What to expect from E3 2014 (Wired UK)


The never-ending crowd at last year’s Sony booth

Ariel Zambelich/Wired


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It’s almost E3 time again! The Electronic Entertainment Expo
returns to its usual stomping grounds in Los Angeles today, and
I’ll be there for you to take it all in and tell you what’s
what.

There’s no question that, with every passing year, E3 represents
less and less of the videogame space. It’s all about big
blockbuster console games, and there are fewer of them every year.
It’s not that E3 is irrelevant. In fact, for those remaining makers
of multimillion-dollar projects — Activision will be spending half
a billion dollars on Destiny, one of just three games at
its E3 stand this year — E3 is perhaps more important than ever.
If you’re not going to make a big splash at an ostentatious trade
show for your $500 million (£300 million) game, how else do you
expect to convince an unprecedented number of people to buy it? The
game publisher THQ’s no-show at E3 in 2012 was a prelude to its
declaration of bankruptcy and subsequent disappearance.

But the nature of E3 has changed. Time was, you could wander
around the show floor labyrinth created by the dozens of games each
publisher would bring and find fascinating things you’d never heard
of. How many people first laid eyes on Katamari Damacy
after taking a wrong turn in Namco’s booth in 2004?

That can’t happen at today’s E3, when publishers are in a battle
over who can publish the fewest video games. For the most part,
we’ve already heard about these games, we may have already played
these games and many of them certainly aren’t markedly different
from last year’s version. E3 seems less like a place to discover
new things and more of a ritual that must be observed, a sacrifice
to the gaming gods to ensure a bountiful harvest this Black
Friday.

Oh well: At least the hardware makers all have their claws out.
We’ll see Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo attempt to pile on exciting
announcements to attempt to steal thunder. Sure, many of these are
complete BS, and the games will either end up sucking or never ship
at all, but it’s thrilling theatre! And maybe even some real good
things will happen, somewhere in there. So off we go to L.A. Here’s
where everyone is positioned, going in, and where things might end
up.

PlayStation: spiking the football

I think Sony must be looking at this year’s E3, not entirely
incorrectly, as a victory lap. Of all the so-called “media
briefings” at E3, Sony’s productions have felt the most like pep
rallies for the PlayStation faithful (they invite fans in off the
street). Now, having already sold millions more PlayStation 4s than
Microsoft has sold Xbox Ones, Sony may literally be fighting the
urge to pop open bottles of champagne and spray it over the first
five rows. It is actually simulcasting its presentation in
movie theatres around the US.

Then again, the last guy who spiked the football five yards in
front of the goal line was Oberyn
Martell
and we know what
happened to him
. Sony’s success has been in large part because
of the scrappy underdog mentality it had to relearn after
PlayStation 3, and what it has to do now is Just Keep Stabbing. I
think it will. I would not be shocked to see some broad
announcements about new cool things it’s doing with the PlayStation
4 business that are bigger a simple lineup of software. I expect
this because everything so far has worked out well for Sony, and it
now has the ability to move forward rather than play the game of
catch-up that its competitors seem mired in for the time being. I
imagine we will get a lengthy explanation of how the upcoming
streaming service PlayStation Now
will actually work — what
kinds of games, how much it will cost, etc. — since it is likely
that Sony will launch it later this year.

I’d love to see an announcement of a big new PlayStation 4 game
from Sony that’s actually unexpected — not just another God of
War
or Uncharted, I mean, and not a newish-seeming
game that turns out, upon closer examination, to be a generic-seeming third-person shooter. If I get one game
without guns I’ll be happy. I give myself 50/50 odds.

Two of the biggest announcements of last year’s Sony show were
Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts
III
, even though both are also going to be on Xbox One. Since
they debuted at Sony I expect them to show up here this year as
well, if they show up at all. Since we’ve heard nothing but radio
silence about both projects since last year’s E3 I sincerely doubt
they’ll be playable, or that anything substantive will really be
said about them. Might just be updated trailers to remind us they
exist.

Microsoft: playing catch-up

Having spent the better part of the last year getting pretty much
wailed on by Sony, Microsoft has had to do all of that backtracking
and playing catch-up that I mentioned before. So I have less of an
expectation that we’ll see some big new initiative or feature that
changes the way that we think about Xbox One, because they haven’t
had time to build it what with all the catching up.

Microsoft got the bad news out of the way before E3, which is to
say that it admitted that Halo 5 was not coming out this year in a
blog post that sounded like an eBay scammer who posts an auction
titled “Brand New iPhone 5 — Picture!” and sends you a picture of
an iPhone. What will almost surely happen, since all rumours about
Microsoft are always true, is that Halos 1 through 4 will come to Xbox One so you can
replay all of them and remind yourself of what happened before
continuing Master Chief’s adventures in Halo 5 for Xbox
One, coming in a scant 18 months.

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Microsoft has also announced in advance of E3 that its next Forza racing game will come to Xbox One this year…
and also to Xbox 360
. This would make perfect sense if
Microsoft was a third-party publisher. But it’s not supposed to be
giving anybody a reason to buy Xbox 360 anymore. The more you think
about it, the downright weirder it is that this would also appear
on Xbox 360, instead of being an exclusive that will get more
holdouts to upgrade to the next generation.

