Friday, 15 June 2012

E3 2012 Retrospective

I wasn't at E3. But I was able to follow the entire thing last week from the comfort of my home (and later in the week, the comfort of my workplace) through the various live streams and the glut of articles released over the course of the week. And I thought that I'd give my thoughts on the press conferences and the games (or at least a number of them) on show.

As such this post isn't about SWTOR, it's mostly not even about MMOs. It's just about what one of the biggest events for gaming had on display this year. And my wholly personal take on things.

I'll split this into two parts. The first looking at the five main press conferences and the second part looking at a number of the games. Catch it all after the break.

Press Conferences

Since Monday and Tuesday were bank holidays here in the UK I was able to watch all main press conferences live, except for the Sony one which was in the middle of the night for me (so I watched it all the next day). There were five main conferences in all. In order of appearance Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony and Nintendo each had their own hour to ninety minutes to talk to press and businessmen, and us watching online.

Microsoft Press Conference

Microsoft pretty much kicked off E3 this year (though for various days before a number of companies had already released all kinds of "pre-E3" stuff) and it wasn't a good start. To be frank the Microsoft press conference was abysmal. There was pretty much no innovation on display. It's "big hitters" opening and closing the show where Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, but sequels to massive shooter franchises. And neither showing much in the way of originality.

Absolute low point though was the one thing that might count as a bit of innovation as Microsoft presented its new SmartGlass technology. This is supposed to allow all your devices to be connected, as long as they're Microsoft devices at least. Basically it allows you to browse the Internet on your Xbox360 by using your Windows phone. In general that wouldn't have been too bad, but the section went on way too long and showed nothing that really had anything to do with gaming. It could be used in games (the way it already is between PS3 and PSP/Vita), but it showed nothing of that.

There were a few highlights. For me the Tomb Raider demo was interesting as it finally showed some gameplay beyond Quick Time Events (though more on that gameplay later when I talk about Tomb Raider). And then there was Trey Parker and Matt Stone showing the South Park RPG, including one of the highlights of the entire E3 as Trey Parker made a dig at Microsoft's (and their just announced SmartGlass technology's) expense:

How many times have you been watching an episode of South Park and thought, I'd like to watch this on my television, which has been hooked into my mobile device, which is being controlled by my tablet device, which is hooked into my oven, all while sitting in the refrigerator?


Overall though the conference was a wash. Halo 4 and Black Ops 2 were joined by Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Gears of War: Judgment to set a violent, "men shooting at men" tone for the expo.

EA Press Conference

Maybe it was by virtue of coming after the poor Microsoft conference, but I felt that EA's conference was a fair bit better. It made some of the same mistakes, its opener and closer being Dead Space 3 and Crysis 3 respectively. But overall at least it managed to focus on games. They didn't even focus as much on sports games as much as I'm used to from EA (and it helped that they spread it out a bit instead of having one big block of sports games).

It's just a pity that none of the games were particularly interesting or innovative. There were pretty much no surprises (unless you count EA snagging the UFC license, which I didn't care enough about to count) and for me there was a strong sense of "I've already seen all this before", even if it was just in previous incarnations of the games. Then there was the disappointment of The Old Republic not having any big announcements (like, say, an expansion), making the conference feel less than exciting.

A decent show, just not a very exciting or innovative one.

Ubisoft Press Conference

After the previous two conferences things looked grim, but Ubisoft actually put on a really strong press conference. So much so that most agree that it was the best of the five conferences and I think that some felt that Ubisoft 'saved' E3 this year. If nothing else it showed that you can put on a much better show by hiring a professional to do the presentation.

It wasn't short of its awkward moment. The second "behind the scenes" presenter was just really awkward to watch, for example. But overall they had a strong showing. Far Cry 3 looked quite interesting, definitely the most interesting shooter this E3. Assassin's Creed 3 looked quite good as well. Both of them still sequels of course, but I felt that they did more within that space than most titles shown before. And Ubisoft played its strongest card at the end with its Watch Dogs demonstration.

A strong show by Ubisoft.

Sony Press Conference

Sony's show was the only one of the five that I didn't see live. And by the time I watched it the next day, I'd already gotten pretty much all of the news through my news feeds. As such it's a bit harder for me to judge how well it was received. But overall I think that Sony also put up a really strong show.

