Friday, June 14, 2013

...and that was E3.

Regardless of allegiance, we're all here because we love video games.

Usually, as one strolls away from E3, there's some argument over the details, but all agree that "gamers were the real winners."

This year...?



If E3 2013 was defined by any one moment, it was Jack Tretton's last speech of the Sony press conference on Monday. After literally months of a gnawing fear that both Microsoft and Sony would block game trading and enforce mandatory account validation each and every day you wanted to use your console, Sony - both in spirit and action - made us believe that they did indeed have a "focus on the gamer."

Made us believe our custom was actually valuable to them - a prize to be won, and not merely expected.

That's it.  That's all it took for Sony to unanimously win the conference.  Well, that and a box that costs a third less than the PS3 did at launch, and is a hundred dollars cheaper than its next-gen competition.  Tempers and passions across the 'net are high this week, with webcomics, the mainstream media, the enthusiast press and even the most hard core of Xbox fans tearing in to Microsoft for seemingly abandoning their guardianship of the core gaming market in favor of the Xbox platform's long-term plan to be the center of your living room and new, ownership-limiting DRM policies for disc-based games that read like stereo instructions, entirely in favor of Microsoft and its publishing partners.

At the moment, that seems to have been a very expensive trade for the company, costing them untold amounts of goodwill and brand loyalty among the gamer community they worked so hard to cultivate with the struggling Xbox and the North America-dominating Xbox 360.

It is the deepest of ironies that Sony came out of a conference dedicated to the newest, hottest electronics  miles ahead of its competition by simply confirming that their box treats your physical media the same way the NES did a quarter-century ago.

My God, that's revolutionary.

It was perhaps best described as a public relations nightmare for Microsoft.  While Sony's Jack Tretton coolly and confidently beamed the sort of open, guileless smile we all get when people love what we have to say, Xbox head Don Mattrick couldn't walk ten steps into an interview without tripping and jamming his foot in his mouth.  Today I read a piece which the author suggested represents the most "convincing" argument they'd yet heard from Microsoft in defense of the Xbox One's forced online:
"...Game developers can now create persistent worlds that encompass tens or hundreds of thousands of players without taxing any individual console, and those worlds that they built can be lusher and more vibrant than ever before because the cloud persists and is always there, always computing."
-Xbox One engineering manager Jeff Henshaw-
Perhaps you too can imagine the fantastical ultra-technology that Jeff posits.  I certainly hope so, at least, because he's describing an MMORPG - a genre we've enjoyed since '97, which in no way requires the anti-consumer restrictions Microsoft are placing on their console.  It's just... so sad that one ends up feeling a little guilty for even talking about it.

-Penny Arcade-

The problem being, you can't talk about it without pointing out how spectacularly Microsoft's Xbox division has failed in almost every way, save one: they showed off some great-looking games.

...but most of all, Titanfall.  The single most-impressive new IP to appear at E3 2013.  If one were to limit their Game of the Show consideration to newly-announced titles, this is mine:

Like Dead Rising 3, Titanfall looks for all intents and purposes to be a timed exclusive, but post-conference fact-digging didn't cast a shadow over the game's incredible showing during Microsoft's presser.  It was what we always wanted a platform presser to be: a show of games, games, games and more games with zero filler.  It was a wonderful presentation... but for the cloud of all the un-answered questions and un-addressed fears that hung over it.

Microsoft knew that, were they to address the topic that most worried their fans, they wouldn't be able to say what we wanted to hear.  So they said nothing.  And I'm not sure which is worse.

So yeah, sucks to be you, Microsoft.  Let's move on, 'cause you're bringin' me down.

Personally, I think folks are bein' a bit hard on Nintendo this year.  They showed just as many new games as any other year, and all for cherished franchises that folks definitely want more of.  I can't help but wonder if the bad taste in many gamers' mouths regarding their "presence" at E3 is due to the poor performance of the Nintendo Direct live stream, which repeatedly glitched out and froze up during the webcast, spoiling much of the surprise and the shared experience E3 offers.  That aside, I honestly don't get why anyone would suggest Nintendo let them down, as their presentation easily represents the biggest first-party lineup of the show.

