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E3: EA's Press Conference - From Wright To Fanning

Gamasutra was at the E3 press conference from publishing giant Electronic Arts - with a promised "almost no PowerPoint, no statistics [and] no reference to market share" from CEO John Riccitiello. How well did they do? SimAnimals, Shawn Fanning, Wi
As usual, the minutes before EA's E3 press conference at the Orpheum Theatre were filled with an endlessly looping list of EA's many worldwide studios, then kicked off with a sharply-edited demo reel of its many cross-platform titles. As it ended, that video rather grandiosely transitioned to a slide bearing the name of Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello. "Welcome to EA's largest-ever E3 press briefing," he opened. "I'm John Riccitiello." The executive outlined what the presentation would be all about: "Almost no PowerPoint, no statistics, no reference to market share and how we're bigger than the other guys." "Although that might be an interesting conversation," he added suggestively, alluding to newly-formed mega-publisher Activision Blizzard. Rod Humble, The Sims Studio First up was The Sims Studio's Rod Humble, to show a video of an upcoming title, SimAnimals. Sounding more like an lightly anthropomorphized animalia version of The Sims than one of Maxis' similarly named older titles like SimAnt or SimEarth, the game is headed to Wii and Nintendo DS. "If you want to make a baby bear," Humble explained, "well, um, you take a mommy bear and a daddy bear who love each other very much, and you put them all together, and hopefully they make a special hug." He then showed a trailer of The Sims 3, due for release in 2009. Humble promised it would contain "the most intricate AI ever put into a video game." Glen Schofield, EA Redwood Shores Dead Space was introduced by producer Schofield as "unusual for EA" in that it is "very M-rated." No new announcements about the third person outer space horror game were made; it is on track for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 this October. "I hope you're all over 17," he said, before showing the second of two bloody gameplay trailers. Patrick Soderlund, EA Games European Studios Soderlund, who formerly ran developer DICE, came onstage to demonstrate the Battlefield creator's upcoming first-person shooter cum parkour sim, Mirror's Edge. Again, no major new information was revealed, although the title certainly occupies a unique segment. Will Wright, Maxis An apparent exception to Riccitiello's promise to keep things light on the PowerPoint, famed designer Wright came to the stage to give one of his trademark presentations blending his own interests with his current title, in this case Spore. "I've always had kind of this amazing fascination with science. Every since I was a little kid, I've associated since with creativity," he began, harkening back to his childhood days with chemistry kits. "For me science was actually something you made stuff out of. I want [Spore] to actually represent that combination of creativity and science." Wright noted that the recently-release Spore Creature Creator topped NPD's PC sales charts, and saw another 2 million downloads of the demo. EA was hoping for 100,000 creature uploads by the time the full game releases later this year - "Instead, what happened was we hit 100k in about 22 hours, and we hit a million within a week," Wright noted. "The number of creatures we have uploaded to Spore has now exceeded the number of unique species on Earth," he continued. "By some accounts, it took God about seven days to do the same thing. If we take these two numbers and divide them, we found our Spore fans are abut 38% God." Wright represents that figure as ".38G." "By the date we launch, we'll be about 1G, and possibly 3G by the end of the year," he postulated. Peter Moore, EA Sports "I'm running out of arms, and legs!" Moore joked as he started to pull up his right shirt sleeve, then backed off, referencing his infamous release date arm tattoos from his days with Microsoft. Showing off a variety of new EA Sports titles, including the upcoming edition of NBA Live which will include daily stat updates from the NBA, Moore brought onstage NBA hall of famer Bill Walton, to raucous applause. Capitalizing on his current life as a sports broadcaster, Walton came off a good deal more natural and less teleprompty than most of his fellow presenters. To much applause and laughter, he mentioned about how when he was enrolled at UCLA, he'd sneak off to the Orpheum to see musicians like Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and others. Shawn Fanning, Napster Guy Shawn Fanning of Napster fame briefly came to the stage to discuss his EA collaboration, Rupture, a site that allows users to track in-game achievements and even create their own. For example, a player can challenge his friend to reach level 30 in Mythic's MMO Warhammer Online and unlock all Battlefield: Bad Company Xbox 360 achievements by a given date. Fanning invited developers to check out the site's API at http://www.rupture.com/developers. Greg Zeschuk, BioWare BioWare co-founder Zeschuk, in one of the shortest presentations of the day, showed a brief cinematic trailer for the studio's long-in-the-works Dragon Age: Origins, which he described as "a return to BioWare's roots." The game, a "spiritual successor to our great Baldur's Gate" has only officially been announced for PC, but Zeschuk noted that the game will be "the foundation of another great franchise on the PC and in the future on the consoles." Gabe Newell, Valve Breaking Riccitiello's no-PowerPoint decree even more brashly than did Wright, Valve co-founder Newell displayed myriad bullet points about the company's upcoming collaboration with new subsidiary Turtle Rock, before rolling some impressive gameplay footage showcasing something of a visual overhaul. It is now expected this November 4 for PC and Xbox 360. John Carmack, id Software In the most surprising news of the conference, and one of the only major announcements, shooter pioneer Carmack stepped onstage to announce that, for the first time in over a decade, id's next title would not be published by Activision. EA Partners will be handling distribution on RAGE the Mad Max-inspired shooter with racing elements. A new trailer, but no new substantial details of the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 title was shown. In Conclusion EA's E3 presentation offered little in the way of surprises, but presented another snapshot of the company's transition toward publishing games that really do matter to gamers and to the market. The coup of securing publishing rights to id's Rage shows the continued strength of its EA Partners publishing model, alongside previously-known Valve title Left 4 Dead. Meanwhile, its internal development expands in range, with the M-Rated Dead Space a hardcore counterpoint to Spore and news on The Sims 3. It's an interesting time to be Electronic Arts.

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