To begin with, Sony focused on games. And of all the conferences it seemed, to me, to focus the most on new properties. It opened its show very strongly with a showing of Beyond: Two Souls, the next game from the makers of Heavy Rain. And it closed its show equally strong with The Last of Us, the new game from the makers of the Uncharted games. Throw in some PlayStation All Stars and Wonderbook: Book of Spells (which I thought was a particularly unique concept, but I know I'm biased on this) and there was a distinct sense of freshness to Sony's offering.

It had its usual suspects too as they too showed Assassin's Creed 3 (and a particularly interesting version on the Vita), Black Ops and Far Cry 3 and a particularly uninteresting showing of the next God of War game (looking like so much more of the same). And though Wonderbook was original, the presentation didn't go quite as smoothly as perhaps it should have. Afterwards there were also complaints that Sony didn't show much of anything for the Vita, Sony later saying that they purposely cut that out to keep the length of the show short.

But there were no long, boring speeches with the focus being all on games, games, games with a relatively high number of original properties. So that, I think, makes Sony's showing quite strong this year.

Nintendo Press Conference

Nintendo has the last major conference, held on Tuesday instead of Monday like the others. And while it started off good it quickly deteriorated into boredom. Which is surprising, and particularly damning, as Nintendo was the only one this year to have a new console on show, which they plan to launch this year, and which really needs to have a strong stable of games to succeed. That few of those games were shown paints a troubling picture for Nintendo. It also doesn't help that I personally don't care much for most of Nintendo's games, so few of the games grabbed my attention in any way.

It started with showing Pikmin 3. Though I have no interest in it myself, it at least looks like a good game. It just fails to really show what makes the WiiU, Nintendo's new console, any good; beyond the slightly improved graphics it could've been a Wii game. Even so not the worst of beginnings (in fact I felt that only Sony had a better start to their conference).

But then Nintendo fell to just talk and talk and talk about the new console, causing me to quickly tune out. In many ways this was even worse then the endless droning by Microsoft on SmartGlass. Show, don't tell. Show us what makes your new console brilliant instead of just telling us. And this, I think, is something that Nintendo failed to do throughout E3.

What saved Nintendo's conference from being worse than Microsoft's was that at least they had a reasonable amount of decent games. Despite their tendency to just put "U" after everything (worst offender by far, the awfully named "Wii Fit U"). Scribblenauts looked like fun, and despite its silly name Nintendoland has some small promise. For me the most fun looking game they showed was LEGO City: Undercover though; basically a LEGO GTA for kids.

They also showed a number of 'Core' games that have already been released on other platforms and are now getting a few extras on WiiU. Like Batman: Arkham City getting a version where the WiiU pad can be used to select the gadgets. But it feels a bit that after having basically put their middle finger up at 'Core' gamers before, they're now on their knees begging them back and have a lackluster slate of games to make their case.

On a side-note, Nintendo began by telling how great the WiiU is because you don't have to monopolize the TV screen anymore. You can play your game on the pad's display as people can still watch TV. But then they proceeded with showing a number of games which need both TV and pad to get the most out of, meaning you're now just monopolizing two displays instead of just one. With none of these games making a particularly strong case for using the pad display that made the message confused, not really making a strong case for the new hardware either way.

Either way, with Nintendo's press conference the series of conferences ended much as they had begun: poorly.

Press Conference Conclusion

It seem to be a sport to say who 'won' E3, looking mainly at the press conferences to decide. As such it could probably be said that Ubisoft 'won', with Sony a strong second. And Microsoft last, followed closely by Nintendo and EA.

Overall the conferences weren't that strong, as evident by people hanging on to the little bit of innovation and newness to determine the best showing. This is probably because, as rumored, both Sony and Microsoft were originally planning to reveal their next generation console this year. But one changed their mind and the other followed suit. This in turn meant that all of the next gen projects had to be kept under wraps for another year, meaning most of their slates ended up being a bit bare.

In fact, it's heavily rumored that some of the top games, particularly Watch Dogs (as well as Star Wars 1313, which was at E3 just not at any of the conferences), are actually next-gen titles. This is believable if you consider that there's no way that you'd be able to get the kind of graphics Watch Dogs showed on the current generation consoles (though PC definitely can). This might also explain why it was unveiled at Ubisoft's conference (running on PC) instead of at one of the console conferences (where it might have to run off of the console hardware). And it would explain a flurry of mysteriously absentee games (as they might all have moved to the next generation hardware).

