Tuesday, July 29, 2008

E3 Thoughts

So, E3 came along a little while ago. I can distinctly remember a time when this mattered. I also remember that it was in May and I literally stopped going to classes so that I could keep up with all the crazy upcoming video game videos being released every couple minutes. I remember how important each of the Big 3's press conferences were and how each one had to be more awesome and more full of exciting announcements than the one before. I remember how afterwards, everyone would argue about who had "won" that year.

Man, times have changed. Or, alternatively, how the mighty have fallen. E3 has lost every semblance of relevance imaginable. I can't really come up with any new game announcements, merely more info about stuff we already know about. It's become just an update to let everyone know what to expect this Christmas. And, well, I hate to be a spoilsport, but everyone already knows what to look forward to this Christmas. We've known pretty much since the end of last Christmas. You can't surprise us there.

Possibly even more depressing was the fact that I'm being forced to realize that neither Sony nor Microsoft nor Nintendo care about me at all. I listen to their press conferences and all they tell me is why I should stop caring about them. I mean, can't they pretend that interesting, narrative-based single player games are worth making and advertising anymore. It's weird because there's still plenty of games that fit into that genre that are coming out successfully, such as GTA 4 and MGS 4 and Assassin's Creed and Bioshock and Ninja Gaiden and Portal and Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime and Final Fantasy games and the list goes on. These games are all quite successful and they all fit into that description. But if you watch the press conferences, you'd think nobody cares about that at all.

The problem is this whole "social gaming" thing. Now, in my mind, there's two definitions of social gaming. Because I'm old, the first definition of social gaming is when you're hanging out with people playing video games. You know, split screen multiplayer and stuff like that. This is social because you're hanging out with friends and playing a game. Oftentimes, drinking is involved. See, they will pretty much never be able to announce another social game that I care about because Rock Band is the greatest game in this genre ever made. And, because Harmonix is constantly adding content, it is almost guaranteed to remain that way. Every other game will be just a distraction before my friends and I get back to playing Rock Band.

The other definition of social gaming is online multiplayer. Apparently, online multiplayer has become so popular that games are coming out that focus more or less entirely on this aspect. And, while I personally will never get into any of those, I don't inherently hate the fact that they exist or anything. The problem is that these have become the focus of most upcoming games.

I mean, Resident Evil 5, a survival-horror game, has an online co-op mode. What is the point of that at all? How does bringing a friend along improve the gameplay in that genre at all? Am I going to get more scared of the zombies when I have a friend helping me fight them? No, no I'm not. And, since they're not with me, we're not really going to share the communal feeling of fear that playing a survival horror game with an audience typically creates (which can be the most fun part of playing such a game). So, yeah, I'm guessing RE5 is no longer survival horror at all (number four was an action game, but it was a freaking scary action game).

Both Sony and Microsoft's biggest games this November/December are shooters. Gears of War 2 has a major focus on it's co-op mode and Resistance 2 has a major focus on multiplayer. I don't really care about either game (admittedly, I typically only allow myself one sci-fi shooter per year, maximum, and with Bioshock finally coming out for the PS3, I should be covered until most of the way through 2009 anyways...).

Bethesda is turning Fallout 3 into Elder Scrolls 5 with a nuclear wasteland background instead of a fantasy background. Oh, and the Elder Scrolls had already become basically a shooter in the trappings of an RPG. And really boring. That too.

It's weird to say this, but EA is pretty much my last good hope for gaming this holiday season. What with Spore, Dead Space, and Mirror's Edge, their line-up of games I can happily play alone is second to none. This is mind-boggling, by the way. To put it in perspective, up until this generation, I had never bought an EA branded game. I don't think. It wouldn't be very easy to really confirm that, but it's probably safe to say since I don't have any EA PS2 games, and before that I only bought Nintendo systems and EA didn't really get along with Nintendo that much anyway. So, yeah, the giant monolith where great games go to die is actually bringing more games that I care about than anyone else. How is that even possible?

I mean, I guess I'm curious about what Ubisoft is doing with the new Prince of Persia, but the videos definitely seem to be suggesting online co-op options (or, hopefully, the girl is just like the girl in numbers 1 and 3, which would be okay too). Otherwise, it feels like Ubisoft has given up on anything that doesn't start with Tom Clancy's name (oh yeah, and they've hinted at Beyond Good and Evil 2, I'll be looking forward to that for a long time as well).

Activision is too busy trying to become the next EA to make a game worth caring about (because I don't care about Call of Duty, being that it's a non-sci-fi shooter and all).

And, worst of all, freaking Square-Enix has basically abandoned the PS3. I mean, seriously, come on. Their bread and butter is making RPGs. From a pure controller design perspective, the PS3 is a way better platform for making RPGs (the reasoning being that it has a very nice, very usable D-pad in the most comfortable position, while the 360 relegates the D-pad to a more awkard position and it works like crap).

But, Microsoft desperately wants to not only steal market-share from Sony, but they want to keep it, so they must be spending tons of money convincing Square to make exclusive RPGs for the system. The idea being that if enough exclusive RPGs are made for the system, eventually RPG fans will be forced to buy the system and buy the RPGs and then the console will get the reputation of having a good catalog of RPGs (because then Japanese gamemakers will willingly make RPGs for the platform). But, it hasn't happened yet. Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey didn't exactly sell well, nor did Eternal Sonata for that matter.

But, now they've gotten Square on board and they're releasing the new Star Ocean game exclusively for the 360. This makes me very, very sad. I mean, this is Square we're talking about, and they do love money very much, so I imagine the PS3 version will be out in a year or so (with extra content, of course), but it's still frustrating. These are games I want to play, and Microsoft is just using their clout to stop me from playing them. Truly, it's a very personal offense.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, what exactly has Square been doing for the last two years in terms of working on Final Fantasy XIII? It's like we're watching the same CG video from two years ago. I mean, how long did it take to even make Advent Children? I bet it wasn't that much more than two years, and yet they haven't even been able to get around to cut a new trailer? Let alone, you know, come up with an even remotely playable version yet. I swear, we're not going to see that game for another two years (in Japan, and then 9 months later it'll come to the U.S.). That's just ridiculous.

So, yeah, that's E3. It's pretty much just an avenue for game company's to tell me the bad news directly. Sadness.

That is all.


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