Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday afternoon tidbits

E3 bugs me. You may have noticed. Despite how it might appear, it's not because I'm a crabby old hermit who scurries back into his cave at the first sign of mirth. I love when people get excited about video games. I do it myself. But E3 is basically a big TV commercial, and it is strange that people don't take what they see there with a bigger grain of salt.

Every presentation has been conceived for maximum marketing impact, and I don't think the fans or the members of the media do themselves any favors by buying into the hype. Both in the press and in the wild, there's a tendency to breathlessly parrot every new announcement, as though it's surprising that there are sequels to popular games in the works. Besides which, there's a long history of games that made a big splash at E3, only to be delayed or canceled -- not to mention disappointing. I just want people to take games on their own merits, that's all.

Nevertheless, E3 was the story of the week, and as such, it comes up a lot in the links.

-Hardcasual absolutely killed it this week with their faux-E3 coverage. They punctured the bubble around the show, and they did it with good humor. This was the can't-miss coverage of the entire show, even though it was all lies. My favorites: "Microsoft’s Natal To Deliver 1:1 Teabagging on Xbox Live" and "Vendor Outside Los Angeles Convention Center Debuts Sleeker, More Delicious Hot Dog Wrapped in Bacon."

-Another cynical take on the show came from the Phoenix's Mike Rougeau, which, while harder edged than Hardcasual's coverage, was a welcome corrective after days of identical live-blogs and tweets.

-Speaking of which, while the real-time coverage of the Big Three press conferences was a bit much for me, several outlets did a great job afterward of looking at the big picture, none more so than Offworld. Brandon Boyer discussed "The 7 things you need to know about Microsoft's press conference," "The 5 things you need to know about Nintendo's press conference," and "The 5 things you need to know about Sony's press conference." Boyer's write-ups were free of gushing or hype, and instead took a measured look at the competitive landscape coming out of the show.

-It was also nice to see a bit more scrutiny applied to some of the games after journalists got their hands on them. Brian Crecente and Leigh Alexander wrote dueling opinion pieces about the upcoming Dante's Inferno game. Crecente is dubious:
While the developers seem genuinely interested in trying to present a tour of Dante's hell that remains at least mildly representative of the original works, it can't remain a passive experience and still be a mainstream video game.

Their answer: Make Dante the game's hero, Beatrice the game's damsel in distress.

It's this shift in perspective, no matter how tangentially rooted in history, that most threatens to deflate the experience of Inferno.

While Alexander welcomes the artistic license:
The Divine Comedy, after all, is largely a poem about two guys walking and talking -- not exactly the core gameplay of an action game. In that way, the liberties the team took were intended to create a stronger video game, a more reasonable priority for, well, a video game, than focusing on a strong epic poem adaptation.

My own feeling is that once you hear the words "Dante's Inferno: The Video Game," you probably shouldn't be surprised by any departures from the source material.

-And a couple of non-E3 links. (Holy crap, this post is getting long.) I had never listened to the Gamers with Jobs podcast before, but I enjoyed their discussion of inFamous, because their experiences seemed to track with my own. That leaves them, Tycho Brahe, and me as the only holdouts, I think.

-I did enjoy the completionist aspect of inFamous, though. The city is composed of three islands. Each island starts off under the control of gang members, which is represented by a red outline on your map. Upon completing each side mission, your map shows a chunk of gang territory changing colors. This almost single-handedly kept my interest throughout the game. It was also reasonably absorbing to search for blast shards, but not nearly as fun as hunting agility orbs in Crackdown. Anyway, GameSetWatch ran a good piece about the psychology of collectors and hoarders, which seems relevant.

Have a good weekend, all.


Sam said...

Awww, thanks, Mitch. We had a great time doing it, and always appreciate your links and support.

c.p.ervin said...

I just got back from my inaugural E3, and I agree with your analysis yet disagree with your feelings, if that's the right way to put it. I've slept like 12 hours total since Sunday and feel slightly loopy from pain medication this broken toe of mine has demanded.

Yeah, it can be a pretty antiseptic, marketing driven affair, but industry conferences like this exist so developers, retailers, marketers, and press all get a chance to sell their products to each other. The Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Association Trade Show felt remarkably similar, actually; fewer people and less ambient noise, sure, but just as much over the top drinking and shameless self promotion.

While it sure would be great if gaming sprung sui generis from some Marxist enclave deep in the Andes, this is a business, and businesses have to sell things if they wish to continue operating -- and if you've got a quality product on display, the Best Buys and Gamestops of the world take notice, and from the chaos of this ridiculously over-hyped event, games get sold. Look at Guitar Hero: no E3, no way you've got fourteen plastic musical instruments in your basement.

Just as importantly, disparate professions get together and drink copious amounts of alcohol, or "networking," I guess "networking" is another nebulous marketing non-word like "AAA" or "mass market," but I'd rather there exist an event that fosters cordiality among the developers, publishers, retailers, and press than not, and I'm glad that I got to hand out a few business cards to people who'll never hire me to write for them, because I'm a terrible writer.

I haven't had an opportunity to read much coverage of E3 yet, but the vibe I got on the show floor wasn't one of unquestioning acquiescence to the PR script. But it is slightly hard to maintain credulity when there's 8000 blaring tv monitors enveloping you, and when some of those monitors have Just Cause 2 on them, I'm not angry at what a dog and pony show E3 is. What other industry has a trade show with one thing as awesome as Just Cause 2?

Well, there's my rambling, slightly incoherent defense of E3. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a nap before bar trivia.

P.S. I totally understand why you feel the way you do about inFAmous, too, and I can't understand why it's getting as much praise as it is. There's no rhyme or reason in the insular world of the enthusiast press.

Quiche Poireau said...

Speaking of "Agility orbs hunting";
Did you finally found teh last one you were looking for?
(I remember you mentioned you were still after one in a few months old post) :)

Mitch Krpata said...

Ha ha, no. I'm stuck on 499. Every once in awhile I take another look, but I can't find it. If only Crackdown had inFamous's radar!