This made all the conferences feel a little thin, but I think that Sony and Ubisoft showed that you can have a good show regardless. And the others really need to learn to show and not tell.


Despite a sense that the industry is a bit on hold waiting for the next console generation I felt that there were a fair number of interesting games shown this E3. Games that I now want to have a brief look at. I'm certainly not going to look at all games, even if ignoring the indy games there's far more than I have time to talk about, but I will highlight a number of the big, most interesting (in my opinion) ones. This list is in no particular order.


Dishonored, despite not being at any of the press conferences, was probably my pick for best game of show. The setting is relatively unique and interesting, but it's the gameplay that grabs me most. Though mission based, within the missions it takes an open-ended approach that puts Deus Ex to shame, allowing you to take the stealthy approach or the direct approach or something inbetween, using your various weapons and magical powers to get through the levels and past the guards to complete your objective. And with the willingness of the developers to let the players 'break' the missions (by finding uses of their powers that the developers might not have thought of and thus possibly making a mission trivial) this should lead to some truly emergent gameplay.

And to top it off the game should be out in a couple of months (this October).

The Elder Scrolls Online

There wasn't much to see of The Elder Scrolls Online at E3. Pretty much just some environment flyovers. The thing is though, every time I hear about The Elder Scroll Online I can't help but wonder why. It seems to me that the game doesn't have anything that made the single-player Elder Scroll games stand out. The Elder Scrolls Online could've been brilliant as a sandbox game, which is basically what The Elder Scrolls games are. But what they're going for instead just sounds... wrong. And at E3 they didn't show or say anything to change my mind. If anything it's the opposite.

Assassin's Creed III

The Assassin's Creed games have always seemed interesting to me, with the free movement and climbing and all that. Yet for some reason I've never actually played any of them. I think I didn't play the first game because I probably had too many other things to play, and I didn't play the second one because of Ubisoft's ridiculous always-online DRM. Even so the third one looks quite good with the free climbing out in the woods now. And the naval combat looks quite interesting as well. I'm not sure I'll ever play it, for pretty much the same reasons, but it looks like a good game.

Assassin's Creed III: Liberation

The Vita Assassin's Creed game seems just as interesting as any of the Assassin's Creed games. But one thing it has over the others is that I really like the main character. In fact, it has be strongly considering getting a Vita. I'd finally get to play one of the Assassin's Creed games. It's a bit regrettable that not a lot of gameplay was shown (except the one trailer) and that most of the focus was on Assassin's Creed III. And I find it really regrettable that the game is Vita exclusive and not coming to PC. But it just looks quite fun to me.

Tomb Raider

Since they announced the re-imagining of Lara Croft I've been very interested in this game. In fact I haven't been as excited about a Tomb Raider game since the first one. Though I strongly worry that it'll rely way too much on quick time events and that it's going to be way too linear, I love the more realistic approach that they're taking to both Lara and the gameplay. Here's hoping that they hold to that all the way through (despite some of the later game gameplay seeming to descend back into the "kill everyone" stupidity of every game).

But the re-imagining has also had a fair bit of critique. Namely people feel that it's akin to "torture porn" and there have been concerns about inclusion of (near) rape. This wasn't helped by some very ill-considered words by the game's executive producer, though Crystal Dynamics later came out and clarified that what's shown in the trailer is as far as the 'rape' goes.

I can understand the concerns. Much as she tends to be sexualized, Lara Croft is also one of the first strong female leads in a computer game. But I agree with Susan Arendt's article where she aserts that people are focusing on the wrong thing. The fact that Lara keeps getting up and keeps going is exactly what makes her a strong character, much more so than if she was as invulnerable as characters pretty much always are in games. The way in which she reacts to these events make her human and relatable, the fact that she keeps going makes her heroic.

As such I'm very much looking forward to stepping into Lara's shoes and making this journey with her. Now here's hoping that the developers don't mess it up.

