LOS ANGELES--So what's likely to happen at Ubisoft's 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference? Seeming locks include Assassin's Creed 2 and the return of Sam Fischer in Splinter Cell: Conviction. The publisher also said that Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage for the Wii will be on hand, as will the Pele/Mia Hamm-fronted new soccer game Academy of Champions.
Other high-profile games slated for this year that may receive a mention during Ubisoft's E3 2009 press event include Red Steel 2, Ghost Recon 4, Rabbids Go Home, R.U.S.E., I Am Alive, and James Cameron's Avatar. Oh, and if Ubisoft's E3 2008 presser is any indication, senior VP of sales and marketing Tony Key will probably talk about some new Imagine Horsez games, too.
All that said, Ubisoft may use its time in the spotlight to highlight covert or unannounced products as well. In early May, high-quality video of what appeared to be Beyond Good & Evil 2 surfaced on YouTube. Just last week, Ubisoft filed new trademarks for its presumed-canceled Killing Day as well as Driver: The Recruit.
[4:53] Straight from the Orpheum, the GameSpot team has made the short, maybe five minute trek to the Los Angeles Theater, site of Sony's 2008 E3 presser and current locale of Ubisoft's 2009 confab.
[4:53] It was an elbow-throwing love fest trying to obtain admission to this place.
[4:53] By the way, for those who don't know who The Soup host Joel McHale is, take a quick trip to YouTube and educate yourself. We'll be here when you get back.
[4:54] Foreign languages are being bandied about all around, and that doesn't just mean French, oddly.
[4:54] A large man in a polo shirt just shouted something urgent in some Eastern European language. He seemed…we'll go with "happy."
[4:55] Downtempo beats pump out of the loudspeakers in the absolutely gorgeous LA Theater. Ubisoft's moniker adorns three large projector screens on the main stage.
[4:57] Photographers and cameramen line the two top balconies, the blink of flashes capture a perfectly empty stage.
[4:59] Ubisoft seems to have hired a professional camera crew, as a camera-equipped crane arm swoops above the audience's head. Two other cameras are well positioned on the main stage.
[4:59] Two minutes to go…someone needs to remind me to turn my cellphone off.
[4:59] And as if on cue, "Welcome ladies and gentleman, please take your seats, as the show is about to begin."
[5:00] For the record, the world already saw one of Ubisoft's biggest games at Microsoft's press conference--Xbox 360-exclusive Splinter Cell Conviction.
[5:00] And here we go, the lights dim and an Ubisoft montage plays….
[5:01] Assassin's Creed 2, Rabbids running amok, Red Steel 2, and…Petz!
[5:02] And here's "the whitest host you'll ever see…Joel McHale!
[5:02] "Welcome to the coolest place in Hollywood, next to Promises Rehab center in Malibu."
[5:03] "I am a gamer, I love them, I haven't had as much to play them recently, because I've had two kids. And I regret that."
[5:04] "My gamertag is Seacrestslayer 311…the 311 stands for height."
[5:04] "I pitched a game backstage, called Receding Glacier. It's in real-time…It gets really exciting in year 3."
[5:04] "Tonight you will meet one of the most famous athletes of all time."
[5:05] "You'll also meet one of the greatest directors of all time. They want me to keep it secret, for some unknown reason."
[5:06] "McHale also promises some armed and dangerous animals."
[5:06] Ubisoft is where the stars come out to play," he says, before introducing Ubisoft president and CEO Yves Guillemot.
[5:07] Guillemot says that Ubisoft is interested into the convergence of entertainment--TV, movies, books, and--of course--games.
[5:08] Guillemot says he wants to build bridges that enrich gamers' experience. He says this is done through "confluence," accomplished by making games and movies at the same time.
[5:08] Acquiring Hybride, the French-Canadian digital arts studio behind the movies 300 and Watchmen, was an element of this.
[5:09] Guillemot also talks up uPlay, which "allows consumers to create interactive and noninteractive content, and then share it with friends."
[5:10] uPlay will launch at the end of this year, and will incorporate with Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, and Avatar.
[5:11] Ubisoft has already created bridges with Lightstorm Entertainment, the production company of Aliens and Titanic director James Cameron.
[5:11] Guillemot also says that Ubisoft will be working with Peter Jackson again, as well as Steven Spielberg on Paramount's computer-animated version of the classic comic, Tintin.
[5:12] The two directors are co-directing the project, full title The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, due out next year.
[5:13] uillemot then shifts to various new gaming inputs, calling out the Wii, and DS, and Wii Balance Board.
[5:13] Red Steel 2 will go even further than the original game, he promises, letting players become more involved in swordfights.
