May 9, 2006

Full Report From Sony’s E3 Press Conference

Posted in General at 12:14 pm by corneliusw

After a considerable delay the Sony E3 Press Conference 2006 finally got underway, with the Japanese giant pulling out all the stops in the next-generation race. Shortly before the event, Hideo Kojima confirmed that a PSP version of Metal Gear Solid is in the works – and we’re talking a proper version – not the “shuffle the deck” antics of Metal Gear Ac!d.

Before the show, Sony handed out Memory Sticks containing trailers and such-like. Included were shots from the PS3 interface, showing downloadable music content from a stack of top recording artists – including Franz Ferdinand. Also, screenshots from MySingStar, MotorStorm, Heavenly Sword, F1 ’06 and more were added. We’ll bring you these as we have them.

First up to the stage was Kaz Hirai, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment, who described the PS3 as “an arsenal of content” that is completely compatible with the Playstation family. He also mentioned that Sony weren’t interested in “gimmicks” (a blatant shot at the Nintendo Wii) – and that the PS2 has sold at twice the speed of the original Playstation. Also, SCE will support the Playstation 2 for “many, many years to come” in both hardware and software. 216 new PS2 titles are due in the US by year end.

Then, Mr. Hirai went on to wax lyrical about the PSP, stating that it is the fastest selling console in the company’s history, and that 17 million units have been shipped each month. A showreel featuring new PSP titles then played out, showing the likes of B-Boy, LocoRoco, Killzone: Liberation and Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror. Also, a new product named PlanetPSP CityGuides was shown, along with TalkMan and Gangs Of London – which looked particularly impressive.

Sony will introduce a budget range named “Greatest Hits” for PSP titles, and the first five to be released under that label will be ATV Offroad: Blazing Trails, Ape Escape: On The Loose, Hot Shots Golf, Twisted Metal and Wipeout Pure – a title needs to sell 250,000 copies or more and been on sale for nine months to qualify for Greatest Hits status. Also announced was the fact that via firmware upgrades, Sony will offer RSS Video, VoIP and more in the coming months.

A LONG and incredibly depressingly “street-cool” video focusing on Playstation users around the world then played out, featuring loads of random folks taking about how great the original Playstation is and what they’re looking forward to when it comes to PS3.

They then showed the Spider-man “Playstation 3” font, confirming our worst fears – they didn’t change the logo. A roundup of the PS3’s features was then thrown out, rekindling the memories of last year, mentioning that the system is powered by the CELL chip, contains a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drive, supports 1080p HD and contains a pre-installed removable HDD and Gigabit ethernet port to “allow users to access interactive entertainment content from right off the network.” Mr. Kizai stressed that there will be NO “core” pack, as EVERY PS3 will ship with a HDD.

Also, PS3 will be backwards compatible with PS2 and PS1 titles, and will also connect to the PSP via a USB cable AND via the Memory Stick Pro Duo.


Final development systems are shipping to developers now, six months before launch. Then, we got to the meat and potatoes. Kaz announced that PS3 titles will be playable at Sony’s E3 booth.

Phil Harrison, President of SCE Development took the stage. Yes, the guy with the ducks from last year. Kazinori Yamauchi of Gran Turismo fame took the stage, accompanied by a translator, and promptly whipped out a PS3 controller to show of a prototype title – Gran Turismo HD – that has been created just for E3. The title used assets from GT4, which had been beefed up to take advantage of the PS3 specs, and ran at 60fps in 1080p. Kazinori explained that the title’s menus have been designed specifically to support HD resolution, and that players can choose between cars, bikes, commercial vehicles and scooters! Taking to the Tokyo track, GTHD sounded fairly solid, but in terms of visuals – I’m afraid that the report card was strictly marked “Must do better”. In red pen. With a cross. It was hardly the stunning revelation that the crowd came for.

Loading times were discussed next, with Yamauchi noting that the title was optimised for the HDD that is included in the PS3, and that compared to GT4’s average load time of 14 seconds, players will be able to move from menu to race within 2-3 seconds. After another track, a quick view of how the original Gran Turismo looked compared to GT4, and then how GT4 compares to GTHD.

