Microsoft fired the first shots of the E3 Media & Business Summit yesterday morning with its press conference, highlighted by the announcement that Final Fantasy XIII would be coming to the Xbox 360. As has become an E3 custom, Microsoft's opening shot will be followed today by the staccato salvo of back-to-back Nintendo and Sony conferences.
First up is Nintendo, which has gathered scores of journalists and industry types to the Kodak Theatre this morning. While the venue is the annual home to the Academy Awards, today it might be playing host to some award winners of a different medium, as Nintendo has been riding a wave of success that began with the 2004 release of the DS and continues with the Wii cultural phenomenon.
However, it's unclear exactly what Nintendo will discuss during the conference. It's a safe bet the company will shed some light on plans for its new precision-enhancing Wii Remote add-on, but things get dicey beyond that. Will the company confirm rumors of a new Kid Icarus game? Will it show off the next big mainstream hit, a la Wii Fit? Will the Balance Board get a new crop of killer apps? And how about a new handheld or DS redesign, both of which have been whispered about for months? We're about to find out.
[8:47] Gaming press have been flocking to the Kodak Theater since 7 a.m., and with about 15 minutes to go until the event's scheduled tip-off, the crowd is buzzing in anticipation and the choice seats are filling up quickly.
[8:51] It doesn't appear as if Nintendo wanted a packed house for its invite-only event, as the Kodak's three stacked balcony sections are all but vacant. As people find their seats, the requisite techno blares over the loudspeakers while pictures of Wii and DS players fade in and out on the stage backdrop.
[8:57] The early hour of the event hasn't done much to temper the attendees' chatter. A bevy of familiar faces work the crowd and catch up with contacts as bloggers hammer out last-minute connection issues.
[9:01] As posh a place as the Kodak Theater is, it's perhaps surprisingly situated in an (admittedly upscale) outdoor mall. Also situated in the mall is one of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell's upstart uWink interactive entertainment restaurants.
[9:06] The house music fades and the show picks up where last year's Nintendo conference left off, with a video montage of diverse people enjoying Nintendo's products.
[9:08] Out comes Nintendo exec Cammie Dunaway for her first E3 presentation. She notes that she isn't Reggie Fils-Aime, but says she's happy to be here in place of her boss.
[9:10] She talks about her kids and trying to impress them, saying gaming is a much safer way to appear cool than something like snowboarding. Apparently she broke her wrist trying that. Still, she said she wouldn't let it take the smile off her face or make her give up. She thought she just needed help from a friend. And here comes Shaun White.
[9:11] Shaun demos his Balance Board-compatible Wii game live for the crowd, busting out some tricks and taking a nasty spill. The game fades out and he starts talking about how the board enhances the gameplay on the Wii.
[9:13] Dunaway steps onto the board to try the game herself. She emphasizes that she's never done this before, then takes a trip down the half-pipe with a handful of tricks and wipeouts.
[9:14] Dunaway says the game will arrive "exclusively for Wii" by year's end. She must have been talking about the Balance Board-capable version of the game.
[9:16] Out comes Satoru Iwata, who reminisces about a time when people had a pessimistic view of Nintendo's future. He said people were just holding a common-sense view of the gaming market, and that even Nintendo employees couldn't have expected this much success just five years later. Specifically, he mentions the company's selling millions of "bathroom scales" (Balance Boards).
[9:17] He brings up the longevity of games these days, with Nintendogs, Brain Age, New Super Mario Bros., and Mario Kart DS appearing to be evergreen products. He also says players want more than just better graphics and more sophisticated content.
[9:18] He brings up the internal teams that make Mario and Zelda games, saying they're both hard at work to bring such new titles to the Wii. On the other hand, he says Wii Sports and Wii Fit have been successful with many gamers for other reasons. Small games with small budgets can have a great audience.
[9:19] Now he brings up the expanding market, saying the old "common sense" view of the market was too linear. In particular, he said this has changed the seasonal nature of the industry. Where systems used to be holiday gifts, he now says it's more likely that customers were buying the systems for themselves throughout the year.
