Wednesday, 12 June 2019

E3 2019 - Nintendo

Bookending the direct with Smash reveals works incredibly well in satiating all audiences. The first being the Dragon Quest protagonist meant very little to me but I know that series is huge in Japan. The second reveal being Banjo and Kazooie was more immediately exciting and a little surprising as they'd been rumoured basically every direct for so many years I was sceptical it would ever happen.

Full ethical disclosure I've never actually played the franchise I just think they look like a fun addition to the cast.

I skipped to the end a bit there because Nintendo had a really solid, consistently enjoyable showcase and to go into every game in detail would be a little redundant when the info is flooding across the internet right now. So mainly I thought i'd take the time to compare and evaluate E3 overall this year.

But first some instances I did feel were worth talking about, nay! needed addressing. Bowser's long-term unemployment and declining mental health is played for laughs in their opening welcome message and its disgusting.

We all saw the signs of potential misunderstanding when Doug Bowser took over from Reggie but actual Bowser got his hopes up for a more administrative position and was utterly shot down in flames. Metaphorically for once rather than literally and i think that's all the more painful.
For God's sake he even bought a tie for the occasion. Look at the size of his fucking head. An entire hall of mirrors couldn't make fastening that tie without a visible neck any easier and yet he persevered!

I think the main take away from this is that even with a CV as strong as Bowser's, corporate will always keep you down, down in construction and manual labour where you belong. Classism is rampant at Nintendo and you needn't look further than Bowser for proof...nor can you look further than Bowser...he's massive.

The reveal of a direct sequel to The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was something of a pleasant surprise. Comparisons are made to Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask being the last time clear sequelisation happened but the continuation is even stronger here. This is a great move I feel, since BotW actually took some solid steps towards giving Zelda and to a lesser extent Link, some personality and character and this can be built upon now where most of the time that chance isn't there.

Not to mention I think most people were down for more adventure in the new engine and world plus the brief cutscenes shown suggest an immediate improvement upon the central villain, something many fans felt was a little lacklustre. I didn't mind Spider-Ganon myself, felt a bit like a Resident Evil boss but the more interesting conceptual idea of undying evil that Link and Zelda now seem to be tracking to the source is a cool direction for the sequel to take.
There's also a lot of sick imagery like this, which I'm very in favour of.
This is speculative of course but for a title ambiguously early in production, we were still shown more than a lot of other teasers in other shows.

I didn't have high hopes for EA or Ubisoft and yet some of the shit they pulled still took me by surprise. Bethesda were obviously on the back foot but often that's the best position for a good showcase of quality gameplay. They chose not to do that and even seemed to double down on their horseshit in places.

So the somewhat arbitrary "winner" title I'd have to definitely give to Nintendo this year. The output up until now was frankly really quite dire. As much as I love Keanu, a star studded cameo should not be all you have to offer in an announcement. I'm pretty sure Cyberpunk 2077 is going to hit so maybe they don't have to do much to sell but regardless, they didn't at this E3.

And bear in mind that was the best of Microsoft's showing. They were a firm second place in the ranking but Nintendo's felt more honest, polished and appealing even in the form of games I have no interest in. I think Nintendo's detachment from the majority of the industry remains one of its biggest strengths albeit sometimes also a weakness.

Where Microsoft felt compelled to play with theatrics and suspense, making every trailer as cinematic as possible yet simultaneously whoring the footage out with "Premiere", "Exclusive" and "Preorder now!" banners stuck all over them, Nintendo's basic, clean approach was refreshing and far less corporate.

Was I as gripped watching Animal Crossing: New Horizons as the Elden Ring teaser? No, but considering I had no prior interest in the AC series and now I might actually try this one whereas I remain still pretty in the dark with Elden Ring says something about the delivery of information at play here.
I hope I'm not turning into a Farmville mum.
I say it every year in probably every write-up, that CG trailers are almost useless these days, except for tone-setters early on. Even if gameplay is shown, this cinematic tendency and over-editing has more and more players becoming savvy and understandably sceptical of anything they see on screen.

I'd like to think one day companies might regain our trust enough to feel truly excited by a purely CG teaser but I think there's realistically more chance of F-Zero coming back from the dead than things becoming less overproduced.

