So another E3 has come and gone, leaving with it a trail of hyper kinetic trailers and promises for the Next Big Thing that will capture our attention. It certainly looks like that will be the case, what with The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and the surprise hit of the show, Watch Dogs, standing out amongst the sea of titles demonstrated. And yet, I find myself more than ever questioning the current state of the industry, and the players as well, when the vast majority of the huge, AAA titles about to wing their way to us feature gratuitous violence seemingly for the sake of it. Barring Nintendo (who certainly have their own problems right now), the titles that evoked the best response from the gathered crowd at their respective shows featured an alarming amount of visceral violence.
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a case in support of censorship. I enjoy a well-made game that employs violence as most gamers do. This is more about how games are currently defined, a point I raised in our discussion of Modern Warfare 3.
For the most part, gaming has been defined as a player defeating an opponent. Every single game that I can possibly think of is based around this mechanic. Obviously, it manifests in different forms: be it scoring more points in a game of Pong, besting a time trial record in Mario Kart, or shooting an enemy in a round of Counter-Strike, they all revolve around the concept that there is some form of ‘other’ who needs to be defeated in some way. Few games buck this trend: Double Fine’s Kinect based Double Fine Happy Action Theater, and a handful of simulation games present themselves as a sandbox without the particular motive of player vs. opponent present.
The thing is though, the best way that developers have sought to represent the concept of player vs. opponent (and the way that seems to resonant with, seemingly, the majority of gamers), is through violence. To developers, violence is the way to guarantee a percentage of sale at launch. It’s the way to target gamers who are looking for ‘mature’ experiences. If a game is presented as ‘gritty’ and serious in tone, it will resonate with what the film industry does. This is entirely wrong.
The problem with this approach is something that our friends at Extra Credits commented on (I say friends, but that’s really just a vague hope). Violence does not automatically make a game mature. If anything, it has the exact opposite effect. When a (good) film, for stylistic and/or story based purposes, employs the use of visceral violence, it’s generally done in a way that shocks the audience. It is an incredibly powerful tool that can stay with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Basing an entire game (on average, a 10 hour experience) around the same kind of violence ensures that whatever shocking content features in it is completely eviscerated: seeing the same thing over and over again tends to lose its impact very quickly.
It’s likely that I’ll enjoy the stand out games I listed above, but that does not mean this issue is irrelevant as a result. Games have the power to take us anywhere, and to give us thrills that we couldn’t normally experience in real-life. It gives us the power to control what we see, a power far greater than anything a film can dish out. It’s disappointing that we’re using this power just to generate the next quick-time event scripted death sequence.
Luckily, I’m not the only one to think this way. Rock, Paper, Shotgun posted an article that is dismissive of the tone that video games present at the moment, and Extra Credits certainly does not feel that mature games actually are mature. I’m sure that both these publications (and more) are not looking to developers to instantly cease production on their respective titles and develop family-friendly games, much in the same that I am not. Far from it. However, we are reaching a point where diversity in what we see and what we play is absolutely crucial. At the end, the consumers have the ultimate power in deciding what gets made and what doesn’t. As such, we should be careful in the way that we’re choosing to define this industry.
Right, so E3 is over for this year, and while it wasn’t the most exciting E3 ever, there were some nice surprises in the form of games like Watch Dogs and Beyond: Two Souls. There’s a lot of buzz about how E3 has declined over the years, and they’re probably right. E3 used to be more about the games and the big surprise announcements, now it’s mostly boring shareholder presentations, and then some gameplay of games we already knew about.
Anyway, I’m going to review my predictions instead of going on about that, I’m sure my sinister friend will elaborate on it. I’ve invented an arbitrary scoring system for them – each correct prediction is worth the percentage chance in points, each incorrect prediction means I lose that number of points. Let’s get started!
– There were no Wii U hardware specs, retail price, or launch date details at all (-300). I think a lot of people were disappointed that this information wasn’t discussed.
– The press packs released by Nintendo did indeed show all the announced Wii U launch titles, but we don’t know if those were complete lists (+35, going with half points because we’re not sure).
– Some very basic details were given on the Wii U, but not as many as I would have liked. It seems they’re using proper accounts instead of friend codes, but again, that’s not solid (+85, skipping unknown info and half points for friend codes).
– The Wii U launch line up does indeed have an anticipated first-party title: Pikmin 3, which has been discussed for quite some time, and it has been announced semi-officially before (+30).
– Luigi’s Mansion, Paper Mario, and newly-announced New Super Mario Bros. 2 all got release trailers and release dates (or "launch windows") for this year (+200).
