Thoughts on E3: Day 2 – Creators of Childhood Memories

All the press conferences have wrapped up and all that’s left for now is for each of the companies to exhibit their upcoming games. Nothing quite as eventful or dramatically over-the-top as yesterday, just some really impressive games, especially from Nintendo.

Super Mario 3D Land

Let it be known that I love Nintendo. My first console was a N64, and if it wasn’t for that gateway to the medium, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Nintendo is this industry’s most valuable asset because they’re the last big company out there that specializes in the creation of childhood memories. Consider the offerings from the other AAA publishers, violent action games targeted at young adults, no wonder why the mainstream media has such a negative perception of this medium. As wonderful and impressive as they are, Metal Gear Solid V and Watch Dogs aren’t going to be any kid’s childhood memories as they simply don’t exist to serve that young audience. Heck, consider the beloved Naughty Dogand their constant shift to appeal to a grittier, more adult audience with their progression from Crash Bandicoot and Jak to Uncharted and The Last of Us. Consider iOS games, will their simplified design, ample micro-transactions, and lack of a defining brand identity create the kind of treasured childhood memories for upcoming generations of gamers? Nintendo brought us out of the Great Crash of 1983 and were responsible for the Casual Revolution of 2006, an essential step that took us where we are now as an industry. To see Nintendo continue to flounder as they did this past year would be devastating to our medium.

And that said, Nintendo’s upcoming lineup is the strongest it has been in ages. Pokemon X and Y transition to fully rendered 3D worlds, a first for this beloved series. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a sequel to A Link to the Past, which happens to be the very first Zelda game that I completed alone, making it a seminal and important game in my life. Super Mario 3D World is the series’ prettiest looking game in years, and the possibilities of a portable Smash Bros. that fits into our busy daily lives sounds incredible beyond words. Five year olds of the world, get excited, you’re about to join this great medium via the same treasured and beloved series that were part of our lives as youth. And in all our bitter cynicism towards the future of AAA, our ire towards the puerile and misogynistic members of our community, and all our giddiness over the possibilities that the indie shift can create for our medium, just take comfort in that there will remain a space for that innocent childhood wonderment.

Oh yeah, and this I guess…

Thoughts on E3 2013: Day 1

Today was… oh hey wait, have you checked out my latest article for The Artifice? Give it a look, its about the Games for Change festival happening next week.

Today was… bonkers…

I followed much of the E3 coverage throughout today and was increasingly embittered and grew increasingly cynical at the presentations that each of the companies had to offer.

My frustration and disappointment towards Microsoft is incredible, their exhibition inspired nothing but annoyed cynicism from me. A total failure to address the ethical controversies that I raised in my last post regarding internet connectivity as factor that excludes the poor from participating in game culture sends the message that Microsoft is simply oblivious to the complaints of its fanbase. This disconnect from reality is further solidified considering the Xbox One’s evident lack of an audience. Simply put, if the Xbox One’s target demographics are mainstream families looking for an all-in-one entertainment system, there is no way that they would be attracted to purchasing a $500 system on the first day. Hardcore gamers, as much as I regret using that term, are the early adopters that purchase consoles at launch. Families looking for a home entertainment system aren’t going to want to purchase an entertainment system like that until the price goes down substantially. With hardcore gamers being turned off by restrictive DRM policies, and families turned off by the restrictive price, the Xbox One has no audience at all.

The depiction of women at the conference was rather frustrating, especially given the tasteless rape joke at Microsoft’s press conference. Awkwardly scripted intentionally by whatever executives were responsible for this trainwreck, it maintains the “us and them” mentality that paints gamers as a group of immature nerds. Its the exact opposite of what we need as an industry.

Now that I have that off my chest, what’s with the trend to show a prerendered, or at least in-engine, cutscene, and call that a “gameplay trailer”? Prerendered footage doesn’t tell us jack about a game. While Watch Dogs‘ slick trailer and Assassin’s Creed’s deep blue sea may look cool, we’re attracted to games for their interactive nature, spectacle makes for good marketing, but in the end, its meaningless when we’re creating a cultural product whose value hinges on interactivity. Who cares about your visual style and story world when your fundamental mechanical structure is a mystery?

Mirror’s Edge gets a second chance.

Out of the conferences, Mirror’s Edge 2 was the trailer that excited me the most. Mirror’s Edge was an interesting game that did a lot of things wrong, like mixing together platforming and combat sections into an oddly paced whole, but it was exciting and fresh  and deserved a second chance to iterate on its unique mechanics and excellent characters. Count me sold on this wonderful, unexpected surprise.

And if Microsoft’s press conference left me bitter, frustrated, and angry, Sony’s immediately restored my trust. Opening the conference with a reel of developers effusively gushing over how great it is to develop for the console lent the show an appropriate and fitting focus on games, showing that it had a clearly defined target demographic of gamers of all stripes, simultaneously appealing to both the mainstream CoD-FIFA people as well as the strong indie following that Sony has drummed up with games like Guacamelee! and Journey. Marketing the console to developers by emphasizing the openness of the platform and the ease of distribution through Playstation Network shows that Sony recognizes what will be important this upcoming generation: indie developers.

And to speak for the consumer within me, there were a lot of exciting games revealed at Sony’s conference, including the awesome Transistor, The Elder Scrolls Online, Destiny, Octodad, and Kingdom Hearts III(!). For a little while, 14-year old me came back with some giddy excitement, which is crazy to think considering how jaded I’ve been getting over the past few years.

And to speak of cruelty, consider this: