Tuesday, 15 July 2008

E3 2007 – Wii Predictions

Well, it's that time of year again.

As I write this, it's barely a few days before the annual E3 show which the gaming industry simultaneously loves, hates and fears. Long gone are the days where I'd have to stomp around a large, hot and noisy auditorium of veritable gaming Disneyland, so I won't be attending E3 2007, but as we all know the event is now merely a whisker of what it once was. This year signifies the launch of 'E3-lite', where the Media and Business Summit will only play host to 32 industry bigwigs rather than the 400-plus companies that attended in 2006.

That said, the July 11th-13th expo in Santa Monica will still have the likes of Capcom, Sega, LucasArts, Square Enix and many other important names rather than the liberal scattering we expected when E3 was first said to be downsized. And as such, while many will hold off their major announcements until the Tokyo Game Show (TGS) mid-September, there should still be plenty to talk about.

So here are my personal E3 predictions. These come with the usual provisos of salt pinching and lowered expectations, but also allow for what I've heard in the background noise of pre-show build-up. Rather than throw just anything out, I've only included predictions that are actually likely, rather than wildly unrealistic shouts of how we're all going to be blown away by Mario Kart Wii being playable (not going to happen).

Super Mario Galaxy will probably end up delayed
I'm getting this one out of the way early. It's not a popular presumption and will probably be met with cries of "but Nintendo has repeatedly said we'll play it this year!", but there are reasons why I've put this forward. Wii is doing exceptionally well sales-wise, despite the skewed perception of a 'software drought' in some circles. Obviously Christmas/Holiday 2007 is the big clash for Nintendo against Sony and Microsoft so it needs as much ammunition as possible to gain a moral and physical victory, but the question you have to ask is this: with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Super Smash Bros. Brawl both being pushed for the end of the year (the latter more so than the August-bound Metroid), does Nintendo truly need Super Mario Galaxy in 2007?

The three titles appeal to three different types of audience if we're talking on a specific level, but a big game is a big game, and Smash is still one of the biggest going for the company right now (the prequel outselling the Super Mario Sunshine on GameCube by a LARGE amount). Releasing both Brawl and Galaxy around the same time seems a little too much like self-defeating competition when Wii is already doing so well and likely to continue so for the remaining months. And given the large amount of weekday information provided about the beat 'em up, it's fairly clear Brawl is a long way into development, while we've barely seen anything of Galaxy in the run-up to E3, even by Nintendo's secretive standards.

Add into the equation that many thought Sunshine was rushed and suffered accordingly; it's quite likely Galaxy will see a similar delay process that Twilight Princess had to make sure it was as good as it could be. Wii already has its big Holiday game in Brawl, but also quite possibly another in one of its more casual oriented titles too – I expect Galaxy to be pushed over into 2008 (spring?) for extra development sheen that Nintendo can fully afford, it's just a matter of whether it's announced at E3 or later in the year. And it's not exactly if Nintendo hasn’t gone back on its promises before *cough*Mario, Smash and Metroid for 'launch window'"*cough.

Disaster: Day of Crisis delayed into 2008
Another casualty, but far more predictable, this promising looking action-adventure has been missing for a while now. I don’t imagine it's been cancelled (although sadly, it's looking like the same can't be said for Project H.A.M.M.E.R.), but as with Mario Galaxy, D:DoC isn’t a major requirement to see out 2007 when it would be much better served for next year. With the genre starting to get more presence on the console this decision would make sense on more than a few levels, especially if the extra time can allow it to live up to its clear potential.

Third-parties will start their Wii 'change of heart' support
Expect many third-parties to start having battles of erm, 'Wii envy' and fighting for the biggest software line-up for 2008 and beyond. Other publishers who were previously sitting on the fence will also find themselves leaping off onto freshly white and glowing blue pastures. One thing not to expect is a vast amount of these games to be shown there and then. Many third-party projects have only started to be conceptualised from a few months ago at the very earliest, so it's likely we'll see a deluge of announcements but few new playable/trailer designated stuff until later this year. Such is the price to pay when you hop on late to the gravy train. At least a few more exclusives will show their faces, however.

Dragon Quest Swords and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles will impress people more than they expected
Both of these titles have been disparaged for their more 'on-rails' nature, but reports have generally been positive and encouraging, not to mention being among the better looking out there right now. Square Enix and Capcom have a moderate amount of work to prove they're truly with Wii, so all eyes will be on these examples -somewhat unfairly, perhaps- as harbingers of the future… especially where Capcom is concerned.

