“To avert [the reality of the console video game market], 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.”
– Michael Lowell, E3 2012 Microsoft Press Conference Sing-Along Guide; published June 8, 2012*
So why didn’t I write about the Xbox One reveal conference? Well, that was the intent. Unfortunately, in the course of comedy and commentary, there are only so many ways you can say “Where are the fucking games?” and “Microsoft is going to spy on you!” before it becomes a chore. Then the internet channeled the kind of sound and fury that would make spaceship launches seem uneventful, and then for some reason, people are stunned and shocked that the government is looking at our porn history after we as a country gave them the power to do exactly that. Maybe the internet has caused me to lose perspective, and maybe the average soccer mom will turn the Xbox One into this generation’s Nintendo Wii. But even if this is a localized way of thinking, where Microsoft is the enemy of video games, threatens the preservation of game history, and wants to saddle an escapist medium with the tools of the surveillance state…it sure is an entertaining way of thinking. (Video games are more fun when there is open conflict. Shocking.)
It’s been four months since Sony’s reveal put the ball in Microsoft’s court, and it turned out the ball was actually a bomb, and it exploded and people got hurt. And given the continuing rise of E3 as a convention for more than the dedicated video game junkie, it is not hyperbole to say that June 10th, 2013 may go down as the most important day in the entire history of the convention. My secret desire was a press conference that looked more like a road playoff elimination game, where the audience wants blood and “Microsoft wins” is a disappointment for them. And while LeBron James may handle these moments pretty well, Microsoft has shown their cards. They’re flawed, they’re fun to root against, and we’re about to find out if they have what it takes to win a championship. Or, at the least, the market share necessary to sell consumers and publishers on their damning vision of the future.
June 10, 2013, 9:36 a.m. Pacific Standard Time – A couple of minutes past the expected 9:30 start time, but tonight is the preview for the eighth (and possibly last) generation of video game consoles. As we’re currently being shown, we will be provided with two choices in the pursuit of one question: Horses or dogs? (The answer is horses, because horses can carry more weight, meaning they can carry more and heavier items, leading to greater complexity in game design. Oh, and Fable had dogs, and fuck Fable.) This is Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, or at least that is what Kojima wants us to believe. If there’s any development team that could turn Metal Gear Solid into Red Dead Redemption as part of an elaborate ruse, it’s the one being run by Hideo Kojima. For all we know, right now, The Phantom Pain is the story of “The Invisible Man”, the story of Solid Snake’s years in a traveling circus troupe.
Oh, for any of you who scoff at the dogma that this could be the last generation of video game consoles, The Phantom Pain is providing the reason why. For most people, this degree of graphical fidelity is indistinguishable from reality. (Hell, to the uninitiated eye, Donkey Kong Country did this back in 1994.) And this is going to be a launch title for the new console hardware. Compare the front-end to the back-end of every console generation and imagine where this is going to end up. Unless we start hooking up these game worlds to neural implants and new forms of input, there’s very little novelty left to explore, and that which remains to be explored will appeal to a small percentage of video game players. I don’t know if that percentage will be enough to sell new hardware.
We can be cynical about the modern video game racket, but so long as companies are willing to finance these huge worlds…some of them will be derivative and uninspiring, while the Kojimas will build their castles and they will be beautiful. My concern would be that The Phantom Pain will have a lot in common with an entire generation of open-world games that eschew level design in favor of scope, and the mere act of moving around the game world will become a form of torture. (The other question is whether the reputed limitations of the Xbox One will have an impact on the design process. Lest we forget that the given reason for “Metal Gear Solid 4 is not on the Xbox 360″ was “storage limitations”.) But there eventually comes a point where men and women are entitled to their peace until they emerge from their workshop with their most complete answers. Kojima is one of them, and I’ll wait for a finished game to cast my judgment.
9:42 – Loud applause as Don Mattrick walks on-stage, because Kojima is right there with him. Microsoft’s corporate spokespersons are a really boring lot. They’re watered-down everymen. I guess that’s what makes them ideal for marketing to an American audience. Rumorfact has it that Microsoft handed out green to publishers so that they would present their multiplatform titles as Xbox One games. Or, at the bare minimum, speak little of Sony and Nintendo at E3. On cue, Kojima touts the power of the Xbox One and how it will bring The Phantom Pain to life. This, in spite of the good chance that the Xbox One will be closer to the Wii U than the PlayStation 4, and The Phantom Pain will be on that PlayStation 4.