[5:13] Addressing the Balance Board, he also calls out integration with Rayman Raving Rabbids and Shaun White Snowboard. Guillemot also expresses enthusiasm over Microsoft's new motion-sensing camera, code-named Project Natal.
[5:13] He says all of these inputs continue to lead the industry toward mass-market audiences.
[5:15] Guillemot wraps up his opening remarks, and kicks it over to Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat.
[5:15] Mallat addresses convergence as well, talking about the acquisition of Hybride Technologies.
[5:16] Tomorrow new details will be revealed about Ubi's collaboration with James Cameron on "the year's most anticpated movie," Avatar. Ubi is, of course, developing and publishing the game.
[5:16] They are also making over 100 effects shots for the movie itself, due out in December.
[5:17] He says the result is "truly spectacular" with all earnestness.
[5:18] Now he's talking about Anvil, the Assassin's Creed 2 engine. Apparently it is so advanced that they can create films with live people in it. And this fall, they will do just that in a series of short films set in the Assassin's Creed 2 universe.
[5:19] Mallat says that this approach will help Ubisoft broaden the mediums for which Ubisoft products will appear.
[5:19] Ubisoft is moving from a developer-publisher of games to a full media content company, Mallat says.
[5:19] Guillemot then returns the stage, flanked by Mallat.
[5:19] Guillemot then introduces "one of the most distinguished movie directors of all time…"
[5:20] …and James Cameron takes the stage to a roaring reception.
[5:20] He starts with some backstory on Avatar, saying he wrote the treatment for it 14 years ago.
[5:21] The first team he brought it to said, "If we make this, we're doomed."
[5:21] He says he then put it into a drawer for about a decade, only to revive it four years ago when he saw photo-realistic CGI creatures such as Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
[5:22] Cameron is now describing the alien world Pandora, which is actually a moon around a gas giant. It's a tropical world full of creatures both beautiful and scary.
[5:24] He's now describing the sentient race living on the planet, the Naavi. Since humans can't actually go to the world--they can't breathe the air--they are transmitted there and live in avatar bodies the same size as Naavi.
[5:25] Living in a Naavi body, the main protagonist--a paralyzed ex-marine--begins to side with the Naavi, and ends up being torn between them and the expanding human race and "military industrial complex."
[5:26] The film will end in "the mother of all movie battles," with the Naavi riding huge beasts.
[5:26] Cameron notes that December 18 is the release date for Avatar in theaters--meaning the game will likely arrive around the same time.
[5:27] He says people have told him watching the film is being like "in a dream state."
[5:28] "Games derived from movies, historically, well some of them have kind of sucked," Cameron said. He says that it should follow its own storyline, and should run parallel to the film.
[5:28] Ubisoft created new characters, vehicles, and weapons, as well as riffed upon Cameron's lore that brought "so much extra detail" to the world.
[5:29] "We got into this early, they developed the game properly," he says.
[5:30] Cameron says that he approved their designs, and a number have been incorporated into the film.
[5:30] The acclaimed director said he gave them free rein with a lot of the game, its setting, characters, and so on.
[5:30] Players will be able to play as both the Naavi and humans, apparently.
[5:31] Cameron also said that he pushed Ubisoft to make Avatar in 3D, which while they were initially dubious about. However, they eventually came back with a demo that "blew us away."
[5:32] The game will enlargen the world, enhance the experience for the viewers, he said. In some ways, the game is much richer than the film, yet at the same time will have no spoilers.
[5:32] As such, the game will come out before the December 18 date for the film. No exact date on the game, though.
[5:33] The game will be demoed at the company's booth on the E3 show floor…but not here, apparently.
[5:33] And that's it for Cameron, as McHale gives him a bow as he returns to the stage.
[5:34] "There are so many French people backstage, I am a little scared," jokes McHale.
[5:35] He then jokes about the new Lindsay Lohan game being about chasing your assistant drunk in a parking lot in an SUV.
[5:35] McHale introduces Red Steel 2, clearly reading off a teleprompter which he loudly denies. "When I look down I am not reading a teleprompter, I am just gathering my thoughts."
[5:35] "Also, do not make the mistake I did, hooking a real sword to your console. It doesn't work, and causes thousands of dollars in damage."
[5:36] And the Red Steel 2 trailer rolls.
[5:36] The game's post-apocalyptic Wild West is shown, a katana-toting swordsman fending off blades and bullets alike.
[5:37] The trailer seems to have been done using the same stylized art style as last year's Prince of Persia.
[5:37] Really slick, not-quite-cel-shaded graphics.
[5:37] This does not look like a Wii game.
