I’m not in a position to do full E3 coverage this year with videos and streaming. Instead I’m just going to do a rapid-fire analysis of what I’ve seen so far and what I think is interesting. The Xbox briefing was full of stuff to talk about, so I’m giving it a post of its own.
The Xbox Briefing
I am getting really tired of the standard briefing patter. It’s played out, we’ve heard it all before, and it’s not what we’re here for.
“Video games enable us to realize our greatest dreams by using next gen hardware to allow developers to unleash their creative vision for a shared experience that shows us the true possibilities of what our video game technology has to offer to millions of players around the world that play together and have new experiences where they can express themselves through video games by enabling them to connect with a growing world of video game adventure through the power of interactive shared experiences that show the true creative vision of some of the most passionate developers working in the industry today as they work to bring their creations to life through…”
Ugh. Over time, the information density approaches zero. Eventually you wake from your trance and realize you’ve just watched some dude talk for three minutes to express the idea that “video games are great”.
By all means, share with us why you think your new gizmo is a good idea or what your current focus is, but don’t spend time explaining to the audience of hardcare gamers that video games are good. Stop wasting my time.
All of the press events suffer from a little of this, but I think Microsoft’s show was the worst.
The Outer Worlds
Obsidian’s planet-hopping space adventure is looking pretty dang good. My one gripe is that the whole “evil corporation” angle feels a little too straightforward for an Obsidian title. The corporations are evidently cartoon villains, and that strikes me as a missed opportunity. I had the same gripe with Caesar’s Legion in Fallout New Vegas. It felt like the writer wasn’t making the best use of the situation they’d created. Having a simple villain is more of a BioWare thing, and I tend to expect a little more depth and nuance out of Obsidian.
Obsidian really likes to present situations where shootingOr stabbing, or casting magic spells, or punching, etc. isn’t always the best option, and that’s always more interesting when you have a villain with a few layers. If I’m just fighting cartoon space jerks then I’d just as soon kill everyone. Don’t ask me to make nuanced decisions about straightforward bad guys.
Then again, this is just a trailer, and nuance doesn’t always play well in trailer form. It’s entirely possible that the game itself will contain all sorts of interesting situations where things aren’t as simple as shooting all the dudes between you and the button to solve your current problem.
I’m looking forward to it.
Wow. Microsoft has no idea how to leverage this Minecraft property, do they? They paid a billion dollars for the dang thing, and it feels like they didn’t even have a plan. The big features that drove the Minecraft Craze were creativity and moddability. So they decided to make story-based gamesTechnically Telltale made the game, but the point is that Microsoft gave them the license to do so. and combat-focused games.
It could be good, in the same way that a Gears of War Match 3 game could be good. It might be good or bad, but the property won’t be any help in terms of attracting an audience, because it doesn’t contain any of the ingredients that built the original audience in the first place.
Jedi Fallen Order
I’m seeing two recurring criticisms with this game:
- The combat doesn’t look good. Complaints vary and everyone seems to put their finger on something different, but there’s a general sense that something is off.
- The main character is boring. He also looks a bit like Hayden Christiansen, which I’m not even sure is deliberate.
I’ve seen the gameplay demo twice now, and I agree that something doesn’t seem right with the combat. However, maybe it’s a problem with how it was being played. The presenters made such a big deal about the fact that we were seeing an expert player engage with the full mechanics, but that expert player made a lot of odd choices. They would stop attacking sometimes, which made the combat seem less fluid. In one of the fights against the guys with electro-space-staffs, the player suddenly went all button-mashy and took a bunch of damage. I couldn’t tell what they were trying to show off. Maybe the script called for them to take damage at certain points so they could show off your little healbot? I don’t know.
The more pressing problem is that our main character is designed backwards. He doesn’t seem to have any agency in the story. He shows up and other characters give him orders and he does what he’s told. This is a very common problem in AAA games, because this is basically a direct translation of the game designer’s plan. The problem is that this makes for a flat protagonist with no drama.
This is Star Wars, and Star Wars runs on character drama. This guy should be bursting with emotions and personality quirks.
Self-doubt: The kid feels inadequate because he’s just a Padawan, but he told the rebels he’s a Jedi because he wanted them to accept him. Now he’s worried he won’t be able to live up to their expectations.
