Monday, June 21, 2010

Big Dumb Awesome E3 Round-Up

"Oh great," you grumble to yourself, "just what I need. Another group of people talking about stupid effing E3." And yeah, okay, you're right - the last thing the world needs is another group of people doing a round-table about the most decadent week-long video game advertisement in the history of the world.

But hey, it's not just some group of people; it's our group of people! And whatever, we spent like four days emailing about it, so it only seemed right to edit our thoughts together into a vaguely cohesive whole and publish it.

For some great write-ups from folks who were actually at the expo, check out David Thomas's thoughtful dispatches for Paste and John Teti's refreshingly curmudgeonish posts at The Onion A.V. Club. But if you're looking for the half-formed opinions of a bunch of jokers who watched it on the internet, you've come to the right place.

Ready? Oh-kay. Gimmie an E! Gimmie another E! Gimmie yet another E!

What's that spell?

Kirk: Hi, guys. Okay, E3... here goes. Personally speaking, I never know quite what to expect at these humongo events - will something surprising really happen? I remember back before I became a game-news junkie, I would be surprised by everything that came out of E3. These days, it's like I know about everything weeks in advance.

Annie: I think that I have lost a bit of my childlike wonder at E3. Having been to a few internal Microsoft events (don't ask, it was a dark time in my life), I fully expected an entire week of nothing but Kinect, so I guess it was a nice surprise that Kinect didn't hijack the entire show. Although a Cirque du Soleil performance is still a pretty big "Hai guys, look at MEEEEEE!", it seems that Microsoft is a bit more graceful about not stealing everyone else's thunder these days.

Sam: I have to say I was less than impressed overall.  Nintendo announced some cool new “retro relaunch” titles, but I'm not sure any of them are really going to be pushing boundaries. Sony announced that it's ripping off the Wii, and Microsoft announces it' s now going to watch us, creepily, with a camera system that is probably better suited to applications other than games.

Annie: Also, “Natal” is a better name than “Kinect”. I realize they’re trying to brand/associate with “Kin”, but phonetic spellings based on incorrect pronunciations of words just look ignorant.

Dan: Yeah, Kin is a curious word on which to base a marketing strategy. Is it just me, or does that word carry a certain “backwoods” connotation?

Kirk: Yeah, or like, vampire shit? "Kin" kinda makes me think of vampire shit. Maybe it's just because True Blood has started up again. I think they're going for a word-mash of "kinetic" and "connect" which is cute and annoying in equal measure. Like most cute things.

Sam: As a piece of tech,  Kinect is a cool idea, but none of its showcased titles really seemed to leverage the new technology in particularly innovative ways. I kept looking at it and thinking “Oh, it’s a giant EyeToy”...that Sony tried how many years ago?  Hopefully as the tech matures we'll see some really inventive uses, but I'm not holding my breath.

David: Hi. I am going to sound a little pessimistic about E3 so I apologize in advance.

Kirk: Your pessimism is welcome here.

David: Kinect will provide excellent fodder for YouTube, but other than that, it just sounds gimmicky as heck. I want to sit back and play a game, if I wanted physical action I would have gone out for sports years ago. I want this button here to make me jump. I don't want to jump myself, thank you kindly.

Dan: When the Sony guys started making thumb-and-finger “pew pew pew” jokes, they were really hitting at what I’ve been afraid of all along—that Kinect was going to be a gimmick with a similar trajectory to the Nintendo Power Glove of yore. An impressive feat, for sure, but it seemed hardly worth devoting two consecutive years’ worth of E3 real estate.

Sam: Honestly, when people speak about facial recognition and gesture interpretation, I flash to Neal Stephenson’s "Snow Crash", with these ubiquitous personal supercomputers that allow a person to place the unit in a room and have it really interpret gestures into the Metaverse, displayed in 3D on goggles. I see tech like Kinect and inside of it is the faintest glimmers of hope for this reality, but I'm not sure there's any real substance. These motion control ideas are playing catch up to the cheaper and simpler Wii, and again I’m not sure they’re adding anything to the medium beyond “get up off the couch”.

David: The Sony foray into movement looks a little better but my pessimism kicks in a little bit for 3D. 3D in films is quite the trend these days, but I contest it is just a trend. I think people appreciate that magical fourth wall in the end. Some titles in 3D will no doubt be fun, don't get me wrong, but I am not jumping up and down in my chair for this. The only new gadget that does jump is the new Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo clearly needs to think about Apple now when it comes to a good mobile game experience and I can't think of a better way to set yourself apart.

