For as long as I’ve been writing this blog E3 hasn’t been much more than a distraction when it rolls around. Indeed in the 7 years I’ve been writing about games I’ve only ever covered it twice and usually only in passing, picking out a couple things that piqued my interest at the time. The reasons behind this would be obvious to any gamer as E3 has been largely irrelevant to the gaming community since about 2007 with most of the big announcements coming out of other conventions like PAX. However this year something seemed to change as the both the gaming industry and community seemed to rally behind this years expo, making it one of the most talked about to date.
The reason behind E3’s quick fall into obscurity was fuelled by the extremely questionable decision back in 2007 to close off the event to the general public and instead only allow games industry representatives and journalists. The first year after this was done saw the attendance drop to a mere 10,000 (down from 60,000 the year previous) and the following year saw it drop by half again. The other conventions that popped up in E3’s absence soaked up all these attendees and, by consequence, all of the attention of the games industry and press. Thus E3 spent the last 5 years attempting to rebuild its relevance but struggled to find a foothold with such stiff competition.
This year however has proven to be E3’s one of its greatest on record with attendance above 50,000 for the first time since they made that awful decision all those years ago. This rise in attendance has also come hand in hand with a much greater industry presence, boasting a much greater presence from major game developers and publishers. There were also numerous major announcements from pretty much all of the large players in the console and PC markets, something we really hadn’t seen at a single event for some time. For someone who’s been extremely jaded about E3 for so long it honestly took me by surprise just how relevant E3 had become and what that might mean for the conference’s future.
The challenge that E3 now faces is building on the momentum that they’ve created this year in order to re-cement their position as top dog of the games conferences. In it absence many of the larger players in the games industry opted to either patronize other conferences or set up their own, many of which have now gone on to be quite profitable events (like BlizzCon, for example). E3 will likely never be able to replace them however given the resounding success of this year’s conference there is potential for them to start drawing business away from some of the other conferences.
In the end though more competition in this space will hopefully lead to better things for the wider gaming community. It will be interesting to see if E3 can repeat their success next year and what the other conventions will be doing in response.
If the deafening outcrying from nearly every one of my favourite games news sites and social media brethren is anything to go by the console war has already been won and the new king is Sony. Whilst the fanboy in me would love to take this opportunity to stick it to all the Xboxers out there I honestly believe that Sony really didn’t do much to deserve the praise that’s currently being heaped on it. More I feel like the news coming out of E3 just shows how many missteps Microsoft took with the XboxOne with Sony simply sitting on the sidelines, not really changing anything from what they’re currently doing today.
The one, and really only, point that this all hinged on was the yet unknown stance that Sony would take for DRM on the PlayStation4. It was rumoured that they were watching social media closely and that spurred many grassroots campaigns aimed at influencing them. The announcement came at E3 that they’d pretty much be continuing along the same lines as they are now, allowing you to trade/sell/keep disc based games without any restrictions built into the platform. This also means that developers were free to include online passes in their games, something which has thankfully not become too common but could go on the rise (especially with cross platform titles).
There wasn’t much else announced at E3 that got gamers excited about the PlayStation4 apart from seeing the actual hardware for the first time. One curious bit of information that didn’t receive a whole lot of attention though was the change to Sony’s stance on free multiplayer through the PlayStation Network. You’ll still be able to get a whole bunch of services for free (like NetFlix/Hulu) but if you want to get multiplayer you’re going to have to shell out $5/month for the privilege. However this is PlayStation Plus which means it comes with a whole bunch of other benefits like free full version games so it’s not as bad as it sounds. Still it looks like Sony might have been capitalizing on the notion that there will be quite a few platform switchers for this generation and thus took the opportunity to make the service mandatory for multi.
It could also be partly to offset the extremely low (relative) price of the PlayStation4 with it clocking in at $399. Considering its specs it’s hard to believe that they’re not using the console as a loss leader yet again, something which I thought they were going to avoid for this generation. If the life of these consoles remains relatively the same that means they’ll at least get the console’s price back again in subscription fees, plus any additional revenue they get from the games sales. At least part of it will have to go to the massive amount of online services they’re planning to release however, but overall it seems that at least part of that subscription cash will be going to offset the cheaper hardware.
The thing to note here is that the differences between Sony’s current and next generation console are far smaller than those for Microsoft. This is the same Sony who were ridiculed for releasing the PSN long after Xbox Live, pricing their console way above the competition and, even if it wasn’t for games specifically, had some of the most insane DRM known to man. The fact that not much has changed (they have, in fact, got objectively worse) and they’re being welcomed with open arms shows just how much Microsoft has dropped the ball.
Whether or not this will translate into lost sales though will have to remain to be seen. The consumer market has an incredibly short memory and we’ve got a good 5 months between now and when the XboxOne goes on sale. It’s entirely possible that the current conversation is being dominated by the vocal minority and the number of platform loyalists will be enough to overcome that initial adoption hump (something which the Wii-U hasn’t been able to do). I’m sure that anyone who was on the fence about which one to get has probably made their mind up now based on these announcements but in all honesty those people are few and far between. I feel the majority of console gamers will get one, and only one, console and will likely not change platforms easily.