[9:21] He also says the industry is seeing a new form of social interaction. Last year he said he wanted to tear down the psychological barrier between gamers and nongamers. Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit were good for that, he noted, but Guitar Hero III was the strongest evidence of that. (He also noted it sold more on Wii than any other system).
[9:22] He starts to talk about innovation, and how it gets run into the ground more quickly when others imitate it, a jab at the competition that draws chuckles from the audience.
[9:22] Iwata says Nintendo always changes itself to be a pioneer "informing new paradigms." He wants fresh surprises, and hopes the crowd enjoys the ones Nintendo has in store today.
[9:23] Iwata leaves the stage, as a clip with Animal Crossing creator Katsuya Eguchi explaining the genesis of the series.
[9:26] He's showing off the new Wii version of Animal Crossing, and talks about the town and the game's persistent 24-hour clock. There's a new "city" area with an auction house, as well as a Happy Room Academy where players can see what others are up to, check out a fashion design store, or go to a beauty salon and change their hairstyles (or put on masks to look like Miis).
[9:27] Now he brings up WiiSpeak, a microphone that sits above the TV set and picks up the chatter of everyone in the room. They show it off with a demo of how it would work in a fishing minigame.
[9:28] He talks about visiting other friends' Animal Crossing towns and playing with them (the screens show four players at once), or just checking out their worlds. The clip ends with the logo for Animal Crossing: CityFolk.
[9:29] Fils-Aime comes to the stage and says Animal Crossing "complete with the WiiSpeak option" will be out by the end of the year. He talks numbers, with US retail sales of the Wii passing 10 million and DS sales passing 20 million.
[9:31] Now he talks about product life cycles, saying some expected 2007 would be the DS' peak year. However, 2008 sales are running 12 percent ahead of last year's. It's key franchises that sell systems, Fils-Aime says, and this spring it was Pokemon.
[9:31] The Pokemon franchise has now sold 180 million games.
[9:33] Fils-Aime expects June's NPD numbers to show that the DS will reclaim its hardware sales title from the Wii. "There seems to be an unlimited number of people out there looking for a way to get into our game," Fils-Aime declares.
[9:34] When the NPD numbers come out, Fils-Aime said Nintendo won't be surprised if the figures put the Wii overtakes the Xbox 360 to be the lifetime best-selling current-generation console in the US (though he didn't single out Microsoft's system by name).
[9:36] Fils-Aime said third-party publishers are finding success on the Wii, with 19 different third-party games from 11 publishers exceeding sales of 400,000 units in the US alone.
[9:36] Now Fils-Aime is lobbing softball hypotheticals at himself, asking if the Wii is the place for casual games, legendary franchises, or new experiences, before saying all of the above.
[9:39] He throws to a trailer of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which shows players using the Wii as a lightsaber, possibly with 1:1 motion. Next is Rayman Raving Rabbids: TV Party, which will use the Balance Board for a skysurfing minigame, among other things. Third up is Call of Duty: World at War, which will have co-op play.
[9:41] Dunaway returns to the stage to talk about portable games. More stats, as the portable gaming segment of the market is growing each year. Female players are also on the rise, as Dunaway says in 2007, the genders nearly reached parity among gamers, with 28 percent of gamers being women. She mentions Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades coming soon, as well as Spore Creatures for DS.
[9:42] A trailer shows Vicarious Visions' On Tour Decades, which will introduce song share between DS players with different versions of On Tour. Transitioning to Spore, clips of the DS concept art are shown as an EA rep explains the game's creature creator and various design decisions in bringing Will Wright's ambitious PC game to the handheld platform.
[9:43] Dunaway brings up one last DS game, Pokemon Rangers: Shadows of Almia, which will arrive in the US November 10.
[9:44] As for core gamer efforts on the DS, she says Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars will arrive on the DS this December.
[9:45] That gets a rise out of the crowd. She says it will feature the trademark GTA gameplay in a Liberty City setting, albeit with a custom game engine.
