Thoughts on E3 2015

20 Jun

I still have more to say about the DSGA’s first year, but I wanted to offer some thoughts on the recent E3 show before it became old news.

For starters, either consoles are far from being dead, as many believe, or the hardware guys are exceptionally good at pretending to be alive, kicking and relevant. I’m not sure which is true.

Content-wise, I went to the show expecting non-stop sequels. To some extent, I was right. You had to work hard to avoid all the games with a 4, 5, 6 or 14 after their names. I will never understand why people put up with what basically amounts to the same old same old gameplay. But put up with it they do – the crowds lined up for some sequels were ridiculous.

It was also hard not to notice all the great graphics. (I mean Forza 6… the new Tomb Raider game… holy cow.) Having said that, there were times when I literally couldn’t tell what gorgeous game I was looking at if I didn’t look at the signage. That was kind of sad.

Couple of mysteries:

With the exception of Oculus Rift, which attracted the usual enthusiastic crowds, I really didn’t see much interest in VR or AR. (I didn’t see Microsoft’s Hololens, but everything I heard says it’s pretty special so take everything I say here with a grain of salt.) The other VR/AR stuff seemed like a big ho-hum to me. Maybe that’s just my prejudice – I think VR’s going to be a fad (again) and at best a minor part of gaming’s future, not unlike stereoscopic 3D, which I also called out as a fad. (I still think I’m right about 3D. Check back with me in five years and you can tell me what a boob I was about VR.)

And where was all the mobile stuff? I saw a smattering of mobile games here and there, but I expected a lot more.

In terms of content, there were lots of multiplayer shooters… lots of multiplayer battle games… lots of old classics making a return with modern graphics. Yawn.

But hidden among all the old hat were some gems of originality. Bear in mind that it’s impossible to see everything at E3, so I’m sure I missed a ton of interesting stuff. Also, bear in mind that I was unwilling to stand in line for six hours (or pull in favors) to see The Last Guardian. And I couldn’t find any evidence that No Man’s Sky was being shown. Those caveats out of the way, here’s what stood out for me at E3 2015:

First, the console guys are clearly serious about indie games and showed a lot of  them – a LOT. That was great to see.

In terms of specific games, let’s start with Cuphead. Simply put, Cuphead rocked. I’m not usually a graphics-first guy, but I’ll make an exception here. Cuphead looked unique… absolutely phenomenal. Maybe it’s just that I’m a geek for classic animation, but I cannot wait to play it, even though the gameplay will likely be too hard for me as a twitch-skill challenged gamer.

Over at the Nintendo booth, it was nice to see a Zelda Tri-Force Heroes. It’s ALWAYS nice to see a new Zelda game. And Mario Maker is totally cool if for no other reason than the possibility that normal humans will find out how hard it is to make games…

In the realm of traditional mainstream publishers, two other  things stood out:

For Honor, from Ubisoft, is a sword-fighting game that looks like it’ll offer something new in the fighting game genre. Looking forward to that one.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how cool Deus Ex: Mankind Divided looked over at Square Enix. Nice to see DX in such good hands.

And then we come to Indicade. Ah, Indicade… If you want originality, that’s the place to go. There was plenty to see there, but three games stood out, all for different reasons. (Differentness is part of what makes indie games cool.)

Wattam from Funomena and Katamari Damacy designer, Keita Takahashi, is just crazy unlike any other game I’ve ever seen. (Frankly, I worry that it’s so different, it might run into some commercial difficulties, but let’s hope for the best.) Wattam is a wonder. Soulful in a medium that’s often soulless… a work of childlike wonder… a real sense of discovery… and often laugh-out-loud funny. I just hope people get it. I’m not even going to describe the graphics or gameplay. I don’t have the words. Just trust me on this one…

Chambara is kind of a stealth fighter. (Like Wattam, it’s hard to describe, which I love about it.) One player character is flat white; the other is flat black. And the world is all flat white and flat black, too, so your character blends completely into the background. Before you can deal with your enemy, you have to find him (or her, gender being kind of a non-issue here). I’ve never seen a game that uses color as mechanic and graphics as gameplay. Very impressive (even if I sucked at playing it).

In Tribal & Error you have to help out a bunch of stone age people who speak a language you can’t understand. When they speak, they display a variety of symbols above their heads. You have to figure out what those symbols mean, string them together to construct sentences and get the stone agers to perform various actions to get themselves out of trouble, (Man, this game is ALSO hard to describe.) A game that’s about language learning that involves no real world languages is something I’ve never seen before. Here’s the paradox: I found Tribal & Error incredibly frustrating to play, but, despite that, I wanted to keep on playing. Language learning as mechanic. I wish I’d thought of that.

So. E3. Mixed bag. A handful of interesting mainstream games. Several interesting indie games (apologies to the games I didn’t mention here…).

I’m left thinking the games medium is in pretty okay shape, but it’s likely to be a very different medium before too long.

