E3 2015 – A Review From A Little Indie’s Perspective

E3 seems bigger this year. Maybe it’s because of Bethesda and Square Enix entering the fray, joining Ubisoft, EA, and of course Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo (and PC?) to try to convince you why they are the company to look at.

This is all a further sign of modern times both in industry and culture, how everyone is trying to not only be in the spotlight but steal the spotlight entirely for themselves. Such selfish people. I’m just as guilty: if I had games that stood out like that, I’d be trying to steal the show too (my current games “Drew and the Floating Labyrinth” and “Unfinished – An Artist’s Lament” are not even close to worthy… although if you haven’t yet seen those hand-drawn 3D games, do take a look). All the same, I ended up being more pumped then ever this year, with this many groups and now years into the current generation, surely everyone had something to show. Even Youtube had it on their homepage logo, advertising their new game-streaming service, helping ensure millions could comfortably watch it all (although I had some unusual slow down times in streaming, maybe even Youtube can’t handle that many viewers at once).

Bethesda was first, and as expected, showed off Doom, Dishonored 2, Elder Scrolls Online, and Fallout 4. There was also Battlecry, a Elder Scrolls card game and a Fallout vault simulator both for mobile. Hopefully their new Bethesda Net won’t be an intrusive DRM system for every game they make now. Overall, no big surprises (but I admit Fallout Shelter iOS looks cool). The entire show reveled in fun, the creators had a great time putting their first solo show together. They clearly respect their fans too, content creation was a big feature of their largest games. Doom didn’t really impress me, it’s next-gen graphics seem par, it seems all lighting, texture and particle effects in modern games could be recreated in Unity3D and Maya within an hour. That sounds like a huge dishonor for the big team of artists that made everything from scratch, but that what I thought (monster designs and kills looked nice though). It wasn’t really until Todd Howard stepped up and gave commentary over lengthy video of Fallout that I got excited. Yes, the character animation still look terrible, most of the features and gameplay are identical to what we’ve seen before. But when Todd explains the details behind the engine (dynamic random character models and voice acting? Nice!) and the new features (minecraft + tower defense neighbourhood simulator? Cool!), his giddiness seems to be infectious. Bethesda owes a lot to Todd, I think he alone might have convinced me to preorder this one. Specifically that collector’s edition with the pip-boy plastic-case thingy to go along with the free mobile app. Now if only they sold those limited edition E3 exclusive figurines…

Microsoft had a good showing. That’s largely thanks to Recore, Gigantic, Sea of Thieves, Rare’s Replay, and Ion, all of which are new surprises. Also Xbox 360 backwards compatibility on Xbox One (which appears to be a download service of old games from your shelf collection, but other than the Internet connection, no extra cost to play your old discs), and Xbox’s version of Steam Early Access. The new pro-elite controller‘s customizability is sexy. Indie games got abut 10 minutes of stage time, only Ashen and Cuphead really exciting me. EA Access’s subscription service, if open to ALL of their catalogue present and future, seems a good deal, especially for sports fans. Plants VS Zombies GW2 seems ok, it’s nod to Titanfall was worth a chuckle, and Dark Souls 3 had fair CGI trailer.  Halo 5, Forza 6, Fable Legends felt a little stale while Rise of The Tomb Raider and Gears of War 4 did more to catch my attention. I like Todd Howard, but having him repeat a shorter but identical version of his Fallout demo at Microsoft’s conference 11 hours after Bethesda’s show seemed silly, and Ubisoft’s The Division seems less impressive every time I see it (at least Rainbow 6 Siege showed better). The live demo of Microsoft’s HoloLens with Minecraft easily stole the show, even if it is just augmented reality, I haven’t seen a demo sell it so well in a Youtube video.

EA has always had a bad reputation, but I figure they’re doing ok. They did show Mass Effect Andromeda (briefly), Star Wars Battlefront, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, all of which were massive crowd pleasers. There was also Need For Speed, Garden Warfare 2, some expansion to Star Wars The Old Republic (not a remake or sequel? Have to look up more on that one), and a ton of time on EA’s sports catalogue, and signs of support for mobile gaming including the Apple Watch. And what probably stole their show was Unravel, a cute 2D platformer featuring a yarn figure character, their answer to Ubisoft’s smaller UbiArt games. Unravel is beautiful if somewhat simple, but the nervous indie developer was shaking so hard and seemed so sincere you want to give him a hug while giving him your wallet for that plush toy. EA has shown some of the most realistic graphics I’ve seen in their games, and Unravel with Mirror’s Edge are both high on my ‘to watch’ list. Overall, EA knew they have some of the biggest games of 2016, and used that to their advantage.

Ubisoft… I do like Ubisoft, but they seem to have gotten worse every year. They started the show stressing the importance of community feedback, then ignored that statement as they announced their typical titles. South Park: The Fractured But Whole and For Honor were both first and the biggest surprises, the rest had The Division, Anno 2205, Just Dance 2016, Rainbow Six Siege, Trackmania, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Also, new open world Ghost Recon Wildlands. These are all solid games, but the other publisher shows had at least one or two giant titles people want yesterday. Ubisoft? Not enough surprises, not enough worth talking about. Next year, give me more UbiArt games, new Prince of Persia and Beyond Good and Evil 2, and maybe you’ll have the best show again.

