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Hola Amigos! After a 3+ years hiatus, it feels great to be back here, writing about games once again. I hung it up for a while because I was working in the industry for a major publisher, and it would have been impossible for me to write about the video games I was genuinely excited about without introducing all sorts of conflict.

In the interim, I poured some thoughts put about fatherhood and my 2 awesome daughters over at We’re Gonna Need More Bathrooms. Even after I had moved on career-wise, I found myself with so little time to play that it didn’t really make much sense to opine on the industry.
Getting away from games for a while has gotten me more in touch with what I REALLY love about games in the first place.

Listening to a bunch of pleasant Michiganders describe their fledgling board game company on the Happy Mitten Podcast is inspiring, and I can’t get enough of Wil Wheaton’s excellent YouTube show TableTop, where he plays a new board game every week with a different assortment of friends. Games frame the fun. They give us something to commune over.

03_10_11_sneakysnackysquirrel1At 4 years old, my oldest daughter is starting to ask more and more to play board games with me when her sister naps. And I’m pleasantly surprised at the quality of games for the pre-school set! It’s not exactly a night playing Pandemic with friends, but a quick game of Richard Scarry’s Busytown or Sneaky Snacky Squirrel scratches the “board game” itch pretty well. She’s also moved slowly into video game territory on the iPad, and it’s been interesting to see how her tastes differ from mine, or even what mine were like when I was her age.
Most importantly, the landscape of games — the way we buy, play, and share our games — is undergoing a massive, really interesting change. In 5 years time it will not resemble at all what I grew up with. And that’s made me really, really miss writing about them.
I have played 1 console game in the last 6 months. But I’m still playing. The time has to fit around my day job and parental duties now, and (like so many other gamers these days) that takes the form of whatever device I have with me in that downtime. This week alone, Cliff Bleszinski swore he would never develop another packaged, disc-based game. AND Irrational Games, the studio behind the critically acclaimed BioShock series, called it quits.  Director Ken Levin will be continuing on with a dramatically smaller team, making shorter multiplatform games. These are both on the order of techtonic shifts in the industry, and I think we’ll see a lot more of these in the coming months. Should be a lot of fun.

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According to the industry’s typical cycles, this year’s E3 should see new console unveils from all the major players, as we’re now 5 years out from the Xbox 360 debut.  Those shows have always been light on big game releases from third parties.

With Microsoft and Sony buying time for their flagship consoles via motion control add-ons, the big third-party publishers were very much in support mode this year, mostly showing how their lead franchises work with the new technologies.  From that perspective, this year’s show felt a lot like a “new console hardware” year.  Still, some of the bigger names rose to the top:


  • EA had a strong showing, particularly as part of Nintendo’s 3DS reveal.  We’ll see new Madden, FIFA, and The Sims installments in 3D within a few months of the hardware launch.
  • They’re bringing Tiger Woods golf, which sold very well on the Wii the last two seasons, to the very similar setup of Playstation Move.  It’s a bright star in that lineup.


  • Konami’s also getting a lot of mileage form its most beloved franchises, with Metal Gear Solid Rising seeing a simultaneous release on PS3 and Xbox 360 (a first for this series), as well as a new Metal Gear game for 3DS.  We’ll also see 2 new Castlevania games.  One a boxed retail product on PS3 and Xbox 360, and the other a download-only title to hit very soon as part of Microsoft’s annual “Summer of Arcade” Xbox LIVE promotion.
  • The music genre lost a lot of heat in the past year, and we saw significantly fewer music games in this show as a result.  Glee Karaoke comes along at a great time for that license, and will draw from a large audience of casual gamers for months.


  • Joins EA as the only other third-party publisher to have a launch offering on Move, Kinect, and 3DS.  Although it should be noted, their early titles for Move and Kinect are two very generic feeling sports titles.
  • Ubisoft is benefitting greatly from this much longer console generation.  Their investment in creating big, open-world games is now paying off, as their development teams around the world can relatively quickly put together a sharp looking title like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, or a novel licensed game like the download-only Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
  • They’ve been smart about balancing their catalog among safe sellers and kid-friendly titles, along with edgier fare for niche audiences and hardcore gamers.  That trend will continue this year with new Rayman and Splinter Cell titles showing alongside Michael Jackson: The Game.

MTV Games

  • Again, the music genre is much softer now than last year, but Dance Central was one of the few compelling Kinect games.
  • Rock Band 3 may have some trouble with retailers that got burned with so many big boxes taking up floor space after last Christmas.  Still, adding a new instrument (keyboard) and introducing new modes that promise to teach consumers how to play real instruments (and the new 102-button guitar controller for said mode) breaths some new life into this franchise.

The Bottom Line: Existing franchises that really take advantage of the new hardware (whether it’s 3D or motion control) will sell well, just as if we had whole new consoles out this year.  EA will likely have a strong year from FIFA, their new MMA title, and Madden development at a point where they can really just cruise with minimal updates for the remainder of this generation.

