E3 2015 Special: Best and Worst

It’s that time of year again! E3 2015 has come and gone, so let’s look at the winners and losers of this year’s show.

Transcript

E3 2015 has come and gone and now we’re ready to render our final verdict. A lot of questions were left unanswered. Another year has passed without Beyond Good & Evil 2, and, more surprisingly, 2015 yielded nothing new about Visceral’s mysterious Star Wars game. But, like always, there were a few surprises that threw us for a loop. This episode we’ll be focusing on the best, the worst, and a couple of items we’re still not sure about. Since last year was a little rough, let’s start this off on a positive note.

Best: Crying Over Yarn

CROWD: (Applause)

MICHAEL SAHLIN: Hi!

If you found yourself crying over yarn after E3 2015, know that you are not alone. Martin Sahlin took the stage during EA’s press conference to announce an indie puzzle platformer called Unravel. While the game itself looked imaginative and fun, the most memorable aspect of the reveal was the story behind how Unravel came to be. What made the story so moving was seeing the passion that led to the main character, Yarny’s, creation, a passion that was obvious from Sahlin’s presentation. He explained how Unravel came from a responsibility he felt to make entertainment that was personal, to put love and life at the core of the game. We’re so often shown bullet points and canned enthusiasm during these conferences, that to see a creator brimming with genuine excitement over their project was not just refreshing, but heartwarming.

We revisited the sentiment during Nintendo’s presentation, when developer Emi Watanabe explained the creative process behind Yoshi’s Wooly World and its Amiibo support. Watanabe showed us how the physical models for yarn Yoshi and his friends influenced the team. In a week equally heavy on jargon and marketing buzzwords, it was refreshing to see such a comparatively candid look into how creation, inspiration, and play not only come from unexpected places, but so often intersect in unexpected ways. When she explains that Poochy is in the game because they thought his yarn model was too cute to pass up, you understand why. It’s wonderful to hear designers talk about their work as starting with a smile and designing around it, and it was a pleasant surprise to see publishers like EA and Nintendo give these designers the platform to do so during such a high profile event.

Undecided: Sony Dream Projects… with Kickstarter

YU SUZUKI, ADAM BOYES, AND CROWD: 3, 2, 1, whoo!

What’s old is new again, and Sony arguably stole the show with some big, unexpected announcements. A game rescued from development hell, a sequel to a Dreamcast classic, and an HD remake of one of the original Playstation’s defining games. Maybe we’re a little cynical, but these just seemed too good to be true.

Not only did it trot out the long-delayed The Last Guardian, but Sony did so with a new demo and a release date. Team Ico’s The Last Guardian’s tortured development from PS3 launch title to now has become a bit of an industry in-joke, but it looks like Sony really means it this time. As much as we want to play it, we’ll believe it when we see it.

Sony also gave Yu Suzuki the platform to announce Shenmue 3, a sequel everyone wanted but no one really expected. The catch? It was on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter broke records by meeting its goal in the next nine hours, but that goal was also only for 2 million dollars. To put that in perspective, Suzuki initially claimed that the original Shenmue cost 60 million to make–and that was back in 1999. So where’s the rest of it? Sony and the Kickstarter campaign haven’t said much on the subject–in fact the Kickstarter explicitly states that it is legally prohibited from discussing the budget, which begs the question of what are fans funding?

The biggest surprise of the evening, by far, was the announcement of a Final Fantasy VII remake–not just a port of the PC version to PS4, but a full-blown remake. Our feelings on this are complicated, and we’ll try to scratch the surface in another water cooler.

All and all some big, far off promises from Sony. They’ll have a killer line-up when they deliver. If they deliver.

Best: Xbox One Backward Compatibility

PHIL SPENCER: I’m pleased to announce Xbox One backward compatibility.

CROWD: (Cheers)

One of the most surprising announcements from a surprising E3 was Microsoft’s reveal of Xbox One’s capacity for backwards compatibility. After the widely-criticized, strict policing of its library that plagued the Xbox One’s launch, this was certainly a step in the right direction for consumers. Xbox One owners could now play their old 360 digital titles and even retail discs on their new consoles. When Phil Spencer dropped the bomb on stage, the crowd went wild–a sign of the community’s passion for saving and revisiting old games. In theory.

Worst: Xbox One Backward Compatibility

MIKE YBARRA: And retail discs will work as well. Put your disc in, download the game, and you’re ready to go.

Unfortunately, Xbox One’s support for backwards compatibility is itself a little backwards. While there’s no denying the convenience of adding digital games to the new console, access to these games is still ultimately determined by the publishers. Publishers must first approve their games for release on Xbox One. Even if a player has a physical retail disc, they must insert the disc, then download a digital copy of the game made available on Xbox One by the publisher. If the applause was indicative of the press and player’s passion for preserving game’s histories, this does little to actually save anything–or at least only save those that are deemed worthy by the publisher. It’s still an uphill battle for archivist and fans to save the medium’s history.

