I’d love to cover the entire Electronic Entertainment Expo, but my limited time has to be rationed accordingly. Well, when you go into an electronics show with the expectation that some company’s consumer goods are going to fail, you choose Microsoft. It’s an easy call that very little has changed since last year, when the company decided that the future of video games has nothing to do with video games. Video games are for losers, and to prove that video games are for losers, I’m going to write a couple thousand words about another one of their press conferences. Some on this web site have suggested that I should spend this time playing video games. And to them, I apologize, because Microsoft is holding a video game press conference, and I’m too busy writing about video games to play them. (I’m taking a break from Angry Birds, anyway. Really caught up on this tough part. There aren’t even any tutorials on YouTube for beating the stage select screen.)
It’s worth noting that when I published this entry into WordPress, I copy-pasted the tags that I used from last year: “halo 4”, “modern warfare”, “tomb raider”, “gears”, “kinect”, amongst others. It’s pretty telling when the only tag I had to change was “2011” to “2012”. It’s also important to remember that when you are discussing E3, everything must be phrased in the context of “Who won E3?” The game journlolists can’t get you a decent game review or a good piece of opinion writing, but they can declare who won this advermercial and get the fanboys to grind out those revenue-generating ad-clicks. After all, Sony won E3, and HaloPhan97 needs to eat a fat dick.
Microsoft did not win E3.
Monday, June 4, 12:14 a.m. EST – Oh, lord, if it wasn’t bad enough that Microsoft was holding a press conference where they advertise goods and services to the public, there’s a “pre-show”. On the left of Xbox Live executive producer Tina Wood Summerford is Larry Hryb (Major Nelson), the Director of Programming for Xbox Live. On the right is Robert Bowling, who is no longer the Community Manager at Infinity Ward and instead discusses video games at live events in exchange for food.
12:15 – Summerford: “It’s E3, it’s the single biggest gaming event in the industry, why do people care so much? Why is there so much excitement around this?” In this press conference, three important figures in the strategy of the Xbox brand attempt to hype and promote E3, a promotional show used by Microsoft to hype the Xbox brand. This seems impartial.
12:15 – Bowling: “Yeah, I mean, that’s what’s so exciting, this is literally the eve of infinite possibilities. Anything from this point on could happen.” It terrifies me that this shares so much in common with the hype and grandeur of professional wrestling, where television commentators selling a scripted athletic event tell us about the unpredictable night ahead of us. On this eve of infinite possibilities, I’m starting the over-under on first- or third-person shooters at six-and-a-half, and I will be taking the over. While Bowling is explaining how we have no idea what could happen, a video montage of footage from last year’s conference is shown, featuring the lead designer of Kinect Sports Season Two and play footage from Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. And I say, “Robert Bowling, we don’t know what to expect, and that’s exactly the problem.”
12:16 – After informing us which publishers will be unveiling products during the press conference, Major Nelson excitedly informs us that “we’re also going to have some celebrities on-stage, and a live performance from a Grammy-winning artist.” Summerford replies with the feigned enthusiasm required to sell Microsoft products. During this sequence, announcements and fact bubbles pop up at the bottom of the screen at a terrifying rate. Apparently, since we play video games, we have terrible attention spans and have to be pandered towards.
12:17 – By this early venture in the show, it is fairly obvious which games are the stars of the Microsoft strategy. Halo 4 is 343 Industries’ attempt to do Bungie’s Halo franchise justice, and Tomb Raider continues its trek towards the Torture Porn Pantheon. The two video clips of the game featured a battered Lara Croft and a drowning Lara Croft. I’m sure they’re already complaining on various guro forums that Crystal Dynamics didn’t reply to the suggestions in their e-mails.
12:17 – Bowling: “Laura’s [sic] beaten up, she’s bruised. I’m so excited to see how that plays out in the game.”
12:18 – A soaking-wet Lara Croft, battered by punishing winds as she stumbles down a shattered ship deck, makes a twenty-foot leap from one half of the sinking ship to its other half, grabbing the outstretched arm of a soaking-wet male with one free hand. It does not matter that she lost her grip and fell into the sea. The fact she established a grip may be one of the dumbest things I have ever seen in a video game cutscene.
