“Oh boy, it’s time for E3!”
Typing out that line -- for once -- actually capitalizes on the lack of inflection in Internet-based words, rather than be hamstrung by it. So depending on your disposition, you can either go with an optimistic reading, or a sarcastic one. Funny how that worked out, eh?
As for me? Well, I can’t say I was too excited about E3 this year. I’ve done this dance before, and I’ve been…huh, what word works best when one E3 was a showcase for one stabbing after another while another (just as violent, but paradoxically even more boring) ended up getting irrevocably tainted by the then-horrific, DRM-peddling Xbox One? I’ll let you fill in the blank on that one.
But like I said, I wasn’t exactly excited about E3 this year. You know how it goes -- fool me twice, and so on. On the other hand, this is a blog with a preeeeeeeeeeeeetty heavy focus on gaming. And since I did an E3 post twice already, I suppose at this stage it’s a Cross-Up tradition. Even if I don’t really feel like doing it, because I’ve got cooler stuff I’d prefer to work on.
So you know what? Let’s do this (relatively) lickety-split. Here’s an assortment of random thoughts I have on E3 2014.
--“Innovation” is a term that gets thrown out a lot at E3s, at least those in the last couple of years. Chalk it up as another buzzword. But this year, the word that kept popping up was “passion”. Fair enough, I suppose; I can get behind passion, because it’s the key element in creating something truly magical. I just need to see devs and the heads of companies deliver on it.
--And of course, Microsoft decides to start its press conference with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Your words don’t match your actions, guys.
--Now, in all fairness I’m sure that a lot of work goes into making a CoD game, tired and unwelcome as it may be at this point. (And yeah, there are details in a CoD game that no normal player would ever notice.) But when I see the “gameplay footage” -- yes, I’m going to use quotes, because it’s not true gameplay footage unless it’s in reviewer/consumer hands -- I can’t help but think that even for CoD, it’s treading old ground.
--At first glance I thought that New York was under siege, but apparently that’s a different city. But either way, that’s not exactly cause for celebration; I’m pretty sure that AT LEAST one CoD E3 trailer has shown “New York” under siege. Like…I know the big apple (or whatever city that’s in) is a prime target in fiction and such, but come on, guys. That all said, the game can only go up from Ghosts, seeing as how that had the entirety of South America attacking the States and using rituals from the Amazon to brainwash U.S. soldiers. Yep. ONLY UP FROM THERE.
--You know, I think it’s a little pointless -- if not outright insulting -- to feature a game trailer that says “screw you!” to modern military shooters in a convention that’ll start with and be highlighted by modern military shooters (not to mention shooters in general, nearly all of which are hell-bent on being as dour as the last). But I suppose there’s no point in thinking about that very hard, seeing as how there was not only a pre-baked trailer for Sunset Overdrive, but genuine gameplay. And good-looking gameplay, at that. Like, really good.
--Setting aside the fact that it’s actually got a unique visual style which automatically gives it 15 million bonus points, it puts the emphasis on a free range of movement and speed -- something that’s only kinda-sorta there in modern shooters. I’m a little worried about how well the game actually works in motion/gamer’s hands vis a vis aiming, and I’m almost certain it’s only getting high marks because it’s got some life in it, but I still have no problems giving it the respect it deserves -- i.e. Microsoft’s Best in Show.
--On the other hand, that’s pretty easy when your competition is shorter than the average kangaroo rat. Now, I don’t mean that as an insult to the work of countless developers, or to the fans who are legitimately excited by the prospects of certain games that I couldn’t give a crap about. But I do think that Microsoft’s overall showing wasn’t all that impressive. Solid, sure, but not very impressive. New AssCreed and Battlefield! Also coming to PS4! Sports games and racing sims! Ehhhhhhhhhhh… I’m excited to hear about Scalebound, a new Platinum title by Hideki Kamiya, but that announcement doesn’t mean as much when all anyone has to go by is a CG trailer. Sorry, Platinum, but not even you get a pass on that front.
