E3: Sony puts focus on software

by Erin Bell, special to CBCNews.ca

Sony's approach to its E3 press conference was the most straightforward of the "Big 3" console makers. It emphasized the software line-ups of its four active development platforms: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Network.

SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton demonstrated the PlayStation Home, the PlayStation 3's Second Life-like virtual world that serves as a combined game lobby and social networking experience where avatars can interact with each other. He unveiled the new Home Square, and the ability of the Home to let users design a customized avatar, create in-game possessions and real estate, interact with other avatars, and even upload photos and videos to the environment.

Tretton re-stated Monday's announcement that Sony was introducing a new 80-gigabyte PlayStation 3 in August and dropping the price of the 60GB model. (The 80GB version, which includes a copy of MotorStorm, will retail for $659 CDN, while the 60GB model drops to $549.)

Most remarkably, the seven-year-old PlayStation 2 still figures in Sony's 2007 strategy. Sony plans to deliver 160 new PS2 games in North America in 2007 to satisfy the console's 188 million user install base worldwide – obviously hoping at the same time that a significant number of these users will migrate to the PlayStation 3.

Sony stressed its exclusive titles for PlayStation 3, and partnerships designed to take advantage of the console's powerful hardware and Blu-ray disc support, such as Unreal Tournament 3, Haze, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, and a partnership with NCSoft to develop massively-multiplayer online games for the PlayStation Network.

Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima unveiled the PS3 exclusive stealth/action game Metal Gear Solid 4, and also announced that it would be the last game in the series. "I've been creating this Metal Gear franchise over many platforms and eras, but this Metal Gear Solid 4 will be the grand finale to the series" said Kojima through a translator. "The story of Snake will end ... all the story plot, the lines, the characters, and all the mysteries of the Metal Gear saga will be revealed."

On the handheld front, president and group CEO of SCE, Kaz Hirai, unveiled a new PlayStation Portable design that is 33 per cent lighter and 19 per cent slimmer. It has a more efficient power system, faster load times for games, and the ability to output high quality video, photos and games to a television screen. Sony also unveiled two new PSP colours: ice silver and a Star Wars Battlefront special edition white PSP with black Darth Vader decal on the back.

Photo: SCEA president and CEO Jack Tretton and special guest Chewbacca show the new special edition Star Wars Battlefront PSP (white with black Darth Vader decal on the back).

Sony's goal is to ship 9 million PSPs by the end of the year. The majority of the games shown, which included SOCOM Navy Seals: Tactical Strike, God of War: Chains of Olympus, and Silent Hill Origins, were 3D. Several notable 2D departures were Patapon, which looked like a mixture of Loco Roco and Lemmings, the 2D platformer Catslevania: The Draxula X chronicles, and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions.

Five games were showcased for the PlayStation Network, the download portal that allows PlayStation 3 owners to purchase and download games directly to the PS3. The standout was a game called Echochrome, a simplistic black-and-white game where the goal is to simply rotate the environment to help a stick figure walk from one side to the other while interacting with objects like stairs, holes and walls.

Erin Bell is a Toronto-based freelance video game and technology journalist, and is reporting on her fourth E3.