So, E3 was six weeks ago, and I’m finally getting around to posting something about what I thought. This will be a bit article than the ones I wrote for the last few years, but I do have some things to say. I put off posting something earlier because it wasn’t as exciting a show as other recent years.
As usual, I watched a lot of E3 coverage, focusing on watching the press conferences before the show floor opened, Nintendo’s Treehouse streams during the show, and Giant Bomb’s night shows each night. I won’t have too much to say about that last one though, they were entertaining but not too newsworthy here I think, apart from a few things from the Xbox head Phil Spencer interview.
Here are my main thoughts on this E3.
So it’s E3 time again, and the game industry is excited!
… Well, they’re excited to tell you to come back in a year and a half, because Nintendo excepted, that is the main takeaway I took from E3 2019: come back in late 2020, when the next generation Sony and Microsoft consoles release. Before then? Well, there are a few games here and there, but it’s clear that a lot of developers have moved on to next-generation development.
Sunday: Microsoft and Bethesda
My main takeaway from Microsoft and Bethesda’s shows is that they showed games, but are focusing more, internally, on their next-gen projects.
On the positive side, Microsoft showed the most PC games that they have shown at their E3 show in a long time, for PC gaming it was Microsoft’s best show in years! The announcements include a new title in the classic Microsoft Flight Simulator series; a modern remake of Age of Empires II, Microsoft’s best real-time strategy game; that all of the Halo games are coming to PC; and an announcement beforehand that FINALLY Win32 executables will be allowed on the Windows Store. That last one is big, it means that the Microsoft Store is not, anymore, exclusively a walled garden for locked-down software, separate from the regular PC ecosystem. That’s fantastic news. So, this was a pretty good show for the PC from Microsoft. That was the main positive from Microsoft this year, though; on the console side, I was disappointed.
One reason for that disappointment is that some rumored projects, like a new Fable game, were not announced. A bigger deal, though, is how little gameplay Microsoft showed. At both the Microsoft and Bethesda conferences particularly, finding actual footage of actual gameplay seemed to be in short supply! I mean, pre-rendered CGI trailers look nice, but they aren’t gameplay. Why are they spending so much time on CG, and so little on gameplay? Even games that are supposed to release this year, like MS’s big holiday title Gears of War 5, showed very little gameplay. I’d much rather see gameplay than CGI, sorry. I kept hoping for Gears 5 to have some actual gameplay shown; I’m no Gears fan, but it’s always interesting to see where the big series are going. But no, it was all CG. CG is not gameplay, Microsoft. I don’t really care much how nice a CG trailer you can make, I want to see the actual games. There was gameplay of some indie titles and such, and a few others, but not enough.
One other project that was finally shown is the new Battletoads game. It looks like it could be fun, but has very basic Flash animation-style graphics, which aren’t too impressive. I’ve never liked Flash graphics as much as more detailed styles. Still, it could be alright, we’ll see.
Beyond that, Microsoft did hint at their next console. Details were scarce, but Microsoft announced more details about their next upcoming console, including that it will indeed release in late 2020, and that it seems like there will only be one model, down from the two models they were talking about a year ago. As for the details of its system power and such, though, Microsoft and Sony are in a high-stakes game right now, both not quite willing to announce their system’s specs so that the other one can’t boost their hardware power and one-up them, so we’ll have to wait. There is still some time until the releases, so that’s fine. Microsoft at least beats Sony so far for sure, Sony didn’t show up for E3 at all this year after all! I may greatly dislike Sony, but seeing one of the big three hardware makers skip E3 entirely really says that the show is declining. I hope the people running E3 can think of ways to improve the situation, I still think E3 is important.
On to Bethesda. First, they tried to apologize for the very unpopular game they released last year, Fallout 76. It’s good they mentioned it I guess, as opposed to just pretending that nothing was wrong as some publishers would. Bethesda is not exactly one of my preferred publishers, and as usual they didn’t show much I care much about; their main focus was on their Doom 2 remake, called Doom Eternal. I’m sure Doom Eternal will be a great game, but while it seems good the last one didn’t keep me interested for all that long, so I’m not planning on getting the sequel anytime soon.
And then… ughhh, well, and then… they announced… a Commander Keen cellphone game. I am, of course, a big fan of the Keen series; they’re fantastic platformers which I loved in the early ’90s and still think are great, great games, which are still some of my favorite platformers ever. It’s been frustrating to see id and then Bethesda do nothing with it for so long. So on one level, seeing this announcement was cool. The trailer for the game is amusing, with some dumb and some amusing comedy. The art style is simple, in that modern animation way, but works, and the characters and creatures and such are recognizable — Yorps are in this game as you would hope, and more. They’ve added a twin sister character in addition to the original Keen, too, which is a nice addition. Apogee and id games rarely had playable female characters in the ’90s, so it’s good to see them doing better now. It’s sad that this is coming back as a mobile game, though. Too bad. I like the trailer as a trailer, but not as a game. So yeah, it was nice to see but also awful to see, because seriously, Commander Keen returns… as a cellphone game?? Argh!
