Five-and-a-half years ago, David Wong authored “Life after the Video Game Crash”, arguing that most people are playing video games for the novelty, and that most people are oblivious to progress in the medium unless it is packaged with pretty graphics or a new input method.* What was Sony’s novelty? They offered three-dimensional video games and positioned their devices as entertainment outlets, allowing people to listen to music or play movies on their game device. By doing that, Sony was able to sell hundreds of millions of PlayStations and reach the top of this business.
That interest in the novelty of Sony products has helped fund and finance the last fifteen years of increasingly expensive console video game development. From there, you know the problem. The people who purchased those game devices are finding a more acceptable price point for video games on their phone. Namely, the one where it costs zero dollars. And with the exodus of the average video game player to other devices, the licensed video games that helped to subsidize the more substantive projects have all but disappeared. This malaise in the business of console video games has already taken one major publisher to bankruptcy. (THQ, that is. Sorry, Atari isn’t important anymore.) And what new novelty will these new, expensive game consoles offer? Good call. You and me will find new experiences that could never have been done on the older hardware. The average random will see prettier graphics, roll his eyes, and head back to playing Pig Shit Farmland.
So with that in mind, I have tempered my expectations for the next generation of console video game hardware. And with it, the PlayStation 4 reveal. Not because I think they will fail to disappoint. But there’s been a lot of rumors going around. Governments and corporations have finally figured out how to sell the public on global surveillance…by selling it to them. Put it in a box and make parents explain to their nine-year-old why they aren’t letting them purchase the coolest video game system ever. (Here’s your pseudo-Orwellian bullshit of the day: Two large, faceless entities are about to go to war with each other. In order to prepare for the next phase of the operation, they are demanding that we buy devices with cameras built into them. You know, because they’re fun!) But wouldn’t that alienate the “core gamer”, the audience that is going to become more important in this generation of game development?
Well, everyone knows my position: I think the console video game business is in decline and will continue to decline. I think the next five years of console video games could be a transcendent experience and companies will continue to lose money. So what do you stand to lose if you build cameras and microphones into your game hardware? Where customers will never feel comfortable and alone when they’re jerking off to the action in a game? If you’re sitting in a Sony board room and determining ways to make your products shittier, you might as well make the hardware of the future the judge, jury, and executioner. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And speaking of “damned”, a Japanese corporation in a state of financial crisis wants to sell us a new entertainment system. Let’s listen.
Tuesday, February 20th, 2013; 6:00 E.S.T. – The opening montage informs us of something incredibly important: “IMAGINATION IS THE ONE WEAPON IN THE WAR AGAINST REALITY”. A truly fitting tagline for a company which appears to have no realistic options and could be out of business (or require a bailout from the Japanese government) in the next decade.
6:01-6:03 – Generic stock footage is followed by a montage of all your favorite PlayStation brands: Uncharted, the multi-platform Assassin’s Creed series, Ratchet and Clank, God of War, random black guy, smiling Japanese couple, the multi-platform NBA2K series, and Final Fantasy X, a series which has long gone multi-platform. If you haven’t already realized that console brand identity isn’t what it used to be, this is your cue to do so. The montage cycles through more game series and a variety of old PlayStation game commercials. Fair time to mention how much I despised those Crash Bandicoot commercials as a kid. Crash Bandicoot had no business walking up to Nintendo of America headquarters and challenging them to a fight. And then I found out Final Fantasy VII was going to be on the PlayStation, and Nintendo stopped being cool. Yes, I once existed in some bizarro timespace continuum.
6:03 – Sony Computer Entertainment President Andrew House walks on stage. Extremely subdued crowd that’s quite atypical of the usual video game press conference. I dunno, if I was running one of these things, I would start the show off with a reveal of the hardware. This is the YouTube generation, people. If you don’t sell them in the first twenty seconds, they don’t give a crap. I only write five-thousand-word recaps because I have a documented mental illness. It’s called “unwarranted self-importance”.
6:04 – House: “We’ll show you how we’re making access to our content and experiences, social interactions, and titles, vastly more simplified and streamlined.” Oh. It’s those words again. “Simplified” and “streamlined”. Has there been any time in the last decade where a video game company spoke those words and it didn’t end very poorly for video game players?
6:04 – House: “And we’ll show the many ways in which the living room is no longer the center of the PlayStation ecosystem. The gamer is.” Oh. It’s that word again: Gamer. I don’t think I need to cover this one. On cue, the background imagery flashes the photos of dozens of “gamers” who had pictures of them taken by Sony products without their permission.
