Petchulant: Gamescom-munication Breakdown

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Hang on, it’s not Friday.  What’s this hack doing writing something outside of that pre-assigned day?  Is he getting ideas above his station?”  Whilst I most certainly am not getting ideas above my station (I’m far too lazy for that), I am posting something on a Tuesday for once.  Why?  Well, it’s twofold.  One, quite a fair bit happened last week and using my weekly column space on just the Ouya seemed… wasteful, in retrospect.  And two, I feel bad about not giving you a column the week before – various things prevented one, sadly – and I decided to make it up to you with a bonus column this week.  Yes, you, as in the singular.  My one regular reader.  You know who you are.

So, Gamescom happened last week.  For those unaware, Gamescom is a yearly videogames convention that takes place in Germany and is basically the European equivalent of E3.  It even had actual press conferences, just like in E3; one for Microsoft – although that was specifically for press members only, as you’ll understand in about three paragraphs time – one for EA, and one for Sony.  And do you know what I love doing?  Getting all cynical and poo-poo-y over these expert exercises in precision marketing strategies!  So, because of that, and not at all because I’m currently undergoing enforced Saints Row IV withdrawals, let’s go through each of the pressers and scrutinize just how well or how badly each of the three involved f*cked up royally!

Microsoft

This wasn’t even supposed to be for the public, as evidenced by the lack of a live-stream and the fact that it was dumped online about two or three days after it had occurred.  But you also get that sense in the fact that it lasted about 35 minutes and was hosted by two slightly-awkward executives on a stage resembling the U2 360 tour.  Clearly, then, we shouldn’t have expected anything world-shattering to be announced, but the presser even failed to live up to those expectations!  Simply put, it was about 30 straight minutes of Microsoft going, “Hey, you guys know Call of Duty and The Division and Kinect Sports?  Yeah, those are all things that exist!  Get excited!”  We got the reveal of a new Fable which precisely 0.000005% of the gaming population won’t have seen coming, announcements regarding Call of Duty and FIFA Xbox One bundles which, fair play, is an excellent marketing strategy to those who don’t keep up with gaming news and repeated reveals of PC games coming to the Xbox One (I hope you weren’t looking forward to playing Peggle 2 on anything else for a while), but none of them were buzz-worthy news stories.

What was a buzz-worthy news story involved Microsoft’s self-publishing initiative, in which they pledged to give away free dev kits to all indie developers who qualify for their initiative, with the end goal being to make every Xbox One a workable dev kit.  In layman’s terms, at some point in the unspecified future, you, the reader, will have access to a machine that can make videogames for the Xbox One simply by owning the console.  That’s a bold claim but one that, if pulled off, could open the floodgates for the Indie market even further than it already has.  It’d be like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum in the UK back in the 80s, but on a global scale.  This is the kind of news that could have earned Microsoft a tonne of goodwill if they announced it at, say, I dunno, E3.  To bury it at Gamescom, in a press-only event where nothing else of note happened, seems odd.

Because, outside of that story, Microsoft had nothing.  They had no giant announcements, they had no big exclusives to show off, and they had no on-stage demos.  This lead to a presser where Phil Harrison would amble on about a game that was coming to Xbox One, we’d cut to a 45 second CG trailer of said game, then Phil would announce a release date before moving on to do the whole dance again with the next product.  There was a video of a feature in the new Kinect Sports where the game would scan your whole being into the game as a unique avatar that absolutely does not look ready for primetime – it’s the face, it really is.  EA came and talked about football, dragging two ex-footballers on stage for a hypnotically-awkward interview about FIFA, before demonstrating Xbox One exclusive legends gameplay with player face models that failed miserably to traverse the Uncanny Valley.  Infinity Ward unveiled a new Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer mode that I’m actually surprised wasn’t done by them before.  And then, more unceremoniously than the dumping of The Mortal Instruments movie into theatres, it was over.

