Most Wanted Announcements
The GameSpot editors kick off our Most Wanted feature by talking about the Announcements we're most looking forward to hearing.
BIGGEST NEWS OF THE YEAR...YET TO COME?
2006 has already been a roller-coaster of big game news and huge surprises, from the bombshell announcement of the PS3's hardware price at E3 to Microsoft's intriguing "Live Anywhere" online strategy, to a little video trailer that showed world-famous video game character Solid Snake apparently getting ready to take his own life. But is the best yet to come? In this feature story, GameSpot's editors discuss the biggest news announcements and most anticipated game details on their lists. See what we've identified for you and talk back to us using the "Add a Comment" option at the bottom of the page
PLAYSTATION 3 GAME PRICING
Expected Announcement Date: Tokyo Game Show
Ever since Sony revealed the PlayStation 3 launch date, and moreover the price, to an agape-mouthed audience at its 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference, it seems like the excitement for the company's latest console has dwindled considerably. It's unsurprising. After all, what was Sony expecting when it announced that it was about to release the most expensive console this side of the 3DO? The unfortunate timing of the announcement, shuffled in at the end of a long and relatively uneventful press conference, had people asking what on earth was coming to the console that would make the cost worth it.
The answer, as far as we know, is going to be games. Sony still seems to have a stranglehold on third-party developers (particularly those in Japan) and the lion's share of exclusive franchises carried over from this generation of systems.
Since games seem to be the system's selling point, the next logical question is "How much are they going to cost?" The recent console trend has been to sell hardware at a loss and then profit off the sales of games. If $600 is a loss, can we easily accept that $50 (or more accurately $60) will recoup whatever crazy investment Sony is putting into its all-in-one Blu-ray entertainment center? Not entirely. The price of games is still unannounced, and no matter how expensive the console is, in the long term, the game cost is going to be what matters most substantially to consumers. The cost of games could potentially mean the difference in which console this generation is still the most affordable... or not.
I pride myself on getting consoles at launch, so I was all set to pick up the PS3 from the moment it was announced. The cost of the system has me a little scared, so it's easy to say that I'm waiting to hear what the games are going to cost before I'm certain about how I feel about the system. Renting, of course, makes any possible announcement easier to stomach, but the collector side of me is hoping that they don't dare go above the recently raised retail price of $60. And if they're even $50, I might find the console's high cost that much more tolerable. Here's hoping.
Wii LAUNCH DETAILS
Expected Announcement Date: September (Tokyo Game Show)
With 27 games playable at Nintendo's Wii booth at E3 2006, there seems to be a hefty number of exciting games to choose from for the console's launch later this year. But though Nintendo's E3 wasn't short on games, it was short on announcements, as the press conference came and went without mention of the system's price point, launch date, or launch lineup.
As far as price point and launch date go, we're going to have to wait around until the promised date of September. For people who have been speculating and rumoring about the system since its announcement more than a year ago, any bit of news is worth discussing until it's all finalized, so there has been, understandably, quite a lot of talk surrounding the Wii's release date. The most recent stir came from Sports Illustrated for Kids, which revealed a November 6 release casually in a recent issue. Nintendo is denying this claim, saying that it still intends to ship in the fourth quarter, but has not confirmed specifics.
Dates aside, there's plenty else to rumor about Nintendo, most specifically the launch lineup. When the console was announced, president Satoru Iwata stated that an online version of the fighting franchise Smash Brothers would be available at launch. We know now that won't be the case. But of the games we did see, there's plenty enough to make a suitable launch lineup. Nintendo has made a few promises, namely that Zelda: Twilight Princess is a launch title. We're hoping to get the full list sometime soon, but memories of the 360 launch remind us that even with an announced launch lineup, we might need to remain on our toes.