6:05 – House: “In-fact, the operating system and chipset inside PlayStation Vita is so powerful, we think it could bring significant value to gamers’ living room experiences.” This is probably a good time to mention that you have coaxed everyone into this video game event on the implied premise that you will be revealing the second major video game console in seven years. (Funny note: I originally wrote “first major video game console”. Shows how well the Wii U is putting things together.) Why the fuck are you talking about the PlayStation Vita and where the fuck is my PlayStation 4? Why didn’t this show start with console porn?
6:05 – House: “We’ll be talking more about this exciting initiative later this year, but it’s safe to say that we’ll continue to unlock PlayStation Vita’s potential.” This exciting initiative is the one where all support for the PlayStation Vita is cancelled.
6:06 – House name-drops Journey, everyone’s favorite walking simulator. The Journey name-drop seems kind of out-of-place. Even that game didn’t bore the absolute shit out of me six minutes in. I know I am not the only person who did not come here to watch a traditional press conference in the vein of the Electronic Entertainment Expo. I came here to watch a Sony game console attain sentience, storm into the Microsoft board room, laugh at Steve Ballmer, and record his tears so that the world may see them.
6:08 – And “PS4” finally rears its name on the back projector. Oh, so yeah, it’s officially the PlayStation 4. Thanks to video game luminary and hentai philosopher Brian Ashcraft, a rumor made the rounds that the PlayStation 4 code name (Orbis) could end up being the final name for the console. The reasoning is that “4” is an unlucky number in Japan. He then proceeds to mention that most Japanese video game sequels just use the word rather than the number. Brian Ashcraft is a dipshit. Or me and the rest of the world got trolled for pageviews. In that case, he’s a dipshit asshole.
6:09 – And we’re officially into the Post-Introduction: Introduction phase of this event. House continues to shill pointless corporate buzzwords, and the more I mention his name without mentioning anything interesting, the more I want to start making bad lupus references. It’s not lupus. It’s boredom.
6:11 – Andrew House is rewarded for his non-efforts with a breather and introduces long-time Atari, Sega, and Naughty Dog game designer Mark Cerny, the Lead System Architect for the PlayStation 4. The Crash Bandicoot theme music plays in the background. Fittingly, the musical celebration of a goofy, bumbling mascot features Cerny entering stage left and House looking for him, facing stage right.
6:12 – Cerny explains how video game consoles were once single-purpose devices. “Insert the cartridge, the CD, the DVD, power it on, play your game.” Those were the Dark Ages of video games, where nothing got between the player and an immersive experience. Cerny continues by asserting the PlayStation 3 was a tipping point designed to reflect a connected world, and claims “the PS3 has done pretty well in these respects, it’s the top platform for Netflix.” Absolutely hilarious. You might as well have said “Xbox Live is kicking our fucking asses.”
6:13 – Cerny: “With so many platforms to support, much less value is found today in exotic technologies or “blast processing” or a “supercomputer on a chip”. So, er, uh, buy our new, world-shattering PlayStation 4 hardware?
6:13-6:14 – Cerny outlines his goals for the new platform. The first is to “make sure that nothing comes between the…platform, and the joy of playing.” He follows this up by stating he wants a device which can “fluidly connect the player to a larger world of experiences”. In other words, a realistic down-to-Earth show that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots. He follows this with a third goal for “developer flexibility”…
6:15 – …which entails “the PlayStation 4 is a personal computer”. PC architecture, PC central processing unit, PC graphics processing unit, eight gigabytes of RAM, and a hard drive. No doubt that the GameFAQs forums are flooded with idiots heralding this moment as the deathblow for the personal computer.
6:16 – And sixteen minutes into the show, an actual glimpse of actual hardware. No, not the console. The DualShock 4 is live. Predictably, this is going to piss off the large number of video game players who will be asked to throw down money for another new, expensive input device. If there’s one thing we learned about the Wii U, it’s that people do not like controllers which cost as much as the games themselves.
6:17 – Cerny: “And finally, we added a few new features: A touchpad as a new form of input, a Share Button and a headphone jack to enhance social interactions, and a…[light bar] as a simpler, more friendly way to identify players.” A Share Button? Oh, to hell with you.
6:17 – “And this new controller was designed in tandem with a second peripheral: A stereo camera that can sense the depth of the environment in front of it and track the 3D position of the controller via its light bar.” Oh. So the controller is also the PlayStation Move. Meh.
6:18 – And Cerny finally cuts to an actual game demo using Unreal Engine 4. Or at least they claim it’s a game demo. Remember: This is the same company which claimed its pre-rendered E3 2005 presentation of Killzone 2 was a real-time demonstration. Either way, it will always startle me that we’ve gone from Pong to near-photorealism in forty years. And in a single sentence, Cerny surmises why the average consumer will be hard-pressed to give a crap about these new game consoles: “There’s some very sophisticated technology here: GPU-accelerated particle systems and realistic transmissive materials with substantial subsurface scattering.” Shit. That barely means anything to me. One thing is certain about this demonstration: Particle effects are going to be the new motion blur.
