360 gives us the run around
Absolute pandemonium: that's how I would describe this week's frenzy in the build up to Microsoft's cunning MTV special unveiling the beautiful yet ridiculously named Xbox 360. It was a banal, dumbed-down success, yet, it has done more to market the game industry to the casual gamer than anything seen since Sony started advertising their new PlayStation console on ITV.
So, understandably, many hardcore gamers will have felt left out, indeed, disenchanted with the show. Alas, this minority is as far from the minds of Team Xbox and ourcolony.net (already basking in the hardcore respect gained from the first Xbox and Halo) as a challenge from Nintendo. They have higher sights. Now Xbox is expanding - and the mainstream is the target.
Which is what the MTV show was all about really. It was a game publisher breaking out of the traditional E3 format; it was about shunning the chattering tech websites and specialist magazines for a populist music cable channel; It was about paying celebrities appearance fees to play games and endorse a console; It was about a band playing rock; It was about everything the industry needs to do to break out of the stodgy, binding mould it finds itself in.
Just looking at the 360 itself reveals a readjustment in direction. From black to 'chill'; from monstrosity to 'inhale'; from stationary hard-drive to mobile hard-drive; from girlfriend crazy web of wires to a wireless utopia; from standardisation to personalisation; from a factory look to whatever look you want; from a boot screen to an ultimate media hud; from a game console to an all conquering, media bonanza, the Xbox 360 is Microsoft's new weapon, and they hope the whole world will feel its force come Christmas.
Purists will object of course. Those who defend the basic gameplay thrills of a five-minute WarioWare Inc blast will lambaste the MTV show as more Oscars than E3. But as the tills ring, execs in sunny California will be smiling. This, like it or not, is the future of the games industry. As it attempts to grow, swell and expand, more and more of us will be absorbed by the relentlessness of viral marketing campaigns, celebrity gamers and casual friendliness. If you listen very carefully, you can almost hear the universe exhaling.
Booth babes get booted out
My first experience of the booth babe phenomenon was a strange, but captivating one. At the now defunct GameStars Live a while back, a new company called Gizmondo was trying to convince the public that they should be interested in their new, strange looking handheld. How did they do it? They drove a jeep into the hall and told attractive models in skimpy outfits to writhe around on the bonnet. Genius.
It doesn't help make the machine any better, but I'll never forget it. In a market targeted at young males, it's a no brainer. Sex sells, of course, and, to horny teenagers it pretty much slaps them in the face. There are those, however, that take a very different view.
This week, it was revealed that game publisher Agetec, responsible for Armored Core: Nexus, Echo Night: Beyond and Fisherman's Bass Club had launched AntiBoothBabes.com to coincide with their campaign to get games back to the top of the agenda. At E3 next week their booth won't not be adorned by silicone and g-strings, but... wait for it... ten unattractive women instead.
That's right - they've reversed the whole concept. At E3 Agetec's anti-babes will be handing out 'Granny Panties' with Agetec's logo on it. It is of course, a moot point. Agetec aren't in it for some moral high ground, they're in it for publicity. They hope that people will come to their booth to see the mingers they have on show out of pure curiosity (and perhaps some morbid fantasy), and then play a few of their games. Clever, but, ultimately, just another cog in the marketing merry-go-round that is E3.
PS3 and Revolution fight back... What are they again?
It's like being in a playground, it really is. So Microsoft get the Internet to themselves for a week. So what? Well Sony and Nintendo can't be having that can they? In an attempt to steal some of the 360's thunder, some important announcements were made this week about the PS3 and Revolution next-generation consoles.
First up, Sony Chief Financial Officer Takao Yuhara mentioned in a statement to a Japanese news service that a year end release of the next generation PlayStation is an option they are exploring. Most believe the comment isn't serious and is in fact intended to deflect attention away from the hullabaloo caused by the MTV show. If, however, it turns out to be accurate, it would really rain on Microsoft's parade - a parade they were sure would give them a head start on Sony and Nintendo. At E3 we will know more, of course. We'll see how far into the PS3 design and production process Sony really is. If a 2005 launch is realistically viable, those Xbox execs will have to forget the pre-E3 celebrations and start sweating again.
