Muses: E3 Press Conferences

I wanted to take a little bit of time to address some aspects of each press conference from this year’s E3. We had four full press conferences on Monday and Nintendo did their little Nintendo Direct on the Tuesday morning… and each one had some interesting elements. Every company had some good announcements, they all made some mistakes.

Microsoft

Microsoft put themselves in both a really bad and a really good position prior to E3. Bad because they had created a ton of ill will first with their initial announcement focusing on tv and sports and second when they announced their DRM/Internet policies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with their policy personally. I do recognize that a lot of people see these policies as being anti-consumer, and that the announcements were met with outright hostility. The good side of this was that it left them with nothing except games to talk about at E3.

Which leads us to the E3 press conference, which was exactly that: Games. They showed off a large array of games, which was what they needed to do. One of the two biggest surprises of the day was Metal Gear Solid 5 being showcased during the Microsoft conference. Kojima and Sony have long been close to one another and seeing Kojima on-stage with Microsoft was a big shocker. MGS5’s trailer looked both fantastic and really awkward – fantastic because the gameplay looks really well-done, the graphics are gorgeous and it truly does feel like an MGS title(which is a big fear out there after the announcement of the ‘open world nature’ of the game); awkward because it was shown with all of the ‘boring parts’ viewed in time-lapse… which led to it feeling a lot like a gag from a Benny Hill skit.

They showcased a few other really interesting titles, most notable were Project Spark and Titanfall – both Microsoft exclusives. Project Spark seems like a natural evolution of what Media Molecule did with Little Big Planet – offering creation and gaming tools for people to enjoy. Titanfall is an interesting first-person multiplayer shooter featuring mechs called titans. This focus on games, with a lot of interesting titles and a LOT of actual gameplay footage, was a good idea. It had some good impact on the audience, but Microsoft made a mistake… a mistake that Microsoft makes every single year…

Microsoft doesn’t respect their audience. Microsoft, when giving presentations at E3, treats their presentations as though they’re being aimed at an ideal target audience member. This fictional person is a mid-20s white male sexist sportsfan who loves nothing so much as shooting people in the face, and has no idea what ‘indy’ really means, but feels like they should support them. The only moment where you really felt anyone on stage actually cared about the audience was when the demo completely failed. “I’m fine” – the only two words that felt like they were actually addressed to the audience they had there. And Microsoft also took what was potentially one of their most anticipated announcements – Killer Instinct – and soured it by having the only woman they’d brought on stage get beaten really badly… and the male presenter respond with “Relax, just let it happen, it’ll be over soon”. I don’t think anyone other than their fictional ideal audience member would’ve enjoyed that – I’m pretty sure nobody in the audience did.

Don Mattrick

How Is This Guy Allowed On Stage?

Probably the biggest fault I see is quite simply Microsoft’s choice of people to present. Everyone who came on stage who worked for Microsoft just has an inherent appearance of falseness. Falseness… and superiority. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more inclined to smack someone I saw at one of these conferences then when I was watching Don Mattrick come on stage. He should never be permitted on stage again – he might be the most annoying presenter in history. Well, with the possible exception of Phil Spencer… but that kind of proves the original point.

Microsoft had a fantastic lineup of games, a number of exciting surprises… but they screwed it all up by not actually caring who their audience was or what they wanted. They just made it all worse by announcing a price that feels unreasonable: $499.

Electronic Arts

EA was our second presentation. They had a much easier task than Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony since they are just a publisher. They don’t have to worry about hardware, or different platforms… they just had to show their games. And they did that. They showed a lot of games. Enough that I’m sure at least a few of them would appeal to anyone. And they managed to present it in a way that sounded confident, personable, yet not condescending. Although they did spend an awful lot of time explaining ridiculous sounding technical terms they’d come up with for their new sports games… words like ‘bouncetek’ and ‘player sense’.

