E3 2009: Hittin’ the controllers

More gaming goodness from E3, courtesy of our Youthography correspondents, who find the new games have in common the capacity to expand platform or franchise demos.

Toronto-based Youthography’s John Price and Nicole Fawcette take a step closer to the gaming action at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in LA, and chat it up with Ubisoft and Nintendo directors to suss out more media opportunities in the gaming revolution.

With the media briefings over and done with, the spotlight for E3 shone directly on the show floor of the LA Convention Centre, where thousands of E3 attendees spent the day getting up close and personal with the games they’ve been hearing so much about.

Today we spent some hands-on time with select games at the Ubisoft and Nintendo booths. We talked with Cédric Orvoine, communications director for Ubisoft Montreal, and Matt Ryan, senior supervisor for communications and advertising at Nintendo of Canada. Tomorrow we’ll bring you our impressions from Sony, Activision and XBOX.

Ubisoft: ‘Entertainment North’

This year’s E3 is not just an important year for Ubisoft as a video game brand, but it also represents a proud moment for the Ubisoft studios located in Montreal, Québec City and Vancouver. Ubisoft revealed major games produced by the Canadian studios, including Assassin’s Creed II, Splinter Cell Conviction and James Cameron’s Avatar.

Assassin’s Creed 2 is set in the beautiful and bloody world of Renaissance Italy. You play man-turned-assassin Ezio, out for vengeance, who befriends Leonardo da Vinci to take on Florence’s most powerful families, such as the wealthy and lethal Medici clan.

Why it’s important: It’s an exciting year for Ubisoft to grow the Assassin’s Creed franchise with a larger game audience. And, based on what we saw in a demo earlier yesterday morning, the Montreal team has created a dynamic game that is set to capture the imagination of all types of gamers through its beautiful graphics, exciting gameplay and historic characters.

In Splinter Cell Conviction, Sam Fisher is back and this time he’s on a personal vendetta to find his daughter’s killer. What was once a pure stealth title, Conviction has transformed into a game that offers numerous types of gameplay for all gamers in this gritty installment.

Why it’s important: Conviction features a revolutionary new graphic direction that embeds game objectives into the real-world environment (a la JJ Abrams’ Fringe), which delivers an utterly seamless gameplay experience that’ll keep gamers totally engrossed in the story.

While we weren’t able to actually see a demo for James Cameron’s Avatar, we did get a chance to speak to the game’s producer, Patrick Naud. He told us that Avatar is not your typical game-based-on-a-movie. It takes place in Pandora, an alien planet where gamers encounter the indigenous people and discover other life forms, the likes of which have never been seen in the world of video games. Conflict erupts with a space-faring consortium in search of valuable resources, and gamers find themselves thrust into a fight for the heart of a planet and the fate of a civilization.

Why it’s important: James Cameron hand-picked Ubisoft to be his studio of choice to trust with the game adaptation of his new film, which is being hyped as the next cinematic revolution. ‘Technically, we have a lot in common with Ubisoft and the game world,’ said Cameron during the press conference. ‘We utilized highly sophisticated technologies in creating Avatar so, when it came to choosing a game company, I wanted a partner that would not only be inspired creatively by the world of Avatar but would have the capacity to keep up with the challenging demands of its technological needs.’

Nintendo: Combining history with innovation

Nintendo revealed a number of new games this year for their Wii, DS and DSi hardware aimed at a strata of different player types. While Nintendo continues to win over the casual games market, they still always manage to satisfy their loyal following with much-cherished franchises and new titles for experienced gamers.

Not since Super Mario World (released with the SNES in 1994) have gamers seen another home console game from the Super Mario Bros (the New Super Mario Bros was released for the Nintendo DS in 2006). Now, announced this week, comes the release of New Super Mario Bros for Wii, an updated sidescroller that combines co-operative game play with up to four other players. The game features very similar aspects of older Super Mario Bros titles, but also includes new features such as motion control flying with a ‘propeller suit.’

Why it’s important: It’s the first side-scrolling Super Mario Bros game for the Wii. Many will be familiar with how to play the game (the controls are based on the original NES controller); however, the ability to play with your friends at the same time and on the same level enhances the social experience Nintendo has worked so hard to create with the Wii. We had a blast!

Wii Sports Resort is much like the original Wii Sports, but this time there is a variety of new activities to choose from such as dunking basketballs, archery, canoeing, table tennis and much more. Wii Sports Resort comes bundled with the Wii MotionPlus accessory, an extender for the Wiimote that increases the device’s precision.

Why it’s important: Much like Apple, Nintendo continues to innovate within established products, such as Wii Sports and the original Wii Remote. The added functionality will appeal to Nintendo’s install base looking to get a richer experience from their Wii and will help convince new buyers that the Wii will be supported with new technological updates within its product lifecycle.

And finally, The Conduit is a game created by Sega, exclusive to the Nintendo Wii. The game is the Wii’s first proprietary space marine shooter (in the tradition of XBOX’s Halo or Sony’s Resistance franchises). The game is slick looking on the Wii, and has features for first-time or hardened shooter fans.

Why it’s important: The Conduit features a 12-person online multiplayer mode – something mastered by Xbox and Sony, but an area that Nintendo has traditionally lagged behind in. It’s important for Nintendo to demonstrate their dedication to online connectivity for this title to have any real success in its category.

John Price (john@youthography.com) is director of youth marketing and Nicole Fawcette (nicole@youthography.com) is a research and strategy supervisor with Youthography. Follow John & Nicole’s E3 updates on twitter at Twitter.com/youthography.