It's a very, very, very, very busy week for gaming. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and all the big publishers will take the first half of the week announcing their latest and greatest, and then the second half we'll be playing everything. Here are the highlights from E3 2016.
Jun 24, 2016
Yo-kai Watch is making another push to take over America
Last year, Japanese game developer Level-5 kicked off an ambitious plan to make a series about Japanese folklore creatures into a global phenomenon. Called Yo-kai Watch, the game debuted in Japan in 2013 and went on to become a massive success, selling millions of video games and raking in more than $1 billion in merchandise revenue. Two years after that, Level-5 took the franchise outside of its home country, releasing an onslaught of Yo-kai Watch into the world: an animated series aired on Disney XD; Nintendo published a game on the 3DS; and Hasbro released a huge collection of toys, from plush characters to a replica of the titular watch.Read Article >
Now the series is back for another push, anchored by a pair of games hitting the 3DS on September 30th. Yo-kai Watch might not be a Pokemon-like success yet, but that isn't stopping Level-5 from taking another shot. "We have to understand that it takes time," president and CEO Akihiro Hino said during an interview at E3 last week. "But then at the same time we have to work as hard as we can to shorten the time as much as possible."
Jun 21, 2016
How virtual reality gaming is blowing its big chance in 2016
This year’s E3, the gaming world’s annual marquee show, was virtual reality’s chance to shine. Two high-end headsets — the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — are on sale already, although they serve only a small market. We’re four months from the launch of PlayStation VR, which will open up the medium to potentially tens of millions of PlayStation 4 owners. And Oculus is supposedly releasing its Touch motion controllers by the end of the year, making the headset significantly more attractive. All three platforms are established enough that developers are starting to take notice, but they still desperately need games. There’s never been a better time for a blitz of good VR news — or a worse time to get bad news.Read Article >
There certainly was some good news at the show, including a release date for PlayStation VR, which will hit shelves October 13th. Ubisoft announced a Star Trek game for all three platforms, complete with a decently fun demo. And Oculus promised details on Touch this fall. But E3 also laid bare each platform’s glaring weak points, just as VR gaming is supposed to be getting off the ground.
Jun 20, 2016
Why The Witcher 3's best diversion is getting its own spinoff
Damien Monnier originally designed Gwent in secret. The competitive card game has long been a part of The Witcher's fiction — the RPG franchise is based on a series of Polish fantasy novels — and Monnier wanted to create a version of the game that would be playable as a side activity in the sprawling Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The problem was that he was already busy making the third installment of the video game.Read Article >
So he created a prototype in his spare time, and then brought it to the CD Projekt Red office to show his colleagues. If someone enjoyed the game after playing a match, Monnier would try to recruit them to join his after-hours Gwent-making team; eventually the group included concept artists, marketing designers, and even a producer to keep everything running smoothly. "At some point or another, they all absolutely regretted doing it," says Monnier, "but at the end they were happy."
Jun 18, 2016
Only 3 percent of games shown at E3 keynotes featured female protagonists
Of 59 new video games showcased at this year's E3, only 3 percent featured exclusively female protagonists, according to a survey compiled by gaming nonprofit Feminist Frequency. In other words, just two games — ReCore and Horizon Zero Dawn — have female leads, while 24 games had male protagonists. That's a significant drop from last year, in which 9 percent of games shown had female leads while 32 percent contained male main characters. A majority of the remaining titles, both this year and last, let players choose either gender while playing or the gender of the character is unspecified.Read Article >
Feminist Frequency, founded by critic Anita Sarkeesian, examines the gender balance at E3 as a function of measuring representation. The survey only counted games shown onstage by Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Bethesda, and online during Nintendo's live-streamed press conference. While a blog post accompanying the survey makes sure to point out the games presented by these companies "don’t reflect the sum total of video games or games culture," they are a "strong indicator of what some of the most powerful forces in the industry consider emblematic of the best and most exciting things that gaming has to offer."