That said, Umbrella Chronicles is gathering some buzz after a two-player mode was confirmed, which will no doubt add a decent amount of longevity and appeal, and recent scans in Famitsu have shown more diverse environments and potentially cleaner textures. One to watch, that's for certain.

Electronic Arts will come off with some of the most positive impressions the company has garnered from the event in a while
The surprise third-party to emerge from Wii's rise into mainstream heaven, EA's output has certainly shocked many in terms of range and quality. It may not be hitting 100% (few companies do), but it's very much an unlikely 'success story' that will be built on as the developer/publisher learns from mistakes made in the first batch of Wii software and does what it does best – expanding and polishing already competent game engines. With some kinks worked out for their next iterations, I imagine the likes of Madden, Tiger Woods et all will start hitting the higher echelons of review scores from late this year onward, while others like Boogie capture the mass market's imagination regardless of whether they're good or not. EA should stroll E3 2007, via Wii.

DVD Channel for Wii continues the multimedia push
After Nintendo has repeatedly told us functions that take us away from gaming aren't that important, I'm looking slightly sideways at it changing its stance a little, as the inevitable DVD Channel is unleashed for a 'nominal' (read: eye rolling) fee of Wii Points (at best only first-comers will get it free, similar to the Internet Channel set-up). It's been mooted Wii's architecture could manage this merely via a software update rather than the earlier mooted 'DVD dongle', which solves any distribution problems, but if true it's probably too much to expect a free version per se. The only thing stopping this is Nintendo looking to go even further with its video playback options. Hmm.

Sega's games will pick-up a typically mixed reception
Poor Sega can't seem to catch a break, proving true the old adage 'damned if you do, damned if you don't'. Expect this E3 to be no different, with the stakes high for NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. As usual, Sega's inconsistency will probably garner mixed accounts at the event this month, with NiGHTS probably not living up to impossible expectations. The bedlam of E3's atmosphere, as diluted as it will be this time around, won't help. But either way it's hard to expect accurate representations of Sega's titles here, for good or bad.

Ubisoft to officially announce Red Steel 2
One of the industry's worst kept 'secrets'. Ubisoft has denied the first-person shooter sequel despite advertising development related positions for it some while back. E3 is the best place to make things fully formal, with a release date probably pencilled in for spring 2008. Online play is being hinted at, and given the basics of the game were fine and development well on the way, assets and code libraries will possibly be reused to aid a quick, but not rushed (this time) launch. The next eight months are going to be amazing for first-person titles no matter which system you own, and you can bet an effort will be made to have Red Steel 2 take advantage of that.

Or alternatively, Ubisoft could just take its time and aim for a more perfected late 2008 launch instead. But that would seem uncharacteristic.

A big casual-designated title will be shown by Nintendo and given a release date
I am, of course, referring to Wii Music and Health Pack, one (or both?) of which should be ready in time for the big Christmas/Holiday push (hence making a possible Mario Galaxy delay more palatable to Nintendo). Software of this type is a proven big seller, and if something like Health Pack is marketed to help 'shed those Christmas pud pounds', you can expect it to steamroll any other titles in the charts for a long while. A tag-team of Wii Music around October/December and Health Pack for November/January? Sounds like a winner.

At least two big Nintendo mainstay franchises will be announced, but barely shown
Animal Crossing and Mario Kart are currently the most likely suspects, with possible rumblings of Mario Tennis Wii, although it may be too early to step off the Wii Tennis court as of yet. The big thing here is that the Kyoto based company has so many franchises to pick from; it could live off any number of them for years yet. Pikmin? Luigi's Mansion 2? Mario Golf? And so on. So this is very much a roulette wheel, but whatever we get it may be a bit too early to show much, if anything at all, with TGS being a more viable and visible stage.

Zelda? Hahahahahahahahaaaaaa. No.

Not this time, anyway...

WiiWare titles announced, but not really displayed (closed doors invites?)
It was with great cheer that Nintendo finally put us out of our misery when it announced we'd be getting a dedicated downloadable content channel in WiiWare, matched only by the subsequent groan that we'd not see any software from the service until early 2008. The reasons behind such a delay could be due to Nintendo wanting to make sure the service rolls out with a full compliment of titles and functions -a nice change from the rather half-hearted approach the big N is often noted for when it comes to stuff like this- but it could also be due to another Channel being on the verge of arrival. Which is interesting in itself. But in the meantime it's likely we'll get a stronger idea of more mainstream developer plans for the service, if not much in the way of hands-on impressions as smaller titles tend to get lost in the boom and bluster of affairs like E3.

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