--Let’s take a minute to talk about Battlefield, since it figured into EA’s presentation anyway. I don’t look fondly on the franchise (the fourth game is trying its best to beckon me toward a bad time), but to be honest I kind of approve of the direction Hardline is taking. Instead of putting on airs of being a serious drama on the horrors and tragedies of war, it’s paring things down to the absolute simplest terms possible: cops vs. robbers. They literally used the phrase “good guys versus bad guys”, and with a mentality like that I’d argue they’re in a stronger place than before.
--THAT ALL SAID, my hunch is that it’s not going to be enough to instantly make the game a winner. It’s got a different theme, sure, but it’s still got the same DNA running through it. I have a hard time seeing how the robbers are any different from the average soldier, given how freakishly well-armed they are. It’s not like they’re going to just drop the Frostbite 3 engine, but the tradeoff is that it’s got the same aesthetic -- a blessing and a curse, to be sure.
--As far as I can tell, the flow of a match isn’t too different from the flow of a regular BF match…which is doubly-reinforced by the “new modes” effectively being things like Capture the Flag with different names and assets. I don’t know how you’d revitalize/reform BF without completely starting over, but the answer here isn’t exactly it. C+ for effort, though.
--And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got Project Spark, which is…a thing that still exists, I guess? The way the press conference was talking (much like the press conference from last year, but I’m under the impression that each new conference pretends the last one didn’t exist so it could repeat itself), Project Spark is/was supposed to be the next big thing. I guess that didn’t happen though, did it? At least not in the way they intended. I appreciate that it exists, but seeing footage of it tends to strip away the goodwill. I can’t see why I’d choose it over, say, LittleBigPlanet.
--While we’re on the subject of things that still exist, what’s going on with SmartGlass? Has that accomplished…well, anything? If there’s anyone that’s gotten some mileage out of it -- or even knows what the hell’s going on with it -- then give me some info.
--Let’s move quickly through Ubisoft and EA. I’m not that eager to talk about either, because one of them -- by virtue of a game that shall remain nameless -- is currently on my Obsessive Grudge List, while the other is EA. But there are a couple of things that I think are worth talking about.
--EA went all in with the sports games for its conference. I know that’s pretty much the company’s thing, but…is it just me, or are their showings of the sports games becoming more intolerable? Okay, sure, they might have shown off some “gameplay footage”, but the issue I’ve always had with sports games from sizzle reel to actual game is that I’d assume there’s no way to have both those dynamic camera angles and a game that’s even remotely playable. Now, this is coming from someone who only played a demo of a soccer game in the last half-decade (barring the Wii installment of NBA Jam), but IIRC it worked by zooming out enough to turn the players into amorphous blobs. Not what I’d call dynamic.
--Also, didn’t Angry Joe put the last Madden game on his Top 10 Worst of 2013 for actually being a step back in virtually every way and a complete betrayal of all the promises made by both EA and next-gen consoles? Soooooo…is that an indication of what’s to come? Again?
--It seems like a major trend this E3 -- besides using CG trailers that show little to no gameplay, as is the standard -- was showing off still screenshots instead of more gameplay. It got to a point where I said to myself, “What a conundrum! If only there was some way for these presentations to display the information of an audiovisual medium!” They eventually made their offering (like with Dragon Age: Inquisition…eventually) but the gameplay they showed off wasn’t what I’d call riveting. Maybe EA only knows how to use the Frosbite 3 engine now so they can pump in a million billion explosions.
--I’m still more than a little wary about attaching a BioWare game/title to EA, because I’d like to think that -- no matter their relationship -- they’re still two separate entities. I feel like I can count on them a lot more than I can count on the two-time winner of the “Worst Company in America” award. So while it’s irritating to hear that this E3 they don’t have much to say besides “New Dragon Age on the way!” and “New Mass Effect stuff…and also, a mysteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerious new project!” I’m willing to be patient and trust in their abilities. They’ve given me so much in the past; Dragon Age let me explore the wonders of Rock Armor, while Mass Effect…well…
--Since EA and Ubisoft both had conferences despite being (admittedly some of the largest) third-party companies, let’s take some time out to talk about miscellaneous games. It’ll be fun.
