Best of E3 2010

You’ve probably seen a whole bunch of news coming out of E3. Frankly, most of it doesn’t really matter, because most products and games are going to see limited success. Let’s get down to the good stuff… or rather, what interests me! 😉

Before you ask, I wasn’t at E3. I’m just writing based on what I’ve seen online.

Microsoft

Microsoft announced a new (slim) model of the Xbox 360 with built-in wireless, a decent-sized hard-drive, and quieter drive bay. (I wonder if it still has an external power brick). Nothing exciting about that; it’s just keeping up with the Jones (Sony and their PS3 slim.)

Their big announcement was the body-sensing Kinect camera system. Based on fundamental principles of computer vision, the useful level of accuracy that can be achieved with their system must be pretty limited. The motion capture method it uses (normal camera plus 3D scanning via either structured IR light or time-of-flight) would result in a 3D textured surface with some degree of noise. That needs to be segmented to identify blobs that look like people from which a number of feature points need to be identified and tracked. It’s heavyweight, complex, and undoubtedly prone to error.

What does this mean to the average gamer? Expect filtered motions and a lack of fine control, which relegate use of the Kinect system to casual games, or games well-designed to accommodate the systems’ characteristic. Something akin to the early Wii Remote problems (prior to the Wii Motion Plus add-on). It could also end up being pretty expensive.

Dance Central is the only Kinect-exclusive game that I am looking forward to:

It simply isn’t possible on other systems. (Although maybe they could get it to work well enough with the Playstation Eye.)

Aside: I wonder if developers have access to the raw depth map data? That could make for interesting game mechanics… scanning objects into games…

Nintendo

Nintendo revealed the Nintendo 3DS, their next-generation hand-held console. The major feature of the console is a screen that displays 3D imagery without the need for the viewer to wear special glasses. It also includes stereo cameras (for 3D photography and augmented reality) and motion sensors.

I love all things 3D (especially 3D displays) and I’m really looking forward to the 3DS. Aesthetically, it bothers me that the screens are not the same size, but I can get over that by thinking of the bottom screen as an input device (touch-pad with built-in display). I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that Nintendo is opting to deliver 3DS games on cartridges. I guess the level of piracy on the iPhone, and the failure of the PSP Go were contributing factors.

I would love to see a commercial augmented reality game (there is a tech demo) that uses the 3D display to add objects to real-world scenes. Smooth tracking should be possible (using the motion sensors to compensate for computer vision inaccuracies), but it may be too difficult to calibrate the 3D display (especially given the 3D effect slider) such that the composite scene looks seamless.

The biggest advertising challenge that Nintendo will face is probably getting the 3D display in front of customers. (Since websites and magazine will only publish 2D screenshots.) They did a great job in demonstrating the Wii in public places (where people could experience it first-hand), so it shouldn’t be a major issue.

More information is available on this official E3 page on the Nintendo website.

Sony

Sony demonstrated the Playstation Move, which is an obvious response (tribute, homage, rip-off) to Nintendo’s Wii Remote. In almost all regards, the Playstation Move is a more elegant system than Microsoft’s Kinect. Sony isn’t aiming as high as Microsoft in terms of underlying technology, but there appears to be sound reasoning behind this decision.

In terms of technological simplicity, the Playstation Move makes a lot of sense. The glowing ball introduces a known element (which can be controlled by the console) into the real-world capture space. Moreover, the known element is a sphere which is easy to identify and locate. The system can determine distance based on the size of the ball (in the camera image), and the origin of the ball can be found with very high accuracy based on the centroid of the ball. For multiple controllers, balls can be differentiated and synchronised by identifying and modifying the displayed colours. Finally, motion data (from the devices) can be used to compensate for noisy or incomplete camera data.

In terms of costs, the Playstation Move system should be much cheaper than the Kinect in all areas: to develop; to develop for; to produce; and at retail. It’s basically a webcam and some lightweight controls with cheap (thanks to the Wii, laptops, and the iPhone) motion sensors, and it should be very easy for developers to quickly create “HD” versions of their existing and future Wii games.

Update: Clearly, the Playstation Move won’t be cheaper than Kinect for larger groups of people (since each person will require a peripheral). However, the lower entry point (single wand) may be what matters.

Although clearly not a trendsetter in the games market (like Nintendo), I think that Sony are playing it pretty smart here. They are introducing a low-cost product that allows for quick ports (both from the Wii and Kinect). I can’t imagine many third party developers making Kinect exclusive titles, when they can opt for a subset of controls and release on all major systems.

I also heartily approve of their support for 3D televisions. Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of 3D displays (and I’ll be very happy when home televisions are 3D and glasses-free).

Games

Aside from Dance Central (video above) for Kinect, the other stand-out games announced at E3 were Child of Eden (by Mizaguchi from Q? Entertainment):

And Metal Gear Solid: Rising (by Matsuyama from Kojima Productions):

These three games stood out to me because they were surprising to some degree: Dance Central looks like the first natural dancing game, and I’m expecting perfect execution from Harmonix; in Child of Eden, I wasn’t expecting a spiritual successor to Rez to be announced any time soon; and I was impressed (and mildly disgusted) by the zan-datsu gameplay mechanic of Metal Gear Solid: Rising.

Here’s a list of other games that I am looking forward to:

Wow, that was a long post. Thanks for reading this far… especially since you could have just read Penny Arcade’s rather accurate summary.

5 thoughts on “Best of E3 2010”

  1. Another game you might be interested in is El Shaddai! (Shameless plug for my own E3 coverage)

    But yeah, pretty accurate summary! Also, according to my editor the Kinect is pretty underwhelming, and monstrously inaccurate. So I guess we’ll see!

  2. Unfortunately the CMS behind the site is frankly quite awful and you can’t subscribe to things by author. 🙁 The All News feed has all my stuff on it, but it’s in amongst everyone else’s.

    Most of them are in the Editorial category, which doesn’t really help! Otherwise I post links on Twitter most of the time I put something up, so that’s another way I guess!

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