E3 2013 — I’m back in on videogames, guys.


I Almost Went To E3 2013.

It was just about two months ago I wrote about my lack of interest in where the videogame industry was. My oh my, how things can change in two short months — or, more accurately, four days. Before I jump in to the convention itself, let me give you some context for just how big this E3 was for me.

About 3 weeks before the convention, I was offered the opportunity to attend the show (I know a guy who knows a guy). While I was initially interested in the idea, I ultimately turned it down, largely due to conflictions with work and class, but also because recent changes in my life led me to question whether I really cared about games all that much at all. I’ll spare you the details, but essentially my disinterest stemmed from a sense of stagnation in the industry, and a rather sinister notion that games were becoming a little too big — that gamers (and developers) were getting short shifted by console manufacturers in favor of  publishers and retailers hitting their projections and bottom lines. As much as I was interested in Xbox One and PS4’s next steps, at the time I couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm to actually go to E3, despite the offer I was given.

It goes without saying but holy shit did I make a huge mistake.

A Shot In the Arm; A Shot To The Head

E3 2013 was without a doubt the best E3 I’ve seen since I began following the event about 10 years ago, and arguably the most impressive convention since its inception.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that, if you’re reading this, you saw the conferences, read the previews, and watched and re-watched trailers over the past week. You witnessed every moment I did, and are probably excited about many of the same games as me — no need to recap the news or highlights. But I’d like to take a moment and talk about the things that really mattered to me.

Sony and PlayStation 4

playstation-4-controller-sensor

First and foremost, Sony. God damn, Sony. I was already interested in the PS4 after the February event (and even more so after the Xbox One reveal last month), but let’s be honest, Sony — no, ‘scuse me, Jack Tretton — slayed Monday night. I’ll admit, the always online and used game ‘controversy’ surrounding the Xbox One didn’t affect me, and in fact I found the entertainment-slant of the system to be far more offensive. Still, Sony’s showing of good faith towards gamers resonated with me. Sure, I’ll probably be mostly buying my games digitally from here on in, but the fact that Sony are keeping the option to buy and trade physical copies is a positive. Not to mention they’re launching at a whole $100 cheaper, despite being the more powerful system. I’ve heard some say that in those five minutes where the used games, PS+ cross over, no online restrictions, and price were all announced, that Sony won this new console war. Whether or not that’s how this all ultimately plays out, it was enough to completely change my feelings on console games, so much so that I preordered the PS4 the moment the press conference had concluded.

The Games

No matter how awesome any console is on its own, it’s nothing without games. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you guys, but damn were there some amazing looking experiences on show this year. Here are the ones that really caught my eye.

 The week started out strong, with Microsoft opening their conference with what was my personal favorite of the show, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Open world Metal Gear, featuring Keifer Sutherland as Big Boss, and some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen in a game? Yes. A thousand times yes. This is shaping up to be something of a reboot for the series as well; while it’s clear MGSV will maintain Kojima’s brand of goofiness and absurdity, the trailers shown at E3 also feature some of the darkest moments in the series by far, including torture, child soldiers, and a (literally) gut-wrenching scene in which a package is removed from Paz’s body cavity. Between the gameplay demoed and the the themes being explored in the story, MGSV is steadfastly affixed to the top of my anticipated games list.

Not only did Monday begin with a bang, it ended with one as well. Bungie’s gameplay reveal of Destiny was one of the first moments of the show where I started to really see the potential of this new console generation. Sure, it was a sci-fi FPS, but the scope of the world, the polish of the multiplayer gameplay, and the (again) the graphical fidelity on display really captured my imagination. Bungie has never let me down before, and I have high hopes for Destiny.

The third big surprise for me came in the form of Final Fantasy XV. I have always had an interest in the Final fantasy series, but the past half-decade for the RPG franchise have been rocky at best. After years in development hell, Final Fantasy Versus XIII has emerged as Final Fantasy XV. Yeah, it looked really Japanese — in a way that would usually turn me off from a game. But the speed of the gameplay, the design of the characters, and the setting the trailer took place in really grabbed me in a way few JRPGs (or, frankly, Square Enix games) have since the PlayStation 2. While at this point I am maintaining cautious optimism, I can see this becoming one of my most anticipated games.

Finally, in terms of “next-gen” games, The Witcher 3 sounds like it’s shaping up to be the fantasy RPG to play. It’s more than a year away, but early impressions from the show floor have been so overwhelmingly positive, with many stressing that the game is the best example of “next-gen” on display this year, my already-high expectations have only been bolstered. The previous games in the series are some of my favorite of the previous generation, and I look forward to closing out the trilogy with what sounds like will be a groundbreaking role playing experience.