Jun 17, 2016
Mysterious ancient civilizations are the hot new thing in gaming
The biggest video games tend to fall into one of a few different genres: there are the huge fantasy epics, and the vast sci-fi universes. Over the past few years the medium has also become inundated with a deluge of post-apocalyptic titles showing a vision of the end of the world (usually with lots of zombies). But at E3 in Los Angeles this year, some of the most exciting titles on display have found a new playground to explore: worlds where once-great ancient civilizations leave behind destruction and mystery in their wake. Dilapidated ruins might just be the hottest thing in video games.Read Article >
By far the biggest example of this is the new Legend of Zelda, now known as Breath of the Wild. Like virtually every game in the series, it takes place in the land of Hyrule, and stars Link, a would-be hero who starts out with little more than a stick and the clothes on his back. But this new version of Hyrule is different — instead of a magical fantasy realm, it's a completely ruined place, one where the shells of lumbering, magical machines litter the landscape. From the earliest moments of the game you're confronted with mysterious devices of unknown origin (the game opens with Link awakening in some sort of dark chamber that almost has a sci-fi feel) and as soon as you venture out into the world you'll start spotting ancient ruins that hint at a once great empire. There are no friendly towns to take refuge in like in past games — this is Hyrule well past its prime, with lots to unearth.
Mafia 3 looks like a beautiful, smart video game betrayed by generic gunplay
The amount of money and craft invested into Mafia 3 is apparent as you approach the game’s E3 booth space. A detailed recreation of the French Quarter in the 1960s, the venue contains a photo booth, fortune tellers, and a classic cinema, the latter of which screens marketing presentations.Read Article >
For anyone who has tracked the series, it's a pleasant surprise to see the latest iteration receive such a decadent introduction to the world. The series has long struggled to find its footing. Mafia 3 will be the second game in 12 years of game development that spans at least two studios and two continents. But more so than its predecessor, Mafia 2, an average third-person shooter received with critical disinterest, this new game has the bona fides to compete with big-budget competition.
In 2016, E3 is an amusement park
E3 has transformed the Los Angeles Convention Center into an amusement park. Its attractions: the world’s biggest unreleased games. As people who publish and promote video games find fewer reasons to participate in the annual video game conference, those that remain are transforming the space into a spectacle.Read Article >
A queue for The Legend of Zelda, which wraps around a warehouse-sized enclosure, terminates at a grand arch. Here, visitors enter a colorful re-creation of the world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s only big, playable games at this year’s conference. A young game maker, attending E3 for his first time, explains that he’s been waiting two hours, with plenty of line still ahead of him.
Final Fantasy XV's flying car looks absolutely ridiculousRead Article >
We've known for some time that driving will be a big part of Final Fantasy XV — it's a game about a road trip, after all. And back in March, Square Enix revealed that the sleek, black luxury car could actually transform into a flying craft. Now, at E3, the company has released a trailer that shows just how ridiculous the flying car is (it's called the Regalia TYPE-F, by the way). It's basically a combination of the Batmobile and a spaceship, with multiple configurations and some incredible transformation animations. It might even pass the chocobo as the preferred form of Final Fantasy transportation. You'll be able to take it for a spin yourself when the game launches on PS4 and Xbox One on September 30th.
Telltale's Batman game puts the focus on Bruce Wayne
Batman is one of the rare comic book characters with a pretty strong history in video games, especially with the more recent Arkham series of third-person action titles. But for Telltale Games' adaptation of the Caped Crusader, the studio behind series like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is looking to go in a different direction. Instead of being full of action like most Batman games, Telltale's title will focus equally on narrative, and puts a big emphasis on playing as Bruce Wayne. "This idea that Batman is still Batman no matter what suit he's wearing — whether it's a Batsuit or a tuxedo — was really intriguing to us," says Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner.Read Article >
At E3 this year, I was able to watch the first 30 minutes or so of the game's first episode — the five-episode series is expected to launch this summer and wrap up by the end of the year — and it showed an intriguing mix of the two sides of the character. The first scene was typical Batman. A group of criminals, including Catwoman, were breaking into what appeared to be an office building in search of some kind of special gadget. Batman was there to stop them, hiding in the shadows, and giving the armed thugs a pretty brutal beating. (Like most Telltale games, the action sequences took the form of quick time events, where you have to hit the right button at just the right time to perform an action.) The violence was interspersed with scenes of Alfred bandaging a battered Bruce Wayne, much like in the Dark Knight movies. "I know you're trying to create a myth," Alfred tells him, "but be careful you don't turn into a monster." (It's not exactly subtle.)
