Week in review: Gaming's front in motion

The battle between video game console makers is in motion--literally. The three big console makers announced separate efforts this week at the E3 conference that focus on how gamers control their games.

For those of you who have been waiting for some really big news to come out of the video game industry, Microsoft answered your call with its innovative "Project Natal," a hands-free motion-sensitive controller system. Announced during Microsoft's annual E3 press conference, Project Natal seems almost certainly to be the culmination of several years of work by an Israeli start-up called 3DV Systems, which Microsoft … Read more

A brief history of downloadable console games

At this year's E3 Expo in Los Angeles, both Sony and Microsoft pushed upcoming services and devices that allow users to download full games to their hardware. For Microsoft, it's a new arm of its online marketplace that will let gamers download full retail games to their system's hard drives. For Sony, it's the new PSP Go, a slimmed-down version of its flagship portable gaming hardware that does away with its game slot in place of pushing Wi-Fi game downloads to its 16GB of built-in memory.

Both companies are pushing direct downloads as the premiere way to buy new games, and many are expecting the direct-downloading technology to be one of the main selling points in the next generation of gaming hardware. As a side effect, the new revenue model largely cuts out used game retailers, since there's less physical media to resell or swap with friends.

But let's get real for a moment, this is nothing new. In fact, game companies have been trying to get direct-download games working on consoles since the early 1980s. Let's take a brief look at previous efforts to sell console games without any physical media: … Read more

E3 2009: Mafia II

Hitting the very definition of a cult hit square on the head, few gamers have heard of the 2002 game Mafia, developed by a small group of Czech programmers and originally released on the Xbox and for PC -- but those that do recall it regularly sing its praises as a superior open-world action/adventure.

Built on essentially the same model as Grand Theft Auto, the game transported its crime family story back to the 1930s, and evoked the Maio Puzo Godfather vibe much better than the stodgy, by the numbers, officially licensed Godfather games did later.

For this long-in-the-making … Read more

E3 2009: The wrap-up

There's an odd sort of Kremlinology that surrounds the annual Electronic Entertainment Exposition, with one of the main topics of conversation among showgoers, industry watchers, and video game enthusiasts being the E3 show itself. Each year's show is compared and contrasted to previous editions, and hands are wrung over whether E3 has too many attendees, too few attendees, or should be earlier or later in the year. The bombastic displays built by companies such as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are analyzed for any hint of a corporate downturn, and the number of scantily clad "booth babes" is a litmus test for the overall financial health of the industry.

If the hallway buzz is any indication, this year's show was well-received, with most people we talked to pleased to see E3 return to its traditional large-scale format after two years of a stripped-down version held in a series of drab meeting rooms and hotel suites. With roughly 40,000 attendees, this is still a smaller show than the peak years, where it topped 60,000, so the public spaces of the Los Angeles Convention Center feel less claustrophobic than in the past.

This was a surprisingly heavy year for hardware announcements at E3, and much attention was focused on upcoming products such as the Natal motion-sensing camera from Microsoft, Nintendo's Wii Motion Plus add-on, and Sony's still-unnamed motion controller system, along with the revamped portable PSP Go. All were demonstrated at the show, to varying degrees of success--but the point that aging game consoles need some hardware upgrades to keep audiences interested and push new software sales was well-made.

We came away impressed with the same list of upcoming game titles we went into the show looking forward to, including Batman: Arkham Asylum, Heavy Rain, and Mafia II; we also found some titles that unexpectedly caught our eye and made an excellent impression in-person--such as Splinter Cell: Conviction, Borderlands, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.… Read more

Recap: Sony PS3 and PSP at E3 2009

The leak of the PSP Go days earlier stole some thunder from the Sony E3 press conference, but the company showed a bevy of new PSP and PS3 games, as well as a prototype motion controller.

PSP Go: The official details The PSP Go may have been the worst-kept secret of this year's E3 show, but Sony's E3 press conference finally supplied the official details. (Posted in Crave by John P. Falcone) June 2, 2009 1:05 PM PDT

Sony E3 2009 press conference shows strong PS3 lineup While Sony didn't necessarily dazzle us with unannounced exclusive … Read more

How Microsoft stole the show at E3

CNET conducted a poll earlier this week asking readers which company--Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony--had the most impressive announcements at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.