Borderlands 2

Though I never finished it, I quite enjoyed the first Borderlands. The graphics style is unique, the gameplay is fun and fairly uncomplicated, and it has a definite sense of humor. Though it doesn't have any deep story or roleplaying or anything, it's some nice fun running around killing loads of enemies and getting tonnes of loot. Basically a first-person Diablo. And Borderlands 2 looks to be (much) more of the same. And that's a good thing. Generally I'm all for innovation and advancing the genre (and I'm sure that Borderlands 2 makes some definite improvements like making multiplayer easier), but this is one game where I'm just excited of getting more of the same. Sounds like the game is really big with a lot more variety than the first one; looking forward to it.

The Last of Us

The Last of Us is the next game by the developers of the hit Uncharted series and seems to be a more mature take on the action adventure genre. It features a man and a teenage girl (who apparently isn't his daughter) trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. One thing that I find interesting is how the character of Ellie (the young girl) can interact with the gameplay. Though I do wonder how that's going to work. The game also looks quite nice as well. Unfortunately, since I don't own a PS3, I'll never play it, which is a pity because it looks like a very nice game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

I have absolutely no interest in military shooters. And I'm sure that I'll never get the next in the ridiculously popular Call of Duty series either. Even so, I saw something as I was just watching GameSpot's live E3 stream (or well, the recording of their live stream anyway) that I found interesting. It seems that it has some mission type where, at any time, you can switch to a real-time strategy mode, ordering your troops around the battlefield. And then, at any time, you can jump into any of your troops (be it soldier of tank or hover drone) and play it for a while. That's an interesting way to play, so props to Call of Duty for that.

Beyond: Two Souls

Beyond: Two Souls is the new game by the developers of Heavy Rain. And it looks in many ways similar to their previous game. It's got beautifully rendered graphics, seems to tell an emotional story, and has gameplay which seems a slightly more advanced take on quick time events. Though it seems to have some other gameplay elements as well. To be fair, since I've played neither this game nor Heavy Rain I don't know how well the quick time events play out, from what I hear the game can be very immersive despite them, I just think that quick time events tend to be a poor developer's take on 'gameplay'. Either way though this game seems quite interesting (as did Heavy Rain), making it a pity that I'll never play it (for the same reason that I'll never play The Last of Us).

Far Cry 3


I'm not sure what it is, but despite not really liking first-person shooters the Far Cry series always intrigued me. Maybe it's just the setting of the games as I love the tropical island vibe. Remove all the enemies and give me a nice little cabana on the beach and I'll be all set. Or maybe it's the open-world approach to gameplay. But at this E3 it showed me two other things as well: a willingness to include sexuality and a penchant towards insanity. Will I get the game once it's released? Eh, the jury's still out and I suspect not. But of all the myriad shooters I've seen this E3 this one seemed to me the most interesting one (which really isn't saying much).

Star Wars 1313

Star Wars 1313 is one of those games that people are strongly suspecting is actually a game for the next generation of consoles. It's supposed to be a more 'gritty' Star Wars game in which you play a young bounty hunter and which supposedly doesn't include Jedi. With them unwilling to reveal who the main character is my money is on a young Boba Fett (timeline works too). But while the game looks really nice (I particularly love the rendering of the blaster shots oddly enough) I'm not that interested in the game. For me what sets Star Wars apart, what makes it unique, is the Jedi. Everything else you can find in other sci-fi settings too. And even besides that I've never been interested in a bounty hunter (it's pretty much at the bottom of my class list for TOR as well). Add to that that the gameplay looks like so much same-old-same-old and I tihnk I'll pass on this unless they manage to wow me later when they reveal more actual details about the game.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Ever since XCOM: Enemy Unknown (not to be mistaken with the XCOM FPS) was announced at the start of this year I've been much anticipating it. As such during E3 I didn't see much of it; I didn't really need to. I know that Firaxis can make turn-based strategy games (them being developers of the Civilization games) even if this is a very different style of game. And what I've seen so far looks quite good. For the rest I'm content to wait for the game to release. The only frustrating thing was finding out that my top-two games of E3 2012 (this second place after Dishonored, and only second place because I didn't see much I hadn't already seen before E3) are said to release on the exact same day this year.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells

A lot of people don't seem to get Wonderbook. That's probably understandable as E3 is a bit of a 'Core' event where Wonderbook most definitely is not. But I think that it can't be denied that it's one of the most inventive things shown. Add a pinch of Harry Potter and I think it's a very interesting thing. Of course I'm somewhat biased as I work for the studio developing this (and in fact will likely work on Wonderbook myself, if not Book of Spells). Hopefully you can see the potential in this and how fun it can be (for a younger audience).


