What We Learned from the Big 3 at E3.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone and even though I didn’t actually attend the event this year, this sickness that I’m fighting might as well have come from being crammed in with a bunch of germs from all over the world. Match my flu-like symptoms with the fact that I spent the entire week trying to absorb any tiny morsel of news from the press conferences and internet, and I feel like I have a fair idea of what to put into this article. JoypadAndMe started our E3 coverage with a tongue-in-cheek article about what the general public (my Twitter and Facebook friends) were expecting from the Big 3 (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) at E3. Of course now that the convention is over, we can look at the topic with a more serious tone.

Microsoft: The first true conference of E3 came from Microsoft and there were very few surprises from them. They opened with Halo 4, which is a thing. I’ve never personally been a fan of the Halo franchise, but I know that I’m in the minority with this opinion. I also feel that this was probably the most exciting part of the Microsoft presser, so I don’t really understand why they chose to open with it instead of “saving the best for last.” Their other major first party announcements consisted of a new Gears of War game and a new addition to the Forza franchise. This new Forza game seems like it’s pretty far removed from the main games of the franchise, it have more of a Need for Speed or even Cruisin’ World vibe to it if you ask me. The trailer and footage shown seemed very arcade oriented, I have trouble believing that it will have a simulation style engine under the hood.

The middle of their presentation is where things really started to fall apart, or fall asleep more accurately. They featured many more uses for Kinect with integration with EA’s sports titles, a few Xbox Live Arcade games, of course Dance Central 3, and an in-depth look at a partnership with Nike on a Kinect-centric exercise franchise, because gamers are widely known to be a very athletic lot.

Their big announcement was a new system called “Smart Glass” that allows integration of iOS, Android, and Windows phones and tablets into your Xbox entertainment experience. With Smart Glass, you will have access to additional content for movies and games on your tablet or phone to supplement what is happening on your television. I can see some potential for this system, but only time will tell if the implementation will be widely adopted by developers and gamers in general. The main positive point to Smart Glass is that it will function on the phone or tablet that you may already own, making for a shallow initial investment to try it out.

Microsoft ended their press conference with a demonstration of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. This game is CoD, in the future. While I’m certain that this game will sell like gangbusters, I find it difficult to get excited about another annual installment of the CoD monstrosity. I’m probably in the minority with this opinion though.

In my opinion, the best part of the Microsoft press conference was the multi-platform South Park game. This game looks very good and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I also loved that Trey Parker and Matt Stone came out onto the stage and made a complete mockery of the rest of Microsoft’s announcements. It was pure comedy gold!

Overall, Microsoft didn’t really announce anything for the hardcore gamer that wasn’t completely expected already. A fair chunk of their conference wasn’t even gaming related and focused more on general entertainment integration with the Xbox system. What gaming news that was present was just a parade of sequel on sequel on sequel.

Nintendo: Even though they have been marked as the underdog when it comes to the hearts and minds of the hardcore gamer crowd, being the only one with a new piece of hardware to be released soon, how can Nintendo be considered the underdog of E3 2012? Lack of communication. The Wii U is just a stone’s throw away from being on store shelves, yet many people who are “in the know” when it comes to the gaming industry don’t truly understand what it is.

Listening to all the post-E3 media coverage, I was shocked when a well-known and respected podcaster wasn’t aware that the Wii U was indeed a totally new console and not a peripheral controller for the current Wii console. If they haven’t sufficiently explained the console to someone who makes it his business to know what’s going on in the industry, how can they reasonably expect Momma Tucker or Grandma Judy to even halfway comprehend the purpose or value in buying a new Wii U? Worse still, they have precious few opportunities to clarify and sell this thing before people start shopping for the  upcoming holiday season. It’s not as if they didn’t have ample opportunity to properly explain every aspect of the upcoming launch. They had no less than 3 separate press conferences during E3.

The first conference was held on the Sunday before the convention was to start. I missed this presser and couldn’t be bothered to hunt it down after the fact. To my understanding this first conference was used to familiarize the public with the Gamepad controller and also to introduce the Gamepad Pro controller that closely resembles a conventional video game controller that can be found on one of the other more “hardcore” gaming systems. They also discussed social media integration of the Wii U with MiiVerse, as if you needed more Facebook in your gaming, or is it gaming in your Facebook?

Nintendo’s second and main press conference was used to announce games for the Wii U console. They opened with Shigeru Miyamoto introducing an all new Pikmin game. It also seems that publisher Ubisoft will be heavily supporting the new console at launch with the bulk of new third-party games coming from this company. The standout title of this bunch was definitely Zombi U which is a zombie survival game based in London and featuring some seemingly novel uses for the screen on the Gamepad controller. Either way, I believe that Ubisoft will live or die by the success of the Wii U. They certainly have a lot invested in it.