Sony won. Even if you didn’t see the others, you knew Sony won. They had The Last Guardian (2016!), No Man’s Sky (indie superstar!), Final Fantasy 7 (official remake!), Uncharted 4 and the launch of the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter (has since reached it’s $2 million goal within 12 hours). That alone would have done it, but they also had the biggest list with new Horizon – Zero Dawn, World of Final Fantasy, and Dreams, and expected titles Hitman, Street Fighter 5, Firewatch, Destiny expansion, Arkham Knight, Call of Duty (stolen from Xb0x), Disney Infinity, and Battlefront. Plus a few smaller indie titles were given mention. And mentions of Project Morpheus and a streaming TV plan that is exactly what I wanted decades ago. Plus film reels of dozens of other games coming to the platform. I won’t go in detail, but not only did Sony have the biggest lineup and biggest surprises, they had the biggest lineup of must-preorder-today games. Even if most of these games are not in fact exclusive, Sony has shown again that they know their audience.


“… the wealth and diversity of content was huge, and enough was teased of titles that make me excited to be a gamer, more so than I have been in years… “


Nintendo certainly tried to give it their all. There was a lot of games thanks to the 3DS, showing Zelda Hyrule Warriors and TriForce Heroes (similar to the Four Swords adventure for GBA and Gamecube), Metroid Prime multiplayer game, Fire Emblem Fates, Animal Crossing Home Designer, Yokai Watch, and a Mario RPG that combines standard and paper Mario’s in the same world. WiiU has is first major video of Star Fox, Skylanders with Amiibo crossover, Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensei (which seems too Japanese to be a sell for most Americans), Xenoblade, Animal Crossing party game, Yoshi’s Wooly World,  Mario Tennis, and of course Mario Maker. Some of these were new, some were old, but all of it was expected. Again, the WiiU seems to get the short end of the stick: a way to play 3DS games directly on WiiU would double its console sales. As usual, Nintendo had more fun than anyone, the puppet jokes and tribute video contest to Mario’s 30th anniversary at the end was worth the watch. If nothing else, I’ll get that Yoshii Wooly amiibo in October (and I don’t even have a WiiU yet!).

Square Enix had an odd conference: it felt stiff and professional, the crowd was small and quiet. There were no live demos, and the steam footage quality dipped often. But Square also reminded that if anyone has bigger games than EA in the next two years, it’s them. Just Cause 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Hitman (apparently a growing online experience), and Deus Ex : Mankind Divided, each target the Western audiences as the best of their genres. On the Japanese side, Final Fantasy 7 remake, Final Fantasy 7 original, Kingdom Heats Unchained for mobile, Kingdom Hearts 3 (Tangled is a new world!), World of Final Fantasy (such cute chibi designs!), Star Ocean 5 (first gameplay debut!), new Project Setsuna and a very unusual reveal of Nier 2 for the PS4, which might be one of my highlights from this show. They’ve shown themselves leaders in the mobile space with Hitman and now Lara Croft Go. There was a shout out to Square Enix Collective in supporting smaller indie titles (one of which is Montreal’s Moon Hunters, which I’ve had the pleasure to meet multiple times at Ontario conferences this year). Despite a minimal showing of FF15 and a lot of repetition of yesterday’s shows, the show felt packed and diverse, with something to please everyone (even if some of these titles won’t come for another 2-5 years).

There was also that PC show. The opening seemed almost a parody of the ‘master console’ mentality, and the show itself was just a casual interview show like the gaming sites have had in between the other press shows. As a developer, the insight into tools and hardware from developers was fun, but I couldn’t care less about most of the games shown. Even the PC/Console-shared games from the other shows seem more exciting. Skip-able, you didn’t miss anything. Ironically, the Twitch-only feed was choppy and blurry, issues I’ve never had on a console (I do like PC for ease to develop and release on, but this show did nothing to convince me that it is better to play on than consoles).

E3 overall? It feels strange to still see CGI trailers in this day and age, and gameplay graphics not on par with film seems unacceptable. Indie games were there but also mostly in the background, ensuring AAA titles got the attention and support they needed compared to last year. I hope next year we avoid overlap of content (certain games appears 2 or 3 times over the last few days, in some cases with no unique video among them). If I had to order them from best to worst, I’d say Sony, Microsoft, Square Enix, Bethesda, EA, Nintendo, Ubisoft. Personally, I’m excited for Square Enix’s Project Setsuna (despite only concept art), Nier 2 (also mostly concept art), and World of Final Fantasy, Sony’s The Last Guardian, Shenmue 3, Horizon – Zero Dawn, EA’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Star Wars Battlefront, and Unravel, Microsoft’s Recore, Nintendo’s Fire Emblem (darn it, I hope these get ported to console one day), and Bethesda’s Fallout 4. That’s about 10 more titles on my must buy list than I had last year. That says a lot. And there were dozens of other smaller reveals outside of the press conferences, and other huge games we know are coming but are being saved for Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show. Whatever your comments, the wealth and diversity of content was huge, and enough was teased of titles that make me excited to be a gamer, more so than I have been in years.

Even then, 2D animation in any capacity wasn’t really present. Giant procedural worlds are more prevalent, but advanced AI to populate those worlds are still non-existent. The stuff I know I want more than anything else still isn’t coming. This makes me relived that a open niche still exists to come through as an indie, but also scared that if I don’t make it myself, it will never exist. I’ll try to put those feelings aside and get back to my console. Hello game controller, I’ve missed you.