Monday: Ubisoft, Square-Enix, and Limited Run
There was a lot less to watch on Monday than usual, as Microsoft moved to Sunday and EA and Sony didn’t have conferences at all, as E3 shrinks. So, this left only two major conferences that day. Ubisoft and Square-Enix had stuff to show, but neither one particularly excited me. Ubisoft has some great and interesting games, but for me at least they didn’t show them this year. They focused strongly this year on their modern-military shooters and such, including The Division 2 and various other Tom Clancy games, not games I play much of. Ubisoft makes games I like, but they got less attention this year. The new Gods & Heroes game looks potentially cool, though it was just yet ANOTHER prerendered trailer with no gameplay, first. It looks quite Assassin’s Creed inspired, but hopefully will be more fun than those games — I have always wanted to like the AC games due to their interesting settings, but the gameplay has never held my interest. We’ll see with this not-AC title. Additionally, it is amusing that the original Wii lives another year thanks to Just Dance 2020, which was announced for the current systems and the Wii. Sadly the Wii U isn’t getting it, so I guess that great console is dead now, as far as retail games go. Limited Run’s release of Axiom Vergea few months ago seems to be the last Wii U release on a disc… ugh. But more on that soon. As for Ubisoft, otherwise it was a pretty forgettable show for them. Oh well. Hopefully we see games I am more interested in like Beyond Good & Evil 2, Skull & Bones, TrackMania, Rayman, Rabbids, and such in the future. Maybe they will even make a Rayman 4 someday… that would be amazing, Rayman 2 is still one of the best platformers ever made.
Square-Enix had a solid show. I don’t have too much to say about it, though; most of their games are remakes and remasters, with only a few really new games shown. And their two big games aren’t ones that interest me all that much, Marvel’s Avengers and the FFVII remake. They have done some recent remakes and re-releases that are pretty cool, like the enhanced ports of Final Fantasy XII, but the VII remake isn’t interesting me too much; the gameplay looks okay but not really like something I’d really want to stick with, and the story has infamously been spoiled to everyone on the internet for a long time. It will be a bit interesting to see if they change anything, though. As for the Avengers game, I don’t know, it looks fine I guess. I’m no superhero fan though, but I see the trailer has gotten a very mixed reception. I’m not sure how much of it was gameplay either, versus CG.
Limited Run had a little video presentation Monday as well, and I watched it. I am not a Limited Run fan, though; if you want to be a real publisher make enough copies of your games to satisfy demand! The show was partially amusing and partially groan-inducingly bad, but what it really did is once again remind me of why I do not like their business model. I mean, it’s fantastic that there are physical copies of these games being made, don’t get me wrong. And some of these games would have no chance of selling enough copies to justify a full retail run. Others, however, would… but then they get stuck with Limited Run’s minuscule-printrun nonsense anyway. It’s sad stuff. This whole ‘we’ll make a few copies, sometimes of good games and sometimes of bad ones, and get collectors to buy them up immediately regardless of quality just to have the full set’ business model is obnoxious, and bad when it sticks some actual good games’ physical releases behind these rare Limited Run releases. For one example of that, see what is apparently going to be the final disc release for the Wii U, since Just Dance 2019 was not announced for the system, Axiom Verge for Wii U. I’d like to own that since it is the best version of the game, but not “how you get a Limited Run game” like, so oh well.
So uh, yeah, I hope Nintendo’s show is good, since unlike the rest of the industry they probably aren’t prepping for an all-new console next year…
Tuesday: Nintendo’s Show Begins
Nintendo always has its show last, Tuesday at 9am Pacific, or noon here. And it didn’t take long before it was clear that Nintendo won E3 again. I know I’ve almost always said that, but it was an easy runaway win this time, not close at all. With a sizable lineup of mostly good-looking games releasing this year, including many from the next few months, Nintendo had a lot to show and they did well with it. Nintendo has the advantage of supporting a current platform instead of moving towards a new one that will not be out for some time and it showed. There is really only one disappointment from Nintendo, that once again nothing was seen of Metroid. We know Metroid Prime 3 was recently rebooted with Retro making the game, but what about the rumored Metroid Prime Trilogy port that Retro supposedly made? I guess if it is real Nintendo doesn’t want to release it this year. That’s too bad. Otherwise, though, this was a great show with some nice surprises. Perhaps foremost among the surprises, we finally got — and saw released on the same day as its announcement, digitally at least — a translated, English-language version of the SNES classic Seiken Densetsu 3! It’s called “Trials of Mana” now, so I guess that’s now SD3’s official English name. It’s expensive at $40 for a digital collection of Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana, and Trials of Mana, but… probably worth it anyway. Square also announced a full 3d remake of Trials of Mana, coming to Switch, PC, and PS4 next year. It looks a lot more ambitious than the apparently-poor 3d remake of Secret of Mana, which would be nice.
