E3 2018 – what we learnt from the world’s biggest Gaming Expo

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E3 2018 (Image Credit; Sergey Galyonkin, Flickr)

E3 2018 (Image Credit; Sergey Galyonkin, Flickr)

From Nintendo to Cyberpunk Getintothis Kieran Donnachie on what went down at this year’s E3. 

It’s hard to name a bigger event in the gaming world than E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo. It’s here that everyone in the industry collides in one room, creating one big gaming mess.

This year’s event took place over 13-15 June, and while we may not have been able to head over to LA ourselves we were able to keep an eye out for the best showcases.

The annual expo is where the best-known gaming names showcase their new hardware and/or software, bringing in thousands to the show-floor and millions to the live streams. But it’s worth recognising that the event has changed a lot in its recent iterations.

As the second year of E3 being opened to the public it’s probable the show-floor will have been busier than ever. A lack of organisation resulting in poor preparations for the coming crowds overshadowed last year’s event, but given the price of tickets and amount of merch available this year, it’s likely the organisers weren’t too worried about any potential waning numbers. That hunger for a glimpse at the latest from your favourite developer is all too real, and so it was inevitable that this year the show-floor would eventually descend into a heap of sweaty press.

A large portion of the event happens behind closed doors as invite-only previews for journalists. Sadly, these usually come with non-disclosure agreements attached and any resulting news is typically vague impressions – not that we don’t pour over these hazy details!

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What we do tune into, however, is the conferences. Historically they were dominated by the cringe-inducing, self-important and bombastic presentations of the hardware developers. And, well, honestly they’re still gaffe-prone and stilted, but the air of secrecy around announcements has become a race for headlines.

The idea of spin has leaked over from politics into almost all industries and controlling the narrative, for good or for bad, is of utmost importance.

With that in mind, publishers regularly set up their own conferences away from the console giants, with their reveal campaigns starting weeks before E3. Both Battlefield and Call of Duty had huge events for their latest titles, with their publishers succeeding in engineering the hype to their advantage.

This means the usual leaks (we’re looking at you Walmart Canada) are far less shocking when they do occur. There are still nuggets of surprise to be found but, in response to leaks, getting out ahead is the way to go.

But enough of the rumours, it’s time to hear about everything we did learn from this year’s conference, including exciting sequels, news of changing views plus some underwhelming unveilings.

The conference met with the most excitement at this year’s E3 had to be Bethesda. The wind might have been ripped from their sails with Rage 2 leaking, with the original is the butt of many jokes, yet the idea of a sequel to the knockoff Mad Max setting is intriguing; especially when it’s made by the Avalanche Studios team behind the overlooked, and official, Mad Max game.

It’s easy to imagine this being their shock reveal, but Bethesda went one better and announced Fallout 76. Early reports suggested a multiplayer game, a big departure for the development team behind single player epics like the Elder Scrolls and the modern Fallouts. Their E3 showcase on June 10 went in to further detail, explaining how 76 would be a ‘soft core’ survival game where the post nuclear war West Virginia is inhabited by your fellow players and a wide variety of mutated local beasties.

While it will play similarly to their previous title, Fallout 4, the usual optional survival rules will be enabled and the world is said to be four times bigger than the Commonwealth of 4, with players able to set up a base anywhere. Anyone familiar with the survival genre knows all too well about the nefarious players that will be looking to ruin your handy work, and because Fallout has never had destructible environments, it’s likely the only way to tamper with someone’s settlement will be through the nuclear bunkers hidden around the map.

If a player, or group of players, collects all the pieces of a bunker code, they can access the nukes stored inside and launch them around the map. After all, who can honestly say they get on with their neighbours? Nuclear warfare is a little close to home given recents world events, but blowing things up has never not been fun over the internet.

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Bethesda had a packed lineup, but slipped in at the end was the sliver of news that had everyone talking. Their next games after 76 would be Starfield, their rumoured sci-fi RPG, and the Elder Scrolls 6. Nothing except vague logo trailers were shown, but the long awaited sequel to Skyrim is the biggest of trump cards.

Sadly it’s years away, likely coming after the next generation of consoles. Fans eagerly awaiting it should keep an eye out for their mobile spin off, Elder Scrolls Blades, although  you should expect the usual micro transaction junk. Anyone looking for an extended look should check out Noclip’s documentary on the making of Fallout 76.