Then, we had Nintendo's overlooked leak of information about their Revolution. Perrin Kaplin, Nintendo of America's VP for corporate affairs, went on record saying it will, like the 360, feature out-of-the-box online connectivity, wireless controllers, a futuristic design (it will be the thickness of three DVD cases and only slightly longer) and backwards compatibility. These details are more concrete than the suggested PS3 2005 release, but are still designed to take back some of the tech-web gossip so callously monopolised by Microsoft. Unlike Sony, Nintendo have re-affirmed their release date of 2006.
Expect E3 to iron out all of the tit-bits, scare-mongering and idle chitchat. I suppose in a way, that's what it does best. Be sure to check out Pro-G's E3 coverage for the latest news.
The children will be released
Regular readers of this column will be well aware of my obsession with the CGI movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. I've been reporting any snippets of info or gossip I've managed to get my hands on as if they were gold dust. This week, I burst - we got a release date.
Mark September 14th in your diary. That's when America and Japan get it, and that's the date when mine will be imported. Crucially, news of a UMD release for PSP has gone strangely quiet. Remember, when the film was originally announced, it was planned as a PSP only exclusive. At the time, I thought the only reason to get a PSP would be for Advent Children (tries to hide obvious Final Fantasy fanboyism), not some shoddy Ridge Racers port.
Perhaps this change in direction is the result of poor sales of the PSP, perhaps not. Either way, I hope they do the right thing and release it on both formats. Me being me, I'd get both. Watch it going to work on the tube, watch it going home on the bus, and watch it on my DVD player when I get home. Nice.
You're never too old to play with toy soldiers
The one time I visited Japan I was amazed at everything I saw - the neon lights, the sushi, the way teenagers respect adults and how you never hear the sirens of police frantically trying to break up some drunken punch-up outside a town-centre pub. Another was the incredible difference between game stores in the west and in shopping districts like Akihabara.
There's just so much more to them than games. Step into any GAME store in the UK, and you'll see walls covered in shelved games. Do the same in Tokyo, and half might be games, the other is merchandise. And I'm not just talking strategy guides or mouse mats here - I'm talking some crazy stuff.
Some of which are figurines - figurines from Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Tekken, Dragonball Z, Dragon Quest and a million other Japanese RPGs. So enamoured was I with this new-found phenomenon, that I spent a sizeable chunk of my hard earned Yen on a Yojimbo figurine. For the uninitiated, Yojimbo is a samurai demon from Final Fantasy X, complete with demon dog and a dirty great samurai sword. He stands proudly on my PS2 at home, guarding me from evil spirits and wandering sprites.
But this week, I noticed something that might send me back to Akihabara and those brilliant lights. The National Entertainment Collectibles Association announced that it has signed a licensing deal with game publisher Capcom. The agreement lets NECA create a line of figurines based on Resident Evil 4, or, as it's known in Japan, Biohazard. Expect prototypes on show at E3 next week, with final versions available come November. Anyone who wants one, let me know, I'm saving for my flight as we speak.
This week's releases
This week Xbox owners can give their PlayStation 2 owning friends a cheeky smile, safe in the knowledge that the Xbox finally has a game that can compete with, if not better, the great Gran Turismo series. Forza Motorsport is truly one of the greatest racing simulations ever to be released, on any platform. It should go down in history as one of the greatest Xbox games ever made.
If you really don't fancy Forza you might like to have a sing-along to SingStar Popworld on the PlayStation 2 or get some close season football management action with the console versions (PlayStation 2 and Xbox) of Championship Manager 5. GameCube owners are once again left with little to choose from, with only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: BattleNexus on offer to them.
- Championship Manager 5 (PS2, Xbox)
- Forza Motorsport (Xbox)
- Kessen III (PS2)
- Neocron 2 - Beyond Dome of York (PC)
- Sacred Underworld (PC)
- SingStar Popworld (PS2)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: BattleNexus (GameCube)