Arriving in La
Today has been an extremely busy day. It started bright and early with a 5:30 AM wakeup and a ride to the airport. Once our Assistant Editor, Emily, and myself finally boarded the plane, we got one of the last remaining overhead storage bins. Then it began to rain and this caused a jammed packed plane to sit and be delayed waiting for the Texas storm to pass by. When it finally did, we were off to E3.

Picking up our Badge Holders
We arrived in LA, checked out bags, and headed off to the LA Convention Center to pick up our bags and catch a shuttle to the Square-Enix Press Conference. Unfortunately, the E3 Media Center was closed and it opened 30 minutes late for pickup of your badge holder. However, we finally got our badge holders, ran into some colleagues in the industry, and caught the shuttle to Square-Enix.

Square-Enix Press Conference
Square was setup at the Hollywood Palladium. They had a very nice setup with tons of food, some banners hanging, and plenty of seats. The seat you sat down at was also your seat at the press conference. After meeting up with Daniel and Jake from Digital Entertainment News, Emily and eating some food, we sat and watched all that Square-Enix has to offer.

This year, Square is focusing heavily on mobile phone game technology. Their lineup of mobile phone games includes: Final Fantasy, Megatouch Mobile Arcade, Brave Shot 2, 3d Space Invaders, Chase HQ 3D, Elevator Action 3 D, and Final Fantasy Agito XIII. (More on Final Fantasy XIII later.) Of all the mobile phone games shown, none of them looked spectacular. However, Final Fantasy Agito XIII and a few others were not shown running. So there is hope that Square can deliver an amazing mobile phone gaming experience.

Before we get on the subject of Final Fantasy XIII, there is the surprise announcement that Square-Enix will support the Nintendo Wii with Dragon Quest as the launch title. A brief video of Dragon Quest Swords The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors was shown. However, the graphics for the one enemy shown were not that impressive and the only details revealed were that you will swing the controller around like a sword. We were told no other details will be available at E3 2006.

In addition to Dragon Quest Swords, Square-Enix also announced the next installment of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the Nintendo Wii. While I felt Square gave us little information on Dragon Quest Swords, they gave us absolutely nothing about this title.

Still waiting for an Xbox 360 announcement, we next found out that Square-Enix is heavily supporting the Nintendo DS and PSP. For the PSP, we were told about the previously announced Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII title and were given details about the new remake of Valkyrie Profile Lenneth. Perhaps this means we will start seeing some great content for the PSP soon. For the DS the following games were revealed: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy III, and Children of Mana. No release dates were given for any of these titles. For the GBA, we were shown glimpses of Final Fantasy V Advance and Final Fantasy VI Advance. No specific release dates were given for those either.

As Square revealed their big announcement, I readied myself to hear the words “playable on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3…” Alas, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and Final Fantasy Agito XIII were all revealed with no mention of Xbox 360. In fact, the company never even spoke of the 360 and it made it seem like they don’t consider it a true “next-gen” system.

Final Fantasy XIII was absolutely stunning. The gameplay does not appear to be a free-roaming title but seems to offer some turn-based actions to make. Just because the female lead character was jumping, shooting, spinning around, changing weapons in mid-air, it was really difficult to tell. The game should make many, many people buy the PS3 even with a high price tag (more on this later).

The other big announcement from Square-Enix is that Final Fantasy XII will be coming to North America in October of 2006–just before the PS3 is scheduled to ship. The jury is still out on the bulk majority of Square-Enix. However, their lineup is promising and heavily focused on their number one brand. Hopefully, Square can pull of some amazing releases on the current generation consoles and handhelds this year.

Sony Press Conference
Sony held their yearly press conference at the Sony Pictures Studio once again. This is a very exclusive event and anyone not on the RSVP list is turned away. Sony had a ton of food, drinks, and places to sit this year. There was also some limited PSP downloadable content available at the event. This included trailers, screenshots, and playable demos of some released and not yet released titles like Roco Loco, Lemmings, Syphon Filter, and more.

However, the real purpose of the event was for Sony to “officially” start the next-generation. They mentioned in the press conference, as they did last year, that the next-generation of gaming doesn’t begin until they say so. And on November 17, 2006, the next-generation begins with PlayStation 3. Coming in a polished black color, the PS3 will come in 20 GB and 60 GB configurations priced at $499.99 and $599.99. Yes, you read that right–the system only comes in black! Seriously though, that is some major cash to throw down for the PlayStation 3.

What else do you get with your cash? Complete support for 1080P, 100 Gigabit Ethernet, a Bluetooth wireless controller with built in motion sensor, free online gaming service, and more to be announced later.

There is much talk about the games shown during the press conference. They ranged from amazing looking to less than Xbox 360 quality. I have not been able to confirm anything but it appears, talking to several people at the event, many of the things Sony showed us were “once again” pre-rendered and not real-time gameplay. I still feel a bit betrayed after being shown pre-rendered stuff last year under the assumption it was all legitimate gameplay footage. After the beating Sony took over this, surely they wouldn’t do the same thing again… or would they? We will have to keep our ears open on this one and see what information leaks out about it.

I talked to several journalists at the Sony event afterwards. While they wished to remain anonymous, they felt Sony had priced themselves out of the market with the $499.99 and $599.99 price points. No console since the 3DO has been that expensive. Can the PS3 succeed at that price? This is the million dollar question going into E3.

Another strange thing is that Sony didn’t show off new PlayStation 2 content. They spoke about some but didn’t show us anything. However, we did get a glimpse at the PSone emulation for the PSP. No details were given on how Sony will sell the old titles, how much they will run, or when we will get them. However, they did show the original Ridge Racer.

Overall, I am a bit stunned by the price of the PlayStation 3. It appears that I am not the only person who feels this way either. Also, the PS3 controller appears to have no rumble features. We will have to see what the industry reaction is to this news in the days ahead. Until then, I remain optimistic about what Sony will deliver with PlayStation 3.

By Kaleb Rutherford – 05/08/06

Screenshots for E3 06 Diary Day One: Square & Sony Press Conferences