E3 next week and expectations heating up

Now that E3 is almost back to its glory, all kinds of speculations and expectations started coming out. Even new trailers for games started showing up already (Check the Bayonetta trailer below). Although, I would rather wait until the big three conferences actually announce what they are working on, I can’t help ignore all the media buzz around the conference.

In previous posts, I wrote about what I would like to see in a potential new PSP, and the next gen of video game consoles.

So here is a summary of the hot potential news:

Hardware
Sony:
– New UMD-less PSP or even a whole new PSP
– A new PS3 redesign and/or price cut and/or new bundles

Microsoft:
– Potential new bundles with Xbox Live accounts, Games, new peripherals …etc

Nintendo:
– Nothing new?

Motion Control:

Both Sony and Microsoft are expected to announce a new motion controller that could be camera based. Recent media buzz talked about Microsoft potentially using the motion control technology developed by Canesta, a company that develops 3-D sensors that allow consumer electronic devices to see your gestures. Microsoft also has a definitive agreement to buy a company called 3DV Systems which has been working on a 3-D depth camera that can detect motion and position which is much more accurate than the Wii game controller. There are rumors that Microsoft is also talking to Prime Sense about licensing their 3D-Depth Camera. The funny thing is that Microsoft had an internal team try to develop their own tech but it decided not to go with it.

Nintendo obviously has the lead in this field but would better technology from Sony or Microsoft affect them? Well, after 50+ Million Wii units sold, I doubt it. Sony and Microsoft lost this round at least in terms of numbers sold.


Games:

Sony: God of War III, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, MAG, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer, and Pixeljunk Shooter. Pushing more PSN titles
Microsoft: Alan Wake, Halo 3: ODST, Forza Motorsport 3, and a potential new Peter Molyneux game. ???Maybe MGS4 for the Xbox360???. Other new DLC
Nintendo: Metroid Prime Trilogy, Sin and Punishment 2, and Wii Sports Resort. Other new Mario and/or Zelda games. New DSi titles?

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Two great looking open world games coming soon

Prototype is an open world action game developed by Radical Entertainment (an Activision studio). Release Date is 6/9/2009 coming out on the PS3, Xbox360, and PC. Check out this missions video to see what it offers:

InFamous is another open world action game developed by Sucker Punch and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). I see a lot of similar and dissimilar elements to Prototype. Release Date is 5/26/2009 coming out exclusively on the PS3.

Check out this developer video to see more about InFamous:

Both games offer a range of techniques and more freedom to the player to explore how to accomplish tasks.

Playstation Phone a possibility (PSP+SmartPhone=iPSP)

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In a previous post, I wrote a little about my dream PSP + Smart Phone combo. This might not be too far fetched. Hideki (Dick) Komiyama, president of Sony Ericsson says here:

He expresses interest in Sony Ericsson carving out a niche for itself based on Sony’s strength in gaming. He says a PlayStation mobile, building on the Walkman and Cybershot phones, “could happen”.

Sony Ericsson never developed anything to compete with Apple’s iPhone. Being a Sony fanboy, I would love to see a PSP with smart phone capability. If Sony to have any chance in competing with the iPhone, they need to create a market for Independent developers to publish their applications. Creating an Operating system like the OS X for the iPhone is a huge undertaking. Sony is better off using an existing solution like Google Android.

The Palm Pre phone looks pretty compelling. It has multi-touch screen like the iPhone and the ability to have multiple activities open at the same time. Along with some advanced syncing for calendars and contacts and a full sliding keyboard.

Sony can attempt to copy Apple and offer two models. One that is for Gaming with no phone (same as iTouch) and one with a phone (call it iPSP). What do you think?

Update 5/25/09: If I was Sony, I would make sure that the new PSP can run most PS2 game out there. Imagine shadows of the colossus on PSP, that would be cool.

The next Gen of Gaming Consoles!

Next Xbox Consoleplaystation4psp2small

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are considering their options for the timing and features of their next generation consoles. In recent news we have heard several announcements about potential designs and human interaction technologies from several companies.

For example, Microsoft announced here that it will introduce a full body motion controller.

Sony registered a PS Cloud trademark here. Also Sony is speculated to announce a new motion sensing controller at E3 this year.

In GDC 2009, OnLive announced the first Cloud based Micro console for TVs which can also be accessed from any Win-based or Mac computer.