Wilson's Heart shows how VR could make adventure games for everyone
Few people will actually play any Oculus Rift games, especially ones using its Touch motion controllers, for a long time. Writing a preview for one is like describing a visit to a small art gallery: hypothetically interesting, but holding little relevance for most people’s lives. But even if you doubt you’ll ever own a Rift, Wilson’s Heart could be one of the best arguments for giving it a try.Read Article >
Wilson’s Heart is set in a strange hospital, apparently sometime in the ‘40s or ‘50s. The world is black and white, and its vibe is somewhere between Shutter Island, The Twilight Zone, and the early stages of ‘90s point-and-click horror game Sanitarium. In my short demo, I woke up in the body of Robert Wilson, voiced by RoboCop’s Peter Weller. I pulled off the restraints that I was inexplicably wearing and made my way out to an intercom, which shorted out as I tried to figure out what was going on. Within a few minutes, I had found a mysterious book and a dead man, but the nurses back in the hallway didn’t believe me — until a creature seemingly dragged them to their doom, and it was too late.
OSVR's virtual reality headset is for making the weird VR of the future
If you're reading about E3, there's a decent chance you're familiar with Razer, the popular gaming hardware company with a penchant for snakes. Fewer people have experience with OSVR, which is essentially Razer's first foray into virtual reality. OSVR is an open-source platform co-developed by Razer and VR company Sensics, and its most visible product is the "Hacker Development Kit," a headset whose second generation was revealed this week.Read Article >
The HDK 2, as it's called, probably wouldn't be a good purchase for most people. It's a somewhat plain and clunky box that doesn't have motion controllers, a big game catalog, or even a catchy name. But if you stop thinking about it as a competitor with Oculus, Sony, and HTC's products, it makes more sense. OSVR's platform is being used by companies like Zero Latency for their specialty virtual reality setups, theoretically because it makes it easy to ensure that different pieces of specialized hardware work well together. It's easy to, say, port a game from the Oculus Rift to the HTC Vive. It's tougher to set up a custom headset, an unusual controller like a glove or treadmill, and an experience that will work with both.
Jun 16, 2016
South Park: The Fractured but Whole reminds a lapsed fan why he loved the series
I’m a lapsed South Park fan. I can’t say why. Maybe I lost my sense of humor? Maybe I got soft? Maybe I found its creators’ philosophy, thinly hidden within a cloud of fart jokes, to be too simplistic, self-righteous, and often just plain mean. Whatever the case, I was reminded why I quit the show throughout the demo for The Fractured but Whole. I also remembered, here and there, why I fell for the show in the first place.Read Article >
The roleplaying game swaps the fantasy trappings of its predecessor, 2014’s The Stick of Truth, for handmade superhero costumes. All the boys are heroes now, including Cartman, who goes by, what else, The Coon. The story is inspired, in part, by a 2009 episode, but "The Coon" jokes have been updated for present day. Cartman’s social network? Coonstagram. His superhero squad? Coon and Friends.
The new real-world Pip-Boy looks like an atompunk smartwatchRead Article >
No, we didn’t get to try the Pip-Boy Deluxe Bluetooth Edition, a real-life version of Fallout's iconic wrist computer. But we got an up-close look while visiting Bethesda’s E3 booth, even if the thing was behind glass. (Note: this isn’t the real-world Pip-Boy from last year, an oversized phone case that wasn't nearly as cool.) The new Pip-Boy looks as solid as we hoped it would, and it’s almost kind of stylish, in its retro-futuristic way. Granted, as we've written before, it’s a limited-edition novelty device that costs $350. There is really no reason to buy this, unless you're an incredibly dedicated cosplayer or have a lot of disposable income. Still, it’s fun to dream.
