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June 5, 2012

E3 2012: That Just Happened, Apparently



The following is probably the most rational, unbiased, laissez-faire, and comprehensible E3 reaction blog post you’ll find on the internet. 

HUUUUUUURGH VIDEO GAMES!  RRGHRAAAGH WHY ARE THERE SO MANY SHOOTERS AND KNIFE KILLS?  OHMAHSTAHZ RAYMAN LEGENDS AND WATCHDOGS!  WAITWHA NIKE AND KINECT NOOO I HATE BEING FIT!  ZOMBIE REGGIE WOULD LIKE YOU TO BUY A WII U!  PIKMIN 3 YEAAAAAAAAAAAH!  AND THEN THERE WAS A DANCE PARTY!

What?  I delivered on my promise.

…All right, here.  My real thoughts on E3.

You know, it’s funny.  A long time ago, when I was trying to prove that I remembered going to Kentucky, my mom teased me about my need to always be right.  Apparently, I inherited from my dad; I just couldn’t accept the fact that maybe my (at the time) seven-year-old brain couldn’t put together information stored in my four-year-old brain, and I had to have the right understanding of events.  Maybe that “need to be right” still holds water today, given how opinionated I can be at times -- I was even an opinion writer for my high school newspaper -- but I’d like to think that there are three traits that keep me from being a snarling monster.


One: I like to try and prove that I’m right through evidence.  Things I’ve read and seen, pros and cons, and good ol’ fashioned logic -- without those, I won’t prove anything.

Two: What I say is largely opinion, either mine or based on the word of others.  It’s fourth-grade knowledge; the moment you start using words like great/terrible/best/worst is the moment it stops being fact and becomes opinion.

Three: Just because I can prove I’m right (or at least try to) doesn’t always mean it’s fun.  If I predicted that the world would end tomorrow and it actually did, I guarantee you I wouldn’t be dancing about it.  It might LOOK like I’m dancing as I try to dodge the hammering rain of hellfire, but that’s just a consequence of me trying to, you know, live.

So when I look at what I posted just a few weeks ago for comparison’s sake, I don’t feel particularly accomplished, or proud, or even happy.  I just feel…all right.  And as a whole, that’s how I feel about this E3.


If I had to describe the conferences as a whole in one word, it would be “safe.”  That’s all that the gaming gang -- Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony, and even Nintendo -- needed.  While the Big N still had higher stakes to attend to, even they had the same general goal as the others.  This E3 was just a progress report.  It was a chance to tell gamers “Okay, you know this stuff is coming, so let us show you how we’re doing on that and why you should care about us.”  Fair enough.  It wasn’t like EA was about to announce a new console.  So basically, how much this E3 rocked or sucked depends on how much you approve of the companies playing it safe.  If you resign yourself to an expo full of practicality that shows glimpses of what you already expected with the occasional surprise, then you’re probably not complaining.  If you were expecting jaw-dropping revelations and supreme evidence as to why you should throw your dollars at these companies, you’ll probably walk away shaking your head and needing a few dozen beers.

Well, that’s enough of an overview.  Let’s talk about the conferences one-by-one.  I’m not going to grade/rank/score them because my Point Calculator 8000 is on the fritz, so just read on (and pretend you’re playing with a pinball machine if you absolutely need numbers to look at). 


It started with a shooter, and it ended with a shooter.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that there was something almost poetic about it…except the words are made out of bullets.  I also like how Blops2 trades in its brown aesthetic so it can dye itself a healthy shade of goldenrod.

Well, as I said, all Microsoft had to do was maintain a stable level of hype.  So they did -- or tried to do -- just that: they showed off some games, like Halo 4 and the aforementioned Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.  Plus they had some Far Cry 3 and some Tomb Raider, and of course some Assassin’s Creed 3.  As I noted yesterday, the theme of this E3 seemed to be “killing the crap out of guys with knives” -- in Tomb Raider it was most noticeable, because the first thing I’d do if I was trapped in the wilderness alone and battered with untold dozens of crooks crawling about, the first thing I’d do after shooting a guy twice with my bow is run up to him and try and carve his sternum out as a trophy. Kidding aside, I think that I’m more excited for Tomb Raider -- regardless of my stance on gritty reboots -- than I was before…though now I’m a little worried about the de-emphasis on exploration and the string of set-pieces and murder opportunities shown on-stage.  (On a side note, I like how the showcase of a new Forza game was undercut by showing off a trailer for Gears of War Judgment first.)