12:18 – Major Nelson: “Now, Assassin’s Creed 3, this is the first true sequel in the franchise in three years…” You should have just called the people who bought Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations a bunch of stupid dipshits. It would have been less insulting. “Hey fans? Remember the 120 dollars you spent on those two games? They weren’t true sequels. We fucked you.”
12:18 – At the bottom of the screen, we’re treated to an Assassin’s Creed 3 fact bubble telling us that, well…forget it, I’ll just post the picture.
12:18 – The Borderlands 2 cameo notes that the game’s script is six-hundred-percent longer. The fact this will impress those who play console first-person shooters should provide a depressing indictment of the genre.
12:18-12:19 – Here’s our inevitable introduction of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the futuristic military combat simulator where “It has been confirmed that Zombies mode is returning in Black Ops II.”
12:18-12:20 – This is one ugly game. Good grief. It speaks volumes to the level of craft in today’s industry when I can say this about a game where downtown Los Angeles and its skyline are being pounded by military armaments. Unfortunately, texture artwork is everything. All I can think of is “previous-generation graphics”. This game engine is aging, and it shows.
12:20 – Summerford: “Now is this something that you have to do to keep the franchise fresh? Are people getting tired of the same old Call of Duty? You gotta do this to get the momentum going again?”
Bowling: “…I don’t think there’s ever anything bad about ‘new’ and ‘new direction’, that seems to be the big trend for E3 this year is people taking huge risks…” Before I watched this press conference, I caught some footage of the Expo as broadcasted on Spike TV. I did not see a single game that was not a first- or third-person shooter. I will be holding Robert Bowling to his statement.
12:21 – Major Nelson: “What are the horses doing in my Call of Duty?” I could respond to this statement rationally, pointing out that anyone with a functional brain can determine that, in a future where military technology is hijacked by our enemies, the horse provides stable transportation. I’m just going to assume he was playing dumb.
12:21-12:22 – See, when you make a montage of the great moments that define Microsoft’s presence at E3, they are supposed to provide a coherent narrative, one possibly establishing your breakthrough into console video games at the turn of the century and following your brand’s impact on Western game development. “Bill Gates shows the Xbox.” That’s good. “Xbox Live is announced.” That’s good. Soon following are random clips from Fallout 3, Gears of War 2, Dance Central, Star Wars Kinect, and finally following into Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Halo 4, a pair of games that have not even been released yet. The narrative established is that Microsoft video editors are bad at establishing narratives.
12:23 – Nelson: “Funny story, one thing we had to do, because we were announcing [the Xbox 360 S], is we wanted it to be on the show floor at E3, so we had to go in that night and change out the hundreds of consoles we had in our booth to the brand new design.” The actual story: They had to be replaced, because placing hundreds of first-edition Xbox 360 game consoles in one room violates the same international treaties as the firebombing of Dresden.
12:26-12:27 – Summerford, speaking to Halo 4 creative director Josh Holmes: “Now, the briefing is going to start in only a couple of minutes, so quickly, catch us up on what we know so far about Halo 4.” This is like watching a cutscene that explicitly outlines what is going to happen in the tutorial level.
12:27 – Holmes unveils the new Halo multiplayer experience: War Games (the “traditional Halo competitive, yeah exactly”) and an “episodic co-operative” mode called Spartan Ops, which will totally not have anything in common with the Special Ops mode in the Call of Duty series.
12:28 – Holmes: “The way it works is, we have a new episode that comes out each week, which is a series that fans can kind of follow along with. And then you’ve got five missions with, eh, uh…” Holmes is mum on whether people will have to pay for this content. Taking similar games with “weekly episodic content” into account (Saints Row: The Third) and the current game industry’s burning desire to never, ever give anything away for free…yea. The kiddie casual console scrubs will continue the grand tradition of paying for what the Computer Gaming Master Race™ gets for free.
12:31-12:32 – And Microsoft, one small portion of a video game industry that repeatedly claims they are strapped for cash and clinging to their financial existence, begins their official E3 Press Conference with an elaborately-produced live-action promotional trailer for Halo 4. That is to say, “spending game development money on things that have nothing to do with video games”. But not all is lost, as the live action sequence segues into our first in-game Halo 4 cutscene…
12:33-12:35 – …and our first combat footage. I know the mysterious jungle fauna, enhanced visor interface, and enemy roster will draw comparisons to Metroid Prime, but I’ll wait to make that comparison when I see a single mission layout worth a shit.