Kirk: The 3DS was pretty much the entire reason I thought Nintendo's press conference was the most successful of the big three. It's the only "3D Solution" that looks workable from every angle - it's self-contained, affordable, and has a huge install base. And the fact that Ocarina is coming out moves it from "technological curiosity" to "day-one purchase."

Dan:  I’ll say it—as a single-console jockey, I was really hoping for more from Microsoft. Kinect was at the heart of my hopes for E3—I was frankly looking for some reason to leave my skepticism behind.  Between Skittles the Tiger in Kinectimals and that somewhat painful rafting ride in Kinect Adventures, I was pretty much sold on not being sold.

Kirk: Though the Metal Gear Solid: Rising demo was pretty fucking sweet. And I gotta say, the slim model looks pretty nice. Can't believe it still has a DVD tray, though.

Sam: I guess I’m stoked that they fixed the fan-noise issue in the 360, but I don’t really feel like paying 300 more bucks to get a system that sounds less like a jet engine.

Kirk: Kotaku actually ran a post detailing a way you can turn in all your old junk to Gamestop and get a new 360 for $90. Interesting. I didn’t realize how annoying the noise on my 360 is until I got a PS3 and remembered that a game system doesn’t have to sound like a vacuum cleaner.

Sam: Fair enough, but I’m still not sure it’s worth another 100 bucks to have a shinier, quieter console.  Obviously they couldn’t come replace my Xbox magically with this better one, but I’m just not sure the effort of the upgrade is worthwhile until my 360 Elite RRoD’s on me.

Kirk: It sounds like for the most part we were all a little bit let down by the proceedings. Anyone see something that they're particularly excited about?

Annie: Do you want the whole scope of my Portal 2/PS3 freak-out?

Kirk: Um... sure, let's say anything goes. I would imagine your freak-out mirrors my own.

Annie: So, you were thinking of a multi-media response involving an arduino-enabled autoharp accompanying a trained puppy circus to the tune of "Still Alive" as well? 

Kirk: I'll start rounding up the puppies.

Annie: The depth and the scope of my anticipation cannot be captured in any written human language, so instead, I provide this image:

Kirk: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

Dan: I’m happy to share in that Portal 2 SQUEEE, but it sounds like you two are all over it.

Sam: I not only would like to add my own squee, but note that Portal 2 appeared to be the only game that really had some interesting characters in it in addition to new technology.

Kirk: I love how hardCORE everyone got into the demo, too. Like, everyone’s already formed an emotional attachment to the little blue dude Wheatley who accompanies Chell. It’s to the point that there’s already a petition to have Richard Lord (the Valve employee who did the scratch vocal takes for Wheatley) to be brought on as the actual voice actor. I kinda detect shenanigans on that... but either way, well-played, Valve. As usual.

Dan: Can I just say that I’d rather have my lungs extracted through my nose than post pictures of myself playing Kinect Adventures to Facebook?  Because it’s true.

Annie: Yeah, I can actually see myself refusing to demo this when it inevitably shows up at PAX for just that reason. And also the fact that any jackass with fingers can snap, post and tag, and all I can do is try to hide them. If I'm going to make a documented idiot of myself in public, I'd much rather it be connected to something else. Like new Rock Band peripherals....

Kirk: OMG don’t even get me started. Rock Band 3 is going to be the topic of like six separate posts. Its potential for awesomeness so wholly eclipses Kinect that I don’t even know where to begin. That said, I will probably wait in a line at PAX to play that Kinect dancing game.

Dan: Truly, RB3 looks like a revelation. I was really hoping Kinect would somehow allow me play it with an actual guitar, but it appears that’s not in the cards yet. I’m just happy that there’s a next step for the “rhythm games” genre—I was a little dismayed to find myself bored with RB2 (and don’t get me started on the Beatles installment), but the peripherals update will totally bring me back into the fold.

Sam: I think I may be in the minority on the music games. As Kirk will remember, I have exactly zero musical chops. The last instrument I played, badly, was the recorder in 5th grade. As such, while I enjoy Rock Band and Guitar Hero, I don’t think I get as much joy out of them as everyone else. That said, it looks like RB3 is bringing some real advantages, not least the idea of a real guitar. Could I teach myself how to play with RB3? If so, I’m suddenly much more interested.

