Post-E3 Reflections 2014

It’s E3 time! Again…

Last year, I wrote my first real post to my blog about my thoughts on E3 2013. Since E3 continues to have significance as a kind of holiday among video game fans, and since this month marks the one-year anniversary of my blog, I thought I’d talk about my thoughts on this year’s E3 conference.

To avoid rambling like last year (first blog post and all) I’ll go over each of the major conferences in chronological order, talk about anything I found noteworthy (or not), and then I’ll close out with a summary of my thoughts. Let’s dive right in:

Microsoft: 

While I haven’t made a secret of the fact that Microsoft drove me away as a fan about halfway through the Xbox 360’s tenure, and I have no plans to ever buy an Xbox One, I will try to be objective here and talk about what I thought was intriguing and what wasn’t, instead of just writing the whole conference off.

First off, I have to give Microsoft credit for covering games and only games at their E3 presser.  This decision alone made it one of the best conferences they’ve had in years. Their fumbling attempts to rope in both casual players and enthusiasts with their presentations for the last few years has led to some absolutely painful, boring conferences, and I’m glad they decided to stick with things that the crowd who actually tunes into these conferences will be interested in.

And Microsoft featured a few games that actually did pique my interest. Sunset Overdrive, the latest game from Sony alum Insomniac, looks colorful, bombastic and exciting. It’s a nice change of pace from their last outing, Fuse, where they let the pressure of industry trends turn what could have been a unique shooter with a lot of personality into something incredibly generic, and stylistically it’s like nothing else on Xbox at present.

Additionally, Microsoft had one of the biggest surprises at the show (at least for me), when they announced a sequel/remake to Phantom Dust, the original Xbox exclusive arena fighter/CCG. They only showed a CGI cutscene teaser for it (I’ll talk more about this later), but the fact that they’re even releasing a new game in the franchise is kind of amazing in this day and age, since the original Phantom Dust’s sales were…underwhelming, to be kind.

They also announced an exclusive game from one of my favorite studios, Platinum Games, called Scalebound. Again, another CGI trailer with no gameplay whatsoever, but I’m kind of surprised that Microsoft would reach out to Platinum for an exclusive; as much as I love Platinum’s games, they certainly aren’t system-sellers for most people and outside of a loyal cult following, they tend not to sell that well, especially among Xbox die-hards.

And that’s it for the positives. For the rest of what got featured at Microsoft’s conference, my response was “don’t care” or “I can get it on another platform.” This is the primary reason I gave up on Xbox; there just isn’t enough there that interests me to warrant a purchase, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Ubisoft:

Ubisoft had exactly one game to show that I cared about: Valiant Hearts: The Great War. It’s a 2D adventure game, similar in mechanics to Double Fine’s recent title The Cave and animated in a storybook style using the UbiArt engine that powers Rayman Legends. It purports to tell the story of five individuals who save the life of a soldier in World War I, supposedly based on actual letters from these people sent during the war.

Ordinarily I detest war games. As someone who comes from a long line of veterans, I find it offensive to turn actual war into a perpetual toy for people to play soldier with online. I don’t even like war movies (with very few exceptions) for similar reasons. But Valiant Hearts looks to be taking a different approach and telling a meaningful, heart-felt story about the war in an artistically tasteful way, not unlike how Art Spiegelman’s Maus tells the story of the Holocaust through cartoon analogues of mice, cats and pigs. So Valiant Hearts is one title I’ll be watching with great interest.

Everything else was boring to me: sequels to franchises I’m not interested in, new IPs that I equally don’t care about (most of which were featured at Sony and Microsoft’s conferences anyway), fitness and dance games. In other words, typical Ubisoft. 

EA:

Given EA’s track record of late, anything positive I have to say in this segment comes with the unstated caveat of “…if they don’t mess it up.” So just bear that in mind.

That said, there were a few games in EA’s conference that did interest me. The first is Battlefield: Hardline, which uses the Battlefield 4 engine to make a cops-and-robbers tactical shooter. As much as I detest war shooters and movies, I’m actually a big fan of heist films and cop films and the few games that have attempted to utilize that kind of setting, so this is one Battlefield title I might be interested in picking up…after I’m sure that the online is working correctly.

Second is a new Mirror’s Edge game. Now, I still need to play the original Mirror’s Edge, but I was intrigued by the first-person parkour title when it came out, and the sequel (what they showed of it) looks to be in much the same vein. When I get around to trying out the original game, I might give Mirror’s Edge 2 a shot if I like what I see.

Finally, there’s the new Dragon Age game, Dragon Age: Inquisition. I loved the first Dragon Age, and I own and have played (but not beaten) its divisive sequel. I’ve been a big fan of BioWare’s work since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the original Xbox, but I’ve noticed that their work seems to have declined in quality or at least shown more problems since EA bought them out. So, I’ll be approaching this one with caution.

As for the rest, it was just sports games and sequels to franchises that aren’t up my alley. 

Sony:

Aside from their decision to showcase Playstation-exclusive TV and movie stuff, Sony’s conference was very similar to Microsoft’s; a few games I’d like to play, a lot that I probably won’t  or that are going to be available elsewhere. Having said that, there were definitely some games at the Sony conference that caught my attention.

First, Sony announced a new stand-alone DLC for Infamous: Second Son, sort of like what they did with Infamous: Festival of Blood a few years ago. I think that’s a cool idea. If/when I get a PS4, I’ll definitely be picking up Second Son and downloading this DLC. Not much else to say on that front.