9:43 – Mattrick: “Before we move exclusively to Xbox One, let’s see what’s coming out on Xbox 360.” We already discussed the problem, but problems are problems, and this is the problem. How do you sell audiences on new hardware when the incentives to upgrade will be available on the old hardware? Ideally, you market new video game hardware by saying that it’s time to move on and it’s time to move forward. Just for reference…I know that recalling the lessons of the Video Game Crash have become trendy and edgy. (I was doing it before it was cool.) But in case you’re keeping score, the last time that new hardware failed because everyone liked the old hardware? It was called the Atari 5200 and it was released in 1982.
9:43 – Yusuf Mehdi arrives on stage and announces that the company will update the Xbox 360 with a “modern look and feel”. Yes, the device that got its last overhaul three years ago. Yes, 2010 is now “dated”. I suppose this concept would make a lot more sense if I was a participant in the smartphone wars, where there is a new upgrade every six months that “makes the previous model obsolete”. But I don’t use computers for people who are too stupid to operate computers. Please Microsoft, continue talking about the Xbox One.
9:44 – Mehdi announces that paid Xbox Live subscribers will receive two free full game downloads every month, beginning with Assassin’s Creed II and Halo 3. Microsoft looked at the PlayStation Plus business model, one of the few progressive business practices to come out of console video games in the last five years, and decided this was a good time to match it. Hard to argue against business models that expose people to more and better games.
9:45-9:46 – And it is revealed that World of Tanks is coming to Xbox 360. Whatever. We used to have video games where one person controlled all of the tanks. They were called real-time strategy games. Oh, Wargame: Airland Battle came out three weeks ago? It has lots of tanks? And it’s pretty good? Yeah, go play it.
9:47-9:48 – Wargaming.net CEO Viktor Kislyi arrives on stage. Good grief, this man could shatter tank armor with that accent. As you may imagine, I’m not too comfortable with this presentation. They fought wars the last time some dude from Eastern Europe wanted to show the world his tanks.
9:49-9:50 – Stop me if you heard this one: A Danish game developer is building a puzzle-platformer where you guide a young child through dangerous environments. And it says something that Press Play’s Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a thousand times more appealing than Limbo, merely because it has more than four colors. No doubt the audiences that sucked down every mascot platformer back in the day are criticizing this game for being “too kiddy”.
9:50-9:51 – I’ve heard a couple of people suggest that the action in Dark Souls 2 appears to be a little bit faster than its predecessors, and from my perspective, appears a little bit more in-line with conventional hack-and-slash wisdom, particularly with the spacing and enemies coming from multiple angles. With all the fear that Namco-Bandai wants to turn this series into their Skyrim, their multi-million-selling juggernaut, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
9:52 – Microsoft Studios Corporate Vice President and Jimmy Kimmel look-alike Phil Spencer announces that everything from this point on the broadcast onward will be for Xbox One. I love how corporate executives come out in these sloppy suits and off-matching shirts to try and give us the impression that they are not somehow part of a tight-wound corporate culture. This isn’t Atari circa 1976, and dudes ain’t doing drugs in the parking lot. You have no credibility.
9:53-9:55 – Hey kids! Remember when Ryse was a Kinect-based hack-and-slash for the Xbox 360, a proof of concept for “Kinect: The Hardcore Gaming Device”? Yeah, enough false marketing. This shit is for Xbox One, and it’s using a game controller, just like the ancient Romans would have wanted. You guys know this is for the hardest of the hardcore, because the first objective is “Destroy the Tower: Secure the Beachhead”. Sound familiar? It should, because we have just stumbled into Call of Duty: Roman Warfare.
