Feature: A Cross-Platform Look At E3 2014
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Tom, Sammy and Ken cover the three major players
With E3 finished and those hard workers of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony preparing to return to the real world after their three-day adventure in the LA bubble, there's plenty to talk about. All three major hardware manufacturers delivered big games, a surprise or two and, in general, a whole load of hype. They certainly kept gamers interested throughout the event.
We were busy producing coverage here at Nintendo Life, of course, but so were our colleagues at Push Square and Pure Xbox, so we've decided to pull together a combined network feature that presents some perspective from all three hardware camps.
Below we have the editors from each site giving a brief summary of their thoughts from the conference, with a little bit of opinion on the efforts of their respective rivals too.
You won't find console wars here though — we're all just gamers, after all.
Tom Whitehead - Nintendo Life
It's been a peculiar E3 from a Nintendo perspective, but I do mean that in a good way. After a tame E3 2013 in retreat, it was a confident and resolutely self-identifiable performance from the big N, as it seemed to drop pretence and put its cards on the table. It didn't even pretend to present itself in the same domain as Sony and Microsoft, and in the process showed its unique qualities and that it's trying to entertain consumers of various types, rather than the press and its most demanding fans.
Though I felt its pacing dipped in the final 15 minutes, the Digital Event was certainly refreshing and, pleasingly, quite a slick effort. Nintendo clearly invested a lot of money in the production, and the Chicken Robot animations and Reggie vs. Iwata face-off at the beginning were wonderfully entertaining. It was full of surprises, too, while also pinning down a few key releases for the rest of 2014 that should, in theory, see Nintendo through Fall and the Holiday season with some enticing releases to suit various tastes. Those with a love of action have Hyrule Warriors and the two Bayonetta games (a cool extra), with Smash on 3DS then Wii U, too, and let's not forget that Pokémon will be a big deal for 3DS. Some of the new games look promising, and I have to hold my hands up and say Splatoon has caught me off guard. I'm on video shortly after the Digital Event complaining about its prolonged presentation, but it's really seized the day and won a lot of praise; I'm now rather keen to play it.
As for the Smash Bros. Invitational, that was a lot of fun and was, again, rather slick. Occasionally the announcers got themselves in a tangle and Geoff Keighley looked absolutely exhausted, but the Wii U early build held up brilliantly under a tough examination, with the Treehouse staffer managing the debug unit doing an outstanding job. The real stars were the live audience, though.
Those were solid aspects for Nintendo, with two developer roundtables doing a good job of building more hype — especially that which turned out to be Code Name S.T.E.A.M; yet the Treehouse team stole the show. The rolling broadcast spent (I think) over 20 hours showing games, and it was simply dedicated professionals having fun showing new titles and sharing how they worked; that was it. Simple, not always smooth, but full of passion and again showing a human side to Nintendo. As a company quite rightly accused of being aloof and insensitive at times, this E3 it did a great job of loosening up and showing the humanity of those that turn the wheels.
That final point is where I think Nintendo triumphed, on its terms, this E3. I'm not going to say it 'won' though, because I'm not a fan of that yearly contest. It was certainly different, however. I quite enjoyed both efforts from Sony and Microsoft, on that score, as both focused on games and showed a lot of exciting projects, albeit — slightly more-so than Nintendo, by a smidge — relying more on 2015 games. Both pitched their causes well, but I do roll my eyes at nonsense PR-speak and bullpoop phrases — whoever used them — like "delivering a unique, connected experience like you've never seen before", or whatever the heck they were saying. That's not how normal human beings speak, and I may be a member of press that's supposedly the target of that dialogue, but I grow tired of it. Just talk to me about games. That's what I, as a gamer, want.
That's why I loved Nintendo's presence this year. I looked with envy at the broad range of stunning third-party titles on show elsewhere — Batman: Arkham Knight, yikes — but most enjoyed Nintendo's honest charm and many hours following the Treehouse team. There's also a determination from Nintendo to do its own thing, whether sticking resolutely by the GamePad or producing a tactical shooter that's also cornea-burning in its brightness. In other words, it showed guts.
In any case, E3 was great for fans of all three major manufacturers, even if on a personal level I'll take Nintendo's whimsy and focus on fun above all others. What an E3 it was for gamers.
Sammy Barker - Push Square
With the bluster of last year’s new console battlefield a distant memory, E3 2014 was always going to be a somewhat lower stakes affair – especially for policy sparring partners Sony and Microsoft. While the former had been uncommonly quiet in the months leading up to the big show, I was expecting a game-centric display in line with the Japanese giant’s catchy ‘For the Players’ marketing message – and that’s largely what the organisation delivered during the Los Angeles-based event.
Borrowing from its competitor in green, the PlayStation maker’s press conference opened at a breakneck pace, underlining its commitment to third-party partnerships with first-person foray Destiny, indie outfits with the ‘available now’ Entwined, and first-party investment with the unexpected unveiling of LittleBigPlanet 3. It was a flawless start from a firm that’s performed largely impeccably over the past 12 months, although the media briefing hit a bum note with new boss Shawn Layden’s sleepy sales and services heavy interlude.
In fact, it’s still an area where I feel that Sony succumbs to its competitors; the manufacturers may lay on press conferences by name, but they’ve evolved into fan focused affairs over the years – and a company that’s streaming its show into dozens of cinemas across the United States should really understand that better. In that sense, Nintendo’s decision to circumvent the onstage theatrics with its Digital Event perhaps made the most sense, but even Microsoft, with its more traditional format, seemed far more capable of actually getting to the point, and re-centring its focus on games.
