Friday, June 21, 2013

E3 2013: Nintendo, Game Developers and "The Xbox 180"

As I wrap up my thoughts on E3 2013 I'll focus on what Nintendo brought to the convention (or rather, to the internet just BEFORE the convention) that interested me, some other games that caught my eye and Microsoft's unprecedented post-convention "180" regarding their Xbox One plans, which they announced on Wednesday.

Nintendo Direct Video

In place of a stage show at the conference, Nintendo released a 40 minute video online showcasing the games they plan to release in the near future. They still had a large booth at the convention, but it remains to be seen whether or not skipping a stage show will help or hurt them this year.

Of note to me were some of the third party games for Wii U, such as Assassin's Creed 4, Batman: Arkham Origins, Deus Ex: Human Revolution- Director's Cut, Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure (this one I may buy on PC to play with my son!), Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Watch Dogs.

I don't think Nintendo is anywhere near being competitive in the hardcore gamer market, but I think they may do even better in the family market now with the Wii U and third party titles like this. Especially in families with dads who USED to be hard core gamers. (Sigh. A sad tale.)

That said, I'm not even sure that Nintendo is interested in competing in the hardcore gamer market. They are doing their own thing and it seems to be working for them. Their numerous exclusive brands and characters seem to be a huge draw for many, including some hardcore and I'd assume  retro gamers as well. Although they are dipping toes in the hardcore gamer market, they are mostly playing to their strengths and I'm betting it will serve them well.

Speaking of exclusives, the Super Smash Bros preview looked cool, but elevated itself to  AWESOME when Mega Man was introduced as a new playable character. In a dazzling sequence, Mega Man shot a spinning saw blade at Mario, who barely avoided a moustache trimming with a slo-mo backwards "Matrix dodge". As laugh out loud funny as it was awesome!

But E3 wasn't just about consoles and exclusive games. A number of developers were there showing their wares, and a few caught my eye.

EA showed a teaser for Dragon Age 3: Inquisition, which will release in Fall 2014. Personally, I'm not interested in seeing previews for games that aren't coming out until after NEXT year's E3. And Bioware, who blew my socks off with Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, and Dragon Age: Origins has begun to lose my favor with games like Mass Effect 3 (ending aside, the once cool experience of dialogue options and cut scenes has become too passive for my tastes) and Dragon Age 2. So I'm interested, but not exactly chomping at the bit for a new Dragon Age game.

Project Spark (PC, 360 and Xbox One) looks like it could be an awesome experience in both creativity and gaming. This "game" provides an easy, fun, intuitive and flexible system for creating your own games and game worlds. You can also easily share your creations with others, who can then edit your work and incorporate it into their own, with each user having credit for their contributions coded into the final product.

Given that this will be cross platform AND available on PC, I'm wondering if something like this could be a TON of fun for the Christian Geek Central community to play with together. Personally, I'm VERY interested in the possibilities this could represent.

Although Project Spark is slated to release within Xbox One's "launch window", it's still unclear exactly what this game can and can't do. But it's one I will definitely keep my eye on.

The Ouya gaming console looks interesting. Based on android technology, the console had a successful kickstarter campaign and releases in just a few more days for $99. The Ouya is nothing more than a small box and a single controller that's about the same size(or even a little bigger). As one might expect given its Android system origins, Ouya games look like smart phone games, which is not necessarily bad, as smart phone games are looking better all the time. But what these kinds of games will look like and how they play on a home theater could make or break the system, I think. Still, if you like the lower commitment level and reduced complexity of smart phone games but you like playing with a controller and a big screen, you might look into the Ouya game console.

Elder Scrolls Online is looking better and better all the time. There are more and more indications that it will function incredibly close to normal Elder Scrolls games, with a high ability to play solo. (But if one game could get me to play online with other real people on a regular basis, this might be the one.) No pay models were discussed. But if its as good as Skyrim I can easily see myself sinking some money into it.

Godus, in development for multiple platforms, looks interesting to me for more than one reason. Created by Peter Molyneux (Populous, Fable, Curiosity), Godus is a return to the "god game" genre he helped create, but Molyneux aims to not just innovate, but reinvent the genre itself.

Godus will allow players to create and shape their own worlds and develop civilizations, as you'd expect. But all player worlds will also be linked by portals that players can optionally go through, bringing legions of their people with them to fight other players in a "battle of the gods". This competitive layer on top of the main game will allow one user to become "god of gods", a role that gives them a small cut of the royalties for the game and the ability to determine absolute morality for all of the worlds that all Godus players create. These bonuses for being "god of gods" last for as long as they hold the title, and players can presumably challenge the "god of gods" for the title on some kind of regular basis. (These details were not discussed.)