One of the most anticipated games coming into E3 was Cyberpunk 2077. When the official account tweeted, the gaming world blew up. It had been five years since we’d seen their first teaser trailer, and on January 10 this year it seemed we’d get more news. But nothing for five months again, then rumours that CD Projekt Red would be at E3.

CDPR, a polish game developer, have been working on Cyberpunk since before they finished on their previous masterpiece, The Witcher 3. The pedigree of the studio warrants the anticipation and for Microsoft’s E3 presentation to close on the detailed and lengthy CG trailer it cemented them ‘winning’ best conference.

The Witcher 3 topped most, if not all, top 10 lists when it released in 2015. A huge sprawling city to explore is a lofty promise, but going by responses to the show floor demo, it’s one they’ve delivered on.

Those same accounts tell of a game much closer to release than the comparable first looks at The Witcher 3. No release date has been given, and given the scope CDPR are going for we’re not surprised. We haven’t seen the 50 minute demo ourselves, but have garnered a few details on it.

Of course there’s going to be hacking, drugs and weird street slang. Surprisingly however, is 2077 being a first person game. The open world nature and role playing style progression is well within their wheelhouse, but they’ve historically made games with a third person view. It’s safe to say fans are a little perturbed by the news.

The strong suit of their usual perspective is the visual side of character customisation. The Witcher has clothing and armour still unrivalled in design and detail, and the art team are sure to deliver again. The benefit of seeing your character move through the world in the style you’ve chosen for them is further engagement and connection.

CDPR’s reasoning though, is more than convincing. Core to the cyberpunk genre is the hulking oppressiveness of the world; the mega-corporate upper class miles above in their brutalist monoliths while the city writhes below. The immersion of seeing the dwarfing skyscrapers through your characters eyes drives home just how minuscule and inconsequential they, and you, are. Cyberpunk 2077 wants you to feel small, and also get a good look at the cool future guns.

It’s 2018 and we’re sorry to say that zombies are still en vogue. So it’s rare for us to be so excited by yet another game starring the ‘shamblers’. Yet this time a man walks out on stage and below on screen appears Chris Avellone, Narrative Designer”. The name not might mean much to most, but to us it meant jumping up in glee.

Avellone has worked on critically-acclaimed games for much of his career. Planescape Torment, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout New Vegas and Into the Breach. The list is long and full of the best writing in games, at least in my opinion. The original Dying Light refreshed the flagging genre of hitting zombies until they’re dead again, but lacked a compelling story. Polish developers Techland admitted to a story bible (reference document detailed the setting) of one page for Dying Light, and when Avellone joined it got considerably thicker.

Diverging narratives based on player choice is often an illusion, leading to the same endpoint no matter what you do, but Dying Light promises real consequence and world shaping decisions. The setting of post-post apocalypse, or as Avellone puts it “modern dark ages”, is novel and sneakily allows for a scarcity of modern tech and the pillar of all contemporary video games; guns. The sequel also boasts writers from the much lauded ‘Bloody Baron’ storyline from The Witcher 3, and with such strong writing paired with the already enjoyable gameplay of its predecessor, Dying Light 2 is sure to succeed.

The usual big hitters, as far as conferences go, had a rather poor showing. Nintendo, EA and Square Enix had noticeably light lineups.

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In an effort to finally show recognition of their Super Smash Bros. fanbase, Nintendo bombarded us with details on the latest in the series. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate dominated the back half of the surprisingly weak showcase. They framed it as a love letter to fans, every character to ever appear in the fighting game’s 30 year lifespan return. A roster of 65 playable characters is nothing to sniff at, yet hardly necessitates the gruelling thirty minute slot it received.

When their whole presentation is taken into account though, it begins to make sense. Nintendo had very little to show. E3 has become another of the many Directs they produce throughout the year, and what was once a race for optics now seems toned down. Their brand is enough to sell almost any game they touch and their established titles, such as Mario, have garnered so much love and praise that they carry the unspoken promise of unmatched quality.

An empty year like this is worrying though. It’s hard to follow games like Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, which at one time outsold the very console they were for. Yet in the second year of the Switch’s life, they’re lacking that follow up. A new Metroid Prime was teased last E3, with a Yoshi game playable behind closed doors too – yet neither appeared this year.

The long awaited Pokemon game on Switch was also a no show, in it’s place Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee. While keeping to the formula of two games with minor differences, the games are markedly more similar to Pokemon Go than any mainline entries in the series. The Let’s Go games strike us as new entries into the series for newer fans, especially those whose first Pokemon was the mobile release from 2016.