More than 10,000 people responded. More than 51.9 percent of the respondents said Microsoft bested its competitors. Thirty-four percent of those who answered the poll said Sony had the best announcements. Nintendo finished last, with just 5.6 percent of respondents saying it had the best E3. Ironically, the fourth option--"None of them--they were all yawners"--beat out Nintendo, with 8.4 percent of the vote.

It's a well-deserved victory for Microsoft. At this year's event, the company announced a new, expanded Xbox Live offering for the console, including a new video store with 1080p content. The Xbox 360 will also sport Facebook and Twitter integration.

Those announcements, however, paled in comparison to what came next. Microsoft will be offering full-game downloads on Xbox Live. On top of that, Halo:ODST, Left4Dead 2, Splinter Cell Conviction, and Forza Motorsport 3 will all be exclusive on the console. And in what may have shaken Sony's world more than any other announcement, Hideo Kojima took the stage, announcing that he is bringing his wildly popular Metal Gear Solid series to the Xbox 360 with Metal Gear Solid Rising.

All that's great. But Microsoft's biggest announcement was Project Natal. Taking Nintendo's motion control to a whole new level, Project Natal allows you to control on-screen action without a controller. It senses motion, sound, and 3D movement. Want to throw a pitch? Move your arm like a pitcher, and the game will throw the ball. Want to kick a soccer ball? Swing your foot forward, and the Xbox 360 will take care of the rest. It's like the Wiimote, but without the controller--and cooler.… Read more

E3 2009: Heavy Rain

With the ability to change directions on a dime based on user input, it's sometimes surprising how little serious interactive storytelling happens in modern games. One exception is the games of David Cage, the creative force behind ambitious, if flawed, games such as Indigo Prophesy and Omikron.

In 2005's Indigo Prophesy, for example, players took control of several different characters acting out a supernatural-themed police procedural, and could affect the game world in many ways--leaving more evidence at a crime scene, for example, or sending a character out of town. Unfortunately, that game's seemingly open-ended nature was … Read more

Recap: Nintendo Wii and DSi at E3 2009

Both the Wii and DS/DSi are the No. 1 home and portable gaming platforms, respectively. At E3 2009, the company tried to demonstrate how it will continue to be king of the video game hill for this year and beyond.

Miyamoto speaks behind closed doors While Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary game designer behind Nintendo hits such as Mario and Zelda, did not make an appearance during Nintendo's big E3 press conference, we did get a chance to see him host a small, intimate behind-closed-doors session. (Posted in Crave by Dan Ackerman) June 3, 2009 9:30 AM PDT… Read more

Happy 25th birthday, Tetris

On Saturday, Tetris, the famous falling-blocks puzzle game, turns 25.

Tetris was created by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov in June 1984. He had an immense love for puzzles, and he felt compelled to create a game that allowed players to arrange distinctive puzzle pieces along the bottom of a field or "matrix." Pajitnov chose the name Tetris by combining the words "tetromino" and "tennis."

The game was first made available on the IBM computer. It quickly enjoyed popularity and was ported to a variety of other platforms. In 1987, it became a major hit in the United States.

But it wasn't until Nintendo released its version of Tetris for the Game Boy in 1989 that Tetris reached critical mass. According to The Tetris Co., the Game Boy version of Tetris sold more than 35 million copies.

Pajitnov made very little money from his popular game during that time. Prior to the release of Tetris on the Game Boy, a series of legal disputes ensued over who really owned Tetris. Atari Games, the former Soviet Union government, and Nintendo all fought in court over the rights to the title.… Read more

Kongregate gets a proving ground for game assets

Flash gaming site Kongregate has a new service launching on Wednesday called the Collabs that lets musicians and artists share their work in the hopes of getting it used in upcoming Flash games. Content creators upload their works directly to Kongregate where it goes into a directory that's curated by several of the site's power users.

The Collabs are not just for developers though. Kongregate users can listen to music and view animations, as well as rate them the same way they're able to do with the service's games. In a phone interview, Kongregate's CEO … Read more