So far, Sony haven’t shown anything massively impressive, so what better than to show another GTHD track – entitled “Grand Canyon”. This track showed off some fairly nice graphical effects, such as people scattering on the edges of the rally-like track but in all honesty, you could hear the crowd getting restless in the auditorium. When two cars collided and absolutely NOTHING happened – not even an audible “bump” – I was joining them. Yamauchi then confirmed that this is only a “passing point” and that the next Gran Turismo will surpass the techniques shown in GTHD, and that the next title will be online, and that Sony will be conducting beta tests for online play shortly after E3 in the US and Japan.

The final announcement from the legendary developer was that the next Gran Turismo would be out “hopefully” shortly after the console.

Dr. Richard Marx, the creator of EyeToy was next up, to show an impressive demo of a card battle game, that uses the EyeToy to allow the user to interact in 3D with the cards used in play. This was pretty impressive, especially when Harrison placed a “Duck Card” down to defeat the opponents. Bear in mind that this was using ACTUAL cards. You hold a card, and move it around on the 3D plane. An improvement, but more was required at this stage.

Kaz Hirai made a re-appearance next, to discuss the Sony online strategy. “Online networking with the PS3 is as essential as the air that we breathe”, he said. Well, don’t go too far, Kaz. Noting the PS3’s social aspects, including a nod to MySpace, he mentioned the fact that basic online usage, including voice and text messaging will be offered free of charge to all PS3 users. PSP users were next up, and Hirai demoed the much-discussed PS1 download system. The game boots directly through the memory stick, complete with the original PS1 bootup sequence – and we’re suddenly looking at a Namco’s original Ridge Racer, complete with the loading mini-game. The screen size can be changed as you could with any PSP content.

Mimicking Xbox Live’s Marketplace system, the “Playstation Card” was announced, allowing gamers to pre-pay for content, although direct credit cards will be supported. And at long last, we got our first glimpse of the PS3 interface. Strangely, the first look was of a shop – and MySingStar was presented – complete with the ability to purchase new songs over the network via the SingStore. Harrison makes note that he is purposefully putting in a price of “$0.00” because Sony don’t want to give anything away about the pricing mechanism. In addition to this, the ability to download new skins for the game – as well as being able to upload your own videos. Oh, sweet Lord. There’s gonna be me singing “What A Wonderful World” all over that server.

Next up, the designer of Genji II appears on stage to show what can only be described as an undewhelming demo of the game. The fact that he had to point out that the power of Playstation 3 has been used to allow such superb additions as “real time weapon changing” was a bit of an eye-opener. Because we haven’t been able to change weapons in RPGs and action titles for the last fifteen or so years, have we? A comment from one of the staff members watching the conference with me was “this could be a PS2 game” – and I wasn’t disagreing. When the slowdown came in to reinforce this, it was all going horribly wrong.

F1 ’06 was up next, and we were stunned. Graphically, the game looked great, but the big idea behind this was that the PSP can be used as a wing mirror. I kid you not. You place the PSP next to your TV screen, and you have a wing mirror that is updated in real-time by the PS3. But presumably just one wing mirror. Which is kind of pointless.

Heavenly Sword did impress next, with some very slick graphics and some incredibly nice camera work. This only served to reinforce the fact that Genji II looked incredibly poor. The usual showreel followed, showing some CGI video from Lair – which was nice enough, before an intriguing movie from the new Getaway was played out. Rhino Studios confused everyone with a bizarre look at life on the African plane with Afrika – although nobody could work out what actually was meant to go be going on. Nice animal renders.

Everybody’s Golf picked up the pace, again looking like something the PS2 could easily pull off – but still incredibly welcome thanks to the series’ long and decorated history. More CGI from Monster Kingdom was next. Then, the big announcement of two new titles…

From Sony London Studio, a graphically impressive, albeit overly familiar GTA-style “gangsters driving, and then shooting stuff” demo of Eight Days was displayed, with the star defending himself from multiple enemies, diving through a diner window, and then rushing out of the building before a petrol tanker comes crashing through, razing the eatery to the floor. Very nice, action-packed and packed with bits of CGI. Still, the gameplay sections looked VERY nice – I can’t wait for this.