--I’m not exactly impressed by Evolve, as you can guess. Okay, being able to play as a monster that evolves over the course of a match is an interesting idea. But the problem is that -- as usual -- it’s saddled to more run-of-the-mill shooting. Seriously, did you see the trailer? It showed off four different classes, but did nothing to differentiate them. So basically, they were advertising the ability to play as a guy with a gun, a guy with a gun, a guy with a gun, or a guy with a gun. When are people going to realize that guns are becoming a complete dead-end in video games?
--Just take Fable Legends as an example. Four classes, each with distinct powers, going up against one opponent who plays the villain (wait, isn’t that Evolve’s central conceit? How the hell are games syncing up this perfectly?); it’s cool that the warrior woman gets to go all CHARGING STAR on baddies, but once the scene cut to the crossbow-slinging Hero of Skill, it turned into a bog-standard TPS. It’s like…games industry, if you want to copy something, fine. But why not copy something that’s actually fun or interesting? Christ, did ANYONE pay attention to Sunset Overdrive?
--Now for The Division. I don’t know what to make of that game yet; I can make generalizations --Rainbow Six X Gears of War X The Last of Us -- but I want to at least try to give it a fair shake. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m destined to play it. I’m just saying that I need more info, and a hell of a lot more context. In-game context would help the most, independent of what blurbs and press releases declare.
--I guess there’s a virus that’s wrecked the planet, and the player characters are trying their hardest to endure and survive (jeez, Joel!), but I’m expecting more if they’re going to give it underpinnings of social commentary and attach the Tom Clancy name to it. Then again, I’m pretty sure Watch Dogs has clearly shown that Ubisoft should stay the hell away from trying to work in a message, but whatever. Consider this guarded optimism. (God, I hope it doesn’t get stolen in like five seconds of playtime.)
--I wonder how people are reacting to Batman: Arkham Knight at large. I mean, didn’t the subpar Arkham Origins JUST come out and disappoint droves of fans? And then it was pretty much revealed to be a stopgap title and a cheap trick to restock the war chest? I’m just saying, I think people should be (and have the right to be) a little miffed.
--Speaking personally, though? Arkham Knight reminds me of that one Simpsons episode where Lisa tries to make a more inspirational doll called Lisa Lionheart. And the Malibu Stacy bigwigs responded by releasing the same doll they always did…only with a new hat. It sold out in an instant, because “she has a new hat!” I guess WB Games and Rocksteady figured they could do the same. “It’s got the Batmobile now, guys! And Scarecrow’s back! And it looks better! Come and get it!”
--Also, the Batmobile can turn into a Landmaster now? Okay, but even if Batman’s using his computers to make sure he’s shooting unmanned drones (and hoping the player will have the same restrictions), what about collateral damage? What about bad PR? What about the possibility that I’m thinking way too hard about this?
--That in mind, I have put some thought into the subject -- more specifically, something that relates to the problem with Watch Dogs. I’ve already got that post written up, so look forward to hearing more on that. Or not. I’m pretty much just confirming the obvious, but it might end up being something worth reading.
--Rise of the Tomb Raider is…kind of a dumb name. Now, I’m going to reserve judgment on the reboot, because I haven’t played it yet (though I’ve heard both praise and scorn fly its way), but I guess for the sequel, we’ll just have to wait and see. Granted we wouldn’t HAVE to wait and see (as much) if these companies would stop showing off miserable non-indicative CG trailers, but whatever.
--I guess they’re going to show the psychological damage done to the rebooted Lara over the course of the game, which could do some course-correction for the 2013 game’s complaints. Or they could over-correct. Or they could just not discuss it at all after an hour into the game. We’ll just have to wait and see. Maybe this time, Squeenix will actually turn a profit on the first run.
--I can’t believe I’m 2500 words into this post and I didn’t even mention Halo. Let’s do that now. Those uninterested can just…I don’t know, count the number of skin cells in your hand or something for the next few paragraphs.
