I know last time I promised that I would wrap up E3 in a single post, but once again I have underestimated my capacity to overanalyze things. It’s probably going to take me a few entries to process all this content. Today I’m just going to cover the Bethesda show.
This show should more properly be called the “Zenimax Press Event”. Zenimax is the parent company and the true owner of these various properties. I suspect this is a good cop / bad cop type deal. The name Zenimax is used when the company needs to launch another one of its obnoxious bullshit lawsuits where the company is technically in the right legally but deeply in the wrong morally. The Zenimax identity absorbs all the consumer hate, allowing the Bethesda name to sustain the pretense that they’re just a bunch of nice folks who love video games.
It’s hard to criticize the strategy, given how well it’s working so far.
Bethesda is here to play “good cop”, so this was something of an apology show for them. Fallout 76 was an unmitigated disaster. Bethesda knew the game wasn’t ready for prime time, but they released it anyway. This earned them a lot of animosity, and a lot of this show was dedicated to admitting their mistakes in broad, non-actionable terms and talking about how important the fans are.
Fallout 76 has apparently been massively improved since launch. I’m glad the company didn’t just cut their losses and leave the game to die. At some point this year Fallout 76 is going to get proper NPCs with dialog and quests. Bethesda really does seem to want to make things right, so it baffles me that they released the game in such a state to begin with. If you care so much, why didn’t you do it right the first time? It’s not like those bugs were hard to spot! Since they had to put another year of work into it, wouldn’t it have been better to put in that work before launch? It certainly would have sold better, and that nasty metacritic rating isn’t going to go away.
In the past I’ve expressed a certain degree of distaste for Bethesda frontman Todd Howard. He always rubs me the wrong way and I often find myself arguing with my screen when he’s on stage. Having said that, he’s really good at his job. He always stays on message, and he’s really good at striking the right balance between truth and spin. Andrew Wilson would try to convince me that being fed legs-first into a woodchipper is “an exciting new opportunity that you’ve been demanding for years”, while Todd Howard would frame it more like, “The woodchipper thing was really unfortunate. We’ve learned a lot of lessons since then and we’re going to have to work overtime to earn back your trust.”
Both statements are empty and do nothing to remedy the situation, but Howard’s version is closer to reality, it obliquely admits some degree of fault, and it indicates they’re going to avoid doing it in the future. Wilson’s version is delusional and shows a certain degree of contempt for the listener. Howard is talking to the audience, and he’s trying to influence their perception of events, while Wilson is really talking to shareholders and saying things the audience knows are obviously false.
They presented an interesting premise for a world. It felt a little near-future and cyber-punkish, but with some spooky paranormal stuff. Cool ideas. Cool visuals. But like, what is it? What do you do in the game? Punch ghosts? Investigate stuff? Play match 3? Romance your schoolmates with awkwardly translated dialog?
I don’t know. It felt like this was more concept art and renders than an actual game. I think this one is still a long way off. We’ll see what it looks like next year.
My concern here is the same concern I had with the game at last year’s show, and the same concern I had with Wolfenstein: New Colossus. The previous entry had serious shortcomings in terms of pacing, narrative design, level design, and gameplay. It was dull, loud, shallow, and full of self-indulgent cutscenes that existed to gratify a designer’s sophomoric Hollywood aspirations instead of entertaining the player. I’m looking for some indication that the team is working to improve their craft and focus on the essentials, and instead the only selling point is HEY KIDS YOU WANT TO KILL SOME NAZIS? BUY OUR GAME AND SHOOT THE EVIL NAZIS! The presenter kept stopping for applause every time he mentioned shooting nazis. (And to be fair, he got it.)
I’m not going to pay $60 to express how much I hate Nazis. I can do that anytime I like, for freeBTW: Nazis suck.. If I’m going to pay $60 for a game, it’s because I want to play a fun video game, not because I’m trying to show solidarity with the the non-Nazis of the world.
The co-op premise of BJ’s daughters is fine. You could make a good game out of this idea, but I have very little faith the team will do so.
Arkane Studios made my #1 game in 2017 and my #2 game in 2018, so I’m basically on board with whatever they’re doing at this point. With Deathloop it looks like they’re returning to the Groundhog Day ideas they were experimenting with in the Prey: Mooncrash DLC and building a full-fledged game out of it. You play as one of two assassins, trapped in a time loop, killing each other over and over. One wants to break the cycle and the other wants to sustain it.
That’s all we know, but it’s enough to make me very curious.
This was an unusual segment. For a brief moment, E3 actually lived up to its supposed purpose as a trade show rather than acting as a gigantic consumer-facing marketing blitz.
We usually watch these shows with the expectation that we’re going to see a showcase for consumer products, but this was actually a presentation for middleware. Id Software Chief Technology OfficerThat’s John Carmack’s old job. Robert Duffy and Director of Publishing Operations James AltmanThe owner of Zenimax is Robert Altman, and I’m pretty sure this guy is his son. came out and talked about Id Software’s history of technical innovation and the invention of commercial VR. The trick is that they did this without ever mentioning John Carmack. It’s understandable to not want to bring up his name after that unfortunate lawsuit business, but pretending like Carmack doesn’t exist is obnoxiously revisionist. I don’t blame Duffy or AltmanEr, not THIS Altman, anyway. for this. I’m sure this is just dumb corporate politics as a result of Zenimax’s ongoing litigation and mischief.
