For some people, the phrase “E3” means nothing, while for others, the mere mention is enough to make their palms sweatier than when you danced that last dance at prom and wished your tux pants weren’t so loose. This week is the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo here in Los Angeles, a conference where video game companies announce new titles and plug releases that are already on the calendar. I’ll be covering it in bits and pieces for Pajiba, and by covering it, I mean I will read about it online and decide what’s interesting. I do have a day job.
Monday was the Microsoft panel, meaning plenty of fun things are in store for those of you who own an Xbox 360 or who, like me, just live with a roommate who has one. But the biggest news of the day was Project Natal. This is one of those developments that sounds like we’re finally getting into full-on Minority Report futurism. Steven Spielberg, who’s also dabbling in game development, was even on hand to announce Natal, which is the code name they’ve given to a camera that will track a player’s movements, recognize their voice, and allow them to play the game using their body instead of a handheld controller. The advent of the Nintendo Wii remote was a fun twist on motion-based gameplay, but actually being able to move around your living room and have your actions control the events on screen would be jaw-dropping. The prototype device used at the conference featured a camera, depth sensor, microphone, and processor running proprietary software. However, this is still a ways off; development kits are just now making their way to game creators, and there’s no set date for when the device and accompanying software would be available to the public. But still: If this works, it could kick ass.
Additionally, Valve made a splash when they announced that November sees the release of “Left 4 Dead 2,” a sequel to last year’s eminently playable “Left 4 Dead,” in which players can team up try and survive the zombie apocalypse. The original game came out in November 2008, and the new one arrives this November 17, a lightning quick turnaround for a major game franchise. But the guts of the game will likely be the same, and it also benefits from not having to be written or constructed with an arc typical of major platform releases. “Left 4 Dead” lets players jump to any part of any map or scenario and play from there; the fun isn’t in making the journey, but surviving levels that are different every time. The sequel, again for Xbox 360 and PC, will feature new characters and weapons, including a chainsaw that will probably be an insane amount of fun to use. Check out the trailer here.
Monday also saw the debut of the new trailer for “Modern Warfare 2,” a sequel to “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” The “Call of Duty” series returned to its World War II shooter roots on the fifth installment, “Call of Duty: World at War,” but the first “Modern Warfare” game rightly won a host of awards and racked up impressive sales. It offered similar gameplay to the earlier “Call of Duty” entries but updated the story to guerilla battles throughout the Middle East. It’s a damn good game, and developer Infinity Ward looks to have another winner on their hands with “Modern Warfare 2.” (It’s also interesting to note that the sequel is being marketed without the “Call of Duty” branding.) The game hits shelves November 10.
In news that’s bound to upset some people, Paul McCartney and Ringo “I Can’t Believe I Wasn’t the One to Die” Starr showed up at E3 to plug the forthcoming “The Beatles: Rock Band,” which will feature playable versions of songs from the greatest band of the 20th century. Tracks announced the game include “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Here Comes the Sun.” A group of performers even played a game demo, and the vocalists earned bonus points for harmonizing! This isn’t the first title to be built around a band — there was “Guitar Hero: Metallica” this spring — but it seems bound to be a stronger entry than any other. You can check out the trailer here; the game streets on September 9.
Finally, some genuinely pointless news: MIcrosoft is going to integrate Twitter and Facebook with Xbox Live. Because what the hell, why check your phone or laptop. Meh.