Another look at Sony’s E3 press conference

Courtesy of DailyGame

“So what are you doing at Sony?” the cabbie asked as he rounded the corner to Sony Picture Studios.

“I’m covering the PlayStation conference,” I said.

“PlayStation. Is that a company?”

“No, it’s Sony’s videogame machine,” I replied


No matter how big E3 may be to the videogame industry, in certain circles the words “PlayStation,” “Xbox” or “Nintendo” mean absolutely nothing. Yet to hear the big three console manufacturers tell it, videogames are important to the entirety of society, not just to the hardcore or even casual gamers.

Such is the case with Sony, which tonight unveiled several key details about its PlayStation 3. To Sony, the PlayStation 3 serves one key role: to get its proprietary Blu-ray video format into consumers’ living rooms worldwide. And after revealing the price and release date and showing several key games, Sony illustrated that it will surely succeed in that regard.

As a gaming console, though, they still appear to be rather muddled.

The PlayStation 3 will launch in North America on November 17, 2006, and following in Microsoft’s footsteps, the next-gen console will ship with two SKUs. Both SKUs will ship with a removable hard drive included. The first SKU, with a 20GB hard drive, will retail for $499 USD. The second SKU, with a 60GB hard drive, will retail for $599 USD. In Europe, the pricing will be the same (but in Euros).

Considering that stand-alone Blu-ray players are expected to retail for $1000 to $2000 this holiday season, Sony essentially guaranteed that half its PS3 sales will come from consumers looking for a “cheap” alternative for Blu-ray playback. This isn’t exactly foreign territory, as many early adopters purchased a PS2 as an inexpensive DVD player.

What Sony showed in terms of gaming entertainment, though, left much to be desired. For its online network, the “Xbox Live killer” that Sony so desperately needed to unveil, made nary an appearance. Sony did divulge that the PS3 will support microtransactions, much like Xbox Live, and that basic services such as video chat, voice chat, downloads and friends lists will be available for free. Sony also showed the interface, which when players start their PS3 looks like a cluttered that highlights the items available to purchase for each game.

But then they moved immediately onto the PSP and how gamers will be able to download emulated PS1 games such as the first Ridge Racer. No mention of the PS3 online service’s name, its monthly pricing or its underlying architecture. Maybe more news is on the way. We can only hope, anyway.

The games Sony showed fared only marginally better, judging by the silence of the crowd. At one point, in fact, Sony Worldwide President Phil Harrison had to prod the crowd with “let’s give these great games a hand.” In Sony’s defense, the company did say more than half a dozen PS3 games will be playable on the E3 show floor. But with the exception of two games, there didn’t seem too much to be excited about.

Gran Turismo HD, a prototype PS3 game with four playable maps, is built completely from Gran Turismo 4 assets that have been spruced-up for playback in 1080p. As a result, the assets didn’t look nearly as detailed as those in Project Gotham Racing 3, but the high-definition display was incredibly crisp and clear. Heavenly Sword, a third-person action game, also looked good. But that was about it. The next Metal Gear Solid? It was CG only, but Snake putting a gun in his mouth and presumably pulling the trigger sure got the fanboys hot and bothered. And Resistance: Fall of Man, an alternate-history WWII FPS, basically looked like Call of Duty 2 with aliens. Granted, we haven’t played any of these yet, and we look forward to checking them out in person later this week, but you could have heard a pin drop once the demos ended. No wonder Phil Harrison looked frustrated the last time he walked off the stage.

Almost as if knowing it had to pull a rabbit out of its next-gen hat, Sony surprised attendees with one last announcement: the final PS3 controller, although it looks exactly like a silver DualShock, has built-in gyro functionality to sense motion like the Nintendo Wii controller. A developer then came on to demonstrate Warhawk, a PS3-exclusive aerial combat game, in which moving the controller up, down, left and right piloted the plane. But again, the announcement was met with silence.

We’ve heard about motion-sensitive controllers for a year. We’ve heard about micro-transactions for even longer. What we wanted to hear from Sony was a clear vision of where the company’s videogame division is headed. Instead, what we heard, by reading between the lines, was how Sony will encourage adoption of its Blu-ray Disk format. Maybe that’s exactly what most consumers, and our cabbie, wanted to hear. But we, as gamers, wanted to hear, see and be excited about much, much more.

– Jonas Allen

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