Wednesday, June 6, 2012

E3 2012 - That "Meh" Kind of Feeling

Although there is one more Nintendo conference to go as of this post, most of the press conferences for this year's E3 are over and only the floor showings remain.  The "Big 3" (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) have all made their pitches with plenty of fancy song and dance, but with very few take-home points to get gamers excited in my opinion.  It may indeed be true that E3 has reduced its own impact by its very success over the past 2 decades, but to me what really made the conference "blah" was the sheer amount of over-the-top violence in most of the "blockbuster" titles and the industry's over-focus on connectivity via the internet.  To be honest, we've seen it and heard it all before.  If anything it's starting to feel like the console gaming industry is getting stuck in its own version of the ruts that the movie industry has fallen into in the past 5 years, ruts inspired by the fascination we've held with HDTV, social networking, and the ability to generate realistic graphics.

True, if you're into realistic action beat-'em-ups, sports, and first-person shooters then you'll probably be happy with the big name games this year.  Naughty Dog's The Last of Us is being billed as a very immersive survival experience with an interesting storyline and a unique set of protagonists.  Halo 4 and Splinter Cell have enough to wow current fans and maybe woo back some of the cynics who have lost interest in the franchises with each new sequel.  Borderlands 2, God of War, and Far Cry 3 also have enough to make plenty of current fans happy, while sports fans will once again have to decide if they love or hate the changes made to Madden and FIFA Soccer. And the Assassin's Creed franchise looks like its on very solid ground with its two new titles for PS3 and Vita this year.  Once of the biggest surprises that people are still digesting are the changes that Lara Croft has undergone in the new Tomb Raider, which has become a game much more focused on knocking people off than any of its predecessors ever were.  Unless the storyline is very convincing, I think most people are just going to wonder if the game is simply following the violence trend this year.

And its also true that if you are a huge fan of the latest gadget fads, all the connectivity announcements from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony are going to make you pretty happy.  All the movie info you could ever want straight through your phone, huzzah!! Any tablet or smartphone, now able to interact with your gaming system!! Your friends' comments will now pop up in every network-enabled game you play!  Woot for technology, but I'm starting to think all of this has gone too far.  For me, gaming has always been about the games.  If I want to watch TV or a movie, I'll turn on the TV.  But why in the world do I want to be constantly bombarded with 50 different ways to get the same content?  There is such a thing as information overload, and I'm concerned that the gaming industry's focus on network connectivity as "the future" is just going to make console gaming more ADD-inducing, especially if the push to downloadable content forces us to go through all of that just to buy a game to play.  If this is an indication of where Sony and Microsoft want to go with their future console systems, I may be forced to move to PC or handheld-only gaming after all.

Usually when I get frustrated at how Microsoft and Sony seem to be leaving us RPG-loving adventure-minded life-long gamers in the dust, the Nintendo conference helps restore my faith in the industry.  This year, I'm not so sure.  Maybe its just me, but I don't really feel like the Wii has finished its run yet, and still here we are getting the specs on a brand new Wii-style system that can play Wii games but not GameCube titles. (Here's hoping that the classics will at least survive as downloadable content eventually.) The concept of "asymmetric gameplay" is somewhat appealing for me as a solo gamer.  I like the idea that I could still play my game while my friends watch TV in the same room.  But actually using the controller to play a game on two screens at once at two different distances from your eyes...?  I'd really have to be convinced that it wouldn't split my focus so much that my ADD would kick into hyper gear.  I have a feeling that when I do by a Wii U (and that definitely won't be for 3 more years or so) I'll interact with it much like I already do with my Wii.  The games currently announced for Wii U do look interesting, but honestly not things I'd buy the system just to play.  And with third-party companies only just now getting around to releasing games like Xenoblade for the Wii at the supposed end of its lifecycle, I'm concerned that the only real reason I'd want to buy a Wii U would be for the inevitable Zelda game sure to come along.  And for only one game, that may not end up being a wise use of my money.

The one device I really wanted to hear about was the 3DS, but for logistical reasons Nintendo is not talking about it until late tonight on its All-Access website.  A number of titles that look like fun have been announced, like New Super Mario Bros. 2, Paper Mario Sticker Star, Luigi's Mansion 2, and Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion.   The company claims to have 20+ more to announce tonight and that will be a welcome relief in a show filled with games that don't fit me.  However the one thing everyone REALLY wants to hear about is whether or not there is a new 3DS model in the not-so-distant future.  Ever since I heard about the right analog stick attachment that some games were supposedly requiring in order to play (including the new Kingdom Hearts), I have had no great desire to rush out and buy a system, even though the library of games I want to play is slowly growing.  I have a feeling that a lot of gamers out there are like me in this regard.  But there has been nary a peep out of Nintendo since the attachment was announced in September 2011, leaving a lot of us feeling lost in the dark.  There have been plenty of rumors because of that which so far Nintendo is simply debunking.  But in an era when we all are counting our coins, buying a system for a game that you can't play without extra stuff is not attractive at all.  So here's hoping that Nintendo throws us a bone tonight, and not a boomerang.

In my opinion, E3 is definitely becoming a place where you just follow the Big 3, Ubisoft, and EA.  There was no press conference for SquareEnix, Level-5, Konami, Capcom, or a number of other game developers that have graced the stage in the past.  While some of that is probably due to a shift in the way games are made today,  I will admit that it has made E3 a lot less vital to me as an event to focus on each year.  There were so many games I wanted to hear about that may not of even made it to the show floor, much less even mentioned on stage.  End result?  I'm back to browsing the internet for rumor and fact much like I do the rest of the year, and I'm back to feeling like I'm drowning in so much piddly information that I can't see the forest for the trees.  It used to be that E3 gave me the context for the next year in gaming.  Now, it feels like a fashion show in New York full of things that look cool but don't apply to me and I'll never buy.   My advice to the organizers is that if you want to keep this conference going (and I'd really rather you would please), find a way to be relevant to the industry and its consumers again. And find it fast.

In closing here's my post-E3 wishlist of what I wanted to see/hear more about this year, and didn't get to. 
  • Price point for the Wii U and a hard launch date
  • New 3DS model, or at least a clarification of the attachment debate
  • Lifespan remaining for the Wii 
  • GameCube games added to the downloadable library
  • The Last Guardian status update
  • Final Fantasy Versus XIII status update
  • any new SquareEnix RPGs planned for the future
  • Kingdom Hearts HD collection for PS3
  • Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles 3DS
  • Inazuma Eleven DS/3DS US releases
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for PS3
  • the future of backwards compatibility - only on downloadable content? 

EDIT: Now that I've watched the 3DS show, I don't really feel like I know much more about anything new.  The segment mostly consisted of live gameplay examples of the already-announced games and absolutely no mention of anything hardware-related.  Its been more informative to scan the bloggosphere for news coming out of the E3 Demo showings, like this bit about the Wii U most likely being able to handle Gamecube games via Virtual Console.  Also according to online digging the new Kingdom Hearts game supports the Circle Pad Pro attachment, but doesn't require it.  SquareEnix did show a newer RPG for the 3DS called Heroes of Ruin that looked like is sported zombies or something as foes.  Not sure I'm real crazy for it at this point.
Sources: Gamespot, Nintendo All-Access @ E3 2012

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