And then there was the other stuff.  Hoo boy…



Look, I’ll admit that I understand what Microsoft’s trying to do.  We’re at a point in society where we can start making the stuff seen in speculative fiction a possibility; with things like the Kinect and MS’s constant efforts at making the 360 a hub for entertainment, I can’t blame them.  They’re moving us towards the future, little by little.  The problem is that even though I understand what they’re doing, that doesn’t mean I enjoy what they’re doing (especially at a conference that’s supposed to be about games, last I checked).  So when Microsoft trotted out its Nike/Kinect partnership dealie, I started flipping through whatever reading material I had on hand.  The same applies for their discussion about sports, and all the partnerships coming to Xbox Live.  And the same applies to Xbox Music.  And the same applies to…wow, did they really have all this junk during their conference?  How long was I reading for?  And how long was that thing?

I think that the problems I had with the MS conference is a problem that I have with waaaaaay too many games this generation: everything looks the same.  With the exception of a chosen few, games nowadays have too-similar styles.  Brown and gray environments -- and if not those, then a washed-out palette.  Urban decay, crusty habitats, and a healthy layer of grime either in the world or on the people themselves.  A seventy-percent chance that the world the game creates is an awful place to live (via war, an apocalypse, or otherwise), or that the characters in it are miserable or down on their luck.  Zombies and/or explosions.    And the less said about gameplay similarities and trying to be “cinematic,” the better off I’ll be.

Let me paint a picture for you.  MS wants you to get excited about MS games, products, and services (incidentally by using some third-party titles, but I digress).  To do that, they show you games that you already know about, and have either pledged your soul towards pre-ordering, or want to burn their headquarters in effigy.  The choices you have are myriad, but eerily similar to one another; the alternatives -- Kinect trying to pass off a medieval 3D Angry Birds as something special -- aren’t much more appealing.  Take those away and what have you got?


Besides that.

SmartGlass.  Oh, right.  In all fairness, this does seem like another earnest attempt by MS to push us into the future, and not just a chance to take a share of Nintendo’s thunder (although given statements like “using the devices that you already own,” it’s arguable that they’re out to drive a stake through the WiiU’s game pad).   That said, I don’t see the appeal of SmartGlass right now.  It’s interesting tech, to be sure, but what does it mean in the context of games?  Yeah, it’ll probably become something big somewhere down the line, but right now?  Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…yeah, I guess it’s cool.  Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Regardless, the highlight of the show and the SmartGlass showcase was South Park: The Stick of Truth.  Or to be more precise, the headshot that Matt Parker and Trey Stone scored on MS.


I remember a time when EA couldn’t do much else besides put out crappy licensed games.  Okay, that’s not exactly true…I remember a time when EA had this one golf game out for the Genesis, and I consistently got bogeys because I couldn’t time my swings correctly.  Now they’re one of the biggest names out there -- for good and for ill.

In this case, it seems like it’s mostly for ill.  Why, you ask?  Well, when you start off your presentation saying how you plan to turn games into a service and “continue providing content long after release,” that doesn’t exactly make me want to profess my loyalty.

So, the games.  Um, let’s see here.  They showed off a new Madden and a new FIFA.  Or at least, they showed Madden for the second time that day.  And they touted just how much they planned on integrating their sports games with social media and the like.  That’s cool, I guess.


And they showed off Dead Space 3 with co-op gameplay -- you know, just in case you didn’t want to play a survival horror/action game and needed a pal to help you face the untold hordes of aliens without fear.  And there was talk about Battlefield 3 DLC for the next nine months…including, but not limited to, soldiers on motorcycles.  And just in case you hadn’t gotten your shooter fix yet, they showed off Medal of Honor: Warfighter (at least they’re upfront about it in the title).  At least it’s using the Frostbite 2 engine…you know, just in case they decided to NOT try and differentiate it from Battlefield.  Oh, and there was Crysis 3, so…more shooting?  That’s…that’s pretty…thorough.

