Thoughts on E3 2013: Day 3 – A Tangent on Great Games Journalism

Now that no new information is going to be revealed over the threat of the graphical plateau driving development costs to destructive heights, we can officially say that the drama of the press conferences is finally over. On that note, let’s talk about  games journalism! Here are a number of channels and newssources whose thoughtful content I enjoy substantially. If you like the kind of stuff I write here or on The Artifice, check these places out, its likely that they do what I do way better.

  • Super Bunnyhop – This is a very intelligent Youtube channel giving smart, well researched, and highly interesting (if not a tad cynical) criticism and analysis of games and gaming news. Check out their Critical Close-Up of Metal Gear Solid 2, its the most accessible and creative analysis of its kind.
  • Errant Signal – Excellent and educated analyses of recent games, I think Campster is a game studies scholar. Check out his videos on Spec Ops: The Line and Kinaesthetics, they informed a lot of the research I did on the game.
  • Rev3Games – Youtube channel made out of TechTV and X-Play expatriates, including the fantastic Adam Sessler, who states that being freed from the time constraints of television has allowed him to go more in-depth with his criticism and previews of upcoming games, incorporating elements of game studies and critical theory shockingly missing from mainstream games journalism. Not to be missed is his weekly rant series Sessler’s Something, where he opines on recent news each monday.
  • Extra Credits – Almost everyone I know at game school watches and loves this show. Smart, terse, and very funny, this not only the best educational series for game-students around, but an excellent introductory show for people who want to study and understand games from a deeper level.
  • Kill Screen – Fans of Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter take note, as this is essentially a response to that fantastic book. Going above and beyond the medium, Kill Screen discusses games with a distinct and unique voice, going into many fantastic places in terms of society and culture.
  • PolygonThis online magazine gives scintillating coverage of current events in the game industry, giving host to some fantastic opinion articles and journalistically-ethical reviews.
  • Gamasutra – Everyone in the gaming industry already reads this, but for the unfamiliar, this publication is managed by the people behind GDC and gives host to wonderful writers and critics such as Leigh Alexander and Ian Bogost, as well as yours truly.

Well, I hope you like those sites, check them out. They’re my conduit for what’s going on in the industry right now. If you have any recommendations, share them in the comments.

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:

Thinking about the Playstation 4

Gut reactions! Bullet points!

Killzone 4
  1. Are we reaching the point where graphics can get no better? The visual leap between console generations is far subtler than in previous cycles. Adding polygons for each notch in a character’s skin and every strand of his hair is going to make AAA games more time-consuming to do. 
  2. Will the need for more sophisticated visuals in games drive up development costs and increase the size of development teams? This will ultimately reduce the number of AAA games that succeed and lead to studio closures and cancelled projects.
  3. Here’s hoping that Sony continues to do its great work in the alt-indie space by supporting devs like Quantic Dream, Giant Sparrow, and thatgamecompany.
  4. Its hard to get excited about hardware right now when in only a year or two consumer PCs will have similar hardware at a fraction of the price. For me, the main draw to console gaming is the social experience of vegging out on a couch with friends in front of a huge screen.
  5. Smart call removing used games restrictions. Bad call removing backwards compatibility. I don’t want to rebuy my games over PSN.
  6. Cloud gaming is overrated, especially for people in areas with slow internet service. Slow internet will effectively shut out a huge number of people from the next generation.
  7. I sure hope the submission process for PSN Indie Games is simple and that the API for developing games is simple and easy to learn. Microsoft did a huge favor for the world by encouraging indie game development with XNA, Sony should consider doing to same.
  8. Maybe Nintendo was right seven years ago when they said that we’re eventually going to reach a point where increased processing power can no longer account for new gameplay experiences. I mean, many of the best games of last year had minimalistic graphics, The Walking Dead, The Unfinished Swan, Journey. Minecraft has weak technical graphics and its already one of the best games out there. I played a bit of Far Cry 3 and felt that it focused too much on spectacle.
  9. Here’s one for new interfaces like motion, touch, and virtual reality.
  10. I haven’t seen any game at the conference that I can get really excited about. Destiny looks kinda cool from an artistic perspective and I’ve adored Bungie’s visual direction, but I can’t really get into the whole “pervasive transmedia-franchise” thing. Time will tell. What I do wish was there at the conference was The Last Guardian, since that dog-goat-eagle thing is friggin’ adorable. Watch Dogs also looks fantastic.
  11. What about support for 3D visuals or 4K resolution? Jumping from 480p to 1080p was a huge visual jump and meant a lot for how impactful games can be. Staying at 1080p seems like a missed opportunity.
  12. Wondering what gameplay experiences the touchpad on PS4 can create. Touch is an incredibly powerful interface and accounted for the success of the DS and modern mobile gaming. If its used in an interesting and creative way, huge potential for great new experiences can be tapped.
  13. People say that this eighth console cycle might be the last. Given how much movement exists with in the industry, the contracting scale of AAA development, and all the new forms of games that we’ve seen over the past few years, that’s probably going to be true. Don’t be sad over this, an exciting new future is about to be built. Be hopeful.
  14. This is actually the most incredible piece of technology I’ve ever seen. Its incredible how they squeezed such incredible machinery into such a tiny device.