E3 2012: The 7 big mysteries raised by the big press conferences
E3, essentially, exists so that game publishers and developers have a really big, really well-lit stage upon which to shout through a really loud mic in no uncertain terms about exactly what they're doing and exactly why it's brilliant. This year, however, that hasn't always strictly happened. There has been a lot of shouting about why a lot of things are brilliant, of course, but the conferences have also thrown up a whole bunch of new questions and confusions. And very few of those questions have been satisfactorily answered yet.
Join me, and I shall explain the questions, mysteries and enigmas thrown up by this year's E3, while also proffering a few potential answers.
Is Watch Dogs a next-gen game?
Is it? Well is it? Ubisoft's gorgeous-looking, seemingly brilliantly playing Hitman-meets-Splinter-Cell-Conviction-meets-Deus-Ex looked far, far too good to be running on current-gen machines. If you properly analyse the footage (which we did yesterday), it's clear to anyone that the kind of stuff it's doing very probably just cannot be done on current-gen consoles. The demo was almost definitely running on an utter beast of a PC. But why demo a game to a spec that the (inevitably better publicised) console versions can't hope to hit?
If there's a 360 and PS3 version of Watch Dogs (and it's currently stated that there will be), then I reckon it'll be a stripped back version, released as the 'proper' one is launched on next-gen consoles and the PC. Ubisoft doesn't look to be the only developer itching to show off its next-gen offerings this E3. In fact it feels like quite a few are enthusiastically leaned over the start line so far that they're about to stumble over it. Which brings me on to my next point...
Is the next console generation sneaking out early all over the show?
As well as Watch Dogs, we have Star Wars 1313 this year. It's a dark, M-rated Star Wars game set on the Empire homeworld of Coruscant, it's running on a high-end PC at the moment, and it's mind-blowingly pretty. And Square-Enix has just showed off a new real-time demo of its incoming next-gen Luminous Studio engine. It looks better than Final Fantasy XIII's pre-rendered cutscenes.
My thinking? Watch Dogs and 1313 at least are holdovers from a previously planned version of this year's E3, when Microsoft and Sony were thinking of unveiling their next-gen machines as rumoured. I reckon Ubisoft and Lucasarts decided to run with the demos anyway without explicitly mentioning the real intended platforms beyond the safe-to-discuss, always-present PC. After all, there was vague talk of a look at the future before Ubisoft's Watch Dogs demo started, and honcho Yves Guillemot has teased unrevealed platforms since when talking about the game. And let's face it, after a whole generation of multiformat PC games being held back by the technical limitations of the console versions, isn't it a bit odd that two high-profile, ultra-powered PC demos turn up at the same time?
Insomniac's Overstrike: Where is it?
Seriously, where is it? Insomniac's glorious EA-published multiformat debut was one hell of a serious deal at last year's E3, despite a total lack of what we humans like to call "gameplay footage". But in lieu of any appearance this year by EA's first game with Respawn Entertainment (which we knew wasn't coming), surely a look at a co-op shooter with Insomniac's trademark ludicrous weapon design and gleefully creative destruction was a must?
No, apparently it wasn't. So where was the game? Is it even in active development? Was that trailer just a stop-gap PR stunt to punctuate the announcement that Insomnia was losing its Sony exclusivity and jumping in bed with EA? But even if the game wasn't really on the go a year ago, why was there no mention of it a year later? Suspicious. Some details please, EA.
Should we officially refer to The Last Guardian as vapourware?
We first had an inkling that The Last Guardian existed back in 2008. Since then we've been drip-fed sweet globules of hope on a yearly basis. A trailer here. An interview with director Fumito Uedo there. But you know what's been consistently abundant throughout that entire period? A total lack of real E3 demos and a nigh void of actual gameplay details.
And then there was last year’s rumour of the game’s cancellation. And then Ueda left Sony. And then we were told by Sony that teams in the US and UK were being drafted in to help finish the game. And then it didn't turn up at E3 this year again, apparently due to "technical difficulties", although it wasn't mentioned at all at Sony's press conference.
I hate to admit it, but there's a massive stink around The Last Guardian now. This story of excuses, no-shows, unclear design ideas and vague explanations is textbook vapourware, and I wouldn't be surprised if the game either didn't appear at all now, or was at least bumped to next-gen. But just tell us either way Sony, so that we can stop hanging on.