I'm of two minds about the SimCity reboot. On the one hand I quite like the game and gameplay. I love the level of detail. But I really don't like the always-online requirement. And so far I've absolutely refused to buy any single-player games that require an always online connection. What they've said to justify it in fact only makes it sound worse, with other players able to affect your city while you're offline. I don't want that at all, in fact I never much liked the disasters to begin with. I just want to build my ideal city and have fun with it. We'll see about this game, but right now I'm of a mind to avoid this game.

Quantum Conundrum

Kim Swift, the creative director for this game, is best known for Portal. And her new game, independent of Valve, has definite shades of Portal to it. And yet has a quite unique take, allowing players to switch between 'dimensions', meaning that the laws of physics work differently. Such as the 'fluffy' dimension making everything really light. The point is to use this to solve the puzzles. And it looks a lot of fun; I quite like puzzle games (at least as long as they're not too timing-based). I'm not all too enamored of the more cartoony, almost childish look and story. But it looks like a fun game regardless. I mean who doesn't like safe surfing?

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan looks like a really interesting game. One of those indy experiments turned into a game. I really like the idea of the player exploring a world by making it appear. The main question I had was whether that mechanic would be enough to fill a game and this E3 the developers provided the answer: no. Hence why they're varying it up a bit and have different mechanics that also seem quite fun. I was also worried whether the black paint could actually also obfuscate the level again, and the answer is yes, but purposely so. Either way it's a very interesting game. Too bad that it's a PS3 exclusive (when I first heard of it I was hoping for a PC release).

The Cave

To be honest I haven't really seen anything of The Save from this year's E3; I knew that it was there and thus when adding it to this list I went searching for a video for it. But I already knew what it was before E3, a platform puzzle game by Ron Gilbert (creator of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island and such). And I'm fairly certain that I'll get it (assuming that the reviews are relatively positive about it too). As I understand it's quite funny and a nice little game and felt it deserved shining a light on it a bit.

Agni's Philosophy - Final Fantasy Realtime Tech Demo

Alright, so not really a game, but a very, very impressive tech demo (and yes, it's real-time as you can see in this video. Whether that setting actually shows the setting for the next Final Fantasy game or not is unknown, but the tech is said to be used for their next game (though I wonder if Versus falls something in between there or not). Though undoubtedly a next gen game as well (and somehow I doubt that it'll come to PC, but who knows).

Unreal Engine 4 Elemental Tech Demo

And another entry that's not a game, but a really impressive tech demo. This one of the new (next gen) Unreal Engine. The earlier Unreal Engines are being used by a lot of games, so the mind boggles at what games will look like when using this new engine as well. But as impressive as the demo is, it doesn't impress me nearly as much as this developer walkthrough of it:

Perhaps a lot of that might not mean a lot to people, but the things he talks about there, the things he demonstrates, are really, really impressive. And then at 4:46? Mind. Blown. That is going to make development so much easier and faster (which it will have to as next gen is going to bump up the length of development once again so developers will need something to offset it). Really, really impressive.

Games Conculsion

As you can see above, there were a lot of nice games shown (more or less depending on your tastes). Though this year's E3 has been critiqued for being overly violent, and rightly so as we really need something other than hyper-violent games, that doesn't take away that there are some fun games in store for us in the near future.

I feel this is true even with being a PC gamer. E3 tends to be a console heavy show, but there were still a fair number of games that are coming to PC (usually "coming to PC as well") that I'm looking forward to. Games that were nice to get a glimpse of during E3.

I think that the general consensus regarding this year's E3 was that while it wasn't the worst E3 ever, people were still left somewhat disappointed. That's probably because, as rumored, this is the year before a new generation of consoles launches and thus the really new, exciting stuff was held back for next year. But PC games don't really do the generational thing (though they're kind of forced to march to the beat of the console drum in that regard) and as such I wasn't really that disappointed in this year's E3.

Games like Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Tomb Raider and more show that there are some rally fun games ahead. And games like Watch Dogs and tech demos like the Unreal Engine 4 one give a glimpse of what the more distant future may hold. And that's really all that I can ask of any E3.

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