Having kept up with games since the halcyon days of the Atari 2600, I've seen my share of console launches come and go. I can say without hyperbole that this year's race between the Big Three is the most heated and intense one yet, what with Microsoft's early-release bid for dominance, Sony's recent, repeated missteps with the PlayStation 3, and Nintendo's attempt to turn the whole gaming paradigm on its head with the Wii's new control features. Just as interesting is what we can assume will be a massive disparity in price between the most expensive system--the PS3, at $600--and the least--the Wii, which is predicted to land somewhere around $200 to $250. With the Xbox 360 smack dab in between, not to mention already installed in a lot of homes, the timing of Nintendo's and Sony's releases could have a big impact on the way things shake out through the holidays. Throw in the recent rumors that the Wii will come out early, and you can understand why we all just want to know what the hell Nintendo's plans are, already.
PLAYSTATION 3 ONLINE PLANS
Expected Announcement Date: Tokyo Game Show
For the PlayStation 2, Sony's online plans were virtually nonexistent. Sure there was online, and it was successful for a number of games, most notably sports titles and the SOCOM franchise. But it wasn't as centralized and easy as Xbox Live. So when Sony began speaking of its online strategy, we could only hope that it lifted the strategy straight from Microsoft's highly competent program.
From the brief glimpse we got at E3, it seems like this could very well be the case, with one added bonus: It's going to be free. Or, at least, access to the community aspect of its online service (messaging, player profiles, and friends list) will be free. Since Sony executive vice president Kaz Hirai likened the online strategy to that of air conditioning in a car (not an El Camino we hope), it also seems that it will come packaged in with every system.
The only thing we've seen of the program in action is an example of how players can purchase additional content (sound familiar?), using the karaoke game SingStar as the example. During the Sony press conference at E3, Sony exec Phil Harrison detailed how people would be able to use their PlayStation Card to purchase licensed songs for the game. All other details, however, including the pricing plan for the additional content and whether or not Sony is going to attempt to compete with Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo's Virtual Console, are still quite secretive.
What we've seen so far is promising, but we don't reasonably expect to hear much more about it until at least the Tokyo Game Show, and even then, it's still possible that Sony will sit on the secret of online for quite some time.
Based on what we've seen of the PlayStation 3 so far, it doesn't do much that the Xbox 360 can't do. The area where Sony has a chance to really set the PlayStation 3 ahead over the next year isn't in Blu-ray technology or tilt-sensitive controllers, it's in the online service. The problem is that we don't know much about the Sony online service. We've heard that it will be free, will offer downloadable content, voice and video support, and so on. But Xbox Live does all those things (for a small fee), is well-established, familiar, and fully integrated into each and every Xbox 360 game. It's not free, but Microsoft has done a great job of making Live a practically essential service for Xbox 360 owners. Sony is more than a little late to the online party, and the biggest question on my mind is, "Is it too late?"
Wii VIRTUAL CONSOLE GAMES
Expected Announcement Date: Very close to launch
When Nintendo announced that its then-named Revolution would feature the Virtual Console, an opportunity to let users download and play games from the company's back catalog, it seemed like the perfect fit. Nintendo's success has built upon decades of extraordinarily popular systems, the dominant NES and SNES notably topping the list. Most video game enthusiasts have built-in nostalgia for Nintendo, so the strategy is that if its new console doesn't appeal, perhaps access to its old ones will.
While the Game Developers Conference isn't typically the place for companies to make huge announcements, the biggest buzz at this year's GDC came from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, who announced that aside from Nintendo's own properties, Sega and Hudson would be making many of their back-catalog games available on the Virtual Console. That includes more than 1,000 games for the Sega Genesis and a yet-undisclosed amount of games from the TurboGrafx.
Specifics haven't been mentioned yet, but since the company's strategy is to cherry-pick the best games from each system (not sure how 1,000 is cherry-picking, but hey, we'll take it), we have some pretty good ideas about what we hope to expect. And all we can say is that if there are no Bonk games, we're going to be pretty upset.
I don't particularly care about the Virtual Console's offerings from the NES, Super NES, or Genesis. There were fine games on all those systems, but I've had plenty of opportunity to go back and play them, whether it's been with readily available used cartridges and systems or retro-themed compilation packs. But the Turbo-Grafx 16 is another matter. Few stores ever carried used TG-16 merchandise, I don't really like dealing with eBay, and there aren't any TG-16-themed compilations out there. So if I want to play classics like Bonk's Adventure and Ninja Spirit, or releases from late in the system's lifespan, like Air Zonk, I'm pretty much up the creek right now. I also like that I'll finally be able to play games like Dungeon Explorer with another player. NEC wasn't terribly forward-thinking when they decided consumers should need a separate adapter in order to hook up a second controller to the machine, but hopefully using the Wii interface will change all that.
Expected Announcement Date: X06 (September)
There was a time when the notion of Microsoft making a console seemed like crazytalk. Yet, here we are in 2006, Microsoft has two consoles under its belt, and now there's discussion of a handheld. And it doesn't quite seem so crazy anymore.
Sure, getting into a handheld market that has been dominated by Nintendo for so many years seems like a risky endeavor, especially since (unlike the console market, which Nintendo had also dominated for years) it doesn't seem like Nintendo is giving up the throne anytime soon. Sony's first handheld, the PlayStation Portable, has sold well enough but still seems to be dwarfed by the technologically less impressive Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance.
So why would Microsoft jump into the handheld market? Well, it seems like the company is aiming more for the iPod than the GBA, at least that's what the first reports and rumors are circulating, with a system that will "include a device that plays media, a software media player, and an online media service." So is the Microsoft (codename) Argo the next N-Gage or some crazy hybrid between the iPod and the GBA? It could go either way. History hasn't treated kindly multimedia devices that try to do too much, so we'll be interested to see how Microsoft handles the project. But then again, we were all kind of doubting the Xbox, so we've learned to just shut up and wait to see what happens.
Of course, everything is still quite early at this point, but since we've been gossiping about a potential Microsoft handheld since the company announced it was getting into games five years ago, this is the first time the project sounds like a reality. With Microsoft frontman J Allard (J and the Argo, ha ha get it?) behind the project, it looks like we're going to be hearing a lot more about it very soon. We can't wait.
This whole hootenanny about a Microsoft portable is spinning a bit out of control. There's no evidence that "Argo" or "Zune," in its current state, is a gaming platform--the likely answer is M'soft's answer to Apple's video iPod. Whatever comes out this holiday from Redmond could be sign of things to come, though. If M'soft decides to join the portable gaming race (and that's a humongous 'if'), I'm going to need a pair of those Dockers pants with all those fancy pockets, because I'd buy one in a second. A bit of advice to J Allard and company--two analog joysticks, please. Oh, and some achievements. We love us them points!
SUPER SMASH BROS. BRAWL CHARACTER LIST
Expected Announcement Date: Next year
Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 and Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube stand as two of the most engaging multiplayer games to grace Nintendo consoles in recent history. Given their extraordinary popularity, news of the future of the franchise is never received quietly by fans of those games.
When a next-generation Super Smash Bros. game was first mentioned by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, it was to say that an online version of the game would be available at the system's launch. Later it was revealed that the series creator, Masahiro Sakurai, was back at Nintendo to work on the project. Everything was looking good for Smash Bros. fans. There was, unfortunately, no sign of the game at this year's E3, making launch availability seem less likely.
All speculation and concern about the franchise was laid to rest at a Nintendo press conference the night after the first full day of E3. The bad news is that the game won't be making its way to the Wii until 2007. The good news is that there are a bunch of new exciting characters in the game. Old favorites such as Mario, Kirby, and Pikachu will be joined by the Zero Mission version of Samus, Pit from Kid Icarus, and Kirby-villain the Meta-Knight. The biggest surprise of all, of course, was that Konami protagonist Solid Snake will also be a playable character in the game and will use a lot of his own tricks, such as the cardboard box he typically uses for stealth in his own games.
