E3 2014: Roundtable Impressions

E3 2014: Roundtable Impressions

by June 18, 2014

Our Staff’s First Gut Check from the Week that Was

Ryan

Here we are. We’re finally out of the “launch window” for all three new consoles. This should be the E3 where everybody gives it their all, shows us their best, and knocks one out of the park, right? Guys? Hello? Is anyone out there? No? I guess they must’ve all rescheduled to 2015, then.

There were a lot of games here that we also saw last year. And we’re probably going to see a lot of them again next year, too. This is, one would assume, part of the rigors of next-generation development. It only makes sense: the more detail you put in to something, the longer it’s going to take. As such, we’ll be seeing the likes of Batman, The Order, Uncharted, and Tom Clancy’s The Division in 2015 (at E3 or otherwise). Come to think of it, this is probably like, The Division‘s fourth E3, isn’t it? Yikes.

Out of all the companies to show at this E3, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Nintendo “won”, for whatever winning this imaginary race means. And it’s for nothing more than the simple fact that we’re seeing the company transform before our eyes. Nintendo was slow moving, close minded, stoic and out of touch. This E3, they yanked the curtain back and revealed a company that is trying really, really hard to adapt to the bad position they’ve found themselves in. You want new IPs? We’ll start with Splatoon, which could be for shooters what Smash Brothers was for fighting games. And what about Miyamoto’s new prototypes? Project Guard and Giant Robot look super interesting, and aren’t the kinds of things Nintendo typically shows this early in development (let alone lets other people play).

And speaking of Smash, Nintendo really did a bang up job with the tournament. I’m not usually one for watching fighting game streams, but Nintendo put on quite a show, and most importantly, they did it by going to the community and getting the right people. It actually sort of gives me the chills a little bit, you know? So many companies would’ve been handled an event like that so poorly, and Nintendo of all people managed to pull it off flawlessly. That should be seen as basically a miracle, right? That’s what it looks like to me. The Nintendo of just two short years ago would’ve never done something like this, or at the very least, never done something like this so well.

The ultimate “Nintendo never would’ve done this” move, though, is Mario Maker. If you’ve been around long enough and seen the kinds of moves Nintendo makes, you’ll know that they are not a company that likes to offer options to their players. Nintendo is a company who gets everything so perfect on the first try that you won’t even want to change anything for yourself. In theory, anyway. Outside of Smash Bros., “customization” is not a word Nintendo usually acknowledges. Mario Maker is a huge step forward for the company, finally providing the tools to make your own Mario levels. This is something people have been pleading for them to do for literally decades, and now it’s finally coming to the Wii U. I’m a little worried that Nintendo isn’t going to strike a bullseye with all the features something like this needs (I want to create big, complex, REAL Mario levels, and I want to be able to sort and rate other people’s levels based on both quality AND difficulty) but it’s a big step in all the right directions. Fingers crossed.

It wasn’t all about Nintendo, of course, but to be honest? The only other games I can remember really interesting me are Sunset Overdrive for the Xbox One and No Man’s Sky for the Playstation 4. That’s how much Nintendo and their Treehouse Stream stole the show at E3 this year. I’m sure there were lots of other great games at E3 (Cuphead, Alien Isolation), but Nintendo clearly controlled the airwaves. Good on them, though now I imagine next year’s going to be a scheduling nightmare of everybody running their own competing all-day streams.

Louis

Over the past few years, I’ve grown a little frustrated with how pessimistic the gaming community tends to be, especially toward the big trade shows like E3. It seems like people are all too eager to bemoan awkward presentations and sequels while raining dismissive critique down upon even the most stunning of surprises. Don’t get me wrong, there are perfectly legitimate reasons to complain about this year’s show, but there was also a lot to get excited about, and get excited I did. Let’s be a little optimistic for a change.

As you’re surely aware by now, Nintendo nailed it. They needed to come out swinging with lots of compelling software, and that’s exactly what they did. Splatoon is intriguing, Zelda is gorgeous, and Yoshi’s Woolly World may be the most adorable game I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that this influx of software will help the Wii U enjoy a renaissance period much like the 3DS did, and I really hope that happens. Sony’s conference, while dense as could be, once again showed why they’re dominating this generation. Their software lineup is thoroughly impressive, their hardware is continually innovative, and their commitment to their customers is satisfying. The Xbox One is more or less off my radar, so I didn’t pay much attention to Microsoft’s show. However, the Master Chief Collection looks fantastic. As a huge Halo fan, it’s everything I would want in a collection like that.

Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. EA’s presentation was fairly weak, and I attribute that to their emphasis on prototypes and conceptual projects. Their lineup is sparse this year, so the decision to pad out their presentation by focusing on what’s in the distant future makes sense, but with all that teasing, 2015 better be a banner year for them. That said, that fact that I can play through a Battlefield warzone in the upcoming PGA Tour game is hilarious. I’m also concerned that some of Ubisoft’s games will fall victim to the Watch Dogs syndrome of a dishonest E3 demo, and I really hope that The Division and Rainbow Six: Siege are not among them. They have the potential to be truly groundbreaking. Finally, despite all of the new content reveals for both upcoming Sonic Boom games, I just can’t get excited about them. I really like the new character designs and I’m happy that Sega is trying something different, but there’s nothing about the games that’s made me say, “I need to play this.” Maybe actually going hands-on with them will help.