At least they had a non-gritty, non-shooty SimCity locked and loaded.  For a second I started getting hyped when it looked like they were showing off a new Burnout, but then I saw that it was just Need for Speed.  I think my favorite part of this conference was when I went to feed my dog and grab some fish.


You would think that after the cataclysmic event that was Mr. Caffeine, Ubisoft would pull in the reins and avoid embarrassing itself and everyone watching with half-baked announcers and stage gimmicks.  So naturally, the first thing they did was embarrass itself and everyone watching with half-baked announcers and stage gimmicks.  Nothing says video games like impromptu dance parties and awkward attempts to entertain the audience.

That aside, Ubisoft -- to my surprise -- had a pretty solid showing this year.  Assassin’s Creed III is their big title right now (by dint of featuring more stabbing) and while there’s no doubt it’ll be a competent game, the CG trailer leaves me shaking my head in disdain.  I always thought of the assassins as masters of stealth and subterfuge; I guess Ubisoft doesn’t feel the same way, because they were content with showing Connor taking on the entire Redcoat army by himself and making a win against the possible.  I like how nobody can seem to land a shot on him, even after he steps within point-blank range of their general and Connor stares at him menacingly without moving.   


But with that aside, I’m actually, truly, genuinely intrigued by the new IP Watch Dogs.  First of all, it’s not a shooter (at least not a pure shooter).  Second, it looks like it’s actually primed to tell an interesting, meaningful story.  Third, it leaves me wondering just how the protagonist -- if you can call him that -- will use his seemingly-magic cell phone to solve his problems.  I’m just so thankful that there’s still a game out there that doesn’t have all its problems solved by knife stabs.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the game’s perfect by virtue of being the new kid.  At the end of the day, the protagonist pulls out a gun and starts shooting, and engages in gunplay that wouldn’t look out of place in a Rockstar game; just in case information manipulation and cyber-domination aren’t cool enough for you, there’s an explosion to wake you up.  But in spite of my quibbles, that’s the one game that’s got me hyped, if nothing else.  I just hope people are liking it for the right reasons (given G4’s replay of footage that axed all the technology shots to show the action, I feel a bit worried).

Side note: Rayman Legends made me puke glorious rainbows…but that’s to be expected when you’re the sole, divine savior amidst a sea of grit and scowling.



Okay, I’m gonna step away from talking about Sony as a gamer and talk about Sony as a writer (and if you saw the conference, you probably know what I’m referring to).  Sony…Sony, you deal with electronics.  In the context of the PS3 and Vita and -- once in a blue moon -- the Move, you deal with video games.  That’s your thing.  That’s your medium.  You own it. 

You do not own books.  Don’t…just don’t.  I’d talk more about that, but for now that’s all I’m going to say.

Anyway, moving on to the rest of the conference.  First up was Beyond, from the guys behind Heavy Rain.  You know, sometimes I think I’d prefer it if all these game developers out to make “cinematic experiences” just moved en masse to making movies, because for the life of me I couldn’t find anything that looked like gameplay in the demonstration they brought up.  Seems like they were more excited about showing off cutscenes and face-rendering technology.  And on that note, I like how they were so excited about their Face-o-Tron 6000 and how they nabbed Ellen Page for the role, and then had her sitting there quietly without a twitch for all but the last few minutes and a trailer featuring her character going to town on some dudes.  Riveting.


There was also Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale.  Again, this isn’t a game that I’m too worried about; it’ll be a financial success by way of aping Smash Bros., and by that same token it’ll be a solid game.  This was just a little progress report and a way to get the fans excited…though what’s baffling is that when presented with a chance to show off some of the characters, they picked Fat Princess instead of PS3 posterboy Nathan Drake…and then acted like his reveal at the end of the presentation was a big surprise.  Well, I guess it wouldn’t be the first time Sony’s made a baffling decision.

