Muses: E3 Conferences 2015

So going in to E3 I had very low expectations. I really expected nothing. Going into it I tweeted that I was expecting the highlight of the Sony press conference to be related to Journey… an exaggeration, but gets a point across.

And I owe almost everyone involved in E3, especially Sony, an apology.

SquareEnixPeople

One of these things is not like the others


Overall I was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t blow me away overall… but it definitely impressed, especially compared to my expectations. Well, for the most part. I’m excited to share both the ups and downs of E3’s conferences as I see them.

So I’m going to split this in half… first of all I’m going to discuss each conference in order and then talk about my biggest surprises.

Conferences

Bethesda

I’ll be honest here. Bethesda is not a studio I relate to. I didn’t expect anything out of them, and they lived exactly up to my expectations. Fallout 4 looked like the type of game a lot of my friends are going to absolutely love. But Bethesda has never been good at third person, so even if Fallout 4 offers it I don’t expect it to be good. Dishonored 2, on the same note, looks pretty cool. But first person is not my jam. so I’m not interested, regardless of the fact that some of my friends are going to be thrilled with it. The other thing worth noting is that Bethesda knows how to put on a conference. Good pacing, reveals, gameplay footage. It was just well crafted.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s conference was a lot better than I expected. Microsoft does not often impress me. This year, they did… but not in the way I had expected. In terms of games, the Indies, along with Recore, were the real highlights. The new Tomb Raider looked good, but we expected that. Aside from that, Microsoft only showed the expected. Gears, Halo, etc. But the ID@Xbox content was really solid.

Holo Lens

Minecraft is finally interesting!

The other side of Microsoft’s conference was probably the best part. Software was mediocre… but the stuff we normally hate to see at these conferences, Microsoft made interesting. A new customizable controller – which is probably going to be really expensive(to temper expectations) – looked really cool. The partnerships with VR were a big step. The Hololens Minecraft demo was the first thing I’ve ever seen that made me interested in Minecraft. That looked phenomenal. Absolutely blew me away. And all of this is not mentioning Microsoft’s most significant announcement… backwards compatibility. Nobody could’ve expected that Microsoft was going to make many of their Xbox 360 games work on the Xbox One – especially without having to pay a second time if you already own them.

Overall… impressive. Not incredible, but far better than I expected.

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts showed a ton of games. Some of them were even interesting. Opening with a brief teaser of Mass Effect Andromeda was a great way to grab attention… and Star Wars Battlefront was a great way to end the show. I was particularly impressed to see Battlefront showing both the first and third person gameplay in nearly equal amounts. But what stole the show in my eyes was a little game starring a doll made of yarn… Yarny’s adventure in ‘Unravel’ looked adorable, charming, and intricate. And platformers… I can never get enough of platformers.

Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect enters a new galaxy

But EA does not know how to put on a show. They don’t know their audience, and they throw in these really awkward transitions and moments. I’m not going to try to claim sports games aren’t popular… they’re some of the biggest franchises in the gaming industry and they are huge sellers. But I have a hard time believing that the annual sports game fans are the people watching E3 conferences. I have a hard time buying that there’s a secret core of millions of Football fans desperate to see a completely non-gaming-related interview with a Football star tuning in to E3. And I find it extremely doubtful that there are many people clamoring to see mobile titles at E3. And they spent so much time on these two topics – mobile and sports games – that it just felt really badly paced and ordered.

Oh, and EA had the singular honour of being the first company to ever make me feel physically ill watching an E3 show. That Mirror’s Edge trailer reminded me of why I hate the first person perspective. If you try to do anything fancy, it just becomes a horrid mess. My twitter feed was full of people proclaiming how that made them feel nauseous. Good job EA. Good job.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft always has fun at these events and 2015 was no exception. Normally them having fun translates into us having fun… but not always. This year their always charming host Aisha Tyler seemed to struggle to keep the conference from falling apart. Lowpoints like an awkward live concert that sounded off-key threatened to destroy a conference that was actually very solid in content. Fortunately Aisha was up to the task, and kept things going despite all of that.

For Honor

Samurai, Knights, Vikings, Oh My!

Of course, she was backed up by a solid lineup of titles, regardless of interest. The standouts for me were the Division, For Honor, and Anno 2205. They also showed Just Dance, Assassin’s Creed, etc. Probably the biggest disappointment for me was the lack of anything from UbiArt. No Rayman, no charming gem like Child of Light. So sad to see.

