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Who 'Won' E3 And Other Assorted Musings

Wot I Think: E3 2013

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E3 happened last week! It was full of glitz and glamour and Z-list celebrities and A-list zombies and TV TV sports and cars and also games sometimes. I was there all by my lonesome, because I hate sleep and love hoarding awful press room box lunches so I can pile their damp, discarded remains into impregnable Journalism Forts. Also, to observe, learn, and then wordpuke forecasts of certain doom for the gaming industry onto this here Internet. You heard me: DOOOOOOOM. OK, actually, we’re probably going to be fine. But I do have some things to rant about, because I’m still sleep-deprived and grumpy. Also, there might be a slight chance of doom.     

Who Won E3… By Dystopic Big Brother Marketing Survey Future Standards – Microsoft. After the Xbox One’s dismal reveal, it came out double-fisting cold ones for some nebulous testosterone firehose target demographic instead of, you know, actual humans. Moreover, it refused to give any ground on its awful DRM and online requirement policies, continued to charge a hefty subscription for the mere ability to play games online, very nearly ignored indies entirely, and pretty much just stuck to the same old song and dance routine as always – except each joyful “next-gen tesseloflop realistic-er QTE promptblop” chorus ended on an exceedingly sour note.

Who Won E3… By Sensible Consolebox Standards – Sony. It’s kind of depressing, too, given that all they really did was say, “Hey, you know all that mind-bogglingly tone-deaf stuff Microsoft’s betting the farm on? Well, we’re doing the opposite.” Thing is, the opposite in this case basically means sticking to the same guns that got it through the PS3 era (with an admittedly admirable eye for excellent indies). No DRM, no restrictions on trade-ins, no silently observing camera that has one eye constantly slithering beneath your skin. No any of that because duh. That’s not what humans want. It’s just a shame that in this era, building a machine for people – not bipedal marketing surveys in $10,000 suits – is worthy of raucous praise. Shouldn’t that be, you know, the baseline? This should not be how you earn a gold star.

Who Won E3… By Really Low Standards – Nintendo. I mean, I guess there’s another Super Smash Bros now? People like that, right? And Mario, he’s… he’s still doing things. Oh, and don’t forget that remake of the last Zelda game anyone actually liked. Or maybe do. That’s about the only way any of this lineup will feel fresh again.

Who Won E3… By Already Being A Way Better Option Than Everything Else Standards – PC! I already covered this in quite a bit of detail, but it bears repeating: PC continues to pave the way for many aspects of gaming’s future, but everyone on triple-A’s money showering stage seems frighteningly determined to ignore both its successes and its failures. I desperately want the entire gaming industry to be healthy, but oh well. More great things for us I guess?

Who Won E3… By Standards That Are Actually Interesting And Worth Reading About – Indies. No, they did not have a very strong presence at the actual show. Indies Crash E3 and Indiecade were both relegated to tiny corners of their respective halls, so far off in the distance that I had to hire an expedition leader and a small yet resilient donkey named Juarez to reach them. Horizon, meanwhile, took place at an art museum miles away from the convention center. But it was their mentality that spread like a virus.

Honestly, it was this year’s hyper-contagious E3 flu – except instead of pounding me into a puddle of my own weeping fluids, it breathed wind back in my weary sails. Every other journo I talked to pretty much reiterated the same thing: “Yeah, this year’s been alright, but nothing’s really wowing me. Nothing’s standing out, except… oh! Did you go to Indiecade yet? How about Horizon’s conference?”

Even bigger companies couldn’t help but come down with the bug. Sony devoted a sumptuous chunk of its press conference to indies, with everything from Transistor to Octodad strutting across the stage in their Important Pants. Meanwhile, studios like CD Projekt, Double Fine, and Telltale confessed to me that they never want to let things like growth and triple-A production values stymie “indie” creative spirit. To be frank, E3 needed that infusion of grassroots passion after last year’s sleepy showing. This is still the big boys’ playground, but hopefully in time the ratio won’t be quite so skewed.

Who Won E3… Is An Arbitrary Designation Entirely Rooted In Opinion And Doesn’t Usually Matter Even A Few Months Later, So I Think I’ve Made My Point Here – Yeah.

So PC Isn’t A Gaming Platform Now? – So how about Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall, huh? Looks like quite the game of stompy stompy bang bang, right? Shame it’s an Xbox One exclusive… except oh wait. It’s also coming to PC. Same with Microsoft’s Project Spark, Witcher 3, World of Tanks (which we already have), and probably Remedy’s Quantum Break, Dead Rising 3, and Sword and Sworcery dev Capy’s Below. PS4 also has countless “exclusives” that will inevitably either launch on or migrate to PC, and let’s not even get started on all the pussyfooting nonsense Ubisoft’s doing around post-pandemic MMO The Division.