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Sony: Move, PSN subscription model, and a 3D solution tied to the consumer products division

  • My response to Sony’s showing falls much closer to that of Microsoft than Nintendo.  Move is playing in now-familiar territory with a motion control concept tied to a range of peripherals.  Sony does hardware well, and each peripheral in the system is appropriately hefty.  They don’t feel like toys.  Developers are very familiar with motion control peripherals, and the same play styles that worked on the Wii will certainly port well to Move.  All good news for third-party publishers, as the investment into Wii development is suddenly less risky, with another system to port those games onto.
  • 35 Move games were announced at the show.  The vast majority of them will be out by November 2010, so these peripherals will have decent support for the holiday buying season.  I’d be a little concerned with how few known franchises are in the bunch, though.  A lot of these titles are generic, nonlicensed sports games (a la Wii Sports)  and the only well known third-party IPs are 2K’s NBA series, Capcom’s Resident Evil, and Tiger Woods ’10, EA’s only announced Move title.
  • Move is dated September 19 in North America, with rollouts shortly thereafter in other territories.  The bare bones controller will retail for $49.99, but the $99.99 SKU (which includes the EyeToy camera) will be the strongest seller.  Navigation controllers (which are optional and replace the current PS3 Sixaxis controller) will retail for $29.99. New PS3 bundles including both controllers and a camera will hit closer to the holidays for $399.  Microsoft has yet to announce a price for Kinect, but I would expect it to come in right around $150 as a standalone peripheral, and also come bundled with the new form factor Xbox 360 for around $399 as well.  Sony’s a la carte pricing on Move peripherals will probably feel like less of a lift to consumers, but end up costing around the same, or even higher, for the full experience, especially considering most households will want to have more than one player “set” if they commit to Move.
  • The much-rumored premium pricing for Sony’s Playstation Network was finally announced as Playstation Plus.  We know it will cost $49.99 per year, and allow for a “try before you buy” program where customers can play any game for a limited amount of time (specified by the publisher, likely an hour or two) before deciding whether or not to purchase it outright.  It will feature a “game club” of sorts, with Plus members receiving a new, exclusive downloadable title each month.  Beyond that, the PSN offers a lot of features in its current, free-for-everyone state that Xbox Live only grants its paying gold members – Netflix functionality, cross-game voice chat, and Facebook integration.  I feel like this is Sony trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, and generate a revenue stream on par with Xbox Live.  While the PS3 has the highest percentage of consoles online, there are still a healthy percentage of users that simply don’t care to connect their console to any network, free or paid.
  • Sony showed several titles (all produced by either Sony or their partner studios) that will take full advantage of 3D TV sets, but still work on a standard set as a 2D game.  It’s a soft commitment to 3D, especially in light of Nintendo’s offering.  I think it’ll go largely unnoticed by the gaming community in general.  Each player would need an expensive pair of glasses to enjoy it, and I’m not confident 3D TV’s will be ubiquitous over the next year in the average living room at their current prices.

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E3 in Review: Nintendo

Nintendo: True glasses-free 3D in a handheld

  • Coming off a less-than-stellar showing at last year’s E3, Nintendo wasted no time with the first session on Tuesday morning.  They showed great-looking Wii updates to nearly all of their top franchises: in rapid succession we saw a new Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Donkey Kong Country, Metroid, Goldeneye, and the new Mario Sports Mix.  Release dates span this summer (the new Metroid is right around the corner) to Q2 2011.  While the Wii remains a decidedly casual system, dusting off these nostalgic IP’s should help improve the attach rate, getting the consumers that bought the system specifically for Wii Sports or Wii Fit (and don’t typically purchase a lot of software throughout the year) to finally pick up some new games.
  • As expected, Nintendo’s big news was the 3DS reveal.  The hardware is impressive – graphics on par with GameCube’s, a 3D camera, and the ability to watch 3D movies (like Avatar) and play games in true 3D without any glasses.  It maintains the entire DS line’s kid-friendly clamshell design, will run on a free wireless network (similar to Amazon’s Kindle) and be backwards compatible with the DSi’s downloadable games, but no word yet on the existing DS cartridges.  All the models on the show floor have their cartridge slots covered.
  • We still don’t know the release date or price for 3DS, but I would be surprised if Nintendo let this holiday season pass by without at least a release in the US.  They’ve already stated that it will hit in all territories before the end of this fiscal (March 2011), but this hardware seems just about ready for retail now.  They have hundreds of units ready for the show, and it’s very unlike Nintendo to put product into anyone’s hands (press or otherwise) that’s not running smoothly and reliably.  I think we’ll see Nintendo announce a price and date at either the Tokyo Game Show in September, or possibly a standalone press event in New York this fall.  The handheld market has always lagged slightly behind home consoles in price tolerance, so I would expect 3DS to launch at around $199.  Supply could be a real issue in that time frame, so I would expect another Christmas where Nintendo has THE sought-after, tough-to-find gift, and then a phased launch for Asia and then the UK coming a few months after the US launch.
  • 68 games in total were announced as in development for the 3DS.  Of course, they won’t all come out, and they’ll be dispersed throughout the 2011 release calendar.  But if even a quarter of them make it to retail within 3 months of the 3DS’ release, Nintendo will have a very solid launch lineup with support from every third-party publisher of consequence.  Nintendo announced 8 first-party games, including a new Mario Kart and a few remakes of N64 and GameCube titles that should be relatively cheap and quick to produce.  EA, Capcom, Activision, Ubisoft, Konami, and Time Warner all announced extensions of their most popular franchises, for the first time in 3D.

