Eight Answers From E3 2013

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Eight Answers From E3 2013

Last Monday Paste ran down eight crucial questions about the videogame industry that we were hoping to get answers to at last week’s E3 trade show. Some of these questions were wrapped up rather conclusively, while the answers to others remain a bit fuzzy. As expected it was a bit heavier than usual on what passes as videogame news, with Microsoft and Sony both clarifying features for their upcoming consoles and announcing a number of games for those new systems. So many of those games felt so similar to what we’ve seen before, though, from the typical type A theatrics of the Xbox One’s launch line-up to Nintendo’s venerable favorites, that it’s hard to say that anything actually felt all that new. We’ll be taking a closer look at specific games and publishers throughout the week, but for now let’s review our eight questions from last week and see what kind of answers E3 provided.

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1. Can Microsoft defuse the bad buzz surrounding the Xbox One?

Lord, no. If anything, fan ire is greater than it was before E3. Microsoft didn’t acknowledge the controversies over the Xbox One’s used games and online policies at their press conference last week, and defended both in various interviews with press during E3. They threw gas on the fire when they announced the One’s $499 price tag, which is a full $100 more than the PlayStation 4. Their focus was entirely on games, and despite teasing a new Halo game and intriguing new titles from the designers of Alan Wake and Deadly Premonition (Quantum Break and D4, respectively), Microsoft still faces a public relations maelstrom with the Xbox One.

2. Will the PlayStation 4 be any different than the Xbox One?

Before E3 it was easy to assume that the PlayStation 4 would have similar restrictions and online requirements as the Xbox One. As odious as the 24-hour online check-in and limited used games options are to the consumer, they obviously make sense to the publishers, and you’d figure the third parties would compel Sony to head down that road hand-in-hand with Microsoft. So it was legitimately surprising when Sony announced no new DRM measures for the PlayStation 4 at their press conference last week. The $399 launch price was the cherry on top for consumers looking to champion the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One. Sony seemed to backtrack a bit on the DRM front the following day, but it turns out they were referring to online passes, which players have already begrudgingly grown accustomed to. Between the lower price, a more tolerant attitude towards used games and the lack of daily online check-ins, the PlayStation 4 basically undercuts the Xbox One on the issues most pressing to gamers.

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3. How can Nintendo get people to buy the Wii U?

Their answer was games. Super Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World and a new Super Smash Bros. will probably sell some systems, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and the untitled new game from Xenoblade Chronicles developer Monolith Soft will have their fans. Third-party support remains slight, though, with Ubisoft and Warner Brothers Interactive as the only major third-party publishers releasing significant new games for the system this year. Nintendo also didn’t announce a price cut, as had been heavily speculated by the press. Nintendo didn’t really announce anything that consumers didn’t already know or could easily guess about the Wii U, so it’s hard to see how they could’ve changed any minds about their system.

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4. How serious is Sony’s commitment to indie games?

Let’s say “pretty damn”. Sony’s booth was full of weird, arty little games across all three of their current platforms. The company has a department that exists to reach out to independent developers, and unlike Microsoft, they don’t require downloadable games to be distributed through an authorized publisher. That makes the PlayStation 4 and Vita far easier to work with for smaller developers than the 360 or the Xbox One. They focused a surprising amount of attention on Transistor, Supergiant Games’ follow-up to Bastion, and their Vita section was devoted almost entirely to artier fare. Sure, we could get bogged down in motives and a tired “art vs. money” debate, but the fact is Sony seems legitimately interested in promoting games from smaller developers.

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5. Whatever happened to the Vita?

It might be on life support. Sony didn’t shine too fine a light on their latest handheld. They did announce that all PlayStation 4 games will probably support remote play on the Vita, and displayed Media Molecule’s excellent Tearaway and a number of cool independent games for the system, but at this point the Vita seems poised to wind up as little more than a PlayStation 4 peripheral.

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6. Can the Oculus Rift make virtual reality work?

We can say that it definitely seems to. The Oculus Rift is a headset that, when used with a computer, offers HD virtual reality gaming. The company itself only showed a tech demo, but it was a gorgeous environment built with Unreal Engine 4 that featured a slightly interactive demon, a massive rotating telescope and a player-generated ice missile. I could look up, to my sides and behind and see this three-dimensional virtual world all around me. At no point did I feel sick or disoriented. Icelandic developers CCP Games exhibited an actual game demo for the Oculus Rift called EVE-VR. It was an arcade-style space combat simulator similar to Wing Commander or any Star Wars game with X-wing dogfights. It was truly amazing. I was sitting in an office chair in a meeting room in the Los Angeles Convention Center but I felt like I was barrel-rolling through a massive outer space battle. A slight disconnect remains between the headset and the controller—you still need joysticks and buttons to get things done—but the Oculus Rift nails the most basic and necessary aspect of virtual reality. The headset’s still in development, and no commercial release has been scheduled, but this could genuinely change how we play games and even how we consume other forms of entertainment. The possibilities are actually kind of scary.

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7. How will the retail version of the Ouya differ from the poorly reviewed “preview” units?

Paste didn’t get a chance to play on the Ouya, but according to Engadget the controller and lag issues reported from those “preview” units weren’t as apparent with the hardware shown at E3. Ouya’s E3 won’t be remembered for the hardware or any games, though, but for the weird feud that erupted between it and the Entertainment Software Association. The ESA is the consortium of game publishers that runs E3, and it wasn’t particularly happy that Ouya circumvented the conference proper and set up a booth outside the convention center that was open to the public. Petty wrangling ensued, as the ESA blocked Ouya Park from view by parking a large trailer between the park and the convention center, and had the cops pay a visit to check out Ouya’s permits. The Ouya has always cultivated something of a guerilla image, from its Kickstarter campaign to its promise of an easily hackable system, but this drama distracted from the company’s promotional message and raises further questions about the stability and leadership of an already questionable company.

8. What can we expect from the Horizon press conference?

Horizon, the “alternative E3 press conference” hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art’s video channel MOCAtv and the games website Venus Patrol, promised to focus on “beautiful games” that offer an alternative to the violence and gun-lust of mainstream videogames. It felt like a typical E3 press conference, with a series of designers showing off trailers and the occasional demo of their upcoming games, but instead of headshots and throat-slitting viewers learned more about Double Fine’s Kickstarted point-and-click Broken Age and Media Molecule’s papercraft adventure Tearaway. Other games displayed included Capy’s roguelike Below for the Xbox One and the collection of odd sports games that will be released for the PlayStation 3, Mac and PC under the name Sports Friends. Horizon even ended with that hoariest of press conference clichés, a last-second “surprise” revelation of a previously unannounced game. But since this was Horizon that game was Fez 2 and not the latest incarnation of some military shooter that everybody knew would be getting another sequel eventually. Horizon exhibited a collection of games that shared only a tenuous aesthetic connection with one another, and a majority of them were being distributed or at least partially funded by the same massive companies that crank out Halo and Killzone. Still, it offered a refreshing change from the E3 norm, and was an encouraging and hopeful way to finish off the week.