"We constantly have to revisit 'Why would Donkey Kong do this?' or 'Why would this environment be like this?' And then we start thinking: 'We're making a game about a gorilla wearing a tie.'"
-Michael Kelbaugh of Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country Returns
"I have to say it's kinda scary how much you know about this game."
-Nicolau Chaud creator of Marvel Brothel
So Microsoft had their big E3 presentation earlier today and it was certainly big. However, it was vaguely familiar. We had top industry figures coming out and making excellent claims while showcasing what will be the biggest games of the year.
Yet, this show mirrored last year's presentation nearly to the letter.
It was larger, and arguably better, than the show last year. Microsoft did nothing to deviate from the formula. For that, comparisons are easy. At the end of the day however, they did do a much better job in 2011. Let's look at everything that happened in this show and the one that preceded it.
Last year, Microsoft opened E3 in probably the worst possible way. By making the games journalistas stand in rain slicks for two hours while filming a commercial. Thankfully, nothing like this was redone this year. I don't think anybody would have stuck around.
When it came to the big show however, Microsoft opened with a bang. Literally because it was a live demo of Call of Duty Black Ops. I criticized the move, because rough guerrilla warfare is not a great way to start a huge pitch that would end as a family friendly event.
This year was something different. I've yet to play any of the Call of Duty games and I was completely unimpressed with the tunnel and helicopter demo from 2010. I was pretty amazed at the entire sequence of Modern Warfare 3. Not only is the concept similar to the over the top sequences in Hollywood, the execution was spot on. This must be the Infinity Ward effect to the series. It looked clean.
They then followed this with the Lara Croft demo which must have been a way to counter Sony's Uncharted 3. Lara is definitely grittier. The studio decided to take Lara Croft in to a completely new direction with a focus on survival action. It is a drastic departure from Lara's strong almost Catwoman-esque intimidation factor, but it could come off very well for her. Much like how Kojima Productions focused on a violent Raiden, Crystal Dynamics is taking Lara to a much more vulnerable place. It's a unique departure that could lend her to be more approachable to broader audiences.
Last year Peter Molyneux showed up and did a lack luster promotion of Fable III following the beginning demos. This year it was Peter Moore. The difference is that Peter Moore presented himself the same way he always has. He delivered a short little snippet that brought some interesting information to the select few that were interested. Much like Molyneux did, yet I actually remember Moore being on stage. He just has that swagger that makes me wish he was still presenting the big games to us.
Cliff "Cliffy B" Blezxcwaesisnki then showed up on stage and gave us the exact same presentation he did last year. It was infinitely better just because Ice T was there looking like a stone faced badass. It was the same show though. To be fair, his game should have been out by now, so he probably shouldn't have even been there. I was hoping we would get some bigger information other than small mechs out of the game. In this instance, Microsoft really did nothing to make for a better showing.
The one event everybody forgot about last year. The media content unveiling. E3 2010 gave us ESPN 3 (or whatever number it turned out to be) and unveiled a video conferencing system to go with the new 360 dashboard. It was extremely underwhelming.
Today, they showed us a better looking dashboard, the ability to stream and record television content, Youtube support and Bing support for content on the Xbox 360. To say that Microsoft one upped their sloppy presentation of last year is an understatement.
The ESPN thing was one upped by a fully realized UFC experience. Video chat is easily trumped by the ability to watch tv and internet videos through the Xbox. It might not be too big a deal for all of us, but it means Xbox's will be on longer. This is a strong power move by Microsoft and if it works, it could definitely boost their favor. If my 360 is always on, I'll buy more accessories for it. I'll play my PS3 less. If they work the system to favor this, it could push the 360 content-wise way above the other consoles. Hopefully, it won't just turn in to the Facebook and Twitter apps.
Bing's support is functionally useless to you or I, but if this means that my 360 will siphon through my content faster, I welcome it. It cuts in to the hassle of cable providers and rental stores. It makes my Xbox more efficient. That is always nice.
However, this is the one controversial part of the show. No real unveiling of how this is supposed to work through the system. We also don't have any idea where the ads will be placed. That new dashboard was sleek and sexy. That's not how it will come to be. I also don't get how to work it with a controller. The current dashboard was created to perfectly utilize up and down movements. This works off left to right exclusively. It might mean navigating the dashboard might be multiple button presses more which is simply annoying.
Now that the little games are taken care of, it's on two our Father's Day present. Well, at least Microsoft is hoping its our Father's Day present. Kinect was the big event of last years E3. It was presented in lackluster fashion and was only highlighted by one quality title. Dance Central.
We now have Dance Central 2. It looks a lot like Dance Central, just with slightly better features. Somehow it seems like it's following the same issues that plagued the rhythm genre, but we'll see how it does upon release. It's still backwards compatible, so at least that's nice.
So if Dance Central was the Kinect idea last year, the new Tom Clancy Ghost Recon title was the idea this year. Not in what it did, but why I'd have a Kinect. It might not change the gameplay of the game I enjoy, but it would add a small element that would make my game better than every other game. This was then piled on by Mass Effect 3 and the other titles that paired with Kinect support.