Okay, next time, it’s back to the DSGA first year.

13 Responses to “Thoughts on E3 2015”

  1. Glen Cooney (@Transplanar) June 20, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    The “problem” of rampant sequels is an interesting and complex issue. I believe it originates out of the era of technological growth video games evolved from. Since the beginning they have been wedged between two competing consumer desires: the desire for newer, sleeker, fancier gadgets from the tech world, and the desire for more profound experiences from the art world. (Films have dealt with the same issue.)

    So at the extremes, we have two possible worlds:
    1) A world with fewer games, but those games are deeper and culturally resonant (think the works of Shakespeare). In this world games might be “better,” but we’d have less variety.
    2) A world with a ton of games, with a massive amount of variety. While competition may yield more unique and great games out of this world, the constant influx of new games would ensure no game remains relevant for long, with most forgotten shortly after their debut.

    I think the real world resembles closer to the second than the first these days, especially since the game industry has become more mass-market.

    Books, traditional art, sculptures, etc all seem to far outlast even the biggest named games that have come out. I wonder, though, if they have an “unfair” advantage from being taught in schools, immortalized by museums, and revered in society as being of high class?

    Perhaps the problem isn’t the sequels, per se, but the fact that they tend to get disproportionate attention compared to original IPs. I suspect this is driven by money on the journalism and developer sides – devs want something that will reliably sell, and journalists want to showcase something that will reliably yield hits to their websites.

    Maybe the problem with sequels is more of a cultural issue than a lack of creative integrity. Perhaps what we need to do is foster a gamer and game dev community that is more open to new ideas. Perhaps it feels like we stepped backward as gaming is no longer a niche market of players with refined tastes, but a mass market commodity competing against other forms of media. Maybe we need a better way to define our games, outside of traditional genres, and have these new categories reflect a specific subculture or group within the larger gamer community. Perhaps an evolution of the Steam Curator system?

    I have heard the argument that sequels are essentially a way to have the best of both worlds – to keep the torch burning on a beloved IP while evolving upon it to make it feel new and familiar at the same time.

    Believe me, on one hand it feels odd to be defending the status quo, but on the other hand thinking about it this way does seem to be the best solution I can think of to balancing both of the demands consumers have upon the games that are put out there. Short of the dynamics of money changing drastically, I’m not sure if there is a better alternative.

  2. Philippe Allard-Rousse June 21, 2015 at 1:08 am #

    About VR: I don’t think VR is a fad, because, first VR is not only for game. Their a lot of experience that are not game that can be interesting.

    Second, VR is a completely new medium and need time to be mastered and evolve. For what I know, at the start of the television, a lot of the content was like filmed theater, but with time, it have grow to have is own language, and I think VR will be the same.

    Third, VR technology is a lot’s better than in the 90’s, but it’s still not perfect. The worst part is the input, but Occulus Touch seam promising.

    When everything will work well, VR will not be a fad and will not be limited to gaming.

  3. jon smith June 24, 2015 at 3:31 am #

    There is only one way to convince someone so they understand what is happening currently in VR. And that is to actually try it.

    Warren, it makes no sense that you helped create immersive first person games, and have no interest in VR, the very medium that complements your style of game the most.

    Please ask Oculus or Valve for a demo. Thats the only way to understand how far its come now. I believe it may spur you to start on that Junction Point game again.😉

  4. jon smith June 24, 2015 at 3:36 am #

    The difference between VR and 3d tvs is that VR actually has many tangible benefits. The player can now sense, size, depth, and distance. You can sense the size of a giant building. You can feel scared crossing a rickety bridge. You can sit in a giant virtual theater that you could never afford in real life. In a first person game, you can lean around a corner like in Thief. Or quickly look behind you by just turning your head. You can make miniature creatures and world, and truly feel like a god overlooking them. Or expand everything and make youself tiny. There are so many gameplay implications Mr. Spector. I would love to see a Deus Ex style game designed for VR. Are you up for it?

  5. Lukas Irwin June 25, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    I actually had the idea for a game with language learning as mechanic. It was inspired by the Lizard Man quest in Ultima:Underworld, and the TNG episode “Darmok”. In the game players would be tasked with making first contact with an alien race, and have to learn their language and culture to establish a peace treaty. I actually designed a conlang and a series of preliminary design docs trying to flesh out the idea.

    Then Phantasy Star Online 2 was released, and being a huge PSO fan, I decided to try it out. Only thing is, there is no way to play PSO2 except on the Japanese servers, and there was no English localization. So I had to learn Japanese in order to play.

    “Incredibly frustrating” would be an apt description of trying to learn a language while you play a game. This is not something the average player would tolerate. I did manage to learn enough to finish PSO2, but I gave up on the idea of language barrier as a core mechanic. I think instead it would be a better option to have it side quest / minigame in a larger free form, open world exploration/survival style game.

    In any case, don’t feel bad you didn’t think of it first. You kinda did…

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