EA

Braaaaaaaaains

I think my biggest problem with their conference was that it seemed to have a bit of the whole ‘guns, sports, and cars’ thing that I find so distasteful these days. Nearly every title they talked about featured one or more of those 3. Even their Plants vs Zombies announcement was another shooter – Garden Warfare(a clear jab at Activision’s first person shooters). While PvZ Garden Warfare was charming, hilarious, and looked crazy fun… it really says a lot about EA’s current development model. If EA owns a property, you can bet it will become a shooter, a sports game, or a racing game at some point or another. There were precisely two games shown at their E3 conference that didn’t fit into one of those categories: Dragon Age Inquisition and Mirror’s Edge 2. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that shooters, sports games, and racing games are a bad thing – but I do think that if you announce 11 titles and only two of them even touch on the vast array of genres outside of those 3… you’re alienating a lot of gamers.

That being said, they certainly did show off some very impressive tech, some really incredible looking games, and some amazing concepts. The interactivity of the environments in EA’s new Battlefield game, for example, blew me away. Watching them demolish a skyscraper for no reason other than the fact that they could was truly breathtaking. The trailer for Dragon Age looked amazing, as did the graphics provided by the Ignite Engine – EA Sports’ proprietary engine. I’m just not sure I would want that type of detail in a sports or fighting game – do fans really want to see the sweat bead off someone’s face as they punch them in glorious high resolution? Maybe they do – I’m no expert on those games… but it just seems like it would be unpleasant to play a game while watching that. Probably the most interesting technical development in the coming generation of EA games(and games in general) is the integration of tablets to offer asynchronous gameplay options for people who aren’t at home but still want to be a part of the experience.

Either way, EA certainly has a strong lineup of games for the next gen consoles, at least… if you’re interested in shooters, sports, and cars. I’m just not so sure they have all that much for me to be excited for until Dragon Age Inquisition.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft’s press conferences are always delivered with an air of self-awareness, delightful fun, and incredible personality. This year was no different. The creativity that Ubisoft’s studios have is without equal among major developers… and it shows in their conference. They come on stage with joy and the desire to share what their crazy minds have come up with; and not even the slightest hint of the arrogance and condescension so often present at these events.

This year they showcased a variety of fascinating and exciting titles… and probably the most important takeaway here is that they truly do want to appeal to as many as possible. We had a rhythm game, rocksmith, a platformer, shooters, multiplayer games, single player games, a racing game… a huge variety of titles from all facets of the gaming prism. This variety is their greatest strength… because it allows their conference to be constantly exciting regardless of what type of gamer you are.

Ubisoft

Not New, But Still Got It

They also showed off two of the best showcases of next-generation innovation: The Crew and The Division. Both of which create a sense of bridging the gap between the single and multiplayer styles of games. The Crew appears a traditional single player driving game in every way, except that other people are also there and can become a part of your game in a drop in drop out method. So you should get all the benefits of multiplayer, without sacrificing the huge pluses of a single player focused game… and the Division is unique in that it is a third person MMO Shooter that takes place in essentially a modern setting. Add to that the fact that the Division will feature a companion App that lets someone control a little drone that can help players in the game with its own unique abilities.

It’s hard to say a lot about a conference when most of it was good. Most of what we find ourselves talking about are the negatives… and there weren’t a whole lot of those with the Ubisoft conference. The only real negative I can see is that their attempts at humour didn’t seem to find their mark with the audience, as most of the time the presenter seemed to be left hanging. I wouldn’t say it was perfect, but they had a ton of fascinating ideas, wacky games, and really exciting footage… and best of all, a lot of it was actual gameplay footage.

Sony

Sony’s conference started under the best possible circumstances. They had done the right thing with their initial announcement, so people felt good about them… and Microsoft had completely screwed any goodwill they had built by showing off games – ironically in much the same way Sony had done so last generation, announcing a pricepoint that sounds crazy. But did they take this opportunity to really blow us away?

Honestly, I don’t think so. Their showing focused a lot on the PS3, and they spent an unfortunate amount of time on movies, music, and tv. They even spent some time showing off a game that is coming out this week – which while it is a game that I am hugely anticipating and has received unbelievable reviews… it is still out this week. It wasn’t until something like 45 minutes or so in that we even got to see the PS4. Which, by the way, is a sleek looking little box. This lack of focus on next gen content meant that we saw only a very small number of exclusives, and even less that was new. We saw more of the titles we saw back in February, including some gameplay for a few of them.