At any rate, they’ve invented a shader program to help with video compression. It’s aimed at streaming services like Google Stadia. The talk was mostly a sales pitch without much in the way of technical details, but by trying to read between the lines, I get the impression that this software is a sort of post-processing filter. You apply this filter to the final rendered frame and then it gets sent off for encoding and transmission to the user. The filter will alter the image to make the compression work better.
Video compression is tricky business. This shader will help reduce the image sizeSize in bytes, not pixels. by “up to 20%”. My guess is that 20% is the best-case scenario and typical numbers will be lower than that. They make a point about how this will help reduce latency, which is only sort of true. It’s true that a streaming service will be able to broadcast gameplay images to the user faster if the images are smaller, but we can’t ignore the time it takes to run the shader itself. Still, this moves 20% of the problem off of the internet and puts it into the machine. It’s monumentally easier to increase processing throughput by adding more hardware than it is to increase internet throughput by extending your fiber optic network.
Apparently the industry isn’t kidding around this time. They’re really serious about making this streaming stuff work. Google is getting into it. Microsoft is getting into it, which is probably a bad idea. Walmart is apparently working on it. Sony might be developing their own service.
Given what a miserable killjoy “LIVE SERVICES” have turned out to be, I’m pretty apprehensive about this. The last thing I want is for these giants to start grabbing exclusives and balkanizing the industry even more. Also, my internet connection isn’t strong enough that I can rely on streaming. I have to share this internet connection with the rest of the family and I can’t just hog it all for myself because I want lag-free gaming.
These services seem to be aimed at people who have enough money for a top-notch internet connection, $60+ for the controllerAs of this writing, the controller doesn’t have a MSRP. However, it certainly WON’T be cheaper than the standard PlayStation / Xbox controllers it’s replicating, and will probably be more at launch due to extra features., and a couple of hundred bucks a year for the subscription, but who don’t have enough money to just buy a console. It’s for people hardcore enough to want to play a lot of AAA games, but who are also casual enough that they don’t want dedicated gaming hardware and they’re happy to just play whatever games show up on the service rather than selecting specific titles in their genre of interest. I won’t say those people don’t exist at all, but are there enough of them to sustain a system this large?
I don’t know. I assume the bean-counters at Google have run the numbers and think that this makes sense, but I’m not seeing it.
This looks like what we’re expecting. I’m not totally sold on all the first-person parkour, the spinning traps, and the swinging mechanics. I don’t mind doing complex chains of jumps to get secrets, but I really don’t want to stop shooting demons and do insta-kill jumping puzzles every couple of minutes. It could be fine, but I’m skeptical about some of the hazards I saw.
Even more concerning: At one point in the footage the player collects a 1Up. Maybe that’s an alternate game mode, but if they’re thinking of adding limited lives to Doom then I’m going to make an angry face.
No Elder Scrolls, No Starfield
I really wanted to see two things in this show: The next Elder Scrolls game, and Starfield. Both were a no-show.
“Oh boy! This looks like Elder Scrolls. Yes! There’s a Kajit. He looks great. And an elf… wait. Why is she so pretty? Did they change the art style? Wait, Elsweyr? I thought the next game was going to be set in Hammerfell? Did they… Shit, this is for the stupid MMO, isn’t it? Damn it. Well, maybe they’ll show the next proper Elder Scrolls game later in the show.”
I fall for it every damn year.
This year I fell for it three times. Once when they announced new content for Elder Scrolls Online. Then again when they announced content for Elder Scrolls Blades. (A mobile game.) Then again when they showed off Elder Scrolls Legends. (A collectible card game.) It’s been 8 years – an entire console generation – since the last mainline title in the series. We’ve gotten numerous re-releases and spinoff titles, but we still don’t have any gameplay footage of a follow-up for Skyrim. If the game was aiming for a 2020 release, then they would have showed off some gameplay / teaser stuff this year. The fact that it wasn’t even mentioned means that the game is still years away.
They announced Starfield last year, but we still don’t know anything about it other than “probably outer space”.
So that’s the Bethesda show. Hang on, the real surprises are coming up later in this series, when I do a 180° on a franchise and it goes from “most hated” to “most anticipated”.
 BTW: Nazis suck.
 That’s John Carmack’s old job.
 The owner of Zenimax is Robert Altman, and I’m pretty sure this guy is his son.
 Er, not THIS Altman, anyway.
 Size in bytes, not pixels.
 As of this writing, the controller doesn’t have a MSRP. However, it certainly WON’T be cheaper than the standard PlayStation / Xbox controllers it’s replicating, and will probably be more at launch due to extra features.
Could Have Been Great
Here are four games that could have been much better with just a little more work.
So what happens when a SOFTWARE engineer tries to review hardware? This. This happens.
Shamus Plays LOTRO
As someone who loves Tolkein lore and despises silly MMO quests, this game left me deeply conflicted.
Lost Laughs in Leisure Suit Larry
Why was this classic adventure game so funny in the 80's, and why did it stop being funny?
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.