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June 11, 2013

E3 2013: Hope Never Dies


*throws up hands* Well.  This is going to cause some problems.


You sons of bitches. 

Kingdom Hearts 3 is officially in development.  Mere seconds after Square-Enix rebrands Versus 13 as FF15 -- which I’m 100% convinced was an effort to distance the game from the stigmatic Lightning Saga -- Tetsuya Nomura and his cohorts unveil the game that EVERYBODY has been waiting for.  Or if not that, then the game I’VE been waiting for.  Sora’s back.  Donald and Goofy are back.  Twilight Town is back, maybe.  And to all of that -- to the infinite potential that KH3 now holds, by virtue of both its next-gen framework and its intrinsic possibilities -- I only have one thing to say to Square-Enix.

Don’t.

Fuck.

This. 

Up.


All right.  Let’s shift topics for now, even though I’ll probably come back to this…this certain, special announcement later.  See, last year I did a post or two on E3, and prior to making this post I thought I’d follow the same setup.  You know, weighing in on each individual company and its conference.  Seeing how the games and prospects from one clan stacked up in comparison to the next.  I’m pretty sure I gave the tentative win to Nintendo last time -- not to say that they were flawless, but in my eyes they did a hell of a lot better than everybody else -- but I don’t think that format is going to work out this time.

There are a few reasons for this.  One: honestly, I wasn’t even going to do an E3 post unless I felt it was absolutely necessary…and lo and behold, it’s become absolutely necessary.  Two: the big focus this time around isn’t on the companies per se, but the consoles; it was a matter of Microsoft’s villainous Xbox One (which I’m going to abbreviate as XB1 instead of the incredibly-unfortunate Xbone) against the then-secretive PS4.  Three: I had resigned myself to an E3 full of mediocrity and disappointment across the board, so I figured I’d put my focus on something besides the inevitable parade of murder and gunplay.  And four: I resigned myself to an E3 full of mediocrity, and for the most part I was proven right. 


With all that in mind, here’s pretty much all you need to know in terms of my opinions.  For all intents and purposes, Sony has won this console war before it’s even started.  Nintendo’s started out slow, but you and I know that once the Wii U gains steam (like the 3DS before it, and the DS before that), it’s going to be an incredibly solid piece of tech even if it’s not the dedicated fixture of a gamer’s setup.  And Microsoft?  I think “Not-So-Grump” Jon Jafari said it best: “If I can’t be the best, I sure as hell can be the worst.”

I would argue pretty strongly that in terms of “this year’s winner”, Sony wins.  By quite a distance.  Nintendo’s in second place, though one can’t help but wonder if they qualify if they didn’t even have a conference (maybe that was a defensive measure on their part).  Ubisoft’s in third place, thanks in no small part to the resumed awkwardness of MC Aisha Tyler.  The fourth spot is up for debate, but let’s just go ahead and give it to Microsoft.  At least they tried to show off something exciting, which is more than I can say for EA (barring the announcement of a new Mirror’s Edge, but given how little they showed of it, the “reveal” just feels like a last-ditch grab at goodwill).


More than any other E3 in recent memory, it feels like there were genuine winners and losers.  Sony’s pretty much riding the waves of a mosh pit.  Microsoft’s been abandoned in the middle of their concert.  Nintendo’s playing in a completely different stadium.  In terms of the big three’s standings, I’m content to leave it at that. 

Now, let’s talk about the games…is what I would like to say.  But I can’t.  Not yet, at least.

You know, I can remember a time when I used to be hyped as all hell for E3.  I remember diving right into issues of Nintendo Power -- God rest its noble soul -- to see what good news Nintendo would deliver.  And I remember eventually watching the conferences and reveals on G4, and delighting in hearing Adam Sessler’s verbal tic where he says a syllable multiple times in rapid succession when he’s excited/asking a question/has his brain overloaded.  And I remember eventually watching a stream or two on my laptop, hoping that it didn’t put my machine one step closer to a total meltdown.  But beyond all of that, I remember a wish that my brother, my buddy and I once shared: that someday, the three of us would head to E3 and delight in the convention fun.


That wish is no longer constant.  The three of us huddled around my brother’s computer for the Sony event this past February, and it was an absolute struggle to get through.  I’d said beforehand that it’d be boring and a waste of time, but I didn’t expect to be so on-the-nose; we had to endure what felt like days of on-stage grandstanding, empty buzzwords galore, and the general message that Sony would become our new lords and saviors.  My brother just sat in his chair with his chin in his hand, complaining all the while.  I started playing with my dog a good six feet away from the computer.  I suspect my buddy actually fell asleep at one point. 

