I wasn’t able to talk about everything I saw from E3 this year. There’s just too much for one guy to see and write about. I did manage to watch most of it, but I’d have to keep up the current writing pace for two or three weeks to cover everything properly.
I didn’t stream the Sony press conference. I watched it. It was a good show. But I wan’t up to streaming and giving live commentary. I just wanted to put it on my second monitor, slouch down in my chair, and let the information wash over me.
I also skipped Square Enix and Nintendo. The former because I was busy with mundane tasks in meatspace, and the latter because Nintendo coverage just isn’t a priority on this site. Nintendo is important as an industry-wide force, but I don’t have any reason to talk about their individual titles.
But before we end this week-long orgy of marketing, half-truths, and sensory-saturating trailers, let’s talk about a couple of the things I missed:
The first time I saw the weird-ass Death Stranding trailer in 2017 I thought, “Okay, that’s pretty crazy. But how is Kojima going to turn this into a shooter?”
For those of you who don’t follow this stuff, here is the short, gossipy, and probably-full-of-misconceptions version. Seriously, this is all based on hearsay, speculation, and Reddit threads. I’m sure other people will offer alternate (and possibly more accurate) versions of events in the comments below.
Hideo Kojima is a true auteur game developer. He’s got a head full of crazy ideas and no respect for genre boundaries. He’s given us a lot of wild, unconventional games over the years. Some of them didn’t totally work for audiences, but when he got a hit he usually knocked it out of the park.
His biggest hit was the Metal Gear series. At some point publisher Konami decided that what they wanted from this madman was a stream of safe, reliable sequels. This is like a movie studio deciding they want Terry Gilliam to spend his entire career making buddy cop movies. That’s not a good use of that sort of talent, and that sort of artist is probably going to get bored with the work very quickly.
If Kojima was a western developer, he probably would have jumped ship to form his own independent studio and gone looking for a different company to bankroll his schemes. Sid Meier, Wil Wright, Peter Molyneux have all done this sort of thing during their careers. But for whatever reason (cultural, personal, or economic) Kojima stuck with Konami, even as they squeezed him for sequel after sequel.
Looking back, the Metal Gear series makes a lot more sense to me now. I always wondered why this flagship series was so strange and disjointed. The games jump around on the timeline, switch POV characters, and pile on layers of increasingly convoluted lore as they go. While they all focus on a military guy using stealth to Do Stuff, the mechanics and tone change wildly from game to game. (And sometimes from scene to scene.) This doesn’t make sense for how a storyteller would present a world, but it makes total sense for how a restless game designer would behave when pressed to keep doing the same thing. In the past he’d made dating sims, adventure games, roleplaying games, mech games, and a bunch of other crazy stuff. But once Metal Gear became a cash cow, Konami had him locked into one genre, in one universe, with one cast of characters.
Konami is really only interested in money, and over the years they realized that their gambling machines were a lot more profitable than their videogame division. The result was that they treated the game company like a rental car: Bad working conditions, nasty business practices, irresponsible behavior, and open contempt for the consumer. Eventually they forced Kojima out, and Death Stranding is Kojima’s first project with his new benefactor, Sony.
I’d just assumed that DS would be a shooter. I mean, that’s what Kojima has been making for decades. That’s what sells these days. That’s what gets funded. And maybe it will be. I have no idea. I watched the 8-minute E3 trailer and I never saw the main character holding a firearm or making use of any weapon. I have no idea what this is. The trailer features the main character (an amazing likeness of lead actor Norman Reedus) wandering around the wilderness with increasingly improbable packages on his back, with little vignettes of him looking at old photographs and talking about the past. There are some invisible monsters hunting him.
So… that’s pretty strange. Kojima is finally off the leash, and anything can happen.
Last of Us 2
I was on board with this trailer right up until it dropped into gameplay mode and I remembered how much a hate the TLoU gameplay. Like, really hate. Irritating, frustrating, boring, uneven, and designed around scripted moments rather than emergent ones. I wish this was a movie I could watch.
This could be good. This trailer is so heavy on cutscenes and the scant gameplay is so heavily scripted that I don’t feel like I’ve really seen much of it. The final product might not be nearly as rigid as it appears. The main story looks like it’s made of solid cheese. That’s fine if the story stays in the background and we spend most of our time with the gameplay, but if the cutscenes are long (as in this trailer) and if the gameplay is filled with quicktime events to make things more “cinematic” then I want nothing to do with this. I love Spidey and all, but he has a terrible track record when it comes to videogames.
What I’m looking for is something like Arkham City: A world that’s open so I’m not constantly following a linear plot, but not so open that everything feels aimless. I want a little story, but I don’t want to stop playing every five minutes to watch five minutes of a Spider-Man student film / fanfiction. I want a combat system that recognizes and rewards mastery, but I don’t want Spider-Man dropping dead every few minutes if my timing is off. Some sort of metroidvania deal where the gameworld opens up as I go would be nice too.
This video shows some more gameplay, but… I dunno. I guess we’ll find out this September.
I don’t have a lot of hope at this point, but we haven’t had a decent Spider-Man game since 2004 and I think we’re long overdue.
The high points of the show for me: Doom Eternal, Cyberpunk 2077, Rage 2, Beyond Good and Evil 2, new Prey content.
Disappointment: No news on Borderlands 3.
Bigger disappointment: Microsoft threatening the world with their cloud-based, AI-Driven griefing engine disguised as a PC gaming platform. We need to form a super-team and stop this before it’s too late.
Biggest disappointment: All the journalists who applauded for the above. Seriously guys? Am I the ONLY game critic that remembers GFWL?! WHY WOULD YOU APPLAUD FOR THIS? Also, applauding for platform exclusives is a bad look and you should probably stop that too.
That’s it for E3. Next week things will go back to “normal”.
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