LOS ANGELES — As with many things related to the art and technology overlap, trending occurs in cyclical cat-and-mouse patterns that lease to the ever pressing question “who dunnit.” and at this year’s E3 several industry trends were seen throughout the giants of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, but also remained undercurrents for smaller developers and publishers.
Hollywood studios have really embraced 3D technology thank to box-office billions and advancements spurred by the digital revolution in filming techniques leading to HD-stereoscopic frame capture; thus began our most recent obsession with blowing things up like The Terminator himself, but gaming isn’t quite there yet. Nintendo, however, gave us something to be happy about- the 3DS, a continuation of the DS handheld line, will feature 3D visuals without the need for glasses and set to hit shelves the end of March 2011. The big news here has been focused not on the 3DS itself, but on a much awaited and well received reboot of Kid Icarus (Project Sora), and the battle between Sony’s glasses-needed 3D television technology and Nintendo’s glass-free 3DS. The field of 3D vision is limited with the 3DSâ€”if you look just outside of a specific range you will lose the 3D effect, so maybe Sony has the right idea and is just late to the party. The 3DS has a new analog slider, but not the expected wide-top-screen. There is a 3D camera, along with two other cameras, accelerated WiFi specs, and a wicked game lineup including editions to the Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid franchises.
Another sexy applied science laid on us at E3 was the second-gen "Hands-Free" gaming capabilities. Following fast in Nintendo’s Wii-steps were Microsoft and Sony this year, setting off bombs during their press conferences with the Kinect and Move, respectively. A lot of gamers (including yours truly) are a bit skeptical still about getting up off our asses and wiggling, shaking and making a (bigger) fool (than throwing remotes in heated curse-driven temper-tantrums) out of ourselves or just exerting the energy.
When I walked into the XB/Kinect demo of Dance Central, a Harmonix game (thank the nice people for the RockBand games, dear) I stated, "I was a dancer for 12 years, impress me." That, boys and girls, they did. A Boston area professional hottie dancer, Frenchie-who worked on a dance team involved with Harmonix for a year of development, went through the Kinect-ed actions and tore up the floorboards, showing us what the real capabilities of the game was to even the most advanced dancer. I, then, took my turn to show how easy it is for precocious little know-nothings like me to pick up the choreography and the Kinect began to grow on me.
The Kinect was made for games like this, and doesn’t the idea of your gaming platform recognizing your existence kinda cool? We’ve all dreamed about the Holodeck. Sony’s Move uses a "wand". That’s right- I said it, go ahead and giggle. This glowing-microphone-design may attract children, but I’m not so convinced that the elitist gamers out there will embrace playing with a wand. While Kinect’s system is you, your Kinect-cam and your Xbox, Sony’s is a bit more complicated– there’s sub-controllers, the ability to use multiple wands to simulate various weaponry, as well as the ®Eye camera, which may overwhelm a lot of first time hands-free users. Kinect is much simpler, yet packs a much more powerful punch- it is an add-on for the Xbox that contains camera, audio sensors, and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement on the human body and has the ability to recognize faces and voices.
Move is on track to be released in September with bundles starting under $100, and Kinect is set for a $149 price point, to be released in November. Each offer a fairly predictable lineup of sports titles, with Move-titles Resident Evil 5 (CAPCOM) and LOTR: Aragon’s Quest (WB) being the two more serious franchises to look forward to. Kinect admittedly needs to release a more thrilling game lineup, with its most exciting offers looking to be Dance Central (Harmonix) and Joy Ride (Microsoft).
From gamer to rock star, or adventurer, or crab fisherman, or fill-in-the-blankâ€”there was a group of games I’m delegating be called "cross-overs" because the intention with the developer was other than just to entertain, but also to teach. Most of the music themed franchises went with stringed instruments this year, so RockBand and GuitarHero enthusiasts who have tired of pushing buttons, and would rather be pouring 80 hours "sticky-sweet" rocking out into actual application of musical knowledge. No longer can naysayers proclaim gamers and games as a waste of time, especially now that demographics 70% of kids ages 8-18 own a platform. Now games can raise a whole new generation of musicians that are fluent in many generations of music and rock history, but with the practical skills to apply that knowledge.
Within this genre are two games created by CRAVE that are far from musically inclined, and hopefully going to improve past the demo stage presented at E3- Bear Grylls’ (???) Man Vs. Wild, and The Deadliest Catch, both based on Discovery Channel reality docu-dramas. When speaking to both Grylls and Sig Hansen captain of the Northwestern on The Deadliest Catch, there was a connection for them both between being inspired by fan response to extend the lessons of survival, camaraderie and strong work ethic. Can this be done in a game format? Maybe, but the developers have a long way to go before it is as convincing as a steady-cam.
Hopefully this focus of cross-over knowledge can be sustained in the industry; secretly it makes me a little bit proud for the evolution of the art and the technology that real(ish)-world application could start here, and before long remove a lot of the stigma behind the masterpieces that have been created over the years, and the ones in development now that continue to challenge the way people are entertained, educated and enlightened.