9:56-9:59 – There was once a time when the crude, rhythmic combat in Batman: Arkham Asylum was seen as a perversion of what Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, God Hand, and other games had done in bringing the brawler genre to three-dimensional game worlds. Well, modern televisions still have significant input latency, and video games are still too hard for most people. So now, brawlers are going to get even easier. The combat in Ryse uses quick-time overlays for every combat action which is not an initiating strike. (One of my readers compared it to Asura’s Wrath.) By any measure, this is utterly fucking hilarious. Spartan: Total Warrior is off crying in a corner someplace, so Ryse will be compared to God of War, which looks like Bayonetta right about now. What a wonderful game to set the tone for the more cynical viewers. Keep on shinin’ dem cow turds, boys.
10:00 – Crytek C.E.O. Cevat Yerli comes on-stage to defend his cow turd. Seriously, if this company didn’t nail it with Crysis, they would be sharing airtime with Ninja Theory, Obsidian, and Treyarch for the companies that accomplished the least while achieving the most. Yerli announces this will be an exclusive for Xbox One. Ryse will get seven-out-of-ten scores from the scandal mills, and will never be heard from again.
10:01 – No way, Xbox One has Bonestorm! Mom, buy me Xbox or go to hell!
10:01 – The loudest cheers of the night erupt because Killer Instinct is something that people are actually nostalgic for. Seriously, fuck. It’s time to agree that Rare is the most overrated video game developer in existence.
10:02 – Insomniac Games C.E.O. Ted Price takes some time off from counting all of the money that his company made with Fuse. (It’s a lot of work dumping all those pennies and nickels into the automatic change machine.) Price announces Sunset Overdrive, a game which will immediately merit comparisons to the fated Overstrike project, and we will all laugh at Insomniac’s failure, because we are assholes.
10:03-10:04 – To elaborate on that point…if you’re not aware, Insomniac was working on a game by the name of Overstrike, best described as a squad-based third-person shooter getting the Saturday morning cartoon treatment. But when twelve-year-old focus testers decided the game was not mature enough for their tastes, the project became the serious and edgy Fuse. Both Insomniac and publisher Electronic Arts insist no corporate meddling was involved, but your Bullshit Meter blew up before I even said that. Yup, Insomniac decided against colorful and over-the-top. And for their next project, Sunset Overdrive, they went colorful and over-the-top. Laff. Assuming the game plays anything like it was portrayed in the reveal trailer, a third-person shooter with extended acrobatics ala Gun, I’ll remain mildly curious.
10:04-10:05 – The main display screen provides us with an introduction and tribute to McLaren auto racing. They end the display by introducing a really, really expensive car, live and on-stage. As usual, I’m not the right audience for this.
10:05-10:07 – Welcome to Forza Motorsport 5 and Turn 10 Game Director Dan Greenawalt: “Together, with McLaren, we believe in innovation.” Dude, you are making games in the subgenre of simulation racing. Your goal is to innovate at the exact same speed as the car industry. Soon after, the presentation begins to sound like every other slob-job in the simulation racing genre, in that “the play of light on a perfect coat of paint” and “the feel of hand-stitched leather” are marketing buzz that could have sold any simulation racing game since Gran Turismo. Maybe even back to Virtua Racing. Shit.
10:07-10:09 – Greenawalt claims the racers in Forza 5 don’t drive like computer opponents and feel human. We’ve heard this one before, hold your breath. The game’s chief upgrade is the “Drivatar”. Yes, Drivatar™. Basically, the game records and analyzes your playstyle, so that it can be used for use as artificial intelligence in matches run by other players. When players compete against your Drivatar™, you get rewarded. It’s the simulation racing equivalent of the Dragon’s Dogma pawn system, where players could adopt your Pawn for use in their missions. I look forward to the cottage industry of players who ruin the data collection process by running every race in reverse with the intent of destroying all the other cars.
10:09-10:10 – More Forza. I’m hard-pressed to give a shit at this point, so I won’t.
10:10 – Microsoft Corporate Vice President Phil Harrison: “Nobody has been more committed to supporting independent game development than Xbox.” Amusingly enough, if you asked me who I thought the most “independent” companies in video games are, I would say Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. They finance their own games and they make their own hardware, allowing them to control the costs and design of competing software. That’s independence, kids. In a perverted way, Harrison is not lying. Unfortunately, in the world where “independent game” means “game that costs fifty dollars to make”, he’s a motherfucker.
10:12 – Harrison: “The megahit on Xbox 360 is coming to Xbox One.” Because when I think of “reasons you need to buy a hardware upgrade”, when I think of “experience that you cannot get on any other platform”, I think of Minecraft.