6:18-6:19 – More information about the hardware: Eight cores, “two teraflops of computational performance”, and GDDR5 memory, resulting in “176 gigabytes per second of bandwidth”. Meh. It’s fitting that Cerny’s roots are in Atari, because this is beginning to sound like an Atari Jaguar marketing campaign, rooted in the infamous slogan of “Do the Math”. And then everybody found out the 64-bit processor was a fucking farce. Not just because it wasn’t a true 64-bit processor, but because nobody could figure out how to program games for the damn console. In other words, “listen to our awesome hardware specs” stopped appealing to me roughly around the time you could no longer measure the power of a processor based on its MegaHertz, and there’s a reason for that. It’s what you do with the hardware that counts. And, well…the hardware in the PlayStation 3 was god’s gift to console video games until everybody realized the RAM bottleneck was extremely difficult to overcome.
6:20-6:22 – Cerny states that he is directing a game and wants to show some footage. It’s a stylized battle between Orcs and Humans. The Humans introduce their secret weapon, and the result looks something like a Katamari game crossed with God of War. It sounds cooler than it looks. The name of the game is Knack, and the trailer appears to be roughly on-par with the trailers for seventh-generation video games. Smooth. Probably would have been a good idea to mention whether or not this is real-time game footage. There’s probably a reason that they have not.
6:23 – The PlayStation 4, like the PlayStation Vita, can enter a low-power state. Or, as they called it back on personal computers in 2002, Sleep Mode. Snark aside, the idea of being able to immediately return to the action in a video game sounds like a pretty sweet concept and one that will get a lot of use. I vividly remember the Super Nintendo having a third-party game device that could do the same thing. Although I can’t find any mention of it on the internet, so maybe I dreamed about it.
6:23 – Cerny: “Social play is so important to PlayStation 4 that we’ve added in hardware to support it in the form of dedicated, always-on video compression and decompression systems.”
6:24 – First reveal of the PlayStation 4 user interface, complete with all the social gaming elements worth despising. Should probably mention that the user interface has a space for your avatar and a real first-and-last name. Since we’re all worked up about used video game lockout systems, probably a good time to ask the following question: How does the PlayStation know how many “Friends Who Own This”? Based on what registration process, should I ask?
6:25 – And not only will you be able to transmit screenshots and video with the Share Button, you will even be able to transmit your play session in real-time and become another mediocre addition to the Let’s Play movement. The stream is complete with a live chat feed, which is obviously fake, because I don’t see the word “faggot” in every other sentence. (The chat log is actually pretty damn funny. It’s precisely the kind of cock-sucking you would expect to find in a live stream for a female video game player.) Before everyone gets too caught up in the chat and microphone integration for this stream function, it’s probably worth mentioning that you are given an option to disable it.
6:25 – Cerny: “You can even see that your friend is in trouble and reach out through the network to take over the controller and assist them through a difficult portion of the game.” Congratulations, modern video game players. Roughly ten years ago, the rise of the internet walkthrough assured that players would never have to explore the game in order to complete it. Now, you don’t even need to read the fucking walkthrough. You can have tech support beat the game for you. Amazing. This function makes GameFAQs part of the new hardcore.
6:25-6:26 – Cerny: “And on PlayStation 4 we are transitioning to a friends network based on real-world friends.” He then mentions that anonymity is still valid and important, but he is lying. The service appears to be the bastard child of Steam and Battle.net 2.0. Please continue telling the large percentage of video game players who play video games to escape from the real world that they’re a bunch of assholes.
6:29 – Gaikai C.E.O. David Perry emerges on stage. This is probably a good time to remind everyone that Sony spent 380 million dollars on this company. And if Sony loses a hundred dollars on every PlayStation 4 that is sold, Sony will have to sell negative four million consoles to break even. Good luck making money back on this investment.
6:31 – Perry: “The PlayStation Network will get to know you by understanding your personal preferences and the preferences of the community, and turns this knowledge into useful information that will help to enhance future gameplay. So like, when your friends purchase a new game, you’ll know immediately so you can join into the action.” Seriously. This is the kind of shit that turns people into mass murderers. One day, you’re buying the next game in the Arcana Heart series. The next day, your friends want to know why you’re jerking it to cartoon girls. The next day, people die.
6:31 – Perry announces that the PlayStation 4 will allow you to stream a trial version of any full video game for the system. Cool stuff.
6:32 – Perry, in the most sterling endorsement of software piracy that a console game developer could possibly offer: “I’ve always liked that concept: Try it for free, share it if you like it, and pay only for the games you fall in love with.”