At the conference, Sakurai answered that there were indeed many more characters going into the game but wouldn't indicate who they were at that time. If any of them are as exciting as those announced at E3, it's going to be hard for us to hold out.
The inclusion of Solid Snake in Super Smash Bros. Brawl has me extra-excited about the game. While I wouldn't have normally thought of Snake as a Nintendo character (his two NES games aren't exactly exalted by creator Hideo Kojima, and the GameCube game was an underwhelming port), I'm happy to see this kind of collaboration underway. So to that I say, give me more, Nintendo! Give me Super Joe! Give me a playable Metroid! Give me Leon S. Kennedy! I want it all!
GUITAR HERO 2 TRACK LIST
Expected Announcement Date: A week before release
Guitar Hero, last year's breakout guitar-peripheral rhythm game from Red Octane, was surprisingly well put together. It made good use of the controller, it had a very well thought out learning curve, and it was nothing if it wasn't fun to play. But it wouldn't have been anything at all without the soundtrack, and the only thing that can be said poorly of the soundtrack is that it made us just want more.
The list of songs used in Guitar Hero spanned decades of rock music and used classics from legendary guitarists in perfect harmony with a number of newer catchy hits. So when we found out that the recently purchased Red Octane and developer Harmonix were at it again for a sequel, the first thing out of our mouths was "What's the song list?" Well, perhaps the first thing out of our mouths was "Is there going to be Van Halen?" but then shortly after we were asking about the rest of the song list.
Shortly before E3, we got a taste of the first eight songs in the game, which were playable on the show floor. Though the epically long "War Pigs" and bass-guitar masterpiece "YYZ" are a good start, we still want to know what the rest of the list is going to entail. Specifically, will Iron Maiden's miniopera "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" be the next "Bark at the Moon"? Will there be an actual Van Halen song instead of a Van Halen cover of a Kinks song? And maybe most importantly, please please please put Guns 'n' Roses in the game--we implore you.
Though Red Octane is sure to tease us until the game's release later this year, we're holding our breaths. Rhythm games are only as good as their song lists, and we have every inclination that it's going to do us right, again. Please don't let us be wrong.
I don't think there's a more closely guarded secret in the world right now than the official, full track list for Guitar Hero II. The New York Times can figure out that the government is listening to all our friggin' phone calls, yet they can't find out what, if any, Iron Maiden song is going to be in some dumb video game? What has the world come to?
Considering that a rhythm game often lives and dies by its soundtrack, Guitar Hero II has an awful lot to live up to after the excellent soundtrack found in the last game. People have gone on at length about what songs they'd like to see in the game. Heck, even I'm guilty of getting all geeky over it. But alas, beyond the eight songs shown at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, nobody in a position to know anything is uttering a peep about the potential soundtrack. All I know is that if I don't get some effing Guns 'N Roses in there, my head will explode.
HALO 3 LAUNCH SPECIFICS
Expected Announcement Date: X06 (September)
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Microsoft's ace in the hole, yet again, is the upcoming game in its Halo series. The cult hit, and the game that may have been the very reason behind the Xbox's success, is one of the most highly anticipated games every time another version comes out. It doesn't matter if it's a sequel, an expansion, or a new novel in the Halo book series--people eat it right up.
We know it's slated for 2007 sometime, but we're still uncertain about far too many specific details. And like the rest of the universe, we're finding it hard not to be curious about what's going to happen to the iconic Master Chief this time around, especially since the last Halo left us with little to no ending to tide us over.
While there hasn't been too much information released just yet, the information we have gotten has been stretched out and teased just enough to make us go mad. When a company starts releasing the "making of" for its E3 trailer, it's a sure sign that it knows people are going to bite at anything it's offering.
