Surviving E3 2017

Explosions. Flashing lights. Terry Crews. 

Walking through the South Hall doors was a mixture of surreal and pure adrenaline. Activision on my left and Microsoft on my right. 

And of course, Terry Crews on the big screen shouting BOOM in his Crackdown 3 spot. 

Loud, overwhelming and incredible

Aside from the masses of industry members and fans, the entire spectacle of E3 is stupidly incredible. 

I expected to be blinded and deafened by loudspeakers blaring trailers and projected logos and lasers darting around the show floor. I expected the lines and the waiting and the buffet of games to choose from. 

But I underestimated the scope. The sheer magnitude of scale these booths take up. Microsoft had rows and rows of 4K tvs showcasing dozens of titles that were showcased in the lead up. Activision had a giant theater surrounded by pods featuring their tentpoles Destiny and Call of Duty. 

Bethesda built a diner for Wolfenstein. Sega created a small alley based on Yakuza 6’s Kamurocho. Warner Bros. brought a dragon for Shadow of War. Capcom not only brought a dragon (a Rathlos) for Mondter Hunter they brought Ultron for Marvel vs Capcom. 

And then there was Nintendo. Nintendo had a reputation for having some of the most involved booths at the show. But they went out and created Super Mario Odyssey’s New Donk City. If the rest of E3 is super-sized, Nintendo brought along a few Mega Mushrooms. 

Blink and you’ll miss it

Take notes. Written, recorded, mental. There is a ton of stuff to note about a demo’s experience from technical execution to whether or not a game brings something new to the table.

It’s important to temper expectations when going through a demo. These are, after all, vertical slices for products that are months away from final build. 

Keep your head on a swivel

There are a ton of demos out there, most of them for the biggest of games. But there are also a lot of smaller demos to be had peppered across the floor in both their own and the mega booths. 

Companies are also peppering crowds with promotional gifts. This practice seems to be staggered to allow for product to last throughout the show rather than give it all away during the first rush. The most common question between attendees has been, “Hey, where’d you get that?”

Have fun

They are video games, after all. 

It all starts here

E3.

This is, effectively, the Mecca of gaming events. 

And I’m here. 

Through a little bit of stubbornness and a whole lot of coercing my partner in crime, I have found my way to what might be the piece de resistance of my gaming coverage career. 

Except it won’t be. 

Microsoft’s teraflop pushing powerhouse the Xbox One X is here. As will Sony touting their 60 million PS4s sold to date. Nintendo won’t quit with their surprisingly robust Switch. And that’s just the major players. 

As always we will heed the Call of Duty, experience all the Final of Fantasies, let our lightsabers do the talking on the Battlefront and witness the Gran Forza of racing. 

E3 might be shifting with the times, especially selling public badges. But this is certainly not the prophetic doom that some may feel is coming. 

It all starts here. In more ways than one. 

Bethesda’s Bombshell – Fallout 4 in November

Fallout 4Fallout 4 will be releasing on November 10, 2015. That’s less than five months away.

The crazy thing about the news and hype swirling around Fallout 4 is that even though Bethesda had pulled the curtain back on a very detailed trailer less than two weeks ago, they still managed to surprise. The words I am about to write don’t really hold a lot of weight on the millions of fans who are salivating to get back into the wasteland, but Fallout 4 encapsulates so much of what Bethesda does well.

It’s not just the open world brilliance or the clever collector’s edition Pip-Boy. It’s the fact that they have been hard at work on this game since they wrapped Fallout 3. Keep in mind that they churned out a bonafide all-time great game in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the midst of their development cycle. Everything that they learned through breathing new life into the Fallout franchise in Fallout 3, in what Obsidian accomplished with the surprisingly stellar spin-off Fallout: New Vegas and refining their signature world building in Skyrim appears to be melding beautifully in Fallout 4.

Fallout 4Set in the Commonwealth, a post apocalyptic Boston, Fallout 4 takes the framework of Fallout 3’s Capitol Wasteland and expands it with true to life landmarks, fleshed out neighborhoods and a much larger variety of environments compared to its predecessor. The color palette, already a noted improvement from the drab greenish grey of Fallout 3 or the burnt tans of New Vegas, is lush and thoughtful, from the bright colors of the pre-war era, to the golden dome of the State House. It is far and away the most vibrant Fallout game to date.

