Welcome to yet another installment of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the annual gaming convention that began in 1995 with real gaming audiences in mind, and now spends more effort pandering to non-gamer skeptics, casual gamers, and families with children, none of whom are tuning in to watch a webcast about hardware specs. We, the dedicated audience that actually is watching, are a people of a singular but deep pleasure—remind us why we care. Maybe even surprise us. But we’ve had less to hope for ever since the Wii prioritized simplifying gameplay for the masses over making something truly impressive for the dedicated audience. The “newest innovations in gaming” presented at E3 have been less than impressive to the serious gamer. “Disheartening” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind.
Now that another E3 is safely in the rearview mirror, we can look upon its train wrecks and presentation clunkers in hindsight, ignoring its gaping oversights, and fine-picking through the debris to find its best.
Xbox SmartGlass announcement
Microsoft’s SmartGlass project extends their multi-peripheral philosophy, tying together gameplay, touch, and digital devices around the hub of the Xbox 360. Put simply, you can easily connect your iPhone to your 360, stream movies and music off one another, and interface with multiple screens for compatible games. Basically a cross between Apple TV and Wii U functionality, SmartGlass facilitates media interactivity between all the standard family room devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.). Its success will depend on its ease and level of usefulness, resting in the hands of developers attempting to deepen audience immersion. Unfortunately, the intended highlight of the Microsoft E3 press conference, the unwelcome surprise of a full-blown Usher performance complete with a laser show and backup singers to promote Dance Central 3, failed to titillate the audience.
Beyond: Two Souls extended first look
Developer-auteur David Cage unveiled his hotly-anticipated second title for the PS3, Beyond: Two Souls. The Ellen Page-starring project from Cage’s Quantic Dream production-house sports an unmatched level of character detail and emotional range of facial expression. Cage pursued the project after reportedly fielding a Sony offer to produce a sequel to Heavy Rain, the intelligent psychological-thriller which explored player motivation and the limits of family bonds.
The Last of Us gameplay
The Last of Us is the gameplay standout of E3 2012. Game developer Naughty Dog nobly retires Nathan Drake, protagonist of the Uncharted series, to serve up this post-apocalyptic vision of a journey across a wasteland America, strewn with fallen buildings and cutthroat survivors—Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by way of Uncharted, packed with heart-pounding close calls, tense encounters over scant supplies and ammo, and survivalist ingenuity in the face of crumbling humanity.
Watch Dogs gameplay
Grand Theft Auto IV meets Deus Ex: Human Revolution from the makers of Assassin’s Creed. Watch Dogs’ unveiling provided a welcome counterpoint to Black Ops 2’s half-baked cyberparanoia, shifting the villains away from cyberterrorists to hacker hitmen. It is increasingly rare to be treated to a genuine surprise title announcement, let alone one for such a promising, elegant world—a pristine, detailed Chicago of the near future with fully interactive cybersystems for player use and manipulation.
Dishonored follows a supernatural hitman moving through an open-world steampunk London designed by the artist behind Half-Life 2’s City 17 (Viktor Antonov). Arkane Studios, developers of Dark Messiah and co-designers of Bioshock 2, have birthed a future tech-dystopia channeling the alternate-history wonder of Bioshock’s Rapture and Columbia settings. Featuring art design and architecture inspired by 1850s American whaling cities, Dishonored serves as the spiritual heir to the groundbreaking Thief series.
Book of Spells announcement + demo
On the dark side of tech announcements came the overwrought, convoluted introduction of the PS3 Wonderbook and its halfhearted launch title Book of Spells produced in collaboration with J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore. The writing on the wall throughout this show-halting, 15-minute demo was obvious: motion gaming has reached novelty excess.
The Wii U continued its slow march downwards from potential-packed experimental hardware to its current status as an uninspired, half-baked, underpowered hardware prematurely starting the next gen by being dead-on-arrival whenever it is finally slated for release. Additionally, the price remains undisclosed, surely a bad sign that a high price tag will overshadow the glimmers of hope trickling out of Nintendo’s numerous E3 conference appearances.
Majora’s Mask HD fan trailer
As Nintendo repeatedly stumbled through its disastrous E3 week, this fan-made trailer for a Zelda HD remake of Majora’s Mask went viral, a loud cry of what longtime Nintendo fans desire, gathering each year with increasingly diminished hope they’ll hear the words “Earthbound” and “Chrono Trigger” uttered.
Unreal Engine 4 demo
The elephant in the room of this E3 was the next generation, a topic largely dodged by Microsoft and Sony reps refusing to discuss the progress of their next hardware systems, currently codenamed internally as Durango and Orbis, respectively. The detritus of this year’s E3 was swept away by the Unreal Engine 4 demo, the real winner of E3 2012. This preview of in-game complexities triggered an excitement for the future of gaming starkly absent from the previous week.
This wraps up the final E3 of this generation. Next year it will be impossible for Sony and Microsoft to keep us in the dark regarding their next hardware iterations. Apparently some of the titles shown, notably Watch Dogs and Star Wars 1313, are covert eighth generation titles with the developers sworn to secrecy until the next home consoles are made public. The industry anxiously ponders whether everyone will survive this final leap of faith into dev cycles of five plus years, AAA+ titles, and near-limitless graphical capabilities. Some studios are clawing back towards the comfort of now, while others are hopping in the Delorean.