[5:37] The traiiler ends, and McHale reenters the stage.
[5:37] Begins to make a joke about playing Red Steel 2 with Chris Brown--and then reconsiders.
[5:38] He introduces Red Steel 2 creative director Jason Vandenberghe, who is accompanied by Roman Orialo, who is the lead designer.
[5:38] Jason looks a bit like the singer from System of a Down, for those wondering.
[5:38] That or a carny from the film Something Wicked This Way Comes.
[5:38] He also has a cane, which he brandishes as if it were a sword.
[5:39] He then introduces a gameplay trailer, emphasizing that it is "all live and running on the Wii."
[5:39] Apparently this Wild West has Harley choppers, as a motorcyle drives through the desert.
[5:40] It is now evident why the previous trailer looked so good…it was prerendered. Red Steel 2 still has a nice look for a Wii game.
[5:40] The gameplay footage shows the hero being drug by a motorcycle through a reservoir, attempting to shoot his assailant.
[5:41] He awakes in a tunnel, after shooting the motorcyclist who subsequently crashes.
[5:42] Vandenberghe says that the Wii Motion Plus gives the sensation of being a kid, hitting a wooden stick as if it were a sword when we were all kids.
[5:42] An in-game demoer beats up a dummy with the character's sword, all shown from a first-person view.
[5:43] Actual enemies are up next, as the demoer hacks and shoots at assailants. There's a lot of dodging to and fro.
[5:43] Left stick for movement, slashing with Wii Remote, apparently.
[5:44] Instead of blood, it appears as if felled enemies spew…coins. The game is fun for the whole family, after all.
[5:44] He then introduces "The Heavy," who wields a massive club.
[5:45] he Heavy is surprisingly fleet of foot, charging the player mallet-first.
[5:45] But, as will happen with boss fights, The Heavy's club gets stuck in the ground, giving players an open window to attack.
[5:46] "The game will, of course, be bundled with the Wii Motion Plus at launch," he says, clearing up the mystery on that front. Ubisoft declined to comment on the prospect of bundling as recently as last week.
[5:46] McHale returns, saying, "and that's the most fun you'll have with a sword this year."
[5:48] He transitions to sports, talking about Shaun White Snowboarding and the game's initial success. He then cues the Shaun White Snowboarding sequel, which will be exclusive to the Wii this year.
[5:48] The eponymous athlete, of course, plays front and center in the trailer, as he and his friends appear to be building a ramp in the middle of summer on a rooftop.
[5:48] A timer counts down, White mounts a ladder, and then says, "No way, we can do better than this."
[5:48] Transition to footage of the game. Brief clips showing boarders in a half pipe, and that's it for that.
[5:49] McHale then shifts to Academy of Champions, Ubisoft's new soccer game fronted by Mia Hamm and soccer legend Pele.
[5:49] Edson Arantes do Nascimento to the rest of you.
[5:50] Pele enters the stage--and is dwarfed by the lanky McHale.
[5:50] McHale then asks for a trailer, which does not roll. "The game does much more than this…right Pele?"
[5:51] "Well, great game job on the game Pele, I mean you're name's on the air." Still, the trailer does not roll.
[5:51] Pele then says he'll give a speech to kill the time, through his translator.
[5:51] Cue nervous laughter.
[5:52] He says some things in Portoguese…hopefully the translator is getting all this.
[5:53] "I'm very happy to be here, I was delighted to be part of this project. We're going to talk a little bit about the game, and football of course." (That's soccer to all the Americans in the audience.)
[5:53] "My whole life, football was the most important thing, it gave me the chance to travel, it helped me build my philosophies. I believe its very important for young people to feel this connection with football."
[5:54] "Children have always been a priority for me. When I scored my 1,000 goal, and i happend to be in front of cameras, and I used that time to appeal to the government of Brazil to protect children and always be aware of them."
[5:56] "Now that I'm not connected with football anymore, I feel this is a great way to continue with this positive message, using technology and football at the same time."
[5:56] "This is another opportunity for me to be part of a winning team."
[5:56] And the trailer is finally ready!
[5:57] Think Hogwart's Academy with soccer and brighter lighting and you're not far off.
[5:58] Students fly their colors in a dormitory-like atmosphere, and faces a team of what can only be called brutes--hulking baddies with black hair and blue skin.
[5:58] Feel free to guess who wins.
[5:58] McHale asks Pele what his favorite part of making the game with Ubisoft was.
[5:59] "For me, my role was mostly focused on children, and giving them something to educate them."
[6:00] "Team spirit is always very important, the chance that kids have to work with their families."
[6:00] "Terrific," McHale says. "Laides and gentleman, Pele."
