Best Of E3

Show Stoppers

This is a banner week for video game fans, one that may define this industry for a few years yet. E3 2013 has now come and gone with more energy and bluster than any other video game convention in recent memory. At the show we got in depth looks at the two new consoles from Sony and Microsoft, with Sony proving it's neither down nor out. During their respective press conferences on Monday many new games were revealed forming a lineup that will lead us into the next generation of consoles come December. It wasn't all trailers, promises and concept art though once the press and industry were allowed onto the show floor everything was laid bare.

There were t-shirts, toys, hands-on demos, closed-door screenings, giant theaters, swag, posters, postcards and boothbabes but not everything is equal. Naturally some of the floor presentations will come out on top, whether that means getting a custom t-shirt & hoodie from Disney or standing in a giant half-circle panoramic theater at Activision's monolithic booth. Despite initial reactions it isn't just about the eye-candy. We also got sneak peaks of forthcoming titles that sometimes wouldn't be available for a year or more. How these are presented does a lot to paint a picture of each games' development.

Each answer has us asking new questions. Is it delivering on promises or hype? Does it play well? How does it perform on each console? Is it easy to get into or a chore to pick up? Sometimes what the development team or publisher chooses to show can make or break a game in the eyes of press. If we're critics we can't form a judgement at this point - it's unfair - but it can definitely adjust our outlook and it changes our perspective for sure.

These are the games or companies I thought knocked their presentations out of the park. It could have been anything from the booth design to the games shown but something sparked when I first saw it and it stuck with me over the course of the entire conference. These are definitely things you should look out for in the coming months...or year.

Sonybest-of-e3-sony
Sony had some of their most popular and beloved characters roaming their show area in costume Sony's press conference blindsided the collective industry. It wasn't complicated they just said what their audience wanted to hear at a point in time when other companies were waffling or backtracking. Their booth was an extension of that confidence. They placed their first party titles up front with along with indie and third party titles for all three members of their console family. From a single point in their booth you could step 3 feet in either direction and touch a PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4. If you want cheap, reliable, cross-platform, mobile video games Sony was there to show you PlayStation was the platform to do it all on.

At the Sony press conference Jack Tretton said that they currently have over 100 games in development for the PS4 with at least 40 exclusive titles. Unfortunately on the floor the PS3 still dominated the space with very few developers showing PS4 versions of their games. Still there were some developers that will definitely serve as an example in the coming generation. Supergiant Games brought their indie real-time/turn-based action adventure Transistor to the head of Sony's booth with a prime real estate in an alcove opposite Batman Arkham Origins, inFamous Second Son and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. I loved the game and had a chance to interview Creative Director Greg Kasavin before the show was over.

Sony's basic booth design was the same they've brought previously to big conventions. The alcoves where they were demoing the PS Move a few years ago were changed slightly for the featured games presented. Where there used to be clear plexiglass walls there were now full panel posters that gave a bit more privacy and better lighting. The overall presentation was simple but with very little central focus. To make up for the lack of focus their screen hidden at the end of the booth showed trailers and even had developers showing gameplay at various points during the day. This screen served as the glue binding each of the disparate elements together.

As a sidenote Sony had some of their most popular and beloved characters roaming their show area in costume. Attendees got to take pictures with Kratos, Sackboy, Fat Princess and Journey's Protagonist. At different points during the day certain characters were there but every once in awhile they'd all show up in the center for a huge photo opportunity.

Activision/Blizzardbest-of-e3-activision
One thing dominated the show floor in the South Hall and that was Activision's monolithic booth. The walls of their presentation space stretched high towards the ceiling and their central screen could be seen all the way from the other side of the giant convention space. Their theater covered a huge footprint nearly 100 feet in diameter. Measuring 20 feet tall and almost 150 feet long the impressive half-circle curved surface was lit with over 24 perfectly aligned projectors creating a bright theatrical experience that could be enjoyed by over a hundred people at a time.

For about 10 minutes at a time Activision showed trailers on the screen from each of their big games such as Diablo 3, Destiny, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Skylanders. Audience members stood on a circular platform composed of a grid of vibrating panels that moved with the rumbling bass in the theater. The results were impressive. I saw press and executives from each major company standing in awe inside that space - they looked like children sitting way too close to a movie theater screen. While viewing from nearly any point in the theater there was no visual distortion, it was a perfect experience calibrated to wow the audience and it succeeded.

The results were impressive. I saw press and executives from each major company standing in awe inside that space - they looked like children sitting way too close to a movie theater screen.

Private rooms were situated just to the left of the theater and stretched back around the outside of the booth. Each section was decorated with posters that filled up the entire wall between separating pillars. Call of Duty: Ghosts and Destiny were shown behind these close-doors. In the center of their area they had even more private meeting rooms where press could preview their titles with hands-on demonstrations of all the big games they showed in the press conference.

Ubisoftbest-of-e3-ubisoft
To put it bluntly last year it was all about Far Cry 3 and this year it was about Watch Dogs, The Division and Trials Fusion Ubisoft's games were located within their standard disconnected concentric circles at each of the four corners of their booth. This is nearly the same design that they've used before but this time around they focused on an array of explosive action games instead of their longer running series. To put it bluntly last year it was all about Far Cry 3 and this year it was about Watch Dogs, The Division and Trials Fusion. But for fans of dancing games don't worry Just Dance 2014 was shown a ton on the central screen with dancers in bright costumes dancing on stage in sync with the beautiful visuals from the in-game world.