10:12 – Harrison mentions that they showed us footage of Quantum Break at the Xbox One reveal conference. If you want to call it that. It was kind of like drawing an arm and calling it the season preview of an animated cartoon series.
10:13-10:14 – As Remedy lead writer Sam Lake reveals, Quantum Break will follow in the lead of the financially maligned Defiance, the television series with a video game addendum. While I will quickly concede that Alan Wake was one of the more admirable attempts to take the lessons of movies and television and apply them to video games, it’s nice to know that we’re still largely ignoring what video games as a narrative medium are capable of, and that we will continue to stunt videogame storytelling by chasing that media.
10:14-10:16 – So the premise of the game is that the main character can freeze time, and when time freezes, everything looks like the Uncanny Valley. The hero literally pulls another character out of an explosive freeze frame and they go into a monologue, ignoring that the hero’s partner has already informed him (and the audience) that the flux will be collapsing shortly. The flux collapses, shit explodes, and the characters run for their life. This is why nobody takes video game writing seriously.
10:16 – Hardly anything to make of D4, a “psychological thriller” where You Are the Controller™, a game from the makers of Deadly Premonition. Little footage and context for that footage presented. In other words, Microsoft desperately needed to convince the internet that the Xbox One has games, and to achieve that goal, rounded up any video game with working code.
10:17-10:20 – Microsoft Game Studios General Manager Dave McCarthy unveils Project Spark, a game designed to capitalize on the profitability of the Minecraft procedural generation phenomenon and position video games as educational learning tools, because Project Spark will let people “create their own games”, or something. The procedural generation looks great, and this is something which the god game and simulation genres have really busted their ass to improve over the last decade. (Anyone who played the old Sim City games, where skyscrapers would materialize out of thin air, knows about this.) My gut reflex would be that Project Spark is not only the equivalent of a do-it-yourself Fable game, but will be marketed towards that audience.
10:20-10:22 – The developers show the results and fruition of a mature Project Spark battlefield, and shit goes down. In the process, I am convinced the game will have the same issues as the Fable games. Namely, the insultingly low difficulty level and an emphasis on “LOOK AT THIS COOL THING YOU CAN DO”, with no thought given to making the concepts work as a whole. On cue, the player cuts down a horde of incoming goblins with a volcano attack, and in response to overwhelming odds, summons “RockMech”, best described as “Transformers meets the golems of high fantasy”. LOOK AT THIS COOL THING YOU CAN DO. Meh.
10:23 – Marc Whitten stumbles on-stage and into the time warp, the one where SmartGlass is something that people actually care about. Oh, people never cared about SmartGlass? Very well. Whitten welcomes “Ashton” (Xbox Live Community Manager Ashton Williams) to show how SmartGlass can be used to track your statistics. And, in the instance of Ryse, provide hints for how to play the game. If you need a hint guide to play Ryse, you’re the dumbest motherfucker on the planet. (I’m looking forward to the Brian Ashcraft review of the hint guide.) While that’s going on…
10:24-10:25 – …Ashton is searching for a match in Killer Instinct, and is paired against “Torren”, who arrives on-stage for his match. (At least I think his name is “Torren”. Google is failing me here. Help me out.) The match quickly goes south for Ashton, and Torren addresses his female counterpart with a solid choice of words: “Just let it happen. It will be over soon.” Oh boy. Predictably, rape metaphors aren’t popular in feminist circles, and seeing that video games are a largely male pursuit and a fantastic punching bag, it set off an unimaginable sound and fury on the internet. And I will be dead-honest: I didn’t catch it on the first viewing. For those of you haven’t figured this out, rape metaphors and online video games go well beyond gender. You get very used to it. In my little world, all I saw was a dedicated, skilled video game player kicking ass, and a weaker gamer railing off irrelevant excuses like “you have a fightstick”. That’s all I saw.
10:26-10:27 – Torren uploads the game to the internet using the new Upload Studio by Xbox. For those of you who haven’t been using the internet to stream video, there is now an entire group of video editors dedicated to making fun of “skill montages”. Without any sense of irony, Torren uploads his “EPIC SKILL” video to the internet. At least we have a great preview of what will be one of the most parodied portions of eighth-generation video games.
