The flood of apathy amongst both the gaming media and gamers themselves in regards to the purpose of E3’s existence this year flowed generously, as the number of leaks and large pre-E3 announcements began to diminish the importance of the yearly press bonanza. Just as it threatened to become irrelevant in the early 2000’s, the traditional pre-show conferences have demonstrated that the big publishers may be great at expensive stage shows, but fail to understand why people actually care about this expo.
Recent years have begun to be less about upcoming games and unveiling new technologies, but instead involve simply more theatre and filler to substantiate the huge investment involved in simply having an E3 presence. The press response to E3 is enormous, regardless of what is announced, so while PR companies attempt to one up each other in the months leading up to June, what is actually pulled out of the bag in most cases is generally either expected or assumed.
That said, there is always usually at least one “big” or “unexpected” announcement offered at each event. Microsoft opened the conference by unveiling the surprisingly versatile “SmartGlass”, and took an extra innovative step by making the technology available across various platforms. Unfortunately for Microsoft, great technology like this tends to fall by the wayside as they struggle to find uses for it that gamers actually want (see the Kinect, for example).
Ubisoft surprised everyone by concluding a generally boring and uneventful showing with their new IP Watch Dogs, an open world hackarama that is almost certain to take out ‘best of show’ by the multitude of silly E3 awards that are handed out by every blog and news site. Cynical thoughts aside, the game actually looks fantastic, namely due to the fact that the large bulk of the preview provided some interesting new game mechanics and a story-dependent integrated co-op.
EA used their stage space to contradict themselves and BioWare, by announcing that SW:TOR was going free to play – one of the first official gasps of defeat by the team of their current financial model. While they were still using the excuse that a limited implementation was mostly to fill the empty lower ranks of the game and encourage subscribers, ultimately they are just attempting to buy some time to figure out a viable system of monetisation. If there was ever a death knell ringing for the traditional subscriber model, it’s now.
In pure Sony style, they used the beginning and the end of their conferences to show the two products they were most lauding. Quantic Dream’s follow up to the critically-acclaimed but largely-disdained Heavy Rain is Beyond: Two Souls, a supernatural “thriller” of sorts. While no gameplay was shown, the demo reel was exceptionally promising in that, unlike Heavy Rain before it, it looked actually interesting. But what blew me away was the stunning demo of The Last of Us, almost the spiritual companion to I Am Alive - one of the most underrated downloadable titles of the past year.
What made The Last of Us so interesting, was the demonstration of Naughty Dog’s ability to make complex situations accessible. While I Am Alive used slow and careful movements to simulate a standoff, Naughty Dog have combined the rule set for its successful Uncharted series to allow seamless movement and contextual controls to meet specific situations. Unfortunately, it’s unknown if the sequence was completely scripted or QTE prompts were removed, but in any case it was up there with Watch Dogs as something to look out for.
Nintendo was, not surprisingly, an uneventful conclusion to a slate of thoroughly ordinary conferences. Since they had already shown their cards by announcing the Wii U at last year’s event, all that had really changed was the design of their controller, which they made a big deal about. Most of the lineup was relatively predictable fare – more Mario (surprise!) more Pikmin, moreRayman. The most disappointing factor in all of this, really, was that as they were the only company to introduce a new console in the past year, you would have thought there would have been a price or release date by now.
Outside of the few interesting announcements, the large majority of this year’s introduction to the show has consisted largely of pre-announced games and more sequels. The sheer lack of effort on the side of the industry’s mega players has been attributed to a few possible factors; such as the impending end of this console’s extended generation, or a period of austerity and downsizing due to a poor global economy. But I feel that, largely, the poor showing by these players is a prime sign of them feeling rudderless and struggling to define a forward direction.
Microsoft and Sony need to start moving past the 360 and the PS3 sooner rather than later. Arbitrarily extending consoles that are approaching end of life removes the capacity for developers to build more expansive game worlds and prevents newer tech, such as the ever-evolving PC and Wii U, from taking advantage of their technology. This isn’t just about graphics or storage, it’s about keeping pace and anticipating the future. Sadly for PC gamers, whether we like it or not, our future is tied to the movements of these slow-marching behemoths.