All three of us have been burned by an E3 press conference -- or show in general -- at one point or another.  People seem convinced that the show is like Christmas morning, but more and more I’m convinced that that’s only the case if one expects a dumpster full of coal and ugly socks under their trees.  It leads me to believe that, honestly, maybe it’d be for the best if E3 took a break for a while.  Nintendo has the right Idea, I feel, by going with these Direct Conference deals; they cut out the chaff, focus on the games, and do so on their terms with their tech on full display.  No need for Mr. Caffeine, or any other awkwardness.  To be fair, I can see why E3 is still in motion, in the sense that it’s got the same prominence as a State of the Union address.  And likewise, it could be a way to show off to people who don’t normally consider games (emphasis on “could”).  But with the internet as important to people as it is today -- not to mention efficient -- I’m starting to think that E3 is just a chance for bloated, awkward excess.  Information’s going to get out on the net anyway -- like it does pretty much every other day with any other game -- and I’d assume that more than a few pennies will be saved.  So why all the fuss for a “holiday” that is growing sourer by the year?


I guess there are two reasons why E3 endures.  One: it’s a surefire way to get all the news that matters -- especially the news that a gamer wouldn’t have even considered -- into one place.  E3 offers a chance for big announcements and big surprises, yes, but it also brings in characters from all walks of life.  I doubt anyone was expecting a recording of Steven Spielberg for the sake of a Halo TV show, and even beyond that there’s a smorgasbord of data to be consumed at leisure without having to go from one link to the next.  (I wouldn’t have known The Wolf Among Us even existed without GameInformer, for example.)  Two: if ever there was a time to celebrate the games that, ideally, should form the backbone of a gaming company, it would be in a massive spectacle like E3.  Show off something that’ll prove your company’s, or even your console’s case.  Blow us away.  If you’re not going to, don’t even bother showing up.

Yet they showed up regardless.

I can’t be the only one who’s thinking this.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t companies all across the board been touting creativity and new experiences that are only possible with next-gen tech?  I’m PRETTY sure several people are on record saying that, from Ubisoft in the past and EA as recently as their conference.  So with that in mind, why would Ubisoft trot out Rocksmith again?  Why show off more Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed 4?  And is it just me, or did The Division start out with an unending spiel on social commentary for its reveal just like Watch Dogs during its reveal?  Even if it wasn’t, isn’t it a little hypocritical for a game and its makers to prattle on about extreme consumerism and the fragility of every institutional structure when the company behind it is one of the biggest in the industry and likely wants to sell off a cool twelve million copies?


And EA…man, oh man, I just LOVE how the “Worst Company in America” two years in a row decided to start things off with a laser light show.  I also love how Plants vs. Zombies pokes fun at the sheer multitude of modern military shooters…and then EA brazenly shows off its modern military shooter shortly after.  You’ll forgive my skepticism, I hope, when EA claims to bring about the next evolution of the game but offers very little besides better visuals and an RTS mode…which, as my brother tells me, worked SO WELL in Call of Duty.  To be fair, though, they added in a female soldier, so I guess that’s your innovation right there.  She’ll fit right in with all the sports.

In all fairness to every company’s showings this year, the amount of genuine originality on display is debatable.  Kingdom Hearts 3 is on its way, sure, but just look at the title: third in the mainline console games, and, what, eighth or ninth in the franchise?  The magic of the first game can’t be so easily reproduced.  Nintendo’s trying to hit us hard with a new Mario game, and a new Mario Kart game, and a new Xeno-whatever game, but those have already been done.  Rayman Legends is a sequel to Rayman Origins, Crimson Dragon is the successor to Panzer Dragoon, and the less I have to think about how four of the five companies showed off hyper-realistic racing sims (with Sony showing off two), the better off my heart will be.


That said, being unoriginal isn’t automatically a deal-breaker.  One’s tolerance will always figure into something like “Is this Mario game new enough?”, but as long as the game at least puts on airs of -- or outright succeeds in -- offering something new, that’s fine.  Fighting games have only done so much evolving since their birth decades ago, but given that even minor tweaks to the numbers and coding makes huge differences in the code, even the jump from Street Fighter 4 to Super Street Fighter 4 brings with it plenty of changes and potential.  That’s really what it -- and by it I mean E3 -- is all about.  When it comes to games, if they’re not going to be 100% original, they need to 1) tweak the formula, 2) make a case for itself, its hardware, and its companies, and 3) satisfy the gamers.  Meet those tenets, and you’ll be better off.