Pacing problems aside, though, I think that this year’s convention was all about each manufacturer proving itself to both consumers and critics – and I think that they were all successful in that regard. As already alluded, the Redmond-based organisation had the task of demonstrating that the Xbox One is a games machine first, and it succeeded with a mixture of fresh franchises and former favourites. Meanwhile, the House of Mario had to evidence that the Nintendo Wii U’s maligned GamePad is more than just a gimmick, which it achieved with new properties like Splatoon.
Sony, on the other hand, with its seven million selling PlayStation 4, needed to paint a more positive outlook for early adopters, and I feel that it did that with From Software’s dark Demon’s Souls-esque exclusive Bloodborne, intriguing indie No Man’s Sky, and the return of Naughty Dog’s anticipated Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. If there’s any disappointment in the PlayStation Nation, it’s that the PlayStation Vita clearly remains a footnote in the format holder’s list of interests, with even its microconsole PlayStation TV shunning the handheld-inspired branding that it adopted overseas.
I suppose that some pundits may argue that 2014 is not shaping up to be a vintage year for games, and with The Order: 1886, Crackdown, and The Legend of Zelda some way away, it may be hard to disagree. However, among the retreads and re-releases at this year’s big show, I felt that there was more than enough new and interesting stuff bubbling beneath the surface to hold my interest over the coming months. And as such, I don’t think that any of the manufacturers ‘won’ E3 – gamers did.
Ken Barnes - Pure Xbox
It would have been hard for Microsoft not to have improved upon last year’s catastrophic Mattrick-led E3, so I was impressed to see that they went ahead and tried to do more than the bare minimum to get gamers to listen to their vision for the Xbox One. The conference was slickly put together and was designed to have an impact and deliver on Phil Spencer’s pre-show promises. He said that the presentation would be about games, and that’s exactly what he delivered. Three minutes or so of introduction and corporate barking, and then an hour and a half of games, games, games. Brilliant.
Kicking off the set with ten minutes of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare wouldn’t have done much to detract from the perception that the Xbox brand is synonymous with bland FPS titles though, even if the game looked significantly more interesting than in previous years. But things quickly picked up. Given the reception that Evolve has garnered at the show, the news that the beta will be exclusive to Xbox One is bigger than was first thought. Assassin’s Creed Unity did well on the Microsoft stage, and the first-party announcements were good, generally. It felt like a bit of a "last stand" at times, with the company desperate to prove that they still have a horse in the hardware race despite their shoddy start to the generation. Sunset Overdrive, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 2, Halo 5: Guardians (and the beta) and a wave of great-looking indie titles just about got the message across that despite what you're reading, the Xbox One isn't done yet. Not by a long chalk.
Platinum’s console-exclusive Scalebound was of great interest - as anything from Platinum usually is - and Ori and the Blind Forest looks like it could have the quality required to post some good numbers. The return of Crackdown was a surprise to say the least, but I think people were expecting to see more from some other franchises. A reboot of Phantom Dust was apparently pulled from the freakin’ moon, given that the even the forty people that completed the game back in 2004 didn’t see it coming, but it was an interesting announcement at least. The Conker pack for Project Spark is nice, but it feels like a rushed tip of the hat to the franchise, whereas a complete lack of any new titles in the Gears of War franchise was disappointing.
All in all, it was a show where Microsoft couldn’t get away with boring the crowd to sleep by reciting press releases, or fumbling their lines over new hardware or functionality. They avoided the pitfalls and also managed to focus on controller-based games aimed at gamers, rather than bringing annoyingly happy children to the stage to demonstrate super-bright-happy-joy-joy Kinect titles aimed at families. It wasn’t perfect by any means – they nearly lost the pacing entirely when the laughably wooden voice acting in the multiplayer demo of The Division stopped being funny and started making everyone want to stick chewing gum in their ears - but on the whole, it was better than expected.
With regards to the other platform holders, Sony’s event was a solid affair that was unfortunately plagued by too much corporate speak and more than a few audio issues. Some great looking titles, such as No Man’s Sky and Bloodborne were packed in with some big announcements such as the unveiling of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and the next-gen launch of Grand Theft Auto V, but the pacing was all wrong for me. If they’d cut out the entire section about “Powers” and maybe had been clearer about how they’re positioning the PlayStation Vita over the upcoming holiday season, the show would have been the better for it. But still, a confirmed date for The Last of Us on PS4 was enough for me to deem the presentation a success. Nintendo’s digital presentation was beautifully whimsical, with the genuinely funny claymation interludes brightening up what I thought was a relatively content-light initial showing. But I was happy to see that the meat of the content was to come in the hours and days that followed, in the Treehouse and with events that catered perfectly to the die-hard Nintendo fan. It was concerning from a Wii U owner's point of view to see every other game marked as being due out in 2015, though. I’ve no doubt that most of the titles shown in the digital presentation will feature in next year’s presentation, too. Not that I wouldn’t wait a million years to play Yoshi’s Woolly World and Bayonetta 2, because I totally would.
All in all, anyone would be hard-pressed to declare any one company to be the winner – they all had their faults and they all had their highlights - but I think we can all agree that the event as a whole shows that the industry is in rude health and capable of serving more types of gamer than ever before.
So those are our cross-platform thoughts, let us know your thoughts below.