– No Smash Bros. news was discussed at all, but I don’t think anybody really expected it to be (-5).
– No Advance Wars news as well, but Reggie did let it slip that Fire Emblem for 3DS is being ported to the west (-20).
Nintendo score: 25. Nintendo didn’t do a lot of the things I expected them to do this year.
– No new console was discussed by Sony (+60), but I’d be really shocked if they didn’t show anything next year.
– Sony’s "Smash Bros. clone" got lots of footage and gameplay, and was indeed playable at E3 (+170).
– Naughty Dog’s "The Last of Us" also got lots of new footage, and it looked awesome (+240).
– Sony did not discuss a bunch of unrelated hardware stuff (-50), though they did discuss their PlayStation Mobile platform for a while.
– The only big Sony IP to get a new game was God of War, and the details of that game were leaked before E3. No brand new IPs either (-150).
– Nobody made a "RIIIIIIDDDDGE RACER" joke. What the hell is wrong with you, Sony? (-90, I’m disappointed!)
Sony score: 180. Sony are somewhat easier to predict. My notes on their keynote are much shorter than the others, there was really not much content in there at all.
– Like Sony, Microsoft did not announce a new console this year (+60).
– There was a cinematic Halo 4 trailer and a gameplay demonstration at the very beginning of the keynote (+280).
– Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 got a trailer and a gameplay demo at the Microsoft keynote (+90).
– Microsoft didn’t push their WinPhone platform (-60), instead they showed off tech called "SmartGlass", which is to be compatible with WinPhone, Android, and iOS.
– Kinect games still look stupid, as do the people demonstrating them (+200). Kinect highlights (lowlights?) include: Sports games, fitness games, dance games, and for no reason, Usher performing live on stage with a kinect dance video running in the background (+120 for the dancing prediction).
– Kinect menu navigation, among other useless Kinect things, was shown off by Yusuf Mehdi of Microsoft (+80), as well as pointless voice recognition during Ubisoft’s demonstration of Splinter Cell: Blacklist (+80).
– No kids on stage at Microsoft’s keynote this year (-30).
Microsoft score: 820. Microsoft are a soft target for these predictions. However, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that Usher would perform live on stage. So much failure.
– Aaron Priceman did NOT return this year, however the two new presenters were almost as annoying (-0).
– Randy Pitchford from Gearbox did not make an appearance at Ubisoft’s keynote (-40).
– They only showed one movie-game tie-in: The Avengers (+35, half points).
– An Assassin’s Creed 3 trailer was shown, as well as loads of gameplay (+100).
– Absolutely nothing about Beyond Good and Evil 2 was said (-1). Did anybody really expect that?
Ubisoft score: 94. I really didn’t like Ubisoft’s keynote this year, it was very tasteless, especially the presentation itself, and the demonstration of Far Cry 3. The big surprise came at the end, with the demonstration of Watch Dogs. Looks really cool.
– No new C&C Generals 2 trailer (-40), but we did get one for Sim City 5 (+40).
– Not much crap about Origin was said at all! (-100, very surprising)
– So much time was spent on sports games, it was painful! Of course, that was to be expected (+90).
– Lots of Battlefield 3 stuff was shown: a premium service, plus FIVE new DLCs. Prepare to be ripped off, BF3 players! (+70)
EA score: 60. EA wins the "boring" award this year. Not very noteworthy at all.
Total E3 score: 1179. Well in the positives. I’ll have to be more adventurous in my predictions next year, see if I can’t get it closer to zero.
So who do I think "won" E3 this year? Ubisoft certainly surprised us all with Watch Dogs, but the rest of their presentation was terrible, and it started with a live performance by Flo Rida. EA played it safe, remaining neutral; however they did announce a whole lot of evil, evil DLC. Microsoft had Usher on stage, so they instantly lose. Nintendo showed off Pikmin 3, but it all went downhill from there. Sony showed off Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us, but made me sit through that horrible Wonderbook demonstration.
So who won? The developers. Naughty Dog, Crystal Dynamics, Ubisoft Montreal, Quantic Dream, Shigeru Miyamoto, Capcom, 343 Industries, Treyarch, Visceral, Maxis, DICE, Danger Close, Criterion and Crytek all had demoes that had some level of coolness to them. Additionally we saw other videos and trailers outside of the keynotes, including the Unreal Engine 4 reveal from Epic, the Luminous engine demo from Square Enix, more Dishonored gameplay from Arkane Studios, and various other bits and pieces. Ignoring the failures of the Extended 5, the developers showed off a lot of cool stuff. Watch it and enjoy it! You’ll be able to play it all very soon.