Nintendo puts out Directs every few months, so cross your fingers for something else beside, admittedly great, indie titles on the Switch. It’d be impossible to not recommend grabbing The World Ends With You, which was snuck in amongst the hectic montage of coming titles. This rerelease of the 2007 Nintendo DS cult classic is the one bit of great news from the otherwise drab presentation. Just listen to that soundtrack!

A month before E3, Sony had announced that they were showing off four games at the expo. Kojima Production’s enigmatic Death Stranding, Suckerpunch Production’s feudal tale Ghosts of Tsushima, Insomniac’s it’s-in-the-title Spider Man and Naughty Dog’s snog ‘n stab The Last of Us Part 2.

The lineup is undeniably killer, proving once again Playstation 4 is the go to for prestige single player games. Yet Sony chose the most convoluted production possible. Beginning with a musical piece by original The Last of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla was a strong start. But they’d filled a small tent to the brim with journalists on the verge of heatstroke, only to show a 12 minute clip of the coming sequel. Albeit the animation was astounding, but cutting to a panel of talking heads whilst herding the audience to another stage was just bizarre and completely undermined the trailer.

The worry when a needlessly costumed musician began playing a traditional Japanese bamboo flute was tangible. Was each of the four game reveals going to take place at a different themed stage, with increasingly length musical openings? Sadly we never got to see a Death Stranding theme. The show continued on, wowing with trailer after trailer. But the question constantly dogging the show was, why the theatrics? It only benefited the live audience who, by all accounts, hated it. The whole thing was a rather transparent attempt at standing out, but coming a few hours after the fun Ubisoft conference they ended up looking poorly thought out.

The silver lining was that we got another bonkers look at Death Stranding. The inexplicable baby in the throat went even further than before. If the previous sentence struck you as insane ramblings, the trailer of ramblings of a Japanese auteur is something else. It looks like we got gameplay footage this time, not that it shed any light on what we’ll be doing in the final game.

Here’s another long awaited game, emerging from production hell 14 years later. Once more we’re treated to some blue sky style game design. A huge explorable universe, immensely detailed places to visit in your very own spaceship. It’s been promised, and fallen short of, before most notably by No Man’s Sky (who’s big new update was unsurprisingly missing from E3).

The games returning designer, Michel Ancel, has delivered some stellar CG trailers. The latest finally links back, in surprising ways, to the original cult classic. Similarly to Cyberpunk 2077, the project has massive ambitions but is likely much further off and lacks the recent success of CD Projekt Red in similar genres.

There’s little to judge the game on other than snippets of gameplay that are clearly in the prototype stage. It’s great seeing a sequel thought long dead, even if it’s one of the million other sequels at E3. The trouble with Beyond Good and Evil 2, and Ubisoft by extension, is their plan to bring the community in on development.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt was brought out on stage during the Ubisoft conference, to talk about his production company HitRecord. Put simply, it’s a social and creative platform using collaboration to create a variety of media projects. Ubisoft announced a partnership were fans could collaborate on assets (writing, art, music) that would appear in the game, the idea being to create a more organic and diversely “lived in” world.

Of course in the excitement, they forgot to mention compensation. The actor later tweeted that HitRecord “pays artists fairly”, and the production company later announced it received $50,000 as initial funding from Ubisoft for the nine projects. Ubisoft is worth around $3.69 billion.

People who become involved in the projects, which are all eerily reminiscent of exploitative spec work, are unlikely to receive reasonable compensation. That’s if their work is even accepted in the first place. HitRecord and Ubisoft both stand to gain from artists working out of pocket to create assets for a game will likely sell millions of copies. All of the profit will go to Ubisoft. They’ve both feebly discouraged extensive work being submitted, but have said they will accept such work.

In an environment where games are already exploiting their player bases financially with carefully designed micro transactions, and the issue of crunch (extended periods of overworking) is excused as “passion”; it’s almost shocking that Ubisoft announce this Space Monkey Program. We find if difficult to believe that this is an insidious plan to cheap out on their game. It is, however, certainly naive to see this as the revolutionary fan involvement they so eagerly announced it as. It’s indicative of how clueless the major corporations of the industry are, especially given the current climate of discussion among individual developers and journalists.

Ubisoft are in the position to lead by example, and failing to do so sets a bad precedent for the industry as a whole. The Division 2 looks super good though right? We can dissect the politics (according to developers Massive Entertainment) of a crumbling America in civil war another time.

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