[6:01] Alexis Parizeau and Max Beland take the stage to show off Splinter Cell: Conviction. Stealth will be a primary innovation, they say. "In Conviction, you'll feel like a powerful predator." The gameplay will be faster, and more fluid.
[6:02] The same trailer shown during Microsoft's press event rolls--its almost as exciting as the first time.
[6:03] "This is bigger than you thought, this is bigger than both of us. You can't hide from us, you can't hid from them." Fischer's snarky reply, "Who said anything about hiding?"
[6:03] The trailer wraps, followed by the Xbox 360 logo. The game is exclusive to the platform.
[6:05] Parizeau delivers almost the same speech he did at Microsoft, mentioning the "mark and execute" feature. He also mentions a new feature--the Last Known Position, which lets players play "a game of cat and mouse." It will also have new ways to tell the story, which will be shown…now.
[6:05] The storyline behind the demo: Sam is investigating his daughter's death, travels to Malta.
[6:06] It's the same level as the Microsoft conference.
[6:06] The footage shows a man being thrown against a wall of urinals, with Fischer quickly disassembling the other men in the room.
[6:06] Chucking one, he shoves the brutes head into the just-used toilet. Don't worry…his face doesn't come out dripping yellow.
[6:07] A projected movie of the player's objective plays on the wall in-game, which is one way that Ubisoft will be keeping players in the story.
[6:07] The level is being played slightly different than at Microsoft.
[6:07] As Fischer gains information, the camera takes control, showing the player where the enemy guards are.
[6:07] Fischer then is shown outside, and players will know where the guards are through a visual cue.
[6:08] Fischer is definitely moving a lot quicker, quickly taking out two guards after sneaking up on them.
[6:09] After taking out a number of enemies using the new Mark and Execute feature, Fischer scales a wall, finds an open window, and headshots a pair of guards to a spew of blood.
[6:11] Fischer, being the crafty fellow that he is, infiltrates the building while hanging from some ducts in the ceiling. A quick firefight later, one destroyed chandelier, and the room is clear.
[6:12] But more enemies have been alerted, thanks to Fischer's aggressive actions, but they, too, prove to be easy fodder for Fischer's pistol. The Last Known Position minigame--where players can leave their flashlight and then stalk the distracted guards, is demonstrated to deadly effect.
[6:12] The demo then shows off an EMP grenade, which kills the lights in a small area.
[6:12] Using a piece of a broken mirror, Fischer peeks under a door, allowing him to use the mark and execute feature.
[6:12] He flings an enemy out a window, then follows, catching onto the side of the ledge as the room erupts in a firefight.
[6:13] And that's it for the demo. The game is coming this fall, exclusively for the Xbox 360 and PC.
[6:15] McHale reenters, and its time for a look at RUSE.
[6:15] A trailer for the deception-heavy RTS unspools, showing two men sitting across from each other, playing some kind of strategy war game.
[6:16] The men take turns commanding their virtual armies, moving various units around a touchscreen tablet--if this isn't the trailer shown several weeks ago, it's very close to it.
[6:17] Looks like Ubisoft won't be spending much more time on RUSE, as McHale is already transitioning…to casual games.
[6:17] Time for the casual game line, as US senior VP of marketing Tony Key takes the stage. Send in the Petz!
[6:18] "Who here can tell me which Ubisoft franchise has sold the most units?" Key ask the crowd.
[6:19] Imagine is the answer. "Our tween brands are some of the biggest brands in the industry."
[6:23] Imagine is the biggest brand on the DS for any third-party publisher, and is second only to Pokemon.
[6:23] Key takes several jabs at Ubisoft's competitors, saying that the company stays ahead by making "the best games."
[6:23] A trailer rolls for "Ubisoft's Tween 2.0."
[6:24] The trailer introduces Style Lab, Ubisoft's newest casual brand.
[6:24] The game essentially lets players become makeup artists, fashion designers, or jewelry makers.
[6:24] Imagine Town Online is a fast growing Web site, apparently.
[6:24] Style Lab will apparently integrate with DSi functionality, with what appears to be players being able to take pictures and then edit the outcome.
[6:25] Key then says that Fitness is the fastest growing game genre out there.
[6:25] He says there's still a lot of innovation to come in this genre, "and I don't think that involves rubber bands." Everyone wave at EA Sports Active.
[6:26] Felicia Williams, lead designer on the new fitness game Your Shape, takes the stage.
[6:27] Williams talks about camera integration with Your Shape, which will apparently be able to scan the shape of your body and give you feedback based on, yes, your actual shape.
[6:27] She says you need to be able to work 100 percent hands-free…no Balance Board, no Wii Remote, no rubber straps.