Best: Women Everywhere

Last year, Ubisoft came under fire for their ridiculous assertion that the reason women weren’t playable in AC: Unity was because they were too hard to animate. This year it seemed like the industry as a whole took this criticism to heart. We got to see women presenters and game developers on stage in the majority of the press conferences this year, and were shown a handful of new and returning leading ladies ready to front their own titles.

Bethesda revealed the long awaited sequel to Dishonored with none other than the original game’s damsel, Emily Kaldwin, in a leading role. While Dishonored 2 will also have Corvo as a playable character, the trailer was all about Emily, her capabilities, and her story. This stands in contrast with Ubisoft’s announcement of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which led with its male co-lead and featured his sister as a footnote. The company did finally unveil its co-star in a special trailer at the conference. While we wish Ubisoft would have launched Syndicate by giving their co-stars equal time in the spotlight, it was great to see them highlight Evie Frye’s skills as a fighter and assassin.

We also learned more concrete details about the new Mirror’s Edge and Tomb Raider games, and even came away with an announcement for a new TellTale Walking Dead mini-series focusing on comic and show MVP, Michonne.

Both Sony and Microsoft lead their conferences with new IP starring women from big developers. Sony toted Killzone developer Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn, while Microsoft snagged ReCore from Metroid Prime and Mega Man vets. While we still don’t know much about either game, it was exciting to see publishers put their weight behind games starring adventurous and inventive women.

The presence of ReCore underlined an absence later in the week when Nintendo announced a new Metroid game without its breakthrough hero.

Undecided: What’s Going On At Nintendo?

Nintendo’s press conference this year was a strange beast. It didn’t answer any of our questions about the Amiibo availability–instead opting to announce even more Amiibo. It finally answered our call for a new Metroid game but without Samus. But at the same time, it’s omnipresent passion for fun was hard to hate.

While keeping the focus on games released in late 2015 and early 2016–meaning no new Zelda for the Wii U–Nintendo still had a few surprises up its sleeve. They lead the presentation with the announcement of a new Star Fox game– the first on home consoles in a decade. Most notable for us was the new collaborative Zelda game, Tri Force Heroes, which featured a fashion-savvy Hyrule in which players gained new abilities by trying on different outfits. Remarkably, they represented this in the presentation by putting Link in Princess Zelda’ iconic dress, and it wasn’t played for laughs. Much like Splatoon, which we loved, this new game stressed collaborative play over competition, with players having to work together wordlessly to conquer iconic Zelda dungeons. If Splatoon is any indication, this should be accessible and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, not all surprise announcements were as welcome as Tri Force Heroes

We’ve been wanting to see Samus return for years in a new Metroid title, and Nintendo revealed one with Metroid Prime: Federation Force, a four player shooter that was set in the Prime universe but was missing Nintendo’s iconic bounty hunter. It’s been five years since the disappointing Metroid: Other M, and it felt like Nintendo was biding their time to bring Samus back in a more respectable role. Instead, we got what feels like a collection of mini-games that use the setting of Metroid as window dressing, without actually embracing the legacy of the series.

Most surprising, and divisive here at Push to Smart, was the realization that Nintendo’s presentation was building up to Mario Maker. Mario Maker–now Super Mario Maker–has been partially rebranded as a celebration of Mario’s 30th anniversary. Throughout the show, Nintendo developers like Miyamoto, Shikata, and Watanabe were given time to speak on the design process–everything from experiences that inspired them–like Miyamoto revealing the Shinto shrine arches of his home town inspired the flight maneuvers in Star Fox–to the actual methodology of designing a level in the games presented. We even got to see some of the early Mario level designs drawn on graph paper! This was all not only to sell the individual games, but to prime viewers to start thinking about how to make their own levels in Mario Maker. While we couldn’t agree on whether this ultimately paid off, it did leave us wanting a documentary prodding the creative minds at Nintendo. That might not be on the table from the notoriously secretive company, but at least they did give us this: [muppet dance off]

JAYLEE: So that does it for our thoughts on E3 2015, and I’m happy to say we’re leaving this year more optimistic than last.

In our Pre-E3 water cooler we asked what you were excited to see and we got a lot of great responses. Robert Moorhead was excited to learn more about the Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei game, and I know I was on board when this was announced, what do you think, Stacey?

STACEY: I want this j-pop extravaganza yesterday. (laughs)

JAYLEE: TheGreatDarkOne was both excited and weary for Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst info seeing as they love the game, but worry about combat being forced on the player. I’m personally really happy they’re taking out gunplay completely and am also hoping that combat is going to be short and sweet. I’m hopeful that’ll be the case, because of the emphasis on flow.

SopranoPhantomista was also itching to hear more about Mirror’s Edge, as well as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I’ve had Human Revolution in my backlog for what feels like forever, but after seeing that trailer I think I’m going to need to finally bite the bullet and play it before the sequel comes out, because it looks pretty cool.

STACEY: So now we want to hear what you’re most excited for from this year’s expo. Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on all of our episodes and water cooler discussions.

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