E3 2009 - Ubisoft: The Highlights

by John Constantine

The problem with most press conferences in the gaming industry is that, with a few notable exceptions, there just aren’t many entertaining personalities. The marketing executives, the publisher presidents, the developers, everyone. The vast majority of them are pretty dull. It’s not their job to keep a crowd entertained for two plus hours. They make games. So, at first blush, you can understand the logic behind Ubisoft’s hiring of “The Soup” host Joel McHale as the host for their E3 press conference. McHale’s an entertainer. He also entertained, but the man’s scripted humor didn’t do much to save Ubisoft’s big-on-talk, low-on-games show.

Most of the first hour was devoted to talking up Ubi’s new multimedia initiative. With their acquisition of special effects studio Hybride Technologies, the French publisher has slowly but surely built towards their dream of making more than video games. Ubi started collaborating directly with filmmakers when developer Michel Ancel worked with Peter Jackson on 2005’s “King Kong”.

Today, Ubisoft Montreal’s Yannis Mallot discussed his studio’s collaboration with James Cameron on “Avatar”. Cameron himself came out to talk to the crowd about how both the “Avatar” game and movie share a metric ton of three-dimensional art assets. Ubi themselves have produced one-hundred shots for the film. They also revealed that the “Avatar” game is the first stereoscopic three-dimensional game. Even though the game’s on the E3 show floor, we didn’t get a demo from Mr. Cameron.

No platform got as much love as Nintendo’s Wii during Ubisoft’s show. “Red Steel 2” finally made its playable debut. The game’s cel-shaded look is certainly fetching (though not quite as spectacular looking as the leaked trailers indicated.) The WiiMotion Plus sword-swinging combat also looks smooth and easy to pick up. As director Jason Vanderberghe put it, it’s fun to hit things with a giant stick. The big news was that “Red Steel 2” will come bundled with the WiiMotion Plus, a big incentive for players who might have been put off by needing to buy a peripheral separate from the game. Ubi also confirmed that they would indeed be publishing “No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle” here in the West, but they didn’t so much as show a trailer. Very strange. Other big Wii titles were “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash Up”, a “Super Smash Bros” clone so perfect it’s actual made by the same developer, and “Rabbids Go Home”. Players ready to write “Rabbids” off as a casual only game should give this one a shot as it looks like a lot of fun. In the game, you play as two raving rabbids pushing around a grocery cart and collecting any and all stuff you find in the human world so you can build a giant trash tower to the moon. In practice, it comes off as a mix of “Katamari Damacy” and “Jet Grind Radio”. Just with, you know, a lot more rabid screaming. One to look out for.

The HD ready consoles had a pretty anemic showing. The exact same demo of “Splinter Cell: Conviction” shown at Microsoft’s press conference reappeared here. The much anticipated “Assassin’s Creed 2” was, sadly, only shown in trailer form. The trailer, though, is pretty dang sweet. Ubisoft also talked about how, with their new filmmaking ambitions and technology, they can render three-dimensional environments for their films that are literally pulled straight out of their games. “Assassin’s Creed 2” will be one of the first games to utilize the technology with a series of short films based on the game preceding its release. There was no “Beyond Good and Evil 2” and many people were sad.

There were two more announcements from the presser worth taking note of. The first is that Ubisoft will be collaborating with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg on the games and film of “The Adventures of Tin Tin”. No more news than that, but given the depth of their partnership with James Cameron, it’s promising indeed. The other announcement was even more vague. Tetsuya Miziguchi and Q? Entertainment are working on something called “Project Eden” for Ubisoft. All they said was that the game will be very much in line with Q?s previous games. Come on spiritual sequel to “Rez”! All in all, a pretty uneventful show. These are games we’re talking about, though. You got to play them to know about them. Naturally, you’ll hear all about our time with Ubisoft’s games as the week goes on.