For nearly a decade I worked in what seemed like a dream job: art directing video game related magazines and strategy guides. Then sometime after the demise of the Sega Dreamcast I stopped gaming, partially due to burn out and also because games began all looking the same. So unlike my more hardcore gamer brethren, I've welcomed the introduction of casual gaming and gamers in recent years, only for the variety it has infused. This year's E3 show was notable for several reasons: 1) the show was nearly back to its pre-economic crash days, both in size and amount of scantily clad booth babes (a not so subtle economic indicator), 2) motion sensor and 3D display technology dominated the show floor, and 3) gaming continues to trend toward outward to a wider age demographic and to both genders. Below are observations made after attending this years 2010 E3.
There were plenty of 1st person shooters, driving games (Gran Turismo 5 in 3D!) and even some side scrolling fighters to satiate the thrill lust of the imagined typical gamer (our own being the forementioned XCOM remake set in 1950's suburbia). But what was obvious is gaming has trended far into the living room as family entertainment, rather than just being the entertainment tool of the young and male (though, all the 1st person shooter titles make it clear that demographic is still quite alive and healthy).
Thanks to the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft developed and revealed their own motion based system, the Kinect, which utilizes a high resolution camera to track body movements. Is it the Wii-killer? We're not quite sure, but from the numerous titles prominently demoed, it seems Microsoft and developers are throwing in the chips and upping the ante. The Kinect allows users to ditch controllers altogether and interact with their games like an air guitarist strums out tunes, the motion tracking success dependent upon both the users and the developer's coding acumen, as shown below:
Another popular booth belonged to Sony's Playstation Move demos, where attendees danced, sang and motioned into various modes of embarrassing poses, all in good fun. The PS3 title TV Superstars mesmerized us with the ability to use the Sony's EyeToy in conjunction with the Move controller (which looks like an illuminated microphone) to customize gamplay while singing, dancing and motioning through obstacle course "games", with each player's face image mapped onto cartoonish bodies. Sure to be a party hit amongst a mixed crowd of gamers and non-gamers alike, for the simple fact it's fun to see your friends/family on the screen.
In certain regards, the Playstation Move is a less elegant upgrade than Microsoft's Kinect system, since gestures can sometimes be less literal and more abstract due to the need to hold onto a wand-controller. That being said, the Move's tracking is lag free and users seemed to be having the most fun in the Sony booth when considering both genders and all ages. As a Playstation 3 owner, after giving the Move a try, we're convinced enough to want to add it into our arsenal of entertainment options.
But the most popular booth by far belonged to Nintendo, with a presence which was immediately noticeable upon walking into the main hall. We inadvertently found ourselves cutting through a large snaking line of eager fanboys and fangirls (by accident, we swear), all waiting to try out the latest Zelda title, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and also the Nintendo 3DS, their latest portable gaming device which recreates 3D images without the need of those pesky and dorky glasses. The 3DS creates convex-style 3D images, remarkably convincing and nowhere as dizzying as PS3 3D racing demos we tried out at Sony's booth. The amount of titles announced and showcased for release for the 3DS nearly guarantees Nintendo will hold top roost amongst the big three when it comes to handheld gaming and everyone walked away mighty impressed (might we see future Google Android or iPhones utilizing similar technology for more in-depth user interfaces?).
Unlike years ago, one day on the E3 show floor was enough for us. All this newfangled motioning, singing, dancing, and gesturing is all so tiring compared to the couch potato gaming of our teen years. But we're happy to see all the major players in the gaming industry are inviting players of all ages, gender and interests into the fold. If you doubt that claim, I'd simply show you over to the Busy Scissors Wii hair styling game booth. It was certainly...interesting. Casual gaming, like it or not, is here to stay.