6:32 – Perry: “Social networks such as Facebook are obviously critical for how we stay in touch with our friends and current events around the world.” No. They’re not.
6:32 – Perry: “They don’t know your PlayStation gaming history and all your preferences, nor those of your friends. They don’t know if you’re a Journey expert.” Ahahahaha. He actually used the phrase “Journey expert”. Fucking kill me.
6:34 – “But wouldn’t it be cool if you were stuck in a difficult level, like you just can’t work out how to get through that door? You could ask a friend on the internet who’s finished the game to take over your controller and assist.” Shutupshutupshutup.
6:34 – “…and friends can drop in special items for you, a health potion when you’re in critical condition.” GAHFUCKSHITFUCK.
6:36 – And the PlayStation 4 will allow you to stream games directly to the PlayStation Vita. At least the device will have some games now. I’m more curious to see how the controls translate, since the Vita (like the PSP) is missing the additional pair of shoulder buttons. I presume that every PlayStation 4 game is going to require its own control set that is programmed for the portable device.
6:36 – Perry: “For example, say you’re in the middle of an epic battle on PS4, but your kids have just taken over the living room. What do you do?” Uh, I would examine the connection between “your kids are out of control” and “you’re playing video games all day”.
6:38 – Perry quickly segues into the other entertainment and media options for the PlayStation 4, and this begins to sound like every other Microsoft and Sony press conference that has been held over the last four years. Yawn.
6:38 – Perry: “Although PS3 titles aren’t natively supported on the PS4…” And you can stop right there, because you’ve pretty much pissed off everyone who was hoping their games would be backwards compatible. (I am not one of those people. That’s why you hold on to older hardware, you dummies.) But the man continues onward, stating the goal is to create a system where older PlayStation titles can be streamed to any device. “This would fundamentally change the concept of game longevity.” You’re absolutely right. And assuming we get a world where all games are streamed to the client and little more, you will be part of the problem.
6:40 – A promo and trailer for developers working with the PlayStation 4 hardware begins with “PlayStation 4: The Promise”. This entails five things: Simple, Personalized, Immediate, Integrated, Social. Lol.
6:40-6:41 – Quantic Dream developer and video game plaguebearer David Cage…actually, wait. Before you read this, I want to assure you that I listened to the statement roughly ten times in order to make sure that I heard it correctly and then wrote it down correctly. So here you go: “That they gave us the possibility to provide feedback and to adapt based on the feedback they received from developers, was for me a very poor message.” What the fuck does that even mean? And how the hell did that get into a development montage for the PlayStation 4? What the hell is going on here?
6:42 – “Through personalization, there can be a relationship between the type of content that I’m interested and how the options are presented to me.” How wonderful. The Call of Duty fanboys will never have to engage with content that may damage their secluded worldview.
Seriously though, what the fuck was David Cage going on about?
6:42 – Unnamed developer: “It doesn’t involve three minutes of boot-up and disc-shuffling and sort of all these things that are just like, a nuisance between the impulse to play a game.”
6:43 – Another unnamed developer: “Historically, console games have…very much like, lived in a tower. You go to your living room, you have that experience there, and that’s where it happens, and like, you leave your living room and then you have the rest of your life.” This entire section of the promotional video is amusing. It’s essentially arguing that, thanks to the social features that are being built into modern video game devices, you no longer have to be social in order to play video games socially. The best part about this? The unwashed masses, the people who once argued that virtual worlds were a waste of time, that argued we were hopelessly addicted to video games and technology, are the ones driving this innovation and necessity to access the technology anywhere at any time.
6:45 – Zero applause as the show returns from the promo video. Sony probably wanted the press and audience to remain respectful, but this is coming off really bad on the livecast. No, I am not saying that I want the hooting and hollering which has accompanied countless E3 press conference-slash-advertisements. But this is supposed to be the celebration of a new beginning in your field of expertise. If this event was being run by Apple, this thing would look like a funeral for a North Korean head-of-state. Grown men would be openly weeping in the aisles.
6:45 – Accompanied by some of the worst stock dance-slash-pop music imaginable, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Vice President Michael Denny takes the stage. The guy looks like some crazy cross between an American college prep student, country man, and suave European.
6:47 – But enough about that man, we’re going to see some new games. Guerrilla Games co-founder Hermen Hulst arrives and leaves me wondering if Michael Denny didn’t just change outfits and jump right back on stage. Aaaand it’s a new Killzone game.
