This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo starts a week from Tuesday in L.A., but if you look at the products the right way, you can see decades from now.
The big gaming story at this year's E3 (like last year) is motion control, as Microsoft and Sony still try to catch up to Nintendo with Natal and Move, respectively. Most media coverage is focusing on whether either company will be able to knock the Wii off the throne of gaming consoles by aping the innovation that made it a novelty — and a best-seller — despite slowing numbers.
Of course, the focus is on the technology, as always. There's rarely any mention of the soft advancements gaming has made since last year. No one is talking about the next great narrative in a video game, and that's a shame. Because, for the technology side of consoles to survive, the medium's storytelling must thrive.
Take Remedy's Alan Wake, which was released May 14. Using an episodic format for levels, an innovative use of light sources as interactive elements and narrative structure that made gamers feel as if they were actually playing a movie, it is a new pinnacle of gaming as art, something Roger Ebert so famously denied possible.
"For the first time in my life, I have experienced something that plays like a game but has the impact of a movie," Kotaku's Brian Crecente wrote in a review of the game. "Alan Wake is a powerful ride, an experience bound to leave you thinking about it and wanting more for days after its completion."
That sounds a lot more powerful than your average shoot-'em-up. And you know what? He's right. If that level of thoughtful, engaging structure and gameplay can be implemented now, where will the genre go next? With all this fascination over motion control, one plausible path is easy to delineate.
Imagine being able to physically swing Alan's flashlight (Capcom's Ju-On: The Grudge last year obviously couldn't nail that one) or revolver. If you thought the eerie moaning and babbling of the Taken was unnerving already, try it in surround sound as you move through a room that has a fully rendered Cascade mountain town projected in it. And I haven't even gotten into the new 3D-compatible stuff like Gran Turismo 5 and Wipeout HD, which Sony is pushing to go with its new line of Bravia TVs. That's right, I'm talking holodeck time, people.
Don't think that'll happen anytime soon? Think about it: Clearwater High School recently announced it would be abandoning textbooks on paper in favor of Kindle e-readers for all of its 2,100 students. Even a few short years ago that seemed improbable, but now your own kid is likely going to be doing homework on something that resembles my childhood Etch-A-Sketch.
So while the latest crop of titles focuses on the tech side, I'd really like to see more efforts like Alan Wake. Being able to more perfectly animate explosions is going to get games just so far.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.