Published Jun 26, 2010When Super Mario went from scrolling across your TV screen to moving around inside it in the mid-'90s, the addition of virtual 3D space was a great leap forward that the industry has been unable to replicate. After all, there is no fourth dimension ― theoretical physics, notwithstanding. Each console generation and game engine since has brought advancements, but the current gen has been marked mostly by improvements in high-def graphics, artificial intelligence and online multiplayer. At this year's E3 conference, however, all three gaming giants were literally thinking outside the box.
"Definitely it's a show about innovation," says Sony Canada's Matt Levitan. "There's a lot of new technology [here] and it's showing people what may pave the way for the future in the next couple years, which is exciting. Any major change ― like going 2D to 3D, that's a big momentum shift for the industry."
Sony is following Nintendo's lead with Move, a 1:1 motion-sensing peripheral combining a PlayStation Eye-type camera and Wiimote-style wand that arrives in September boasting purpose-built titles like Kung Fu Rider (office worker navigates Tokyo streets on a speeding desk chair!) and the Harry Potter-esque Sorcery, while 40 previously-released games, from Resident Evil 5 to Heavy Rain, will get software updates. The company is also forging its own path by making high-def 3D gaming a major part of PlayStation strategy in our post-Avatar world via first-person shooters (Killzone 3), platformers (Sly Cooper Collection), racers (Gran Turismo 5) and arcade titles (Super Stardust).
Though even Sony admits it'll be some time before enough 3D-capable sets are out in the wild to hit a tipping point ― "We don't do anything super fast," notes Levitan ― the Japanese company, which also conveniently manufactures 3DTVs, is betting gaming will be the medium's primary driver, as PlayStation was with DVD and PS3, to a lesser-extent, with Blu-Ray. (3D's gee-whiz appeal to early adopters will also be a salve to the hardcore who feel abandoned by everyone's focus on motion-control for casual gamers.)
"Will 3D be perfect for every genre? We'll have to see what developers do with it," says Levitan. "But it will push [gaming] a little further, and that's what's led us to where we are today, the constant evolution pushing forward and reaching beyond those barriers of what you think you can do in a game." And, of course, there's the simple fact that in games like Mortal Kombat, "the fatalities are going to be really cool to see!"
Microsoft used its E3 keynote to unveil its new tech, Kinect, the full-body motion-sensing peripheral formerly known as Project Natal, which arrives this November to bring non-traditional gamers into the Xbox community by completely removing traditional controls. "Every number of years, there's a pretty big evolution in gaming," Xbox Canada's Craig Flannagan says from the E3 floor. "This is going to be the biggest that the gaming industry has seen because it is so accessible, this is really [going to] open up gaming and entertainment."
The cutting-edge Kinect offers Xbox owners a Wii-like experience ― complete with fitness, dance, sports, kart-racing and Star Wars games ― but without the controller. Or rather, your body becomes the controller as the "organic" peripheral tracks 48 points of movement. "You already know how to play Kinect," Flannagan says of the casual-targeted, camera-based tech. "You don't need to learn. If you know how to kick a ball, you can play Kinect Sports. You were born ready."
Nintendo, which innovated motion sensing and touch-screens in earlier E3s, unveiled their 3DS, a wow-inducing next-gen handheld that not only makes 3D gaming portable but uses autostereoscopic tech to do it without glasses. (Looking uncool on your couch is one thing, but nobody wants to look silly on a bus.) "Something you thought you knew perfectly well will now be perfectly transformed," boasted Nintendo America's Reggie Fils-Amis at their keynote. "What's added, literally, is a new dimension." Moving gaming one small step closer to Han and Chewbacca's hologram monster chess ― the eye-popping 3DS seemed to astound E3 attendees ― it also plays 3D movies, takes 3D photos (!) and will launch with the Nintendophile-friendly Kid Icarus: Uprising.
What all of these hardware advancements have in common is their intention to free gaming from its current confines and make the experience more immersive by bringing the game into the real-world via gesture-based controls and/or 3D technology. "We are at a transformational moment right now," Flannagan says proudly. "You are about to see another one of those moments that transforms the industry and brings it to the next level."