I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.
I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.
When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.
I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.
Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!
It's been a bummer lately hasn't it? The Wii U was a bit of a disappointment, the internet has been on fire over the Xbox One's inscrutable DRM schemes, and it seems like there's been a different controversy, closure, or blow-up every week to get upset about. Where did all the fun go?
But just on the next horizon is E3 2013, the proverbial city on the hill. The big damn trade show where secrets are revealed, hype is generated by the second, and maybe, just maybe, where we can recapture a bit of our gamer zeal. This is the first E3 where the next generation of consoles will make a real appearance, and no matter how you feel about all the noise surrounding their respective launches, that has to touch some corner of your crusty gamer heart.
I want to be excited this E3, I want to LOVE videogames this year. But the big three need to come correct. Xbox, Sony, and Nintendo have all dropped the ball to varying extents this year, but they can still bring it around.
I have a wish-list for every console this year at E3. A handful of hopes and desires that, if delivered on, would make me a happy camper for the rest of the year.
Xbox One -
Make me want the Kinect -
I've never hated the idea of the Kinect, I just never liked what it offered. While the notion of jumping up and down and swooshing my hands side to side to play a game never held any water for me, I've always believed there had to be SOMETHING a smart developer could do with a powerful motion control device, something that could improve our gaming experience.
Sadly, that device was not the Kinect for the 360.
A gutted feature list, no on-board processor, a compromised camera lens, technical limitations, and spotty at best developer support, the Kinect never came close to delivering on any of its potential promise. The fact that it refused to work in many a gamers modest living rooms (and God help you if your gaming setup is in a bedroom or den) made it a lame horse out of the gate. Add on to that the woeful accuracy issues the Kinect had at interpreting your movements, and it was a device that brought us some of the most cringe inducing moments of the last generation. Steel Battalion was effectively an epitaph for any chance the Kinect had at being relevant to the "core" gamer market.
But there were some glimmers of hope. If you were fortunate enough to play something like Dance Central in a well-lit, wide open room, if you had a group of people up for making complete asses of themselves trying to replicate the electric slide, it was actually pretty damn fun. Behind all the technical problems and shitty support, you could see this cool unproven concept crying out for a real application.
The Kinect 2 is Microsoft's chance to finally deliver on all that potential. They say they have the technical limitations figured out, that it's going to be playable in rooms that don't look like 70's sci-fi TV show sets. The camera is supposed to be some kind of crazy-go-nuts wide angle lens that can see the entire room, that's smart enough to know who's who and holding what controller. They did the smart thing if they really want to make this device take off and they packed it in with every system. Now developers don't have to play the numbers game and analyze how valuable Kinect support actually is. It's time to make good, to get some brainy devs to whip up some great uses for it in a title that doesn't involve doing squat thrusts over your coffee table.
Use the voice commands in game, find a way to make them more useful and satisfying to use than pressing a button on the controller. Use all that vaguely creepy biometric stuff to fine-tune my gaming experience. Tap into my body temperature, posture, and pulse and use it to make something like L4D 3 deeply responsive and adaptive to my mood and panic level. Use it in a next-gen Silent Hill game, adjust the music in a racing game to ramp up along with my pulse. Do SOMETHING with it to make it worth having this weird necessary device attached to my console at all times. Make me a believer.
Oculus Rift support -
I know virtual reality, as a concept, has a horrible track record. I know the legions of tech start-ups that have gone under promising a "new, better than real" experience. I know VR has always been a terrible money-pit that's never panned out.
But I'm also a huge nerd.
I grew up on cyberpunk books like Neuromancer and Snow Crash. I remember playing Dactyl Nightmare in a short lived VR arcade room in the basement of the CN Tower and thinking "this is the future." Even recently reading Ready Player One and the strange virtual reality world of OASIS, I can't shake the root level programing in my mind that says VR could be the coolest shit ever. If only they could do it right!
Well, Oculus Rift might finally be the ticket. It might not be the holodeck, but the idea of a commercially available high-resolution 3D headtracking unit with near perfect response time sets a flutter in my heart that I just can't squelch; Despite the years of callous cynicism build up from all those failed VR attempts. Call me a fanboy, but I believe in the Oculus Rift. I think it could be something really special for gamers.
And if Microsoft is smart, it could be something really special for them as well.