The proof will come this holiday season, however.
[UPDATE]: It has come to my attention that Sony has stated that they will not be allowing online passes from anyone. Chalk that up to yet another win for them.
It’s that time of year again when the Electronics and Entertainment Expo (commonly known as E3) brings about all sorts of tech demos, teaser trailers and usually a swath of speculation of what the upcoming year holds for the gaming community. Whilst I usually shoot a curious glance its way whenever a company I’m following announces something I tend not to talk about it too much lest I work myself up into a White Knight Chronicles-esque fervor only to be disappointed once again. Still with the drip feed of information that I’ve allowed myself I’ve noticed something of a trend in many of the news articles that I’ve been reading.
It seems that the latest round of games look too good for current gen consoles and people are wondering if they’re all destined for the next generation. Taken at face value the games do look a whole lot more impressive than most current generation titles and here’s a few examples from E3 that have got everyone’s tongue wagging about whether they’re next gen or not.
Last of Us:
Beyond: Two Souls:
They are quite impressive looking titles, especially Watch Dogs which has managed to steal E3 away from all of its competitors. However I personally didn’t think they were outside the capabilities of the PlayStation 3, mostly because even though we’re a almost 6 years into its life developers are still wringing good performance increases out of it. The Xbox360 on the other hand is starting to run up to its limits but its still quite capable of producing some pretty good graphics (see my Mass Effect 3 review to see some screens taken in-game). The kicker of course is the answer to the question that everyone on the floor asked “What’s this demo running on?”.
For all the games in question it was a high end PC. Cue raucous cheering from the PC crowd who can feel the crown of best platform being placed back on their heads.
Of course many of the developers came out afterwards and stated that all the games would be running on current generation consoles. However the fact that they run on PCs doesn’t exclude them from running on at least 1 of the next gen consoles (Orbis, or the PS4) which will be sporting a good old fashioned x86-64 instruction set. Additionally any game that runs on a Windows PC and utilizes the Microsoft XNA framework has a very easy time being ported to the current Xbox and so it follows that the next gen would also have similar capabilities. So whilst these titles aren’t technically next gen they’re definitely indicative of what they’ll be capable of, at least at the beginning of their life cycle.
As for when those consoles will be making their debut I’d have to put my money on sometime next year for Microsoft’s Durango and the year after that for Sony’s Orbis. There’s not a lot of concrete evidence to back that up but with the Xbox360 approaching is 7th birthday soon I can’t see it hanging on for much longer after that. It then follows on that Sony wouldn’t want to be too far behind in its next gen console release although they’ve been very mum on whether or not they’re actually working on it yet. This is definitely a subject I’m going to have to revisit 6 months down the line.
I’ve been a Nintendo fan for well over 2 decades now, my first experiences with them dating all the way back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System which I believe is still in a functioning state in a closet out at my parent’s place. I have to admit though they kind of lost me when they released the Game Cube as by then I was hooked on my shiny new PlayStation and there weren’t any games on the Game Cube that appealed to me as a burgeoning hardcore gamer. That trend continued for a long time until my then housemate bought a Wii on the release date but even then I didn’t really play it that much, instead favoring my PS3 and Xbox360. Indeed the Wii I got using some credit card reward points has been mostly unused since we got it, even though I thought there were a couple games on it I was “dying” to try.
For what its worth it’s not really Nintendo’s fault that I haven’t really been a massive user of their last 2 generations of platforms, they made it clear that they were hunting for a different market and I wasn’t in it. Sure there were some nostalgia titles that tugged on my heart and wallet (Zelda and Mario, of course) but they weren’t enough for me to make the leap and I’ve stuck to my other staples ever since. Nintendo had firmly cemented themselves as the game console for people who don’t identify as gamers, broadening their market to unprecedented levels but also alienating the crowd who grew up with them to become today’s grown up gamers. At the time it was a trade off Nintendo appeared happy to make but recent announcements show that they may be thinking otherwise.
Nintendo recently announced the console that is to be the successor to the Wii which has been worked on under the title of Project Cafe and will be officially known as the Wii U. The console itself looks very similar to its predecessor, sporting the same overall layout whilst being a little bit bigger and preferring a rounder shape to the Wii’s highly angular design. Nintendo is also pairing the new console with another new accessory, a controller that comes with an embedded touch screen. At first it looks completely ludicrous, especially if you take into consideration that the Wii’s trademark was motion controlled games. After reading a bit more about it however it appears that this tablet-esque controller will function more like an augmentation to games rather than being the primary method of control, with the Wii nun-chucks still being used for games that rely on motion control.