Second is LittleBigPlanet 3. I like the first two LBP titles, and this new game looks to be pretty cool, adding new characters with new abilities and promising to port over all the user-created levels from LBP 1 and 2 with improved visuals…though the visuals are one thing that left me kind of scratching my head. I’ve complained before that a lot of the games for the PS4 and Xbone look like they could have been achieved on the PS3 and 360 with a minimal downgrade in visuals, but this is especially true for LBP 3. It looks almost identical to LBP 2, and really does nothing to justify the new hardware. I know LBP has never been a visual showcase, but it’s such a transparent move to sell more PS4s that I can’t help but roll my eyes at it.

Third is a new game from gonzo action game developer Suda51, titled Let It Die, which is going to be exclusive to PS4. It was just a teaser trailer that showed no gameplay, but I’m a fan of Suda51’s work, so on one hand, I’m definitely intrigued by this one…on the other hand, it’s since been revealed that the game is going to be both always online and “free to play,” which are major no-nos for me in a console title, so I’m very much on the fence.

Fourth is a title called No Man’s Sky, a “procedurally-generated” space exploration game that’s supposed to create new content as players explore the game’s universe. I’ve heard this kind of hype before from games like Spore, so I’m more than a little skeptical, but the footage they showed did look very nice. I’ll be interested to learn more about this one as it comes out.

Finally, there was a teaser trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. I’m a big fan of the Uncharted series (in fact, I’m sitting next to a curio cabinet holding my limited edition Nathan Drake figurine as I write this), but this was just a CGI teaser trailer and showed no gameplay footage whatsoever. Beyond showing that Uncharted 4 is on-track for a 2015 release, there really isn’t much more to say about this one.

As for the rest of what Sony showed, it was all either third-party titles that will be available elsewhere, new IPs that don’t interest me (The Order: 1886 comes to mind) or CGI teasers that didn’t do anything other than announce the fact that a game was in development. 

Nintendo:

As you may know, I’m definitely a Nintendo fan, and the Wii U is the only 8th generation console I currently own. Having said that, I think Nintendo had, hands-down, the best presentation of all three console makers at this year’s E3.

There was no plugging of third-party titles with exclusive DLC, no talk about TV shows or movies, just tons of exclusive games and content, coupled with great, funny presentation, including sketches by the creators of Robot Chicken and a Matrix-esque kung fu battle between Nintendo President Satoru Iwata and Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. If you like Nintendo at all and you haven’t seen it yet, clear thirty minutes or so from your schedule and give it a watch. I promise you it’s worth your time.

There was new footage and information on previously announced titles, including Hyrule Warriors, the newly-christened Yoshi’s Wooly World, new Smash Bros info, the Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire remakes, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Bayonetta 2 (which will ship with Bayonetta 1 on the same disc). And there were a ton of surprise announcements, including a new game based on the Captain Toad levels from Super Mario 3D World, a stunning first look at the upcoming Legend of Zelda game, a sequel to Kirby: Canvas Curse for the Wii U, a Mario level-creation game, and a brand-new third-person shooter called Splatoon that looks pretty exciting.

Nintendo also unveiled their previously-discussed NFC figurine toys, which they’re calling “amiibo.” These are little figurines of Nintendo characters that, similar to Skylanders toys, when brought into contact with the Wii U Gamepad’s NFC reader (or an upcoming NFC peripheral for 3DS), will enter that character into the game and allow it to interact with the game and player in unique ways. Amiibo is going to be supported by a number of titles, the first of which will be Super Smash Bros, which will launch along with the figurines. I’m not sure how much I, as a 29-year-old man, will get out of this new toy line, but it’s pretty cool-looking and I’m sure it’ll print money for Nintendo, which is something they really need right now.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, I’d say this year’s E3 was a lot more encouraging than last year’s. I’m significantly less disillusioned about the state of the game industry than I was a year ago.

That being said, this year’s conference brought into sharp focus some trends in the gaming industry that simply need to die. I’m sick of console-makers, rather than producing their own content, claiming third-party titles on the grounds of temporary exclusivity or exclusive DLC or early betas just so they can pad out their presentations. Likewise, I’m also tired of CGI teaser trailers that tell us nothing about the game itself and show no actual gameplay; every conference except for Nintendo’s was rife with teaser trailers like this, and it was a massive waste of the audience’s time.

Additionally, and this is more directed at Sony, the increased emphasis on “free-to-play” titles at major E3 conferences over the last few years is disquieting. F2P is a dangerous business model; for every game that does it right, there are ten games that become “pay to win” or “free to play…for 5 minutes unless you pay us.” It’s also a model that console owners don’t historically respond well to, so if these platform holders aren’t careful, they could wind up alienating the very people who keep them in business.

Finally, and this is probably going to make me sound like an old man, I buy game consoles to play games. I don’t buy them to watch TV or movies, and I certainly don’t buy them so I can watch a particular show that’s exclusive to that platform. Maybe those kind of tactics play with a wider audience, but those aren’t the people who are going to tune in to watch an E3 conference. So Sony, Microsoft, please just give it a rest with the TV shows and spend that time talking about games, because your TV shows and movies aren’t going to convince anybody to spend $400+ on one of your consoles.

…Unless you’re planning to make 6 more seasons of Firefly. Then we can talk.

 

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