12:36 – Welcome back, Don Mattrick, President of Interactive Entertainment and Other Failed Buzzwords. Let’s see if you figured out how to read lines off a teleprompter.
12:36 – Mattrick: “Today, it’s all about Xbox 360, the only device that brings together all your entertainment all in one place. Games, movies, sports, TV, music, and social, all brought to life through the magic of Kinect.” Hey, it’s last year’s conference all over again. Good to see you again.
12:37 – 2012’s Don Mattrick, contradicting 2012-and-one-minute-ago’s Don Mattrick: “And this holiday, we’re going to take Xbox entertainment beyond the console to your phone, PC, and tablets.”
12:37 – The next game gets no formal introduction, so we don’t know what it is yet. The game exists to confirm that anyone who speaks a Middle Eastern language is a terrorist that must be shot in the head. No subtitles are supplied for the constant banter between all parties, because it doesn’t matter what terrorists are saying, they’re already guilty. After retrieving a wounded soldier and allowing his comrades to prepare aid, the player-character takes one terrorist hostage, shoots the other two soldiers in the head, and snaps the hostage’s arm…all with the press of a single button that initiated the cutscene. As we soon learn, this is the future of the Splinter Cell franchise.
12:38 – Ubisoft Toronto creative director Maxime Beland: “A group of rogue nations have masterminded the Blacklist, a terror ultimatum of escalating attacks on U.S. interests. Their demands? ‘Get your troops out of our country, or we bring the war to you.'” Oh man, these terrorists sound like real assholes. We invaded their countries and they’re defending themselves? They’re gonna pay for this.
12:39 – Oh my God, this is bad. Everyone remember the failed takedown system in Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Apparently, Splinter Cell: Blacklist uses a similar system. Only in this game, it can be used to clear out multiple enemies from long distances. Blacklist is taking one of the most skillful and revered mechanics in the entire medium (shooting people in the head) and doing it for you. The “execution” at the beginning of this demonstration was not a cutscene or a flashy game mechanic. It is the staple skill of the combat system. Yes, there is always the chance that this may be a powerful unlockable skill. And yes, when it is unlocked, it will suck the fun right out of the game. (Note: Pretzel has informed me that this system was also used in Splinter Cell: Conviction, and that it worked fairly well in that game. I will remain unconvinced until I am convinced.)
12:40-12:44 – Standing alongside Beland, co-developer Alex Parizeau uses Kinect’s voice recognition to gain the ears of an idle terrorist while Sam Fischer hangs from a rooftop. The guard approaches and Fischer throws the terrorist to his death. This sounds as awkward as it reads. I gain the impression that Beland and Parizeau are expecting applause, but are receiving none. Fischer then pulls out a stun gun and shocks the two guards who check on the body, in spite of Parizeau’s awful accuracy. I don’t know how long-time stealth game fans feel about the Splinter Cell franchise, and I don’t know if this game is being played on a difficulty level so low that Ubisoft Toronto should be embarrassed for programming it into the game, but when I think of stealth, I think of timing and reflexes. Splinter Cell: Blacklist appears to be the antithesis of those traits. And right after I say that, Parizeau uses voice recognition in the supposed stealth game to call an airstrike. The only thing holding back my laughter is total apathy.
12:45 – Executive Vice President and Head of E.A. Sports Andrew Wilson informs us how perennial sports franchises FIFA and Madden will be “Better With Kinect™”, firmly ignoring their failure to provide this in the numerous years that Kinect has already existed. “Let’s take a look, and don’t forget to listen out for the Kinect voice command.” We get it. Apparently, Wilson has never had a friend or family member direct them to a video on the internet and then kill the moment by saying “Watch what the cat does! He’s gonna do something really funny!”
12:46 – The big surprise (or lack thereof) is the use of voice commands to manage or coach your team. While this is a perfectly novel idea, it has two problems: So long as voice recognition software is not mandatory for the console video game experience, the option of a more efficient, latency-free button combination will still exist. The other problem? How does one use these voice commands in a loud room with multiple participants? Yeah, I’ll just keep calling “Time Out” and see what happens. Thanks.