In my mind, Oculus Rift support could be the feather in the Xbox One's cap that Sony and Nintendo just can't match. The Wii U could never support the device given it's total reliance on its second screen gimmick - they can't have you wearing goggles that render the entire selling point of their console moot. Sony has done a lot of things right so far going into the new console generation. They have an easier to work with architecture and a better footing with western developers this go around, but I don't see them reaching out to a (so-far) small Western peripheral still in production. But Microsoft? I could see them going for it.
Imagine a world where Microsoft is able to say they are the only console that can provide a 3D VR experience?
And as for my previous pondering about the Kinect, imagine what could be done using the Rift and the Kinect 2 at the same time. Our living rooms could get downright sci-fi in the next few years if Microsoft put their support behind the Rift.
Win us back –
While I'm not quite as upset as some people are at Microsoft (probably because I fully suspect Sony will quietly announce very similar policies and DRM schemes in the near future) it's no secret that the Xbox One is feeling some heavy backlash. Botched PR representations, a perceived culture of arrogance, snubbing indies, a console reveal more interested in getting the attention of Joe Football than servicing gamers, Microsoft couldn't have set themselves up as the bad guys any harder if they tried.
Now it's time to win us back.
Show us all the crazy exclusives that will make it worth investing in this DRM-ridden console. Tell us Xbox Live is gonna be free or a hell of a lot cheaper in the future. Reveal that you've had Twitch TV in the bag the entire time, a direct answer to Sony's Share button feature ready to go. Microsoft needs to go on full damage control mode, it needs to remind us why they were the number 1 console of the last generation.
I was as disappointed as anyone with the Xbox One's initial reveal, but since then I've tried to stay calm, to wait and see what Microsoft has planned. That reveal wasn't for us, I get that. As bewildering and alienating as it seemed that day, I understand the marketing and business reasons why that conference went down the way it did.
But E3 IS for us. This is the stage that will make or break the Xbox One. It's time for Microsoft to pull out all the stops and sell this motherfucking system. I'm expecting some killer announcements, or the Xbox One is going to be in real hot water.
Crouching Keynote, Hidden Champion -
When I heard Nintendo was opting out of a traditional keynote address, significantly curtailing their E3 presence, and instead doing a pre-recorded Nintendo direct, I was appalled. What a loss of face! Practically a surrender, waving a white flag after a shaky console launch and starring down the barrels of two powerful competitors about to take their shot.
But maybe it was a stroke of genius.
Think about it, when hasn't E3 been a total botch for Nintendo? From the memorable meltdowns like the Wii Music drum apocalypse and the condescending antics of Non-Specific Action Figure guy, to the generally awkward line-up of Japanese developers with poor English trying their best to address a crowd (in their defence, Cliffy B would probably be just as bad trying to present in Japanese). Nintendo has a history of looking a bit amateurish compared to the flashy presentations by Microsoft and Sony. A pre-taped message, edited, chopped, vetted, and well-produced with the kind of quirky magic Nintendo can still tap into might just be the way to go.
And make no mistake, Nintendo could be the surprise winners of this year's E3. They are in the perfect situation, all they have do to is go out there and say "we're not Xbox." After the past 7 years of being written off as the "kiddie system," Nintendo could suddenly flip the script and position themselves as "the gamer's console." No online DRM. No complicated account splitting. No crazy emphasis on TV, Twitter, or any other bullshit. Nintendo does what the other guys don't - games. "Wii would like to play" indeed.
Show off some of those super polished 1st party games Nintendo is so well known for. They've had an extra year to get out of the launch title doldrums. While Xbox and Sony are struggling with their weird first year of split-generation titles and the inevitable shaky launch games, Nintendo could come out from behind with a Zelda game that takes us to baller-town. Super Mario Galaxy U, a new Metroid, they could show off a legitimate console Pokemon title for the Wii U that drives everybody wild.
I want to be a Nintendo fan again. I skipped the Gamecube, I didn't bother with a Wii until this last Christmas, and I've looked at the Wii U like some sad also-ran since it's launch. But I don't want to live in a two-party console world. I don't want to just have a choice between one high-priced DRM machine and another. I am completely ready to be sold on Nintendo again, all they have to do is bring the goods.