A startup company called Canesta specializes in electronic perception technology that enables products to sense, perceive, interact with, and understand the world around them has been gaining grounds in the consumer electronic market.

The layout of the industry keeps changing in light of new technologies and new offerings. The following factors have to be taken into consideration when designing and planning any new hand-held, home based, or even cloud based console (I will be adding more to this list):

  • People are open to trying new paradigms of interaction such as the WiiMote and the Apple iPhone touch screen interface. To differentiate your offering, you must come up with an immersive interactive input device
  • The Apple iPhone has proven itself as a viable gaming platform. The iTunes App Store just passed a billion downloads. Apple’s investment in creating more robust Apps has paid off big time not only for Apple but for Indie developers as well
  • Indie developers and user generated content have to be taken seriously
  • The ability to quickly test and iterate the game on the target hardware is crucial. The Hardware can deviate from proven working paradigms (that developers are familiar with) only if it offers something that can’t be achieved otherwise. If you require people to learn something new, it has to achieve something that they could not do before
  • The big players know that its all about content, ensure that great content will be available on your hardware and people are likely to buy it and developers are likely to spend more time developing for it
  • Publishers would rather use digital distribution rather than physical mediums. Piracy has been increasing and affecting software sales of many consoles
  • Price does matter. Offering a premium price will significantly narrow down your user base
  • The Wii has expanded the market and performed much better than the powerful PS3 and Xbox 360
  • Cloud based computing is getting more popular. It is still unproven for Games and only OnLive seems to have solved the problem. If you plan to make a console that competes against Cloud gaming, it must offer more than just gaming. More about this in the Sony section below
  • You can’t expect people in the Middle East and China to pay $60 for a game. The only reason the PS2 sold so well there is that the software was pirated and games sold for $1/game
  • Study the numbers (based on http://vgchartz.com/):

Apple reported that it sold more than 30M iPhone and iPod Touch devices by the end of 2008

More than a billion downloads from the App store has been reported

Sony

Sony plays a major role in the Gaming Industry. It owns many of the best studios in the world and used to have exclusive content agreements with many publishers (namely Square Enix, Konami, & Capcom).

The PS2 did great, the PS3 is still trying to gain more grounds. The PSP has a unique position in the market (more on this below). Sony has always been trying to push the technology forward with innovations outside of the gaming domain; such as DVD capability in the PS2, Blu Ray in the PS3, movies/music/images/web in the PSP and PS3.

Now that the layout of the market is changing with new potential competitors entering the field such as OnLive, Sony’s offering has to adapt. Sony’s vision to rule the living room is still valid. I use my PS3 to store all my music, digital movies, pictures, and games (obviously). I bought a Tera Byte USB drive that connects to my PS3 and it acts my home desktop. I use my laptop for everything else and my home desktop has not been turned on for months. I heard that some people installed Linux on the PS3 and they use it as a DVR.

To compete against cloud based gaming like OnLive, Sony and even Microsoft need to enrich the experience surrounding their consoles. That applies to hand held devices as well.

The PSP is the only high end hand held gaming device available. The Nintendo DS is great but you can’t play a 3D GTA on the DS. There has been rumors about the PSP 2 (check here as well)which is likely to include a touch screen and a sliding game pad.

For casual gamers, the iPhone games are good enough. But if you want more console quality games in a hand held device, right now your only choice is the PSP. Even though the PSP is filling the serious hand held gaming device niche, it has not been the dominant device in the market.

My dream PSP would be an iPhone with the gaming capability of the PSP. Are there enough people like me who want a high end gaming experience on a mobile device that is more than just a hand held console?

I was thinking about the Amazon Kindle and how it uses the mobile network to access books. What if my Mobile device accesses a cloud computer so I don’t even have to run the game on my device locally. The video is transmitted to me in real time on the network and here you go. I get to play a game like Crysis on my cell phone. That would be cool!! hmmm sounds too ambitious. I wonder if there are tricks that can be applied so that the Cloud does not need to stream all the video frames to me.

I intend to write more about this topic in more detail. There are a lot of hot issues related to this. For example, the battle between Rasterization and Ray Tracing. Which will win in the next gen of consoles? What do these terms mean and what does that mean for the consumer?

What about Nintendo and Microsoft? Is OnLive going to deliver on its big launch during GDC? I guess many of these questions will have answers (at least partially) at E3 this year. I would love to hear what people think about this.

