E3 2015: What Are We Excited About, Really?

I’ve always wondered who cheers and claps their hands and loudly yells “WOO!!!” during E3 keynote presentations; I’d been under the impression that they were press-only events, and even if “common folk” were allowed entry due to winning a contest, they’d still be outnumbered by the press by a wide margin.

But, then again, here are some of my Tweets during the Microsoft and Sony press conferences the other day:

in response to Microsoft announcing backwards compatibility:

in response to a Cuphead trailer:

in response to the Minecraft/HoloLens demonstration:

in response to the beginning of Sony’s press conference, before we realized we were seeing Last Guardian footage:

in response to the No Man’s Sky demo:

in response to FFVII Remake:

in response to Shenmue III:

So, yes, in the heat of the moment, I was very much jumping up and down and hooting and hollering, and if I’d been in the actual room surrounded by actual journalists, I probably would’ve forgotten myself and jumped up and down and hooted and hollered.   GUILTY AS CHARGED.

But now that it’s been a few days, and I’ve had some distance and some time to process everything we all saw, I’m feeling… well, maybe I’m still a bit pessimistic.

For starters:  almost all of Sony’s announcements, as dramatic and breath-taking as they were, did not contain any release dates – and when they did, almost none of them were for this year.

For another:  almost everything I hooted and hollered about above involved a known quantity.  I’ve already played Final Fantasy VII (well, the first 8-10 hours of it, I suppose); I’ve played ICO and at least half of Shadow of the Colossus and so while Last Guardian is technically “new”, it’s certainly somewhat familiar; I’ve played Shenmue 1 and 2 (and I have more to say on that in a bit); my primary reason for being excited for Xbox 360 compatibility (and cross-save support) is only because I love Red Dead Redemption too much to let it die (as do a lot of other people, too, apparently).

I’m very excited about what we saw of the new Tomb Raider; I’m hoping that Uncharted 4 doesn’t disappoint me the way that U3 did.  (The gameplay shown of each game at their respective presentations goes a long way towards explaining why I feel the way I do; both were exciting, but in very different ways – Tomb Raider’s slice was a very exciting and tense environmental gauntlet, whereas Uncharted 4’s slice began with gunfire and a car chase.  My favorite parts of both of these franchises are the non-combat environmental platforming, and Uncharted seems to be putting more emphasis on shooting people, and this is disappointing for reasons I’ve already talked about.)

I suppose I’m excited about Fallout 4, but when push comes to shove, I gotta say:  The Witcher 3 has raised the bar so fantastically high in terms of open-world RPGs that I’m not really 100% sure that Fallout 4 can hack it.  (And this is coming from someone who has devoured all of Bethesda’s big games, at least since Oblivion; the first time you play them, they’re quite stunning, but when you come back to them later they feel awfully stiff and archaic and janky as hell.)

I was impressed that Sony followed the Last Guardian reveal with a brand-new IP from the makers of Killzone, and which stars a female protagonist; I’ve already forgotten the name, and I don’t really know what it actually is.  I’m still really anxious to get my hands on No Man’s Sky, though even after the presser’s demo I’m still not 100% sure I know what that game is, and/or how I won’t eventually get bored with it.

And Shenmue… yeah.  We should probably talk about that.  I feel more than a little weird about the Kickstarter, as do a lot of people; on the one hand, I’m glad that people are giving it record-setting amounts of money, and I’m glad to know that I’ll eventually be able to play it, but it seems more than a bit strange that Sony would announce it in the form of a Kickstarter without also disclosing that they were going to contribute to its development.  I don’t pretend to know anything about Yu Suzuki or what he’s been up to for the last however many years, but up on that stage he looked like a man who’s been through hell, and the Kickstarter felt like some sort of strange attempt at maintaining pride and dignity.

And when I think about Shenmue 3…. do I even know what it is that I’m hoping for?  I finished the first game and got a few hours into the second one before getting incredibly frustrated by the controls and putting it down; I have no idea how the story ended.  Did I love the first game?  No, not particularly – I bought it because I owned a Dreamcast and I was contractually obligated to buy it, especially since its pre-release hype was breathtaking and deafening and I wasn’t yet properly cynical of these sorts of things (I have a memory of reading about its development – probably in the Official Dreamcast Magazine – and read something about how the game was so detailed that when Ryo went to drink a can of soda, the soda itself was motion captured), and yet it’s stuck with me in ways that many other, better games haven’t.  Something about it deeply resonated with me, even as I’m at a loss to explain what it was.  I remember it being somewhat stiff and clunky (especially Ryo’s voice acting), and I remember wanting to explore the city but always feeling pressured by the real-time clock and my in-game curfew; I remember the combat being better than expected, and the QTEs being interesting and innovative (Shenmue might’ve been the first game on that sort of grand scale to use them to their greatest effect), but also some ridiculously absurd forklift business towards the back third.  (Which, in a way, reminded me a little bit of GTA V‘s big heist, wherein part of Michael’s subterfuge involves literally mopping the floor.)   Above all else, I recall that Shenmue felt very honest and sincere about its intentions; it wasn’t being clever with its technology, but rather tried to be generous and inviting.  It had a story to tell and a world that the story inhabited, and the game very much wanted you to live that story in a way that no other game I’d played to that point had ever tried.