So Nintendo doesn't bother as much with the pomp, the promises and the grandstanding and it immediately conveys as more clear, honest and enjoyable to watch, whether the trailers are actually more accurate than competitors or not.

They didn't have a flawless presentation. Things hit a bit of a lull in the middle and some of the games don't look like they'll set the world alite but they also weren't portrayed as if they were ever meant to. Bowser sketch comedy aside, Nintendo didn't faff around with their showcase and with the whole thing almost half the length of other shows, you can't claim the Nintendo Direct format is not...well, direct.

Perhaps E3's disappointment this year could be partly due to the noticeable absence of Sony but I can't help thinking maybe they made the smartest move of anyone. Not showing up if you've got nothing to show is a harsh but fair long-term plan that I honestly wish some of the conferences this year had followed suit in.
Also just saying, Donkey Kong Sitcom. That's free money.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

E3 2019 - Ubisoft

I wake up in a cold sweat, my eyes instinctively darting to the nearest exit. I slowly draw myself from my bed and cross off another date from the calendar. It will be here soon. It's coming.

Of course the nightmares never left. Every morning is a gasping escape from the clutches of that traumatic time. Everywhere I go I see its face staring back at me but then perhaps it's my fault for frequenting the zoo so much. I am a haunted man, haunted by the spectre of a creepy dancing panda in a circus ringleader's costume.

I know its coming for me and I am utterly, pitifully powerless to stop it. My life has been devoured by this monster and its unknowable dark desires. My name is all that remains from day to day untarnished by the ravages of time. My name is Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft.

I breathe a sigh, I mean-Yves breathes a sigh of relief as the conference starts with a far classier orchestral performance, clearly a page copied from Sony's playbook. They play a kind of greatest hits of Assassin's Creed while the screen behind displays footage of a similar nature.
Turns out in the end, they were literally just a video game soundtrack orchestra promoting a tour. There's no actual game announcement behind this opening. Oh well.

Our first proper look at something comes in the form of Watchdogs 3 or "Legion" as it's being subtitled. Set in a dystopian London with some rather direct commentary on Brexit, It actually looks very promising, polished, entertaining and ambitious.

The biggest question is whether it can actually pull off its "everyone as a playable character" and permadeath premise. On top of this whether said formula will manage to give the characters any depth, individuality, story and interaction with each other. From a realistic point of view you would expect to see some pretty shallow templates and lots of duplicates to make the idea work but this initial look seems to suggest otherwise.
It's got Real-time Granny Assassin gameplay. I didn't know how much I wanted that until now.
Cautious optimism for Legion then but full marks for Ubisoft showing actual gameplay, at length and it proving genuinely impressive. So far none of the other shows have managed that.

Next we're told that Mythic Quest is a TV show from the Always Sunny In Philadelphia people parodying World Of Warcraft. So it's a TV show about making a video game which I guess qualifies it to be here but I can't say anything really jumped out at me. I might have been too distracted by the presenter closing on "without further adieu" which I'm going to hope is an in-joke from something.

Adventure Time is crossing over with Brawlhalla which barely means anything to me but maybe it does to you. Jon Bernthal is crossing over with Ghost Recon which barely means anything to anyone since we see more of Jon's dog on stage than actual gameplay.

Both games seem entirely reliant on star power and aren't offering a great deal beyond "hey look recognisable character/actor." In the latter's case, Jon sure gets plenty of time to act I guess but I'm starting to forget if this a video game conference or an actors award ceremony.
That said "E3 But With Dogs" is something I 100% support.
A quickly revolving conveyor belt of hosts and speakers keep on about Ghost Recon with ever more cringe and ever less tact. Ghost Recon Breakpoint also has a Terminator tie in because the producers need to buy favour at this point and everyone's apparently forgotten the actual films are shit now.

Poor Sam Fisher has been reduced to a character in a Ghost Recon mobile game and the conference's rapid shift reaches terminal velocity. Lulled into a false sense of security the Just Dance nightmare and its demonic panda overlord return and I'm told by hospital staff I went into a near-fatal anaphylactic shock at this point.
Once I was discharged and returned to the conference stream there were a host of underwhelming announcements awaiting me. For Honor's got a ghost lady, Rainbow Six has got zombies and The Division 2 has got a whole lot of nothing. Three separate episodes of nothing but still basically nothing. Of course they have to plug their upcoming Netflix movie as well.