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Natal = Kinect

o   Microsoft pulled out all the stops on a big, splashy TV event on Sunday night, before E3 officially started.  They revealed their new motion control system (the former project Natal) dubbed Kinect, and some first- and third-party launch titles.  The early lineup of games leaves a lot to be desired.  Kinectimals, Kinect Sports, Kinect Adventures, and MTV Games’ Dance Central all feel like early tech demos, or… Wii games.  There are FOUR exercise titles in the 15-game launch lineup.  I’m not impressed.

o   To match Kinect’s glossy black finish and hard lines, we’ll see a redesigned Xbox 360 with wi-fi built in, and a standard 250 gb hard drive (only available in the Elite models previously) shipping to retail as you read this at a $299 price point.  We’ll see a $50 price drop on the existing hardware until it clears out.  Kudos to Microsoft for simplifying their retail SKUs – we saw it pay off for Sony this year.  I still don’t think we’ll see these really move the needle on hardware sales until the Kinect bundles hit.

o   Sega was one of the few third-parties to show Kinect games, with Sonic Riders and Child of Eden.  They also showed a version of Eden for Playstation Move, and it looks identical.  I would expect that trend to continue well into next year: games developed for Move will be ported to Kinect, and vice versa.  That’s bad for Microsoft (and Xbox 360 loyalists), as the unique Kinect hardware cost more to develop than Sony’s Move hardware, and will almost certainly carry a higher price tag at retail.

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I ran across one of these high-end vending machines from ZoomSystems in La Guardia a few weeks ago, during a long wait for a flight to Dallas. They’ve become quite ubiquitous over the last few years, dispensing everything from Sephora makeup to shit for weirdos Sky Mall.  Luckily for me, the machine (“automated retail store” if you’re cool, apparently) near our gate was a Best Buy Express, stocked with travel-friendly electronics and accessories.   Chief among those?  DSi’s and two Mario games!

Seeing I had yet to purchase Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (which was an inevitability anyway) I figured this would be as good an opportunity as any to pick it up.  Besides, when the machines rise up and enslave us all, maybe they’ll remember that one time I patronized one of their cold robo-tailers  and take pity on me and my family.

The shopping experience was smooth – a touchscreen details every product available, and a click on Mario & Luigi called up back-of-the-box copy and graphics.  There was even a little flag in the corner that showed an ESRB rating, and offered to explain the system.  A quick swipe of the credit card, and a little arm grabbed the box (protected in a cardboard outer box) and dropped it into the slot.  The machine didn’t ask me if I wanted a player’s guide or to pre-order something, so it’s already a step ahead of GameStop!  Zing!

ZoomSystems did a lot of things right in this setup, particularly for a novice game purchaser.  The two games they had on offer work in the one system they sell.  They (or Best Buy, not sure who ultimately calls the shots on these things) resisted the urge to foist some shovelware on unsuspecting travelers and stocked the machine with two very good DS games.  And of course, they’re both E-rated titles, so no issue with someone not badass old enough for Contra 4 walking up to one of these things and picking up a copy.

There are still some missed opportunities here, starting with that great bog touchscreen.  Why did it just show me the back boxart?  I guess Nintendo’s as good as anyone when it comes to writing up back-of-the-box copy, but this is 2010.  How about some video?

While we’re at it, I’ve been able to download  game demos wirelessly from DS Download Stations inside GameStop for years.  Adding that functionality to one of these machines would let the more casual consumer try buy before they buy, and probably improve conversion rates.

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Great big apologies for the long delay since my last post.  Longtime readers will recall that this type of gap usually follows something very, very big (for me at least) in the world outside of the ol’ blog.  And this one’s no exception.

Mrs. Liquid Architecture and our beautiful new daughter are doing fine, and we couldn’t be happier.  This isn’t turning into a Daddy blog just yet, so expect plenty of smart-assed video game observations to come.  And we’ll get to see what the lack of sleep does to my writing!

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