So.  Guess what Microsoft didn’t do?



I don’t think there’s a better way to put it: I don’t understand this company anymore.  It’s bad enough that the company created such unnecessary and absurd policies for its next console.  It’s worse that they didn’t bother justifying them, or even talking about them during the conference.  But the one element that could have made it better, and made us forget all about the controversy surrounding the XB1, and the one reason why we’re watching in the first place -- the games  -- ends up being a halfhearted attempt at best.  I’m sorry, but my best impression of your conference should be “Oh wow, you’ve got me hooked, Microsoft!”  It should not be “Oh.  Yay.  More.  So let’s talk about that always-on DRM…”

Microsoft needed to do more -- much more -- than what they offered.  But they didn’t.  So they had that game Ryse, right?  You know, another cinematic experience that, if you strip away all the fancy visuals, is no more complex than a game of Red Light, Green Light?  Oh, but there was the new Forza, right?  Where they showed off some spiffy new cars…just like they did in the May conference…and last year’s E3…and probably the year before that.  Wait, they’ve got Quantum Break!  Except that it’s impossible to tell what the hell that game is even supposed to be, because they’re so damn intent on making it look like a live-action drama with space-time shenanigans (and as I side note, I suspect that that’s in pace so it can show off as a tech demo first and be an actual engaging game second).  Whoa, Dead Rising 3!  Except I don't remember a game formerly set in a mall and a casino being so brown, and the level of camp ratcheted down a few thousand notches, and a mechanic being able to call in an airstrike via SmartGlass.  Oh yeah, new Killer Instinct!  Except it’s being developed by the people who did the Battleship and Green Lantern movie tie-ins, and you have to pay to unlock more characters, and the console it’s strapped to supposedly makes it impossible to use in tournaments.  And let’s not forget Sunset Overdrive, a colorful shoot-happy game from Insomniac…which reminds me of that game Overstrike.  Hey, whatever happened to that game?


Oh.  Right.

Microsoft was supposed to give us a strong framework, a foundation for the next generation of games; the most they gave us was a moth-addled blanket.  If there’s a problem with E3 (one that I’ve mentioned or otherwise), then Microsoft embodied it with gusto.  An overwhelming sense of smugness.  Buzzwords going off in every direction.  Devoting huge swaths of time to games we’ve effectively already seen before, and giving others zero time to even help us generate an opinion, much less hype.  Nowhere near enough solid information via actual gameplay, so we have no idea if the games shown will be as “cool” as the trailers make them out to be, or if they’ll turn into slop upon release (see: Overstrike).

More of the same.  More, and more, and more.  And the genuine belief that a minute-long clip of Master Chief -- in a pre-rendered trailer, no less -- is going to be enough to whitewash all the problems of the console, and all the arrogance of the company, and all the failings of the conference.  But hey, at least they’ve got Titanfall, right?  A shooter where you get to pilot mechs?



No, no, it’s completely different from that.  It’s gritty and brown!  And it’s in first-person!  And there’s parkour!  And you play as part of the military so you can hear someone shout “Go, go, go!”

FUCK.  THAT.

Microsoft, if you want to lead gamers down your path into the future, you have to do more.  Much more.  Another shooter, on top of another shooter, on top of another shooter, on top of another shooter isn’t enough anymore.  You needed to step it up immediately, and offer gamers something more than just “a new Halo.”  And no, a new Gears of War isn’t going to cut it either; we’ve had four Halo games (five if you count Wars) over the past half-decade or so, and four Gears titles on top of that.  It’s time for a change.  Command immediately that something that’s not even REMOTELY reminiscent of those games is being made -- and with all your talk of “fifteen original IPs”, show some of THOSE instead of more Battlefield.  And when you DO show those, show something that’s immensely substantial, not thirty seconds of non-contextual “gameplay”.  This shouldn’t be that hard.  I shouldn’t have to say this to a company with as much on the line as Microsoft.  How do you mess up this badly?


So.  In my eyes, at this moment, the Xbox One isn’t even a consideration, much less a console that inspires confidence.  I’d argue that the 3DS is going to be the system for me, more than any other.  But even so, the PS4 and the Wii U are both strong contenders for consoles worthy of our time (I’m eyeing the Wii U more, but I’ll concede that the PS4 might be where some of the more furious gamers will focus.)  But here’s the thing: even if the XB1 gets some solid titles somewhere down the line, and even if they manage to do something about the stranglehold they intend to place on gamers, Sony and Nintendo have the better start and better prospects.  Sony’s got some of the best exclusives around, and even beyond that gets the multiplatform titles the XB1 will anyway.  Nintendo has THE best exclusives around, offering both a potential respite from modern gaming tropes as well as creativity shooting out of every orifice. 