Arkham VR isn't the Batman game PlayStation VR needs
When it was announced at Sony’s keynote earlier this week, I was more excited Batman: Arkham VR than probably any other PlayStation VR game. The Arkham series contains a perfect combination of third-person flying, fighting, and puzzle-solving, all of which seem eminently adaptable to virtual reality — especially since the game is being made by Rocksteady, who developed all but one of its installments. But while it's too early to judge Arkham VR, the demo experience at E3 is a radical departure from the games’ core formula, and one that might have more novelty than substance.Read Article >
There were two options at Sony's demo session, one of which I only got to watch. Both are first-person, and the first — a scene where you simply inhabit Batman and don his mask — seems designed to acclimate people to the fact that yes, picking up objects and putting them on a virtual body can be weird. The one I tried, though, includes a taste of the gameplay we can expect (barring a huge redesign) in Arkham VR. It’s an adaptation of your standard Arkham "detective" sequence: a crime occurs, and Batman must solve it by using his special scanning tools to reconstruct the scene. Instead of just turning on a screen overlay, you’ll use the PlayStation Move controller to unclip a virtual object from your belt, and control it by rotating your hand.
The Legend of Zelda is the biggest game at E3 because it finally changed
It’s not really accurate to describe Nintendo’s E3 2016 show floor presence as a booth — it’s more of a shrine. And that shrine is dedicated almost entirely to one thing: the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is launching on both the Wii U and NX some time next year. This year’s showcase in Los Angeles is the first time that the much-anticipated game has been playable by the general public, and Nintendo is using the opportunity to make Breath of the Wild arguably the biggest attraction at E3.Read Article >
On the second day of the show, the line to play the game stretched around Nintendo’s massive booth, with a wait time measured in hours. It was so big that there was a line to get into the line. Meanwhile, the inside of the booth was resplendent with massive sculptures, showing off larger-than-life renditions of hero Link and some of the game’s ancient enemies. Zelda was everywhere you looked. When I sat down to chat with Reggie Fils-Aime, president and COO of Nintendo of America, even his outfit was in the spirit; he paired a smart plaid blazer with a pair of Zelda-themed Vans sneakers.
Jun 15, 2016
Fallout 4 in virtual reality is fun, ambitious, and extremely incomplete
Bethesda announcing that it would bring Fallout 4 to the Vive VR system raised a lot of very good questions. How would you convert things like the user interface to virtual reality, where it's hard to just overlay text on your field of view? Would the VATS combat system, which drastically slows down the world and zooms in on your target, be disorienting? Would running vast distances in the wasteland make you sick?Read Article >
The company hasn't answered those questions, but it did provide a short demo on the show floor. It's an interesting taste of what the game could look like in VR, but also hints of what could be difficult to adapt.
God of War’s new head dad on Kratos’ daddy issues
When Cory Barlog was still in early discussions with Sony to work on a new God of War game, he went through a major personal transformation: he became a father. Barlog was the director of the second game in the series, but had moved on after leaving God of War III eight months into its development, working on projects like Tomb Raider and a Mad Max game. He had a few ideas about what to do with a new God of War, but it was only after having his son that he was convinced that he had another story to tell in this universe.Read Article >
"That really started germinating all of the ideas in my head," he says. "I see the world through a different lens now."
Jun 15, 2016
How Microsoft feels about E3 leaks and the status of Kinect
Last December, Shannon Loftis, Microsoft’s general manager of Microsoft Studios Global Publishing, shared a vision of the future in which Xbox extends beyond the game console, onto Windows 10 PCs, tablets, smartphones, virtual reality headsets, and anything with a screen and an internet connection. This week, Microsoft took the stage at E3 to formalize that plan, announcing two new consoles, and Xbox Play Anywhere, a strategy that intends for players to do just that.Read Article >
We sat down with Loftis to discuss the company’s plan for executing the controls of Xbox Play Anywhere, the status of the once champion Kinect peripheral, and the struggle to keep surprise announcements from leaking ahead of their announcement.
