Friday, June 18, 2010

Showtime

My personal favourite surprise from E3: Donkey Kong Country Returns.

So E3 is over for yet another year and, as countless other people are doing, it’s time to offer the obligatory impressions on the show this year. I don’t want to dwell on my personal interests too much -- as frankly, who else cares other than me? -- but I figured I’d still jot these thoughts down in order to dump them somewhere and also have a record for future use.

Before I comment on the three conferences proper, there’s something I need to get off my chest.

What the hell was that “speech” in Sony’s conference by Kevin Butler? I’ll admit straight away that I do not and probably never will understand the appeal that he has garnered in recent months, but irrespective of that, the outburst of hyperbole he so confidently demonstrated on Tuesday was, in a word… baffling. I get the idea that it was done to inspire a certain demographic -- namely the hardcore -- and as a direct result, give Sony the attention and perhaps even ‘victory’ at E3 they so desperately want to achieve, but its presence in a conference clearly focused on new technology and dedicated to other, perhaps new demographics is not only ironic, it’s just simply discordant. The problem is that, as intended, the crowd responded positively, perhaps even egregiously, and so too did the fanboys. But shouldn’t that be a good thing? By achieving a reaction in both the hardcore and, hopefully, the “casual” -- or in other words, everyone else -- surely that makes their conference a success, as a demonstration they have products for everyone and as a clear, perhaps blatant, indication to their competition that Sony are coming? Well no, I don’t think it does. Like Microsoft -- and I’ll discuss this further in a minute -- Sony segregated the markets by allowing this tirade to feature prominently, and promptly did it again when they showed the video with the PSP kid. Where their boasting about their new technology and where they expect it to be in the next few years was intriguing but otherwise nothing extraordinary, their appeal to the hardcore was outrageous and elitist: an extreme example of Sony fueling the fire just for the sake of it. And really, what did they have to lose? Microsoft already separated the industry into two categories with their showing while Nintendo surprised with nostalgia; it’s not about the games anymore, it’s about the image, and, especially with 3D in tow, that’s all you’re going to hear about from Sony in the years to come.

Right, in an ironic twist (or not), my little rant is done; onto my own personal opinion of the three conferences.

Microsoft

It feels somewhat strange saying it, but not a single game (or should that be product?) that Microsoft presented on Monday was interesting. What was shown was intended for markets that, for now at least, aren't for me: starting with the shooters and ending with a variety of Kinect related software that I’m either uninterested in, have seen before or just can’t understand until I get to experience it for myself. I don’t care about Call Of Duty, Halo or even Gears (a series I have enjoyed in the past) nor can I care for Fable III or Metal Gear Solid: Rising when I’m still yet to thoroughly play their predecessors. I am burnt out by the industry’s emphasis on all things shooting, weapons and violence and all the supposed core titles shown at the start of MS’s show just weren’t for me.

As for Kinect, I’m intrigued by it but, like every other new piece of technology this medium has seen in the past, it will live or die by its software and right now, the software I saw is limited in its potential to capture appeal. Yes it will inevitably appeal to consumers already familiar with Nintendo’s recent offerings; yes, it could indeed captivate new audiences, increasing the popularity of our medium even further; and yes, it might even eventually have some really fantastic, unique, ways to enjoy interactive entertainment. But in the meantime, their persistence to chase the unknown, to go after markets that might not necessarily be there, winds up leaving the audiences they already do have behind, and I’m not sure that will be beneficial to them in the end. But then again, does it matter? According to them, we’re already two different industries anyway.

What I don’t understand, though, is why such a small crop of games? Yes this year’s demonstration was always going to be about their new technology, and yes, it was always going to feature the big three blockbuster franchises too, but even so, why did Microsoft choose to hold some of their games -- some of which we already know about I might add -- back, such as Crackdown 2? Just further proof that it’s not about the quality of games anymore but rather the experience these consoles can provide for you, me, and your entire family. I guess it’s up to you whether that’s a good thing or not.

Gorgeous. Definitely looking forward to this level.

Nintendo

Nostalgia sure does have a way to get everyone talking, doesn’t it? Whether it was the sighting of Nintendo’s three crucial characters -- Mario, Link and Samus -- or new additions to franchises we may have left in our memories, the variety of games they showed this year was an incredible grab for the hearts of those who have grown up with Nintendo or at the very least have a history with them, no matter how large or small. But it wasn’t just an appeal to the loyalists, the supposed hardcore, which made their conference interesting: it was a genuinely enjoyable demonstration to watch because, unlike the other two, there were no smoke and mirrors; it was just genuine product after genuine product.

Taking the time to show off the new Zelda first was a clever move. We knew it was coming, we weren’t sure what to expect, and within minutes we knew that, yet again, there was reason to be excited for a new adventure. I’ve already mentioned briefly in the past that my interest in the franchise isn’t as strong as others, but even I’m intrigued by what was shown and keen to learn more, so kudos for grabbing the attention of someone who usually just observes from the corner. Aside from that, focusing the conference on the games instead of the hardware was also clever, the 3DS sounding genuinely impressive but largely irrelevant to me until I can try it for myself.