12:46 – Hey, it’s Joe Montana, the star of Joe Montana Football!
12:47 – Wilson: “We thought, ‘Who better than to demo this test than a Hall of Fame quarterback than yourself?” I dunno, someone who has actually played Madden before?
12:47-12:48 – Montana calls “hike”, and the ball is snapped a full second later. Fuck Kinect™. As part of this demonstration, the game is being played on a difficulty level so low that fans of Journey will think this game is for casuals. It’s a running play, and the offensive line opens a hole wider than any of those seen in Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Montana sends the wide-open runningback on a path so erratic that the Hall of Famer will be arrested for drunk driving after the presentation. Seriously, look at the picture. He did not score on the play, running head-first into the free safety. Montana does not score on the next play either, a five-yard pass completion announced by the in-game announcer as an incomplete pass. Montana somehow scores on the next play. Despite his victory, the live audience loses in a landslide.
12:49-12:50 – This is the part of the presentation where Microsoft continues to try and convince us that Fable: The Journey is relevant. Legendary game developer Peter Molyneux, the man who never saw a turd he couldn’t hype, the guy I beat the shit out of during the press conference last year, showed his confidence in The Journey when he quit in mid-production to form his own game company.
12:50 – Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer: “Only the best games are on Xbox. Beginning with the return of Master Chief in Halo 4 and the bold new direction for Fable: The Journey…” Bold new direction? For the love of God. Fable: The Journey is based on the light gun genre, a test of reflexes synonymous with arcade design principle. This genre will be combined with the poor input latency of Kinect and the shallow difficulty level of the Fable game series. What part of this is not a failure waiting to happen?
12:52-12:53 – Here’s a trailer for Gears of War: Judgment. The trailer says exceptionally little in an exceptionally short amount of time. The teaser implores that I visit the Gears of War web page to view the “extended teaser”. Just to make this clear: I just watched a short video that tells me nothing about a game. That video is directing me to a longer video that will tell me nothing about the game. I’ll pass.
12:53-12:55 – And with Microsoft running out of things to do with the Forza Motorsport franchise, we get Forza Horizon, a simulation race car franchise with a new-found emphasis on dodging traffic and police helicopters. These must be the “risks” that Robert Bowling spoke of, the pursuit of pissing off your established audience in favor of attracting cutsomers who never had any interest in your franchise. That’s not a “risk”, that’s a shitty business model.
12:55 – Head of Marketing and Strategy Yusuf Mehdi, demonstrating why corporate executives have a reputation for being out of touch with reality: “Last year we added over 200 million movies, TV shows, and videos on Xbox.” The average person immediately realizes that this statement does not make sense. This number is derived from the collective body of work to be found on the entire internet. Even in the bizarre world where “the internet got bigger” constitutes “adding movies, shows, and videos”, this means that desktops, laptops, phones, and tablets all matched that growth, you dumb asshole.
12:56-12:57 – Okay, Microsoft. This isn’t funny. Anyone dedicated enough to watch this event in person knows that you did the exact same demonstration last year. And nothing has changed, because nobody gives two fucks about Bing.
12:57 – Mehdi: “Let’s see what the Xbox experience looks like, for example, in Mexico.” Yeah, uh, over there, they have team deathmatch, only it’s really, really different.
12:59 – I really enjoy how PlayStation fanboys will mock Microsoft for using their press conference to make such a big deal out of the television services you can subscribe to on your Xbox. Since, you know, “Microsoft haz no gamez so they gota show TV.” Then the Microsoft fanboys respond with “television has beter gameplay than heavy rain lol.” Yes, I’m stretching for a joke here. It’s in stark contrast to this portion of conference, which doesn’t have to reach to become one.
12:59-1:02 – Yeah, uh, Mehdi is rambling about sports now. Apparently, I can get the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League on my Xbox. Basketball is dumb, anyway. It’s nothing but a bunch of world-class entertainers performing their craft at an exceptionally high level. I can’t stand that. That’s why I’m watching this press conference. “ESPN on Xbox is about to get even better.” No! Dammit! No! Don’t cut to a trailer! I don’t care! No one cares! Not even the shareholders!
1:02-1:04 – No! We don’t care about streaming music, either! Not unless it’s vidya gaem music! Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing me, man! I don’t even want to call you out for suggesting that your new music library service has over thirty million tracks! Piss off!
