Insomniac. Continues the saga where Tools of Destruction left off. Ratchet's got a new ability where the head of his wrench pops off and can manipulate stuff in the world. It can also grab light-up grubs and use them to light Ratchet's way through dark caverns. Looks promising, although it's hard to believe they're doing something that awesome for… $14.99!? Holy hell, that's cheap.

Tretton wants to show us "a little bit more about what he means." Terror!

We're then treated to another montage, this time of a slew of PSN games. There's some really awesome-looking side-scroller, and Fat Princess, a cool, cartoony fantasy… RTS, maybe? Hard to tell. Nintendo Editor Brett Elston leans in and says it's "like what Animal Crossing should have done."

There's footage of the new PAIN level, which we've already previewed. Then something really cool involving the wind and flower petals. Wait, is that the new Uncharted? Or Silent Hill? Hard to tell. Oh, no, it's Siren. It looks awesome.
Looks like there's also a new Rag Doll Kung-Fu, awesomed up for PS3. Cool.

"We're proving that you can have a great entertainment experience for about the price of a movie ticket," says Tretton.

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue hrmmm hrmm hrmmm… Tretton starts talking about Pay-Per-View distribution of GT-TV, which promises to be even more boring.

Oh, wait, it's free and pay-per-view distribution of auto-related TV content, including actual racing events, Top Gear and other cool stuff, in both standard- and high-def. That's all right, then. That's something we can get behind. We were worried they'd try and make us pay to watch other people race in the game. Gran Turismo TV will be available starting Aug. 1, through GT5 Prologue.

"Gamers aren't in it just for the high score anymore," says Tretton, mentioning "some of our newest additions, such as trophies...

"I absolutely assure you that when PlayStation Home is available" through Sony's expanded beta program, Tretton says, our patience will be rewarded. Or something like that.

Oh, cool - the game related spaces in Home actually look pretty sweet. They're huge, multi-tiered, feature interesting things to look at and cool stuff to do - MUCH better than all that brand-driven bullshit they used to show off.

Then they start talking about a video delivery service through PSN - TV shows in both standard and high-def will be available for $1.99 per episode. It's also portable - you can place videos on your PSP as well, and it can be on multiple devices at the same time.

Brett's making fart noises with his mouth at this point. I agree.

Accessing the video store from the PSN store is super-easyyyyuuuuuuggghghghhhhhh. YES GREAT. "Let's bounce into Lion's Gate!" says the presenter with irritating chirpiness.  The audience shifts uncomfortably. Everyone is clearly bored by this part of the conference, and yet the presenter bravely soldiers on, showing people how to transfer movies to their PSPs. Hey, it's over! Polite applause hisses out from the audience.

Time to talk about PSP! Oh man, this is gonna be crazy! Can you stand how crazy this is gonna be? I don't think you can!

Tretton announces that Sony's going to debut a new entertainment pack, "targeted to the younger demographic." The Ratchet & Clank Size Matters pack will come standard with a silver PSP, a one-gigabyte Memory Stick, National Treasure 2 on UMD and a PSN voucher for Echochrome.

"You've already heard about this franchise once today," says Tretton, Oh, cool - he unveils Resistance: Retribution for the PSP. So THAT'S the triple-A PSP title we were hearing about! Apparently, the story has something to do with the Chimera being hounded into Europe, after a massive Allied assault on England's shores drives them out of Blighty. Wait, is it going to be an FPS? Because that would…

Oh, it's a third-person shooter. That's good. It has none of the awesome scale or booming impact of the PS3 sequel, but it looks damn good for a PSP game. Spring 2009? OK, can do.

Force Unleashed - actually really good on PSP. I can attest to that, having just played through it. Madden PSP, ho-hum. LocoRoco looks to be taking cues from Katamari. Good to know we're getting a sequel, though. Hey, is that Super Stardust on PSP? Maybe? Looks cool.

LEGO Batman's gonna be on PSP! Yep. WE SORT OF KNEW THE SHIT OUT OF THAT ALREADY.

Patapon 2 looks cool.

Buzz is next. How is this even going to work? Is it going to be networkable, or do people just need to pass the thing? Then there's some really cool-looking anime-style third-person shooter. Oh wait, is it a strategy game? Looks like Valkyria Chronicles.

"This is every bit the hybrid device, inside and outside, that we've imagined," says Tretton about the PSP. "This is the reality that we're building between the PlayStation Portable, The PlayStation Network and the PS3."

Back to PS3. FINALLY. Must mean this thing is wrapping up. Which is great, because there are only 14 minutes left on my laptop's battery.

Sony Online Entertainment? Who gives a shit? Oh, it's for DC Universe Online. OK, that's cool.

Jim Lee takes the stage. The auditorium erupts in applause, and then cheers as he does a few one-handed push-ups. Yeah, suck it, Palance! DC Universe Online looks sweet, and enables you to be either a hero and a villain, following paths that let you work with Lex Luthor to bring down Superman, or with Batman to capture The Joker. Now, if they can make it feel like an actual action game, instead of a bunch of roving cubes going through battle animations, then it has the potential to be awesome.

Next up is the announcement of an 80GB Core Pack for $399.99. Wow, that's great! It only took them like two years to get this shit down to a semi-reasonable price level.

Next up is a montage with a bunch of developers talking about how awesome and wonderful the PS3 is. Here's what they had to say: "OH CHRIST LET'S GET THIS CONFERENCE OVER WITH."

Sigh. Another montage, after we've just SEEN a montage. This one's about actual games, though. Maybe soon we can get to the announcements? Yes? Please?

FINALLY. God of War III is confirmed, with a trailer. "In the end, there will be only chaos," says Kratos, whose eyes look all crazy. Everyone loses control and starts hooting.

Next up is InFamous, which looks promising, with an "open, reactive and incredibly detailed world." Make choices between being a hero or an anti-hero as you try to save a society in ruins, following a massive explosion that gave you awesome superpowers. Should be a good time.

One final title: Massive Action Game. No, that's its name: MAG: Massive Action Game. "Brand new title, a workout even for the PS3 architecture," the presenter tells us. "Not remotely possible anywhere else. Nothing like it on the market today." It's from Zipper Interactive, better known as the minds behind SOCOM, and it's a massive war sim that can accommodate up to 256 players at once. A sweeping battle experience driven only by real players. Players will be divided into eight-player squads, each led by a player who's proven him or herself to be a strong leader. It'll feature character growth and rank advancement, and enables players to fine-tune their soldiers. There'll also be ongoing faction campaigns that'll "provide strong incentives for players to check in on a daily basis."

And that's it for another year!

For more on the Sony press conference and to voice your opinions, head to the forum.

Jul 15, 2008

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