Time and technology have changed rather dramatically since those first two games, of course; I was 24 when I last played the first Shenmue, and when Shenmue 3 comes out – which, if it holds to its Kickstarter promise and is released in December 2017 – I’ll be 42.  I am curious; that’s about as optimistic as I can allow myself to be.

Heading Off Into the Wild Blue Suburbs

1.  First thing’s first – I’m in a much better mood today.  We had our house inspection yesterday, and it went far better than we could’ve hoped – the first house’s inspection was an utter disaster, and this inspection was really almost perfect – and basically now we’re just waiting for the bank to hold up their end, and for there to be no more hiccups between now and the closing date.  We even got to meet our neighbors, and they’re super-sweet and awesome, which is a huge relief.  And so if all goes well – I’m not naive enough to say that nothing could go wrong, but I’m hopeful – we should be moved in to the new digs in the first weekend of August.

1a.  It occurs to me, suddenly, that my gamertag for the last howevermany years is going to be out of date.  How can I continue to call myself JervoNYC when I’m living in New Jersey?  It also occurs to me that I’m gonna be 40 in December and I think it’s safe to say that I no longer give a shit about other people think.

2.  The Steam Summer Sale is happening and here’s how out of it I am – I had no idea it had even started until late last night.  I’m not particularly going out of my way to check out the deals.  Sure I’ve got a bunch of games on my wishlist that are dirt-cheap right now, but I’m so thoroughly consumed by Witcher 3 at the moment that it seems silly to spend money on games that I’m not going to get to for months (not to mention that my PC backlog right now is utterly, ludicrously huge anyway – I’m so, so sorry, Invisible Inc.).  If Pillars of Eternity comes down by more than 40%, I might pull the trigger; otherwise I’m going to sit it out.

3.  Re: Witcher 3:  I’ve played enough of it by now (currently level 22, most likely on my way out of Skellige) to know that I’m never going to 100% it, and I’ve accepted that reality, and it’s totally OK.  In the early going, I was doing nearly every sidequest and monster contract and treasure hunt I could get my hands on, and now I’m at the point where I’m at least 7-8 levels above the recommended level for the main story quests, which is maybe not the best way to experience that content, especially as the rewards I get for those quests aren’t necessarily all that hot anymore.  All the questing I’ve done so far has been enjoyable, in and of itself; it’s just that the rewards are starting to become less impressive, and that’s solely because I’ve done possibly too much questing.  (An additional bummer is that I’ve got a whole bunch of crafting recipes for enhanced items, which are sadly useless since I never found the recipes for the original, vanilla items.)

There are some minor nit-picky tweaks that I’d like to see implemented in future patches, especially when it comes to crafting (which I’m finding myself spending a lot of time doing), such as:  if there’s a recipe for something where you currently lack an ingredient (i.e., a silver ingot as part of a sword), but you do have the materials to craft that missing ingredient, you should be able to directly jump to the missing ingredient and craft it and then jump right back to the original recipe.  I’m also holding on to, like, a bazillion flowers and monster parts that I’m not sure I’m ever going to need, especially since any alchemy item I craft is auto-replenished after a meditation period; it’d be nice to have the game tell me as much, or at least let me sort my items by relevance.

And while we’re at it, re-loading saves TAKES FOR-FUCKING-EVER.

Still – these are very minor concerns.  The overall experience is nothing short of breathtaking.  This is the most into a game I’ve felt since probably Red Dead Redemption, and I’m doing my best to savor each and every moment I can with it.  You know that feeling where you’re reading a book and you love it so much that you literally can’t put it down, not even when you’re half-asleep?  That’s how I’m feeling with Witcher 3.  It’s my GOTY and I’ll be very, very impressed if anything can knock it from the top spot before the year’s end.

4.  I still kinda can’t believe that E3 is next week.  My day job is going to be nuts, and so I’m pessimistic that I’ll be able to follow any of the main press conferences beyond a cursory nod every once in a while.  I’m sure my wishlist is the same as yours (i.e., Fallout 4 gameplay footage), and I’m also sure that my dream wishlist (i.e., any news whatsoever about Red Dead 2) will most likely remain a dream.  But I’m also becoming more and more wary of E3 and similar events, where the hype is so overwhelming that, at the end of the day, it’s hard to know what I’m actually cheering for, or even why I’m cheering in the first place.  Most of what we’re gonna see next week is going to get delayed until 2016 anyway, and a great deal of it will have changed radically between next week’s reveals and the final release code.  So I’m going to be looking at next week’s news with a highly cynical eye.

That’s it and that’s all.