1:04-1:06 – And to cap off the worst ten minutes in the history of digital media, everyone has just stumbled into an advertisement for Nike clothing. I’m trying to figure out what the hell happened to this press conference. Yes, most of the games that were presented are available on multiple platforms, and it is embarrassing that Microsoft uses these games to demonstrate the “superiority” of the Xbox platform. They did that last year, too, so I’m almost numb to this strategy. But at least Microsoft was talking about video games. There’s a sports clothing salesman on the stage lecturing video game players on how everyone is an athlete. Don’t give these dudes ideas. They may get the idea that video games can be played in front of live stadium audiences.
1:07-1:09 – Oh, okay, Nike. We get it. You’re putting your brand on another crappy Kinect fitness game. The fact that the game journlolists even acknowledge these “games” is hilarious. I look forward to IGN’s review of the game, another non-game scoring higher than God Hand. You really have to wonder who this portion of our show is designed to appeal to: The live audience that is bored to tears, the online audience that has now turned off your broadcast, or the potential investors that have stopped paying attention to the press conference so they can invest in Nike. Although this occurrence speaks volumes to the state of video games in 2012, when the branded fitness game is a more lucrative property than the licensed movie game. If only that fact reflected more positively upon the fatties in this country.
1:09 – Xbox Live head Mark Whitten: “Can you imagine life without your smartphone or tablet?” As someone who personally owns neither, yes. Yes I can. In my world, I use my desktop computer to make fun of your ridiculous choice of clothing.
1:10 – Whitten: “When you’re playing blockbuster games on the big screen, does your phone or tablet bring you deeper into the experience?” It depends on what the experience is, because I once played Fable II on your game console, and then I got bored and started pressing random buttons on my cell phone. The cell phone provided a deeper game experience.
1:10 – “With Xbox SmartGlass™, movies are more immersive.” That’s correct: Continuously acknowledging a device completely unrelated to the movie experience, continuously breaking your mental connection with the chosen medium, makes things more immersive. We have now reached fifteen consecutive minutes without any discussion of video games.
1:12 – Whitten, merging small talk with advertisement and failing wildly at both: “I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones, and I loved the season finale last night. I think they probably blew their CD budget in the last two shows. It’s powerful scenes like that which took you into the show and have you anticipating the next two episodes.”
1:12 – Whitten: “And with SmartGlass™, my tablet now provides me a map that is actually following the sequence of the show as I’m watching it on the television.” Yeah, uh, if you need a map to watch television, then television is not the right medium for you.
1:13 – The presentation cuts to a demonstration of how your tablet computer can be used to play Madden 13. At least we’re back to video games. Microsoft’s big reveal is that they have siphoned off some of the interest in user interface development for the Wii U. While demonstrating the play-calling interface, the forty-second (sometimes twenty-five-second) play clock is not running. The entire sequence for calling this play takes about thirty seconds. Do the math. The next game is Halo 4, whose tablet interface provides statistics and information about in-game objectives. One of the most important game development trends of the last decade was the seamless integration of this information into a user interface as displayed through in-game helmets, visors, power suits, and so forth. See: Half-Life, Deus Ex, Halo: Combat Evolved, Metroid Prime, Dead Space, Vanquish. Apparently, providing creative in-game explanations for health bars is too hard, so we’ll just sync your tablet to your game console. Besides, if they can synchronize even more of your personal hardware into the cloud, it’s one more device that marketers can use towards their own ends.
1:15-1:17 – Whitten: “For years, people have asked me: When will you bring the web to Xbox?” Therefore, Internet Explorer for Xbox. To demonstrate these capabilities, we’re introduced to an interface that does everything in its power to ignore the greater internet, where Whitten takes us to the web page for the movie Prometheus and pretends FOX did not pay for the advertising space. Anyone else here nostalgic for the good days of Internet Explorer 6?
1:18 – Whitten reveals that your smartphone can be used as an input device for navigating the internet on your Xbox. Thirty-dollar wireless mouse? Bad. Four-hundred-dollar phone that poorly replicates the functions of a wireless mouse? Good. More synchronization with personal devices, more information for advertisers. Is it any wonder that Apple has rocked Microsoft’s shit for the last half-decade? The web sites as designed for these specialized devices appear to be inflexible for content creation and expensive to produce. The similarities between this demonstration and the failed “multimedia” revolution of the early-to-mid-nineties are all too apparent.