Given that, why would you ever want an XB1?  Why would you ever waste your time with that console?  For Gerars?  For Halo?  For the same old shit?  For a company that seems to have forgotten how you get people hyped for games?  For a company that looks primed to actually forget what a video game is supposed to be, and throw money at developers to forget the same?  What exactly are they hoping for here?  Blind consumerism?  Goodwill?  A miracle?


I know what I’m hoping for, at least.  Let’s be real here: it’s VERY easy to snark and poke fun at any of the companies’ showings here this E3.  Very easy.  And you could say the same about E3 in general.  But the key element here is that, for all the sarcasm and hole-poking, this is our hobby.  This is what we believe in, and go further in than the casual observer.  Theser are our worlds, our adventures, and our memories in the making.  And you give gamers an opportunity to make those memories with games.  No frilly gimmicks fused to a console.  No posturing about innovation, immersion, experiences, emotions, and especially not being “epic”.  Let the games do the talking.  And give us good games to begin with.  Give us the game only you can give us, in accordance with your tools, your reason, and your creative vision.  Do that, and you’ll be that much closer to earning a fan for life.

And make no mistake: as easy as it is to lose heart in the face of the modern industry, there are people -- teams of people, numbering in the hundreds -- that are going to keep on giving us what we need.  People that, as I type this, ARE giving us what we need.  If Microsoft got one thing right, it was putting forth their mantra of “It’s all about the games.”  But while they ultimately failed to deliver, you can bet that others will pick up the slack.

So no, I’m not worried about video games.  Well, not cripplingly so.  But I know now that I can look to the future with a smile, and know that even better days are ahead.  And that’s really all there is to it.

Huh.  I guess E3’s not so bad after --



Yikesy mikesy.

And now to go watch that Mega Man reveal for the new Smash Bros. for a couple of weeks.  It’s the only way to whittle away the hours until release.  And how dope is it that the Wii Fit Trainer is a playable character?  Man, I think I just found myself a sub-character.  Peach and WFT are gonna whip everybody into shape, all day, every day.  Man, I am so hyped that I just -- oh jeez, did you see the screenshots?  Mario’s doing like a Flash Kick now for his up air!  And Fox has one too for his forward smash!  And now I can relive the good old days of obsessively checking smashbros.com for new information!  If they revealed one new character on a whim, then there’s no telling when they’ll do it next, so I gotta…       

6 comments:

  1. You forgot another thing Microsoft slipped up with: the Xbone is $500; the PS4 is $400. Add on all the other features... unless they cut the damage control BS (which they won't) Microsoft will have a very, very sad launch.

    Like some others, I'll eventually settle with the PS4 and the WiiU. I won't get them until about half-way through the generation when I have some money saved up and the libraries are bigger. Otherwise, my handhelds are my only gate into this new generation. (The Vita is slowly, slowly getting new stuff. *hopes 'Mind Zero' gets localized*)

    Overall, I have more good experiences with Sony and Nintendo's consoles... minus the Wii. Got it when library was casual-market heavy and games expensive: big mistake. Plus, motion control is not my cup of tea. No wonder my tolerance for the Kinect is irrational. :/

    Can't wait for the new SSB. And for the 3DS? YAY!

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  2. I'm being optimistic about Sony's dogging of Microsoft. But, it stinks of Sega. I don't mean Software only Sega that has set their focus on murdering their once lucrative mascot with terrible game after terrible game. I mean 16-bit era Sega. The ones that brought you the 'cream spinach color' ad-campaign for Sega Game Gear and BLAST PROCESSING!!!1111


    Specifically I speak of the DRM nonsense that they even made a point to make snarky comments and the amusing "How to share games on PS4" video short. That will bite Sony in the ass. Mark my words.


    *puts on swami turban* I see into the future! Sony will claim they have no intent on imposing the used game fees that Microsoft honed up to. Instead they will shrug their shoulders and finger point when the third party games insist this feature needs to exist.


    That will only make them look like spineless hypocrites even if their first party games don't use this feature (at first). Everything we're damning XBone for right now, we'll be saying the same about PS4 next year. Nintendo might be the 'saint' in this situation, but they're doing the usual sticking to first party games philosophy and don't have a strong enough presence for everyone to jump ship and 'go to' the Wii U. It simply doesn't have the titles to hold the interests of the FPS / RPG market.