10:27 – Whitten asks Williams how she feels about being raped by a video game. Williams responds by asking “How many friends does this guy really have?” A crappy joke deserve another crappy joke. But just so we’re clear: When a member of the video game industry casually dismisses the pursuit of taking video games seriously, nobody cares. And I think that sums up the modern video game industry about as well as a crappy rape joke. (It’s worth mentioning that Williams gave Torren his come-uppance in the next match of Killer Instinct, and the audience cheered. They won’t be talking about that. Not good for creating the narrative you desire.)
10:28 – Whitten: “We’re moving from Microsoft Points to real money.” Whatever. For the remaining five people who don’t understand how come Microsoft used a fiat currency, I’ll go ahead and explain it here. Arcades used to have a system where you exchanged your dollars and quarters for tokens. Once they got your money, it was theirs. Microsoft Points did the same thing. The end.
10:29-10:30 – Hey look, it’s another one of those “hardcore 360 Kinect games” I’ve heard a lot about. It’s Crimson Dragon, now played with a controller, now exclusively for Xbox One. Lol. And just when you think that Microsoft is giving solid lip service and airtime to Panzer Dragoon‘s successor, the trailer goes live and without any sound. Way to go, Microsoft. Good job. Good effort.
10:31-10:36 – Fortunately, Dead Rising 3 looks really, really cool. For those of you wondering whether video game developers will use this new hardware for pushing new concepts and boundaries, here you go. It’s an open-world game where thousands of zombies roam the streets without technical malady, an open-world game where you can finally rummage through detailed and vast interiors. Although I will express one disappointment: While the Dead Rising series prides itself on utter carnage and a deliciously, bloody means of crowd control, I’d love to see a zombie game where being flanked or surrounded means death. No, that doesn’t mean “defenseless”. It means, “you find the correct route out of the room or 300 zombies are going to make a meal of your ass”. All the divergent routes for moving around the game world certainly provide that feeling, but the regenerating (?) health and lazy zombies do not.
10:37 – Co-presenter Mike Bridge shows the audience how you can use SmartGlass to call in an artillery strike. These are real words and I am typing them. When the “stealth game” Splinter Cell: Blacklist offered the option of airstrikes, it was hilarious. Now it’s just tedious. It will always amaze me how video game developers and players have missed the point. “Being a badass” is about facilitating the skills that allow the player to be a badass. See: Serious Sam and Devil May Cry, two games that give players a diversity of options that have to be mastered. It’s not about having the game do the heavy lifting for you.
10:37-10:38 – CD Projekt Red Executive Producer John Mamais announces that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is coming to Xbox One. It is a recurring trend at Microsoft Press Conferences that everyone in the building would rather be someplace else and Mamais is no exception. Microsoft handed this dude’s company a wad of money and he is just fulfilling the contractual obligations.
10:38-10:40 – These games now look so good that it is becoming utterly comical. I don’t know if it will be enough to sell the public on a hardware upgrade, but damn if the video enthusiasts won’t enjoy the hell out of this stuff. Say what you want about the direction of the large publishers, but these dudes are pushing visual boundaries, and it is easily the best trend to come out of their production mills. It’s not merely the use of color. These development teams can just crank out textures for every type of environment imaginable and get them onto a single disc. All you need are the hordes of artists to fulfill that cohesive artistic vision.
10:41-10:43 – Digital Illusions CE (DICE) C.E.O. Patrick Soderlund wants to show us Battlefield 4: Second Assault, but the demonstration stalls for some reason, and it takes about ninety seconds to get their shit in order. In case you’re worried that this is stealing airtime from any game, don’t worry, they cancelled the world premiere of Vanquish 2 and probably aren’t going to release the game at all now. Yes. That’ll do.
10:43-10:48 – On cue, the Battlefield 4 single-player looks much like every other modern shooter since Call of Duty 4 codified the blueprint. One of the characters remarks to “Do as I say and we’ll get off this boat.” Many, many of today’s games have similar dialogue and I have never believed this was an accident. This is subliminal. Do as the game says and you will complete the mission. No thinking for yourself. And that’s why I’m hard-pressed to remotely give a shit about games like these, even as they look better, sound better, and explode larger. This is the same game that you have been playing for six years.