Perhaps more interestingly is the question of whether or not new information about Halo 3 will be released via the traditional viral marketing, such as the Web site ilovebees.com, which was used to promote Halo 2. We're certain that news will come, but we fear it will be in the form of tiny leaks that leave us still more speculative than certain about anything. But we love that pain just the same.
It all started with a remark that Bill Gates made to Time last year. Gates predicted that the next chapter in the flagship Xbox franchise would be available for the Xbox 360 in time to blunt the launch of the PlayStation 3. Well, it turns out that Gates was speaking a bit rhetorically there. Halo 3 won't be out until next year, but the big question now is when? Will we have to wait until the 2007 holiday season? Is the game still going to be tied into the upcoming Peter Jackson-produced Halo movie? (Speaking of which, what happened to that?) The whole Xbox world wonders.
MICROSOFT XBOX LIVE ANYWHERE... ANYTHING
Expected Announcement Date: X06 (September)
You don't drag Bill Gates to his first E3 ever unless he's going to make a big announcement. At this year's Microsoft press conference, he did exactly that. Gates, after talking a bit about the future of Microsoft, a future that he has now relinquished to other people, announced the upcoming Live Anywhere program.
Part of Windows Vista, Live Anywhere will have one type of interface, one marketplace, and one friends list--the exact same one available on the Xbox 360 but embedded in Windows. People will be able to use Live Anywhere to share information between PC games, 360 games, and mobile-phone games.
The one example Microsoft showed of Live Anywhere was with its forthcoming first-person shooter Shadowrun. Director of platform strategy Scott Henson led the demonstration, which highlighted being able to show which system players on friends lists were on, whether it was the 360, PC, or mobile phone. The insinuation is that you'll be able to share all sorts of information across the platforms, including achievement points, and quite possibly carry games over from one system to the other. The potential for this is really quite huge.
As pointsaholics (most of us), we couldn't be more excited to find out how we will be able to achieve more of those happy little points. Live Anywhere could potentially damage the way the system works, but it could also revitalize the whole thing. We're hoping for the latter, of course.
Against my better judgement, I've become a complete idiot for Microsoft's achievement points system on the Xbox 360. Seriously, I've played games I'd never ever consider playing in a million years... just to get the points. Now, the true points-earning fury is currently limited to the time I can spend in front of a TV. What happens when Live Anywhere hits, and all of a sudden I can earn points from PC and handheld/mobile games? Am I really going to get a new phone for this stuff? Considering the phone I just got is kind of underwhelming... I just might.
MICROSOFT WINDOWS VISTA AND DIRECT X10
Expected Announcement Date: When it's done
For PC game enthusiasts, the Windows Vista release will be a lot like a next-generation console launch. DirectX 10 promises a redesigned graphics system built specifically to get the most performance out of the PC's hardware, almost like a dedicated game console. Additionally, just as Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3 both have new ATI and Nvidia GPUs, both graphics companies will have powerful new DirectX 10 video cards ready in time for Vista's arrival.
We know what you're thinking. "Microsoft has already announced Windows Vista and DirectX 10!" Sure, Microsoft showed us a few DX10 game "simulations" at E3 this year, but we're still waiting to see just how fantastic DX10-powered games look running on real DX10 video cards. Isn't it about time to show us some real footage? We're also waiting to find out exactly how many DX10-enabled games will be available at launch. Nvidia and ATI are also both being very secretive about their DX10 GPU launch plans, which makes sense because announcing too early will encourage people to hold off on buying a video card until the new DX10 cards finally ship.
Yes, we have many more exciting Windows Vista and DirectX 10 related announcements to look forward to between now and the end of the year.
I think I've been buying the whole DirectX 10 pitch for the past year. Greater performance, better graphics, and all hopefully at a lower overall cost. One of the key developments that excites me about DirectX 10 involves how it will move much of the setup work from the CPU to the GPU, where it belongs. Which not only improves performance, but it frees up the CPU to provide better A.I., physics processing, or whatever it is that people like Will Wright dream up.
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