6:48-6:55 – If you need any proof that the company is placing a huge bet on Killzone: Shadowfall, seven full minutes of game footage should do it. The footage surmises why the leap to next-generation hardware is going to be a very risky proposition for most consumers. The game begins with a combat sequence that looks like every other combat sequence in every modern shooter for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This is followed with a rail-shooting sequence involving a helicopter and a fly-by panorama of the city. Mechanically and conceptually, there’s really nothing new here, and they’re similar to the on-rails sequences in games like Bulletstorm, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, and the Call of Duty series. Don’t get me wrong, it looks beautiful. Visually, the most striking element in the trailer is the very end, where the camera pans all the way out to reveal a good chunk of the city. But you have already played this game multiple times, and I don’t think the average person will think it is worth half of a mortgage payment.
6:56 – Confirming my previous suspicions about the crowd, there is no applause. (Some of the sound direction has hinted to me that they may be muting it, which would be an utterly baffling decision.) The only sound comes from the player, who is using the Share Button to share this footage on the internet. Groan.
6:56-6:58 – This is immediately followed by a trailer for a game called Driveclub. Evolution Studios studio head Matt Southern explains: “…we’re making the game we’ve always wanted to make. It’s called Driveclub. And it’s all about team-based racing.” The game is co-operative Gran Turismo. Mr. Southern hammers home that players will be able to form their own racing teams. Oh man. I can’t wait for the League of Legends audience to get a hold of this game. The idea of watching those guys try to operate a motor vehicle makes me giggle.
6:58-7:00 – Southern goes into the painstaking detail and specifications which the cars in the game have been modeled for, and quickly reminds the large percentage of players immediately turned off by simulation driving games why they stayed away from them in the first place. Southern is beginning to sound more like a car enthusiast than a game developer, although I suppose that’s a solid pitch for that kind of audience.
7:01-7:02 – And right when you think you’re going to see some actual game footage, and things begin to start becoming interesting. It looks good, it sounds great, and wham! The Driveclub trailer slams on the brakes and halts in mid-action as the player cycles through the game’s social features. If this is the new novelty, then Sony is kinda screwed. Just sayin’.
7:03 – Random unnamed developer: “In 1999, I took part in a political rally, and got tear-gassed by the cops. Up until then, I always thought the police were there to protect me, to protect the people I that cared about. But on that day, they didn’t.” Go on…
7:03-7:04 – “Right now, there are 4.2 million security cameras distributed all around Great Britain.” That is one camera for every 14 citizens. In 2011, the U.S. government seized the personal cell phone records of 1.3 million of its citizens. Of the 1200 of us in here today, four of us have been monitored.” I mean, seriously, this is a fucking parody, right? We’re being monitored, so buy our game, developed for a device which has cameras built into it, developed for a device which openly asks you to share personal information with the rest of the world!
7:04 – “Our security comes at a high price.” This seems a little bit funnier because the cost of the console hasn’t been mentioned yet.
7:05-7:07 – The game is Infamous: Second Son. Haven’t played the series, won’t comment. The game is revealed in another trailer comprised completely of cutscene footage. This is a good time to mention a general rule of thumb about game trailers. The best video games don’t hide behind cinematic trailers. You can argue that it’s easier to sell the public on lavish cinematics, but the best games just do really, really cool shit and don’t have to hide behind a second skin. See: Grand Theft Auto III*, Crackdown*, Supreme Commander*, Serious Sam 3*.
7:09 – Braid developer and all-around pretentious douchebag Johnathan Blow: “Hey. I really don’t know what I’m going to do to follow up after all those explosions, but uh, we’ll see what happens. I guess.” Johnathan Blow and all the other “indie” game developers remind me of a story from the satirical media publication The Onion, in which an “Area Man [is a] Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be”. In this case, the development track record of the popular indies showcases what they believe the history of video games to be, and not what video games actually are. That’s how the “super-difficult” Super Meat Boy gives the player infinite lives and never punishes the player for making a mistake. That’s how a “puzzle-platformer” like Limbo barely has anything that can be considered a puzzle at all.
7:09 – Blow: “But at its heart, at its core, it’s a game about epiphany, that instantaneous transition of the mind that takes you from confusion to understanding.”
7:10 – “A lot of games have these little ‘ah ha!’ moments in them, but in The Witness, we take this ‘ah ha!’ substance and distill it into a concentrated form. And in doing so, we make design decisions the opposite way that most games would.”
7:10 – “Within twenty seconds of walking from where you are, new interesting things around every corner.”
7:11 – “We work very, very hard to cut anything that’s redundant. There’s no filler.”
7:11 – “Every puzzle has an idea inside it. And on the design side we work very, very hard to communicate in a non-verbal way the essence of each idea.”