Sony

Sony’s conference was filled with the dreams of their fans. Pretty much everything people could’ve asked for was there – except the Vita, but I digress. They started things off with probably the most anticipated game in existence: The Last Guardian. It was reannounced and will be out next year. But if Last Guardian isn’t what you’re after, don’t worry… they have other dreams to fulfill. And I’m not just talking about Media Molecule’s new game ‘Dreams’. They also announced that a true remake of Final Fantasy 7 is coming. And as a final dream to fulfill, they offered their support to the near-immediately funded Shenmue III – after only one day it was at 2.8 million out of 2 million requested.

But those are just the dreams people knew about… here are the ones we didn’t. The dreams I didn’t know I had, but oh do I want them now that I know. They announced a really cool third person shooter that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world with tribal societies and robot dinosaurs called Horizon: Zero Dawn. Robot dinosaurs, mechanized bows, and third person shooting… yes please. They also announced World of Final Fantasy, or as I like to call it: Chibi-FF. It’s basically a cutesy ‘intro to Final Fantasy’ game that just looks fun. Oh, and they showed more of Uncharted 4. Ya, Uncharted 4 managed to be a footnote in this conference. There was a strange lull in the middle, but it was short-lived.

Horizon

The child in me just died from excitement.

Nintendo

For a long time I wanted Nintendo to wow me, to bring me back. Bluntly, I’ve given up on that. And Nintendo seems to be on the same page, as their E3 digital event had nothing for me. I will say it was good to finally see a release date for Xenoblade Chronicles X… but there’s nothing more to say. Sorry Nintendo, you’ve got nothing for me anymore. Maybe next generation, we’ll see.

SquareEnix

The fact that Squenix had a conference was a surprise itself. But they did so much right. Ignoring the awkward presenters and the odd mobile focus, they had great pacing, an unbelievable amount of content, and they trolled everyone in the best way. You see, just prior to showing Kingdom Hearts III, they showed off a mobile Kingdom Hearts game. They knew nobody cared, but they did it just to see the reactions on people’s faces. And it was glorious.

Being honest here, I was absolutely blown away by SquareEnix. They just kept firing off more and more great showings… some of them new, some of them previously announced at either Microsoft or Sony’s conferences. Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy 7’s remake, Chibi-FF, Hitman. But they were all given a bit more love. I’d like to talk for a minute about Hitman, because for some reason during Sony’s conference I didn’t care about it. But seeing it during the SquareEnix show… I suddenly cared. And I cared a lot. It was strange, and beautiful. But I’m now interested, for the first time in my life, in Hitman.

FF7

And pigs can now fly…

But moving on… they also made me care about Kingdom Hearts III. I didn’t like Kingdom Hearts 1.5. I’ve never been motivated to play Kingdom Hearts II but now I want to play Kingdom Hearts III, whether I understand it or not. They also made me care about Just Cause 3 – same story. I didn’t care about Just Cause or Just Cause 2, but now suddenly I want to play Just Cause 3.

But they also showed off some unexpected projects. Star Ocean 5, which I knew existed, was confirmed for NA/Europe. A strange and pretty new JRPG project codenamed ‘Project Setsuna‘ (for those who, like me, don’t know Japanese – Setsuna means ‘moment’ or ‘instant’). And, most amazing to me, a new Nier game. Nier, that strange game with the utterly unbelievable soundtrack that flew under the radar years ago, is getting a sequel. SquareEnix, whatever has happened over there in the past couple years… just keep it up, because it is working. You’re doing everything right here, everything I could ask of you. I don’t even care that you showed a bunch of mobile games. I really don’t. Because you showed them in short bursts and then moved on to what I actually wanted to see.

PC Show

Not directly a part of E3, but I watched it, so I’ll give a brief description: First person games, Steam, Steam, PC MASTER RACE, Steam, First Person Games, Steam, PC MASTER RACE, First person games, MMOs, Steam, and Blizzard. If I had to be honest, the only part I really wanted to pay attention to was Blizzard’s part at the end… but the Guild Wars expansion looked pretty cool for people who are invested in that game. It looked pretty damned cool, in fact.

But other than those two, I felt like they were trying to infect me with the elitism of the PC Master Race… and it just felt weird because I am a PC gamer, I am just not only a PC gamer, and apparently that’s not good enough. Weird, weird message. But the Diablo event in Heroes of the Storm looked really cool, and the cinematic for Legacy of the Void was utterly breathtaking. So there’s that.

