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E3 games—it’s all about the puppy

Posted: 05.09.05

The games and videos of games we were shown at the press briefings by Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, plus what was on the floor in the big stands like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, and others, had four things in common:

• Very loud and overdriven subwoofers

• Outstanding complex and beautiful 3D models of the world (in which the game is played)

• Incredible and shocking violence and destruction

• Ridiculous objectification of women and their chests

Of all the major game developers and publishers, only Nintendo had a mix of games that truly were for everyone and not just young wanna-be tough punks with eating problems. (The obesity factor in the young attendees at E3 was startling and appalling.) And it seems the fatter the gameboys get, the skinnier (except for certain notable parts) the booth babes get.

Nintendog

The themes of the games are getting narrower every year. I commented two years ago that six years before that E3 had a ratio of 25% FPSs to other games (racing, sports, fighting, puzzles, and fantasy), and two years ago the ratio of games displayed was reversed with 75% being FPSs. This year I could hardly find any puzzle games, only a couple fantasy games, and dozens that depend on a shocking amount of violence. It's no wonder family organizations, religious groups, and others are reacting to the games being offered. Wait until they see the crop of killing, head-smashing, machine-gunning, slashing, and in general destroying games that are offered this fall.

As mentioned, the 3D models are amazing; the level of detail and the complexity are just wonderful. The characters in many of the games are much better looking and more realistic, too. But their actions of being thugs, gangs, and the glorification of war are deplorable. Is this really what we want to feed our kids?

The good news is that themes besides baseball-bat-swinging hitmen pissed-off brothers monster gun-toting super-Marines and knife-wielding butt-kicking princes and princesses aren't the only games in town. Based on data from IGN and NPD they aren't even the best selling, thankfully. NPD says the Nancy Drew series have been number one in unit sales in 2004, and IGN reports that the Mario franchise is still a leader ("The Legend of Zelda" is number one by their count).

Some of the games are a real waste of pixels and dollars, not to mention the zero ROI by the player. But with the game market now the number one entertainment industry, lots of money is going to be poured into lots of game while the publishers search and pray for a hit title.

Interestingly, Nintendo is taking a totally different path. Yes, there are some fighting games in the Nintendo suite, but mostly the company seems focused on family-friendly games, almost an innocence buried in a market and show floor of over-steroided monsters, huge explosions, and rivers of blood.

Probably the cleverest game, if it even qualifies as a game, is Nintendo's "Nintendogs."

Who doesn't like puppies? And these puppies can be played with, given a bath, taught tricks commanded by speaking to them, and taken for a walk through a maze.

And they can have friends come over to play. This is possibly one of the most brilliant game ideas ever. Everyone likes puppies, and the fact that you can play with them and socialize with them is genius. As Lotus 1-2-3 was the killer app for PCs in the early days, I predict "Nintendogs" will be the killer app for DS, followed closely by "Electroplankton."

Nintendo has done another brilliant thing by announcing that the entire Nintendo library of games will be downloadable and playable on the new Revolution. Sony is going to try to emulate that moveÑso far they can run some PS2 stuff on the PSP (but with different formats), and the PS3 will be backward-compatible with the PS2, which in turn was backward-compatible with the PS and PS1, which means the PS3 can run PS and PS1 games.

So if you want game, we got game. In a year from now we will have six main consoles (PS1, PS2, PS3, Game Cube, Revolution, and Xbox2) and four handheld game machines (GBA, DS, MicroGB, and PSP), plus some other possibilities like Gizmondo and N-Gage, and over 1,100 games actively for sale, not counting the mobile phone games.

Surely a business this big and this dynamic can produce something better than "Doom16" or "Grand Theft Auto: The End of the Civilized World."