Wednesday, 13 June 2012

E3 2012

The e3 conference 2012 passed in fairly unremarkable fashion this year. There was a slight lingering tension that it might be the year for Microsoft or Sony to unveil their new consoles, but it wasn’t to be. As a gamer, I’m happier with that decision. There was a bit of a cold war scenario going on between Sony and Microsoft where if one revealed their new technology, the other would be under pressure to prove they could match this. But I don’t want either to rush into releasing a new console yet. Last time this resulted in some faulty consoles and some technical decisions were made that might not have been for the best.

Nintendo meanwhile had more of the upcoming Wii U to show off, but it somehow lacked any real excitement, it didn’t really feel like the next generation, it felt like it was catching up with the technical abilities of the PS3 and Xbox360. This didn’t matter with the release of the Wii because its focus was completely different. It has a unique interface and it was bringing gaming to a whole new market that wouldn’t normally play games. At the same time, it was doing something fresh and new in a way that interested hard-core gamers. It’s hard to see this having the same success as the Wii. The console seems to merge the functions of the Wii and the DS. One of its major selling points seems to be its portability and the fact that the console can be played on a tablet. While that may be convenient for some, sharing a television isn’t an issue for me. A big television is still a preferable way to play console games than a tablet. But of course I’m not everyone and others may see this as a good thing.
While there were plenty of exciting releases shown to be coming, the conferences did suggest perhaps the end of this generation has been approaching, particularly with quite a big focus on family games and gimmicky interfaces.

Microsoft went out first; they had probably the least successful conference. Their focus seemed to largely be on gimmicks rather than games. The main game attraction was the new Halo which seemed to have taken a lot of inspiration from Metroid. But the main push of their new show was the new smart glass concept was. It’s hard to see it having much affect at this time, and how much affect can it really have on a console so late in its life. If anything it seemed like what we were seeing could have been a test, an experiment that could be later expounded upon on Xbox’s next incarnation. The rest of the presentation was fairly gimmicky, an NFL commentator was brought out to promote the new Madden, and a voice interface seemed to show that FIFA would allow you to get booked by the referee for swearing at him. How this could be seen as anything other than a gimmick that’s amusing for 2 minutes I’m not sure. They finished the show by bringing out Usher to perform a song for some bored journalists.

Sony faired a lot better. Jack Tretton comes across as rather humble and likeable for the CEO of a huge company. (Well, the American branch of it anyway) The highlight of the show was probably Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which made physical violence look like it actually should be, horrible and painful. The idea that having to kill to survive actually felt like the dark and harrowing prospect it should be, albeit in a way that looked fun and exciting. I’m suspicious if it’ll manage to sustain this throughout the game though. The dynamic between the two characters was a better example of “interactive storytelling” than David Cage’s efforts. As much as I’m glad there’s someone that aspire to the things Cage does, his latest effort, Beyond which was the other highlight of Sony’s conference. It doesn't really look like he’s moved on from the writing ability he displayed in Heavy Rain. It’s too early to tell, and I may be interested to ‘play’ it when it comes out, but I remain sceptical. Still the presence of Ellen Page in the game may mean the acting will be better than his previous games. The other large feature in their show was Wonderbook:  Book of Spells (you know, for kids!) something that seems to be trying to find a use for eye toy. It could well be very good and fun for children, but again, it’s too hard to predict at this stage.

The Nintendo conference promised to be more focused on games, but didn’t quite deliver on that. My twitter feed went wild at the reveal of the new Pikmin, which must be another video gaming icon that passed me by somehow. I’ll have to go on faith that this was a good thing. But the bulk of it was dedicated to promoting the new Wii U and a bizarre amount of time was spent on showing a new version of Batman: Arkham City. It just seemed like a very weak way to appeal to hard-core gamers, as well as showing off the new interface design, anyone who would care, has already played it. I’ve already talked about my scepticism at the Wii U, so I won’t repeat myself. They showed some things that would appeal to their fan base, but I don’t think they did much to reach outside their own demographic.

It’s been said by many, but the real winners of the show were Ubisoft. Assassins Creed 3 and Watch Dogs the real highlights of the show.

In many ways the live streams has affected the way the e3 conferences are viewed and presented, the conferences now have to consider the large audience watching at home, but it’s not just intended for them and so too much is made of which company “ won” the conference. So the conferences aren’t quite satisfying for journalists, viewers or the company’s stock-holders. It’s become a weird meshing of different aims. So let’s try not to make too much of them.  

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