And that's not even counting Platinum Games' zany The Wonderful 101 or the heir to the single best technical brawler ever made, Bayonetta 2

Sony, for their part, had an almost tepid showing of new games for home consoles.  Their conference's stunning success - while buoyed by a few impressive demos - was due almost entirely to Tretton's anti-Xbox-One speech nearly two hours into the show, but nearly every game we saw were previously-announced titles, with four exceptions:

  • Mad Max, a multiplatform open-world action title from carnage-masters Avelanche.
  • Destiny, the multiplatform next-gen Halo + Borderlands + MMO shooter-RPG from Bungie
  • Kingdom Hearts III, which actually exists and is not a hallucination. (Multiplatform.)
  • The Order: 1886, the lone new first-party title, and a PS4 exclusive.  

At least 1886, on the surface, looks very appealing - what appears to be a steampunk shooter set in an 1800s London beset by werewolves, developed by (PSP wunderkinds) Ready at Dawn and (PlayStation programming gods) Sony Santa Monica - but like the Mad Max trailer, it gave little indication of actual gameplay.

Beyond that, it was all stuff that had already been announced - and a bit disheartening to see so few big surprises from Sony themselves, in the game department.  It's nice to admit, though, that all of the previously-announced stuff looks even more incredible now than it did back in February at the PS4 announcement presser.  If you currently have a PS3, I highly encourage you to go to the PSN Store and locate the direct-feed E3 trailers for DriveClub, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Beyond: Two Souls and (personal Game of the Show) inFamous: Second Son.

Watch them at their full framerate on your big-ass HDTV and try not to fall in love. Well, maybe not with Killzone - the open strategies suggested by the trailer are lovely, but its visuals got nothin' on Battlefield 4.  DriveClub, at least, really benefits from seeing it as it was meant to be seen.  All week I've been saying the best-looking next-gen racer is Forza - now I'm not so sure.

I also suggest you check out the five minutes of inFamous: Second Son gameplay.  If you've enjoyed Sucker Punch's unique blend of open-world super-powered platforming and third-person shooting before, it's like having your hype gland massaged by an angel.

With Tretton's speech as the high point, second place definitely goes to the deeply encouraging rapid-fire list of independent developers Sony trotted out to showcase the PS4's open, please-self-publish-your-games-on-our-platform indie strategy - welcoming a whole generation of creative, original content.  It was yet another sharp contrast to the red tape and unfortunate expenses the Xbox One inflicts on independent developers, which demands the backing of a publisher before a game can appear on the platform, and carries a $10,000 fee for each patch their game might subsequently require.

Indie standouts on PS4 were:

My personal highlight, however, was easily the fact that Klei Entertainment's Don't Starve - a creepy/cute survival roguelike - is coming to the PlayStation 4.  Looking at an old trailer for the game, you'll be forgiven for wondering why I'd be so pleased at the idea - it doesn't look all that special.  This video interview actually does the best job I've seen of summarizing the game:

The reason this is so thrilling to me, dear friends, is that Klei Entertainment are the folks responsible for Shank 2, which I consider a definitive entry in the brawling genre, and Mark of the Ninja, which is nothing less than one of - if not the - best pure stealth game of all time, and the most-perfect game released in 2012.

Klei Entertainment aren't just another indie developer.  They're one of the most reliably excellent developers in the world, and their presence on Sony's platform is a jewel in the PS4's crown.

Jack assures us that a great many games are coming down the pipe for the PS4 and Vita - and given the size of Sony's first-party studio collection, I'm prepared to take him at his word - but it was disappointing to see so few new announcements.  Sony's new found dedication to the indie development scene is certainly uplifting, however, and whisper promises of many more great, original experiences to come - but it's already paid off in a huge way when it comes to the PlayStation Vita.