Really, it was a Microsoft E3 press conference squeezed into 35 minutes.  The proud, hyperbolic boasting of the Xbox One (which they claim has the greatest line-up of games ever to grace a home console which is… subjective), a new Fable reveal, some Kinect bullcrap, then sports before ending on Call of Duty.  Except that their real E3 pressers at least have some exciting announcements and reveals and on-stage demos, which this presser lacked in every regard.  Meanwhile, one important question continues to go unanswered: when is this thing coming out?  And “Holiday 2013” is not an acceptable answer.  Microsoft really did have nothing to show, excepting the self-publishing plans, which honestly makes me question as to why they bothered doing this in the first place.

Oh, and Ubisoft announced a Kinect fighting game for the Xbox One.  Before you get excited, though, let’s take a moment to remember the last time that Ubisoft tried to make a Kinect fighting game.

EA

You know, I’m at the point in my life of being a fan of videogames where I can accurately predict the exact order of contents of an EA presser.  We start with some social games before looking at whatever Bioware are cooking up and whatever new direction Need for Speed decided to go in this year, then transition to some sports, then more sports, then more sports before finally transitioning to the last part: shooters.  Lots and lots of shooters.  Now, credit where credit is due, EA did not follow that formula, this time.  They instead changed the order of said formula.

Nevertheless, this was still a decent presser.  One that lacked any surprising announcements – I swear that The Sims 4 was announced a while back… oh, wait, that’s because it was – but had some interesting looking demos and videos for some interesting looking games, which is way more than I can say about Microsoft.  Titanfall continues to make me slightly regret not getting an Xbox One (slightly), Battlefield 4 continues to hype me to no end even though I know that I’ll just be disappointed by the final product and stop playing it about 3 months after getting it, and I don’t care what the rest of you wet blankets think, I’m still going to get excited for Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME!

Outside of the stuff that looked good – I haven’t even mentioned Command & Conquer, a series that I should probably get into at some point – we then have everything… not so great.  EA’s continued throwing of their weight behind Microsoft, including making many of their games timed-exclusives for the Xbox One and locking several features, like Legends Mode for FIFA 14 Ultimate Team, behind Xbox users, is still baffling to me.  Command & Conquer was demoed in the e-Sports circuit manner that it’s clearly going to be a fixture of for the foreseeable future, but was done so with two of the most endlessly irritating commentators alive.  Bioware verbally explained the kind of moral choices you’ll see in Dragon Age: Inquisition and they still amount to “save a kitten or kill a puppy”.  Need for Speed Rivals’ demo, meanwhile, was a train-wreck from start to finish; stilted, unfocused and shockingly unclear as to what the game is actually about (besides the obvious, before any of you start snarking).  Oh, and Need For Speed has gone serious again, because that has worked so well for them in the past.

More worryingly, though, and this is not a slight aimed at EA but more next-gen consoles themselves, there were the next-gen demos of various EA Sports titles which…  Oh, man, they did not look great.  Yeah, animations may be more fluid and it is very impressive to see full arenas recreated in surprisingly high detail, but that’s not what caught my attention.  My attention was instead reserved for the player likenesses in each sports game which were, in a word, TERRIFYING.  Seriously, those faces do not look right, at all.  Instead of looking anything close to the real thing, they look like emotionless Terminators; the kind after all of their synthetic skin has been burnt off.  This has me very worried for next-gen, because I have this feeling that any game without some semblance of an art-style beyond “REALISM, REALISM” is going to fall into that Uncanny Valley badly and I have a horrible feeling that said Uncanny Valley is going to become very populated by the time we’re through.

Ah, well.  Though it was exactly what I was expecting but just in a different order, I was rather satisfied by EA’s presser.  For one, they at least gave it the old college try, which is way more than I can say for Microsoft.  For two, they showed off some games that I was interested in, which is way more than I can say for Microsoft.  And for three, they provided many moments that were great to make fun of, which is way more than I can say for Microsoft.  Although, on the other hand, they did abuse the Mick Foley cheap pop (many variations on “It’s great to be here in [X CITY]!” and pandering to the crowd) to such an extent that I started to become insulted by it as the presser ran on.  And I’m not even from Germany!  Therefore, I have to award -8 points to EA.  Why -8?  Because nobody thinks of a negative number!