Before I tear into Blow, I will actually give him credit for acknowledging that companies are trying to impress players with the scale and scope of the game worlds, rather than trying to make them interesting. This is something which should have been obvious the second that Grand Theft Auto III yielded Vice City as a sequel. He’s right about that.
The rest is a running gag. One of two things is happening here. Possibility one: Johnathan Blow actually believes that commercial video game designers, the ones who have the gall to design games “for entertainment”, did not and do not think about the things he describes. He thinks game developers don’t try to “cut anything that’s redundant”. He thinks that game developers do not understand “conveyance”. Or, possibility two: Johnathan Blow knows that he can create a market for his games and make a lot of money by convincing like-minded video game players that his video games subscribe to tenets and foundations that “those brainless action games” do not. So he’s either dumb or he’s a charlatan. Pick one, possibly two.
7:12-7:14 – Lo and behold, The Witness is a straight adventure game, possibly in the vein of 1994’s Myst. “All by your lonesome on an abandoned, visually-striking island” sounds like Myst to me. And you know what the best part is? Apparently, in spite of the changing locales, all of the puzzles are based on the exact same gimmick and concept. This should work out wonderful. Oh, and The Witness is going to be a PlayStation 4 exclusive for a limited period of time. This is to show that Sony, a billion-dollar corporate electronics manufacturer, really cares about the little guy.
7:14 – Denny: “And speaking of Killzone, the end of the playthrough you saw earlier, Steven hit the new Share Button and uploaded it directly to the Killzone Facebook page. So as soon as we’re done here, please go check it out.” Yessir. I’ll go ahead and check out that Killzone trailer that I just watched twenty minutes ago.
7:15 – Well, one pretentious game developer deserves another, and I’m sure that David Cage has damaging, harmful things to say about video games.
7:16-7:17 – Cage explains how games are about “emotion” and how technology has held back the ability to convey emotion in video games. He does this by making the comparison to movie technology, which eventually allowed for greater range of “emotion”, which allowed for better storytelling. For those of you who aren’t watching the event, it basically boils down to “I want to make movies and I need better graphics to do it.” No word on whether Quantic Dream developers have created the technological tools to write a decent script.
7:17-7:18 – Cage asserts his point by showing a chart of the number of polygons in the character models for various Quantic Dream games, noting that the main character in Beyond: Two Souls has roughly double the polygons as the characters in Heavy Rain. It’s worth noting that I took a quick trip to the Beyond: Two Souls web site and the main page is stylized like a movie poster, “Starring Ellen Page”. I would like to remind everyone that the game industry tried to attach themselves to actors and actresses roughly two decades ago and it did not work. Shortly after, the screen flashes the head of an old dude with long hair. It’s a computer rendering, or is it? It is. Cage goes into the works: “[T]ranslucency, realistic eye shaders, photometric lights, 3D depth of field and many, many other features that, up until today, were reserved to CG films.” Once again, good luck selling this to the public.
7:19 – Media Molecule co-founder Alex Evans: “Wow, David, please, can I have a copy of that skin-shader?” Fuck, I give up.
7:22-7:24 – PlayStation 4 will let you use the PlayStation Move in order to craft and sculpt art with full three-dimensional depth and scale. Because when I think of “demonstration tool designed to provide ease of concept to newer players”, I think “sculpting in empty space with absolutely no tactile feedback”. Conceptually, this is oddly similar to the Kinect Fun Labs demonstration games, which I actually had no problem with until I heard that Microsoft was charging for the tools. Evans alludes to the possibility that various games can be integrated with these sculpting capabilities, and I place the over/under at third-party titles which use this functionality at 0.5.
7:24-7:26 – This segues into a presentation of two players leading a cartoon man and woman in a ballroom dance routine. The camera on the PlayStation 4 allows us to see the human participants, who are featured in the game’s background. It’s hardly as inspiring as it looks, and it only gets worse when the male avatar picks up a guitar and leads two new characters in a band routine. “Be in a band” may have sailed three years ago, but that doesn’t stop the presentation from dragging on for another ninety seconds. First loud applause of the night can be heard. Unfortunately, it is game-generated crowd noise, and the following live applause is far less enthusiastic.
7:26-7:27 – House: “And I’m proud to announce that virtually every major third-party partner across North America, Europe, Japan, and Asia, will support PlayStation 4.” Deliciously vague? Check. On-screen display showing lots of game developer logos? Check. I like it. It appeals to my inner hype machine. Although we still have some reason to remain cautious. “Thirty launch titles” and “significant developer support” hasn’t worked out that well for the Wii U.
7:27-7:28 – Yoshinori Ono of Capcom fame emerges on-stage and music from the God of War series plays in the background. Smooth. Ono mentions that they are conducting this portion of the conference in Japanese and English. I already figured that out, because I can only understand half of the words he’s saying.
