Everything is changing. In exactly the same ways as before
Next-gen consoles. Are they coming? Are they close? Do they exist at all? Is anyone even bothering making any?
There are a million and one voices debating these questions at the moment, and obviously all eyes are on next week's E3 as we all fight about whatever the hell may or may not be announced. But the fact is that while we can debate the various rumours, hearsay and outright bullpoop of the internet all day, there's a much easier way to tell which way things are heading. History.
You see with many theorising that E3 2012 will be the death-rattle of the current generation, I decided to look at the last big E3 of last-gen, 2004, to see if there are any similarities between that show and the way this year's is shaping up.
It turns out that in a lot of important ways, they're almost exactly the same. Allow me to explain the parallels...
Exciting new handheld tech is a nail in the coffin for aging consoles
The relative power of handheld consoles is one of the most clear landmarks we have that technology is moving on. Put simply, if your home console has been around so long that you can now miniaturise its technology (or at least a decent enough approximation to look passably similar on a small screen), stick it in a handheld, and bash it out at a semi-affordable price point, then your home console technology is getting old. Its a bit like when new parents suddenly start feeling like has-beens the second their first-born is spawned, but with consoles instead of fleshy human-types.
The PSP was unveiled at E3 2004, and launched five months later. It was essentially a PS2 in your pocket. A year later the PS3 arrived. And now we have Vita, a pocket PS3, making its second showing at E3, and its first appearance as a fully-fledged available format.
I think you see where this is leading. And you can file the advent of Nintendos Wii-comparable 3DS under same category too. The launch of both machines marks a definite and important milestone in the life of this home console generation, not to mention another diversion from the slowing software release schedule on the big machines.
Microsoft uses Halo as big-name, safe-bet, end-of-generation filler
So you have a new console coming, but youre not ready to show it off yet. You know youll blow everyone away when you do, but things just arent quite there. Problem is, youve diverted a load of your resources over to the next-gen machine already, and the fans are going to dismember you if you dont show them something amazing at E3. Best solution? In lieu of being able to show off a whole bunch of exciting new stuff, focus everything you have into one single, immensely concentrated blast of guaranteed fan-pleaser. A bit like trading in the carpet-bombing approach in favour of the giant orbiting satellite laser from Akira.
If youre Microsoft, you use Halo. For the core Xbox market, its the ultimate safe-bet. In 2004, just a year before the Xbox 360 arrived, Halo 2 was the centrepiece of Microsofts E3. And it was the centrepiece for the same reason that Halo 4 is Microsofts sole non-Kinect focus at the moment. When you dont have much left for the current-gen, you go for showboating dead-certs as your last hurrahs. You go for hype over quantity. You need filler until youre ready to show off the next gen, but to avoid looking like youre running out of steam you need megaton filler. And that's what Halo 4 is.
A new Unreal engine turns up to show off its shiny bits
Whats that, you say? At E3 2004 Epic brought along the Unreal Engine 3 to show us the kind of technical awe that would be slathered all over the next generation of consoles? And then a year later that next generation was shown off, in no small part using the Unreal Engine 3 to make us all go Ooh and Wow?
And you say that Epic has just unveiled the Unreal Engine 4, and will be bringing it to E3 2012?
Hmmmmmmmmm, I say.
Microsoft replaces game-based excitement with celebs and service-talk
Halo 2 and Forza aside, at E3 2004 Microsoft didnt have much in the way of first-party games that were a) genuine megatons, b) new announcements, c) long-term release prospects for the original Xbox, or d) not soon to be bumped over to the Xbox 360 or flat-out cancelled (Hello Kameo, hello Lionheads B.C.). But what MS did have was the reveal of Xbox Live Arcade and a great big dose of trumpeting for increased third-party support of Xbox Live itself. Oh, and it trotted out a bunch of sporting superstars to make the latter announcement, via a tie-in with EAs sports franchises.
Along with then-head of EA Global Studios Don Mattrick. Who is now head Xbox honcho. Which makes the above image look eerily similar to recent MS E3 events.
So yeah, it was basically the same press conference set-up Microsoft has been using for the last couple of years, minus the Kinect guff. One or two main franchise sequels (still Halo, still Forza, sometimes something Fable-related), and then a bunch of service-related announcements in reference to the extended functionality of the format. Mention a load of third-party games to bolster the line-up, ignore the fact that theyre available on rival systems, throw in a few celebs and done.
Basic water-treading while getting ready to announce the next-gen? Yes, I think so. It was then and it very probably is now.
Sony's strangely-timed new franchises set-up the next-gen
The Last of Us. Bit of a spanner in the works, that one, for all the crazy street prophets throwing their arms into the sky and proclaiming the death of this current generation amongst firey skies and the reek of brimstone. A new, AAA franchise from the creators of Uncharted, launching just as we were starting to think the PS4 was on the way. It blew the whole theory out of the water.
Except it didnt.
You see there is precedent with Sony. Precedent which states that late-generation franchise launches are par for the course. God of War. Quite the big deal these days, Im sure youll agree. Killzone is far from an insignificant franchise too. But the other thing that links them? Both of them were unveiled at E3 2004, the year before the worlds focus shifted to the PS3. It might seem blisteringly surreal that two of PlayStations biggest franchises were born out of the PS2s death throes, but in hindsight it was actually a smart tactical move.
But will these parallels turn out to be truly significant, or am I just ranting like that crazy old schizophrenic hobo on the corner? You know, the guy who always tells the sky is about to fall in because the pigeons are moving funny? We'll get a better idea of the shape of things to come when E3 2012 starts next week, but in the meantime, why don't you check out our E3 2012 rumours compendium? It's being updated constantly with every single story that might shape this year's show.