Ultimately I believe what Nintendo showed with this conference is something more important than an impressive line up of games or indeed future hardware: they proved that they get it when it comes to videogames, something that only a select few other developers (think Valve, Rockstar, Blizzard) can manage consistently in this industry and for me, that is why their conference was the most enjoyable. It’s not about the profits, image or corporate ego -- though, in yet another clever move, they manage to succeed in those areas too -- it’s about the medium, past, present and future.

Oh and Donkey Kong, a game I’ve been wanting to happen -- regardless of which console it appeared on -- ever since I finished the original SNES trilogy the first time, let alone the fifty times (each) after that.

Sony

I’ve already explained my disdain for the way Sony approached their conference this year, the blatant segregation of markets as if they were totally different industries really unnerving me in a way I didn’t expect, but to their credit they did show games, it’s just a shame that yet again hardly any were for me.

I’m sure Killzone 3, in 3D, will be great. Maybe not Avatar* levels like Sony suggest, but I highly doubt the game will be terrible, especially as the forebear for Sony’s push for 3D gaming. It, alongside other games both old (Wipeout HD, PAIN) and new (Gran Turismo 5, MotorStorm: Apocalypse), will probably prove that Sony’s massive commitment to 3D was justified, if not necessary, in much the same way that Move will demonstrate that motion controls do have their place in the videogame medium -- just not as much as Sony would have you believe. Their lineup was filled with variety, something that everyone will likely appreciate, but even so it wasn’t all that original, and the impact of their presence throughout the conference was hindered by leaks and announcements in the week prior. InFamous 2, MotorStorm: Apocalypse and Killzone 3 were already known about, as was, for the fourth consecutive E3 in a row, Gran Turismo 5. Speaking of which, nothing new was shown about that game except for the release date, something the game has already had in the past and can’t be trusted until it actually does come out. The Top Gear track, highlighted as if it’s more important than other tracks, was already known about and while seeing The Stig was admittedly new, it was also expected (as, unlike the show’s three presenters, licensing or legal issues wouldn’t be as complicated), just like previous GT5 reveals in earlier months were, such as the inclusion of the Nurburgring or night racing. It was nice to see LittleBigPlanet 2 (though unfortunately for me I missed some of that as I had to get a drink for my little sister) demonstrated, and no doubt, for those interested, the Twisted Metal reveal at the end is welcome, if unsurprising news.

All in all, Sony had the games which earns them some respect, but the focus on their new technology and the separation of their potential audience, combined with blatantly obvious, derivative and completely unnecessary digs at the competition (Kevin Butler’s rant included) brought it down for me. A personal shame because it really feels like for every step forward Sony make, they take another two back, leading to confused and mixed feelings about how I feel about them, the PS3 and their piece of the gaming pie in general.

So that’s E3’s conferences from my perspective. For someone usually regarded as a Microsoft fanboy (I will never understand that), I think I did a pretty good job of keeping things fair with my comments. I realise that what both Microsoft and Sony are doing aren’t for me right now, and that part of Nintendo’s appeal this year was inspired by nostalgia, but even so if there are any examples of unfair bias I really don’t mean to communicate it. My love is for the medium overall and, after a mixed affair of excitement and confusion, I am struggling to work out where it appears to be headed. But that’s okay, I’ll continue to observe with interest and in the meantime, there are plenty of games already available that I need to spend some time with, so that’s where my thoughts will lie for the foreseeable future. Past, present and future -- it’s all good.

*I’m still yet to see this movie.

2 comments:

Matthew Kaplan said...

Nice rundown of the pressers. I wouldn't put too much additional thought into the KB part. The man has the kitschy appeal of a mid-'80s sitcom; some people really gravitate towards that. Nothing in his speech was supposed to reflect... well, anything, really. I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote it the night prior. Mildly amusing, little more... and that's how I'd describe most of E3.

On the other hand, I have mixed feelings about the PSP-Marcus campaign. While I like this young actor (he was a superb comedic foil to Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott in the severely overlooked Role Models) and I'm thrilled that Sony has decided to actually pay some marketing attention to its portable system, you're certainly right in that it segregates the markets--not in terms of race but age and maturity.

Steven O'Dell said...

Matthew -- Firstly, sorry for the delayed reply. A combination of things have prevented me from my usual Internet routine.

I've always found your PSP perspective interesting because, frankly, you're the only one I know who actively engages that platform and considers it. Hardly anyone else that I know owns a PSP and if they do, they either keep it to themselves or sporadically talk about a game that might be on it.

Which is why I find your thoughts on the PSP-Marcus campaign intriguing. How do you feel about the campaign specifically, and then how does that correlate with where you'd like to see Sony work harder in terms of marketing their handheld? As far as I saw it, it was just another attempt at humour and perhaps a grasp at the hardcore market (if not that than certainly the attitudes common within) similar to the Kevin Butler thing but less blatant, but casting that aside for a second, I also felt it had little relevance to the handheld itself.

Sure it was about the handheld and the implication was that it was better than playing other platforms (as you'd expect), but I don't know, I also got the impression that while Sony's heart was in the right place in trying to drum up some more attention for the PSP, they went about it wrong by focusing on humour instead of the actual games, which should always be the selling point for a platform.

It's like they're not even sure how to advertise the various games on the system, and while most would generalise and say it has barely any, you yourself have suggested to me otherwise, so it just seems really strange on Sony's behalf. Thoughts?