[6:29] It's coming to the Wii this Holiday Season--cue the trailer, which shows how the camera works. It will actually ask you which part of your body you want to "tone, strengthen, or shape."
[6:29] The camera has a decidedly EyeToy look to it…a white ball that is mounted on the screen.
[6:29] "A new era in fitness," touts the ad. The camera tracks movement, and constantly adjusts to the player.
[6:30] This also happens to be the first camera for the Wii, and Ubisoft is working closely with Nintendo on its design.
[6:30] And that's it for Your Shape, as McHale retakes the stage.
[6:32] It's time for Rabbids Go Home, with Adrian Fernandez-Lacey here to talk.
[6:32] He's accompanied by two little people in Rabbids costumes who menace McHale with a shopping cart. No one seems surprised.
[6:32] Lacey himself, who is also on the short side, talks about the setup of the game, saying the Rabbids have it in mind to travel to the moon.
[6:33] Oops teleprompter mistake--some lines are mixed up.
[6:33] The Rabbids apparently think it's a good idea to collect junk, stack it, and then go to the moon. A tower of Babel, if you will.
[6:33] Lacey then introduces the trailer for Rabbids Go Home.
[6:34] The trailer shows humans, well humans as they appear on the Wii, driving, shopping, and---then being assailed by Rabbids.
[6:35] Like a swarm of locusts, they descend upon the city, stealing all in sight to build a Katamari-like tower of garbage to the moon.
[6:38] Lacey then shows off a live demo for the game.
[6:38] The demo shows a Rabbid stuck inside the Wii Remote. Players can shake the remote, and the Rabbid is tossed accordingly.
[6:38] Players will have other ways of tormenting the Rabbid, such as a head vise, and an air tank that can be used to inflate the Rabbid's head, eyes, and so on.
[6:38] The Rabbid, which has been hideously deformed by the player, can then be imported to the game, showing up in cutscenes and such.
[6:40] Lacey then shows of a very Katamari-esque mode, where two Rabbids ride around on a shopping cart, collecting objects to add to their pile of junk.
[6:41] Not entirely like Katamari, though, the cart only shows the last few items collected, as opposed to an ever-enlarging ball.
[6:42] In the next mode, the Rabbids strap a rocket to their shopping cart, in a mode called Rabbid Fire Reaction.
[6:42] The Rabbids first steal an aircraft engine off a plane that is attempting to take off. Nobody tell the FAA.
[6:42] And that's it for the Rabbids Go Home demo.
[6:46] McHale reenters, introducing the upcoming brawler Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, due Sept. 22.
[6:46] Laurent Detoc takes the stage, president of Ubisoft North America.
[6:47] Game Arts developing, better known as a contributor on Nintendo's massively successful Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
[6:47] A trailer for the game then rolls, and true the studio's roots, the game has a very Brawl-like aesthetic.
[6:47] Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Raphel, and Donatello are of course shown, as well as Shredder, April, and Splinter.
[6:47] Detoc then says he'll make two announcements:
[6:47] First, he announces No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle.
[6:48] he second announcement, Detoc says, is more of "a project." He then offers a few hints. "What if I say Rez, Lumines, Space Channel 5?"
[6:50] Yes, it involves legendary designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Q Entertainment, who is in the crowd. It is code-named "Project Eden," and Detoc is not yet ready to expound upon its nature.
[6:50] "We want to bring new sensory experiences," is all he will say for now.
[6:51] Time for Assassin's Creed 2, which will be out on November 17.
[6:51] Detoc says the original was the fastest-selling new IP ever, and he said it has now sold over 8 million units.
[6:51] "We're hoping to sell more this time," he deadpans.
[6:52] And now its time for a trailer! The title card reads "1486, Venice, Italy."
[6:52] A gondola full of men with masks, a brothel collecting a payment, a street fair full of fireworks.
[6:52] One of the women at from the brothel lures out one of the men with the masks…this isn't going to end well.
[6:52] Slow motion, the man, begins to bleed from a slit throat, and collapses among the revelers.
[6:53] Altair's successor, Ezio, is now onscreen, brutalizing the remainder of the masked men.
[6:53] And now time for the escape, scaling the Venetian skyline as easy as if it were, oh, Damascus.
[6:54] The assassin drops from his Eagle's eye-perch, is taunted by the masked leader. Bad move, as the man with the mask takes a face full of shot.
[6:55] McHale gets out and ends the affair quickly. "That's it--play video games! Good night!"
Tune in tomorrow for live blogs and video streams of Sony and Nintendo's press events as GameSpot's E3 coverage continues live from Los Angeles..