Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry news gets torn apart and ruthlessly editorialized. This week will be a little different from the norm, as E3 has yet again taken over public discourse among gamers and there is a crazy amount of industry news to cover. Instead of going story-by-story, this week we'll be going event-by-event, starting with Microsoft's press event and ending with Nintendo's Digital Event. For the purpose of making this wrap up a bit more tolerable, the summaries of these events will be broken down into my expectations, followed by sections denoted as "the good," "the bad," and "the ugly." I'll also provide an arbitrary elementary school score based on my impression of how well the event went. Keeping in mind that, while all gamers have their own unique biases, I am indeed a fan of all five presenting companies and, as per usual, I don't feel like pulling any punches.
Now then, let's play some battle music to get me in the mood.
I encourage discourse, so please feel free to disagree in the comments. I'd love to see how everyone else took this year's event: who had the best show, what were the best games, and what was the biggest disappointment?
My general expectations of Microsoft at E3 2014 were pretty low, admittedly. Going in, I predicted a lot of Xbox TV stuff that I wouldn't be interested in. I figured that ID@Xbox would get a few nods, and was also praying that the company would abolish the awful parity clause. As far as games go, I expected to see Sunset Overdrive, Project Spark, Fable Legends, Halo 5, Gears of War 5, and possibly Crackdown 3, new Killer Instinct DLC, and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die. I was on-the-mark for the most part this year, though I was pleased to see a greater focus on games instead of hardware and service announcements. That being said, while Microsoft had a competent showing I hesitate to call their conference "great." To me, it just felt "safe."
- Strong focus on first-party games. After years of unbalanced and weirdly paced conferences, Microsoft finally decided to just focus on the games. No hardware announcements were made. No policy changes either. Just games, and ultimately I think the event was better as a result. It was nice to catch a glimpse of Halo 5: Guardians, but the crowd clearly went nuts over the packed Halo: Master Chief Collection. Forza Horizon 2, Fable: Legends, and Sunset Overdrive were all looking great, but the real surprise as far as Xbox exclusives go was the resurrection of the Crackdown franchise. Much applause, all around.
- Phantom Dust. I couldn't have ever expected this. What was easily the most beautiful and unique exclusive on the original Xbox is now being resurrected for a new audience. I hope the game is marketed better this time around, but I'm hyped nonetheless. Good on Microsoft.
- The Kinect was ignored. Here's the thing: I'm not a fan of the Kinect itself, but that device did a lot to set the Xbox One apart from the PS4. After unbundling the Kinect, I was wondering how the device would have been handled at E3, and it appears that Microsoft's strategy was to leave it out in the cold. It was mentioned once, in passing. The peripheral is now doomed.
- The Xbox 360 was ignored. Not everyone has a next generation system yet. Some of us are still trying to enjoy the consoles we already have. As far as Microsoft's presentation went, the Xbox 360 might as well already be dead.
- 50 minutes of third-party games. Like I said before, the focus on games is a really good thing, and to be fair I did expect a lot of third-party support at this event. I didn't, however, expect 60% of Microsoft's event to be dedicated to games that are going to all platforms. They tried to make up for this with Xbox One exclusive or "first" content...
- Day-one exclusive DLC. I don't want to speak for all gamers here, but to me this doesn't seem like a great video gaming trend. If anything, this phenomenon just seems like a pissing match between Microsoft and Sony. I'm not a fan.
- Conker's cameo. Jesus, take the wheel. I cannot wrap my head around why Microsoft would make such a gigantic blunder. I get that Conker isn't known for pulling any punches, but to have him admit that it's been almost 10 years since his last game and then TELL YOU TO MAKE A NEW ONE FOR HIM just makes Microsoft look like a bunch of lazy bastards. This was a PR misfire.
If you were to ask what I expected of EA in a nutshell before the event, I would have said: sport, guns, sports, cars, sports, sports, cars, sports, guns, and maybe a bit of Star Wars. I wasn't surprised. I in no way hesitate in saying that EA had the worst conference of E3 2014.
- DICE Stuff. While I truly hate that we have to wait so long for its release, Star Wars Battlefront was looking damn impressive. The original sets, costumes, and props were all being analyzed in order to make their in-game designs a truer experience, and I'm still jazzed that DICE is working on this. As a Star Wars fan, I super approve. I was also pleased to see some Mirror's Edge 2 love.
- BioWare stuff. This E3 gave us a good look at Dragon Age: Inquisition. It is looking pretty far along in development, and it is clear that the team hasn't rushed themselves during design as they did with Dragon Age II. My only gripe was that it was unclear at times whether we were looking at cut scenes or in-game footage. A new Mass Effect game was also shown as well as a new, unnamed BioWare IP. Neither of those games are too far along.
