Day 3: SimHQ at E3 2013

by Erik “EinsteinEP” Pierce

Day 3 – The Final Day

Day 3 was a bittersweet day. The first two days were certainly action-packed and exceeded all expectations for awesomeness, but, with all the running around and interviews, I was almost looking forward to going home. Almost. First there was some Battlefield 4 to try out!

DSCN0453Just in case you were wondering, yes, it is as awesome as it looks.

EA had a sweet setup with a whole mess of PCs (64 player stations!) and two extra large Commander stations – that’s right, COMMANDER stations. If you hadn’t heard the sweet glorious news already, BF4 is bringing the Commander back and, by the look of the screens, it’s just as sweet as it ever was. Unlike BF2, however, the Commander is a dedicated out-of-the-battlespace unit – no more Commander Rambos. Satellite view and UAV abilities are still present in addition to supply and vehicle drops. New features are the Gunship, EMP UAV, and Tomahawk missile strike. Gunship brings in an AI piloted AC-130 that has four player spots – three gunners and one jump-seat passenger. The EMP UAV prevents spotting of friendly units by the enemy for a short period of time. The Tomahawk feature sends in that famous cruise missile (video of it in action here) for a devastating land strike, although someone needs to tell EA that the missile has a turbofan engine for the cruise and terminal portions of the flight – no need for the smoke trails!

EA has also announced that the Commander will be able to log in via a mobile device – a feature I’m not sure I’m thrilled about. Sure, it makes the Commander job easier and more accessible, but I’m concerned that folks on mobile devices will be more easily distracted than those sitting in front of a PC or console and the best way to annoy your own Army (besides ordering artillery strikes on them) is to do a half-ash job of commanding. Time will tell.

After getting my BF4 fix (who am I kidding, I just didn’t want to wait in line again) it was off to find some Microsoft or Sony representatives to learn more about the features of their hardware – What were the final specs on the APU?  Would screenshot and video capture capabilities be integrated into their consoles?  Unfortunately, the only representatives we could find were of the public relations type that couldn’t answer these and other technical questions. Apparently those folks went home right after the press conferences on Monday!  <sigh>

However, even the dog-and-pony guys left working the show had some fascinating information. Microsoft’s Xbox One folks had a very detailed hands-on demonstration of the new Kinect and its features. Creep out all you want, but the motion-tracking technology has come quite a ways. Not only did the new camera accurately track the folks on stage, it could keep track of who was who even as they rapidly changed places or if they left the camera’s view and came back. Even folks who just walked on stage, without an Xbox One profile to train were accurately tracked and remembered. The system was also able to tell which user was holding a controller and, yes the rumors are true, the camera is able to pick up your heartbeat just from visual cues in your face. While not the Rainbow 6 heartbeat detector, the camera was able to make out a pretty darn good cardiosinusoidal rythym. The tracking features don’t just apply to your limbs, either – Xbox One can pick up your facial expressions and is able to determine whether you are happy, neutral, sad, surprised, angry. No word yet on whether or not it can tell if you’re just gassy. Beyond “simple” tracking, Xbox One can estimate the force present in each of your “skeletal” structures, like your legs, arms, or torso, and also calculate the impact from swinging your fists at the screen. While not exactly exciting in and of itself, this means that developers should be able to more easily and more accurately integrate these effects into their games without worrying about all the heavy tracking and translation algorithms. Microsoft may have introduced some controversy with their DRM tactics but they’ve also brought some amazing technology that I hope the industry can incorporate.

Xbox One's powerful KinectMicrosoft showing off the Xbox One: Kinect camera’s tracking features

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Sadly, my time with E3 came to an end. While I certainly would have liked to see even more tactical content at E3 — a new high-fidelity combat flight sim, perhaps, or a realistic and enjoyable space shooter — I was thrilled with what I found. It’s always disappointing to be reminded that our simulation genre comprises a sliver of a hair of the gaming market, but reassuring to meet others who share the same passion for the challenge and sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering a true simulation. Despite all the flash and bang and wheedle-dee-doo on the floor, our simulation genre was alive and well at E3 2013. Who knows what we’ll see next year?

Our friends over at SimHQ Motorsports spent a lot of hands-on time with the Xbox One flagship title, Forza 5, and the finally-released-for-PS3 GT6. They were also able to score a face-to-face discussion with GT6 producer Taku Imasaki with lots of gooey details exchanged. Check over at their site for their trip report with all the inside info.

Bye Bye, E3.  We will miss you.Bye Bye, E3. We will miss you. Only one year to E3 2014!

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