The idea that I can hand customize a weapon just through voice or menu support is what we all wanted to see from Kinect. To command a group of troops to move positions or use abilities. When Liara pulled off a biotic attack through voice command, that changed Mass Effect for me. No stopping to bring up menu's, everything works in real time. I personally love the stop and command mechanic, but I'm thinking of my 2nd playthrough as super douche Shephard. He wouldn't stop and wait to command. He'd do everything real time.
It changes the system and that's what people need to see from Kinect.
From there we had more of the same. Kinect Sports, meet Kinect Sports Season 2. Now with more greatly exaggerated football scenarios. Sigh.
This was pretty awful wasn't it?
That kind of silly presentation was ok, because we didn't have another Skittles incident. Instead Tim Schafer stood on stage, poked a bit of fun at the fake father and son on stage and presented something I would plop $200 down to play with my child. I know it's a bit ridiculous, but Sesame Street is the ultimate Father's Day present.
Much better than some weird Tiger.
Crap, Molyneux was there wasn't he? That's two years in a row that I've had these things typed out and I completely forgot to mention him. So he brought a new Fable that is less Fable and more Dragon Quest Swords. I'm actually not offended by this. The idea is simple, but the one issue I had with Swords was that it didn't look like it would replicate the sword and shield mechanics the way I would want them to.
Not so for this new Fable. The idea is that while it's still on rails, the focus is in the spell casting. Your movements aren't to hit or attack, they are supposed to conjure and create. That is a mechanic that could really prove to be intriguing. Hopefully the game stacks up, since Fable games do have that issue.
Ryse finally showed up and it looks like it has great body movement integration, from a trailer.
Forza 4 however, looks like car porn. Which is exactly what car porn looked like last year. Except they let you touch the car. Only a trailer feels a bit like a step back.
Also, Star Wars Kinect. Two years and two very mediocre showings. Last year showcased a completely uninteresting video and this year one upped it by making it moderately interesting. The sabre attacks need to be refined with more movement. It just looked bad. However the Jedi did look to have the face of the man on stage and the ideas of the battles showed promise. This might not turn out very well, but it could be refined from here and made into a really unique and fun Star Wars title.
Time will see on that one.
The thing that got my fanboy heart pumping was Kinect Fun Labs and New Adventures in Magic Kingdom. Kinect Fun Labs has a lot of potential to make the Kinect experience mirror what hackers have been doing with it on the PC. Making a better Kinect experience is definitely needed.
Super Adventures in Magic Kingdom looks a bit funny and has a noticable lack of characters dressed like Crocodile Dundee, but it could replicate that same experience I had playing Adventures so man years ago. Sure the games might not be greatly innovative and a bit repetitive, but that's what I experienced all those years ago. Why shouldn't my child do the same. It looks a lot better than Kinect Adventures at least.
Finally, Halo was brought up on stage and the reveals lacked any of the punch that Bungie showed us with Reach last year. The trailer for Halo 4 wasn't nearly as cool as Halo 3's infamous bubble shield trailer and Halo Combat Evolved HD just didn't look substantially better than regular Halo. Sure, there are more distracting lighting effects and grass that sways in the wind, but is it necessarily better looking? I'd say no.
Microsoft can't be touched this year in the content offerings. Sony's going to have a lot to fix to even be within breathing distance of Microsoft's media and dashboard offerings. They have to prove their store can function first. However, Microsoft's Achille's heel has always been it's 3rd party dependence. Sony only needs games to bring to the show. That's it. As long as Sony can trump Minecraft, they could easily have a stronger presentation with the games.
Likewise, Nintendo can have a great showing with their two big hardware showcases. And they have to be big showcases. The sharp drop in 3DS purchases and the timing of the new console in regards to the console cycle are a big hurdle. Nintendo can come out and destroy the competition with Nintendo based content. If Pikmin doesn't appear this year, I think we'll all be a little pissed off. Other than that, Zelda and Metroid have big anniversaries and Nintendo has to bring that laundry list of 3rd party publishers for the 3DS from last year on to the stage. They need to hurt Sony and Microsoft with content and features. Just to make the Hardcore comfortable with their consoles again.
The way they will do all this is to bring the one thing that Microsoft left out of their presentation. The Asian developers. While I love new information on Mass Effect and Halo, I want to know about Sakiguchi and Itagaki's projects. There was no representation of Japanese developers from Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo can easily bring content out that was sorely lacking from their presentation.
Unfortunately, Kojima has decided to stay in Japan. What about the other big name developers? They have to be doing something.
Microsoft's presentation took everything from last year and made it fresh and new. It was a much better presentation, for that I'm thankful. However, E3 isn't about how solid you are. It's about the big bang. Microsoft always goes first and so they could easily be forgotten by week's end.
However Microsoft 2010 part 2 was a success without the need to give out free new Xbox's to press. I can't wait to see what the other two have in store for me.