How much does Sony care about Vita?
So, Vita eh? Been looking a bit dicey for that little fella since launch, right? Been having a bit of a tricksy time finding his way out of those deep, dark, launch window woods has that poor little bugger. Sales haven’t been great, and development commitment has been about as great as you'd expect for a console whose sales haven’t been great. And we all know what that leads to. Yeah. Dirty great exacerbation of the first problem.
You know what Vita really needs right now? It needs its mum to come along, take it by the hand, and lead it out into the light (no doubt while spitting on a hankie and wiping its face clean, while tutting about what a mess it's made of itself). It needs Sony to do that by leading by example, with a boatload of exciting first-party games of every shape, size and flavour, to make a proud and public showing of just what a healthy and eclectic machine Vita can and will be. Somewhere like say, oh I don’t know… E3 would be an acceptable forum for such an event.
You know what Sony did this E3 by way of showing off unique, system-selling first-party Vita games? Nothing. Really, nothing. It didn't announce anything. We got an Assassin's Creed III spin-off, we got a CoD spin-off, we got a Vita port of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and we got cross-platform play with LittleBigPlanet 2.
We found out two days later (ie. today ) that there are 25 new Vita games on the show floor, but to not even mention them at all at the big conference? Madness. And a really weird public show of priorities, given that the likes of Wonderbook got an absolute raft of time. Very strange message indeed there, Sony.
And Vita? Just a word of advice. Stay away from the gingerbread house.
Has Jack Tretton already forgotten that Resistance on Vita exists?
So Jack introduced Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified: Revenge of the Colons as the first triple-A, online shooter with twin analogue sticks on a handheld. And somewhere, the developers of last month's Resistance: Burning Skies (which boasts all of these features) burst into tears and called their mothers, claiming that they'd never trust that pig again. He said he loved them. He goddamn said he loved them!
Who is Nintendo trying to excite with the Wii U?
Okay, so the Wii U was first announced as a machine for everyone, clearly a reaction to Nintendo's realisation that going after the casual market so hard and so long had alienated its all-important core demographic. You know, the obsessively loyal one that kept it afloat through the N64 and Gamecube years. Then, just before E3, President Satoru Iwata made clear statements that roughly equated to "Those stinkin' casuals can't be trusted, man. Damn asshats don't buy no games. No games, man. That's what I'm in the business of makin' here. Satoru got mouths to feed. No, but them hardcores. Now those guys are the guys".
And all year we've had talk of how powerful the Wii U is, and how good a time third-party core game developers are having with it. And we were shown an almost-replica of the Xbox 360 controller. And Nintendo kept reiterating that it couldn't have another borked launch of minimally interesting games like it had with the 3DS. This year's Nintendo E3 press conference was going to be amazing for the core Nintendo gamer.
Above: Kind of cool, but Nintendo needed way more at this late stage
But then it happened. And we got another quick look at Batman: Arkham City: Reskinned Character Models Edition, another quick look at the same third-party games we saw last year, and then what felt like days of talk of NintendoLand, the minigame collection that will no doubt be bundled with the Wii U to 'explain' what its controller can do. One particular minigame was explained slowly and in great detail for around five minutes. That game was essentially Pac-Man.
No first-party AAAs (as great as Pikmin is, it isn't a top-tier system-seller). No big surprises. No perceptible, meaningful increase in third-party development. No real details on what the machine's capabilities and functionality beyond yet more explanation of the controller. A 36-game line-up list was put out later, but reading through it feels like reading a list of the filler in between the real meat of a launch line-up. You'd think from this conference that the machine was still eighteen months away, not six.
So what is the Wii U about? Who is it for? No-one seems to have any clearer idea than they did last year. In fact it's fair to say that Nintendo's presentation this year actually made things muddier. Six months ago it was obvious that we were getting a powerful console aimed at the core just as much - if not more so - than the casual, to compliment the core-focused 3DS. Now, we just have a hotch-potched muddle of features and tech demos that doesn't really seem to be confidently aimed at anyone in particular.
So there we have it. My big seven great mysteries of E3. Have they similarly bamboozled you? Do you have any other theories that might explain or answer them? Or do you know of any other perplexing conundrums thrown up by this year's show? If you do, you know where to stick them. Right down there in the comments.
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