Wild, Wild Guesses: E3 2011
by Oleg Brodskiy
The Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3, for short), is an annual trade show in Los Angeles,
California, where the gaming industry showcases its products for other members of the industry. As
such, I don’t have a hope in hell of going. That said, I’ll undoubtedly watch the Microsoft, Nintendo, and
Sony press conferences on G4 (and you should too!). Therefore, this is an article so that I can make wild,
wild guesses about the sort of things that will be revealed at the expo. I’ll try and keep most of these in
the realm of the plausible, if not the possible (or hopefully, the likely), but none of this article, besides
the facts already stated, should be considered as truth, unless, you know, one of the companies about
whom I guess actually announces something that I guessed correctly. I’ll have lots of guesses, and I’m
pretty much just hoping that one will be right. This will be a big article, so pace yourself.
Microsoft has been doing well for itself. Kinect was a sleeper hit (as far as I was concerned), Sony’s
online network got hacked, and more Xbox 360’s were sold in the month of April. I’m looking for
Microsoft to take advantage of all these things, and try to build momentum (more details below).
Microsoft recently acquired Skype, and the traditional Xbox spring update seems like it’s just
around the corner. Putting two and two together, I have come to the conclusion that Microsoft
is planning to release Skype onto its already incredibly powerful and popular Xbox Live platform
via Kinect integration, allowing users to chat real time with both their buddies on computers
around the world, as well as those who have a Kinect. In addition, Microsoft will announce
another UI redesign that will cause people to groan collectively, and then accept it and move
on with their lives. Conspicuously absent will be any mention of Games for Windows Live as
well as further support for their Windows 7 Phone platforms in relation to Xbox Live. Oh, and
expect more Avatar crap that no one will really care about. Hidden in the spring update will be
revamped architecture that will attempt to prevent the sort of outage the PSN has experienced.
Xbox Live Arcade
Microsoft has been surprisingly mum about their somewhat-annual Summer of Arcade (though,
to be fair, they are currently the only game in town, unless you count Wii Shop, but honestly,
who does?), but expect that to change come E3. Microsoft will trot out a bunch of indie
developers that you’ve heard of (ironic, no?) that all have games coming out for XBLA and have
them convince you to spend $5 on their new offering. In addition, Ubisoft, fresh off of Outland,
will announce two more Arcade titles, only one of which will be of any interest.
Kinect (originally Project Natal) was announced two years ago at E3 ’09, and I would be
surprised if Microsoft didn’t follow up their ridiculous Kinect performance last year with some
more announcements. In fact, the incredible lack of any new compelling content for Kinect has
made some question Microsoft’s commitment (along with whether or not even they saw this
coming). That said, I’d expect some pretty frickin’ cool Kinect news at E3. I predict that Microsoft
will announce several new projects, some to be released by Holiday 2011 that will include use
of some of the really interesting Kinect hacks that YouTube has hundreds of. I’m guessing we’ll
see a Halo Wars sequel for Kinect, as well as an entirely new FPS franchise that will try and
make everyone care about the Kinect as an actual hardcore platform. A few more party and
sports games will be announced, but the new franchise (I’m guessing it’ll be called Planar. I don’t
really know why) will come with concept art and maybe even a tech demo. Expectations will
be divided between those who think the idea is stupid, and those who think this could be really
cool. I’d put myself in the middle.
I’d also expect to see more third party stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Dance Central
sequel, as well as more silly games from Ubisoft, as well as a revival of the EndWar franchise
with gesture based controls for your domination. EA and Activision will tease that they have
something coming out for the Kinect, but it will unfortunately turn out to be things that, again,
no one cares about. Except for maybe Madden support for Kinect. That might be cool.
Microsoft posted job openings for a new hardware development team earlier this year, but
there have already been some rumors that they have something up and running. I’m going to
jump on that bandwagon and say that a select few journalists will be shown a two-minute clip of
Halo 4 game playing on that new console, which I’m going to call the Xbox Evolution, or the XE
First Party Games
Halo will be temporarily retired as a franchise. Yes, I said it. I’m going to guess that Microsoft
makes the gutsy call to not drive more Halo games, and instead will keep its current support for
3 and Reach on Live. This only applies to the FPS genre. At the same time, expect a rumor that
BioWare is in talks with Microsoft to make a Mass Effect style Halo game that will be outside
the current fiction (e.g., it’ll be some part of the fiction that really hasn’t been dealt with in
the games, such as perhaps a prequel to do with the Forerunners, or even the development of
the UNSC and the rebellion). Also, don’t forget about Gears of War 3, which will be the Xbox’s
marquee exclusive shooter.