- Sims. We need to talk about The Sims. The series has clearly stagnated. In this new iteration of the same old thing, we were introduced to more customization of appearance and personality. Oh, and the chance of death via laughter. The presentation of this game was lazy, and the minor improvements will only matter to the most hardcore of Sim fans.
- Sports. Cars. Guns. I'm aware that this type of gaming is EA's bread and butter, but all of these announcements and their "improvements" felt phoned-in. Not one sports game, racing game, or first person shooter presented at EA's show looked or acted like it deserved to be called "next gen." All of it was predictable, and all of it was boring.
- Lots of concepts, little gameplay. Believe me when I say that I like getting the developer's perspective, but we were treated to a lot of wireframes, concept art, and "in-engine" footage of games during the event. Not much in terms of actual gameplay.
- In-game "emotions." I like the idea of realistic reactions to things in sports games, but this was amped up by EA way too much. They made it seem like scripted reactions to certain in-game scenarios was a new or innovative thing. It's not, and most of the time it looks kind of goofy.
Now that Watch_Dogs is out, I actually had no idea what Ubisoft would be focusing on for E3. Seriously, the hype machine on that game has been going for what seems like a decade. I knew enough to expect some Assassin's Creed and maybe a Tom Clancy game, but that's about where my expectations ended. Interestingly enough, I really enjoyed Ubisoft's conference this year.
- Valiant Hearts. I can't say I'm looking forward to another Ubisoft title more. Made using the UbiArt engine, Valiant Hearts looks like it's going to be cute, smart, and gut wrenching. I have a nasty feeling that a lot of lovable characters aren't going to make it to the game's conclusion. Let's hope the dog at least makes it. Excuse me while I sob.
- The return of Rainbow Six. It's been six years since the last entry in the series, and Rainbow Six: Siege looks pretty intense. Destructible environments, tons of weapons and tools, and 5-on-5 matches. Can't wait.
- Tom Clancy's The Division. It's nice to see more of this game, but considering how long it's been since initial announcement, I think most people wanted more gameplay. Sure, we've seen some gameplay demos elsewhere, but the game was announced ages ago and this E3 wasn't the right place for another teaser video.
- Shape Up. A Kinect exclusive, Shape Up looks really weird. Like a hybrid of a fitness and dancing game. The graphics are atrocious, the fitness moves look unappealing, and I can't see it making home work-outs any better.
- Just Dance Now. The concept is novel I guess, but a dancing game that's basically a smart phone app? Doesn't sound great. Also, what stops me from accidentally whipping my phone out of my hand? Plus, that announcement; it looked to me as though those dancers had some training. Complete BS.
Going into E3 2014, it was clear that the PS4's game support hasn't been great. There certainly has been a promise of future greatness, but the game releases on the platform so far this year have been ho-hum and things don't look much better until 2015. As such, I figured Sony would really amp up the system for this event by showcasing a bunch of new games including The Order: 1886, Uncharted 4, Project Beast, and possibly The Last Guardian. I also expected a bit of an indie game showcase, more details on PS Now, and little-to-no attention given to the PS Vita. I was, sadly, right about the Vita. Sony's show was decent, but it wasn't great. Some of the games shown outclasses that of the Xbox event, but the pacing was also odd and unbalanced.
- Metal Gear Solid 5. It's fair to say that Kojima has lost his mind, and it's glorious. Having a new Phantom Pain trailer for E3 2014 was a coup for Sony — this beast not only hyped the crowd but also smartly demonstrated the power of the PS4. The "Coming 1984" was a nice touch too.
- Ratchet & Clank. It looks like our two platforming buddies will be getting both a major motion picture and an HD remastering on the PS4 sometime in the near future. Insomniac is developing the remake, so I'm sure it'll look and play great.
- Grim Fandango HD. This won't be a big deal to some people, but Grim Fandango is an adventure gamer's wet dream that deserves a comeback. Tim Schafer's phony letter was a nice way to make the announcement as well.
- PlayStation TV. Not sure if it will fly in North America, but Vita TV has been rebranded as PlayStation TV and is coming west. You'll be able to do remote play on a second television, use PlayStation Now, stream movies/music, and access Vita titles. Available for $99.
- PlayStation Now. The service will be available in NA as an open Beta on PS4 starting July 31. I'm excited, because I haven't rented games in the longest time.
- The Vita was ignored. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The one system Sony has that is having a serious problem getting into consumers hands, and Sony only mentioned the handheld in passing? Not great, Sony.
- The Pacing of the event. I'm going to be blunt: I feel like Sony had more interesting game content for their event, in comparison to Microsoft, but the pacing was all over the place. It didn't feel as tight at the other E3 events.
- Powers. Going into this event, I really expected Microsoft to flood us with details about original programing for their system. Somehow, Sony got on that boat instead and is treating us to original entertainment series. It's hard to discern in text, but I say "treating" sarcastically.