Sony

You know what, folks?  I’m really liking this new Sony.  This new Sony who are heading into the next console generation spoiling for a fight.  This new Sony that’s taken passive-aggressive-subtext towards the competition and made it straight text.  This new Sony that’s committed to the Indie gaming market in a big way.  This new Sony that comes to every event treating it with the same level it treats E3 and this new Sony that seems to be doing everything right.

Because, make no mistake, Sony killed it again, seemingly delivering everything you could have possibly wanted.  Major PS3 announcements?  How about Gran Turismo 6 launching on PS3 on December 6th and the reveal of the best parts of LittleBigPlanet going free-to-play?  You want games for the Vita?  How’s about versions of Football Manager Classic and frickin’ Borderlands 2?  Oh, you want original games for the Vita?  Then here comes Murasaki Baby and Big Fest.  Price drops for the PS3, Vita and Vita memory cards?  You’ve got ‘em (kind of).  Indie games?  Here’s a 40-minute window between LittleBigPlanet Hub and inFamous: Second Son with nothing but indie games for both the Vita and the PS4 including Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, the gorgeous looking Rime, The Binding of Isaac, Volume (the new game from the creator of Thomas Was Alone), Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture (from the creators of Dear Esther), Shadow Of The Beast and even Minecraft, the last of which will be available at launch.  You want some big blockbusters?  inFamous: Second Son and Watch_Dogs continue to look amazing and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag deftly showed off the Remote-Cross-Play feature.  Oh, you want a PS4 release date, too?  November 15th in America and November 29th in Europe.  BOOM!

Sure, it wasn’t perfect: Sony very awkwardly dodged mentioning exactly how much the Vita memory cards were being discounted, Yves Guillemot’s appearance was the exact kind of extremely awkward scripted-interview that I cannot abide, and announcing that the initiative to offer “significant discounts” to certain PS4 games that were originally bought on PS3 was a massively disappointing bait-and-switch seeing as that whole speech seemed to be leading towards making said PS4 games free – yes, I know that sounds like a pipe dream when taken out-of-context, it was an in-the-moment feeling.  But those rough edges made the base product look even better.  Sony came and showed pretty much everything you wanted to see and managed to do so without showing one heavy-hitter of the industry, save for Assassin’s Creed.  They pulled this off without the aid of Battlefield or Call of Duty or FIFA or anything like that and, honestly, that is something that I am only just now noticing as I type these words.  The heavy-hitters were absent, but it didn’t feel like they were.  And do you know what?  I didn’t miss a single one of them.

Now, I’d like for that to be that and end my thoughts on the Sony presser on a positive note but, sadly, I have one last thing to note.  I watched this presser from the official Sony stream (the one you see embedded at the start of this section) and it was horrendous.  Not the presser itself, as you can probably already tell, but everything about watching it was awful.  Specifically, the editing and camera placements that never, and I mean never, let any game trailer or demo just run.  No, instead we had to keep cutting to cameras that showcased the audience and made it next to impossible to actually tell what was happening on the screens showing the games!  This happened every single time, without fail and, if it weren’t for the quality of the presser itself being so high, would have totalled the entire thing single-handedly.  It was garbage, basically, and I won’t stand for such obtrusive editing being used again.

And so those were the Gamescom pressers, scrutinised and analysed for your entertainment!  Hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on the matter.  Normal Petchulant service resumes on Friday.


In Actually Important News, This Week: Deep Silver have pledged to keep making Metro games!  Yay!  But they also want to “make it more accessible for a broader gamer audience”!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  Did you people not see this kind of move completely fail for Dead Space?  We have enough generic post-apocalyptic first-person-shooters on the market, as is!  Don’t crush the one with genuine personality and challenge in the futile search of some slightly bigger sales!  Especially since this move will just amount to the executive design request of “make it more like Call Of Duty”.  Just lower the budget for the next one and don’t try to make the mistake that Metro is a AAA series the same way that EA wrongly assumed that Dead Space was a AAA series or how Namco-Bandai are assuming that Dark Souls can be a AAA series by throwing AAA budgets behind it and then being surprised when it fails to meet the elevated sales targets.

In fact, screw Saints Row IV, this topic is going to be the subject of the next Petchulant column because I’m frakkin’ sick of it.

Callum Petch would hate to think you were missing the fun.

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