SANTA MONICA, California — In an E3 role reversal, the once-dominant Sony focused its press conference on reclaiming attention with an avalanche of games and a new, more casual attitude.
Previous Sony press conferences were heavy on Power Point presentations. Wednesday’s, held at a soundstage at Culver City Studios, began with Sony exec Jack Tretton speaking through his PlayStation Home virtual-world avatar, projected onto four big movie screens. He said he was nervous, telling the assembled reporters and financial analysts that he’d checked four times to make sure his fly was zipped up.
Clearly, this wasn’t the buttoned-up Sony of before.
The company did make one hardware announcement during the 100-minute PlayStation event. Sony Computer Entertainment President Kaz Hirai came to the stage and pulled a PSP from his pocket. It looked like a regular unit, but he said it was a new model, set for release in September. “When you have it in your hand the difference is clear,” he said, noting that it is a third lighter than the current model and 19 percent slimmer. He also said the system’s batteries will last longer and games will load faster, but didn’t put any figures on the improved times. The new unit can be plugged into a TV, so that whatever is on the PSP’s screen can be viewed on home sets. It will be released in black and a new “ice silver” color; there is also a white model with a drawing of Darth Vader on it. That one was introduced by a man who took the stage dressed in a Chewbacca suit.
After the PSP showing, the games took over the conference. First Sony showed the smaller ones: the downloadable PS3 titles for the PlayStation Network. Sony’s Phil Harrison announced that 80 downloadable games and “game packs” are in development for the PSN. Of the 80, he chose to initially showcase a radical project from Japan that he described as “a game that possibly has the least graphics and most gameplay of any game you are going to see this week.” On the screen behind him flashed the game’s name “Echochrome.” A line drawing appeared of a stick figure walking around a simple optical illusion — an infinitely looping stairway — on a stark white background.
After the conference Harrison explained to MTV News that the character will walk automatically on stages composed of optical-illusion-based paths, leaving the player to discover — or create — new passageways by rotating the playing field. Onstage, Harrison also plugged PSN titles “WipeOut HD,” “Pain,” “SOCOM: Confrontation” and “Warhawk.”
Harrison fleshed out details of the Home service, which he debuted at Game Developers Conference in March (see “Sony Unveils Big PS3 Secret: Gamers Get To Go ‘Home’ “ ). He showed new spaces, like a redesigned outdoor campus area that replaces the original demo’s indoor lobby. He showed more nuanced connectivity than before, snapping a photo of the E3 conference attendees with a Home-enabled cell phone, uploading that photo to the wall in his virtual ski lodge and then uploading a screen shot of that wall onto a sample social-networking Web site. He said Home remains on track for a free release to all PS3 users this fall.
Microsoft may have “Halo 3″ coming this year (see “Microsoft Shows Off Blockbuster Holiday Lineup At E3 Kickoff” ), but Sony flexed a muscular reply by announcing PS3-only first-person shooters “Haze” and “Unreal Tournament III,” which will both be on Sony systems exclusively for this year, at least.
To close the show, Harrison did the E3-cliché “oh I almost forgot, there’s one more thing” bit before bringing out a developer to demonstrate a playable level of the eye-popping, not-in-2007 FPS “Killzone 2.”
Sony also announced the exclusive console development services of massively multiplayer online game developer NCsoft (though no details were offered as to which types of online games the company would provide), as well as highlighting major PS3 games from major developers, most significantly, “Metal Gear Solid 4,” from Konami’s Hide Kojima. The renowned developer took the stage and tried to stifle a fit of coughing to explain that he was marking “MGS4″ as the end of his involvement in the 20-year “Metal Gear” saga he created. He showed a new trailer of the game and said he will play the game publicly for the first time next week at a PlayStation event in Tokyo. “MGS4″ is now set for an early 2008 release.
Sony also promised 15 games by the end of March 2008 from the company’s vast internal studios. Highlighted projects included action game “Heavenly Sword,” the new “Ratchet and Clank” and the crowd-pleasing “Little Big Planet.”
Sony held E3 week’s longest press conferences and the one that showcased the most games and the most developers (see “Nintendo At E3: Mad ‘Mario’ Titles On The Way; Wii Zapper Could Be A Future Shock” ). It was a sign that the company, though rocked by negative reaction to the PS3′s high price and slower-than-Wii sales, still has a lot of fuel in its tank.
After the conference Harrison leaned against the stage to talk games and fielded a question from MTV News about the game-show-buzzer controller Microsoft had shown the night before. It certainly resembled the game-show-buzzer controller Harrison has championed for the successful PS2 game show video game “Buzz!” that’s out in Europe and is coming to America later this year.
“That’s always the fun thing about this industry,” he said. “There are leaders and there are followers.” It’s clear which team Sony is determined to be.
Check out the new MTV News Multiplayer blog, updated daily, currently in beta and, this week, delivering more E3 coverage than you can shake a controller at.