Third Party Games
With the PSN outage forcing PS3 owners to sit on the sidelines as Xbox 360 owners continue to
frag each other online (unless you own both, in which case, good for you!), and in some cases
even causes PS3’s to be traded in for 360’s, I expect Microsoft to start talking to developers and
publishers with huge online components (see: Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3) to try and get
some exclusivity, if only limited. While the PSN outage is certainly unfortunate, I wouldn’t put it
past Microsoft to try and push its advantage. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that the new
Battlefield and Call of Duty games will each have a one-month exclusivity deal with Microsoft,
which will bother Sony to no end.
Of course, there’s also Skyrim, Arkham City, Rage, and Deus Ex. Don’t be surprised to see a few
of these during Microsoft’s press conference.
Nintendo’s sales of the Wii have steadily slipped in the past year, as many analysts’ and journalists’
observations of its poor implementation and terrible library finally caught up to it. With the existence
of its new console all but confirmed by the video game giant, look for Nintendo to try and steal the
momentum that Microsoft has been building.
Wii/DSi Shop and Online
This service has always been hampered by Nintendo’s seeming blindness of the fact that they
can make money as a middleman (to be fair, it hasn’t really worked for their consoles either).
Look for Nintendo to unveil a new name for its new service on its new console. I’ll call it the
Nintendo Revolution: We Mean It This Time (or the WeMITT) for now, which means Nintendo’s
new downloadable service to change Shop tag to Store, so that they’re all hip and trendy. In
case my dripping sarcasm still isn’t apparent to you, I don’t have much hope for this part of
Nintendo’s WeMITT, but it’s the part I really care the least about.
Did I just say I care the least about Nintendo’s online service? Well, I lied. I like to play online,
and in order to convince me to shell out money on another Nintendo product that isn’t a
Pokémon game, Nintendo will have to convince me that if I buy the new Call of Duty for it, I’ll
actually be able to play it properly. I have no such hope for now, but I figure that in Nintendo’s
fence-sitting between brilliance and stupidity, they’ll (somehow) hit this out of the park.
Hopefully Nintendo will say that they made a mistake with Friend Codes and that they’re gone
forever, dumped in the same landfill as all of the ET video games. Hopefully.
Wii HD (or, if you’ve been paying attention, the WeMITT)
Where to begin? There’s more speculation about this console than the birthplace of our current
President (Obama was born in Hawaii, for those keeping score at home). I’m going to go ahead
and say that this thing better have better hardware than a 360, though I expect it to be closer
to a PS3 in power and capability. Instead of looking like an ergonomic brick, it’ll look really cool,
which is as specific as I want to get. In addition, it’ll have four (count ‘em!) USB slots, HDMI
outputs, 3D capability, as well as a built in set of stereoscopic cameras that will be able to detect
if you’re still alive or not, and call 911 if you happen to pass out (that’s the new Vitality Sensor
for you). Continuing their streak of innovation, the rumored touch screen controller will be
true, allowing you to select Link’s weapons without having to go through a stupid menu on the
fly in the packed-in launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. In addition, the game
will feature backwards compatibility (as well as optional(!) motion controls for a number of
its games), meaning that either your Wii controller will still work (sort of how the GameCube
controllers are still compatible with the Wii), or that the new controller will have a detachable
Wii-esque BAMF controller built in. The new console will also come packaged with a second
controller, because Nintendo finally realized how douchey it was to force you to buy a stupid
party game just because you wanted to play something with a friend. Finally, it will have a hard
drive that is capable of holding more than just the free crap you can get on the Wii Shop (or,
God forbid, the Rock Band Store), and will have an incredible 250GB hard drive standard, as well
as an option for an upgraded 500GB hard drive. The console will use Blu-ray discs (which means
a Blu-Ray player), and you will be able to play games without installing them, though the option
to do so will still be there.
All told, the basic version will cost just $250 (that’s the same as a Nintendo 3DS), while the
upgraded version will sell for $350. It will be scheduled to release in summer 2012, but due
to delays, will be pushed to summer 2013, just in time for Microsoft to release a console with
superior hardware for $50 less. This, of course, does not mean it will not sell like gangbusters
(honestly, though, I expect that this will be the last “great” Nintendo console, as I expect it to
become a two horse race between Sony and Microsoft, at least until OnLive starts to gain in
popularity, not to mention library).
