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E3: Ubisoft's Bid For Living Room Dominance

E3: Ubisoft's Bid For Living Room Dominance

June 15, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield

The theme of Ubisoft’s Gamasutra-attended Los Angeles press conference this year was “games you can feel,” which they continually referenced throughout the presentation. There was a notable connection to Microsoft’s Kinect hardware, for which several games were demoed.

Hand Waving

Ubisoft opened with Q Entertainment founder and Rez creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi taking the stage to demonstrate his new project Children of Eden. As he waved his hands across the screen, I knew that this was the platform for him – Mizuguchi has always been very into synesthesia, the marriage of sights, sound, and feeling into one package.

The game, which sported Kinect compatibility, looked and sounded gorgeous [YouTube trailer], but for myself, I couldn’t help thinking how much more precise the game would be with a controller. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is to feel spatially and bodily involved, and watching him perform for the crowd, I could tell that for Mizuguchi this is a new frontier.

The other major Kinect games announced from Ubi were MotionSports, a minigame sports collection, and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved. Your Shape is interesting because it shows the promise of the Kinect camera for fitness, with rather sophisticated movement that allows for an extension of the company’s existing fitness and yoga product lines.

Touchy Feely

A couple of odd titles crept into the presentation, including a new spin on Laser Tag (called Battletag) in which a computer calls out the scores and objectives – but ultimately it’s still Laser Tag, and did feel a little odd at a game show, given that there is no video game component to it.

Then there was Innergy, a sensor you put on your finger to help with your breathing and relaxation, assisted by cute computer graphics. The entire project looks very similar to what Wild Divine has been doing with biofeedback for ages.

Since it’s a simple USB dongle, it can be connected to any computer to maximize your stress reduction. The producer on-hand made the bold statement that “if you do just one 10 minute session per day, it gives your immune system a boost for up to 6 hours.”

Moving Units

Not everything was completely non-traditional though. Also demonstrated were a new Ghost Recon, this time subtitled Future Soldier, which marks the return of four-player co-op, Raving Rabbids Travel In time (Wii exclusive), Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, and Driver San Francisco, which all looked about as nice as you’d suspect and are both multiplatform.

Particularly interesting was Shaun White’s Skateboarding, as apparently the snowboarding prodigy spends his off-season winning skateboarding awards as well. The game has a bit of a story, in which “the ministry” is trying to eradicate fun and individuality.

The game uses a Saboteur-style technique, making a grey ministry-controlled world turn bright and colorful as White’s skateboarding illuminates the consciousnesses of everyone in the area. Or something to that effect.

More interesting than that is the ability to actively deform the geometry as you skate, extending rail grinds past their natural conclusions to climb up walls, and reach other rails, literally reshaping the landscape as you go. This is White’s third game with Ubisoft, and he says he’s now “getting a grasp of what’s really possible, and what I want to do with a game.”

Download Evolution

The title I was looking forward to the most was Eric Chahi’s Project Dust. The Out Of This World creator has been working on this digitally distributed, 2011-due game for the last two years, based on his travels photographing volcanoes.

The game looks to have realtime environmental deformation along with dynamic natural environments. While there’s no indication of how the game plays, the concept is certainly interesting – a race on the brink of extinction must learn to harnest the powers of the elements to change the world around it. Expect quite a few messages and environmental themes.

A new 2D-oriented Rayman was announced, Rayman Origins, which claims the involvement of Michel Ancel, who is rumored to have left Ubisoft.

An associated quasi-announcement was made that a “set of tools” had been developed to allow people to make games on their own, professionally or otherwise, but details were beyond vague. We can expect to hear more about that in the near future, I should think.

Last on the downloadable side, there was Maniaplanet, a PC online hub for its user-created content games, including Trackmania, and two new titles, Shootmania, an FPS game creator, and Questmania, an RPG maker.

Ubisoft’s Hardball

The impression I got from the entire presentation was that Ubisoft really wants to take over the game market. I mean, granted, everyone wants to win, but the breadth of Ubi’s offerings -- spanning casual, online, movement, and hardcore games -- was actually matched by its depth, at least from the external view.

Ubisoft is giving the impression that it is not dabbling in these arenas, not testing the waters, but going full force. Having worked in each of these arenas for a few years now, the dabbling phase is over, which is arguably what the company was doing for casual and social genres just a couple years ago.

Now, it feels like the company is ready to show its entire hand. Casual Kinect games were given the same amount of time as Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon, and though the downloadable titles were given much less time to shine, they were introduced by Ubisoft president Yves Guillemot at the end of the presentation, underlining their importance.

Notably absent was any announcement for PlayStation Move, but with Ubi such a multi-platform-oriented company, one can only presume those titles are just waiting in the wings.

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