Luckily, all of this fluff was showcased by people with a sense of humour and the ability to speak to the audience that they had there. Sony, unlike anyone else, knows how to pick it’s presenters. Jack Tretton might be the most sincere face in the industry (with the possible exception of Mr Miyamoto), and Sony takes brutal advantage of it. They know how to address a crowd, and they do it in a way that never leaves you feeling like they’re addressing someone other than you.

The biggest showings Sony had on the game front were three surprise games and one that we all knew would be there. Square Enix took the stage to reveal two surprises… two BIG surprises. First, and in my opinion foremost, we got to see Final Fantasy Vs XIII – which is now coming for the next gen consoles and has been rebranded(as I predicted) as Final Fantasy XV. And the footage included gameplay – so this might actually come out this time. Secondly, we got the answer to one of the most frequently repeated questions of the past decade… “Is there a Kingdom Hearts 3 coming?” The answer, of course, is yes. These two announcements turned Sony’s rather unremarkable press conference into something special. The third surprise was brought to us by Ready at Dawn. The Order 1887 is a fascinating title that seems to feature a Steampunk London with werewolves. The game we all knew would be there was Destiny… which looks gorgeous and truly fascinating… and for many stole the show.

Sony also took some time to reaffirm that they truly ARE the console home of independent developers. During their showcase of indy content they made the offhand comment, referring to one of the independent developers they’ve been cultivating, “He didn’t think we’d talk to him, so we brought him on stage”. It really shows a change in Sony’s policies, which has been huge for them. They brought up 7 or 8 independent developers on stage and had them all playing their games around the auditorium. It was a crazy panorama of awesomeness.

Indy schowcase

Sony <3 Indies[/caption] But what really made Sony's presentation hit hard was a series of very directed sentences... aimed square at Microsoft's groin. And they hit home. Hard. They came on stage and basically said 'you know everything the other guy's doing that you don't like? Ya, well, we're not doing any of it.' Used games, lending, consumer ownership, always online... the whole gambit. Sony just leveled punch after punch at Microsoft - and the crowd was cheering. But more important even than the message... was the tone and humour it was delivered with. In the end I felt like I was watching Mortal Kombat and after all of this I heard the words "FINISH HIM!" and Sony did. They announced the PS4 at a full 100 dollars cheaper than the Xbox One.

Sony’s humour and consumer-friendly approach allowed them to take advantage of Microsoft’s mistakes to turn around what could have been a really bungled conference.

Nintendo

I’m going to be brief here since they had made the decision to not do a full press conference, and just do a Nintendo Direct. With things looking grim for their console, playing it safe is not what anyone was hoping for… but it’s what we got. Matters were not helped by the significant problems that the North American feeds experienced with the conference, and I had to watch it via the European feed since it was much cleaner.

Most of what Nintendo talked about were things we either assumed were coming (a Wii-U Mario, new Pokémon games), or already knew about (Windwaker HD Remix, Bayonetta 2)… but they did show a few really cool things… The new Monlith game – which we had previously seen – looks better than ever. The new Donkey Kong game features Vikings…. and everyone loves Vikings. The fan art tools being release for the Wii-U are another really cool element they’re designing.

The Nintendo Direct format does have some keen advantages, and Nintendo does a good job of taking advantage of the level of almost familiarity it grants. When you watch a Nintendo Direct you never get the impression that anyone is talking down to you… it really is a very friendly approach, and Iwata is the perfect person to have delivering these addresses.

[caption id="attachment_3873" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Bayonetta's haircut This Just In: Haircut

Probably the biggest announcement, aside from Bayonetta’s haircut, was the reveal of the new Smash Brothers games. These games will include several new characters, most notably Megaman. The announce of Megaman was made to old-school Nintendo Megaman music… which was probably my highlight of any of the conferences. I’m sorry everyone-who-isn’t-Nintendo-or-Capcom… but Megaman’s music trumps everything. It just does.

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