Also, Nintendo closed the conference by announcing that a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is in development. That’s cool I guess, though it’s definitely not really my kind of game. The trailer teases us once again with Zelda having a significant role, but they’ve done this too many times now for me to believe it. No, probably either she gets kidnapped right after that cutscene and you have to rescue her, or she’ll follow you around as your AI companion. Playable Zelda? “But then what would Link do?” … I hope I’m wrong this time, but sadly probably won’t be…
Other than that, Link’s Awakening’s remake was also shown at length, as expected. And… well, it has great graphics with its unique ‘toy’ artstyle, but in terms of gameplay and design it’s clear that it’s a very, VERY faithful remake of the original. It looks like everything is in the exact same places it was before, so someone like me who has played the original many times probably won’t get too much out of this apart from seeing the redone graphics. Link’s Awakening is one of my favorite games ever, so it’s fantastic that it will be getting more attention again, but I kind of would like to see something a bit more new than this is looking like it will be, I guess. For new content, beyond the removal of screen transitions and freer movement, Nintendo has only shown one thing: the photo hut from DX has been removed, and the photo collection element as well presumable, and a new customizable dungeon has been added there. Here you can use rooms from dungeons you’ve beaten, placing them into a dungeon to form your own custom dungeons. It’s a pretty cool idea that might be fun to play around with for a while, though it’s limited to just placing whole rooms, you aren’t designing anything more detailed than that so this is not a Legend of Zelda Maker. And other than that, it looks like LA again. Again, LA is one of my favorite games, but I love the original, it doesn’t need this remake for me to love the game! I will play this eventually, but the original black and white release will probably always be my favorite.
They showed a lot of other games as well. First, Daemon x Machina appeared again. This mech shooting action game that had a demo a few months ago; the demo wasn’t amazing, but was fun and I am kind of looking forward to this game. No More Heroes III was announced as well. I don’t care at all, I STRONGLY dislike some elements of what I have seen of the story of this franchise and don’t think I would like the gameplay either. Other games shown include Mario & Sonic at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, bringing back this long-running franchise after an olympics off; Pokemon Sword and Shield, which is sure to be the year’s big hit but isn’t something I care about; Mario Maker 2, which released a few weeks ago and as my last article shows is my Game of the Year for sure, despite some faults; Animal Crossing showed, though it has been delayed to 2020 and is a series I’ve never played or really wanted to play, but I do like that this time the female villager is getting the main focus in the trailers and gameplay and not the male one; Astral Chain, which sure looks like a Platinum action game, which is praise for some but not for me, I’ve never liked that kind of game much at all; and more. However, of course, F-Zero was not present, because that amazing series never will come back. Truly unfortunate. It needs to!
I watched a lot of the Nintendo Treehouse streams during E3, and they showed lots of footage of all these games and more. The Switch port of Dragon Quest XI looks to be the definitive version of that game for example. I might get it sometime. It was a good, fun show from Nintendo, packed with games and stuff to look forward to. Their World Championships stream on Saturday, before E3 began, was quite entertaining too. I particularly liked the Mario Maker 2 portion of that show, watching speedrunners compete to complete new Mario Maker levels as fast as possible was great, I would definitely watch competitions like that again.
Overall, Nintendo had a good show loaded wtih good games. Animal Crossing’s delay to next year leaves only Pokemon and the Link’s Awakening remakes to be the big holiday titles for the Switch this Christmas, but Pokemon is big enough that that should be fine for most. For me their big game is out already, Mario Maker 2.
As for everyone else, there were a few bright spots here and there, with some interesting indie games I mostly didn’t mention here and the promise of some great upcoming projects, but it is clear that a lot of developer attention is focusing on the still mmore than one year away PlayStation 5 and next Xbox. That’s okay, game development takes a long time, but it leaves somewhat sparse lineups of major titles on those platforms in the interim. Fortunately a lot of top modern games have very good replay value and Nintendo’s releasing games at a good pace, though, so things are fine for now. The industry will need to figure out what to do with E3, though — shows like this, with so many major publishers saying nothing, are not as exciting or important as the shows of years past. At what point does it collapse, with publishers tired of spending so much money for reduced returns? Or alternately, does it become another convention like a PAX, instead of the more industry-focused event that it was? That is a likely outcome, but we will have to see.