E3 round-up: what to expect from this evening's festivities

Microsoft and Sony continue to big up their gaming credentials; Nintendo chipping in from the sidelines

E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) is always Christmas for gamers, but with the coming ragnarok between Microsoft and Sony this year is looking especially bountiful.

And even though Nintendo have been confirmed as a no-show, they’re still promising a full-bodied presence via the internet - releasing trailers for games and software developments. Add in the increasing presence of indie developers – Ouya and Oculus Rift will be drawing a lot of attention – and E3 is looking like a particular treat this year.

Microsoft

The accepted wisdom on the latest generation consoles has cast the pair of developers as Ying and Yang: the Xbox One seen treacherously lurching towards the ‘entertainment’ arm of home electronics whilst the noble PS4 upholds the fine traditions of being all about games, games, games.  

Of course, it won’t be as simple a division as this – if reports are to be believed then Microsoft will be showing off 20 games for the Xbox One (though admittedly this is half of Sony’s expected roster, spread across the PS3, PS4 and Vita).

Expected titles include Halo 5, more about Quantum Break (seen in the May reveal of the console), a Thief reboot, a new Bungie title named Destiny, and a much anticipated techno-thriller Watch Dogs (crossplatform – for the PS4 too) – the trailer for which was leaked yesterday.

Sony

Most of the internet seems to be crossing its fingers and hoping that Sony will redeem itself after its previous ‘reveal’ (a controller is not a console). The games do look promising with the expected franchises (the latest iterations of Killzone, Battlefield, and Assassin’s Creed –crossplatform), but some interesting new titles, including Knack – an all-ages platformer reminiscent of Pixar, and The Witness – an exploration puzzler from Jonathan Blow, the man behind smash indie-hit Braid.

Commentators are also hoping that Sony will be standing up to the various DRM policies that Microsoft have put in place – always-on consoles (well, always-on every 24 hours), and limited resale of games being the two main bugbears. Sony could really satisfy some public desire here by marketing the PS4 as being all about a good gaming experience, but they have as much incentive as Microsoft to back DRM.

One thing we probably won’t be hearing though is the price of the PS4. The announcement of the PS3’s initial cost – $599 – is regularly blame for the console’s slow initial sales, and it now seems doubtful as to whether Sony or Microsoft will be giving any price points, in fear of scaring consumers.

Nintendo

Despite the success of the Wii (over 100 million units sold to Sony’s 77 and Microsoft’s 76), Nintendo have had a terrible time of late, with the Wii U suffering from poor sales and with a lukewarm public reception.

The company has compounded on this sense of gloom by deciding to not hold a press conference this year, though President of Nintendo America Reggie Fils-Aime has done his best to suppress fears of a total washout, promising that the company is “looking for new ways to surprise and delight”.

Instead of the big bells-and-whistles press conference Nintendo will instead be releasing new information about games and the like via the internet. The company promises “the same stream of content and updates from the show that you always have but it will be different and it will be better.”

What exactly this might mean, in practical terms, we’re not sure but this approach to E3 might be a winner. Press conferences are so full of bloat and hyperbole that they often seem to be monuments of unintentional self-parody. If Nintendo can avoid the pomp – and supposing they have something to deliver in the first place – then their internet-heavy approach could be a breath of fresh air.

Android micro-console

Not yet an accepted genre, but as they’re in a totally different ball-park to the Sony/Microsoft behemoths the line-up of Android devices expected for E3 deserve to be judged on their own merits.

There’s the Ouya – the palm sized console that rode the waves of Kickstarter publicity when it raised $8.6m in 2012; the GameStick – a USB stick that plugs into TVs via HDMI and uses a wireless controller to play games; and a new entry into the arena, Project M.O.J.O. from Mad Catz – a beefier console than the previous two capable of streaming PC titles onto larger displays.

All of these will be amazingly cheap in comparison to whatever price Sony and Microsoft end up with. The GameStick can be pre-ordered for £79.99, Ouya have promised a $99 console (with updates each year), and although there’s no news about Project M.O.J.O.’s price, it’s likely to to be not a world away from its competitors.

In terms of technical specs and graphics none of these consoles will never grab the limelight, but their promise is so much more – bringing the hope of a new platform for indie developers; an escape option for gamers tired of the Hollywood-style excesses of the mainstream industry.

And with many commentators thinking that this year’s E3 is likely to be the beginning of the end for games consoles of any sort, this affordable and fun side of the industry deserves recognition – even if they’re already fighting a losing battle against smartphone gaming and the like.

And the rest

Of course, there’s likely to be just as many surprises as there are expected announcements at E3: we’ve not even mentioned the Oculus Rift (personally I’m hoping for more execution based game demos) or IndieCade - a section of E3 dedicated to small studios that promises some fantastically original titles.

Whatever happens, it'll be a relief when the dust clears and the gaming can begin. The first big event will be the Microsoft press conference (starting at 5.30pm GMT and streaming here), though if you don't want the faff of the stream then we'll be updating you with all the new announcements as they come.

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