Transformation and Stagnation: E3’s Claim on the Future of Games

e3logoRin: Honestly, this year I wasn’t sure what to expect from E3. Sure, we had the old stand-bys of another Call of Duty game and another Mario game to look forward to (if you’re into that), but for the most part, viewers were going in blind. In lots of ways, I was pleasantly surprised, and even in some cases I got to revisit the emotions that E3 should give its audience: whimsy and unmitigated excitement. In other cases… uh, not so much.

Since this was such a jam-packed year, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow games enthusiast, BrothaDom!

Dom: Hi Rin! Yes, I’m in agreement with you there: this year definitely brought some enjoyable highs, and some disappointing lows.

Embrace your female protags, developers! EMBRACE THEM.

Embrace your female protags, developers! EMBRACE THEM LIKE BETHESDA EMBRACED EMILY. (x)

Rin: For the first time ever, Bethesda decided to host their own conference, and while many people were hyped for the obvious topic of the night—Fallout 4—Bethesda didn’t simply rest on their laurels. Doom, the ridiculously bloody FPS, made its re-debut and it looked gorgeous. I don’t know anything about the series, nor do I plan on picking it up, but my friends who’re fans seemed amped. But, clearly Fallout 4 was what everyone came for, and one of the first things executive producer Todd Howard debunked was the rumor that the player character would be limited to being male (as previously rumored on a Reddit post). Beyond that, Fallout 4 proved to learn from the limitations and lessons of its predecessors, giving the players a sleek new design with more color, and more crafting options than ever. Not to mention another lovable dog companion that can’t die. With their attention to what the fans wanted, while bringing new in with the old, and the clear dedication they have to interacting with their fanbase, I don’t think anyone will disagree that Bethesda had one of, if not the best conference of E3. …Which makes me kind of guilty that I don’t care about their Elder Scrolls announcements. Whoops.

Dom: Already we’re agreeing! Browsing gaming Twitter during the conference, I saw some rumblings of criticism towards the violence in Doom. But this was very minute and short-lived, as both progressive and “stagnant” gamers dismissed this as a boring and unnecessary opinion. The Fallout announcement was the star, really, with its only downfall being an unfortunate “man in a dress as punchline” joke. Other than that, the previously mentioned dog kicked off what some called the year of the dog for E3. Everyone loves a cool dog, right?

Rin: Cool dogs are definitely “in” this year, and what’s cooler than a regular dog? Why, a robo-dog, obviously. Microsoft got their conference started off by introducing their new IP Recore, which seems to feature not only a robotic dog, but also a female protagonist who may or may not be a woman of color. Additionally, their other new IP, Gigantic, also features a woman of color who is thankfully non-sexualized. The game itself looks like a fun co-op adventure game with summoning elements, but outside of the trailer, regretfully no information was given. Furthermore, it’s nice to see that Microsoft is still dedicated to their indie developers, giving a few of them a nice chunk of time to speak about their upcoming games. The ones mentioned—Tacoma, Ashen, Beyond Eyes, and Cuphead—all look to provide an fresh take on games in theme, a nice portion of them giving stage time to the Disabled (Beyond Eyes and possibly Tacoma) and lady protags.

Unfortunately not all was great. As much as I appreciate the wealth of Rare games Microsoft is releasing to the public, I still get the sense that they’re squandering the team’s potential. Sea of Thieves looks beautiful and fun, but it definitely looks like an MMO, and while that’s not bad, it feels like Microsoft is really putting constraints on what Rare is allowed to do. Outside of this, it was a lot of the same, for me. A lot of easily ignorable things, expected things.

On the other end, hoo-boy, I was worried about EA going into things, but surprisingly there wasn’t that much to worry about. Beyond the return of things they talked about last year, they finally got to show off Mirrors Edge Catalyst, which looks amazing. The open-world aspect of the game intrigues me, but I’m not sure if it will work for the series as a whole. I was also pleased to see that Star Wars fans had little to worry about with Battlefront: it looks amazing, and it’s clear that the people working on it have as much of a love for the series as their audience does. And while I’m still salty as hell that we got less than a minute of Mass Effect Andromeda, they completely blew me away with the presentation of Unraveled, a cute little puzzle platformer starring a small creature made of yarn. More than the games, though, its creator Martin Salin made audiences around the world remember that E3 is more than some corporate venture of cynical suits: it truly is a platform from which people who are excited about their dreams can share said dreams and watch them affect people in beautiful ways. Needless to say, many people have adopted the cute creator as a sort of mascot of E3 2015. I hope his popularity signals to other companies, and even EA itself, that the gaming audience wants to see more people like this, and less decisions based on milking a series for all it’s worth.

