E3 is, when all the booth babes, big screens, and sword and shield wielding Miyamatos are taken out of the equation, is essentially a platform for game developers to announce new stuff. So why must they feel the need to be so… theatrical?
For every new game announced, and for every new peripheral pushed upon us, there is always one moment where a marketing official, a dev, or a guest star manages to make themselves look like... well, an idiot. There’s at least one of the moments every year, and there’s undoubtedly always at least one remix on YouTube later that day. It’d be impossible to list them all, as we reach a strange plateau where companies almost seem determined to out-zany each other. No company is exempt from the histrionic and the plain weird. I’ll give three examples from “The Big Three” that show that often, gameplay showcases and announcements can take a back seat to goodness knows what fuelled madness.
Firstly, you have Nintendo’s infamous 2008 E3 press conference, where out of a bevy of Cammie Dunnaway fuelled tragic hilarity, one moment rings the most profoundly crazy in my head.
Now no matter how well the Wii emulated a drum-kit, that man looks silly. Had it been 1:1 with a drum-kit, it would’ve looked silly. Had it been an actual drum-kit, I dare say Mr. Ravi would still look fairly damn silly.
Sony have a cavalcade of E3 goofy moments from a few years back; the “Giant Enemy Crab” and “Ridge Racer” moment have come to levels of meme-dom and become overused so much that we’re annoyed as much at their overuse as their initial “performance” in the first place. Microsoft’s newfound crazy streak seems to have peaked with the advent of the Kinect. Right from the out-set of their Cirque Du Soleil event in 2010, they’ve left themselves open to a bevy of parodies and remixes. And of course, it made us all wonder, have we ever wondered what the bottom of an avatar's foot looks like?
Now there is a tendency to take these moments out of context. In the fast paced style of YouTube editing, perhaps these moments can seem more ridiculous then they actually are. Perhaps that game developer who has no history in public speaking didn’t just say something totally out of the ordinary, and infinitely quotable. But if you watch the entire conferences again, and in the case of Nintendo 2008, this can at times be utterly painful; it’s not. Sometimes it’s just the way that someone is put in a bad position, has to work with malfunctioning hardware, and has to make the best of it. But you have to feel like, with Kudo wearing sunglasses indoors, he thoroughly deserves any ridicule directed at him.
Desperately trying to drum up excitement for Ridge Racer with yells of faux enthusiasm however, or frantically trying to play faux drums on what frighteningly is considered by Miyamato as some of his best work? There seesm little excuse for that, and when it happens, live, and we as gamers are watching in anticipation for the new Playstation, or that new 2D Metroid we’ve been waiting goodness knows how long for, we tend to find it humorous, or get just plain frustrated.
It can be taken all in good fun of course. Reggie Fils-Aime’s, at times, startlingly awkward turns of phrases have been turned by the Nintendo fanbase into catchphrases, “my body is ready”, “I’m all about kicking ass and taking names,” and this in turn has helped him cement a fanbase that means he is better received and better remembered than a faceless EA executive, even though their jobs are basically the same.
But of course there is the adverse of this, the abundance of twee, preposterous phrases becoming coarse and irritating. You probably have guessed of whom I speak; I didn’t actually watch the Ubisoft conference live last year, but I was sure to catch it afterwards when the internet erupted with criticism. If you haven’t had a chance, check out the video below, and shake your head in unison with the rest of us.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecffZBdhAUU “Shit that only happens in videogamessss, right?” Compared to Reggie’s similar efforts to try and appear “hip”, Mr. Caffeine (born Aaron Priceman), comes off as way more coarse, and umpteen times more irritating. Why is this? Is it is pronunciation of “Clancy” as “Cuh-lanc-ee”? Is it his constant pondering as to what a certain game would have looked like twenty years ago, followed by an annoying self-produced sound effect?
There is a very easy response to those who are annoyed at acts of theatricality like this; surely we’re taking ourselves too seriously. We are grooming the “hardcore, serious” gamer image that we criticise Reggie and Mr. Caffeine so much for trying desperately to appeal to. And, if E3 were just a series of PowerPoint presentations with the new games out for the fiscal year on them, it would be very boring, and could easily be a virtual event. It’s a fun way of looking back at various E3s; seeing which company made the biggest ass of themselves through sales pitches, weird cinematic events, and the things you have to feel they deliberately say to gain infamy.
So in summary, I feel like there has to be a balance struck. I don’t mind the weirdness of certain E3 conferences; if Reggie doesn’t say at least one thing that makes everyone physically uncomfortable, I don’t consider it a successful E3 for Nintendo. But should the majority of your show consist of, oh I don’t know, an awkward child actor pretending to be licked by a virtual tiger, an overuse of the word “hardcore”, or motion controlled drumming followed by awkward silences, I might go ahead and join the cynics.
QUICK LIST OF PREDICTIONS FOR E3 2012’s “Mr. Caffeine” Moments
- Microsoft will welcome upon the stage at least one celebrity who has never touched an Xbox 360 controller in their life. I’m thinking Justin Bieber, considering his cameo at last year’s Microsoft conference. More like “Xbox 360 KILL”, amirite..?
- Ubisoft may wheel out Priceman in a Hannibal Lecter style cart, complete with mouthguard.
- Satoru Iwata will once again refuse the desperate need for a translator. Nintendo E3 conference artificially extended by about 20 minutes.