1:20 – Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Gallagher, surmising the thoughts of everyone who just sat through a twenty-five-minute advertisement for Microsoft Bing: “It’s great to be back!”
1:20-1:26 – Allow me to hand out a compliment here: Will Tomb Raider be a fantastic game? Probably not. The history of similar games does not suggest this. Does it look fantastic? Yeah, wow. The environments look great, the animations are fluid, and despite the brief impressions of a combat system bearing resemblance to Uncharted (where Tomb Raider is now copying the game that copied the original Tomb Raider), this looks and feels like its own game. Certainly, the die-hards are already enraged, knowing a franchise premised on exploration of the unknown has devolved into third-person cover-shooting, linear level design, and blatantly scripted in-game events. Oh, and in this six-minute demonstration, there were about eight-hundred ways Lara Croft could die. Just putting that out there for those of you that are interested in that stuff. That must have been what Darrell Gallagher meant when he was talking about “dynamic exploration”, the ability to explore all the ways you can kill a good-looking woman. I’m sure that Lara Croft surprise sex will follow shortly.
1:27 – Gallagher: “We’re also thrilled to announce that the first piece of downloadable content for Tomb Raider will be available first exclusively on Xbox 360.” Thank you for demonstrating everything that is currently wrong with this industry. Who goes up on stage in front of consumers and says they are “thrilled” to announce this? “This great game is coming out next year, and after if you pay sixty dollars to purchase this game for the Xbox, we’ll guarantee that you can pay more money for additional game content before PlayStation owners can.”
1:27 – Phil Spencer delivers us a new one: Persistent asynchronous multiplayer gameplay. Or, as we called it in 1972, “two-player mode”.
1:27 – The next game is Ascend: New Gods. Because in this night for risky game development, we needed a blatant rip-off of the God of War franchise. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain how a blatant rip-off of a single-player beat ’em up uses this “persistent asynchronous multiplayer gameplay”. Nah. They’re not telling us anything about the game. I guess we can discuss more about Bing.
1:28 – This is immediately followed by a fifteen-second trailer for something called Lococycle. If you’re wondering why the best of video game names from 1987 just slammed you in the face, the game is being developed by Twisted Pixel, the creators of Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley. The company was just purchased by Microsoft, so the “indie” developer needs to maintain the presumption of being “indie”. Therefore, “silly game name”. Laff.
1:29 – “From GORE VERBINSKI the DIRECTOR of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and RANGO” comes Matter, a rendition of Portal as designed for Serious Cat’s serious world. I’ll just repeat what I wrote eighteen months ago about the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards: “Read any trade site dedicated to the video game industry. Your Gamasutra, your GamesIndustry.biz. The developers and programmers who carouse those sites will firmly state that if you don’t have a game programming pedigree, you need to shut the fuck up. It’s eerily similar to athletes who won’t listen to your opinion unless you played the game at a very high level. But I guess this rule doesn’t apply when they can attach a high-profile movie director to their product. Where Steven Spielberg can give creative advice for Boom Blox, when del Toro can create [inSane].”
1:30 – Executive Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, in some brand of Japanglish: “I am Kobash, this is [Game Director Eiichiro Sasaki]. Today, we will show you the latest [unintelligible] Resident Evil 6.” The Japanese conduct their demonstrations like they design their games: No drawn-out cutscenes, just straight to the good stuff. Gee, is it any wonder they do games better than us?
1:30-1:35 – I’m sure one thinks that I am immediately opposed to an action-focused Resident Evil 6, but I’m not. The tank controls were designed for a very specific art template (pre-rendered computer graphics as displayed by constantly changing cameras) and a very specific pace of game. Once those tank controls (and other restrictions on movement and shooting) are lifted, you add something back. If the main character gets faster and deadlier, so should his adversaries. It’s not rocket science. The on-screen indicator for when a “Press X to Not Die” prompt will expire is pretty cool. I guess you can scratch what I said about the Japanese getting “straight to the good stuff”. Cutscenes abound in 6. I’m also concerned that “Downloadable Content First on Xbox 360”, as the main projector so casually explains. The idea that the industry believes the consumer will suck their dick is an amusing one.