7:28 – Random unnamed, unannounced English Translator: “The technology of the original PlayStation allowed us to move beyond the 2D sprites to which we’ve grown accustomed and break ground with new IPs such as Resident Evil.” Oh. It’s that phrase again: Intellectual property. We need to ban this phrase along with words and phrases such as “franchise”, “competitive game”, “e-Sports”, and “gamer”. I’m sure this list will continue to grow while the conference continues. (And yes, I am perfectly aware that many people would tell me the same thing about words like “industry”, “product”, and “consumer”. Meh. Vidya gaem criticism is tough work. Sometimes, it’s just best to go with what works.)
7:29 – Translator: “The DVD-ROM technology in the Emotion Engine brought to us by the PlayStation 2 allowed us to creative visually-stunning titles that took advantage of newly-developed graphical engines, titles such as the Onimusha series and Devil May Cry would not have been possible without the technology that the PS2 brought to the table.” Worth noting that modern video game companies never pay homage to their history unless they feel there is still money to be made. So I would expect the new Onimusha game sometime in the next three years.
7:31-7:33 – Finally, some real footage, a game by the “working title” of Deep Down. The translator insists that this is a “new IP”. If that’s what they want to call it, go ahead. Unless you want me to believe this squad-based, medieval fantasy hack-and-slash—a demonstration which features our heroes fighting a dragon—is merely there to complement Dragon’s Dogma.
7:34 – House provides a summary of the business relationship between Sony and Square-Enix, noting that Sony’s partnership with the public face of Japanese Role-Playing Games “has fostered some of those most innovative gameplay…that gamers fell in love with.” Uh, I’m not sure the word “innovative” means what you think it does. The entire history of the Japanese Role-Playing Game has been “convince people the same old crap is new and shiny”.
7:35 – Square-Enix Chief Technology Officer Yoshihisa Hashimoto hits the stage and is even less intelligible than Ono was.
7:36-7:39 – This tech demo would be wild and original news if it hadn’t already made its way onto the internet several months ago. The content is best described as an answer to the following question: “Crap, Call of Duty is killing us, how can we compete with Call of Duty?” So they injected Uncharted 3 into Final Fantasy. Yes, I’m aware that this will never be an actual game. I suppose that beats “make a tech demo based on Final Fantasy VII, stress that it is a tech demo, and watch the fanboys complain it’s not a real game”.
7:40 – Hashimoto: “The PlayStation 4 is much-functional incredibly powerful gaming platform.” What a sterling endorsement. Slap that on a game box. Hashimoto touts the memory and graphics capabilities of the platform, continuing an amazing night of failing to understand precisely why the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 got outsold by the Nintendo Wii.
7:41-7:42 – Final Fantasy Brand Director Shinji Hashimoto (no relation to the other Hashimoto) walks on-stage. Holy crap. If any person at Square-Enix should have been fired in the last half-decade, this is the guy. In the most shocking development since the United States invaded Iraq, Hashimoto announces that a Final Fantasy game is in development for the PlayStation 4. It takes about fifty seconds to do this and feels more like four minutes.
7:43 – Ubisoft head Yves Guillemot: “At E3 last year, I asked you all a question: Who really controls our cities, our information, and our lives?” Laff. It always cracks me up when the head of a corporation says these things.
7:45 – Some guy named Jonathan Moran appears on stage to shill Watch Dogs, and immediately makes Watch Dogs sound like one of the most boring games ever conceived. Just show the damn footage.
7:46-7:51 – Watch Dogs caught fire at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo because it showed potential for an interesting evolution in a genre which has desperately lacked it. The few fresh spots within the genre (Crackdown) have responded by giving you incredible flexibility for completing those basic mission objectives. Needless to say, Sony and Ubisoft are betting pretty hard on this game, and decided that hype and praise was worthy of a five-minute trailer and game demonstration. The mission selected for demonstration shows our protagonist chasing down a bad guy, a sequence which ends in a police chase. Meh. This game is a letdown waiting to happen. I’ll wait and see what the finished game looks like.
7:51-7:52 – House: “This is not only the first time they’ve been on-stage for PlayStation, but the first time they’ve been on-stage for any console.” That company is Blizzard Entertainment, and if you know anything about the history of the company, their early work in console video games, and their console ports for games like Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Diablo, and StarCraft, you know that’s some loaded doublespeak if it ever existed.
7:52 – Blizzard Entertainment “Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development” Chris Metzen, everybody! Seriously. That’s his title now. Is it any surprise this company is as fucked up as it is?
7:52 – Metzen: “Many of you are probably wondering why an old-school PC game developer is kinda crashing the big Sony party tonight.” This should not surprise anyone. Battle.net 2.0 was an absolute regression from the original service. That was so they could make their games work on consoles.