- No Last Guardian. I'm not going to harp on about this, because everyone already has. The Last Guardian has been MIA for way too long. Sony keeps promising that it's still alive, but they need to pony up some details sooner rather than later. That trailer is from five years ago.
Going into E3 2014, Nintendo's Digital Event caught my attention. It was going to be relatively short, well-edited, and likely focused on fixing public perception of the Wii U. I expected a lot of Nintendo this year. Lord knows they needed it. I predicted NFC support for the Wii U, more HD Remakes, Yarn Yoshi, Hyrule Warriors, Zelda Wii U, and a new Metroid game. I didn't get Metroid, but I was blown away with what I did get.
- The event was actually fun. Anime, slapstick comedy, Robot Chicken, and well-edited developer diaries. Not only did I enjoy watching this event, but the mixed media approach made it feel more welcome to everyone and not just press. Last year, the Digital Event felt a bit flat, but I think Nintendo really nailed it this year.
- Zelda Wii U. Not only did we get a taste of what the next major installment in the Zelda franchise looks like, but the creator commentary also indicated that this would be the first open world Zelda since the original (if we're being technical). People are already comparing it to Skyrim. The graphics are mind blowing. We're talking hundreds of thousands of independently moving blades of grass here, and the graphics seem to be a hybrid of cell-shaded and realistic. I dig. In fact, if Nintendo only announced this game I would have been pleased with their event.
- More Smash Bros. details. Not only have new characters joined the roster of the next Smash Bros. game, but you can also upload your Miis and use one of three very different fighting styles with up to thirty-nine moveset variations. You could make Miis of Kanye and Taylor Swift and have them beat the crap out of each other! It's magic!
- Amiibo. Nintendo did announce Near-Field Communication (NFC) toys that would accompany gameplay in Smash Bros. Wii U. What I didn't expect, however, was that the information in those toys could be entered into multiple games (Mario Kart 8, for instance) and could store information as well as deliver it. Your figurines can actually evolve with time.
- Yoshi's Wooly World and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Formerly "Yarn Yoshi," Wooly World looks like a hybrid of Yoshi's Island gameplay and Kirby's Epic Yarn aesthetics. Everything is almost unbearably cute, and the Wii U graphics really shine. Toad is also getting his own game, which appears to be a collection puzzler running on Super Mario 3D World's engine. It's adorable, frantic and fun looking.
- Bayonetta 2 launching with the original Bayonetta. Two games for the price of one. Not only that, but there are Nintendo-inspired costumes that our heroine can wear, including Link, Princess Peach, and Samus.
- New Nintendo IPs. Splatoon got a lot of coverage during the event (maybe too much), and while I'm not a huge fan of the character designs I can dig the gameplay. Looks like a mix between Da Blob and Team Fortress. Nintendo also announced Mario Maker, a custom 2D Mario course creator, and a couple of new IPs by Miyamoto himself.
- Star Fox Wii U. Yes. It's a thing. I still can't believe it, but it's a thing. The game has been designed so that the gamepad's screen can be used for a first-person perspective while the controller's gyroscope can control Fox's spacecraft. That said, I think it will also get support for classic Arwing support. This is the first Nintendo developed Star Fox since Star Fox 64. It still looks early in development, but Miyamoto confirmed that it was being targeted for 2015.
- A lot of 2015 releases. The fall isn't looking terrible for the Wii U, considering that Bayonetta 2, Hyrule Warriors, and Smash Bros. are all releasing, but I did see a ton of 2015 games during this event. It would have been nice to see an announcement of a game that wasn't too far off from release.
- The event felt too short. The overall event was basically 40 minutes, and lead into the Treehouse segment. Why didn't Nintendo mention Star Fox Wii U, Mario Party 10, and PacMan's addition to Smash Bros. during their Digital Event?
- Still waiting on stronger third-party support. It's the chicken and the egg. The system will only sell like hotcakes if it has a great library, but publishers don't want to release games unless there is a large enough install base. Come on EA, Square Enix, Activision, and Bethesda. Make it happen. There's potential here.
- No Metroid. I know, I know; I should be really pleased with what was presented, but I still crave the return of Samus and, in particular, the Metroid Prime series developed by Retro (who are supposedly working on a new project for Nintendo). I got my hopes up and was a bit let down.
I feel as though this year's E3 was better than last year's, but everyone outside of Ubisoft and Nintendo walked the line of expectations. Regardless, this is indeed a good year for gamers and 2015 looks even brighter. Thankfully, for now, we can return to our regularly scheduled news chatter. I'm tired of E3, you're probably tired of E3, and thankfully the event is over for a solid year. Speculation on upcoming games can officially take a chill pill until TGS.
That's it for this issue of Currents. Shout out to Sarah McGarr for the new 'Currents' icon. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.
Your dork from the Great North,
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