Sage’s Gaming Corner: Reflecting On Sony’s E3s, Part 2

by Sage Ashford

Welp, we’re back again. Last week, we looked back on E3 2013, the conference of the year that started this generation and Sony’s journey back to being king of the console world.  This week, we’re covering E3 2014. My recollection of this conference is sketchy, but I seem to recall it being overly long and filled with a bunch of nonsense about Powers, the Brian Bendis comic finally adapted into live action.

That’s for those of you who want to follow along, though I’ll also be including links to individual games here and there so this isn’t just a giant, government cheese-sized block of text for people to parse through.

Following up on last year’s use of Destiny as a “One More Thing”, this year’s conference sees the game open the show. Originally scheduled for March of 2014, this game should have been out long before this E3 began, but when one of your higher ups tells you to trash the entire story and start from scratch, it’s gonna be hard to hit your dates. For the first half of this gen, delays were a massive problem–the entire landscape of 2014 and 2015 felt different because titles kept being pushed several months into the following year. In any case, with most of the story stripped out, it’s fitting this trailer is basically just your Ghost talking to you and providing most of the connective narrative tissue–that’s basically what happened in the game.

Andrew House comes on stage afterwards, and talks about how Destiny will define the next generation of gaming. This isn’t just PR: games have focused more on multiplayer elements in terms of PvP and co-op since the generation began. All of this generation’s biggest titles: Destiny, PUBG, The Division, Ghost Recon, Overwatch, Rocket League, Fortnite: they all feature multi-player very heavily.  And arguably much of it was styled after what we saw here with Destiny.

He also announces the Destiny first look alpha, a PS4-exclusive opportunity to play the game launching the week of E3. The Alpha wound up being exactly what this game needed: it completely hid the game’s flaws, centering entirely around the series’ solid gameplay and naturally ignoring the lack of story and short campaign. Still, over time demos like this–often released during E3–have become common, with many gamers expecting some sort of “And it’s available now” at at least one conference every year.

Next up, we get a more detailed look at The Order 1886. In comparison to last year’s cinematic trailer, this one focuses on live gameplay. What’s fascinating about this title is it was pretty much Exactly What It Says on The Tin, yet none of us could see how big of a disappointment it would be. Admittedly, we were probably blinded by how beautiful the graphics looked–even three years removed from the game’s release there’s no question it’s still one of the most graphically impressive titles ever. But the signs were still there–Quick Time Events in place of gameplay, an over-reliance on cinematics–one supposes we all simply wanted it to be good.

After The Order comes Entwined. Entwined is a cute, experimental game from PixelOpus, a small studio in the vein of Journey or Flower. PixelOpus was a small team coming out of San Mateo, made up of a bunch of game development studios, and Entwined was a rhythm game following two souls–a bird and a fish–who are in love but can’t be together. While playing you bring the two characters together in different stages/lifetimes, and when they come together they turn into a dragon. Speaking of the whole available now bit, Entwined was one of the first of these.

PixelOpus is currently working on a title called Concrete Genie–confirmed during 2017’s Paris Games Week. Concrete Genie is a beautiful world allowing you to paint different animals and structures, and whatever you paint comes to life. Presuming the title isn’t given a release date of July or August at the conference this year, there’s a strong chance this will be yet another “available now” type game this E3.

Next, the standalone follow up to inFamous: Second Son. Following the only other interesting character in the game besides main character Delsin, inFamous: First Light is the story of Fetch’s life up until she meets Delsin. These standalone DLCs must perform fairly well for Sony, as there’s been no shortage of them for most of their biggest single player games: inFamous, Bloodborne, Horizon, and Uncharted all have standalone games set after the initial campaign. Of course, as fun as it probably was to enjoy playing with Fetch’s version of Neon powers, none of it makes up for Second Son never getting any additional powers. And since Second Son wasn’t really deemed popular enough to warrant a sequel, one supposes we’re a long way from seeing Delsin’s neat power-theft mechanic resurfacing.

The good people at Sumo Digital give us a look at Little Big Planet 3. For this game, Sackboy gained a few friends: Oddsock, Toggle, and Swoop. The demo emphasized the multiplayer aspects of the puzzle-platformer game, but what sticks out the most is this demo. These days demos are rare–for reasons that, if I remember right, appear near the end of this conference–but this was charming. It was obvious the stage they brought was working and polished, but Sumo put four adorkable people on stage and had them play through, and watching them fail a few times while they got through the level was endearing in a way demos usually aren’t. It was organic, which is something that’s desperately missing from most multiplayer demos. Of course, LBP was originally Media Molecule’s franchise, but Mm is busy working on other projects by this point.

