E3 2008: EA's Press Conference
Right off the bat, I was in a sour mood entering EA’s press conference. This was mostly due to the fact that they held it in the Orpheum Theater, which was several annoying blocks away from the main convention hall (whereas every other sane developer has chosen to hold their events near the main hall or at least provide shuttle service to their events). I warmed up a bit though after I got seated and was treated to some surprisingly good-looking games, along with a few duds. After an opening video running through most of their upcoming games, John Riccitello, the president of EA, kicked things off by pretty much getting on stage and saying that he was going to leave it to the developers to talk about their projects. From there, it was basically one impressive showing after another (with a few mind-numbingly dull ones just to remind us that it was a press conference).
Rod Humble, the head of The Sims Studio, came out first to talk about (what else?) the Sims brand. He started off by debuting a new game called “SimAnimals,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: you’ll be able to control a community of animals and have them interact with each other. The main feature for this is that the interface is incredibly simplistic. A new trailer showed a floating hand being used to pick up animals and place them elsewhere in the world and even grabbing trees and reshaping the landscape. There’s also some dynamics between “good” and “bad” animals, with bears and foxes trying to kill squirrels for example. It looks pretty tame, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went on to sell plenty of copies. That game is set to be released for the Wii and DS in January 2009. He also showed off a new trailer for the highly-anticipated Sims 3. It was kind of a goofy video, but the game does look a few leaps and bounds more complex than The Sims 2.
Next up was Glen Schofield with EA Redwood Shores, who had one big title to show off with Dead Space. His whole presentation was basically an impressive live demo of the game. It started with the protagonist checking his weapons so the developers can show off the in-game HUD. Your inventory, for example, is displayed as if it were in the game world, allowing you to move the camera around it. From the he enters and area that’s suddenly locked down for “biocontainment” (i.e. “big freakin’ monster about to eat your organs”). A big monster jumps out and roars, while the main character backs off and draws a weapon. He starts taking shots at the monster and occasionally getting knocked back by it. Eventually he manages to blow off some limbs and bring the thing down. The whole scene was quite a spectacle and definitely felt tense. The demo ended by having the main character suddenly grabbed by a big tentacle, trying to shoot his way out, and ultimately getting dragged into the darkness. This game is going to scare the crap out of me when it’s released on October 21st.
The European Studio head, Patrick Soderlund, was up next with a live demo for Mirror’s Edge. It basically showed a quick run-through of a portion of a mission. The whole time, the audience “oohed” and “aahed” and gasped when it seemed like the person playing the demo was about to plunge to their death. Overall though, the game looks a lot like Prince of Persia in the first-person; and I mean that as a compliment. The game’s main character, Faith, has about the same skill set as the Prince: balancing on narrow ledges, jumping huge gaps, running along walls, etc. She can also use a variety of combat moves to disarm opponents and beat them down. Lately, I’ve been thinking of it as kind of the “Assassin’s Creed” of this year; that is, a really unique and interesting game that a lot of people are going to love, and a lot of people are going to hate.
Will Wright took the stage afterwards to talk about Spore and steal the show in my opinion. His whole presentation was filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and some great examples of how even just the Spore Creature Creator has far surpassed their expectations. For instance, their goal of 100,000 creatures in their database by September was met in 22 hours (a fun fact he stated: there are now more creatures in the Spore database than there actually are in existence). He stressed the fusion of science and creativity when it came to designing Spore, and topped the whole thing off with a new trailer. I don’t think there was anyone in that room doubting that Spore is going to be one of the biggest and most innovative games ever.
Following that was another well-known name in the industry: Peter Moore, who came to talk about EA Sports. These aren’t exactly the most thrilling titles around, and Moore seemed to know that since he brought in a few celebrity spokespeople. For NBA Live 09, he was accompanied by NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Walton, who then went on to crack up the entire audience. They discussed the new “dynamic DNA” system for the game, which will analyze how strong players are in certain situations — this information will be updated daily during the season. Moore also announced the new “All-Play” brand of games, which basically provides some optional assistance in games to make it more accessible to some people. To demonstrate this, he played some Tiger Woods 09 on the Wii against pro-golfer (and super-leggy) Natalie Gublis. The games weren’t all that interesting, but the demonstrations sure were.
Then came the lull in the show; the part that seemed to just have one unimpressive announcement after another. EA Online reps came out to discuss their new “Nucleus” system whcih basically gives you a gamer profile for EA games. You’ll also use this profile for microtransactions (there was lots of muttering from the audience at that point). Shawn Fanning (yes, the Napster guy) announced “Rupture,” which is essentially another type of gamer profile with achievements. The only distinctive feature seemed to be the fact that you can create your own achievement and challenge your friends. Then Travis Boatman from EA Mobile was up next to talk about EA’s line-up for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I actually felt kind of sorry for him up there, especially when he asked if anyone in the audience had an iPhone and only ten people raised their hands.
Then we came back to the exciting bits; or so we though. Greg Zeschuk from BioWare came out to debut the first trailer for their new game Dragon Age Origins. Frankly, the trailer wasn’t impressive at all. All it showed was a cinematic of a human army and a monster army running at each other; it was like watching The Lord of the Rings.
Gabe Newell from Valve walked out on the stage next, looking like he’d just woken up from a nap…and proceeded to wow the audience with some new details on Left 4 Dead. For one, the game will actually include two-player splitscreen (good news to those who get tired of having their Xbox-less friends being out of luck). For another, the game will include a “director,” which will shape the game based on how you play and reward you for playing well. To demonstrate this, he showed two clips of two different groups. The first group hadn’t been playing well and were low on ammo and health, so they only had to deal with a couple zombies running at them. The second group had been organized and playing well, so they had to deal with a dozen zombies; but they got a crazy explosion for a finale when they defeated them. This game is definitely going to develop a following once it’s released.
The last presentation came as a surprise. Riccitello took the stage briefly to announce a new partnership with id to produce their titles (a job previously in the hands of Activision) and then introduced John Carmack. Unfortunately, all we really got from Carmack was that we’ll hear more from them at QuakeCon. However, he did end the show with a quick trailer for their new IP, Rage, which promises to fuse Doom’s playstyle with some driving gameplay. The trailer was certainly pretty, but it was hard to gauge just what the game will be like from it.