E3 2014 – A Review (And What Is IndiE3?)

Ah, another E3 has come and gone. Well, technically it only just started, but the press conferences from the big companies and all the big announcements always start the day before the convention opens to the public. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is known as the largest gaming show of the year, with millions of viewers. Despite that, I’ve talked with other people who actively play games, and even employers who are technically in the gaming industry, and most of them still have no idea what E3 is. It’s still a time for the hardcore and truly dedicated, and not nearly as mainstream as one would think, even if updates in gaming this week will be read more than updates in any other entertainment medium.

Now that the next-gen consoles have been released, what was there to show? Microsoft has its first great Sunset Overdrive trailer, a Tomb Raider sequel, and the unofficial return of Conker. EA has a interesting focus on developers more so than games, which cleverly hid the fact that most of their games were not ready to show as they talked about untitled projects. To their credit, the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront game’s alpha footage looks identical to the films in realism, truly impressive, while on the other hand Mirror’s Edge 2 looks identical in quality to its predecessor from five years ago, and is making all the same steps in marketing and excitement to huge risk at making the same disappointment in sales. Ubisoft had a fun press conference, but the only new announcement was a new Rainbow Six game, everything else was either leaked before or not on anyone’s list, meaning a slew of expected games were missing in action, including that second “Assassin’s Creed – Comet” game. Sony was the most fun of the shows, and also dragged on the most, the only huge AAA announcement worth writing about being a slightly longer teaser trailer for Uncharted 4. And Nintendo? With new updates on Bayonetta 2, a beautiful new Kirby, new Zelda, Star Fox, and upcoming Smash Bros, they arguably had the strongest game lineup on show. Oh, and GTA 5 is coming to PC, next-gen, and PC.

Overall, I agree with most watchers that EA was the worst show of the bunch, seemingly being unprepared and setting it up, despite being a fantastic look at different developers.  The rest was almost on par, and I can’t say there was a clear winner between Sony or Microsoft. If anything, Nintendo had the best, but overall all the conferences were really strong.

But not great. Really good, but not great. The show never reached the peaks of last year, or the year before that. On average it was all  strong, but left me still a little disappointed. Maybe because of what wasn’t in show, and to the lack of excitement in what was announced. Maybe something else…

Interestingly, both Microsoft and Sony had a strong focus on indie games, dedicating a good chunk of time to who they were working with and making things easier for developers. Both EA and Ubisoft also had some smaller games on show. Even more curious, nearly every small game shown excited me MORE than every AAA game shown. I’ve heard others say indies were more interesting before, but this was the first time I felt that. There might be a handful of AAA games I buy this year, but the list of indie games I’m interested in is now LARGER than that! Most people still don’t feel this way, but I wonder if it will eventually make a proper impact in the industry.

 


“… Curious, nearly every small game shown excited my MORE than every AAA game shown… this was the first time I felt that… “


 

Which brings us to indiE3. This spur-of-the-moment online event was organized within days, and I’m proud to say I am one of over 150 indie developers featured in the event. It got a little over 1,000 viewers watching a live-feed, and promises to continue right to next week. Expectedly, there were a ton of technical issues, more than half its time “on air” were to apologize about sound and visual problems, and strangely but appreciatively, the commenter showing of trailers insisted on commenting on each one after they played, which barely allowed them to get through a fraction of their huge list of games on show on the first day. But they are incredibly dedicated, headed by TJ Thomas, one of several active indie devs heading the event. And commenters on the video stream were actually kind and light-hearted, not mean-spirited or rude as one would expect the Internet to be. It was a beautfiul thing.

I’m certain most of the viewers are indie developers themselves, and while many websites have caught on to the event, no major news site has given the slightest attention to the show. But it’s still awe-inspiring what was organized in under a week, and how they got over 1,000 people excited, and for the potential of future years. And the games I did see shown so far varied in quality, some typical, some breathtaking and important, all fun, all (quite frankly) more interesting than E3’s “surprises.”

In both E3 and indieE3, I am especially disappointed in the lack of major announcements towards truly advancing “next-gen.” Yes, my game “Drew and the Floating Labyrinth” is advancing alternatives in visuals with mixed results, but that’s not what I mean. I mean artificial intelligence. Before PS4 and XBOXONE, gamers predicted that the biggest advancement of games would be AI. And yet, we still haven’t advanced past competitive AI and generic NPCs. EA tried with their showing of The Sims 4, but its presentation made it look exactly like every other Sims game, any innovation soured by an annoying attempt to be cool and hip during the demo. Instead, most devs seem focused on social gaming, using data from players to extend AI and gameplay, but again in implementations that have existed for nearly a decade. VR headsets are still promising, but still have no release date for us to actually use. I want to explore a LIVING, FICTIONAL WORLD, darn it! All gamers have ever since Pong, and its frustrating to see developers not even recognizing that dream.

And that’s why I develop games. That’s why I’m “indie.” Not because I think I’m a figure of talent and creativity. I would never think of myself as the right person to make any specific game. But the games I want to exist, have wanted to exist for years, games I’ve seen others suggest and pine for, no one seems to be making. Fed up, I make the games I want myself. Firstly, a game that doesn’t rely on 3D models and animation, which has been overused in games and film for over a decade, and in AI, a field that is a fraction of what it should be in the industry that should be challenging it the most. Ultimately, not for other people, but for me. And for the hope that my games, either in greatness or mediocrity, will inspire other developers to use and improve upon such things to make the games I want, so that I can buy and play them.

As Gandhi was said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I don’t think he was talking about the gaming industry, but anyway…