Now presenting: the sweetest man in the world.  (via scp-default @ Tumblr)

Now presenting: the sweetest man in the world.
(via scp-default @ Tumblr)

While last year I was disappointed by Ubisoft’s showing, this year I wasn’t. Why? Because I was fully expecting them to be terrible. And they were. Their entire conference was based around the idea of growing from player feedback, but outside of using hyperbolic tweets re: “ur game is bad and u should feel bad” as a prop for comedy, they proved that they didn’t learn a damned thing from last year. Their only new IP, For Honor, while beautiful, also features a bunch of dudes fighting each other for no discernible reason. Next to the diversity of the other conferences, this seemed almost laughable. Furthermore, one of the largest complaints Ubi had was with their lack of female characters and characters of color in their Assassin’s Creed games. So why was it that their trailer for AC: Syndicate featured only white dudes while expressly leaving out the information that you can play as a woman for a (small) portion of the game? It took until Sony’s conference for people to realize that the protag’s sister was also a playable character because Sony, being intelligent, made an entire trailer devoted to how badass and cool she was. Ubi seriously dropped the ball in all ways, and I’m too tired to be surprised or disappointed.

Dom: That failure is perplexing, seeing as it’s an easy slam-dunk for their PR. I guess women weren’t that hard to animate after all…

Rin: Who even knows what they’re thinking anymore…

GG, Ubi... (via potatocrip @ Tumblr)

GG, Ubi…
(via potatocrisp @ Tumblr)

Dom: Shame. A trailer for the new South Park game was also released, and while the show isn’t a shining example of positivity, their modern games show how to properly create a game from a licensed property. Plus, there’s super hero parody in this one. Given Marvel’s plan to churn out a million movies, this seems appropriate.

Sony, competing to have one of the better conferences, was generally impressive. They checked a lot of nostalgia boxes and also made sure to show us the “basics”. They started with The Last Guardian, a game announced quite a while ago which is now resurfacing. It was nice and emotional featuring a young child and his flying-dog-thing navigating some ruins. As you may have heard by now, a Final Fantasy VII remake was announced. Admittedly, it looks stunning, although I’ve never played the original and don’t really intend to. There isn’t much to say about it—it’s FFVII after all—but a release date would have been nice. More nostalgia was used when they announced Shenmue 3, a long time cult-classic. However, they announced it as a Kickstarter project, which is sort of gross considering how wealthy of a company they are. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was a thing, but its discussion went on far too long. It’s so boring at this point, having a fair amount of women in the trailer didn’t seem to faze anyone positively or negatively. However, there were robots and mechs, so for what it’s worth, this could be the most interesting CoD in a while.

Horizon, a game about a native tribe fighting robot-dinosour hybrid beasts, as a game, looked awesome. I definitely want to play it. Plus, it has a female protagonist! But she is white and dressed in hodgepodged “native” garb and has dreadlocks. This is all kinds of bad—bad enough we could write a whole other post on it. There was also a weird dream game from the Littlebigplanet team. It seems ridiculous in a good way. No Man’s Sky—building on last year’s presentation, still looks interesting and ambitious, but I’m cautious that it might be too ambitious or empty.

Rin: I, on the other hand, continue to be super hype about No Man’s Sky and have no doubt that it will live up to my expectations for it. Additionally, Firewatch caught my eye with its mysterious narrative and “last man on earth” feeling to it. The graphics look lovely, but I do realize that this isn’t anything particularly ambitious to the gaming scene.

Dom: Oh yeah! They also showed Uncharted 4. It’s what you’d expect. Nintendo started their digital event with Muppets. Well, Muppet versions of their leadership that transformed into Star Fox characters. Their sense of humor was goofy as always and legitimately fun. As per the norm, they’re riding on nostalgia for better or for worse with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, we’ve seen almost all these games at some point in the past year, from E3, to mini-presentations, to leaks. The showing wasn’t bad in my opinion, just meh.