A lady sounding as if she's taken tranquillisers to try and subdue the insufferable glee bursting from everyone's grinning eyes reveals Uplay Plus. Why anyone would want to pay for more of Ubisoft's digital beartrap clamped around their game library is a mystery to me but I appreciate this lady's attempt to be less punchable and cheese chuffing than every other theatritwat in this production.

Ubisoft's big closing title is from the creators of the last Assassin's Creed and is called "Gods and Monsters" Going full on into the mythology they've skirted around in AC for a while now. What does it play like? No idea. We're shown a frankly laughably brief trailer where all I could glean is that it's got the unappealing rubbery cartoon artstyle also shared by about fifty other games across E3 this year.
You could probably fit the entire trailer into a gif so I've elected to display this instead.
What a catastrophic decline into shit this conference was. It's nice to have had such a clear trajectory to observe for once but Watchdogs Legion was basically all they had. Their annual hour plus conference had essentially one game worth seeing. Given the grievances Bethesda had to overcome and EA being EA, this should've been a cakewalk for Ubisoft. Instead it was just cake...a urinal cake.
Please leave me alone.

Monday, 10 June 2019

E3 2019 - Bethesda

A rosy, chirpy, player-praising montage starts the show and I quickly realise I've seen this before. From EA, from Microsoft, probably Ubisoft and Sony at some point as well. It's the "we fucked up" intro. The "look how human and likeable we are, please trust us and give us money again" opening pitch. It even ends with a cliched "We are you and we are all Bethesda" which to me just sounds like you're trying to rope us into being culpable for your mistakes.
Unless you have an amazing beard I don't care. Don't @ me.
It's the man with the lines, Pete Hines who has shrewdly integrated himself into the audience for his entrance making it harder for snipers to catch him. He spouts many lines that mean very little before introducing the priority target Todd Howard who is frustratingly honest and frank about the colossal fuck up of Fallout 76. He also claims it has recovered into a large and lively community which I can neither confirm or deny but it's certainly the first I've heard of it.

Todd dodges off stage and we're told about the success of Elder Scrolls: Blades. The mobile game that was shown last year and is now apparently coming to Nintendo Switch...for "free".

Two expendable human shields arrive on stage to make ill-advised further statements about Fallout 76. "You've told us how much you've loved this year's updates" Have you? Can anyone fact-check this?

The audience members certainly seem hopped up on something as they scream and woop at the announcement of features that should've been in the game at launch. NPCs, story questlines and "dialogue trees" as opposed to whatever people were occupying their time with before. Presumably stockpiling ordinance in an attempt to entertain themselves by crashing the servers.

Apparently having sunk too much into it to cut their losses, the game is desperately pushed further with a free trial for the week of E3. A man I'm now dubbing Presumpty-Dumpty claims "Because so many of you will be joining us, we'll give you a sneak peek at a new game mode."
Remember when games just had modes and they weren't their own separate piecemeal announcement every time?
It's Battle Royale because of course it's sodding Battle Royale and these chucklefucks keep using the word "free" when we know damn well these things are lined with more microtransactions than the games have bugs. I'm either being unreasonably cynical or there's a lot of sneaky appeasement, underhanded tomfuckery going on here.

Next Shinji Mikami appears and introduces a new game's creative director, an incredibly earnestly cheerful and nervous petite Asian lady. Putting the least hateable person Bethesda could find on stage after banging on about Fallout 76 for over twenty minutes.

The game itself "Ghostwire Tokyo" involves the mystery of people disappearing, as you might imagine, in Tokyo. We don't actually see any gameplay so almost all impressions are still up in the air. This combined with the company's mixed output of a messy Evil Within 1 and an astonishingly improved Evil Within 2 also leaves the fate of this new title hard to predict.

Another featurette of the oh-so human people of Bethesda talking about their personal lives and how they have hopes and dreams and children and kneecaps just like you. The defensiveness is thick in the air and these personable emotionally manipulative tactics are starting to irk me. It's basically what EA was doing except they're trying to convince us they're not arseholes instead of emotionless synthetics.