Unfortunately Nintendo’s claim to be more focused on “hardcore” gamers seems to be re-releasing games from last year (Batman Arkham City and Mass Effect 3 for example) that have been reworked with new features that take advantage of the controller. Only time will tell if gamers are willing to put up the money for games that they have already played, just to get a few extra Wii U exclusive features.

They finished their second conference by featuring their new NintendoLand title. This is supposed to be a virtual theme park that features different mini-games that show off the various features of the Wii U controller. They also used it to demonstrate their new game mechanic, asymmetric gaming, which pits the player using the Gamepad against players that are using conventional controllers. Effectively giving each a different gaming experience. This seems to offer some interesting variations on traditional competitive and cooperative gaming if it can be implemented in a successful manner.

Nintendo’s third, final, and in my opinion most successful press conference featured new games for their 3DS handheld system. Nintendo announced some very promising first party titles. Of course we’ve all known about and I have been eagerly awaiting the sequel to the Gamecube’s Luigi’s Mansion game. They also announced a new Mario Bros. game which by all indications will be going back to the roots of the series during it’s super successful NES and SNES days. They also featured a new installment of the Paper Mario RPG franchise (Sticker Star) which looked very promising. For third-party titles, they debuted a new Castlevania game based on the Lords of Shadows universe that sparked a lot of interest as well.

Nintendo had the biggest opportunity to create excitement and buzz with their E3 line-up. Unfortunately what they seemed to have created is boredom and confusion. Like many gamers who grew up on Nintendo systems, I wish nothing but the best for the company that practically saved the video game industry in the 80’s. However, I’m also worried that they wasted a valuable opportunity in this year’s E3 and am not sure if they will be able to recover.

Sony: Which brings us to the one of the Big 3 that was arguably if not begrudgingly handed the title of “Winner of E3” by the majority of gamers that I have encountered. They certainly displayed the largest number of exclusive titles. They also were the ones to cater to hardcore gamers to the highest degree. In this way, they were much more successful than the other two competitors.

They opened with a new title from Quantic Dreams, the studio that created Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls. Like their previous title, this game is very cinematic and features motion capture and voice acting for the main protagonist by the Juno actress Ellen Page. This game alone created quite a stir for Sony at the convention.

They followed this up with the highly controversial Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. They showed off the games cross-play feature which will allow players to face each other online on either the PS3 or the Vita. This is a function that I believe needs to be incorporated in more games going forward as it’s a great feature. They also announced two new characters for the game; Nathan Drake star of  the Uncharted series, and Big Daddy from the BioShock series of games.

Everybody expected some new announcements regarding the Playstation Plus premium program, and Sony delivered on this front. They announced that the following day, 12 games (most of very high quality and critically acclaimed) would be available for download in order to create an “Instant Game Collection.” If they were trying to lure new subscriptions to the PS+ program, this is a smashing way to do it as these 12 games alone make the cost of a year’s subscription a good value.

Of course Sony’s press conference wasn’t all roses and rainbows. The low point came during the announcement and clumsily demonstrated Wonderbook title. This “game” makes use of the PS Move motion control system and augmented reality abilities to bring story books to life on your television. The big deal of this announcement was that J.K. Rowling, author of the wildly successful Harry Potter books, was partnering for one of the first stories of the franchise. This announcement failed to impress anybody outside of the mainstream (non-gaming) media who announced Sony the winner of E3 based solely on this software release.

Sony ended strong showing off single player gameplay footage of the new God of War: Ascension which before E3 had only been shown in reference to the new to the series multiplayer feature. They also announced a Vita exclusive Assassin’s Creed game and a new bundle with a white colored Vita console. They ended their press conference with some super exciting gameplay footage of the anxiously awaited game from Naughty Dog, The Last of Us.

Given the lackluster performance of all 3 companies at the E3 conference, and Sony’s heavy focus on the hardcore gamer and many announcements of exclusive games, it’s difficult to argue with those that have given the title of the winner of E3 2012 to Sony. I may be a bit biased toward Sony, but having watched all the press conferences that were available I would honestly say that Sony was the most successful at reaching out to their loyal gamers.

This being said, I’d like to give special mention to Ubisoft. They announced a game that I feel was by far the most exciting and surprising thing to come out of the entire E3 convention. Watch Dogs is a game that seems to meld an interesting premise (based on people’s dependence on technology and the vulnerability that it presents) with innovative gameplay mechanics (the ability to hack into various electronic devices) that makes for a very intriguing package that I recommend people keep an eye on in the future.

Troy “NMReign” Starrett

Photos courtesy of Google Images.

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One response to “What We Learned from the Big 3 at E3.

  1. Pingback: E3 2012: An NMReign Round-up «·

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