1:36-1:37 – The game name is Wreckateer, presented a really-good-looking woman by the name of Alex Ruiz. I think the joke is fairly obvious. I am noticing a trend here. Last year, Kinect Sports Season Two was presented by lead designer Nicole Makila. This year, Alex Ruiz presents Wreckateer. Both games are so-called “family friendly” entertainment for the Kinect, the kind of game that’s fun for people of all ages and genders! Therefore, “woman goes on stage”. The purpose of this game within the greater narrative of video games is to demonstrate how unfair chance occurrence can be. If Wreckateer had been released in 2008, it would be considered a mere foray into a neglected ballistics genre. Released in 2012, it will be considered a derivative stab at the Angry Birds market. I won’t have any feelings either way.
1:37-1:40 – When I was younger and still gave two shits about Final Fantasy, I always felt that (much like most modern cartoons for adults) South Park, its characters, and its flagrant disregard for the rules of reality would make for a fantastic role-playing setting. But back in 1999, despite everyone’s insistence to the contrary, there was very little that was “mature” about Japanese Role-Playing. Ultimately, those underdeveloped narratives with underdeveloped characters drove the sales charts. So, it took us about a dozen years to get South Park: The Stick of Truth. It will be interesting to see if Obsidian Entertainment (and their partnership with the show’s creators) yields a game worth a damn. The most relevant comparison, The Simpsons Game, embraced all of the cliches that it was making fun of.
1:37 – Kyle, on saving the city of South Park: “I’ll do it.”
Cartman: “Jews can’t be saviors, remember?” Beautiful.
1:38 – I will be honest here: The idea of playing as “yourself” in a video game is always kind of stupid. It’s possible that the promo is referring to the idea of playing as “you, the character you create”, but the Nintendo Wii built an entire brand on the idea that you can personally participate in the action, and seeks to continue this trend in New Super Mario Bros. U. (Hell, it was even the focus of the advertising for Mario Tennis 3DS.) Sure, characters can be deliberately undeveloped to give the player a sense of being that character, but that design decision matches the purpose of video games: To provide an escape from reality, not to place my reality in a fictional one. (With that said, the dig at men playing female characters as portrayed with Kenny’s wig is awesome.)
1:38 – South Park co-creator Matt Stone: “How many times have you been watching an episode of South Park and thought, ‘I’d like to be able to watch this on my television while hooked into my mobile device which is being controlled by my tablet device which is hooked into my oven all while sitting in the refrigerator?’ But we’re not doing that, we’re just doing this game.” It’s great moments like these that make me wonder how much creative control Microsoft gets over their presentations. Because if I worked for Microsoft, I would never be stupid enough to let the South Park guys rock your faces. They just did that.
1:39-1:41 – Stone and fellow co-creator Trey Parker discuss the research and development required to take the powerful video game hardware of 2012 and transform it into the distinctively awful look of the show. “Taking complex systems and turning it into crap” can’t be that hard. Developers have been taking computer video game franchises and developing them on consoles for years.
1:41-1:42 – Dance Central has lived to see its third game. What I am supposed to think about this, I don’t know. I stand by my assertion that Just Dance and Dance Central did not usurp the dance throne from Dance Dance Revolution and In the Groove because the dance pad games were “goofy”, as has been repeatedly claimed. All of those games are goofy, regardless of input scheme. They’re all highly imperfect simulations of a performance art. Here’s the difference: Dance Dance Revolution had no problems telling the player that they were terrible. People got their feelings hurt. Therefore, nobody cares about dance pad games anymore. Therefore, Just Dance sells millions. Therefore, Dance Central 3. Wonderful.
1:42-1:46 – To demonstrate Dance Central 3, it’s Usher. He’s performing live, in a real song and dance performance. Much to his chagrin, the live audience does not give a crap. Apparently, this demonstration is set to “No Fail” mode and continues in spite of the apathy for the “Grammy-winning artist.” For the first two minutes of the performance, they’re not even demonstrating Dance Central 3. They finally display the game on the main projector, but it’s clear that nobody cares. ‘Cause baby tonight, Xbox got us watchin’ some fail again.