--You know, I’m starting to think that the way gamers see Master Chief and the way the creators see him has a chasm the size of the Milky Way between them. So you guys are telling me that Chief was irrevocably scarred by the loss of Cortana (the BEST part of Halo 4, hands down), and in the time since -- and even during -- he’s not only started questioning his identity, but become distrustful of authority? Oh wow. Oh, wow. I don’t believe you at all! Now, if there was only some way for a character to express their emotions, thoughts and concerns, then maybe I’d buy into it…but alas, no such method exists…
--Wait, so are they implying that Halo 5 is going to have lots of Chief angst? Holy shit, they’re turning him into a Final Fantasy character! Who, much like a pink-haired marketing ploy, is being hyped up as the center of the universe!
--Maybe that’s why they’re introducing a new soldier in a suit. SOMEBODY has to have a personality now, right?
--AssCreed Unity is going to have co-op multiplayer. Okay. I consulted my brother on the subject, and he’s on board…as long as he plays with a mic. He dreads the prospect of playing with “randoms”, and I can’t say I blame him. Then again, you could say the same about any given online game, but somehow, the prospect of coordinating a multi-man assassination is intriguing. Here’s hoping the rest of the game will have the chops needed to put up a fight. Also, I sincerely hope they take out that “stand in the center of a circle and counter to win every fight” nonsense.
--And as a corollary, I hope games going forward will realize that giving me access to one-button, one-hit instant-kills, takedowns, or finisher animations doesn’t make me feel like a badass. It makes me feel like some doofus with an I-Win Button.
--I already talked about Destiny before, and I see little reason to talk about it now. Well, except for one thing: I love how the “story” would have you believe that “you’re the only one who can save the universe” when you’re pretty much guaranteed to be playing with friends and/or NPCs -- i.e. friends who got fed the same line. Sooooooo…are people competing to be the chosen one, or something?
--Actually, that’d be an interesting plot point. Nobody steal that, I’m using that idea.
--Mirror’s Edge 2! *air guitars* It’s gonna have free-running and a cool aesthetic. Right now, that’s about all I need -- from that game, at least. That’s all I need to go into something that really caught my eye:
--I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but just to be safe I’ll say it plainly here. I think LittleBigPlanet is one of the best new franchises to come out in the past decade or so -- as a part of that “sweet spot” in the gaming canon before the majority of the industry shat itself. Okay, it’s probably not the perfect franchise or game(s), but the potential is what’s important. If the keyword of this E3 was “passion”, then LBP -- up to and including this new game -- proves that passion can be more than just an empty buzzword. Consider it one of the primary games I’m excited for.
--You know, it’s funny. Apparently people have known about No Man’s Sky for a while now, but I first heard the name…gee, I guess the night before E3 started. And now that I know what’s being offered? Well, I have two things to say. One: YIKESY MIKESY WITH A SIDE ORDER OF MOSES PUFFS, THIS IS THE GAME THAT I ALWAYS WANTED AND WHAT WE ARE ALL SO VERY HUNGRY FOR. And two: JUST CRAM IT INTO MY EYEBALLS RIGHT NOW HRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH
--One of the other major themes of E3? “Coming in 2015”. So I guess next year is going to be the best year of gaming yet, yes? Well, assuming you’re willing to ignore the chaff. But whatever. If nothing else, it sort of “evens the playing field” for companies and consoles alike; there are some titles coming out before year’s end, but if damn near everything is staying in the oven for another year, it SHOULD mean that there are some high-quality titles on the way. Which is to say, “next-gen” development is finally going to get its act together.
--Speaking of next-gen, new Uncharted. I wish I could say more about the game besides the fact that it’s been announced and there’s nothing to go by besides a teaser “trailer” that implies that shit just got real, but alas. ‘Twas not meant to be.
--You know, if I was giving ranks/grades/scores to these presentations, then I’d be inclined to subtract points each time a company decides to use a non-indicative CG trailer. I mean, isn’t the whole point of E3 to show off the latest and greatest games? Not offer up what could inevitably end up being a boldfaced lie? Have they learned nothing from Aliens: Colonial Marines and Watch Dogs?
--In all fairness, though, I think Sony did a pretty good job with its presentation this year. Were there problems and rough patches? Of course. But they tried to sell you stuff without…well, trying to sell you stuff. And their products, on average, were appealing enough. I have to offer up some props.
--BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT I think you know what I’m about to say next. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that recently I’ve become a fanboy -- the end result of my biases taking on a harrowing mutation -- but I have enough objectivity to know that there were some weaknesses on display. If you read my last E3 post, you’ll know that I said Sony won E3 (even if that was by virtue of Microsoft giving them every tool it needed to grasp victory). And I stand by that. But this year? This year, I still feel like there was one company that had an edge. In some respects? It’s a slight edge. In others? NO CONTEST.
--We all know by now that Nintendo and the Wii U aren’t in the best position right now. And even with all the goodwill generated by this E3 and the company at large, I’m not wholly convinced that their woes are over and done. Historically, the one thing that the company and their consoles have struggled with is third-party support -- and while there is stuff coming out that doesn’t have the Big N’s direct hand in it (Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and the unexpected resurrection of Itagaki’s Devil’s Third, among others like Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem), that’s not exactly a high number.
--We can count on Nintendo to make some amazing games. That’s a given. But I’m worried that that’s not enough anymore. IT FUCKING SHOULD BE, but it isn’t. Not in this day and age. I know that President Satoru Iwata and others have talked about their failures and their push for some course correction, but I don’t feel like there was any conclusive evidence at their showing this year -- no proof, or pushing forward of THE PLAN. (I’m begging you, Nintendo, just put out commercials like you did for the original Wii!)
--That in mind, I can see why they wouldn’t want to play Captain Bringdown at their events. They had something else in mind -- and that’s exactly why I consider them this year’s winners, no matter how much they’ve taken one on the chin. They've proven that they know how to fight back.
--No one can accuse the Big N of not trying. They want to make the best games possible, and put them smack-dab in your lap. But -- and I’m pretty sure I’m parroting what I said last year, or just in general -- Nintendo gets games. They have a vision and mindset that’s different from a lot of others. And they proved that, yet again, with their presentation -- independent of the games discussed.
--I’m serious here. Did they show off some CG trailers? Yes. But in nearly every case -- new Zelda notwithstanding -- they showed off actual gameplay. Was it dolled up for their presentations? Possibly. Probably, even. But I’m more likely to believe in those because they’re convincingly realistic. They look like games that are actually playing as they should. That’s the one thing we want from these shows, and we were rewarded. Just look at Smash Bros. 4 -- it got a spiffy trailer, but Nintendo hosted one huge-ass tournament with a playable build of the game for hours of hype-mongering, because they want your hype the right way.
--The lingering stink around Nintendo if/when they decide to skip doing a big presentation like Sony or Microsoft is that “they’ve got nothing to show” or “they aren’t allowed to eat at the adults’ table.” And I don’t buy into that, because that would mean buying into everything that gamers have come to hate about E3: lots of guys in suits throwing buzzwords and superlatives at you, and trying to tell you why the game will be amazing (amidst heaping helpings of nonsense and/or crap you don’t care about) when they could easily spend more time showing you why the game will be amazing.
--Granted it would help if some of those games had something genuinely interesting to show off -- Call of Duty -- but I get the feeling that those big events are “missing the point” in a way I never would have thought possible of companies BUILT on selling video games. But then again, maybe that’s the issue. Maybe instead of thinking about making great games and entertaining the masses, it’s just become a matter of making games (note the tactical omission) and selling them. Selling them, especially; more and more it feels like Ubisoft, and EA, and Activision, and all the less-than-savory developers could care less about your opinion as long as they get those sales. And by extension, “games as a service”.
--I don’t get that feeling with Nintendo -- at least not as much. Are they a business? Yes. Do they need you to get your money and thus stay alive? Of course. But ask yourself this: would the company that’s taken a first-round whooping this generation…
1) Give you all the information you would want about new and upcoming games without a filter?
2) Bring in all its biggest names to explain and support the basic framework of their games without trying to oversell them?
3) Create a structured yet simple approach to their presentation to minimize awkwardness and stupidity while actually pining earnestly (and effectively) for a few laughs?