Let’s see, what else?  Oh, there was some talk about the Vita, and how there are going to be PS1 classics like Final Fantasy VII heading to it.  And another Assassin’s Creed, and another version of CoDBlops.  Huh.  Guess that’s all you need to prove your hardware’s worth, huh?  Okay, let’s move on.

God of War: Ascension is just as violent and chaos-happy as everybody expected.  I don’t think I need to say anything more about the game that codifies this year’s theme of “killing the crap out of guys with knives.”

What I WOULD like to talk about, however, is The Last of Us.  While it does feature some much-needed stabbing, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by it.  I’m not in loved with it, and I’m not insanely hyped about it, but I’m a little curious.  On the one hand, it looks like another take on the zombie apocalypse.  On the other hand, it looks like a GOOD take on the zombie apocalypse.  The lead characters are interesting and it looks like they have a deep, meaningful relationship, but I’m more excited about the world they live in.  What happened, exactly?  What’s it like now?  How do people survive nowadays?  If memory serves, the lead -- Joel, I think is his name (even though he reminds me of an old, bearded Nathan Drake) doesn’t have regenerating health.  He has to reach into his backpack to use and equip items.  Does that mean there’s going to be less of an emphasis on piece-to-piece action, and give us time to soak in this ugly yet beautiful world?  Similarly, does that mean we’ll get an opportunity to gather materials that will help the duo survive?  Like Watch Dogs, it’s a concept that can be screwed up pretty quickly…buuuuuuuuut it’s also a concept that can make a truly amazing experience.

So, Sony, and everyone involved…ya done good.


Nintendo
Well.  Here we are.

Much like this E3 as a whole, opinions are split on whether Nintendo had a good showing this year.  On one hand, you’ve got a camp that -- in spite of seeing three new Mario games, a new Pikmin game, a new Castlevania, the upcoming release of KH3D (which, in spite of my rage on other installments in the series, I’m actually willing to trust), an updated version of Batman: Arkham City, a delightful-looking LEGO title, impending releases of Rayman Legends and Assassin’s Creed 3, an original IP featuring zombies, a full explanation of the WiiU (since for some reason there was some confusion on whether it was just an add-on or a new console last year), a Thanksgiving-sized taste of what it can do, and Reggie Fils-Aime doing his thing -- being a charismatic, meme-tastic juggernaut -- people STILL aren’t satisfied with the conference.

On the other hand, you’ve got a camp that’s willing to settle for three new Mario games, accept a port of a year-old game, look past more dance parties and karaoke demos, ignore the missing mention of a “competitive price,” allow Nintendo to continue peddling its Miis with reckless abandon in a convention ostensibly for the hardcore gamers, and clap politely when Nintendo closes out its convention not with the reveal of an old franchise reborn and re-purposed for the new tech, but instead unveil their game-changing software…Nintendo Land.  Thankfully, the one thing we can agree on is that in terms of awkwardness, Nintendo kept that rating low.

Personally?  Nintendo’s in the green with me.  First of all, Scribblenauts Unlimited makes ALL arguments invalid.  Nigh-infinite, diction-based reality bending with a cartoonish veneer, multiplayer, and a genuine story mode?  That alone should shut EVERYONE up; alas, such is life.


Second, just because Nintendo didn’t show a new Zelda or Smash Bros. footage doesn’t mean we’ll never get them.  They already implied that there wasn’t enough time to show off everything they wanted to, and what they did show -- yes, even Nintendo Land -- accomplished the goal of showing what the WiiU could do and that it had games, both first- and third-party.  Considering that it hasn’t even been a year since the last Zelda came out, I’d say it’s good to wait a bit.  Considering how long it was (or at least felt) between the first trailer for Smash Bros. Brawl and how many delays there were until the actual release, I’m glad they’re keeping their cards close to the chest.

