Every year, once E3 rolls around, most gamers know what to expect. Almost anyone setting foot in the LA Convention Center already knew there is going to be a new Call of Duty, a new Halo, a new Assassin's Creed, more Kinect dancing games, and this year, the Wii U. But then there are those announcements which made a huge splash because, up until the show, almost no one had any idea they even existed.
We've kept a close eye on all the E3 coverage from the show, and though there were surprises in both hardware and software form, it was software that stole the show.
Xbox SmartGlass turns any tablet into a multimedia controller
Microsoft kicked off this year's E3 by immediately stealing Nintendo's thunder away from the Wii U with its own touchscreen interface, called SmartGlass. Rather than requiring Xbox owners to purchase a separate accessory, SmartGlass turns almost any tablet into a touchscreen controller for playing games and controlling Xbox apps. A brief overview showed a number of uses for the tech beyond just playing games, which attempted to raise a question in gamer's minds: why should anyone buy a Wii U when they can have this?
Nintendo delays and censors online communication on the Wii U
The Wii has been plagued with criticism for years over its lackluster online gaming, so it was welcome news when Nintendo revealed much more robust internet features for the Wii U. But while being able to finally game with strangers and even send drawings back and forth sounds fun, it raises a question of how Nintendo will be able to keep its console family friendly. The answer is simple: reading every single communication Wii U players send. Aside from the usual content filtering software and options to report inappropriate messages, there will be actual human beings poring through everything users send each other. That wouldn't be so bad, but this process could lead to delays as long as 30 minutes between messages if there's a high volume to look through. That takes the "instant" right out of "instant messaging."
Sony's Wonderbook reinvents storytime with J.K. Rowling
New games and peripherals for the Playstation Move and EyeToy weren't unexpected, but few people could have predicted that Sony would set their sights on adding augmented reality to reading time. The game, called Wonderbook, uses AR codes to make the Move controller and a physical book appear to transform into almost anything on a television screen. Children can read along to stories while seeing the characters act out the action on the pages and even participate in a few interactive games. As interesting a concept as it is though, Wonderbook probably wouldn't have garnered quite as much attention if Sony hadn't also enlisted famed Harry Potter scribe, J.K. Rowling, to write one of its first stories, Book of Spells.
Ubisoft wows E3-goers with brand new IP, Watch Dogs
Typically the show-stealing demos at E3 come from well-established franchises, which is why it was such a shock when Ubisoft closed its press conference with a bang by previewing Watch Dogs. Somewhere between The Matrix and Swordfish, the open-world game puts players in the shoes of an elite hacker with the power to control seemingly any electronic device. The short clip showed the shady protagonist jamming wireless signals, listening in on a cell phone call, and causing a traffic pileup by disabling street lights. It actually gained more cheers from the awe-struck audience than Ubisoft regulars like Splinter Cell and Assassin's Creed. Though touted for release on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, one wonders if part of the excitement was for a demo that hints at what games on the next generation of Microsoft and Sony consoles might look like (though the demo is almost certainly running on high-end PC hardware). Check out the demo above to see why.
EA takes over the UFC brand from a struggling THQ
Brands get passed around video game publishers all the time, but EA's new partnership with the Ultimate Fighting Championship caught people off guard for a couple of reasons. For one, UFC president Dana White has been very vocal in the past about his distaste for the publisher (he was once quoted at a 2009 press conference saying, "EA doesn't give a [expletive] about mixed martial arts.") For another, this news came on the heels of rumors - which were later confirmed - that former UFC game publisher, THQ, had shuttered it's San Diego office on the exact same day. The loss of one of its star brands and the clear attempt to hide the news of the closing among the flood of other E3 announcements spell a sadly unstable future for the publisher of the Saints Row and Red Faction games.
Square Enix previews the next generation of graphics with Agni's Philosophy
Square Enix, developer of the long-running Final Fantasy series, is known more for their games than for any graphical innovations. So when the company started generating some serious buzz after showing off a new tech demo running in real-time, people knew it had to be impressive. The video, titled Agni's Philosophy, left quite a few jaws on the floor and gave a clear look at what's in store for the next generation of video games.