4) Throw what’s effectively a party for gamers and fans -- almost literally, given the public invitational -- and have it centered around hours of untainted footage of their biggest title, allowing for hype to naturally occur rather than artificially?
6) Prove, if nothing else, their commitment to making unique, airtight games, thereby staying true to themselves without proselytizing their stature in the gaming canon or pandering to dupe you into lowering your standards for some half-assed power fantasy?
7) Bring back Star Fox despite there being no guarantee that it’ll sell -- a prospect that’s left lesser developers abandoning everything they know at the risk of alienating gamers who wouldn’t mind a little character in their games?
If you see me start using #GoodGuyNintendo, THAT’S WHY.
--I’m pretty sure that this post was supposed to be lickety-split, so let’s see if I can run as fast as possible through some other points of interest.
--Well, Shigeru Miyamoto said he was working on some smaller projects (besides Star Fox, though who knows what its scale will be), and he delivered. I’m all for Giant Robot, because -- well, do you really need a reason to like giant robots outside of Michael Bay’s Transformers? Granted it’s not exactly a revolutionary game -- if you’ve ever given Toribash a shot, its premise should sound familiar -- but again, GIANT ROBOTS.
--The question running through my head over Mario Maker is “How many Kaizo Mario games is that going to spawn?” And the answer, as far as I can tell, is “QUADRUPLE INFINITY.”
--I’ve got a buddy who’s asked me several times in the past if there’ll be a new Zelda revealed at this year’s E3, and my response was more or less “That’s a given, isn’t it?” The issue was -- and still is -- that the Big N needs to do more than just toss out a new Mario, or a new Zelda. Don’t get me wrong, the reveal of a new Zelda is very welcome -- though I’m curious to see how they’ll reconcile open-world gameplay with a cohesive story -- but what do they have if not those two?
--Well, they’ve provided at least a couple of answers this year. New Yoshi game. New Kirby game. More Hyrule Warriors to fill in the 2014 gap. And miraculously, a new IP. And a shooter, no less! And an online shooter, no less! And a colorful online shooter, no less! And a colorful online shooter with unique mechanics that set it apart from all the rest! Also, it has squids. And it’s called Splatoon. And apparently, someone WAS paying attention to Sunset Overdrive.
--I’m not going to talk about the Smash Bros. 4 tournament, because it really is something you pretty much have to watch for yourself -- not only for the gameplay, but for the input and reactions from genuine fans and gamers. THIS is what it’s all about, people.
--But if we’re talking about Smash, I’ll be the first to admit it: I’mma play the hell outta Palutena. Did you see her reveal trailer? Just how many special moves does she have (if not ALL OF THEM)? Did you see all that magic? And is it just me, or does she have an AEGIS REFLECTOR? Does it really matter? DAT GREEN HAIR!
--Also, Pac-Man, Mii Fighters, and Mr. Game and Watch. Oh man, my bro just loves Mr. Game and Watch…which is to say that he absolutely loathes him and refuses to play any match he shows up in.
--And…that’s pretty much everything, I guess. At least all the stuff I feel like talking about…and also, this post is already past the 5k mark, so I’ll go ahead and wrap things up.
--Honestly? I think this was a good E3. Or if not that, then I’m at least happy with the end result. Yes, there was a lot to snark about, and yes, some games are going to be better than others (by a wide margin), but I feel like I can walk away with a smile on my face. Not just because of Nintendo (though they certainly helped), but because everyone at least tried to offer something worth a gamer’s while.
--It’s one thing to talk about passion, but it’s another to act on it -- and something more to convey it to others. It’s every creator’s job to make that passion felt; the methods and products of everyone at this year’s E3 shows that there are people who understand that, regardless of their execution -- or lack thereof -- of the idea. I think that stands for something.
--The title of last year’s E3 post was “Hope Never Dies”. And quirks and foibles aside, I feel like this show pulled through. Hope hasn’t died. And it’s not going to for a while yet. Never forget that, no matter how bad things look.
--Keep looking forward to what others can offer you. Because they just might deliver.
--Especially those who are FIGHTING TO SAVE THE WORLD!
--That's a meme now. Good job, internet!