LOS ANGELES--This year, Nintendo held its pre-E3 conference at the Kodak Theater, which many know as the current site of the Academy Awards. The red-carpet analogy is appropriate, as Nintendo is responsible for several of the industry's biggest stars.
However, the recent years haven't been as kind to the onetime gaming giant--Sony and Microsoft have stolen a lot of Nintendo's crowd, particularly in North America. Nintendo moves forward by continuing to innovate and living by the mantra that games are supposed to be one thing: fun.
With the Wii, formerly code-named Revolution, at the forefront of this year's pre-E3 conference, there promised to be plenty of new games and ideas presented at the event.
9:00 a.m.: A mass of industry media has assembled in the cylindrical multitiered lobby of the Kodak Theater as they wait to file in to their arranged seating. Things are moving slowly, but thankfully there hasn't been anything that resembles the hiccups that plagued Sony's conference.
9:25: The hall is filling up--it's about 80 percent full now, so it looks like the press conference will start close to its scheduled time of 9:30 a.m.
9:28: The Kodak Theater is a great venue for this event--a beautiful old beaux arts structure. Inside, the stage is dark except for a huge glowing Nintendo logo.
9:30: The attendees have repeatedly been told that the conference will begin promptly at 9:30. They've also been told to turn off their laptops and cell phones. Neither side appears to be keeping its end of the bargain.
9:31: The MC has noted that the event will start promptly, an apparent dig at Sony, whose preshow press conference yesterday started 50 minutes late. The announcement sparks a ripple of laughter from the attendees.
9:34: The conference did not start promptly. Laptops are still powered on throughout the theater. Stalemate?
9:35: The lights dim.
9:36: It's on. A giant screen rises behind the stage, and Miyamoto enters from the left, grinning like a little boy.
9:37: A mock symphony is playing familiar Nintendo music as CG characters play the Legend of Zelda theme. Miyamoto is really hamming it up asthe conductor. He then plays through a series of game demos, including Red Steel.
9:37: Thunderous applause. What looks like RC Pro Am is on the stage, except this ain't your daddy's RC Pro Am. One player on an elevated stage is controlling the game using the Wii controller.
9:38: Red Steel is on now. Another player makes slashing motions with his controller. Miyamoto goes back to conducting the electronic orchestral music. Reggie welcomes the crowd with "If you're looking for the next generation, you're in the wrong place. We're not just next, we're new. It's no longer confined to the few. It's about everyone. What you see is not always what you get. Playing is believing."
9:42: Video demo running now. Begins with Pixar rip-off Wii ad, with the bouncing lights. Hip kids and others use the controller to play drums, tennis, golf, play maestro, race cars, Mario! Speaker in controller confirmed.
9:43: Mario fights a giant Octoboss in a pit of lava. A kid flies a biplane with the Wiimote. Metroid FPS shown.
9:43: Table Tennis with Wiimote--take that, Rockstar. Now they're showing wacky Japanese party games, including paper shredding, key unlocking, squats???
9:43: Two-player ping-pong, a track-meet game, a range of minigames incorporating the controller (hula hoop, broom balancing), baseball, more Red Steel...
9:44: ...and here's Link!
9:45: Link is fishing with nunchaku. Player nearly falls out of his chair as the crowd goes ballistic. Zelda is confirmed for 2006. Reggie back onstage.
9:46: "Today you will see, and tomorrow you will start to feel." He says that Nintendo will offer up "inspiration" rather than "information" this week.
9:47: Now Reggie is talking about the fact that many gamers know people who have "never played a video game." He says, "This has to change."
9:47: Reggie notes there are some questions that people probably want to ask: pricing/availability, why the name, why so different? Reggie pooh-poohs incremental improvements. "That strategy works, but ultimately it's fatal."
9:49: "In the same way that Mario 64 changed everything, we ask, how can we make games feel new again?" Reggie says there won't be a price announced today.
9:50: "As for date and price, we think it's best to keep those details quiet a little longer. You will play Wii in the fourth quarter of 2006." That was met with tepid applause; the crowd wanted more details.
