So back we went again for a look at this year's E3--the preeminent trade show for electronic entertainment. Here is where most of the major game companies make their big announcements and trailer releases for the year.
The big shockers for me actually came some months ago, when Disney first announced they were pulling out of E3, and then a few weeks beforehand abruptly revealed they were closing down Disney Infinity and shuttering Avalanche, their internal console game studio. While they will still be licensing their various franchises to other game developers, they are apparently ceasing to self-publish their own console games.
Another big blow to E3 was the revelation that EA, the company currently responsible for making the bulk of the Star Wars games, was also going to sit E3 out this time around.
In an interesting spin, EA instead held their own version of E3 off-site and open to everyone, not just the Industry and Media traditionally allowed into E3. All guests to EA Play were treated to swag bags, refreshments, and the opportunity to demo four of EA's upcoming games: Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, FIFA 17, and Madden NFL 17.
While it was a nice facility, outside of the demo areas it had kind of a vacant, stark vibe. There was a separate floor for VIPs which was probably more populated.
I had kind of hoped they would have some/any information on the new Star Wars projects or the upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda, but there really wasn't much outside of merchandise beyond the demos for the four games.
(I did wind up demoing Battlefield and Titanfall, which was pretty humiliating as I am possible the world's worst at FPS. My experience was very much like this tweet:)
In any case, however, it was certainly easier to demo the games with specific appointment times here, rather than wait hours on the show floor as is sometimes required.
With two of the traditionally largest and splashiest booths missing, this year's E3 was quite a bit more sedate than in years past. While there were still quite a few photo-ops and demos available, it seemed a lot quieter with a lot more room to move around.
The big piece of technology that was present and promoted at what seemed almost every booth this time around was VR--either in the conventional form of games, or as a facet of what looks like an upcoming trend in theme parks rides.
I rode one ride demo that was basically a roller coaster motion simulator with a VR headset--it was nice if you're not a gonzo roller coaster fanatic as I am not, but I think people looking for the same kind of thrill as the live version will be a little disappointed.
While I don't think the VR I saw was really good enough to simulate real-life situations, where it does shine was at putting you into a completely unworldly environment. The ability to look in all directions and see a seamless 3-D environment you can travel in and interact with is astonishing. I don't know that I'm ready to plunk down the money for a system just yet (the PlayStation VR headset will launch in October of this year for a MSR of $399,) this definitely seems to be the direction the industry is headed.
Out on the main show floor, there were the usual elaborate booths set up to simulate various game environments, whether they were a street in New Orleans, complete with fortune tellers and jazz funeral processions...
...A post-apocalyptic fallout shelter...
...Wherever "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" is supposed to be...
(This booth was so popular, there were actually two lines to get one--one that took forever that enabled you to actually play the demo, and one slightly shorter just to walk in and look around.)
...Or the ubiquitous zombies.
Over at the LEGO booth, they were demoing the upcoming "LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens" game.
As far as Marvel games, Sony announced a new "Spider-Man PS4" game, in partnership with Insomniac Games.
Probably the closest Disney tie exhibited however, was over at the Square Enix booth which was heavily promoting the upcoming compilation "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue."
A crossover RPG featuring both Final Fantasy and Disney characters, the long and convoluted series has recently been repackaged into "Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix" and "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix" for the PlayStation 3. "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8" and the even-further-off "Kingdom Hearts III" which was announced at last year's D23 Expo will both be for the PlayStation 4.
While I don't have any experience with the game currently, I can tell you that if "Kingdom Hearts III" does, as they said last year, base its plot around Baymax, I am all in.
So looking back, I would say that this E3 felt the smallest of all the ones I've attended. There does seem to be a movement away from this "professionals only" show towards companies wanting to open it up to fans and players as well, which may indicate a change in the way games will be marketed and distributed in the future. E3 did give a nod to this by holding "E3 Live" which was an off-site event that was supposed to be a mini-E3 anyone could attend. Unfortunately, as I walked through it, I found it was mostly a small collection of vendors with very few game-playing opportunities available. If E3 does want to hold these kind of inclusive events, they're going to have to try to emulate the actual E3 environment a little better in order to avoid disappointing people's expectations.
Another thing that would help the experience is figuring out some way to manage the lines for the demos better. PlayStation at least had an app where you could make reservations to try out various games or watch trailers, but other popular companies had brutal lines. I tried briefly to line up for the new "South Park" demo, but bailed quickly after I was told the wait was thought to be around three hours.
In all, despite the low numbers of booths and long lines, it was another fun E3 filled with announcements and teasers for an abundance of good-looking games. Now if only I was a little better at combat...