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Originally published Sunday, May 29, 2011 at 10:00 PM

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Brier Dudley

Military-themed games will be star of show at E3

They really ought to start the Electronic Entertainment Expo today, instead of next week. The huge video-game conference in Los Angeles, better known as E3, has become a spectacular celebration of American soldiers.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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They really ought to start the Electronic Entertainment Expo today, instead of next week.

The huge video-game conference in Los Angeles, better known as E3, has become a spectacular celebration of American soldiers.

They are the heroes and stars of military-themed games that are the cornerstone of the $20 billion industry and among the world's best-selling entertainment products.

Franchises like "Call of Duty," "Battlefield" and "Socom" romanticize war, but their phenomenal success affirms our admiration for warriors.

They are also fun, at least for people who like to pretend they're nearly invincible soldiers defending the free world, from the safety and comfort of the sofa.

Just since November, gamers have spent more than $1 billion — and 2 billion hours of their lives — on Activision's "Call of Duty: Black Ops," making it the best-selling game in history.

This fall, they'll spend even more on the next version, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," a hyper-realistic, international action thriller that's likely to be the biggest title shown at E3.

Our wars in the Middle East will wind down someday, but the virtual battles in our rec rooms will go on forever.

That's a no-brainer forecast. Here are the rest of my predictions of what to expect from this year's E3:

Nintendo

Nintendo's new Wii will be the belle of the ball, shaking up the console business June 7 by unveiling the first completely new platform in five years. Early reports suggest it's going to have some kind of touch-screen controller, plus high-definition output matching the fidelity of Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3.

Nintendo has said the system will go on sale in 2012. I wonder if it will come out for the holidays, in time to be part of the action generated by "Modern Warfare 3" and Electronic Arts' "Battlefield 3."

The new Wii should come with an improved online service with video stores that take advantage of the HD output and support for new multiplayer games and interactivity. This would tie in to the new online store and services for the 3DS that Nintendo is launching in June, and catch up to the array video available on the Xbox and PS3.

Microsoft

Microsoft obviously is working on a replacement for the Xbox 360, but it's unlikely to reveal the new console just yet, especially when the current system and its Kinect motion sensor are still selling well.

But I bet Microsoft announces a price cut, perhaps lowering the base Xbox 360 from $200 to $150 and the Kinect to $125 or even $100. In the past few weeks, retailers have offered deals with rebate cards that get the hardware to these prices.

Several new Xbox titles are expected to be unveiled at Microsoft's news conference next Monday, along with the latest version of its "Gears of War" franchise.

Game bloggers recently spotted a Kinect-enabled version of the new "Ghost Recon" game, so perhaps Microsoft will start showing how the sensor works with more hard-core games. The company also is going to present the Kinect-enabled, high-fidelity "Forza 3" racing game.

My household is mostly looking forward to "Wipeout in the Zone," a Kinect game coming this summer based on the TV show where people jump around a slippery obstacle course.

Sony

Sony comes to E3 red-faced from the security attack on its PlayStation Network and its struggles to restart the system that's a centerpiece of its new push into online entertainment services.

The focal point of its announcements next Monday will be mobile devices, including its new PlayStation-branded phones and the quad-core PlayStation Portable handheld gaming device it will release later this year.

Sony is cozying up with Google, and I wonder if it will announce new Google services for the PS3, perhaps even a version of the Google TV video search system. It may also talk up plans, first announced in January, to stream Time Warner Cable TV content through its Web-connected hardware.

Sony's big new games include "inFamous 2," a new edition of the superhero title created by Bellevue's Sucker Punch Productions. This time its bike-messenger hero battles bad guys in a spooky, stylized version of New Orleans.

Sony's also going to talk up "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception," a movielike adventure franchise that's one of the best PS3 exclusives, and "Journey," a stylish desert-exploration game from the studio that created the gorgeous "Flower," released in 2009.

Other highlights

In addition to pitching "Battlefield 3," Electronic Arts on Monday should reveal when it's going to launch the most expensive game it has ever developed, the massively multiplayer-online "Star Wars: The Old Republic." It's supposed to debut this year, but the company recently warned investors the MMO could be pushed to January 2012.

Ubisoft's biggest release at E3 is a new version of its "Assassin's Creed" franchise, this time set in Constantinople circa 1511.

I think Ubisoft's surprise hit will be "Rocksmith," a new take on the aging guitar-game genre that uses an actual electric guitar. Using a special cable, you plug the guitar into the console as if it were an amplifier. Players learn to play the real thing by matching chords on the screen.

Then they can go busking to pay for all their new games.

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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