Kirk: Heh, Sam, as I recall, you and I were pretty equally matched on the recorder. Obviously only time will tell about RB3 (behold as I temper my enthusiasm with a realization that it most likely won't totally deliver), but I do believe this might be the first music game to stand a chance of teaching guitar.

Sam: Actually, as an aside, I think that I’d really appreciate games that actually taught me how to do things in real life more. I’m trying to think of examples outside of the stereotypical “educational game” space like Math Blaster and I can’t come up with any.

Kirk: I know games have already taught me a lot about the value of taking cover in a firefight and how to handbrake around a tight corner. (Kirk two hours later: I can't believe I wrote that.) Anyhow, the Nintendo press conference made me want to buy a Wii. Or steal my roommate's Wii. And the 3DS went from an interesting idea to an iPhone-level I-Want-It-Now gadget. In fact, the 3DS was almost the entire reason I thought Nintendo's press conference was the most successful of the big three.

Annie: I was also intrigued by what little I’ve seen of Lost in Shadow. Third party Wii games are sort of dark horse-y in that they could go either way. Nintendo canon is pretty predictable, but this one looks really innovative- puzzle platformer where you play as someone’s shadow that’s been separated, and have to manipulate the shadows of objects around you in order to move.

Kirk: Oh yeah, I saw the trailer for that! Looked pretty interesting, kinda had an Ico-ish vibe going on. Or like, that game they have in Playstation home where you're the crash-test dummy guy and it plays with perspective.

Annie: I imagine it's going to be a fairly divisive game, though. May have to get a Wii based on this and of course, Zelda.

Kirk: Same here. Really, games like Lost in Shadow and Little King's Story are the ones that most make me consider getting my own Wii. Well, and Metroid. And Zelda.

David: Yep - Nintendo has a new Zelda. Done and done. Sony introducing the Sly Cooper Collection is also very exciting and gives me hope for Sly 4. Also, the thought of a new Twisted Metal makes me very happy indeed.

Kirk: Gus Mastrapa just wrote this really interesting piece about how gamers ruined the look of Zelda. I wonder how many folks out there are disappointed by the new bastardized art style. I personally don't mind it, but then again, I've never had a huge emotional tie to the series.

Annie: I think my most irrational, emotional disappointment had to have been Kid Icarus, largely because of audio issues. The music didn't do much for me, based on what little I heard. But more importantly, every time Pit opened his stupid mouth I wanted his wings to melt away just to hear him scream as he fell from the sky. "Bark like a dog"?! Really? He sounded like a teenaged version of Patton Oswalt, only not remotely funny. I don't know if it's just that I prefer the strong, silent type or what, but Pit had such a dignified, QUIET presence back when he was 8-bit, and this… aural assault may have ruined the title for me.

Kirk: I honestly have no attachment to the Kid Icarus franchise whatsoever. I kind of think of it like I think of Rygar?

Sam: I remember Kid Icarus as that game I heard about as a kid and never played.  My greatest disappointment is that this was yet another E3 without an announced sequel to System Shock 2...also, I kinda was thinking Nintendo would announce a new Bubble Bobble, since they’re mining old IP.

David: Can’t you play Kid Icarus in Super Smash Brothers: Brawl? I think that was my introduction to him.

Kirk: That's always how I get to know the fringe-ier characters - through those mash-up games like SSBB. (I'm sure I'm going to get crap for calling Kid Icarus "Fringe-y.") Like, has there been a new Bomberman in a while? We could get, like, Bomberman Adventures or something. Actually, I think they made that... Oh, I should say that LittleBigPlanet 2 looks totally nuts and I’m actually kind of overwhelmed when I think about playing it. You do not need to be the one and only game I own, LittleBigPlanet 2! I have lots of games!

Dan: If I can go back to Microsoft for just a second—as disappointed as I was, I never expected that room to be SO dead. Even the presentations that seemed worthy of a solid round of applause (Gears 3, anyone?) didn’t seem to garner much reaction. When the ESPN guys got up to give their spiel (the first non-wooden presentation of the day), their fairly well-delivered banter went over like.... Well, like a sports presentation in a room full of gamers.  So, nevermind, no surprise there.