Fallout certainly starts with the world that they build around it, but the story is the focused core. We already know a ton about the experiments that were conducted in the vaults after Fallout 3. So where does Vault 111 fit into this? How are you the only survivor of the vault? Why are you only emerging now, 200 years after the bombs originally fell.

And there it is, the element that will set Fallout 4 apart from the series. You aren’t a vault member tasked with saving a vault. You’re not the chosen one sent out to save a village. You are not the lone wanderer, exiled from your only home on a quest to find your father. You aren’t a courier, delivering a package, and taking over a corrupted city in the process. So who are you? You are the survivor. A link to the world of Fallout before the vaults, before the radiation. It is a dynamic that will bring a new addition to the Fallout universe, a sense of direction beyond the framework of the overarching quest. You have a story to tell, a mystery to unravel.

Fallout 4Where Fallout 3 relied heavily on NPCs as the storytelling crutch, adding vocal work to the protagonist is a big deal for a franchise known for its silent heroes. The voice is as important as the gameplay supporting this entry. From the return of VATS to the ever expanding customization options. Not only can you customize your entire arsenal and armor load out, you can build entire towns for you to thrive in. By allowing town building, it creates a new dynamic by which is genuinely Fallout at its core. All the inhabitants of the wasteland are survivors. Survivors that needed to work with each other to survive.

Everything that Bethesda has laid out before them, in the framework of all of their games. Is the idea of building towards a purpose. Fallout 4 truly captures that mentality and focus as we get ready to return to the wasteland.

Next Mirror’s Edge Gets Name, Timeline Confirmation

Mirror's Edge CatalystThe next entry in the cult favorite first person parkour inspired action series Mirror’s Edge will be named Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and will not be a sequel to the 2008 original. Confirmed by an announcement made by Electronic Arts following the leaked trademark filing for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, DICE producer Sara Jannson confirmed the title and the relation of the 2016 game to its predecessor.

“This is not a sequel, this is not Mirror’s Edge 2. We have landed on a vision that honors the first game — pushing the boundaries of first person movement and diving deeper into the story behind our heroine Faith — but also brings a lot of great new, interesting gameplay and features to the experience for our players.” – Sara Jannson, Producer, DICE

The use of the subtitle Catalyst confirms much of the speculation that this Mirror’s Edge game would be a prequel, especially based on the E3 2013 trailer that showed series protagonist Faith getting her trademark digital tattoos on her arm along with developer statements focusing the game on the building blocks that made Faith. I think that a prequel is the right way to go because of the way that the original Mirror’s Edge unfolded, especially with the fairly open ending that had Faith and her sister Kate on the run from the government’s Project Icarus.

While we know where Faith ended up and are curious about her next chapter, explaining her origin is just as interesting. Faith, as a character was one of the more beloved identities of last generation, despite only appearing in one game where not much is known about her background. The idea of her becoming a runner, to becoming a part of the counter culture that essentially rebelled against the government’s constant surveillance is a story that can bring new audiences up to speed with the world and potentially set the tone for a true follow up to Mirror’s Edge.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has been targeted for an early 2016 release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.

Polygon – The new Mirror’s Edge is called Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Microsoft Wants Halo to Soldier On for At Least More 30 Years

Halo: The Master Chief CollectionHalo as a franchise isn’t going anywhere. That’s the standard set by Microsoft’s Halo-dedicated development studio, 343 Industries. According to 343 Industries general manager Bonnie Ross, it has always been the plan for Halo to remain a mainstay for at least 30 more years. That was the goal set for 343 Industries as Microsoft passed the franchise from Bungie to their in-house start up.

The only caveat to that lofty goal is that 343 Industries was founded in 2007. It is nearly eight years later and 343 Industries has one main-line Halo game to their name, a mediocre twin-stick shooter and a pair of remastered but problematic Xbox Original games. While 343 Industries has shown flashes of their potential, namely in the quality of Halo 4, they are still relatively unproven thanks in part to their uneven quality of work.