Third -- and this, I think, is most important -- is just how much Nintendo’s design philosophy shone through.  MS tried to “steal their thunder” by giving smartphones and tablets and the like connectivity with the Xbox.  Fair enough.  But what MS couldn’t capture was the idea behind the WiiU.  Nintendo took time out to emphasize the importance of the console being the focal point of the living room; it’s designed to be something that, potentially, five whole people can enjoy at once.  Whether it’s two brothers cooperating to beat a level or just making parties that much crazier, it’s a console designed to make people put down their phones and play together.  Having fun together.  Laughing together.  In a way, it’s a chance to “de-jade” gamers and non-gamers alike.  The WiiU no doubt has some serious tech behind it, as does the Xbox, SmartGlass, and any given phone made in the last year or so.  But it’s the purpose behind that technology that Nintendo’s trying to convey, and I think they’ve either captured that purpose or are very near to it.  It’s a platform to bring people -- REAL people, not just random scrubs you’ll never see or hear in an online match in Street Fighter 4 -- together.  It’s an idealistic, if lofty goal that I can’t help but approve of.


But I just can’t quite give Nintendo my blind blessing.  This E3 was a chance for them to prove themselves; while they succeeded in some rights, they failed in others.  I can’t call myself unbiased if I blast other companies for peddling the same two games over and over, but give the House of N a free pass just because its games are more colorful.  Mario is safe.  Mario will sell.  Therefore, Mario will appear on everything with a Nintendo label.  Would it really be that hard to bring back another franchise?  They’re banking on nostalgia, so why not resurrect an old friend?  More importantly, this was a chance for Nintendo to prove to gamers that they could balance hardcore and casual gamers, and remove the stigma that they’re only in it for the kids now.  the fact that ZombiU is a thing that’s happening should have been enough (and depending on how you spin it, it is).  But for Nintendo to try and hype us up with Nintendo Land -- a game that hovers dangerously close to being another minigame compilation -- is what I like to call a boneheaded move.  It makes me think back to E3 2008, when their definition of a hardcore game was Animal Crossing.

But like I said before, I’m not worried about Nintendo.  They’ve got games like Pikmin 3 for first-party support.  They’ve got games like Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for third-party support.  They’ve got the tech, a goal in mind, and a commitment to being the best gaming company they can be -- a respite against the grime-laden, cynical world of games we live in these days.  Do they have their faults?  Yes.  Did they stumble a bit at this E3?  Sure.  But so did everyone else.  So do all of us.  What’s important is that even if we stumble, we keep moving forward.  Nintendo’s moving forward.  Sony’s moving forward.  Microsoft’s moving forward.  Ubisoft and even EA are moving forward.  And that’s all right with me.


This was, as I said, a safe E3.  There were a few surprises, but most of what we saw was either already expected, or just a formality (or ignored with extreme prejudice).  But right now, safe is good enough.  Think of this expo as a step in a staircase; it’s very level and stable, and that’s the way you want it.  Get any crazy tricks or spikes, and you’re going to take a nasty fall.  But you can stand safely on it.  Use it as a base to ascend higher and you’ll be fine -- even better off than you were before.  You seriously think that the industry is going to implode on itself now?  Not quite; maybe someday, but for now, we’re in a good place.  And for the time being, I’m going to remain optimistic.  Even with safe games and safe motions, games like Watch Dogs and Rayman Legends and Scribblenauts Unlimited prove that there’s something special out there, even in this modern age of gaming.  Even beyond that, there are still plenty of awesome titles out there that’ll get you hyped -- Persona 4 Arena is primed to be an astounding fighting game, regardless of whether or not it had a presence at E3.

So, bottom line?  Not the best E3, but good enough for now.  There’s a lot of room for debate, but there’s still a lot of room to grow.  And so, with a tip of my metaphorical hat I say: here’s to better days.

See you guys around.  I’ve got a sunset to ride into.

2 comments:

  1. Scribblenauts Unlimited? I should try to find that DSi.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or you could upgrade to a 3DS, since it's coming to that too. Regardless, I'm salivating at the prospect of making my tank house.

      It's a tank, but it's also a house. UNLIMITED POWER!

      Delete