But those four games weren’t everything; Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag secured itself a spot as my PS4 launch title of choice next to Infamous: Second Son. Sony’s support of indie developers was one of the PS4’s biggest selling points for me, and Super Giant’s Transistor was the highlight of their indie showcase; I’ve seen that trailer dozens of times, but it never fails to give me goosebumps. And, despite my tepid response to the Xbox One in general, Titanfall looks like an immensely fun multiplayer game, and I’m thankful I’ll be able to play it on PC as well. Finally, these will come as no surprise to those who know my taste in games, but Dark Souls II and Rayman Legends. That is all.

So many questions about the next gen were answered this week, and for me, the answers we got were beyond my expectations.

What Next?

Of course, in light of all my excitement, this does bring up personal questions: will I start writing about games again? Does this invalidate many of the statements I made just a few short weeks ago? Well to be honest, no, not really. I was compelled enough to sit down and knock out these E3 reactions, but I’m only now beginning to feel excited about games again after almost a year of struggling to stay interested enough to even play them. A lot of that was caused by forcing myself to pay attention to aspects of the business I really dispised, and try to play or be interested in games I had no interest in. I think I need to just enjoy videogames as a hobby for a while. However, that said, this E3 has sparked my interest in an ENTIRELY NEW aspect of the industry and games press. I’ll expound more about that soon, but I guess it’s worth saying that I’m not quite ready to write off the gaming industry as a possible career path, certainly not like I was a couple months ago.

Ironically, about a week before my “epiphany” that maybe games weren’t for me anymore, I finally bought a Playstation 3 and PS+ membership. Tomorrow, I will purchase and play The Last of Us and finally put some real use into the system. For some, the game represents the swansong for this console generation (they forget Dark Souls II is still several months out), but for me it’s the first step into the next generation, and I can’t wait to experience it.

Guys, I’m really excited about videogames again. It feels awesome.

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Reacting to Sony Meeting 2013: The PS4 is Real.

dualshock 4-580-100

And there you have it.

The PS4 is real; it’s powerful, it’s innovative, and easy to use for both developers and consumers, and we’ll be playing it this Holiday season.

But most importantly, we saw games. New game, new IP. Sure, there were sequels, but there were so many amazing looking announcements. I’m still processing and decompressing — that was a solid 2 hours of impressive footage and exciting ideas. I don’t want to over-hype it, but the system sounds impressive. It ‘s seems like a truly next-gen machine, and Sony has clearly made some important partnerships. There are still questions — most notably price, exact release date, and form factor — but we also got a bunch of great things to look forward to.

I wonder what Microsoft will do. But right now, I’m just very happy about what we saw. The developers showing off their games, and talking about how easy to use the hardware is were really good to hear. I’m just very pleased with what we saw. I’m excited for E3 and getting more info because right now, I can see myself owning a PS4 and getting a lot of use out of it. I may even buy a Vita.

Shootin’ the Shit – November 2, 2012

Where the hell were we this week? So much happened, so many big pieces of news hit the internet. But we weren’t here. It’s possible we were just busy with Halloween stuff.. or perhaps there are other forces at work and secret plans being hatched… hmmm….

We weren’t completely silent though; we had an awesome new Halloween-themed episode of The Low Down featuring Casper, the friendly ghost! And I reported on my weekly gaming with this week’s Gaming Journal entry. But that’s not all that happened on the internet this week…

Things I Read

Obviously, first and foremost: Disney bought Lucasfilm, and the entire Lucas empire(Skywalker Sound, Light and Magic, LucasArts), for like a gajillion dollars; with the aquisition came the news that an entirely new trilogy — episodes VII, VIII, IX — were on the way, with Episode VII scheduled to hit sometime in 2015. Included in this annoucement was the news the George Lucas would be only filling an advisory position.  The internet went fucking NUTS over this news; People’s reactions have ranged from ecstatic  to scared, to pissed, to totally ambivalent because ho my god, Star Wars is old news. Personally, I’m kinda interested in three news movies. I like Star Wars, I dig the fiction and the universe, and I I’m excited to see what some new minds could do with the property. We’ve got no word on what to expect from this trilogy-trilogy, and probably won’t for a while. I wonder if it will be anything as good as KOTOR, though…

I read a bunch of Halo 4 reviews. I’m really looking forward to the game, and the universal praise is both reassuring and exciting.

Early PS4 dev kits have reportedly hit developers this week. Word is, Sony is insisting on calling the system “Orbis” instead of the somewhat obvios “Playstation 4.” I’ve already talked about my feelings on a new console generation, but between this, Microsoft “Durango” devkits being leaked a few months ago, and the Wii-U hitting in just a couple weeks, we might as well start getting excited for this new round of hardware.