I am one of the few who doesn’t care about Bloodborne. But I’m fully aware of how much excitement there is behind the title, and From Software’s titles in general. This was easily the most anticipated game leading up to E3, as its existence was leaked onto 4chan as “Project Beast”. Players spent every day leading up to it dissecting the few gifs provided, until finally the title was revealed. Surprisingly, it doesn’t show much–it’s just an atmospheric trailer, displaying the world as a combination of Victorian Era landscapes and gothic horror. The game is one of the first to be announced and released exactly when they said it would, as the title launched in March of 2015. Though inFamous: Second Son was a good game, being a launch window held it back from being great. Bloodborne on the other hand, had the benefit of launching during the PS4’s second year on the market, conquering the general discussion of gaming for several months afterwards.

Far Cry 4 doesn’t get enough respect, to me. Far Cry games tend to have these nihilistic stories, heavily cynical about how eager players are to hop into a foreign land and start murdering as much as possible, and this game wound up having some really cool twist endings. Even the trailer here leans heavily into how much fun it is to run into enemy bases and lay waste to them, wreaking as much havoc as possible in the name of “liberation”. Plus the world of Kyrat was positively gorgeous.

Sony Vice President of Publisher and Developer Relations Adam Boyes appears after this to talk about how Sony stays in touch with gamers to see what they want. This is going to be important for next year’s conference, but for now it only results in a reveal of Dead Island 2.  The first game was developed by Techland, but by now Techland’s moved on to work on Dying Light, so this gets handed off to Yager Development. Only, Yager couldn’t get it done so it’s since been given to Sumo Digital and has been in development roughly two years since then. We’ll probably get it sometime next year, right as this generation starts to close up.

One thing that’s way too common even now, is how much “exclusive content” Sony and Microsoft try to get.  Some of its cute, some of it is just shutting the other side out of content to pretend like your side is better. A Destiny alpha, a Dead Island 2 beta, TLOU content in Diablo 3, specific characters in Disney Infinity, a Sony Taint Vibrator… None of this sways me to Sony’s side at all.  Just talk about actual games. The next two conferences were much more in line with what core gamers actually want.

Next up?  Battlefield: Hardline. Since DICE was busy developing Star Wars: Battlefront, but EA wanted its biennial Battlefield game, we got this. A first person cops and robbers game which feels like an emulation of CSI: Miami. There’s actually a lot of potential in a AAA police game, but in light of the conversation America’s having with police brutality, even the one it was having back then?  That game would need to be very smartly written…and hopefully be cool enough to draw on Miami Vice for source material. This is the downside of being under a publisher: this was developed by Visceral Studios (Dead Space), and the developers were so disinterested some of them quit while working on the project.

After this they have a comedic trailer from Paradox Interactive for their game Magicka 2.  It’s about a mage who’s out of work until he realizes they’re making a sequel to his game.  Even though E3’s always been corporate, there’s a quirky feel to these early E3s because Sony’s first party studios only had so many games prepared, and other developers weren’t ready either.  So they talked about the revival of isometric titles like this, and adventure games like Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango.

This segues pretty elegantly into talking about indie games, with Adam Boyes introducing a sizzle reel of Devolver Digital titles including Broforce, Titan Souls, Not a Hero, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, and the Talos Principle.  Though I was never into these, Sony and Microsoft both have done a great job in being welcoming to indie titles and their willingness to revive some old genres on a small scale.

Oh man. Let It Die is by far one of the most depressing projects for me given it’s development.  Originally, Grasshopper Manufacture was working on an anime inspired title known as Lily Bergamo.   A game revealed at TGS 2013 before falling off the map for a full year, then resurfacing as Let It Die, an edgy hack-and-slash game focusing on players climbing a tower and gradually improving their abilities as they make their way upward.

505 Games and Giant Squid bring us AbZu, which from my understanding is basically Journey underwater.  I don’t begrudge its existence, and I think games set underwater have a ton of potential we haven’t cracked, but artsy games like this usually aren’t my thing.  Still, the title looked beautiful, as players became a female diver exploring the ocean, and the game did fairly well in terms of sales and critically.  We’re a long way from a title like this (non violent, non action based gameplay) becoming AAA, but this is a positive step.