Asleep at the Wheel: E3 2015 prognosticaions and other ramblings

1.  Now that Fallout 4 has been officially revealed – and a new Gears of War game has been very strongly implied by the formation/re-naming of its development studio – it was put to Twitter to determine what unannounced game could possibly upstage those two.

I have two answers:  Red Dead Redemption 2, and/or Portal 3: Cake or Death (co-starring Eddie Izzard, obviously).

I’d of course love to see release dates (and gameplay footage) for Mirror’s Edge 2 and the new Crackdown, and certainly I’d like to know what Criterion is up to (as well as what Three Fields is doing (the new studio formed by Criterion’s founders)).  No Man’s Sky should be getting a more thorough rundown, and I’d love to get more information about The Witness.  I’d be incredibly surprised and pleased to hear more definitive information about the new Mass Effect game (and less surprised but certainly intrigued by a seemingly inevitable ME original trilogy HD remaster, and I’d buy that in a heartbeat if I could somehow import my save data from my 360 playthroughs).

On that note, now that the Uncharted HD trilogy has been more or less announced, one wonders what other last-gen games will be announced at E3 for a current-gen treatment.  I still maintain that a Bioshock HD trilogy is a no-brainer, though perhaps it would make sense to release closer to whatever’s next for that franchise; I also maintain that a Rockstar remastered box set of Red Dead 1, GTA4, Max Payne 3, and/or L.A. Noire is an impossible (but near-orgasmic) dream.

As I write this, I see that the first official Steam Machines will be coming out this fall.  If the specs are good, I might end up getting one of these – my current PC is starting to show its age, and it’d be nice to keep my gigantic Steam library as part of my rotation.  (I will hopefully be moved in to the new house by then, too, and so having a Steam Machine will make my gaming man-cave more or less complete.)

Beyond that, I’m kinda just curious to see how it goes.  I have no real expectations.  I am hopeful that I can live-blog my impressions of each press conference, though that may be impossible for various real-world reasons.

2.  A whole bunch of boffo iOS games have come out lately.  Last night saw the release of You Must Build a Boat, the sequel to the much-beloved 10000000, as well as Hitman: Sniper, which is very much like that PC demo from a few years back.  I’ve also been playing the shit out of Lara Croft Relic Run, which might be the most ambitious endless runner ever made; and I’m also helplessly addicted to Ball King, which is a free basketball shooter with lo-fi graphics but really good physics, which makes hitting tough shots ridiculously satisfying.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Twenty, which is a maddeningly addictive hybrid of Drop 7 and Threes.

3.  I’ve taken a 2-day break from The Witcher 3.  I’ve been meaning to write about it all week but haven’t been able to put my thoughts in order.  (I’m about to hit level 15, and I’m kinda just messing around with side-quests in Novigrad.)

My original thesis was that I loved it to death, and that I loved it specifically because I didn’t feel alienated by how it goes about its business (the way I felt about, say, GTA V or Far Cry 4 or any other AAA game of recent years).  Witcher 3 scratches a lot of the same itches that Red Dead Redemption does (which is great), and it also solves some of Red Dead’s narrative problems by making Geralt exactly the sort of person who would do random things for people – that’s his job.  And I also love that when he’s given stupid stuff to do, he’s really funny about it – for example, there’s an early story sub-quest wherein you have to find a goat for the local witch doctor.  Geralt rolls his eyes but knows he has to do it, and when he finds the goat (by ringing a little bell), he says something very much like “Hurry up and follow me, you stupid piece of shit”, which is something that had me literally laughing out loud right up until we both got jumped by a bear.  I love that each person you meet has their own quest line, which makes you feel more invested in what they have to say and how they’re helping you along in your own quest.  I said this before but it bears repeating – I love that the conversation system isn’t always obviously good/bad, which makes role-playing that much more immersive; more often than not, Geralt will have an option to say the thing that I personally would say, and I appreciate the level of nuance that the writers have carefully crafted into each situation.

That being said, I can’t help but notice that everybody is white, and that all the ladies with speaking roles have their boobs hanging out all the time.  I suppose I can appreciate the argument that, while more diversity in games is necessary, it isn’t always appropriate, but I can’t not notice that of the hundreds and hundreds of digital people and dwarves and elves and monsters and fiends and such that I’ve come across in Witcher 3, not a single one of them is a person of color.  Again – I appreciate that this is a Polish-made game that reflects Slavic mythological fantasy, but I also note that nearly every speaking voice is that of a Brit, and that this game was built to be sold to a Western audience.

On the lighter side, I do hope they patch in a photo mode.

4.  I finished Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves earlier this week; I’m not about to write a full review of it here, but the short version is that it’s my favorite thing he’s written in quite a long time.  It has more than a few spots where it’s a little dry, and the subject matter of the final third is a bit…. hmm… troubling?  Is that a good way to describe eugenics, even if it’s done out of necessity and not out of some sort of Hitler-inspired craziness?  In any event, it’s stuck with me ever since I put it down, and I may end up needing to read it again soon.