9:50: About the name: "We want to thank all the people that wrote good things about it the first time they heard it...both of you." Audience laughs. Name chosen to stress inclusiveness--all of us, all gamers, around the world. Promises more news on third-party partners later in this event and on the E3 show floor.
9:51: A video is shown: Metroid again, then Dragon Ball, Dragon Quest (sword game announced yesterday by Square Enix), Fire Emblem, here's Mario again in a platformer. A Tony Hawk game, Sengoku Action from Koei.
9:54: Disaster: Day of Crisis. SpongeBob. Cars. Super Mario Galaxy. SD Gundam Breaker. Tony Hawk Downhill Jam. Excite Truck (RC Pro Am look-alike). Red Steel. Rayman 4. Super Swing Golf Pangya. Sonic Wild Fire. Project Hammer. One Piece Limited Adventure. Madden. Just Madden. No 07. FF Crystal Chronicles.
9:56: Twilight Princess: "It is by far the best Zelda game we have ever made, also the most beautiful." Zelda will launch alongside Wii. First look coming right now. Nate and Bill from NOA are going to play Zelda on the Wii. Movement on nunchaku. Weapons, items are mapped to D pad on remote.
9:57: When you shoot an arrow, you'll hear the bowstring twang at your ear from the speaker in the remote. Other developers also have a lot of ideas for how to use this speaker. There's a built-in rumble feature. Sony gave this up for its six-axis motion detection.
9:59: Link's iron boots return too, this time used in combination with magnets. They show Link using the iron boots and a magnetic ceiling to travel around a room.
10:02: Reggie back onstage on elevated platform. Nintendo will launch two different versions of Zelda: one for Wii, one for GC. The game will come out for both GC and Wii on the same day: the Wii launch day.
10:03: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption clip shown. It's dubbed the "most intuitive FPS ever." Then it's more Super Mario Galaxy.
10:04: "But can the system truly be new if all the names are the same? That's why we're working on new franchises," he says. ExciteTruck, Project H.A.M.M.E.R. (a beat-'em-up), and Disaster, which looks like an action game.
10:05: Now Reggie segues into third-party efforts, saying he'll introduce just a few of the games in development for Wii. Sonic! Gameplay footage of the hedgehog's Wii game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, as announced by Square Enix yesterday, is coming to Wii.
10:06: And Madden 07 is coming to Wii, as is Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam from Activision. And Rayman from Ubisoft. A Wii SpongeBob game is coming from THQ. 27 Wii games are playable on the show floor. Of course, that doesn't include the games available for Virtual Console. Reggie introduces two Ubisoft executives, who will talk about Red Steel.
10:08: They are Xavier Poix and Roman Campos. The stage has now taken a nice red color. Player is doing something onscreen, but we can't see the game footage. Ah, there it is finally. They describe Red Steel as a "first-person action game set in both the US and Japan." It takes "full advantage of the Wii controller."
10:10: They're showing actual gameplay, though it's not clear what the game is running on--an actual console or development hardware. AI on enemies seems a bit dim. Player flicks nunchaku to reload. Levels include city streets full of neon and a pachinko arcade.
10:13: Z button on Wiimote fires gun. Freestyle mode lets player target enemies in slow motion, opting to shoot them fatally or disable them.
10:14: Now they're showing some swordplay. They describe swordfighting as "intuitive." You block with your left hand and slash with the right. In the game, the player is fighting a tattooed Yakuza member on a rooftop. Now Reggie is back. He wants to turn the focus to the DS and introduces George Harrison.
10:14: Harrison describes the DS as a disruptive device that shook up dominant thinking with "a different approach to portable play." Harrison says that despite claims from detractors, it wasn't just the early adopters who came to the DS--the games brought a much broader slice of users to the handheld. Claims 16 million DSs sold worldwide since launch, a number that's "millions more" than the number of PSPs sold since launch.
10:16: 1.3 million people have participated in Wi-Fi gaming over DS. Harrison speaks on Brain Age: 120,000 units sold in North America in the three weeks since it launched here. Says this compares favorably to Japan sales when it launched there.