Or maybe they really are just showing off members of their company because they think we care. In which case, I don't, get on with the presentation please.

The Elder Scrolls Online gets a lengthy and expensive looking cinematic trailer of different classes fighting a dragon. I'm repeating myself but this CG trailer tells us very little and I'm highly sceptical the fancy choreography in the sequence will be at all recreatable in the game.
Dragons are quickly becoming the new zombies
and not in a cool undead kind of way.
This fairly underwhelming segment brings up a more interesting question as to the hollering fuckwads in the audience. At this point, basically relentless in their screams and actually disrupting the speakers on stage with their "enthusiasm."

I try to avoid news and opinions until I've written these but I couldn't help notice the spreading suspicion of "paid actors" or "plants" in the audience. Designed to make this presentation seem far more positive than the genuine audience reactions would.

A less conspiracy theory-esque take is that these people are actually trying to appear fake and/or disrupt the presentation through high-volume sarcasm. I don't imagine you'd be allowed in the room long for actual heckles and jeers but no one can blame you for unrealistically enthusiastic praise right?
I mean I guess these look like real people.
The latter is just my take so maybe it's more outlandish than the former but the main take away is that pondering this was.more interesting than anything happening on stage.

This remained true for a horribly cringey new entrant, quoting Monty Python as though it were never done before and putting on her best Disney voice. The Commander Keen game associated was at least tonally consistent in that it was an insufferable, cartoon mobile game I would like to never see again.

Unfortunately for me, Pete Hines returns to put words in my mouth about "loving mobile games" and we're subjected to a live action trailer for Elder Scrolls: Legends. A mobile card game and latest entry into the growing series of franchise fringe titles. Outskirt spin offs designed to distract you and keep sucking at your wallet while you wait for the mainline title and the only game you actually wanted in the first place.
I'd like to file a Cease and Desist against my own higher brain functions.
Moving on, the desperate to be quirky and funny Rage 2 makes an appearance I rather wish it hadn't. Deathloop is a new FPS based around time-loops with two opposing main characters. The trailer was very stylish and conceptually intriguing but again, purely CG. The devs on stage getting giddy about saying "fuck" doesn't fill me with confidence though.

Bafflingly we're back to the diary room with seemingly every bloody Bethesda employee who've nothing but glowing recommendations and praise for the company. I'm not sure if they're trying to convince us or recruit us at this point but it's as superfluous as the first round.

Some guys from ID software wax lyrical and boast about their achievements before introducing Orion. A thing that makes streaming games better. Something that also cannot be accurately quantified at all on an E3 stage and thus is a waste of time at best and outright lies at worst.

Finally a trailer and demo for Doom Eternal plays which looks solid if a little too similar for a sequel. We're told about interesting new environments but aren't allowed to see them and Mr. Doomguy Slayer now makes battle grunts upon taking damage which feels unnecessary and distracting for a supposed ungodly strong super soldier. I guess they're saving anything more noteworthy for their beloved Quakercon. 
"Oof" - The Doomslayer.
A trailer for the "all new multiplayer" follows while I try to remember what I got my arse handed to me in if it wasn't the multiplayer of Doom 2016. The show then closes with yet more of its schmaltzy inspirational docudrivel claiming "You are the heroes" and other patronising insincerities. The choice of music with the lyrics "when I tell you to jump, you say how high?" also doesn't help alleviate this sense of backhanded grovelling present throughout.

So did anything other than Doom, riding off its predecessor's coattails, appeal or seem interesting the entire conference? Not really. Even despite the elongated staring at it for this write-up, if you asked me again tomorrow, I think i'll have forgotten most of it.

I expected Bethesda to be in full damage control mode this year but the way they went about it has actually done nothing to foster any goodwill towards them. Deviously worded statements to shift responsibility, straight up potentially false claims on player engagement, emotionally manipulative yet ineffective employee b-roll and whatever the hell was going on with the audience.

If I give the benefit of the doubt maybe it wasn't all as insidious as it seemed but regardless of that it also wasn't very enjoyable or exciting, which is the bottom line really. Given the IPs at their disposal, I feel like it took effort to be this much of a flat-line.
-thy source of expendable income."