    The major shot in the foot is the always on issue and camera on the Kinect. I mean a piece of tape can fix the camera thing... but it is basically Microsoft saying: Hey. If you're poor. The Xbone is not for you.

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  3. Well, you're not alone on the motion controls issue; I know for a fact (and through countless repetitions) that my brother hates motion controls -- and the Wii in general -- and even though the concept isn't exactly flawed, the execution...well, that's where the problems start popping up. (Much as it pains me to admit it, the Wii version of Okami is a notable example.) Still, I don't regret buying one, and there are some amazing-ass games for the system. It's just that there's so much shovelware...so much...



    Well, whatever. There's been a grim-but-realistic belief that even if the XB1 has a lot of problems surrounding it, the lack of information to the masses -- and OMG NEW HALO GUYS -- is going to make for some sales across the board. But if there's one thing that even the most casual of the casual gamers can understand, it's that price point. PS4's a hundred dollars less and has most of the games XB1 will have anyway? GG, Microsoft. GG.


    Side note: Dead Rising 3 is supposed to allow you to use the Kinect sensor to shake off zombies by -- wait for it -- shaking your body in real life. HnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnGAMEPLAY! *jazz hands*

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  4. Well, if nothing else, Blast Processing at least SOUNDS awesome. It sounds like the name of an Ultra Combo or something.

    But yeah, I guess you've got a point there. Shots have been fired, and while their antics -- that video -- have won them some serious favor, I wonder if they're going to be able to handle the repercussions to come...that, and stick to their word. I'd like to think that this generation has served them up a few heaping helpings of humble pie, what with things like "$599 US dollars" and hacker attack, but anything could happen. Bad things.

    On the other hand, people are under the impression that bad things are going to happen to Microsoft first (and soon) but again, anything could happen. I just hope that Microsoft dials back on...well, everything they've been saying and doing recently. This comedy act has gone on long enough.

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  5. Oh, I believe it. Once the Wii got more well-received, non-shovelware games, I regretted selling it to my cousin. So re-buying it or getting a WiiU is something for me to consider. The Wii U is getting 'Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensei' though so it might be a huge swing vote for me. *sobs*

    As you mentioned, Microsoft's trying new things is admirable - on paper. They want to try out new gimmicks that are innovative and different (orbital strikes with Smartglass, or detailed body readings via the Kinect.) But, if the Xbone does end up being a fairly successful piece of hardware, it better be competent and well-designed in practice. That we will not know until brave souls everywhere in the West buy it. The kinks just need to be ironed out.

    Still, I wonder if Microsoft read their history about the PS3's expensive launch. They had to have seen this coming.



    *shrugs*


    I'll sit on the sidelines and watch the show unfold in the meantime.


    PS: shaking your body to shake off zombies? ... ... ... I expect a rise in Youtube clips of people looking stupid while playing with the Kinect. America's Funniest Videos might have an entire segment dedicated to this next to trampoline accidents.

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  6. Oh, I'm sure Microsoft's done their research. They're releasing their console at $499 US DOLLARS instead of $599 US DOLLARS. Clearly, that's all they needed to do. Clearly.


    Sarcasm aside, I don't mind the innovations (ah, the industry's favorite buzzword) if they're used well. I remember when the Kinect was first announced, and I thought to myself, "Well, that's it. Microsoft just killed the Wii." And years on, there are still half-baked releases like Heavy Battalion: Steel Armor. I also remember when SmartGlass was first announced, and I thought to myself, "Well, that's it. Microsoft just killed the Wii U." And a year on from that announcement, I still don't know for sure if it's even been implemented on the 360, for all the impact it's had on gaming. (They said there were millions of downloads of the program, so I guess SOMEBODY out there is using it...but right now it seems like a ghost instead of a technological leap.)


    It just feels like Microsoft is spinning its wheels in place at the moment, and trying to pass off old technology, mechanics, AND games as new ones. E3s in the past have had Microsoft showcasing sports deals and channels, and the ability to use the Kinect to do lots of random junk...and then their May conference does almost the exact same thing, with their June showcase giving us more cars, more guns, more brown, and more epic/cinematic/visceral/innovative/emotional/buzzword games with a slightly new coat of paint...assuming they even bother to show off anything more than a video that could be a far cry from the actual game. It's true that the kinks could be ironed out somewhere down the line, and even with its anti-consumer stigma the XB1 will probably still be a console that attracts plenty of buyers. But this is not the way to usher in a new generation. It just isn't.


    ...This is making me sad. Time for something a bit more lighthearted.


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTYtH28esTg

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