Kirk: The ESPN thing was baffling to me - but then again, it falls in line with some of the Xbox's image stuff. As much as Sony went after the bro-crowd with their presentation, Xbox is still the frattiest console out there. Not a shock that they'd partner up with the frattiest cable sports channel.

Annie: I think in general, Microsoft has weathered some hard times in the past few years (RRoD, loss of market to Sony and Apple, and you know, Vista...), not just limited to Xbox. They obviously know what they’re making, they just haven’t figured out how to sell it well, and to whom. Seems like Microsoft churns out new product more often than they actually think about how to make existing things appealing to people.

Kirk: God, that sentence so perfectly sums up both Sony and Microsoft's tech-heavy shortcomings. On that note, I think we’ve blathered on enough. Okay all, let's try to sum up our takes on E3 in a couple of sentences each.

David: E3 actually had some nice titles announced I think, but they were overshadowed by the big three’s attempt to push a more “experiential gaming experience,” man.

Sam: It was more of the same, but I see tiny glimmers of awesome and innovation that make me remember why I love the games industry.

Annie: E3 is very much the prom of the games industry, and there are many fine and wondrous things there. But honestly, sometimes it can seem a bit contrived. I’d not “kick it out of bed for eating crackers”, as they say, but I’m looking forward to PAX much more.

Dan: If E3 is the prom, then my date threw up on my shoes. My biggest takeaway was that there’s a serious opportunity waiting for anyone who can teach video game marketers a thing or two about stage presence.  Also: I will happily accept a 3DS, if anyone wants to send one to me.

Kirk: Wow, I think that writing this post has caused us all to get even darker on E3 than we were when we started. Suck it, E3! Hey, unrelated side note - how rad is our new site design?

Annie: Looks good! Very dignified and classy.

Dan: Looks good, man.

Kirk: For a saxophonist with no computer training whatsoever, I sometimes surprise myself with my l33tness.

Annie: Actually, it's "1337", dude, I think your rollerblades came loose.

Kirk: Ah, hell.


Jay said...

Excellent. I must say all of your E3 lamentations have summed up this year's Empire Strikes Back vibe pretty well. We learned that Valve (playing the role of Lando) has secretly been in cahoots with Sony, AND that the Wii is, in fact, the father of the PS Move ("Noooooooooooo!"). It was all razzle, almost no dazzle.

But um... did anyone else notice one VERY glaring omission? Where in the world was fucking Molyneux? Isn't he like one of the OG Kinect crew? Did NO ONE wonder where that Milo kid and his (obviously bullshit) game was? Was there a giant Fable 3 demo going on somewhere that they just decided not to air on gametrailers?


ps - I'm only referring to him as "fucking Molyneux" from now on.

Annie Wright said...

Molyneux was busy having coffee with Julian Assange, probably.

Kirk Hamilton said...

Yeah, or he was scared he'd run into Dan and have to box him.

Annie Wright said...

Ohhh. Yeah, I didn't even think of that. He's probably up at Cobra Kai getting some pointers to prepare. "No Mercy".

Alex said...

No love for Kirby's Epic Yarn? It looks so cute and awesome! And I'm not even a Kirby fan.

I was pissed there was zero mention of BG&E2. But at least I'm expecting UbiSoft to be jerks about that game by now.

Also, fuck yeah Portal 2. I'm about to go watch the demo again because it's just that awesome. Any reservations I had are completely gone. It's going to be a long wait, but I think Fable 3 will help a lot!

Alex said...

Whoops, messed up my url there. It's me!

Kirk Hamilton said...

Hey Alex! Now that you mention it, I'm surprised that Kirby didn't make it in here... especially given Dan's irrational hatred of him. You'd think someone would have at least mentioned his poltergeistian return. He's baa-ack...

I too would have loved to hear about BGE2 (man, wasn't Ubi's presser a letdown?), as well as that fabled Ico/Colossus re-release. I know they're both still most likey going to happen, but it would have been nice to get some real buzzy excitement happening. Either of those titles would have made that happen.

And yeah, also to Jay, when are we really going to get a sense of what Fable 3 is really all about? I guess we won't really know until we know, but I'm interested in hearing how it'll be different than the last one. And also whether it'll actually use Kinect, since that was rumored so heavily.

Dan the Man said...

Irrational, nothing, Kirk. Kirby must die.

As for Molyneux... Peter, if you're reading this: You can't hide forever little Sparrow. Come get some.

Annie Wright said...