Star Fox Zero is a new entry to the series and true to what it always has been. Reports from the showfloor say that it looks better in person than the video led some to believe. Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam looks to be an interesting marriage of the Mario & Luigi games and the Paper series which are both variations of role playing game formulas. It seems like a good reason to have a 3DS, as was the new Legend of Zelda game with three players and the tower mechanics. There is a focus on multiplayer elements and fashion for power ups? It is aiming for cute and fun, and avoids the grossness of the punchline of men in a dresses. Link uses Zelda’s dress because it has powers. Additionally, Amiibo may find new life by being associated with Skylanders. That franchise makes sure to supply correctly: Amiibo’s biggest weakness. This could be interesting.

My favorite reveal was Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. It’s a Mario Tennis game, straightforward and I want it. Other than that, they spent a lot of time on Mario Maker and Yoshi: Epic Yarn: both titles that we’ve both seen extensively.

Rin: Me, I think people are being way too harsh on the Nintendo Direct. They clearly stated that they were just speaking about games that were releasing with in the year, and, well, we already know most of those. But what Nintendo always brings to the table for me that other companies don’t is their personal touch; whether that be the puppets, their sense of humor, or the in-depth discussions with the people who worked on the games. In that, they succeeded once again.

Dom: That’s fair. Fun seems to be their priority.

Why do you hate fun? (via okikumew @ Tumblr)

Why do you hate fun?
(via okikumew @ Tumblr)

Rin: However, seriously: what the hell was up with Metroid Prime Federation Force? It’s not a terrible concept, but the fact they marketed it as a Metroid game while fans are waiting for something that isn’t glorified space soccer kind of feels like a kick in the teeth. I was also unhappy to not receive any new information on Fire Emblem IF (now Fire Emblem Fates), and instead be presented with more of the same trash. I wanted a better game working on the Awakening model, but it just seems like they’re relying on stereotypes and fan-service to sell this game. Which, uh… Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei is completely fanservice, idol trash, but at least it knows it’s trash.

Dom: Its goal seems to be idol trash, and I think they’re going to succeed.

Can we say Square Enix was a contender for worst conference? It was very dry and kind of boring. Business oriented for sure.

Rin: Also the presenters didn’t have any idea how to present things, and the audience was really rude. Not a great showing from anyone there.

Dom: I do wonder if the small size of the event was to blame. The big news for me was Kingdom Hearts 3. A Tangled world was announced. Beautiful gameplay footage but no release date announced is irritating a lot of fans. This is especially annoying considering Square announced another in-house team to be releasing a game next year. A Hitman trailer showed some nice ambition, but is still more of the same. (This also seemed to drag on for too long). Deus Ex looked interesting. The story seemed good—but it is tiring to see stories that are proxies for real life oppression, but erase the actual voices involved. The announcer for this game was a bit too excited when saying “mechanical apartheid” and “ghettos” and that sort of thing. So, the game is almost at odds with itself.

Rin: Eugh, agreed. However, Squeenix’s new IP, Project Setsuna, looks promising. I’m glad they’re working on putting something new out there rather than simply relying on their vast library of well-known titles. Also, was it just me or did Just Cause 3 did not deserve like, 20 goddamned minutes? Holy fuck.

Dom: That’s true. That’s so very very true. It could have been summed up in less than half that.

In general, these seem to be the overarching trends: inclusion of women and cute dogs, yes, but there was definitely a trend of “adding some positive with a side dish of negative”. Fallout, Horizon, and Deus Ex all displayed this. All three of these games, among others, showcased fun and interesting gameplay with dashes of innovation. However, each was paired with some sort of disparaging imagery, whether it be casual transmisogyny or casual racial erasure. It’s great to add women—especially as developers and presenters!—but without intersectionality, it’s potentially harmful. On the flip side, there were a lot of positive trends. Like I said, there were a lot more women characters, women presenting, and women featured on the development side. Nintendo is particularly adept at this, continuing their trend from last year. Further, this year showed how much goodwill nostalgia can earn. Even if it is “repetitive”, if they are going for fun, it’s a great foundation to start with.

Rin: Repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing; people love exploring more of their favorite worlds. But when games begin to get stagnant, that’s when we have a problem. Innovation in the games industry, whether it be something simple like representation or adding a new game mechanic, should always be appreciated whether or not one is into the series. Hopefully the developers will take this lesson from E3 2015 and keep going out of their comfort zones. If not, they may find themselves out of continues.

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