Things I Watched

I watched the finale for the Halo: Forward unto Dawn live-action series. It was awesome. Watch the whole series here, and peep the finale below.

Speaking of Halo, the latest episode of Red vs Blue ONCE AGAIN knocks it out of the park. What’s gonna happen next? What do Church and Carolina have planned?

Converge, who released one of the best albums of the year last month, gave us a tour of one of the most disgusting venue bathrooms ever.

I watched a baby do kung fu and kill his stuffed dragon.

Awesome games that came out this week

The big one is Assassin’s Creed 3 — The reviews have been decent-to-good, and seeing as how I’ve only been marginally interested in the series before, I’m probably gonna hold off on this one until next year. Still, if Assassin’s Creed is your jam, pick it up!

Painkiller HD Painkiller is the modern-day DOOM. Guns, monsters, and non-stop action —  no more, no less. It’s over the top, and insane, exactly my kind of shooter (unless it’s Halo or Half-Life, of course).

Misc

There isn’t really all that much more to report on. Like I said, some big news but we’re nearing that part of the year where announcements slow down, games start coming out non-stop, and we start thinking about year-end lists, and our plans for next year. And my oh my, what plans we have…

See you next week dudes!

 

Next-Gen? No Thanks.

“Next gen,” two little words that make me tense up and feel overwhelmed. Why? Simply put, I’m not ready for it, nor am I remotely excited by the prospect of a new set of consoles.

Some of you may feel exactly the opposite, and I can see why: new leaps in graphical abilities; better AI; sleeker hardware, UI, and control schemes. But I don’t really want any of that. What I want is new experiences, new ideas — even new genres or takes on existing ones — from the games themselves, not the hardware. But the big gaming publishers don’t seems to see it that way.

More Graphics

It seems like the biggest driving force behind the next-gen push (and really any console iteration leap) is graphics. Recently, 2K games president Cristoph Hartman said that the industry can’t hope to evoke any sort of real, honest emotion until games achieve “photo realism.” He cites Brokeback Mountain as his example of the type of emotions games could create, but haven’t yet. To make matters worse, Crytek, developers of the graphically-powerful Crysis series, made a statement claiming that the current generation’s graphical capabilities have been tapped, which somehow means we need to move on to the next set of hardware…

Bullshit, I say. Not to the graphical capabilities being maxed, I’m pretty sure that’s true. But the part that makes me roll my eyes is this notion that graphics are immediately tied to the level of emotion response and entertainment value we get out of games. This is absolutely and unequivocally false. Let’s look at this past generation — one where graphics have been venerated above all else as the major draw to gaming. Off the top of my head, the one genre that has succeed this generation is the military FPS — the “bro-shooter”. These games had mountains of cash pumped into their graphics engines to create as “realistic” an experience as possible. The result? Stagnate, same-y shooters caked in a veneer of brown textures and lens flares. I’m not knocking these games, I’m sure there have been some great titles, but I never touched them because they never looked appealing. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Spec Ops, Killzone, Resistance… even games like Gears of War  could be thrown into the mix. Show me a screenshot from one of these “realistic” looking games, and I probably couldn’t tell you which was which. Then again, I could easily point out games like Enslaved, Borderlands, Tribes: Ascend — even Uncharted and Halo, due to their own unique looks and art styles. 

Wait, wait. Don’t tell me…

The problem is, the people saying graphics sell games have a point: when it comes to the (rather large) percentage of gamers who only buy 2-3 games a year, and usually only from the same franchises (Madden, Call of Duty, etc.), graphics matter big time. Being the first thing they see is a screenshot or trailer, this crowd needs to see marked improvements from one year to the next in order to be sold. I don’t mean to generalize, but just take a look at the comment section on Youtube or gaming blogs. You’ll find fanboys and shooter-bros writing off games entirely just because another titles graphics are “better.” So, to a point, 2k games and Crytek are correct: in order to continue pandering to this section of the market, we need to hurry up and jump on board with the next consoles. But not really because that’d be silly.

Development Costs

I’m gonna take a quick tangent to touch on development costs before I return to Hartmans’s rivitingly asinine remarks about photo-realism and emotion.