Now, with the obvious announcements out of the way, what does
Microsoft have in its pocket? It hasn’t shied away from securing
exclusives from third parties so it’s entirely possible we’ll see
some games that do actually make the Xbox One a more enticing
proposition. At least, I certainly hope so. If the bulk of what
Microsoft does is to show more extended looks at the games it
already led with (Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, Swery’s
D4 et al.) last year, it may be being realistic about its
prospects for the next 12 months but it will also give the
impression that there’s not much new to talk about with regards to
Xbox One.

Also, following the success of Sony’s indie developers segment
of its press briefing last year, expect Microsoft to do something
similar with its ID@Xbox program this year. (And expect Sony to
follow that up.)

Nintendo: hoping for the wild card

For as disadvantaged in the PR wars as Microsoft seems to be
heading into E3, you’ve got to figure they’re saying to each other,
“Hey, at least we’re not Nintendo!”

Overshadowed by the PS4 and Xbone, and with sales of hardware
and software nowhere near where it needs them to be, Nintendo has
the biggest, most monumental task in front of it at this year’s
show. It has to convince players that it will actually bring out
enough software for Wii U to offset the fact that publishers have
by and large abandoned it (or show that there is a turnaround on
that front, which is unlikely). It has to convince retailers to
actually keep buying these products and putting them in their
stores, not to mention devoting large amounts of shelf space to the
Skylanders-style
figurines
that it says it will ship this Christmas. And it has
to convince the press to actually write about its initiatives — in
a positive way.

Last year Nintendo played
it super-safe with its announcements
. Now that Wii U has
anotherMario, a Mario Kart and a Donkey Kong, I’d
really like it if we were to see some games this year that were not
incredibly obvious. Maybe some games designed for one player.
Besides its NFC figurine business, Nintendo says it plans to show
games that make special use of the Wii U’s GamePad controller with
its built-in screen. About time.

Here’s the big question: Is Nintendo actually going to attempt
to reverse the Wii U’s fortunes, or will its next few years be
focused on simply managing the decline? Is Wii U in the hospital,
or a hospice?

Nintendo’s recent announcement about Mario Kart’s sales
would seem to indicate that, indeed, it may attempt to paint a
portrait of a resurgent Wii U at this year’s E3. “Momentum is
spelled M-A-R-I-O K-A-R-T,” it began. “The early response to
Mario Kart 8 demonstrates that the best days for Wii U are
still ahead.”

So this is probably the make-or-break year for Wii U. If it
can’t generate excitement this year, prospects for a turnaround
become negligible at best. Note that I am not saying 2014 is the
make-or-break year for Nintendo as a whole, since there are still
many things it can try to get back on top. Nintendo has spent a lot
of time talking up its new
“Quality of Life” business
, a platform for fitness software and
hardware that it says will be separate from its gaming platforms.
We should not expect Nintendo to spend much if any time on this at
E3. E3 is for hardcore gamers, and you ignore that at your peril.
This would be an inappropriate time and place to try to sell people
on a fitness machine. (This is not to say they won’t make the
mistake of trying anyway.)

Can Nintendo change the message? I was there for its 2003 E3
showing, at which it became apparent that GameCube was going to be
in a similar position vis-a-vis PlayStation 2 and Xbox as Wii U is
with their successors. The booth was kind of depressing. But that
gave way to E3 2004, which didn’t immediately turn things around
but evinced the first green shoots that heralded Nintendo’s
eventual rebirth — charismatic take-no-prisoners executive Reggie
Fils-Aime, the announcement of the Nintendo DS, and the masterfully
orchestrated unveiling of Twilight Princess
.

If we see some sparks like that at this year’s E3, it might mean
fireworks for later on.

Things you strap to your face

We should probably talk about virtual reality, which will be in
attendance at E3. Sony will bring its Project Morpheus VR system to
E3, although it has not said if it will be the same prototypes and
software that we tried at Game Developers Conference in March. I
imagine that Sony will attempt to advance the football a little
here and show a new demo, maybe even a revised, improved
prototype.

Ditto Oculus, which will have a stand right outside Nintendo’s
area. Oculus said this week that it is partnering with Paul
Bettner, the co-creator of the smash mobile hit Words With
Friends
, whose new studio Playful is creating Lucky’s
Tale
, a third-person platforming game developed exclusively
for Oculus. Yes — a third-person game. They know it’s weird, too.
I’ll be in the Oculus booth on Tuesday of E3 trying it out.

What I would not expect is any meaningful information from
either outfit about the particulars of the consumer launch of
either virtual reality product. It’s not time. Oculus is still
working on the consumer version and I doubt Sony wants to jump the
gun with an unfinished product. Facebook and Oculus will probably
hold some massive event of their own when it’s time to talk about
bringing VR to the masses. If Sony says anything about Project
Morpheus having an actual release date, I’d take that with a whole
shaker of salt.

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This article originally appeared on Wired.com

9 June 2014 | 9:31 am – Source: wired.co.uk
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