How Bout That E3, Eh?
I’m grasping at straws here. Since I decided that I wasn’t going to force myself to blog I’ve not had the pressure to just make stuff up for the sake of making stuff up, which is good for you because you’re not subjected to my walls of text. On the other hand, it’s bad for me because I still want to write stuff, but what to write about is almost always the first and tallest hurdle when opening WordPress.
Thankfully, there’s E3 this week. Blink, and you might be missing it, or at least that’s how it feels. The games industry seems to be on un-solid footing these days when it comes to how it wants to promote itself. To me, it feels like a kind of junior high school dance: everyone really, deep down inside wants to mingle and dance, but what we end up seeing is that everyone kind of breaks off and does their own things. Nintendo regularly shuns these Big Shows, and I recall that Microsoft and Sony have opted out of more than a few Big Name conventions and conferences that have left people squinting their “huh?” faces.
People like to declare “winners” and “losers” of E3, which to me only really pays into the whole “us versus them” mentality that results in us not having cross-platform play, as well as other juvenile behaviors that roll across comment sections like nuclear fire, but I’m not playing that game. I’m a multi-homed console owner, and really it’s the only way to be, IMO. Exclusives, timed or en toto, don’t bother me one bit because I can just buy whatever, whenever, for whatever platform mandates it. I have a stake in the success of both Microsoft and Sony. If there’s at least something I can get interested in for each platform, I consider that a win…for me.
I do appreciate Microsoft’s “buy once, play wherever” mandate this year. If you own an XB1 and a Windows 10 PC, then you can buy one of these advertised titles on one of those platforms, you get a copy for the other platform at no extra charge. In addition, your saves are carried over, allowing you to sit in front of whatever glowing rectangle you choose. For a lot of people this is going to be overhead, because *gasp* there are people who only play on one platform or the other, either because their PC hardware isn’t up to spec, or they refuse to buy a console (or another console). But it also means that if there’s an XB1 game shown this year that interests you then you might soon be able to get it for your PC, so maybe it’s more important to frame it as “more console games are coming to PC for you console luddites/Playstation owners”. The downside is that I’m certain that the PC versions will only be available through the Windows Store, so if you’re one of those people who refuses to play any game that isn’t had through Steam, breath your heavy anger into a paper bag for five minutes and then move onto something constructive.
VR was a big component…apparently. I didn’t actually end up watching a lot of the videos this year so I’m not entirely apprised on What Went Down, but the Word on the Street is that VR is real and has buy in from Big Players. Skyrim and Fallout 4 are getting VR support, which should be frightening as hell, but also awesome as hell, since both of those games are 3/4 of the way in presentation anyway. Since Sony is pimping their own VR headset they’d certainly want to play up why you should support them, so it makes sense they’d show VR games during their show. Unlike some/many/most, I’m sold on VR despite not yet having used it. I think it seems like one of those things that is easy to dismiss on paper, but ends of making converts upon experience.
One of the ongoing Things That Publishers Want To Make A Big Deal Of is the forward push towards “esports”. This is a post in and of itself, but if you really don’t like the way practically every game seems to include some kind of small team competitive multiplayer mode, then I’ve got really bad news for the outlook on the remainder of 2016 and beyond. In fact, Microsoft is incorporating a progression ladder system directly into the operating system, effectively allowing every single XB1 game to be a showcase for your gaming epeen. /slowclap.
Speaking of ‘peens: XB1 S/ Project Scorpio, and the Playstation 4.5. Microsoft’s announcement of the XB1 “Slim” follows their last gen trend of reworking their form factor by cutting down on the plastic and giving a smaller console for your shelf, with some compromises. As the Esteemed Pete of Dragonchasers fame noted in his eulogy for Kinect, the “S” model has no Kinect port. For many, that won’t be missed, but as someone who added an aftermarket Kinect, I like the convenience it offers (of course, with Cortana in the wings, the Kinect might still end up as a paperweight). For everything else, there’s Scorpio, the code-name for the Xb1.75. Supposedly the specs on this thing make it a real supercomputer, putting my desktop PC to shame in the service of being able to pump out 4k game visuals and offering out of the box support for VR in the form of third party headsets (Oculus/Vive) or even Microsoft’s own Hololens. You can pre-order the “S” now, starting at $299, but Scorpio won’t be available until Holiday 2017 and the price is currently undisclosed. Expect somewhere on the windward side of $500 if the proposed specifications are any indication.
Sony…didn’t even broach the topic of Playstation 1.5. Again, it’s been said that they’re holding off on talking about until they can control the venue, which reinforces my belief that the games industry is drifting away from the “one show to rule them all” and into the “let’s all chase Apple again and hold our own product circuses”.
What about the games? Well, my memory being what it is I can’t actually remember much. There was that Guns of Icarus-meets-actual-pirates game Sea of Thieves which seemed to captivate a lot of people. I missed any and everything about ReCore. I saw some stuff on Dishonored 2 which my brother is absolutely psyched for. Horizons: Zero Dawn continues to look awesome, and I was surprised to find myself interested in God Of War which looks more like Skyrim meets Uncharted. Sprinkled here and there were indie titles, expansions, and WTF moments (from Ubi and Hideo Kojima, of course) that make the whole process interesting if not slam-bang exciting. Except the Star Trek: Bridge Crew. That fucking rocked the house.
What I’ve learned, though, is that these events are really about the spectacle. They are the 200 proof hype-ahol of the games industry frat party, and as such only focus on the products that would otherwise sell themselves. A whole block of presentation time dedicated to Battlefield 1? What can they say about it that we can’t glean from the fact that it’s a Battlefield installment? Here and there they throw in montages of smaller but decidedly montage-worthy games probably to satisfy existing partners so they don’t feel thrown under the AAA bus, and to tempt would be partners by showing that yes, these monoliths could showcase your product next year if you sign exclusive deals with their platform.
What have I been playing this year? The Division, sure. Halo 5 earlier in the year. Stellaris, which didn’t get any stage play anywhere as far as I know. Guild Wars 2 had an expansion and major patch which were excellent. Overwatch (sort of) which had it’s day in the sun, but only under Blizzcon’s tent. I went back to Wildstar when it appeared on Steam, and even fired up Skyforge despite my hatred of their customer service.
I don’t feel bad about not really remembering much about what was presented at E3 because to do so would be to hang on solely to the hype. Considering that we haven’t heard the last of Gears of War 4 or We Happy Few and other showcase games between the end of E3 and when each of them releases, I don’t think paying attention to E3 matters all that much except in service of being part of the community that’s egging each other on by magnifying the hype that we’re being fed. Our time in between will be spent doing what we’re always doing, playing the games we’re currently playing or will be playing while we wait for these blockbusters to actually arrive. It’s nice to know what’s on the horizon, and marketing departments need to put food on their tables like everyone else, but E3 2016 has come and will go, and next week we’ll be back to whatever it was we were doing before the distraction.