In the video game industry, the fans are bombarded by two separate yet equally important groups: Saints, who bring with them only the purest form of joy, and Sinners, beings dedicated solely to evoking misery. These are their stories.
There are two lessons to be learned from this year’s E3. First, it should be duly noted that I love the word “jamboree”. Second, and much more relevant to the industry as a whole, is the fact that expectations and hype are to be admonished as tools of the devil; Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony all disappointed in their own, unique way in what may be E3’s first clean sweep of disheartening press conferences. Where last week I listed the ways in which they could attain Sainthood, this week I’ll focus on their individual failures that have lead them to their new classification as Sinners.
Microsoft: In what can only be described as one of the biggest surprises of the night, Halo 4 opened up the doors to Microsoft’s E3 2012 press conference with a bang. It might be more appropriate to describe this opening as touting several bangs, but I digress; Halo 4 looked fantastic. I’ve long been a cynic in regards to the trials and tribulations of Master Chief as I feel that the series has done little to progress beyond the basic premise that made it a phenomenon in the last console generation. Accordingly, my favorite game in the franchise was Halo 3 ODST, a bite-sized expansion on the Halo narrative that had players controlling a more feeble, helpless group of soldiers than the invincible Spartan of industry fame. Halo 4 appears to be innovating upon its basic tenants in a different way: adopting much of what made Metroid Prime the success that it was. Master Chief, still a hero of epic proportions, now appears to play from behind a similar visor as the one that Samus donned in her journey. At one point in the stage demo, Chief even enacted a thermal scanner that helped him to better gaze at the imminent threat to his (and the world’s) well being.
Undoubtedly, Halo 4 was a strong way to open the show. It didn’t stop there, though, as Microsoft continued to roll out title after title that proved the lasting power of the current console generation; Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and Tomb Raider all impressed, but none of those spoke well exclusively for the Xbox 360. Sure, Call of Duty will once again see its content arrive on the platform first as will South Park and almost undoubtedly several of the other titles displayed in the conference, but a smidgen of downloadable content carries nary enough weight to combat the bevvy of exclusives shown off at Sony’s press conference. Outside of Halo 4, the main exclusives shown were another Gears of War game and Fable: The Journey, a fact that lends even further credence to the line of thinking dictating that Microsoft has been milking the same three franchises for over a decade. Compare that to Sony’s showing of Beyond and The Last of Us, two diverse experiences that perfectly complement the third-party titles that both platforms will enjoy in the coming years, and it’s natural to wonder how the Xbox 360 is even a feasible alternative to the PlayStation 3.
The time and focus that I’ve given to these games (except for in the case of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Halo 4 is disproportionate to the amount of time and focus allotted them by Microsoft; instead, they seemed content to dwell on the implementation of standard entertainment applications and SmartGlass, an interface that allows users to share content between their Xbox 360, smart phones, and tablet devices. Obviously, more than just gaming media is in attendance at E3, but video games are still meant to be the core focus. Microsoft spent like what felt an eternity lauding themselves for acquiring the rights to feature popular NBA and NHL applications, adding Nickelodeon to their library of entertainment providers, and simply renaming their Zune service to something far more generic. SmartGlass was the only truly noteworthy aspect taken from the entertainment portion of the conference and, in my eyes, it faltered under the bright lights of the industry’s biggest stage. While certainly ambitious, SmartGlass seems like a trivial solution to a problem that nobody in the known universe has ever experienced. How many times have you been watching Game of Throne and needed (or even wanted) a map application that better lays out the path that a given character is taking? How many times have you been watching a movie on public transit, arrived home, and then wondered how on Earth you were going to finish a film that is on your portable device? The answer to both of these questions is probably none, but Microsoft spent so much time laying the program out that you might think this was the biggest problem our nation was facing. It isn’t, and because of that I can’t see SmartGlass having a shelf life beyond its first usage.
Lost in all of this was the Kinect, a device that last year hogged the limelight while shying away from it this year; few purely-Kinect experiences were displayed in favor of games that merely tacked on the hardware’s most basic functions. Of course, I didn’t mind the lack of Kinect on the show floor, but its absence at the press conference was more than a little dissonant with what seemed to be the next direction of the platform.
Overall, Microsoft delivered an event that was satisfying yet underwhelming as if it were a slice of pizza without stuffed crust. I saw more than a handful of games that I can’t wait to get my hands on, but those very same games could be obtained on a variety of other platforms, each of which has a more varied landscape of exclusive content. Had the publisher given a better inkling of what makes the Xbox 360 unique, such as highlighting the upcoming Summer of Arcade promotion, I would have had no qualms in giving them high marks. As it stands, though, I can give Microsoft no better than a grade of C which, in the Church of Drewdaism, instantly labels them as a Sinner.
Nintendo: This was Nintendo’s E3 to lose; the iconic studio that practically built the industry we know today had the advantage of showcasing an entirely new console, something that neither of their two competitors could say about their press events. While I’m not going to be so reactionary as to say that Nintendo lost the show, I am going to say that they certainly focused a lot of energy towards doing so.
Much like Microsoft, Nintendo opened up with excitement right out of the gate in the form of Pikmin 3. As someone that grew up with the Gamecube and its interesting flavor of innovation, I was more than a little excited to see the developer’s plant-based, real-time strategy game make its grand return with stunning high-definition visuals. Reggie Fils Aime, our lord and holy savior, then went on to say that Nintendo had 23 titles for the Wii U waiting in the wings to shine on the stage. Perhaps it was an error in translation, but by the end of the conference it seemed that Nintendo had shown only a little more than a handful of exciting experiences that would make their new console worth owning.