Sony takes a major Stock hit

Check here

Bloomberg reports that Sony’s shares fell to their lowest point all week following Credit Suisse’s investment rating cut, dropping 5.9 percent to close at 1,825 yen ($20.32).

Sony …. sighs … the PS3 has not done as well as they expected. Little Big Planet did not sell much more units and Microsoft stole the exclusivity of Final Fantasy. Can it get any worse? Sure … Metal Gear Solid 4 on the Xbox360, that would be a huge hit. Look at the following images:
Sales Rates Nov 2007 - Nov 2008
Sales of Current Gen consoles
Wii and PS3 sales relative to Xbox360 install base (2nd year)
Top shooters on all platforms
Top 20 Software by Unit Sales

All the figures show that the PS3 is significantly is under performing. Sony has invested huge amounts of money in the Cell technology which has been painful for developers to say the least. Only if they had made it a shared memory architecture. Now Sony is laying off people left and right and major restructure is expected.

Plagued by what analysts say are problems with its operating structure and high costs, Sony recently said it would cut 8,000 employees — about 4 percent of its workforce — with the aim of saving $1.1 billion dollars. The company suggested at the time that it might “carefully review and make structural changes” surrounding the PlayStation business.

I think Sony has learned a tough lesson in this console generation and I’m still a firm believe in their ability to turn it around (maybe not so much for the PS3), but definitely for the PS4. They will have to move to a platform architecture that is really easy to develop for and innovate on a couple of things to add something new. The reason I wrote all this is to say, that Sony stock will probably go down further and then it will be a good time to buy.

Havok Behavior on Youtube

My company started offering a free download of the Havok Behavior Tool on http://www.havok.com/tryhavok. We also uploaded several How To videos on Youtube of how to use the tool to accomplish some basic things. You can check out the videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/HavokBehavior

I also linked some of the videos here:


Take Two Still independent

Looks like Take Two will not be part of EA after all. According to this Gamasutra article, Take two will remain independent. The success of Grand Theft Auto IV infused a lot of cash to Take Two that made it sustain a strong negotiating position with EA. However, looking at Take Two’s stock today, they are valued at $15.16. EA’s offer was to buy them for $25.74/share.

Take-Two CEO Ben Feder says:

Our strong cash position – with no debt and an undrawn $140 million credit facility – gives us the financial flexibility to continue to do what we do best: innovate and create the great games that our customers have come to expect.

Say what you want Ben, your stock value is more than $10 less per share.

Google officially enters the Gaming Industry

Google announced a 3D Virtual world called Lively at the Austin GDC.

Most importantly, Hanna quietly announced that while you can currently embed any Google Gadget into Lively’s world – such as YouTube videos or weather reports running on virtual TVs – the company will soon be providing an API for developers to create new interactive gadgets to run in the space. ……

…… And, taking that idea to its logical conclusion, Hanna said that the Lively team also had on its roadmap opening the API further to create entire 3D games entirely through Lively, to use, he said, “the economy that we’ve set up… and build own games on top of that – it opens up a world of possibilities” from his 11 year old daughter creating content to a startup building their “dream game” – not one based on what a publisher dictates.

Check the Gaming Industry article here and Google’s Lively page here. Check the follow Youtube video:

This is direct competition to Linden Lab makers of Second Life. Soon, the Playstation Home will launch on the PS3 and it offers pretty much the same experience. Second Life has the biggest install base as of now and I’m sure Google has a solid plan for Lively. Sony’s Home is not in the same space since its focused on PS3 users, but I could see Sony is already investing a lot of time and effort into it, they might as well make it accessible on PCs. We will see how this plays out.

Here is a video that shows Sony’s Home:

And here is an introductory video of Second Life:

Arabic MMO announced

A new Games publisher called Game Power 7 was started in Dubai to publish/develop games targeting the Arab market. Check this interesting presentation that shows many facts about the region and gives you an idea about the culture/challenges faced by Game companies.

An interview with their general manager is posted at: http://www.incgamers.com/Games/2310/Interviews/Arabic-MMO-Interview/146

“The game is a localized version of Rappelz, the successful game from NFlavor. Our localized name is “Rappelz: Hope of Nations” ….. Our vision is to service the whole spectrum of gaming industry in the region, which includes game development, game publishing, and digital game content publishing. Our short-midterm plan is to focus on MMO Games and game content digital publishing.

High rates of game piracy in the region is a major barrier for conducting business in offline gaming genres.”