10:18: And now Harrison is talking about the DS Lite, set to come to the US soon. Gives some love to New Super Mario Bros., which he notes will be on shelves soon. Other upcoming games: Starfox DS, Diddy Kong Racing, and Yoshi's Island 2.
10:19: Final Fantasy III is coming to US on DS with improved 3D graphics. No release dates on any of these. Downhill Jam will feature VoIP. Zelda DS clip shown. 100 new DS games expected between now and end of year.
10:20:Mario Hoops 3 on 3 named. Star Fox DS clip shown. A pink DS Lite is on the video. A game called Elite Beat Agents. Clips of Yoshi's Island show baby Nintendo characters.
10:23: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Diddy Kong Racing, Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Big Brain Academy, and Mario vs. DK: March of the Minis finish up the clips. Now Satoru Iwata has appeared onstage. He's greeted by enthusiastic applause.
10:23: Iwata says his main goal when he took over the helm of Nintendo was to expand the number of people who play games. To do this, he needed to attract those who used to play but then quit, as well as those who have never gamed.
10:23: To get both types of nongamers to play his games, the usual model of producing increasingly more complex, more graphically detailed games won't work; these gamers are put off by increased complexity. Instead, he decided to reinvent games. The DS and especially the Brain Age games are one example of how they've reinvented games. The Wii controller is another example. "In addition, most lapsed gamers have wonderful memories of the games they used to play." Hence, the Virtual Console.
10:28: The Wii console uses the Opera browser!
10:28: "I have always been developing and playing games. But these days I am busier and busier. When I have to wait for a loading screen I get frustrated. Maybe this has happened to you, too. If serious gamers find this frustrating, how can we expect the mass market to show more patience? The Wii console can power up and load virtual console games almost as fast as a telephone, in a few seconds."
10:29: Now he's talking about something called WiiConnect24. The console can be connected 24/7, allowing developers to push content to consoles even "while you are sleeping." Networking software is included in the hardware.
10:30: We're aiming for a system that is "new every day."
10:30: Finally, we wanted to reach people who had never played games. The new console and controllers are very important, but most important is the software. We needed games that allow core gamers and nongamers to "happily and immediately compete with each other."
10:31: One package addressing that need is WiiSports, a game that includes tennis, golf, and baseball and that will be a launch title. He promises to "help destroy the wall" between gamers and nongamers. "Wii can provide everyone with fresh new experiences."
10:33: Iwata exits to more applause, and Reggie returns. Reggie says "We'd like to invite all of you up onstage to play." That can't happen, but they do have three people selected through Nintendo's promotion with AOL.
10:33: Miyamoto will select one final grand-prize winner to play the Wii onstage. Miyamoto comes to the stage, says that the game to be played is tennis. He gives a demonstration, holding the remote like a racket. Twisting the remote while swinging yields topspin.
10:35: Miyamoto pulls an envelope from his jacket and reads the name: "The winner is...Scott Dyer." Scott comes up from the audience, all smiles. He's going to play doubles with Miyamoto. They're going to play doubles against Reggie and Iwata.
10:36: The game features avatars of Reggie, Iwata, and Miyamoto, with a big question mark on a body for the contest winner. When the audience sees the personalized avatars, there's general laughter.
10:37: They're only playing three points. Dyer burns Reggie with a cross-court shot. Another one. His angles are Wimbledon-worthy. It looks like the Miyamoto/Dyer team won, and they decide on a rematch. The second game is tied...no, Miyamoto takes game point for his second win. Tennis will be playable on the show floor.
10:39: Reggie: "The bottom line of every E3 is what's hot and what's not. Here's our take. What's hot is what you can feel... It's about the heat of emotion, not the chill of technology... We were the disruptor 20 years ago and we still are today. DS was only the first example. Wii will come next." He says Nintendo knows that "seeing is just an impression--playing is believing" and tells the audience he hopes he will see them all on the show floor tomorrow.
10:42: He walks off the stage, and the stage lights go down--the press conference is over. As attendees leave, they are being given DS-themed travel bags with the press kit.
For another take on Nintendo's E3 2006 press conference, check out Senior Editor Jeff Gerstmann's live blog of the event.