Nintendo’s eShop didn’t exactly get an excellent start. The service itself was three months following the 3DS’s release, and the flow of content was undeniably stalled for the first half a year. It was only when some more promising Virtual Console games and second party developed new IPs like Pushmo began to roll in that the shop began to gain more traction. Now, with games like Mighty Switch Force, VVVVVV, and Mutant Mudds, Nintendo’s made it very clear that they are making every effort to steer the eShop as far away from the mess that was DSiWare as possible.
To that end, Nintendo’s latest downloadable effort, announced at last October’s Nintendo Direct conference, comes to the eShop today. The game is a tower defence game, a genre that itself has seen numerous entries in the past few years, particularly with games like Orcs Must Die.
If nothing else, Dillon’s Rolling Western is a good argument against the oft-used criticism of Nintendo sticking to their guns with old IP’s. The game stars all new characters, including the titular Dillon, an Armadillo ranger who happens upon a group of Western towns that have been beset upon by evil Grocks, giant rocks that are eating the town’s livestock. It’s your job to defend the town, using Dillon’s roll, guntowers, and stone gates to protect the town from the attacking monsters.
The livestock is also what you are primarily protecting in the game. Held inside the village, there are only a certain amount of livestock. You can get more through collection of special plants, earned funnily enough by rolling around, but once this livestock is depleted, it’s game over. This also occurs if Dillon’s hearts run out.
The game takes place over a three day structure for each village. In the day, you spend your time rolling around the landscape, collecting plants to increase your livestock amount, finding randomly placed mines to collect ore and diamonds to increase your defences and sell for money, and building up the various towers and walls you have to protect the village. You also complete side quests for villagers, in return for money. It usually amounts to fetch quests or “defeat x amount of enemies”, but it’s a nice addition outside of the normal gameplay.
You have a brief warning before the Grocks come, but when it turns to night it’s battle time. The Grocks come, and they come fast. It’s a pretty steep difficulty curve, and if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself easily outmatched.
You do this mainly via the touchscreen, the circle pad, and the L button. As far as I can tell, the game doesn’t use any other buttons. This simplifies the control scheme, but sometimes you get “the claw” reminiscent of games such as Metroid Prime Hunters. This may be one of the games that the Kid Icarus stand might come in handy for. The primary means of transportation, attacking, and the games namesake, is Dillon’s “roll” move. This is quite simply done by pulling down the touch screen and releasing, making Dillon zoom across the desert landscape. It’s really quite a satisfying way of getting round, and the touch screen controls are fairly intuitive, in combat and outside of it.
The combat is interesting; Dillon attacks bigger enemies, which begins a very RPG style random battle, taking you to smaller battle field where you fight either smaller versions of the enemy, or the boss monster. It’s worth keeping in mind that the enemy movement outside your battle continues, so it’s a good idea to get the battle over and done with as quick as possible. At first it can feel very repetitive, with Dillon simply rolling and rushing at enemies. But then, as you learn more moves like Dillon’s claw attack, the combat becomes very rhythmic, with the player having to tap at the right time to initiate combos. This in turn allows combat to be over quicker (allowing you to get back to the other enemies laying siege to the village), and also lets you get better items.
This alone isn’t enough to defeat the Grocks, who easily outnumber Dillon. You have to increase the town’s defences. You do this by spending currency and items on upgrading village walls and defensive and offensive towers. There are two types of towers; watchtowers and guntowers. Both provide a form of defence, but the guntowers are the main offensive force outside of your own rolling rush. This, along with all other “upgrades”, including ones for Dillon himself, gives you a lot of chance to customise your own strategy.
It’s not your standard tower defence game, as you’ll have to explore and seek towers/mines out to upgrade your defences. There are also hidden caves that hold very Zelda style treasure chests, which hold rare items you can sell for lots of cash. The whole game, with hearts and treasure chests, has a very “Zelda” vibe, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some members of the Spirit Tracks/Phantom Hourglass team were drafted in to help with the game.
Something I find most endearing though is the art style. The game strikes a very cute midway between western grit you’d see in the likes of Red Dead Redemption, and anamorphic characters akin to Star Fox 64. Character models are sharp and crisp, using what seems to be a touch of cel-shading. The use of 3D is one of the best I’ve seen on the 3DS so far. It’s a visual treat to roll around the desert at high speed, and the colours are lush. There isn’t exactly any story or character development, but the art work is very appealing, and the random characters you do side quests for have plenty of charisma. Dillon himself is just... damn cool! It's like John Marston and Sonic the Hedgehog had a badass, rock smashing child. I'm fully rooting for him in the next Smash bros.
According to Nintendo of America’s Director of Marketing, Bill Trinen, the game has a length of roughly 20 hours. This is pretty long for a downloadable title, and should go towards justifying the hefty price tag in comparison to other cheaper titles on the eShop. Though saying that, I’m a big believe that not every game should be $1 to be successful. Not naming names. For Rolling Western, I would definitely recommend it as a downloadable game, as the day/night structure fits portable play perfectly.
Anybody with a mountain of games unfinished, or on the contrary a stack of games you have completed like a bro, I recommend making your own "Backloggery". Good way to track your progress, and remember games past forgotten.
My personal URL is http://www.backloggery.com/fanbuoy
(Yes I know the discrepancy in usernames is confusing.)