1:46 – Don Mattrick, with the worst line of the presentation: “At Xbox, we’re ushering in a new golden age of entertainment.” Yes, even dumber than Major Nelson’s horse comment. Even Mattrick realizes how dumb the line is and tries to laugh it off.
1:47 – Mattrick envisions “a time when you start every day with the Nike Trainer™ and end it with a blockbuster movie or game.” This is because he is a total fucking asshole. You heard the corporate overlord: Eat, sleep, shit, consume, fuck, Nike Trainer™, have kids, Halo, and die.
1:48 – Mattrick: “And now, it’s only fitting to close with another blockbuster game, a game that’s found its home on Xbox, and once again, all new content will launch first only on Xbox 360.” Oh, excellent. Saving the best for last: Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Haha, the best for last. Black Ops II.
1:49-1:50 – Not much interesting to say about the first three minutes of the Black Ops II in-game footage, because the player does not control a second of it. Apparently, the President is Hilary Clinton, and she dyed her hair for some reason.
1:51-1:59 – Representing the biggest leap forward for level design in the history of the Call of Duty series, the HUD displays two location arrows. One allows us to “Snipe”, and the other allows us to “Rappel”. These two options have to be clearly distinguished in order for the target audience to get it. Upon completing the “Snipe” segment of the level, the player “Rappels” down. Then, just as the Call of Duty team did last year, the game demo fast forwards to another section of the game “IN THE INTEREST OF TIME…”. I hate this game series so much. Lots of people are dying but none of it is interesting. This carnage evolves into the kind of collapsing building sequence that was done so much better in Bulletstorm and Serious Sam 3: BFE. Fortunately, Treyarch’s target audience has never heard of those games, let alone played them. Then you pilot a jet, and I stop giving a fuck, the event ends a minute early, and the live crowd doesn’t really seem to care.
What is there to say, really? There’s a reason that Microsoft sandwiched a twenty-five-minute slab of Bing torture inbetween two chunks of “vidya gaem promotionz”. This company realizes the bloated, expensive console video game market is undergoing the same nightmare scenario that took down cinema in the late fifties, where cheap television programming (represented in this instance by mobile phone games, browser-based games, and Steam) took the motion picture’s thunder away from it. Movies countered television by going more expensive. That is obviously not an option in today’s video game industry, when all signs point to a console video game market that is already contracting, a console video game market where games continue to get more expensive with every subsequent generation of technology.
If you think mobile phones sucked new video game customers out of this market, wait until you see what the upcoming generation of “smart televisions” does to console video games. There is the very realistic chance that one of the “Big Three” (Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft) leaves the video game business by 2020. If I had to put money it, I’d say it’s happening. Obviously, Nintendo will not be that company. Their business is video games. That leaves the electronics manufacturer and the computer company. And if confronted with the reality that console video games are on the decline and may never return to their same level of prominence, all it takes it one company figurehead within Microsoft or Sony to say, “We invested our money in the video game market, it paid off for some time, but we can no longer do this. We need to pull out our investment in console hardware.” And it’s game over.
To avert that reality, Microsoft has decided that they don’t really care about the games, so long as they can use those games as an end to legitimizing the Xbox as an all-in-one media console that can do everything through voice recognition. If they fail to do this, if they cannot establish the Xbox as a game console for people who do not give two shits about video games, then you might as well consider the company done with the console game business. And if that’s their way of looking at it, they can leave and I won’t miss it. You can have a future where my mobile device is being controlled by my tablet device which is hooked into my oven. I want good games. All that takes is a console and a game controller. I’ll play the great games I have in the meantime.
Before I’m done here, I’d like to mention that I find the vitriol for the Electronic Entertainment Expo as a whole rather fascinating. I saw little fundamental difference between this year’s conference and last year’s conference, a set of companies who generally despise their customers and view them as little more than wallets. In-fact, I thought Microsoft’s outing was more focused on games than the previous year. So why this year has ushered in so much negativity, where John Walker of RockPaperShotgun writes that “E3′s Press Events Do Not Represent The Gaming I Know”*, where Kris Graft of Gamasutra writes that “E3 2012 could’ve been E3 2006”*, where people are generally sour on the Expo, I’m not quite sure. But then again, if you follow the medium and the industry which creates most of it, you already knew this was coming.