I’ll be honest. I really enjoyed this year’s E3. So many of the presentations shed the flashiness of years past and focused on what gamers want to see the most: the games themselves. Sure, people will still complain about the emphasis placed on Call of Duty and fitness games, but when you consider how much time the show spent this year on other beloved franchises and new IPs, it’s hard to get too worked up. Over time, this generation of gaming will deliver incredible, game-changing experiences, and I have a feeling that we’re just scratching the surface.

Michael

In the September 2004 issue of Edge magazine, a reader by the name of Lee Johnson voiced his concern that the videogame industry was becoming overly sequel-focused. He cited the cover of Edge‘s 2004 E3 special, which featured The Legend of Zelda, Halo 2, Metroid Prime 2 and Half-Life 2, and wondered if new hardware “will exist solely for developers to retread old ground”.

In 2014, an increasingly cynical and apathetic videogame player by the name of Mr. Westgarth skim reads E3 summaries. First there’s the new games; Halo 5, Assassin’s Creed 5, Mass Effect 4, Uncharted 4, Crackdown 3, Kirby 28, Zelda 72, Mario Party 8^13. Then there’s the rereleases; Halo: Master Chief Collection, GTA V, Ratchet & Clank, Grim Fandango, The Last of Us, Final Fantasy Type-0, Pokémon: Alpha & Omega Bible Funtime Edition an many more.

Geez, I hope Mr. Johnson’s doing okay…

Andrea

To me, this was the most impressive E3 ever. All first parties have gone full force, as this E3 was crucial for the next-gen who has just started. Microsoft was perhaps the most bland, as they didn’t show many games who were not shown in earlier events, but the games did look really good, more polished and interesting than they did before.Also, this mean all those games are coming to stores soon, so Xbox One’s catalog is going to be revitalised in no time.

Sunset Overdrive looked really good and colorful, and that trailer was really a thing, with the fourth wall references  and making fun of the stereotypical brown and gray FPS titles. Game looked hectic to play, so much going on-screen at the same time, really fun at first sight. If  I had a Xbox One, this would be on my buy list, day one.  Also Scalebound by Platinum Games looks promising, even if we have only seen a short trailer. Pure action, looks like a Devil May Cry/Bayonetta with dragons, and that can’t be a bad thing.  Little indie games like Cuphead also looked interesting…

On the sour side, I am really pissed off with what they did to Conker. As a life long RARE fan, I felt insulted to see Conker,a character whose mere survival outside of Diddy Kong Racing is a way of  laughing at the industry’s politically correct ideas, is now shoehorned into Project Spark as a way to raise interest for a game who has noting to do with Conker at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing that little bastard ( can we  say that here? Are kids around?) back, but almost no one remembers him, his fanbase is going to feel betrayed by using him as a selling  strategy instead of the creativity freedom plea he is, and people interested in a game like Project Spark are just not the same kind of Conker’s. I think if they wanted to use the RARE nostalgia card, they should have used Banjo & Kazooie instead, they fit better and are much more well-known to Xbox user base. 

Sony did pretty good on their conference. Showed many games, most of them never shown before or not known to be on Playstation devices, and varied. To me, the highlight of it was No Man’s Sky. Do you remember a little Genesis game called Starflight? I love it. And I have begged for some sort of spiritual successor for years. That is just what No Man’s Sky is to me.  Also, I liked what they showed of the Ratchet & Clank movie, and the upcoming remake of the first game. But knowing of the upcoming Sonic Movie, I felt there might be a lost opportunity to reveal it at the show, along with the Ratchet & Clank  one. In a final note, Entwined was a nice surprise.  I like what Sony is doing and I think there is a great future for PS users. Maybe the only letdown was the complete neglect Vita had at the conference, but to be fair…Sony has been neglecting Vita almost since it’s launch, so no surprise.

And Nintendo…oh boy! Nintendo is the reason I consider this E3 the best I’ve ever seen.   The are so much to talk about, I could write books about it, but I will resume it in one word: STARFOX.

It’s finally back, and about time! That alone makes this E3 worthy enough, but no, it’s just not only that. I liked every game they showed, in more or less degree.  Yoshi’s Wooly World looks much better than it did when it was first shown as Yarn Yoshi, now it looks and feels like a pretty good Yoshi’s Island installment, and I’m loving every bit of what they showed.  New mechanics like turning into a strand of yarn look interesting, and co-op play fits Yoshi games pretty good.  Kirby’s new game also looks awesome. I’m not too fond of the canvas course mechanics, but the graphics are just astonishing.  The game looks like if it was really clay.  New Zelda looks beautiful and really promising too,  and what can we say about Splatoon? That was a really surprising title, but at the same time feels so natural, so at home, I cannot but love it.