The last game Adam Boyes introduces is No Man’s Sky.  Another of the Disappointing Space Games, unfortunately prevalent this gen.  At the risk of sounding self-important, I never believed the hype on this title from the jump.  Though looking back I can see how one might.   No Man’s Sky made it’s first appearance in 2013 at Geoff Keighley’s newly created The Game Awards.  Though the VGAs had long been known as a sort of mini-E3 where titles like Batman: Arkham City and Skyrim made their first appearance, this was the first year the Awards were strictly online.   As a result, fewer games made an appearance here–and only one stood out: No Man’s Sky.

NMS was a stunning game where players were meant to explore the entire galaxy, land on worlds and catalog creatures, get involved in space conflicts and so much more.  The problem was…only half of it was actually possible.  Sean Murray and the “tiny little indie studio” Hello Games could never have delivered on a game like this, primarily because the scale is too huge.  Murray gets on stage after the trailer and talks about how the galaxy is infinite and players start on different worlds and even they don’t know everything that’s our there, and immediately warning bells went off in my head.

With so much of the game being procedurally generated, there was no way it could offer the depth necessary to satisfy many players.   The story and characters were nonexistent, and so eventually the question of “What Do you Do in No Man’s Sky?” became a meme until the game’s release, where players learned all you did…was explore.   And if you bought it to explore, I have no doubt you got your money’s worth.  But if you were expecting any depth to these alien worlds, well…that was never possible.

Something I’d totally forgotten was the position of SIE President changing from Jack Tretton to Shawn Layden.  This was his first time dealing with gamers, and while it’s impossible to speak on his abilities as a President, one thing I can say is dude made changes fast.  This E3 was like many older ones, where minutes of the conference tick away while someone tells you stats and gives information you already knew or don’t care about–like explaining the Photo Mode in inFamous: Second Son or talking about how the share button had been pressed 220 million times in roughly a year.   The reaction has always been bad for stuff like this, but the next three E3s look completely different from this and 2013; Shawn wasn’t having it.

Another blast from the past comes when Shawn starts explaining Free to Play to the audience.  He treats it as though it’s something new, and talks about 24 F2P games coming to PS4 in the next year–almost four years later F2P is used by everyone from indie publishers to the occasional AAA developer as a means of finding new ways to monetize their product.  To their credit, they have quite a few F2P games on display in a sizzle reel, though I wouldn’t call any of them smash hits as I can barely remember what they are.

F2P is meant to lower the barrier to entry for gamers, stopping them from having to pay sixty dollars for a game.  Shawn takes that and runs with it, reintroducing Gaikai as PlayStation Now, a service which at this point has had a successful beta test, and they’re looking to bring it not just to PS4, but to PS3, PS Vita, and select Sony smart TVs as well.  The only fault that’s noticeable with PS Now here is a paltry selection of games.  Shawn’s out here listing games like God of War: Ascension and Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus, and the (usually supportive) E3 crowd is pindrop silent until he finally points out Ultra Street Fighter IV.

Speaking of PlayStation Vita, we’re 12 months later and the Vita is being marketed completely differently.  Sony had time to give a sizzle reel for PS4’s free to play games–most of which I barely remember outside of Planetside 2 and Kingdom Under Fire–but the announcement they have for Vita is through it’s SharePlay program it can play PS4 games!  And while last year it was being positioned as a major system in Sony’s plans for the future with AAA first-party games, in twelve months suddenly they’re talking about Tales of Hearts R, which is the only time a Tales game has been on the Sony main stage this entire generation.  All of this leads to the ultimate sign the Vita’s dying–the Playstation TV.   If you’re unfamiliar, the PlayStation TV let you play PS4 games on other televisions in your home through remote streaming…and had the ability to play Playstation Vita titles.  This means you could play Vita titles…without ever buying a Vita, and at a fraction of the cost.  Welp.

So, after several minutes of Shawn Layden talking about new Playstation hardware, out of nowhere he introduces the world premiere gameplay footage of Mortal Kombat X. Since this game doesn’t even come out for another year, I didn’t even remember this appearing.   It’s a lengthy trailer too, with all the gruesome battles and X-Rays/Fatalities people crave.

Afterwards though, Andrew House comes back, pulling us back into the non-gaming portion of the show.  What’s shocking even now, is how the PS4 launched almost featureless compared to its older brother, and gradually had to add in all the relevant apps to make it the king of your living room today.  They’re hyping the addition of Netflix and Twitch, and all I can do watching is cross my fingers and hope the PS5 doesn’t try to sell itself as “a games machine” because they weren’t able to get the software for everything else done in time.