Games cost a lot; AAA games cost even more. Those graphics engines I talked about earlier require millions of dollars. In an effort to keep up with the likes of EA and Activision’s massive budgets for their annualized franchises, smaller companies are forced to pony up stacks of cash to even hope to compete. We witnessed this with 38 Studio’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckonning. Curt Schilling borrowed money from Rhode Island in order to complete the game. The game sold very well, over 410 thousand copies in the U.S., but the Governor of Rhode Island felt that wasn’t enough, calling the game a “failure” for not selling a projected 3 million copies (a rather unrealistic number for a small, niche title). Due to this and number of other internal scandals, 38 dissolved. Now, THQ faces a similar fate, their fate in the hands of gamers who buy games like Darksiders 2. EA hopes to see Dead Space 3 sell over 5 million copies, despite the past games not selling anything near those numbers. Now imagine a game with wildly experimental gameplay and presentation, but whose developers need to sell 5 million copies to see a profit. As Minecraft creator Notch said in response to Hartman’s statement, “you limit the number of new genres if you focus on photorealism.” Experimentation and creativity are always diminished in favor of sure-things.

Leaked picture of Xbox “Durango” dev kit

For instance, at E3 we saw Dead Space 3 paraded about as a bro-shooter. For fans of the series, this was infuriating. We saw the same happen with Mass Effect 3. It turned out that both of these first impressions were false, but it underscores a major problem in the industry. Companies want to compete; they want to have the flashy high-fidelity graphics, fast-paced action gameplay, and huge set pieces to draw in the CoD crowd. But in doing so, they alienate the core audiences. Spending too much money on graphics and homogenizing your gameplay is a dumb thing to do. And what’s more, it’s entirely unnecessary.

Emotional Depth

Okay sure, I’ll admit, I am enamored with beautiful graphics as much as the next guy At E3, I was awed by the Crysis 3 demo; Watch Dog‘s animations made me giddy, and the things Unreal Engine 4 can do are mind blowing. But when I think back to the games that really made an imprint on me, it wasn’t because the looks “real,” it was because they looked unique.

I have several games in my library I hold up as having impeccable art direction. And with most of those games, my emotional connection to the experiences and stories within are stronger because they captured my imagination and creativity. I don’t need to say it for the dozenth time, but Dead Space, Rayman: Origins, Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda, and Shadow of the Colossus enraptured me with their beauty and atmosphere.

Much like a Pixar movie, videogames that feature highly stilized visuals have been the ones I not only remember best, but have the strongest connection with. Super Metroid’s archaic sprite-based graphics still instill the feelings of exploration and isolation I had the first time I played it. And even though they looks like ass today, games like  Medieval, and th N64 Zelda games have a charm that few games of this generation ever achieved.

As ominous as ever.

But it would be false to say that every emotional experience I’ve ever had with a game was due to creative or memorable art design. No, the single most memorable and impactful part of any and every game is its gameplay.

For me, videogames are game design first, and stories/visuals/music/etc. second (if not further down the list). They’re not movies, not comics. They are unique in the way they allow for entirely different types of stories and interactions to occur. I’ve harped on it before, but games need to chill the fuck out with this whole “imitating cinema” thing. There have been some truly moving stories told in videogames, but if you can’t present them in  way that allows me to PLAY THE GAME, then your game has failed. Heavy Rain is a perfect example of a game that, truly, would be better suited as a movie. I’m a big proponent of the silent protagonist as it allows for the player to connect directly to the world and story, rather than act as puppeteer or pilot guiding a pre-made character down a pre-determined path. But for every Gordon Freeman, there’s a Jon Marston. On the flipside, for every Samus Aran there’s a…. Samus Aran. My point is, games should not be about narrative archs or photo realistic visuals — that’s cinema’s game. No, games are about gameplay and interactivity. We need to remember that.

Silver Lining

Hawken: powerful, yet stylized graphics.

I don’t need a new generation of consoles. I’m perfectly content with what my Xbox 360 and PC can do. I still feel there is life in this generation, if for no other reason than indie/retro development. I don’t care how flashy the next big shooters look. Hell, despite my excitement for Darksiders 2 and Halo 4 (games with stylized visuals that put emphasis on gameplay, mind you) it’s titles like Hawken, Ultima Forever, and the Baldur’s Gate re-release that have me really excited. I’m even excited at the fact that games are still coming out for the Dreamcast.

And like I said, there are plenty of great games still to come on the Xbox 360 for the next year or so, if not longer. And despite my aversion to talk of new consoles, the OUYA has me very, very excited about the future of game development, Free 2 Play games, and indie games. So perhaps there is one new console I’m excited for.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I love F2P, indie, and retro gaming, and love the types of games still coming out for these “dated” systems, not because of their graphics, but because of their gameplay. I still love AAA console games, but based on the recent climate of that development scene, I worry about the future of companies like THQ, Square-Enix, Sega, and Even Nintendo and Sony. And while I will always have a place in my heart and on my shelf for the next big Bethesda and Bungie games, they’ve become secondary to the far cheaper, and far more engrossing titles from companies like Mojang, Double Fine, Supergiant, The Behemoth, Frictional Games, and dozens more. My only hope is that I’m not alone in thinking that.