Expect more of the same. We’ll see a smattering of third party games that will make practically
no use of its 3D component, but will be solid overall. Nintendo will reveal the Mario 3DS game,
which will look nice and make use of 3D in such a way that people unable to see the effect will
get frustrated. We’ll get more details on Nintendo’s Ocarina of Time remake, and a frustrated
journalist (perhaps the same one who can’t see the 3D effect in the Mario game) will ask in a
frustrated tone why Nintendo is releasing so few copies of such a beloved classic. The question
will be pleasantly ignored. There’ll also be mention of a Kirby game, and, thankfully, Steel Diver will die a quiet death. Nothing here is going to particularly shock anyone, but Nintendo will have
another quiet, solid year on handhelds, keeping it away from Sony’s NGP.
First Party Games
Expect a distinctive dearth of first party titles for the Wii. I’m thinking that Nintendo is going
to focus on its new console in an attempt to avoid the criticism (but not the sales) of its
Third Party Games
Expect a bunch of crappy ports, as well as more party games. Honestly, if you’ve been sticking
with the Wii because of the third party fare, you’ve probably played the same five games fifty
Sony hasn’t been doing as well as it would like. Its Playstation Move hasn’t done nearly as well as it
had hoped, having been topped by Microsoft’s Kinect and saddled with the derisive “WIi HD” moniker.
Now, with PSN still down as of this writing (though apparently up again for developers), it has seen
continued loss of market share to Microsoft’s Xbox Live. Look for Sony to try and regain some of its lost
momentum, as well as struggle to convince its userbase that its service is safe and reliable. Don’t be
surprised to see more stories of traded-in PS3s, as well as an extravagant giveaway by Sony to make up
for the outage.
Look for Sony to shy away from too many more Move specific titles, making it more of a
peripheral in the vein of Killzone 3 or SOCOM 4. Move isn’t going to be competing directly with
Kinect anymore (I think that battle has already been lost), and you’ll see Sony trying to get
developers to think of the Move from the start of development. Expect more games over the
year, perhaps even some console ports, to come with optional Move capability.
I don’t think Sony is quite ready to really begin working on a new console. The PS3 is still the
most powerful of the three consoles this generation. As such, Sony is going to make some quiet,
behind the scenes moves as it starts work on the PS4. Expect rumors of a PS4 sighting to make
its way out of E3, but the actual existence of this console is somewhere in Japan.
Expect the real name of the NGP to be revealed at E3 (at least I hope to God). I’m guessing that
Sony will drop the PlayStation moniker, as the PSN outage hasn’t created anything positive for
the brand. For kicks, I’ll call it the Sony ProGamer. Don’t be surprised if Sony decides that this
new handheld is the only Sony product that exists at E3, and decide to spend all of the time
they have talking about it. Expect demos of the Uncharted Portable, as well as the new Killzone,
Resistance and LittleBigPlanet game. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a Kevin Butler commercial
about the ProGamer/NGP by July at the latest, and could easily see it hitting during Holiday 2011
at $200, in order to further distinguish it from the PS3’s disastrous original pricepoint and from
Nintendo’s surprisingly expensive 3DS.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
Honestly, I’d be surprised if this got more than a brief mention. There’s already a lot of
smart phones, and I don’t think another model is suddenly going to revolutionize the space.
Microsoft’s filrtation with mobile phones hasn’t done anything remarkable, and I don’t think
that Sony is going to be able to unseat the iPhone, or really even Motorala or HTC.
First Party Games
Look for playable demos of Resistance 3 and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Sony’s going to
push their major franchises hard this year, as Resistance is expected to wrap up. Every second
Sony can divert everyone’s attention from the PSN problem onto the great games they have
lined up for the year, is one where Sony is getting its message across. That said, expect at least
one new franchise, as well as some sort of spectacular surprise announcement.
Third Party Games
I don’t expect any new announcements here. I feel that most publishers are going to try
and steer clear of Sony in order to avoid any potential spillover of bad publicity. Expect
Skyrim, Battlefield 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Rage, or Deus Ex to make some sort of
appearance, at least one of them. This could be the press conference where we get our first
good look at Modern Warfare 3, as I have a feeling that Microsoft will snag Battlefield 3 away.
Oleg Brodskiy is a sports fan from the suburbs of Boston who has been playing video games since the rosy age of ten. He hopes you enjoy his articles, even if you don’t agree with him.