CULVER CITY, California — Here's an unexpected twist: the PlayStation 3 controller, like that of the rival Nintendo Wii, will be motion sensitive.
And here's the blockbuster: the PlayStation 3 will cost a minimum $499 when it is released in the U.S on November 17. A fully featured PS3 will cost $599.
Sony executives made a muscular showing of their PlayStation 3 Monday night during the company's traditional pre-E3 media briefing at a massive soundstage on the Sony Pictures lot (see "An Insider's Look At E3 Week: PS3 Games, Wii Preview, 'Sonic' Revamp"). Demonstrating an array of games and services for the next-gen system, Sony left the thousand-plus gaming industry professionals in attendance intrigued by PS3, if not as uniformly bowled over as a year ago when the company showcased a series of stunning trailers for PS3 games.
Of course, last year's showing was as natural as an 80-homerun season. Unlike 2005's dazzling barrage of concept trailers running off PCs or rendered in advance (see "PlayStation 3 Will Let You See The Spit Fly Like Never Before"), this year's graphically rich but toned-down games were being played live on PS3 hardware. The game included an E3-only "Gran Turismo HD," the medieval Japanese war game "Genji 2" and a first-person shooter pitting 1950s soldiers against alien invaders called "Resistance: Fall of Man."
Those demos received applause, but cheers and gasps were reserved for stylish video-only displays of a desert gas-station shootout from a Sony London game called "Eight Days" and a trailer for 2007's "Metal Gear Solid 4" that concluded with an old, wrinkled version of the series' long-time hero Solid Snake putting a gun in his own mouth and pulling the trigger.
A brutal blade-fighting fantasy game called "Heavenly Sword," starring a curvaceous killer redhead, appeared to be the crowd favorite among those games that were played live on PS3 hardware for the crowd.
"The next generation doesn't start until we say it does," Sony's PlayStation division chief Kaz Hirai said to kick off the hour-long conference. "Today PlayStation 3 is real. The future becomes reality." While competitors weren't mentioned, Hirai quickly took shots at Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, saying "We're not about cutting corners to rush a product to market. And we're certainly not interested in gimmicks, clever rhetoric or conventional thinking."
Near the show's end, Ken Kutaragi, the so-called "father of the PlayStation," came out to discuss the need for a game controller that could allow players to "communicate in the 4D world." He called out Phil Harrison, Sony's head of worldwide studios, to demonstrate. The men made clear that the boomerang-curved PS3 controller of last year's E3 was done for. The PS3 controller, it turned out, would look like a wireless PSOne and PS2 DualShock controller but — Harrison demonstrated as Kutaragi leaned casually against the podium to his side — the PS3 device reads motion as it's moved in mid-air. A developer demonstrated the feature with the flying combat game "Warhawk," pitching and twisting the controller to pitch and roll the onscreen fighter.
Here was Nintendo Wii's most unique aspect (outside of the decision to shape its controller like a remote control) getting imitated by the company that has handily defeated Nintendo in the last two console generations — and that it once partnered with in a never-released project that a spurned Sony turned into the first PlayStation. Nintendo announced its motion-sensitive controller last September (see "Nintendo Revolution Controller Unveiled, And It's Revolutionary"). After the conference, Harrison explained that Sony had a working version of its motion-sensitive controller for the last couple of weeks. (Unlike the Wii controller, the PS3 does not support vibrating force-feedback.)
"I'm so excited about what this means for the consumer," Harrison said during the presentation. "Don't you just love surprises? Isn't that the coolest thing?"
Of interest to consumers as well were the final details given at the conference: the launch date and price of the system. Like the Xbox 360, the PS3 will launch with two versions. One will feature a 20GB hard drive, the other a 60GB. Both PS3s will make their global debut in Japan on November 11, followed by release in North America, Europe and Australia on November 17. The 20GB version will retail in the U.S. for $499 ($549 Canadian; 499 Euros). The bigger version will sell for $599 ($659 Canadian, 599 Euros). The lower price point already gives the PS3 the highest price tag of any console in over decade.
The company promised that 2 million PS3s will be available worldwide at launch, with 2 million more shipped by year's end, all in an attempt to stave off the shortages that plagued last year's launch of the Xbox 360.
Other game announcements during the conference included a video-only demonstration of one of the two "Final Fantasy XIII" games slated for release on PS3, one that showed little difference between the graphical quality of the ever-stunning non-interactive story scenes and the in-game battles. EA chairman Larry Probst promised 10 titles, including "Madden," for release within the "weeks and months following the launch." A demonstration of character movement and foot placement in "NBA Live" pledged an end to in-game players who look like they're ice skating over the courts they play.
Also on video was the dragon-flying game "Lair," a gritty new "Getaway," a gunfight-in-the-jungle adventure from "Jak and Daxter" developer Naughty Dog, and a sumptuous display of African wildlife for a game code-named "Afrika" that prompted one attendee to quip: "That's the nicest looking screensaver I've ever seen."
Sony demonstrated a pair of unconventional but actually playable titles. "Eye of Judgment" uses a PS3 Eyetoy and specially tagged playing cards to spawn 3D monsters that appear, on TV, to be standing on the real-life table where their corresponding cards are placed. Sliding the cards on the table makes the monsters appear to move and clash on that table. "SingStar" expanded the idea of console-powered karaoke with an online shop that may let players not only download a video and song to sing along to but also offers the ability to upload video of their performances to share on a MySpace-styled page.
Sony gave a little room in its conference to PlayStation 2 and PlayStation portable. Hirai pointed to a roster of PS2 exclusives including "God of War II" and "Okami" as a sign of continued support for that platform. He demonstrated the PSP's coming ability to download and run PSOne games by playing (somewhat poorly, he joked) the original "Ridge Racer" on the handheld. He said the company would have 155 new games for PSP before March 2007, including a breakdancing game called "B-Boy," the cartoony blob adventure "Loco Roco" and the crime drama "Gangs of London."
Such is the nature of these conferences that executives such as Hirai feel confident saying things like, "Online for the PlayStation 3 is as essential as the air that we breathe." But most of what was shown and discussed at the conference appeared to be things that Sony could actually deliver. That may have made for a less stunning show than last year, but still provided a robust display of PS3's capabilities — Blu-Ray high-definition movie playback and internal hard drive included — and, Sony must hope, justification of its cost.
Details of exactly which games will launch with the system remain forthcoming. The rest of the cards, including those that spawn monsters, are now on the table.
For more E3 coverage from MTV News and MTV Games, check out e3.mtv.com.