Take more risks with your 1st party games -
You know Nintendo, I'd love a really well made Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii U, but I'd also probably love a Super Wario Galaxy. I'd love another Mario game that brought us back to the insane dream logic of Sub-Con and SMB2. I'd like to see a Zelda game that played less like the wonderfully crafted guided tour of Ocarina and more like the Dark Soul-esq danger and mystery of Zelda 2. In short, I'd like to see Nintendo take some more risks with their darlings.
We all love a solid dependable 1st party Nintendo game, but even as an outsider looking in I can't help but feel like the last few years have been a little flat. New Super Mario Bros was great the first time, seeing it repackaged two or three more times doesn't thrill me.
Nintendo is at its best when its innovating and reinventing itself. Every time they take a gamble, it's almost always rewarded. So why not take more? Nintendo is in a better position that ever to take some crazy chances and see how big of a slice of the core gamer market they could win back; I'd bet they could get a lot of us back in club N.
Stay the course and don't blow it -
In a lot of ways, Sony has already done what I wanted to see them do with the PS4. They got rid of the cell and any other goofy super-specific tech that made their system hard to develop on. They essentially apologized for the mistakes of the PS3 era and have entered this generation with more humility and tact and they've already been a lot more chummy with the West. Sony stalwart exclusives like Metal Gear have already made great first impressions. They even reached out to indies in a surprisingly inclusive way.
I wouldn't have believed it a year ago, but Sony is entering this E3 on perhaps the best footing of the big three.
Sadly, its only a matter of time before Sony has to admit to it's own scandalous anti-consumer DRM systems, so the honeymoon period it's enjoyed since the Xbox One reveal is almost at an end. I know this is a wish list for E3, but I won't waste my time hoping upon a star that somehow Sony becomes the white knight of the generation. That they offer up a console with no online checks, passes, or any other rubbish and miraculously become the ecosystem where used and loaned games can live free.
Instead, I'd like to see Sony keep doing things right. Expand on PS+, find a way to make it valuable going into the next generation. Keep up the support for Vita, a system that's performed something of a resurrection since it's shaky launch, and maybe offer up a little red meat for the Sony core audience.
Square and Sony renew their marriage vows -
It's time to rekindle the flames of a once beautiful exclusive relationship. I don't care much about Final Fantasy these days, or exclusive deals for that matter, but I know it was a real blow (for whatever reason) to the PS faithful with FFXIII made it's way to the heathen Xbox.
Given Square's recent financial woes, this might be a good time for Sony to drive a dump-truck full of money to their doorstep and secure a few exclusive Square games for the PS4. I don't think we'll ever see another fully exclusive proper Final Fantasy title (it's too expensive to make a game like that and only sell it to half the potential audience out there), but that doesn't mean they couldn't get other exclusive games from that venerable franchise.
How about a new big budget Final Fantasy Tactics? A modern update on the original super cult-hit, going back to the sad water-coloured world of Invalice. Not some small portable title, but a full on console game that makes use of everything the PS4 offers. Think of the gorgeous art style of those games done in full 3D with something like the new Guilty Gear's look. Like an anime come to life.
Given the recent success of XCOM and Fire Emblem: Awaking, I don't think you could ask for a better time to bring back FFT in a big way. Use the PS4's power to make it better than ever. Tap into that lauded network to make the game more than a single player affair. I'm thinking of ideas like the ability to call in a Mercenary General, a member of your friend list or out of match-making who could enter your game with a handful of units and help turn the tide of a pitched battle. The catch? You share the spoils with the guest player and it takes three turns for him to arrive. Use the streaming system for a type of War Council option where a player makes two or three possible moves and has the audience vote for which one occurs.
I'm just kicking out ideas and don't want to get too bogged down in my fantasy game, but the main idea is the same. Get Square back to do something big and exclusive for the PS4. It doesn't have to be a full on Final Fantasy title, but make it something exciting for the faithful and something that shows off what the PS4 can do.
I know in my heart of hearts that we won't see many, or maybe any, of the ideas I've dreamt up here over the next few days. And that's OK. This isn't a list of demands, a ransom for my console love of the next generation.
Beyond anything else, I just want to be surprised this E3. I want Xbox, Sony, and Nintendo wearing their Sunday bests and pulling out all the stops. I want us to be excited for this new generation of games. And despite all the cynicism and outrage of the last year, I think we can be.