10:48 – Soderlund announces that the first downloadable content for Battlefield 4 will arrive first for the Xbox One. Groovy. You rule, man. Keep the hits on coming. Exclusive downloadable content is so liberating.
10:49 – Phil Harrison heads back on stage and announces that the next game is a roguelike. News flash: Most of the people who have used the phrase “roguelike” have never played one, have no idea what makes roguelikes good, and think Diablo is a roguelike. What Lies Below is a direct response to the criticism that “indie games” (and the companies using that marketing label) use pixelated, ugly protagonists. So rather than making their pixel art bigger and more detailed, they’re upping the screen resolution by gigantic orders of magnitude. Ugh. The main character might as well be a dot or a rectangle. Congratulations on designing a game that will be completely unplayable on anything less than a fifty-two-inch television.
10:50 – Harrison announces that a new studio will be releasing a “brand-new triple-A exclusive game”. The displayed content is not associated with a game name, and we don’t even know if it’s associated with a game. It could be a tech demo. That won’t stop Microsoft from using it as part of an initiative to show how much game development is being done for the Xbox One.
10:51-10:53 – I don’t know if this trailer is supposed to be some kind of stab at Journey, but if it is, why fucking bother? Oh wait, it’s Master Chief under the shroud, and he’s going to be in a new game called Halo. Yes, Halo. No subtitle. To be truly cynical about this, it would seem that one of the easiest ways to prevent people from distributing information and knowledge about video gaming’s past is to obfuscate the language. Therefore, the newest Xbox is the Xbox One, to cast confusion with the original Xbox. Therefore, the newest Halo game is Halo, to diminish the legacy of Halo: Combat Evolved. Just make it messy enough that people don’t want to give it any thought.
10:53-10:55 – 343 Industries’ studio head Bonnie Ross comes on stage and says absolutely nothing of interest. She keeps repeating this lie that “the cloud” will somehow redefine the video game experience. “The power of the cloud” is just a fancy way of saying “we are programming our games so they require server-side calculation, and that they disappear when we can’t make any more money off of them”.
10:55-10:56 – Then Phil Spencer drops the bombshell: Four-hundred-and-ninety-nine U.S. dollars, this November. Several seconds of silence pass, and then I think the “Applause” sign finally lit up. As we have discussed in the past and is pretty common knowledge, the devices with the lower price points tend to win out over the more expensive and more powerful consoles. But this may be the first time a major console manufacturer has released a device that is more expensive and less powerful. The conventional wisdom says that an underpowered and expensive device with minimal resale value, intrusive software restrictions, and what might as well be a mandatory yearly subscription has no market. But this is an American video game console built for the American public. Attach a couple of cupholders and some miniature American flags to this thing and you’ll have the best-selling consumer device in the history of the best country on the planet. ‘Murica, boys. Don’t mess with our spy console.
10:56-10:59 – Prior to the reveal of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, I insisted that Microsoft should see if they can secure the Call of Duty series as a Microsoft exclusive. Guess they settled on a better solution: Lock up the new game from the guys who made Call of Duty a success, and do it for much less money. And it looks very, very interesting. Welcome to Titanfall. The parkour is an immediate upgrade from the typical, slow-brained movement in the console shooters, though the graphics look a bit by-committee, best described as Halo, Killzone, and Call of Duty in a single bite.
10:59 – Local hero Vince Zampella walks on the stage, and if I was at the conference, I probably would have gotten kicked out, because I would have been quite vocal about pointing out that he is a local hero. He fought the big, evil corporation and got his money. I’m okay with that.
11:00-11:04 – I stand by my assertion that console first-person shooters are philosophically inferior to computer first-person shooters, and that I would prefer console developers to focus on the third-person shooter. But if they are developing Titanfall with the console in mind, it looks like a fantastic effort. Say what you want about the quality of Infinity Ward’s games, but they always nailed “feel”. It’s not that the controls were merely solid. Along with some subtle aesthetic decisions, the guns and shooting in those games had a nearly perfect and weighty feel to them. (And if you don’t believe this, play a game like Homefront. It’s very easy to screw this up.) Oh, but now, Respawn has meaningful mech play to go with its conventional infantry stuff and does not appear to be a mismanaged gimmick. Great way to end the show.