It’s like publishers and console-makers are ashamed to admit that they still need PC. Or maybe they’re even a bit afraid. And why shouldn’t they be? A platform that many major players once left for dead managed to evolve beyond the need for them. No unified distribution platform? Meet Steam. No exclusives? Try free-to-play, thousands of indies, most MOBAs, and a colossal back catalog of classics that actually still work. Nothing that discourages piracy? Meet Steam and free-to-play, um, again. PC will survive, thrive, and evolve with or without the likes of Microsoft, Ubisoft, and EA affixed to its girthy underbelly. And it will almost certainly continue to outpace them.

Why commit to a role when you can’t even be the main character? Something like that, I guess.

Hey, Is Sexism Still A Thing At E3? – Yep, sexism is still a thing at E3. Barely any female main characters (or even vaguely capable sidekicks), highly inappropriate jokes at female presenters’ expense, thinly veiled (in more ways than one) booth babes, etc, etc, etc. You name it. It’s difficult to even be surprised anymore. The industry’s making baby steps, but E3 has an especially long way to go.

“Social” Now Means “Be A Jerk To Your Friends” – Watch_Dogs, Need For Speed: Rivals, and many more all want to “blur the lines between single-player and multiplayer” by allowing you to drop in and out of friends’ otherwise solo games on-the-fly. In Watch_Dogs, this means “hacking” your friend and potentially killing them. Need For Speed’s approach is similar, except with less magical technomancing super phones and more angry battle cars.

Regardless, it’s often about finding creative ways to blindside your friends with misery. They’re trying to do something else, and – boom – there you are, laughing so hard that you nearly slip in a puddle of their blood. Maybe I’m a purist, but don’t we have separate competitive modes for when we’re feeling, you know, competitive? Moreover, how is it a competition if it begins in an inherently lopsided, sneaky fashion? To my knowledge, you can disable the “mingleplayer” functionality in both games, but I guess I just don’t quite understand the appeal in the first place.

People Really Liked Dark Souls – Which is presumably the reason nearly every developer now cites it as a “big influence”. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though. More real difficulty, tension, and consequence in games? Yes please. Need an example? Check out former Witcher lead Tomasz Gop’s Lords of the Fallen (which I’ll be writing more about soon).

Games Will Be About Guns, Cars, And Zombies Forever – OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, but goodness is triple-A ever stuck in a rut. I mean, can we just make Football: The First-Person Legend of Guncar: The Game Of The Live-Action Trailer and be done with it? Just, you know, wipe the slate clean and move forward? Of course not. That’s not how a titanic industry – held high by shareholders’ brittle backs – works. Time and necessity will push triple-A into uncharted territory. Let’s just hope the tired old giant gets a move on before everyone stops caring.

But Now We’re Telling “Human” Stories About Killing (Woooooo) – See, because there are dogs now, and soldiers have to make really tough ethical decisions about which dude to shoot. Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4, especially, are running with the Mass Murderer With A Heart Of Gold angle, and I guess it’s something akin to progress. At least Infinity Ward and DICE seem to kind of understand that people are interested in – drumroll – people. But if these stories are just as vapid and meaningless as ever (and let’s face it: the chances are good), then I’m going to be howling/barking/etc mad. In an industry that’s severely lacking any sort of humanity, the last thing we need is to start throwing around “human” as an empty buzzword. If it becomes the next “visceral,” I think that’s it. I’m fucking out.

We’re Discussing Important Societal Issues… But Only When They’re Overblown And Dumb – Following on that, some corners of the triple-A world are kinda sorta trying to make statements about some of the more problematic elements of modern society. Just, you know, with all the intelligence and subtlety of a ricin-laced frying pan to the face. See, for example, Watch_Dogs: “Privacy is dead, but spreading our personal information all about is more dangerous than ever. What ever should we do? SHOOT IT IN THE FACE.” Or how about The Division? “The world is running on all sorts of teetering, unreliable systems and biological pandemics could be a thing maybe and it’s all so complicated so I don’t know I guess SHOOT IT IN THE FACE – but with friends!”

And so on and so on. You get the idea. But then, triple-A is basically our Hollywood blockbuster. I’d very much like for gaming to be better, but I suppose it’s just the way these things go.

Addendum: But There Was Also Some Cool Stuff – I thought on this for a bit (regrettably after publishing) and realized this whole piece came across as rather damning. That’s not entirely fair, though, because E3 did have some great-looking games! Witcher 3, the new Walking Dead mid-season episode, Mirror’s Edge 2, Hotline Miami 2 (which I’ll be writing about very soon), Lords of the Fallen, Mad Max (think Just Cause 2, but in a wasteland), Dark Souls II, and Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare were all standouts for me. I certainly came away from this year’s E3 much more optimistic than I did last year. That’s something, at least.

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Nathan Grayson

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