From a gaming standpoint, it sounds fascinating. From a thematic standpoint... I dunno. Maybe I'm being too sensitive or taking it too seriously, but playing "god" is one thing, seeking the title "god of gods" is another.

I don't know how many players actually imagine themselves as a "god" while playing god games. I think the appeal is mostly just about being creative and creating a world just to see what happens. The idea of being "a god" probably doesn't enter into a lot of players minds. But creating a title "god of gods" that players compete for... I dunno. I'll have to give this one some more thought.

I will say that I absolutely hate the idea that some other person gets to decide what the absolute moral values are of a world that I am creating. That alone is a deal-breaker for me. I actively avoid playing MMOs because of other players who can take your fun away. But at least in MMOs it happens because some people are just rude or immature. Screwing with your experience isn't built into the game itself, as it appears to be in Godus. And screwing with my game on a moral level? Not interested. I highly doubt I'll ever play this one, but it will have my attention as more details are released.

Microsoft Changes Their Tune

Sometime after posting my thoughts on Wednesday, I caught wind of the big news from Microsoft.
Don Mattrick, President Of Interactive Business at Microsoft, posted these words on Wednesday on the Xbox website:

Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.

You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world.
So, today I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360.

The bullet points of this announcement were:

1. An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games –
2. Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today –

This announcement was huge, and my guess is that the Xbox One will do better because of it, despite the logical effect this decision will have on some of the features announced for Xbox One that assume ongoing connection to the internet.

"As for me and my house", PS4 is probably still the way to go. Ultimately I'll wait to see how users and critics react to the systems after their release and give fatal manufacturing flaws (like the "Red Ring Of Death") a chance to show up before I make my final decision. But Microsoft has won back very few points with me compared to those they lost.

Even assuming I'm in the minority and that most gamers don't care about the internet connection issues, the fact remains that this correction happened AFTER E3. E3 is primarily a stage for presenting your product, not getting feedback in order to make adjustments to it. For whatever reason, Microsoft thought the Xbox One, as it was initially imagined, was what gamers wanted. (Otherwise they wouldn't have cared about all the gamers complaining.) This demonstrates to me that Microsoft doesn't understand what I'm interested in as a gamer, and so I don't see myself trusting their future instincts over the course of the next-gen consoles' lifespans. Even if no other gamer in the world had made a fuss, I would still conclude that the direction Microsoft is instinctively going is a direction very different from my particular interests and preferences.  

Sorry Microsoft. I'll enjoy what life my 360 has left (Or actually my friend's 360. Mine died. Thanks Microsoft.) But when the time comes to drop more cash for a next-gen console, I can't imagine the Xbox One will be the option I choose.

Some Biblical Perspective On E3

So what, if anything, can we as believers in Christ take away from an event like E3? I'm reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:10-11(ESV)

I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

There is limited beauty and goodness we can experience in this life. Limited in that these things are only beautiful "in their time", for a short season. After that, they become boring and status quo. Yet we aren't happy with the status quo, because God has put eternity in our hearts. At least in a limited capacity.

We hunger for "eternity", but we can't fully comprehend it. He has given us a longing for wonder and beauty that doesn't fade or disappoint. He's given us an eagerness for amazing, exciting promises that are actually fulfilled 100%. A world without buyer's remorse. He has built into us a desire for himself. To (as I describe to my five year old) "be with him and play with him forever and ever".

All of these promises we're hearing now from console designers and game developers may or may not come true. (A lot of them won't.) We'll either be disappointed right away by our expectations not being met, or we'll be disappointed later when the next amazing thing runs its course and is discarded for the new hotness that follows it.

It's fun to get excited about new possibilities. But we miss the mark if we put our hopes for happiness in anything created in this life. Instead, we were made for a future where "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

There's nothing wrong with saving up some cash for a new video game console. But when it comes to investing, we're primarily made to invest in things that don't get old and obsolete, but that last forever.

(Matthew 6:19-21) Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust (and Red Rings Of Death) destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

The greatest thing that a new video game or console can do for us is re-energize us in some way to serve Christ or provide a point of connection with someone else that we can use to build a meaningful relationship. Hoping for anything beyond that is bound to place our hearts somewhere we'll regret going in the end.

If I can somehow re-wire my brain correctly, I'd much rather fixate on investing in the experience that's waiting for me in eternity, that a million of the best game designers working for billions of years couldn't achieve. It won't get boring or stale with time. It will only get better and better. In the most real sense imaginable and in every way possible, it will be "infinite life". No cheat codes required.

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