The Electronic Entertainment Expo, the biggest video game-centric event in North America, is over with for 2014. This week, the five major publishers—Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts—unveiled new games, new features, and in Sony’s case showed off upcoming hardware. Both big games (Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End) and little (Inside, from the creators of Limbo) found themselves in the spotlight. We were once again reminded that, yeah, video games can be pretty damn great.
Unfortunately, publishers pulling out the big guns at their biggest media event of the year meant a lot of dumb, attention-getting stunts were bound to happen. And boy, did we get them.
6. Halo Player’s Inappropriate Actions
Halo 5: Guardians, 343 Industries’ next entry in Microsoft’s biggest series, has been delayed until an unspecified date sometime late next year. To keep Master Chief’s fans busy in the meantime, Microsoft announced The Master Chief Collection, a compilation of the four main Halo games that includes the anniversary edition of the first and a newly revealed remastered version of the second. The collection will be available to purchase this November.
The Master Chief Collection also includes the original multiplayer for Halo 2, which means it has not been adjusted in play style, physics or modes (unlike Halo: Anniversary, which used Reach’s multiplayer as a base). 343 demoed the multiplayer during the conference, but in a cheap appeal to humour one player dips down to sit on another after killing him in-game. The inappropriate gesture is done when during a multiplayer match, a player stands over the head of another avatar he or she just killed and crouches repeatedly, giving the impression of, well, a certain lewd gesture (depicted in the image above). A funny move for a bunch of bros slamming Mountain Dew on a Saturday night, but perhaps not the best display for a wide audience on a Monday morning.
5. Dragon Age: Inquisition Goes Full Eurovision
BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins was critically acclaimed, being essentially Dungeons & Dragons by way of Mass Effect. Dragon Age II, released three years ago, was an unfortunately pared down version of its predecessor, smaller in scope and choice; it was leaner, but that’s not necessarily what Dragon Age fans wanted. Dragon Age: Inquisition is set for release on multiple systems this October and is hoped to be a return to form, a fact which BioWare and EA were seemingly aware of, showing off not one but two trailers at the Microsoft and EA conferences.
While the Microsoft trailer was more a tantalizing glimpse than anything else, the EA footage was a full demo of the game’s cooperative combat system, revealing not only the on-the-ground particulars of fighting but its overhead strategic planning system as well. EA also introduced it in full force, bringing out an electric cellist on a motorized platform to play one of the game’s vaguely Celtic themes. Even though the move was no doubt intended to give the presentation some gravitas, the combination of electric string instrument and moving platform was eerily similar to Moldova’s comical 2010 Eurovision performance (which gave birth to the Epic Sax Guy meme on the Internet).
4. Nintendo Goes Robot Chicken, Has Its Presidents Fight
Though Nintendo had a year head-start on the new generation of consoles, said year has not been kind to them. While sales on their handheld Nintendo 3DS have been up—CNBC reported that in 2013, it was the best-selling video game console in the U.S. for at least six months—the same cannot be said for the Wii U, which had a slow start and few big-name titles for at least eight months. Wanting to switch things up, Nintendo declined to hold its conference live at E3, as is custom, instead filming and editing a mostly slick reel hosted by Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime.
We say mostly, as the Nintendo Digital Event, so it was called, featured several stop-motion skits from Adult Swim favourite Robot Chicken. Filled with eye-rolling references and bad voice work, the Robot Chicken bits were less cool and edgy and more grating. Even if Nintendo was hoping to cash in on the cool factor, Robot Chicken hasn’t been really popular for a few years, so the stunt seemed a little behind the times.
On top of that, the preview for Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS was introduced in an awkward, if stylized, live-action segment that saw Fils-Aime and Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata duke it out before transforming into Mii versions of themselves… shortly before announcing Mii versions of Elijah Wood, Ice-T and Abraham Lincoln. Um, sure?
3. Powers Television Show Brings Conference To A Standstill
Sony had a good Monday night. Already riding high on promising PlayStation 4 sales, they effectively dominated the day by putting on an extended conference to display games that were rumoured (From Software’s Bloodborne) and known quantities (No Man’s Sky). With the hope that their audience and user base would stay satisfied for the evening, games-wise, they chose to focus on other features and tech for the middle portion of their conference.
Unfortunately, this resulted in a needlessly lengthy announcement for Powers, an upcoming original series based on the comic book by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. Bendis himself was onstage for several minutes describing his work on the series and his hopes for the—presumably animated—show. It dragged on for too long, however, leaving both game writers and Sony fans bored and distracted. Thankfully, Sony was able to pick up the pace in the final act of their conference.
2. Battlefield: Hardline Beta Goes Life With PYROTECHNICS OH YEEEAAAHHHH
Due out in October, Battlefield Hardline takes the Battlefield series’ class- and vehicle-based combat and moves it to the streets of an urban centre, where players can take sides as cops and robbers in daring shootouts deliberately reminiscent of the one from Michael Mann’s Heat. EA kind of had the rug pulled out from underneath them, as Hardline’s existence was leaked to the Internet in late May, but that didn’t stop them from leaning into its proper debut with the power and grace of a professional wrestling match.
During their conference, EA showed off an extended, supposedly in-game sequence of a Hardline multiplayer match, featuring Frostbite engine’s destructible environments, building-to-building zip-lines like in the opening scene of The Dark Knight, and a corny “cops love donuts” joke. They then announced that the beta for Hardline’s multiplayer had opened up as of that moment, revealing a hitherto hidden row of computers outfitted with the beta, a televised match of 32 players competing on a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles, and blowing everyone’s minds with huge blasts of smoke from the stage. If John Cena had piledrived Visceral Games’ Steve Papoutsis right then and there, it would have fit with the tone entirely.
1. More Dead Men Than Living Women Appear At The Conferences
The issue of female representation within video games and the game industry as a whole has been a hotbed of discussion the last few days, sparked when Ubisoft said the inclusion of female assassins in Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s cooperative mode would have required time and resources the publisher claimed they didn’t have. The idea of a female coop character was excluded from Far Cry 4 in the early stages of its development for similar reasons.
While a fair few people have argued that time and resources are a reasonable excuse—though writers at Polygon disagree—there’s no denying how male-centric most of the events were. Rami Ismail, business head and lead developer of two-man studio Vlambeer, estimated that more dead men—specifically decapitated heads—were shown at the Sony conference than female characters or designers. Polygon has catalogued this in two pieces. Regardless of one’s feelings on the subject, the numbers are difficult to argue with.
The few female standouts were comedian Aisha Tyler, a devoted gamer who presented the Ubisoft conference, Lara Croft’s next game Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Nintendo’s Splatoon, a cartoony four-on-four shooter entirely comprised of female characters.