E3 '09: Day Zero – Ubisoft Press Conference

June 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

The best/worst conference of the event so far…

Plagued with technical difficulties, miscommunications, awkward pauses, impenetrably thick French accents, flat jokes, a twenty-five-minute-long stretch of James Cameron telling me the entire plot to his latest film, Avatar (he says it’s good, by the way); non-stop sales talk, contrived banter, an infomercial for their latest fitness product, guys in rabbit suits running about pushing a trolley cart and a man yelling “COWABOONGA!” at the top of his voice, the Ubisoft press conference was so bad even Pele (who came on stage at one point) couldn’t save it. It lasted two goddamn hours – twice as long as both the Microsoft and EA conferences individually and with half the content.

In short, the “presentation” was all kinds of terrible.

The games, funnily enough, didn’t look too bad, though.

There were several announcements made, including: the unveiling of Uplay, a standard cross-platform interface for downloads and game-based networking; Your Shape, yet another game jumping on the Wii Fit bandwagon (but who could blame them?) using a custom USB camera; and a new top-secret project from Rez and Lumines creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, at the moment just called “Project Eden”. There was also some talk directed – pretty much solely – at the shareholders with regards to their casual brands aimed at the ‘tween market.

What I want to talk about and which, at the same time, worried and intrigued me is Yves Guillemot’s (CEO) talk over the “confluence” of brands, of combining and integrating media such as films and television into video games and vice versa.

We’ve heard this all before for games like Enter The Matrix and the Lord of the Rings series, where the developers talk about how much of a “blast” they had making the game and collaborating with the actors involved, but I thought this was just something the games industry would get over and learn from – that games aren’t like film and television, and that the most important thing is the game itself, how it plays and not what brand it represents.

Yet this ideal of “confluence” seems to be key to Ubisoft’s overarching strategy as a games company, and having first being struck mortified by this, I gained a little enthusiasm back after hearing James Cameron’s high-hopes for the Avatar game and the announcement that both Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson would be working with Ubi to create the Tin-Tin game. King Kong (qua video game) wasn’t too bad, after all, nor was Boom Blox, for that matter. I just hope that they don’t get carried away by the big money on the table, the Hollywood glamour and the ideal of “synergy” between mediums; hopefully, they’ll remember that they are making games, here.

There were also a series of trailers shown – some just cinematic, others, gameplay – and most of them looked halfway decent. (Beyond Good & Evil 2, sadly, was not present among them.)

Of the really big titles there was Splinter Cell: Conviction, re-showing the previous trailer and gameplay demo seen early in the day at the Microsoft conference (another gaff, if you ask me) and Assassins Creed 2, which only aired a cinematic trailer. Conviction looks pretty good; it’s too early to tell about Assassins Creed 2 based on the limited information we know.

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Red Steel 2 also looked fairly solid to me and the graphics look good (for a Wii game) but, as someone else mentioned, it all depends on the controls. While the game was being demonstrated on-stage I felt that I had a handle on how it was going to work, and I predict it will do okay commercially and critically. There wasn’t much blood, guts or gore to be seen, but bearing in mind the market image of the Wii as a “family product” I could see why that was.

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Without much to discuss, No More Heroes 2 was also confirmed and that it was being produced, again, by Suda 51. I’m sure the half a dozen people who bought the game are cheering at home, right as we speak (not that it wasn’t critically acclaimed, of course). Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Smash Up also turned up in the form of a trailer, looking like a cheap Super Smash Bros. Brawl knock-off. Really, it doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph as No More Heroes 2 as it looked completely unremarkable.

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On the “It’s so damned French!” front, we have Rabbids Go Home and Academy of Champions. Couldn’t really tell much from Academy of Champions aside from that it has some cool CG and a nice art style. The same could also apply to Rabbids; although, we did see a bit of the gameplay, and that which was on display looked an awful lot like a dressed-up minigame collection. Still, I could tell that Rabbids would sell just based on the wacky graphics design. As I was watching the CG, though, I was still batting in my mind as to whether the Rabbids themselves would have had me in fits of laughter or howls of fear as a child.

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Lastly, there was R.U.S.E. Again, it was the same trailer we saw before but, as of now, GiantBomb have two tutorial videos up on their site here and here showing gameplay footage. I can’t make heads-nor-tails of it. On the surface it looks like a standard RTS, similar to something like a consolised version of Ground Control, but there must be more going on beneath that shell. (Personally, I just want someone to make Herzog Zwei 2: More Zwei.)

That’s it for the Ubisoft conference. And for those of you wondering: no, it’s not worth watching for that “it’s so bad it’s good!” quality. If I could have those two hours of my life back, I would.

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