Instead of focusing on the games, Nintendo spent a lot of time covering such well-trodden ground as the Wii U’s controller, its social networking functionality, and, oddly enough, ways to interact with the company online through its corporate website and Facebook page. One would think that this meant the studio was looking to fill time, but the conference itself went ten minutes over its scheduled limit, a feat that none of the other events managed to even come close to.
Granted, at some point, Nintendo did highlight their library of upcoming releases. The strongest segments include the aforementioned Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Luigi’s Mansion 2 (now subtitled as Dark Moon), and, in what was itself an odd surprise, LEGO City: Undercover. All in all, those presentations accounted for far less than half of the conference and made way for such non-announcements as SiNG, a karaoke title that incorporates the entire room into the action, and Just Dance 4. Even worse, all of the titles in this paragraph and the ones describing both Microsoft and Sony’s press conferences received less time than NintendoLand, a bizarre Wii U title that places players within a virtual amusement park in what is meant to be the platform’s Wii Sports. It wasn’t a problem because NintendoLand looks particularly bad or uninteresting, but because the presentation of it made the title seem bad and uninteresting. Later on, previews and videos were released that pointed to quite the contrary, but none of that fun and excitement translated when the game was presented on stage.
At the time of writing, public opinion has it that the Wii U is going to follow in the footsteps of the Dreamcast and die an early death. Of course, the same has been said about the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo 3DS, two platforms that seem to be doing fine (though the latter of which was in questionable territory until this briefing). I believe that this is a bit of an overreaction to what can only be generously referred to as a train wreck of a press conference; the Wii U, compared with the launch of recent platforms, appears to have a wealth of content for its first few months on the market. Perception of the console would have undeniably doubled had Nintendo announced a far-off project or revealed minute details on the next Super Smash Bros., but instead they decided to spend twenty minutes on what appears to be a glorified tech demo in NintendoLand.
I’m excited for the Wii U, but this press conference was as bad as the NintendoLand presentation was long.
Sony: It is only through heavily gritted teeth and more hesitance than I’d like to admit that I can say that Sony won the competition between E3’s major press conferences. Of course, their victory comes almost entirely because they had the least to lose when their opponents both had major obstacles to overcome in order for their show to seem like it had righted each respective company’s trajectory. Sony was safe to stagnate with the only stipulation being that they use their time at E3 to earn the PlayStation Vita’s spot among other worthwhile portable products on the market. They did not.
The PlayStation Vita was merely a footnote in what would largely be a display of previously announced titles coming to the PlayStation 3 later on this year. Yes, one of those games, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, will be making its way to both platforms, but none of the major showings were in any way, shape, or form exclusive to the company’s new device. Instead, Sony’s focus on the Vita was relegated to spin-offs of Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty coming to the handheld, a move that is all too similar to the treatment of the PlayStation Portable.
Elsewhere, Sony shined. As with both Microsoft and Nintendo, the opener served to kick the evening off in a superb manner by showcasing Beyond, the next game being developed by Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain) that stars the Academy Award-winning Ellen Page as its main protagonist. The trailer for Beyond was subtle, spooky, and all kinds of awesome; it was exactly the way that a Sony press conference should be booted up. Everything that followed afterwards followed a similar trend of being entertaining, fun, and a perfect teaser for what’s ahead particularly in the case of The Last of Us, a title that is sadly more than a year away at this point.
Everything, that is, except for God of War: Ascension. Those who have read my previous editorials are already well aware that I personally don’t care for this game and find it to be an unnecessary extension of a franchise that is poised to overstay its welcome, and the demo shown at E3 did little to change my mind. Shown at Sony’s press conference was a snippet of Kratos battling enemy after enemy in a scene that seemed as if it could have been ripped out of every other game in the series. Sony would have done well to portray the game in a more positive, bombastic light with a situation more similar to the Titan encounter that began God of War III; showing this only proved that the series has made little progress since seemingly concluding in 2010.
Sony, as was expected based on trends within the industry, devoted more than enough time to their entertainment apps. While that may not have been much of a surprise, it was shocking to see that they spotlighted the PlayStation Move much more than Microsoft touted the Kinect. At about the midway point of the conference, Sony unveiled what they dubbed Wonderbook, an interactive way of reading stories that utilizes both the PlayStation Move and PlayStation Eye accessories. To most effectively promote this new property, Sony inked a deal with J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) to write the first book for the tool entitled Book of Spells, a collection of tales and tricks from the world of witchcraft and wizardry. Though I was a little bit bored with the presentation, my girlfriend, a casual gamer at most, seemed fairly intrigued with the proposition as a tool for getting children more interested in literature and simply as an interesting way to approach reading. I don’t see it being my cup of tea or even being all that commonplace in the same way that I don’t expect SmartGlass to set the world on fire, but I certainly think the idea is ambitious and, at the very least, neat.
As I said at the beginning of this segment, Sony won E3 for me personally; their exclusives offered the most wide swath of experiences while demonstrating their in-house developer’s prowess within the medium. However, Sony won in spite of themselves. Part of the reason that PlayStation-branded portables have never been able to take off is because Sony doesn’t give them the save public love and attention that Nintendo gives theirs. Where Nintendo is devoting an entirely separate press conference to the Nintendo 3DS, Sony barely even devoted ten minutes to the PlayStation Vita. Even as a believer in the platform, I’m becoming wary that the Vita might go down a road very similar to the one that the PlayStation Portable went down over the past decade. If this happens again next year, then my concerns will be all but validated.
Judgement has been passed