Zeratul

Blizzard… just make an animated movie.

I do like that they’re doing a show to showcase this, I just wish they were less arrogant in doing so. Like Blizzard, or the Guild Wars guy. I never felt like they were trying to condescend to me, they just exuded passion. Oh, and Sean Murray of Hello Games is always humble and endearing. A breath of fresh air to end the night, even if his game is first person too.

Surprises

Now that we’ve talked conferences… I’m sure you can guess what the big surprises are, but I just wanted to highlight both the good and the bad and mention a couple that were huge surprises, even if they meant absolutely nothing to me.

Holo-Lens: I doubt I’ll ever use it. But man do I want to. And seeing it work like that… that was a shock. This showed me something genuinely futuristic. Man, was it cool.

Nintendo and Activision Partnership: The thought of Nintendo releasing their beloved franchises from their control is almost unfathomable. But Skylanders will have Nintendo characters in it with dual purpose Skylander+Amiibos. This is a huge deal, and may show a change in Nintendo’s arrogant operating patterns. Either way, it was a huge surprise.

Last Guardian: It is here. It is real. And it is happening.

Last Guardian

IT IS HAPPENING!

Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Not just the crappy PC version being ported but a true, heavy-duty remake of Final Fantasy 7. I’m not going to say it’s going to be amazing… because there is so much room for them to disappoint here. But that cinematic showed a good starting point, so hopefully they’ll deliver. Hopefully.

Horizon: Watching other conferences had left me confident I wasn’t going to see anything outside of indy games to really pique my interest. First person, sports, and mobile… that’s all I saw everywhere I looked. Then Horizon came on, and it looked fantastic. I mean who wouldn’t fall in love with a game starring a badass girl hunting mechanical dinosaurs? The child in me practically passed out from overstimulation.

Hitman and Just Cause 3: The existence of these games didn’t surprise me at all. But I was surprised by the fact that I was excited for them. A lot.

Vita: The complete lack of Vita content was a hugely unpleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to steal the show or anything… but a brief 2-3 minute sizzle reel of upcoming Vita games, or the announcement of some surprise Vita title? Or something? Unfortunate to see it so completely absent.

Mobile: I was really surprised to see how much attention there was given to mobile games. I don’t know anyone who actually cares about them. Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re vastly popular… but people play them because they’re there and they’re convenient… I’ve never met anyone who is eagerly awaiting for the next big mobile game or who goes to E3 looking for mobile news.

And now that we’ve gone through most of the surprises… here are the ‘big three’ in my eyes. The biggest surprises, the ones that came out of left field and made me just a little giddy.

3) Backwards Compatibility

Microsoft did something I thought we’d never see. Offered true (albeit partial) backwards compatibility for one of the current gen consoles. A huge move for them, and a big knock to Sony. This was a great way to hit them back for that whole ‘trading games’ video back during the PS4 reveal. Well played.

2) Unravel

While watching the EA press conference, I figured the only colour we’d get to see was going to be the team colours when they started talking sports. I was not prepared for EA to announce this charming little indy game. And when they did, I stopped what I was doing and watched. And smiled. And shed a little tear, because the story of its creation was just that endearing. Good to see even EA recognizing the trend.

Unravel

So adorable… so endearing… I love you Yarny.

1) New Nier Game

If you had told me last week that we were going to see an announcement that a sequel to 2010’s underappreciated JRPG gem Nier, I would have called you crazy. It’s been 5 years and the game didn’t even do that well commercially.

But man, I loved it. It had such an amazing soundtrack, supporting such a distinct mix of gameplay inspirations. And the story was wacky and absurd. It was one of those games that is hard to really describe, but also hard to appreciate until you see it first hand. As a result, it didn’t do well. Which is why hearing about a sequel was such a pleasant and utterly baffling surprise. Thank you SquareEnix. Thank you.

Nier

I can’t wait for New Nier. I can’t wait.

So summing matters up… Square > Sony > Microsoft > Ubisoft > EA > PC > Bethesda > Nintendo. Tons of surprises all over. Why no Vita? So excited for the new Nier game… and Horizon is probably the best thing I’ve seen this year.

And… that’s E3 for ya – at least the conferences. What were your biggest surprises? Did I miss anything? What is your game of the show so far? And were you pleasantly surprised or not?