Arrogance: The kid feels like he’s above this petty bullshit the rebels are doing. He’s humoring them now, but he’s assuming he can fix everything by killing the guy in charge. His character arc will involve him coming to realize that this dumb bullshit with blowing up single bases to help small groups of people is the stuff that really matters. That’s not a distraction, that’s the goal.
Hotheadedness: The kid feels powerful because he can carve his way through stormtroopers, so that’s how he wants to solve every problem. His character arc involves discovering that his lightsaber and force powers are his weakest weapon, and real power comes from being calm and thinking things through.
Pain / vengeance: He’s afraid to open up to a new group of people and he just wants to punish the empire for killing the people he loves. His arc involves accepting these rebels as his new family and fighting for love instead of revenge.
Yes, these are all obvious tropes. I won’t pretend that any of these will make for a complex character study. But this is Star Wars. We’re here for drama, and this boring kid is basically a walking lightsaber. None of these cutscenes reveal much in the way of personality. He has no conflict or banter with the rebels and there’s no stakes or tension to any of this.
This doesn’t mean Fallen Order will be a bad game. It might be fun to play, but I predict it will also be a bit forgettable.
I realize you’re probably sick of hearing everyone gush about this game, but I’m afraid you’re getting more of the same from me. The demo showed us a brilliant, tense, wonderfully paced drama. Then it revealed that one of your friends in the game is video game Keanu Reeves, and while the audience was still reeling from that they brought actual Keanu Reeves out on stage to talk about the game. It was a perfect moment of rising surprise and excitement.
I’m almost 50 years old now. I don’t get “giddy” very often these days. Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all. But then something like this happens and I remember what it was like to be 30 and giddy about a video game.
Xbox Game Pass PC
From the people who brought you Games for Windows Live, it’s…. more of the same!
My column this week is all about my experience attempting to use Microsoft’s new game pass service. It will go up at the Escapist later today, and I’ll do my usual follow-up post tomorrow. For now I’ll just sum up by saying, “I am not particularly impressed” and leave it at that.
Xbox Scarlet (The new console.)
I don’t really have much to say about it. I’m disappointed that this console generation was so short, but I’ll be okay with it if the next-gen stuff is actually backwards compatible.
They unveiled all the little details of the redesigned controller, like how you can open up the thumbstick housing and adjust the springy-ness. That seems like a cute idea, but the whole time I kept thinking, “This damn thing is going to cost a fortune!” Maybe adjusting the thumbstick tension will be fun, but if it’s all the same I’d probably rather spend $20 less and get a device that doesn’t need adjustment.
I didn’t pay attention to the specs. It was at the end of a long briefing and I was starting to suffer from Presentation Fatigue. Anyway, I’m sure the hardware is fine. There’s a lot wrong with what Microsoft is doing these days, but their problems are not hardware related.
Given how painful it is to use their PC software these days, I have to ask Xbox fans: How is the Xbox interface? Is it useful and clean, or is it cluttered up with an avalanche of spam and useless geegaws like the Windows 10 start menu?
The one thing I liked was that presenter Phil Spencer went out of his way to underscore how this was first and foremost a gaming console. Microsoft is very clearly backing off from their attempts to make the Xbox your Home Entertainment Media Center Personalized Connectivity Experience Device that also happens to play some video games.
And the Rest…
Rapid fire: Battletoads, Legend of Wright, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Age of Empires: Yet Another Edition, Psychonauts 2, Dragonball KAKAROT, 12 Minutes, Way to the Woods, Gears of War 5 Bound by Blood, Phantasy Star Online 2, Elden Ring, Halo Stuff.
All of those can be summed up with one of two statements:
- Hm. That looks like it could be interesting.
- Eh. Not really my thing.
That’s it for the Xbox show. I’ll probably have one more post later in the week where I sum up the most important bits from the other shows.
 Or stabbing, or casting magic spells, or punching, etc.
 Technically Telltale made the game, but the point is that Microsoft gave them the license to do so.
The Game That Ruined Me
Be careful what you learn with your muscle-memory, because it will be very hard to un-learn it.
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.
Crysis 2 has basically the same plot as Half-Life 2. So why is one a classic and the other simply obnoxious and tiresome?
What is Piracy?
It seems like a simple question, but it turns out everyone has a different idea of right and wrong in the digital world.
The Biggest Game Ever
Just how big IS No Man's Sky? What if you made a map of all of its landmass? How big would it be?