The console itself is shaping up to be no slouch either, eschewing Nintendo’s trend of making under powered consoles in favor of one that is capable of producing full 1080p HD content. Whilst the official specifications for the Wii U aren’t released yet the demonstrations of the release titles for the console do not suffer from the low polygon counts of previous Wii titles with the demos looking quite stunning. With enough grunt under the hood of the Wii U Nintendo could also be making a play for the media extender market as well, something Microsoft and Sony have covered off well in the past. Couple that with a controller that would make one nice HTPC remote and I’m almost sold on the idea, but that’s not the reason why I’m tentatively excited about what the Wii U signals for Nintendo.
Nintendo has said during the E3 conference that they believe their new console will target a much broader audience than that of the Xbox or PlayStation, which taken on face value doesn’t mean a whole lot. The Wii sales numbers speak for themselves as both gamers and non-gamers alike bought the Wii and it outsold its competitors by a large margin, so if Nintendo can continue the trend with the Wii U it will be obvious that they’ll hit a broader market. However the announcement of the Wii U also came a video showing launch titles, many of which would have never previously made it to Nintendo’s console. It looks like Nintendo is trying to lure back the hardcore gaming crowd that it shunned when it re-imagined itself and that makes a long time fan like myself very happy indeed.
Of course the proof will be in the putting for the Nintendo Wii U and with the console not scheduled for release until sometime in 2012 we’ll be waiting a while before we can judge their attempt to claw back that niche that has slipped away from them. Whilst my Wii may sit next to my TV feeling woefully underused I get the feeling that its successor might not suffer the same fate and I’m excited at the possibility of Nintendo coming full circle and embracing those gamers who grew up with them. The possibility of it being a little media power house is just the icing on the cake, even if I might only end up using the controller through Bluetooth on my media PC.
So the Electronic Entertainment Expo is on again and this of course means that all the major game developers are showing off their wares in what amounts to a massive marketing campaign to hit as many headlines as they can before the hubub dies down. It’s a wonderful time for people like me who revel in the news of new and exciting games and hardware that said games will be played upon. Whilst its a far cry from what it used to be when it wasn’t invite only it’s still a major talking point in the gaming industry and this year seems to be no exception. Here’s some of the things that have been announced that I really like (apart from the PSP-Go, of course).
Mass Effect 2: The game that left me so weak at the knees that I bought a Xbox 360 just to play it, and I still don’t regret that to this day. What really grabbed me when reading this article was the focus on creating a more cinematic experience for the player. Whilst I detest the term quick time events their addition into the dialogue system sounds like a solid idea and its meant to mimic those kinds of snap decisions people make without thinking about it. Carrying over saved game data is one thing, having it alter the storyline of the next game is something I really hadn’t considered, and I’m interested to see how it plays out. The over-arching storyline that the player creates with their experiences which will span a total of three games is something I adore but I can also see the risks here. If you didn’t invest the time initially to play through the original (which can be a 40 hour ordeal) I’m wondering what you might miss out on, and that could be a sticking point for some people. I’m only worried because that’s what happened to Battlestar Galactica, although they tried to go “episodic” with horrible results and back-pedalled fairly quickly. If they stick to their guns they’ll have a loyal fanbase and fewer new customers.
Assassin’s Creed 2: Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this game when it was first released I felt the replayability of it was extremely limited. Sure I could jump around the cities and find all the flags and so on but since there was no reward in sight for doing it I decided against it. Playing straight through the game however was incredibly rewarding and having the characters develop as you play was something I really enjoyed. From what I can tell of the previews Assassin’s Creed 2 looks more evolutionary than revolutionary with more weapons, new ways to get in and out of trouble and of course new scenery. Hopefully with the bevvy of new weapons they’re unleashing on the player they’ll have to improve the combat system, which was sorely lacking in the original.
Left 4 Dead 2: (Notice the pattern here yet?) The aggressively timed sequel to Valve’s hit Left 4 Dead which like Assassin’s Creed appears to evolve the existing game with new additions, new scenery and attempts to address some of the problems that players complained about with the original. To be honest with the original taking 3 years to develop I can’t help but feel that this sequel (slated for release 1 year after its predecessor) is going to be woefully underdeveloped, delayed or a bit of a slap dash paint job on the original. Sure right now the teaser videos look cool (the obligatory zombie chainsaw finally makes an appearance in this series) but I feel like calling this a sequel is a little rich. Making it something like Left 4 Dead: Episode 2 or similar would’ve suited it perfectly. The way it’s described now seems more like episodic content than a sequel.
This years E3 hasn’t yet thrown anything at me that is completely new and exciting but that’s to be expected after the blockbuster last year that we had. I’m more then happy to settle for the things I’ve mentioned as they’re giving me more of what I like, but I know the critics won’t think along those lines. There is of course so much more that’s going on at E3 than what I’ve detailed here but I’m not going to rehash it all for you, the blogosphere is doing a good job of that already 🙂
If I’m lucky they’ll say something about the release date of Heavy Rain…..