The second new announcement to come was an unnamed title – which looks to be a Tomb Raider clone with some very cool effects and some incredibly nice graphics. Lots of jumping and grabbing of ledges in the forest, gunplay galore, and some brutal fist-fights made this look like an interesting enough prospect. Following on, Resistance: Fall of Man – an FPS set in 1950’s Britain, only in the game’s version of events, Britain is the last bastion of mankind, as the world has been taken over by a brutal species. The game looks very, very, very smooth, not to mention absolutely brutal in places, and is easily the highlight of the show thus far. Full online play featuring 32 players should be enough to tide you over.

Third party titles were then brought to the fore, with another showreel. This time, we were looking at the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Gundam Mobile Suit, Coded Arms Assault, Ridge Racer 7, Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway, Tekken 6, Sonic The Hedgehog, Virtua Tennis 3, Virtua Fighter 5, John Woo presents Stranglehold and a few more. Our stream died here. Sorry.

EA Sports then demonstrated new technologies available on the PS3, such as the ability to perform proper feet mechanics and control procedural awareness. 360 degree movement with “body lean” was demonstrated in video form. NBA Live ’07’s “Training Gym” was displayed next, showing some superb animation and impressive dunking. “Players look right, move right and feel right.” The players did move very well, but it still wasn’t anything like what you’d call “real”, especially when bending to pick the ball from the floor. Tiger Woods was shown as a “virtual guest” – with the use of UCAP technology. For me, this was very, very impressive, as the virtual Tiger looked uber-realistic and a whole range of physical and facial animation was shown – even if the background was pretty much just sky. Madden NFL ’07, Need For Speed: Carbon, Army of Two, Tiger Woods, Medal of Honor: Airborne, NBA Live ’07, Fight Night Round 3 all confirmed as being in development for PS3, with Madden playable at EA’s stand.

Final Fantasy XIII was shown next, mostly in CGI form, although some very short clips of gameplay were in place to show that the Final Fantasy experience was in full effect. More video next, but this is what we wanted. METAL GEAR SOLID 4. With Japanese language, English subtitles, masses and masses of CGI video being pumped through the screen, we were desperate to see some gameplay. But it wasn’t to be. The game was confirmed for a 2007 release, however.

Ken Kutaragi took to the stage next, and the crowd were just not particularly impressed. To the question “So, have you enjoyed what we’ve shown of PS3 so far?” – about four people clapped. But then, he promised a secret was to be unveiled.

The controller.

The controller looks exactly like a Dual Shock II, albeit slightly thinner, sprayed silver. However, the new unit contains six degrees of freedom. In other words, it has a motion sensor built-in and is lighter than the PS2 Dual Shock II. Also, it will be a wireless unit, as you’d expect from the next generation of console hardware. To show off the controller, Dylan Hawk, the director of WarHawk appears on stage to guide us through a flight scene from the game, tilting and rolling the controller to avoid gunfire and other attacks. He looked a little like a madman, but the controller seemed to be holding up well, providing enough freedom of movement to pull off 360 turns, barrel rolls and the like.

Kaz Hirai came back to the stage to unveil the global launch details, and here they are..

The console will be available in TWO configurations. One comes with a 20Gb HDD, one comes with a 60Gb HDD.

In Japan, the console will launch for 59,800 Yen for the 20Gb system, whilst the 60Gb system will have an “open price” to be set by the retailer. Launch date in Japan – November 11th.

In the US, the 20Gb system retails for $499, whilst the 60Gb system will retail for $599. Launch date in the US – November 17th.

In Europe and Australia the console will be on sale on November 17th. The European prices will be 499 Euros for the 20Gb system (£341) and 599 euros for the 60Gb (£409) . Australian prices to be confirmed.


1 Comment »

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