Bungie Studios helped greatly in the early work of 343 Industries, allowing the budding studio to assist on the stellar Halo: Reach and much of their staff is comprised of former Bungie developers who chose to stay with the Halo franchise. But with such a long shadow cast by a marquee studio like Bungie, 343 Industries has had trouble establishing themselves. Halo 4 was a fine game, but often looked slow when compared to twitch shooters like Call of Duty. While Halo has never meant to be that type of fast paced shooter, Halo 4 never managed to dethrone Call of Duty on the multiplayer activity charts.

I do believe that Microsoft is right to envision Halo as a tentpole in their game development for decades to come. It certainly worked for other industry headliners like Super Mario. But in order to stay competitive in the already saturated world of first person shooters, 343 Industries needs to learn how to be as good as Bungie was, and faster. Players are always going to give a spectacular franchise like Halo attention, but in order to capture that attention long-term, they need to be more than great, they need to be incredible.

Gamespot – Microsoft Wants Halo to Last Another 30 Years

Worrying About Nintendo’s Amiibo

Amiibo

The first wave of Nintendo’s toy-to-game Amiibo figures are set to launch this Friday, November 21.  Promising additional functionality between a selection of Nintendo games, the Amiibo figures are releasing alongside Nintendo’s big ticket entry this holiday (and largest supporter of Amiibo figures) Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

In concept, the idea of Nintendo creating a Skylanders / Disney Infinity themed figure sounds like an easy win. They have a huge library of games, some of the most iconic video game characters exclusive to their consoles and have always been at the forefront of innovation in world of gaming.

But I am extremely skeptical whether Amiibos will be a boon for Nintendo.

The Amiibos pair fairly well with Super Smash Bros., the main game that they were designed for. The game interacts with the figures by allowing the ability to train an AI controlled version of the character in game. A sort-of enhanced version of their new custom character feature, Amiibos supplement that by allowing for that created character to be modified, trained and stored on the Amiibo figure. This figure can then be taken to other consoles and used on the systems of friends.

Unfortunately, Super Smash Bros. is the only game that can store information on the Amiibos. Any other game that touts Amiibo functionality is merely recognizing the figure and unlocking in game items in a sort of physical DLC type of way. Sure you get a little something for your trouble, but not nearly to the extent that Super Smash Bros. receives. It is frustrating to think that Nintendo has these great little figures in their hands and all that they can muster up is a little support for a bonus feature in the main game, and bonus unlocks for other games.

But the worst part is that what everybody wants out of the Amiibos, a game much like Disney Infinity’s Toy Box feature, is something I fear will never happen. The Toy Box feature is a fantastic feature in Disney Infinity that allows for players to pop their Infinity figure onto the game’s base and every figure that they have can interact with each other in a sandbox environment in their game. You can have Donald Duck running around with Thor and Captain Jack Sparrow while Lightning McQueen is racing in the background.

The way Nintendo is handling Amiibos, we might never see that game. You see, for Infinity when you purchase a character in the store, you’re essentially adding it into your game. This would be the only way to get Stitch into your game, is to have the figure to place on the base. For Nintendo games, this isn’t the case. For Super Smash Bros., all the characters that have figures are already present in the game. You’re just paying for the ability to create the trained Amiibo custom character (and for a nice figure to put on your desk). Maybe one day Nintendo will consider using Amiibos as a form of physical DLC by creating a Solid Snake figure that will pop him (as rightly should be) back into Super Smash Bros.

Even worse is the idea that I sincerely doubt that Nintendo is remotely close to creating a Toy Box styled game. I mean you’re seriously talking about the company who, when working with Disney on Wreck-it-Ralph, was so hyper specific about Bowser’s cameo, that they complained about how he was holding his cup of coffee. They are a company that has been historically not particularly fond of user-created content and have never created a true sandbox style game.

Which is sad really. They have all the tools to do so. An amazing catalog of games and characters to choose from and certainly the development pedigree to create a fantastic playroom where all their characters can co-exist. It’s what all Nintendo fans want. It’s why Super Smash Bros. is so popular. Gamers want to settle those age old arguments of who would win in a fight, Mario or Link. It’s why the new DLC pack for Mario Kart 8 is such a big deal. Gamers want the freedom to play with their toys, as their imagination sees fit.

And for a company with such a history of embracing imaginative innovation as Nintendo, it truly would be a missed opportunity.