Ahhh, here we go!  The Powers bit.  Sony Pictures tried their best to hype all the exclusive video content coming to PS4 this E3, but what they failed to realize was how laser-focused gamers expect E3 to be.  Though there’s probably not a PS4 owner who’s never used it to watch Netflix or YouTube, most of the people bothering to tune into Sony’s E3 press conference aren’t doing it to hear about sales figures, new apps, or even footage of new superhero television shows intro’d by superstar creator Brian Bendis.  No, they’re there to be wooed into spending as much cash on games as possible.   That’s why Powers was trending in the United States during this conference, and the majority of it was just gamers whining about losing three or four minutes of Sony’s conference to it.

They double down on it too, by following up with a Ratchet and Clank: The Movie trailer.  This however is a bit more forgivable, as they followed up by saying it would also come with a Ratchet and Clank video game, though even that’s a tad muted.  House tells us both are coming in the first half of 2015; it would be 2016 before we saw the game release.

Afterwards, we get a look at The Last of Us Remastered for the PS4.  Now, The Last of Us is unquestionably one of the best critically received games Sony’s ever released.   Having it on PS4 should be a good thing, but at the time most of us (myself included) were wondering why they were remastering a game that came out just a year prior, while their first party was almost non-existent.   At the time, proper AAA support for current-gen systems was anemic, and bolstering it with games you could already play on the PS3 just reminded you that this was the first system that couldn’t do backwards compatibility from launch.  By 2015 we’d learn the reason for the slow adoption was most developers weren’t terribly convinced gamers even wanted new systems to begin with.   But back in 2014 we were stuck with a lot of remasters and the occasional AAA release.

Next is a Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain teaser.  Ground Zeroes had come out a few months before E3, and honestly Konami was so close to shutting down their console game productions back then it’s lucky we even got these games.  Barely a year after TPP releases, Kojima leaves Konami…and winds up working with PlayStation alongside KojiPro, developing his latest insane game, Death Stranding.

Speaking of remasters…one of the last titles in the waning 10 minutes of this program is a reveal of Grand Theft Auto being ported to PlayStation 4.   Though this game honestly could’ve been a PS4 game from jump, I don’t even think I’m allowed to criticize this game when it’s done so absurdly well.  After coming to PS4/XB1 and PC, GTA5 has managed to ship another sixty million copies, and will absolutely break one hundred million at some point in the next 12 months.

In the homestretch, Andrew House comes out briefly to remind us that Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight is nearly done!  Displaying a Gotham world so gorgeous even now I barely believe it’s real gameplay, the trailer for Arkham Knight gives us a brief glimpse at Gotham City before he hops into the Batmobile to tear through town.  Cool as it looked, this trailer already had signs of Arkham Knight’s biggest problems: midway through the trailer, Bats has to fight some tank drones in his Batmobile’s “Battle Mode”.  It’s cute, but significantly less so once you realize the majority of the bosses in the game are just more of exactly that.

Again, we’re right back to experiencing something that literally never happens anymore, as the lengthy trailer demo they show off hard crashes near the climax, forcing them to skip to the cutscene before moving onto the next game.  Huh.  Must’ve been running on a PC.  Jokes aside, this game got a ton of things right but wasn’t nearly the masterpiece I expected it to be–right up to shipping with a $50 season pass of weak additional content that brought the total cost of the game up to $110.   Still, I’m willing to give them another chance–there’s a small chance Rocksteady could appear at this year’s E3 once more, bringing us their latest new game now that they’ve finally finished their story of the Dark Knight.

Capping this conference off, as this year’s One Last Thing, is the game everyone had been waiting on: Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4.  A beautiful cinematic trailer featuring everyone’s favorite thief, Nathan Drake, after he washes up on a deserted island filled with the skeletons of pirates who were left to die in search of treasure.  The narration is darkly serious, and everything about this trailer is a sharp contrast to what happens when we see the game a year later.   Most people might simply write it off as them going in a different direction.   Which is true, only…the change in direction happened because the creator of the series, Amy Hennig, left the project about a year into it, and the team rebooted entirely.  This caused the game, meant to be a 2015 release, to be pushed back another year.

And, that brings us to the end of this conference!  Though I remembered this conference as rather miserable, it wasn’t too bad. It’s not quite as good as 2013’s, but hindsight makes this not nearly as painful.  It’s not great either though–Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, No Man’s Sky, The Order, and Arkham Knight all wind up shifting dates, making the next two years dry with occasional spots of brilliance.   Still, in terms of overall reveals this was a shockingly strong conference…just organized terribly, with far too much talking between all the game segments.  But that’ll change soon enough.  See you next week for 2015.

Sage Ashford

A writer with way too many hobbies, Sage can often be found catching up on the latest anime, or reading a stack of comics between Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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