Unfortunately, there is one problem here: Sony had their own press conference later that night, and their words turned into jet fighters that wrecked every strata in the sky.
7:40 p.m. Pacific Time – Sony Computer Entertainment America C.E.O. Jack Tretton: “…we’re equally focused on delivering what gamers want most, without imposing restrictions or devaluing their PS4 purchases. For instance, PlayStation 4 won’t impose any new restrictions on the use of PS4 [games].” The crowd breaks out in a raucuous applause, probably louder than anything during the Microsoft event. Even Tretton seems surprised by the reaction and breaks in a pretty hefty smile. The relief is mutual, Sony.
7:41 – Tretton: “When a gamer buys a PS4 disc, they have the rights to use that copy of the game, they can trade in the game at retail, lend it to a friend, or keep it forever.”
7:41 – “In addition, disc-based PS4 games don’t need to be connected online to play.”
7:42 – “If you enjoy playing single-player games offline, PS4 won’t require you to check in online periodically.” Tretton then announces that it won’t stop working if you don’t check once every twenty-four hours, a very specific jab at Microsoft. The crowd grows louder with every announcement.
Oh, and one other thing:
8:05 – Sony Computer Entertainment President Andrew House: “I’m very proud to announce that PlayStation 4 will be available at 399 dollars.” Just for those of you who love this “video game history” stuff, back at E3 1995, Sega made the surprise announcement that the Saturn’s launch was upgraded from “September” to “immediately”. Sega pissed off the large retailers who were expecting differently, but they had struck the first blow. In response, Sony Computer Entertainment America President Steve Race was invited on the stage to give us some extended thoughts during the Sony Keynote. He said “299” and walked off the stage. The Saturn was dead.
The crowd response for the price of the PlayStation 4 wasn’t merely excitement for the product. We love the drama. People can hate on corporations, but they love when corporations go at each other, and this was an “OH NO YOU DIDN’T” moment. Who knows what goes on in the heads of these suits, but it’s a shame that Sony pissed away most of their financial flexibility. I think that if they could have announced the PlayStation 4 at 299 dollars, they would have done it. It’s a damn shame they couldn’t have. My dream scenario: Kaz Hirai walks on stage, announces “TWO-HUNDRED-AND-NINETY-NINE U.S. DOLLARS”, and creates the sweetest tale of revenge in the history of internet memes. Alas, we’ll settle for 399 and a significant Sony lead.
Honestly though, have video games ever had such an obvious and visible enemy as Microsoft? Yes, there have been plenty of heated developer and platform rivalries, and video game players have always been eager to get in on those rivalries. But I can’t think of a single video game entity which provided such a unifying cause for anyone who gives a passing crap about video games. Note that the people who play games like Angry Birds, Call of Duty, and Madden do not qualify under this description. And that’s what makes it perfect: If the Xbox One is to succeed as a video game device, it will be achieved by the people who once despised video games as entertainment media or give the artform little to no thought. The destruction of the preservation of art will predictably come from those who value video games the least. As a bonus, it will be achieved through the American video game market. Both Japan and Europe will become an afterthought for Microsoft. It’s so deliciously U.S.A. It’s like one of those real-time strategy games where the “good guys” and the “bad guys” have to band together to kill the “really bad guys”.
What a racket this is. Sony Computer Entertainment Interactive, a company that couldn’t keep their PlayStation Network secure and pissed off the entire internet two years ago, just did a full face turn and got the approval of nearly anyone who plays video games. Think about it: The current perception is that a video game company won a “console war” by boldly and proudly announcing to the world that consumers are human beings and they have rights. You can’t make this shit up. (Oh, and don’t worry. Give it five years, and once Sony has won, the used games will be gone. Laff.) As you can imagine, this will be an incredibly interesting half-decade for video games, and they will look much, much different by the time this console war is over. I don’t know where it goes from here. Until then, your overlords revealed a lot of very, very appealing games and I look forward to enjoying them. The eighth generation is go-time. It’s Sony, Microsoft, and a battle for the future. Am I forgetting anyone? No? Okay, good. Let’s do this.