[9:46] The DS is more than games, though. Dunaway says the DS is being tested at airports to tell travelers where their baggage claim will be, what nearby restaurant options are there, etc. She also brings up the continuing DS interactive options at the Seattle Mariners' ballpark. Then there's meal-planning software that she says will arrive in the US this November.
[9:47] Dunaway yields the stage to Fils-Aime, who begins talking about the Wii Remote precision add-on.
[9:48] He says Wii MotionPlus makes the experience more precise and more intense, and talks about the need for outstanding software to live up to its technological promises. Wii Sports Resort is one such game.
[9:49] He says it's "literally a day at the beach." Every copy of Resort will come with a MotionPlus, as well as an extended Wii Remote jacket. Dunaway and a third participant come to the stage to test out a few Resort games.
[9:50] Dunaway tests a game of Frisbee fetch with a virtual dog. She flings the disc wide, missing the target entirely. "Is that the good wrist or the broken wrist," Fils-Aime asks. She tries again, the dog catches it, and the crowd applauds.
[9:51] Reggie takes over to demo a Jet Ski game that looks a bit like WaveRace: Blue Storm with a Mii rider.
[9:53] The third minigame will be a dueling competition. Fils-Aime and Dunaway square off in a sword fight with 1:1 motion. Fils-Aime clobbers Dunaway off the platform (in-game), and says, "That's why they call me the Reginator."
[9:54] Round 2 goes to Dunaway. Fils-Aime gets the stage to himself once again, and he talks about the broader opportunity to developers offered by Wii MotionPlus. He cautions it won't happen instantly, but once the world's best creators have gotten used to it, he said "they'll take you deeper than ever before."
[9:55] Wii Sports Resort launches globally next spring.
[9:56] Time for a game that will use the standard Wii Remote. There's a bit of fog machine and light show going on. It appears to be a first-person drumming game, part of Wii Music perhaps. It's demonstrated by a guy sitting in a chair on stage and using the Wii Remote, Nunchuk, and Balance Board to kick off a drum solo that gets the crowd cheering.
[9:57] Shigeru Miyamoto comes out to play with the drummer. He walks onto the stage pretending to play a Wii Remote saxophone, which translates to onscreen action and music.
[9:59] Miyamoto greets the crowd and introduces Wii Music. Speaking through a translator, he said it was one of the games designed alongside Wii Sports, Wii Fit, and Wii Play. If you want to appeal to everyone regardless of age or gender, he said music is a must.
[10:00] Most music games require precise timing and onscreen symbol matching, he explains. Wii Music was designed instead to allow everyone to experience the joy of performing music. There's no need to closely follow notes or rhythm guides; just hold the controller like you would a real instrument and the game plays notes to match the song.
[10:01] Miyamoto doesn't play the sax, but he was able to play a song from an F-Zero game. Wii Music will include more than 50 instruments, including the piano and violin.
[10:02] He also demonstrates the game's electric guitar and taiko drum.
[10:03] The first-person drumming with the Balance Board demonstrated earlier is actually a special mode that will include tutorials to teach users to play drums.
[10:04] The orchestra game that Miyamoto demonstrated when Wii Music was first unveiled years ago will also be included. Players will be able to save parts of a song and combine them to form their own music videos.
[10:05] Up to four players can play simultaneously, and the in-game bands are limited to six instruments. They demo it with a xylophone, conga drums, cowbell, horns, and guitar. The group plays the classic Super Mario Bros. theme.
[10:07] They wrap up the theme with the big finish, take a bow, and Miyamoto and co. leave the stage.
[10:08] Fils-Aime and Dunaway come back out and recap some of the event's news. Shaun White, Animal Crossing with WiiSpeak, and Wii Sports Resort are among the highlights mentioned.
[10:09] "Nintendo simply brings more smiles to more faces," Dunaway says.
[10:10] Fils-Aime addresses charges that the DS and Wii are fads. He said they're not, and paradigm shifts like this often spawn imitators. He talks about moving beyond the current thing and into the next big thing. He thanks the audience for attending, and says they'll feel that next big thing in Nintendo's games over the next few days of the show.
[10:12] That does it for the Nintendo conference, as attendees flee, many in a rush to hit Sony's conference across town.