The Final Fantasy XV VR experience isn't very Final Fantasy
One of the bigger surprises at Sony's E3 keynote was that Final Fantasy XV — the massive, long in-development RPG — would be getting support for PlayStation VR. Immediately I had dreams of riding a chocobo and petting a moogle in a virtual fantasy world. But, based on the demo I played here at E3, the reality is a bit less exciting. It turns out that FFXV in VR looks a lot like classic arcade shooters like House of the Dead.Read Article >
Playing the VR experience is exceedingly simple. It's a seated affair, so you don't have to worry about moving around too much, and you only need to use two buttons on the PS Move controller. One lets you warp around the level; the other is the trigger for your weapon. You point at where you want to go or what you want to shoot, and you push the appropriate button.
Jun 15, 2016
I played The Last Guardian, and now I'm in love with a big friendly cat-dog-bird
Let me tell you about my new friend Trico. He’s kind of like a giant half-bird, half-cat, half-dog... thing. And after playing the first 45 minutes of The Last Guardian — an actual game that’s actually coming out this year on October 25th — I really think I’ve made a connection.Read Article >
Truth be told, I’ve known about Trico for years, but I never thought we’d actually ever meet. Yet here we are.
Jun 14, 2016
Can you still make an indie VR headset?
In 2016, how can an indie virtual reality headset stand out from the Rifts, Vives, Gear VRs, and other big names? That’s the question that VR startup Immerex has to answer about its VRG-9020 headset, which was announced today at E3. Immerex bills itself as a cheaper, sleeker, and higher-quality option for "cinematic" virtual reality. But in a market that’s already small, I’m not sure who’s supposed to buy it.Read Article >
Here’s what the current VR landscape looks like. At the very high end, you’ve got specialty headsets for arcades and theme parks: Starbreeze’s StarVR or the Void’s custom Rapture headset. Below that, the high-end Oculus Rift and HTC Vive appeal to businesses, artists, and PC gamers. Filmmakers, who have made the most inroads into the mainstream, flock to cheaper phone-powered headsets like Google Cardboard or Gear VR. Small-scale hardware makers largely stick to Cardboard-compatible cases, though they may start building for Google’s Daydream platform later this year.
Yes, of course I want to be a bird in virtual reality
The promise of virtual reality is that you can see through the eyes of someone else. You want to see life from the cockpit of a spacefighter? Go for it. You want to be trapped in a haunted hellscape of a house? Death is only three button presses away from resurrection.Read Article >
Or you could be a bird.
New PlayStation VR gun peripheral looks nothing like a gun
When Sony first launched the Move in 2011, it also produced several accessories tailor-made for its motion-controlled games. For example, meet the Sharp Shooter. Launched with grimy first-person shooter Killzone 3, it embedded the goofy Move controllers into a bleached facsimile of an assault rifle.Read Article >
Sharp Shooter was one of many accessories made by Sony and third-party controller factories that would, essentially, make the Move look and feel more like the guns / swords / ping-pong paddles emulated on screen.
Jun 14, 2016
The new Legend of Zelda trailer shows a huge, mysterious open worldRead Article >
The next Legend of Zelda game — which is now launching on both the Wii U and Nintendo's mysterious NX console — may not be coming out until next year, but at E3 in Los Angeles Nintendo provided the best look yet at Link's next adventure. The game has many of the series' hallmarks, from its hero to its weapons, but it also looks to modernize the Zelda formula by offering a huge open-world version of Hyrule to explore. It also has a new name: Breath of the Wild. Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America president and COO, calls it "an entirely new format for a Zelda game." It even has Assassin's Creed-style climbing and what looks like much deeper combat. It's been a long road for the latest Zelda — it was originally supposed to launch last year — but based on this new gameplay footage, it looks like the wait may have been worth it.
Jun 14, 2016
Why Sony continues to win E3, year after year
After two days of press conferences — in which video game publishers and developers appear before their fans, heads bent with hands raised presenting their fragile wares — it is customary to choose a winner of E3. Anyone may participate, but a definitive victor will be selected in no time by the winnowing of public opinion.Read Article >
Since 2013, with the reveal of the current generation of console hardware, Sony has tended to lay claim to the crown at E3. Its leadership capitalized shrewdly on Microsoft’s decision, early in the Xbox One’s lifecycle, to focus on hardware, media partnerships, and celebrity cameos. From the very start, Sony emphasized games.