7:54-7:55 – And Diablo III is coming out on consoles. This should surprise absolutely nobody, since the Diablo series previously allowed eight players to get into the fun and was scaled back to four for little technical reason. Unless, of course, you’re looking to create games for the four-player capabilities of modern video game consoles. And right on cue, Metzen announces that the game will have live four-player co-operative play.
Predictably, the Battle.net Forums are pissed off at this development. Not because the PlayStation 4 version will not require an internet connection, which should be a huge slap to the face of the early adopters. Apparently, the mere decision to port the game shows how Blizzard betrayed PC users. No, they did that about three years ago when they launched the Battle.net 2.0 service. Complaining that Blizzard is making games for consoles means you know nothing about their history as a company.
7:56 – House: “Yes, it’s me again.” The liveblog at Popular Science (actually written and updated during the event itself) suggested that during one portion of the event, a large number of people were paying attention to the action on their phones instead of the PlayStation. Not only does that explain House’s statement, where he’s begging for the audience to continue paying attention to him, but it provides a fitting metaphor for the state of console video games in 2013.
7:57-7:58 – And to conclude the night, some dude from Activision named Eric Hirshberg. Just so we’re clear here: He’s the C.E.O. of Activision Publishing, and Robert Kotick is the C.E.O. of Activision-Blizzard. Got that? Good. None of it really matters, because he hasn’t said anything interesting.
7:59-8:00 – Taped and prerecorded, Bungie co-founder Jason Jones speaks about Destiny. The promo video shows an entire gigantic studio of Bungie game developers working away at their projects. That’s called “real art”, you fuckers. Either way, I can’t say I’m too excited about another MMOFPS, and one which will play just like Halo for fear of alienating the kiddies.
8:00 – Hirshberg: “That makes two Jason Jones sightings inside of a week, so you can expect to hear from him again in 2025.” A fairly amusing joke, but absolutely the wrong crowd to try it in front of. This place has been dead all night. Hirshberg follows it up with an even better joke by calling the game “the first shared-world shooter”.
8:01 – The geniuses behind the operations at Bungie walk on-stage and look like they would rather be anywhere else.
8:01 – Bungie President Harold Ryan: “Like the PlayStation 4, Destiny is an online-connected experience.” You probably should have double-checked that statement since, you know, everyone is freaking out about the rumors that the coming Microsoft device requires an internet connection. And then nothing really interesting happens. Destiny, everybody!
8:03-8:05 – House bids the audience farewell and the PlayStation 4 is “COMING HOLIDAY 2013”. The night ends with a montage of the various trailers seen throughout the night. Leaving only one question: Where the fuck is the game console? And for those of you who do not think this is a problem: This means that the console has probably not been engineered to specification yet and it is supposed to be out in nine to ten months. And for the millions (and millions) of those who had their console devices burn out on them in the last seven years, it’s nice to know that this generation is beginning on the same foot as the last one.
So what’s to be said? If you’re into video games, you heard every single thing you wanted. Better graphics, better hardware capabilities, more potential for better games. The social features are built into the device, but it appears that they can be ignored. However, what about the audiences that don’t particularly care for video games? The audience that is necessary to subsidize the games that “core gamers” want? Well, they probably stopped giving a shit after David Cage extolled the wonders of “realistic eye shaders”. That’s going to be a problem.
Where will the new customers come from then? Based on this presentation, I’m inclined to believe that developers believe the “new novelty” for consoles is the MMORPG. Whether it comes with a gun or a sword will be their decision. I don’t think that’s going to be a growth strategy. “Online multiplayer” was a novelty of the previous generation, and you can play games like Planetside 2 for free on a computer.
“But who cares if they don’t sell more units? Everyone who owned an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will certainly be back for the next round.” Even if the big three sell just as many consoles, games, accessories, and subscription plans as they did in the last generation, they’re still going to lose ground. The games are going to continue getting more expensive, the price point for video games (what people are willing to pay) will continue to fall, and more and more people are growing up every single year getting their first video game experience on a phone.
So basically, I think this can play out one of two ways. The first is that the companies developing these games say “fuck it”, look at their dwindling market share, and give developers a little bit more creative liberty to stir the pot and try to make something special. Lol. Did you look at Destiny? That game is Halo: MMO Edition right down to the movement physics. So forget that. The second approach is what has been happening for most of the last half-decade: The large projects become more homogenized in the pursuit of larger audiences, and we get more repeats of games like Dead Space 3. Either way, I think you’ll continue to see some excellent games, and that’s what counts.
Anyway, word on the internet is that the Microsoft reveal is in two months. Continued complaining will recommence there.