In fact, I feel Splatoon is something SEGA could have done at Dreamcast’s days. The colorfulness, style, music, aesthetics..it reminds me so much of the good old Dreamcast, I’m getting a sort of Jet Set Radio vibe. And I’m loving every inch of it. Gameplay-wise, it looks  really fresh with the squids mechanics, and feels closer to Quake 3 and even Sonic Robo Blast 2 Match multiplayer  gameplay than to actual modern FPS’s. I like it very much, and I’m eager to be able to play it, and I’m not a FPS lover at all!

Last, but not least,there is Smash Bros. The game is shaping to be just the biggest Smash bros experience ever, and with Nintendo finally acknowledging competitive play, it’s just getting better and better. The new characters confirmed are not a surprise, but tell me if you didn’t feel like shedding a tear of joy at the sight of Sonic, Mario, Megaman and Pacman together. It’s just the greatest homage to the history of videogames ever.

Customization also seems like a new important element to the Smash Bros franchise. Mii’s are just an undercover character editor, and Amiibo will help with it. Talking about Amiibo…I was really afraid of what they could end being, but I like what they have shown so far. It could be really interesting to the competitive Smash Bros scene, if you can use them as a high levelled sparring to train your abilities with the game.

Last, but not least, I loved all the humor Nintendo is using lately. That Reggie Vs Iwata opening scene, all the Fils-a-mech jokes… love them, it reminds me of 90’s SEGA. Companies should laugh at themselves more often, it’s healthy.

Last…(yeah, I know, I’ve said it was the last thing a few times now, but it have been just SO MUCH going on at this E3…) we have SEGA themselves. They have finally shown what Sonic Boom really is, and while I expected something more similar to Sonic Adventure, I like where they are heading to.  Sticks is hilarious,  the gameplay of both versions seems interesting even if it’s nothing like other Sonic games,  and they seem to have put so much care on the new branch of the franchise, I like it. It’s a spin off so there is nothing wrong if they want to try new things.

The SEGA booth was really cool this year, with all those details here and there, like Tails’s workshop blackboard. Good thing they take care of little details like that.

I would liked to see some word on the second SEGA 3D Classics series coming to the west or maybe a new installment of any classic SEGA franchise, but well, what they have now is good too.   Alien Isolation demo looked promising.

And that’s all, I think. It will be hard to make a better E3 than this one.

Tristan

It wasn’t this year’s E3 that proved to me it is still the convention that sets the tone for the rest of the year, but last year’s. The excitement of two console reveals last year’s E3 provided could not be matched on a hardware level, especially given the juxtaposition of Sony’s flawless consumer advocacy in its Playstation 4 reveal versus Microsoft constantly having to backtrack in the aftermath of its sour reception. Yes, there were rumors Nintendo had something up its sleeve this year, but it amounted to nothing, and that’s a good thing. This should have been the expo where games are the focus, and it was. The technical prowess and innovation of a system means nothing if the content can’t back it up.

My takeaway from last year ultimately ended up being the results. Sony’s Playstation 4 flourished; while Microsoft’s XBOX One suffered from a lack of consumer trust it is only now able to recover from, in time for this year’s main event.

I can’t help but feel, however, that too many major companies with the resources to take risks settled too much on tried-and-true franchises. Though Sonic fans would salivate at a proper remaster of the classic games; I’m a bit offended at the idea of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Sony didn’t have to prove much after 2013, but even their original offerings were few and far between. Even Nintendo, in a make or break year, will be relying on numerous sequels and follow-ups to turn things around (though, to be fair, they had far and away the most accessible and engaging presentations at the event).  There are too many 2s and 3s and 4s in some of the major media’s Best Of lists from the show, and I worry a lot of eggs are being placed in baskets that, as time moves on, will have a shrinking return on investment.

But it wasn’t all retreads. I loved Limbo and I am looking forward to Inside when it releases next year. Sunset Overdrive appears to be one such “risk” I was looking for out of the major presentations this year, and it’s a game I wish I could support had I not been so turned off by the XBOX One last year.  Splatoon appears fun and unique. Mario Maker could bring fangaming into the mainstream–something Sega tried to do with an online interface years back but ultimately abandoned. No Man’s Sky could be fantastic. And yes, I admit I have a little bit of sequel syndrome, greatly excited for LittleBigPlanet 3 and the next Super Smash Bros. I might even buy the next Madden.

Where does this leave Sega, however? Yes, their major offerings have at least been recognized by some of the press, but for so much time, money and effort being invested into Sonic Boom, I wonder if Sega’s crucial message got lost. Most fans are reserved to the idea Sonic doesn’t have the voice he used to, but for Sonic himself to survive, that voice need to get really loud, really fast. Perhaps the best thing we can say about Sonic Boom at E3 is that the reaction was…indifferent. That’s probably not good enough.