With a dearth of larger titles on the platform in 2013 (Atelier Totori and Soul Sacrifice are the only two that come to mind so far this year), the indie scene has more than stepped up to fill the void.  Here are the Vita indies that were present at E3 this year (deep breath):

Hotline Miami, Open Me, Olli Olli, Men's Room Mayhem, Stick it to the Man, Deathmatch Village, Pinball Heroes, Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims HD, Flower, Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, Luftrauses, Limbo, Spelunky, Velocity Ultra, Fieldrunners 2, Dragon Fantasy Book 2, Kick Beat Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark and Lone Survivor: Director's Cut.

I mighta' missed some - I'm not sure, there were over thirty Vita games at the show, and I haven't even mentioned the bigger stuff like Killzone: Mercenary.

I didn't believe the game actually looked this good, but cam footage of its gameplay proves it.  The game looks gorgeous, with a rock-solid framerate - a very impressive mastery of the Vita's tech.  Elsewhere, major titles like Tearaway, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, Telltale's The Walking Dead, Dragon's Crown, Ys: Memories of Celceta, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE, Atelier Meruru PlusMuramasa Rebirth (out on the 25th!) and Rayman Legends remind us that there are plenty of triple-As coming to Sony's tough little handheld this year.

Third parties also did a great job of lining up some heavy-hitters for the next gen, with Electronic Arts absolutely leading the charge, thanks mostly to their DICE studios.

Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare looks pretty cute, Need for Speed: Rivals is another racing game,  they have their usual sports games coming, and this 64-player multiplayer demo for Battlefield 4 should situate your lower jaw somewhere in the vicinity of the floor.

...though it's the old favorites coming back that really stole the show.  A tiny teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront was more than enough to whip the crowd into a screaming lather, but for me, one of the biggest announcements of this entire conference was the fact that Faith is back.

Konami's presence at the show as relatively subdued this year, with a lovely six-minute in-engine trailer for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 offering a welcome update from last year's CGI trailer, but one of the most enthralling trailers of the year has got to be Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's nine-minute extended Red Band trailer.  Not for the squeamish - but MGS fans will squeal with delight.

Ubisoft, unfortunately, were as mostly-awful as usual, from the awkward jokes at their presser to Assassin's Creed IV crashing onstage at the Sony presentation.  They had five standouts - Tom Clancy's The Division is a very good-looking open-world third-person MMO shooter, Rayman: Legends still looks gorgeous, The Crew is an open-world multiplayer racer that takes place in a miniaturized map of the entire United States, and South Park: The Stick of Truth is just as crude and hilarious as we could hope, seemingly un-hampered by its transition to the new publisher after THQ's implosion.

Ubi's game of the show for 2013, though, was their game of the show from 2012 - Watch Dogs - and its best presentation didn't even come at their conference.  Here's the gameplay demo from the Sony presser:

And that's... about... it.  I think.

Oh, no - forgot - definitely watch the Final Fantasy XV footage, if you haven't.  It's spectacular.

Post-conference, we're going to see a lot of preview articles - particularly for the smaller stuff that didn't merit page space during the conference itself - but for now, let's just bask in that wonderful feeling of a next-gen that's still on the horizon - so much potential, ripe and sultry in our minds.  It's like a Christmas Eve that lasts five months.

If you're looking for something particular from the conference - a trailer, for example - you'll almost definitely find it in the E3 Infohub page.  All posts from the past two weeks are there, sorted by type: big news, new game announcements, game trailers, smaller stuff and Games of Chance originals - which I wasn't able to do nearly enough of this week for reasons which shall remain shrouded in mystery.

And that was E3.  I think I'm taking tomorrow off.

G'night, everybody!  And thanks for reading.


  1. Thanks for another great post, Chance. Your blog has been my go to site for E3 news and commentary.

  2. ^.^ Thank you, Thor. It was a very busy week. First time in the blog's history that I broke 200 posts in a month.

    Kinda' proud of that one - though next year I need to think up a better way to organize than the way it's laid out in the hub. I mean, it's not terrible, but by platform or... I dunno. By platform would be good. Three separate pages, one for each platform holder, big news up top, games coverage and trailers below.

    Yeah, that might work.

    It seriously means a lot to me that someone actually came here for E3 news.