The Division featured prominently as a looping trailer but wasn't demoed on the show floor or behind closed doors. Still the game-play video that was featured was good enough to wedge itself into the top three games I'm excited for after coming out of this years' convention. More on that in a bit.

Destinybest-of-e3-destiny
The music is phenomenal, the visuals are epic & impressive and all of it runs super smooth on the PlayStation 4 I've been impressed with Destiny since the game was announced during its carefully planned press release earlier this year. A new trailer launched with E3 and Activision showed an entire playable encounter from start to epic finish during Sony's press conference on Monday. On the show floor behind closed doors Activision and Bungie were showing the same portion of gameplay but allowed for many more questions and much more explanation. After watching the press conference it made watching the same set of events seem old immediately. Bungie has managed to create a truly immersive game with a rich story, it's going to be the next big persistent world in my opinion.

At the end of the demo alien dropships enter the play area crushing huge natural structures before dropping a deadly payload of enemy tanks and troops. Seeing a world event like this start off is exciting because in theory it should allow individual groups in Destiny to come together to fight a highly dynamic encounter. Unfortunately seeing the same encounter in two playthroughs and the gameplay trailer I wonder if things won't get old quickly.

The portions of the game shown this week are centered around an abandoned facility in Russia so maybe as we see other locations we'll get a better idea of the true scale of the game. Bungie currently has an agreement with Activision to produce content and expansions for many years after the game's release. After watching the demo twice I can't wait to get my hands on the soundtrack. Activision: please release this ASAP. The music is phenomenal, the visuals are epic & impressive and all of it runs super smooth on the PlayStation 4.

The Divisionbest-of-e3-the-division
Just looking at the still above you loose yourself in the sense that you could be staring at a real photograph The Division was my biggest surprise of the show, It's slated to come to Xbox One sometime in 2014. The game is based on a story written by Tom Clancy where a flu epidemic spread on Black Friday wipes out or disables a significant portion of the World's population. In The Division society has fallen apart. Clancy's story details a special order "Directive 51" enacted by the President of the United States that creates a team of operatives called The Division who can take independent action in dire situations like this. The Black Friday plague creates a need for your team which is activated.

The trailer was mysterious enough and it came out of nowhere but then during the Ubisoft conference they followed up the reveal with a long segment of polished gameplay footage. It showed a team of three players exploring the persistent open-world taking on a group of NPCs who are looting a nearby police station. It also highlighted cross-platform integration where a gamer playing on a tablet controls a flying ROV to survival the scene and help his teammates.

When the demo is over and the players have found new weapons the camera pans out to show other teams and hints at PvP action as well. When interviewed about the game Massive Entertainment developers stated that other players can intercept you at the end of missions to try kill you to steal your loot. This has to be one of the most beautiful games I saw at E3 certainly the game that appealed to me most on the Xbox One.

Just looking at the still above you loose yourself in the sense that you could be staring at a real photograph. The fog & steam acts as it would in nature and the light bounces through those atmospheric effects in real-time. It really shows off the power of the next-gen consoles and should put to rest any doubts as to the processing capabilities of the Xbox One as well.

Fantasiabest-of-e3-fantasia
Harmonix also made the point of showing us that even those not musically inclined could create great sounding tracks Another complete surprise for me was seeing Fantasia: Music Evolved in action and getting to try the game out myself. Disney Interactive and Harmonix announced Fantasia with a trailer on June 4th and while it's still a standard rhythm game once you see it in action it's hard not to get excited. Coming in 2014 to Xbox 360 and Xbox One Fantasia utilizes the advanced features of the Kinect on each platform to give gamers an unprecedented amount of control over their virtual environment. Players will get a chance to step into Mickey's conductor shoes by controlling the music of their own Fantasia symphony. The goal of the game is not only to create your own wonderful beats but to explore and reinvigorate a collection of interactive locations based loosely on Disney movies. Inside each area you'll uncover symphonies that need to be completed to reactivate the other latent parts of the level.

The symphonies are based on 25 pieces of popular music ranging from Queen to Bruno Mars and Fun. Each track has a few remixed versions that you can activate at key points during your playthrough. Something that makes each play even more unique are the precision moments that grant you different abilities like dynamic effects, sequencing and rhythm modification. Depending on how "in sync" you are with each song you'll begin to collect magic points which can be spent to activate other parts of the levels. Harmonix developers also showed how each level has activatable instruments that players can customize, so as you progress the achievements and collectables you've gathered can follow along with you.

Harmonix did a wonderful job showing off the game deep within the Disney booth, and getting to play the game myself was an ah-ha moment where a real sense of emotion stirred my feelings. It's amazing fun to hear the timeless songs you've grown to love transform in front of your eyes, and you're the conductor commanding the entire show.

Harmonix also made the point of showing us that even those not musically inclined could create great sounding tracks with the instruments in the game. If for example a young child flails their arms uncontrollably the system will time out a predefined sequence to keep their actions in tempo with the song. This forgiving dynamic allows for the ability to create beautiful and expressive tracks - but if you just want to have fun that's easy too.

comments powered by Disqus