The big three–Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo–came out firing on all cylinders at E3 this year. We checked out two new consoles, a stable of games, and other innovations on display from the companies. Meanwhile, some well-known gadget-builders turned up with ground-breaking designs for mobile game systems and laptops, while indie developers showed off creative, unexpected game designs. Here, we’ve rounded up our 10 favorite things from the show.
As part of its E3 press conference, Microsoft showed off how its Xbox SmartGlass tech would work with its Xbox One console. Released in October for compatibility with the Xbox 360, SmartGlass syncs mobile devices (smartphones or tablets running iOS, Windows, or Android) with an Xbox system, giving gamers a second screen for displaying stats, in-game progress, what’s happening with friends, and more. It’s similar to how the Wii U added a screen right into the controller, for displaying information that wouldn’t fit on a TV screen, but SmartGlass is an optional feature–and dependent on you having an iOS or Windows device handy. Some gamers might not want to plug in for that, but it should be worth another look when the Xbox One comes out this holiday season.
One of the more interesting games coming for Nintendo’s Wii U (maybe the only interesting one, if we’re being totally honest) was The Wonderful 101, in which players pilot a team of mini-superheroes fending off an alien invasion. That premise doesn’t sound especially revelatory, but the gameplay is: similar to Nintendo’s hit franchise Pikmin, controlling a swarm of suited-up heroes is shockingly intuitive, and the game takes full advantage of the second screen built into the Wii U–swiping gives different orders to your team, which scurries around on-screen at a lightning pace. It’s a release to watch.
Razer, the gadget company behind the game-centric Razer Edge tablet, was showing off a new product at this year’s E3: a super-thin Windows 8 gaming ultrabook, billed as the world’s thinnest gaming laptop. Razer’s probably right, too–at 0.66 inches thick and with a 14-inch screen it’s a sleek little machine that still has the processing power to handle the most demanding game titles. Stuffing a gaming laptop with the internal engineering required for gaming usually means a thicker machine, but it remains to be seen if people will be willing to pony up a hefty $1,800 for the four-pound experience.
Also on display at the convention: Nvidia Shield, a handheld, Android-powered mobile gaming device, up for pre-order and available this month. The Shield’s like a console controller with a 5-inch, 720p screen latched on. The whole stable of Android games is available, along with a beta, PC-game streaming service. Despite the processing power needed to handle PC streaming, it’s a lighter gadget than you’d expect: not tough to lift up one-handed and, presumably, easy to slide into a backpack or satchel on the go. There seems to be a lot of interest lately in taking PC gaming down to mobile size, and the Shield looks like the one of the newest entries in the teensy arms-race. Thanks, Moore’s law.
Tucked inside the indie section of the E3 show floor were a set of awesome, student-designed gaming projects like this: Space Maestro, created by a USC student. To play the game, an Xbox Kinect cam monitors your movements, and you play God/maestro with an on-screen universe. Clapping your hands together forms a ball of gas, and twirling your arms around sends new stars orbiting. Interacting with the heavenly bodies you create triggers classical music, slowing or speeding up at your whim. It’s gorgeous. You can check out a video of the project here.
Speaking of innovative indie fare, Johann Sebastian Joust is a motion-controlled game of tag with a twist. The game doesn’t strictly have graphics–all of the action takes place in reality, while the screen stays blank. Players are tracked by a gaming camera system–here, it’s the PlayStation Move–and work to put out the other players’ motion-sensitive bulb, attached to a PlayStation Move controller. The controller picks up on movement, and the light dissipates when players swipe at it. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos play in the background, and the speed of the concertos determine how sensitive the controllers are to movement: a slow orchestra means it’s time for players to strike, while a faster orchestra means a relatively safe moment. It can get pretty intense.
PC gaming was mostly relegated to the margins at this year’s E3, what with big console showings from PlayStation and Xbox. But that doesn’t mean it was nonexistent: the well-established gaming PC manufacturer Alienware made an appearance, showing off their latest crop of new, high-end gaming laptops, including the Alienware 14, 17, and 18 (the names come from screen-size: 14-inch, 17-inch, and 18-inch). The laptops are filling a niche for gamers looking to get maximum power out of their setups: the big machines are loaded up with top-of-the-line processing power–and they don’t look too shabby, either.
Project Spark, coming to Xbox, is a tough game to describe, since the game is whatever players decide it should be. Like LittleBigPlanet, players are given a toolkit for creating a game, then let loose: they can make a card game, an adventure game, or whatever else they come up with (although there are pre-created levels, if players want a little more grounding). Terrain, monsters, and more can be sent into the level, and the creator/player can then play through them.
Yeah, it’s geared toward kids, and, yeah, it owes a lot to the game Skylanders, but Disney Infinity deserves some innovation love for its attempt to mix hardware and software in an interesting way. With Disney Infinity, players set plastic toy versions of Disney characters on a platform hooked up to a console and–_poof_–the characters show up on the TV. So plop down a real-life toy Jack Sparrow and get a digital version to control on-screen.
Quick caveat here: the Xbox One seems plenty innovative, but E3 2013 was our first real look at the PlayStation 4. The subtle design is a quiet innovation in itself, ditching the wavy look of the PS3 in favor of sleek, subtle diagonals. Integration with the game streaming service Gaikai sounds especially promising, although we’ll have to wait until the holiday release to see exactly what the PS4 can do.