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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

E3 Opinion; Four conferences and a startling lack of creative progress, but Sony shone

Opinion by Matt S. 

So we've just concluded all of the major conferences for the E3 show, not including Nintendo's video feed for tomorrow morning. This means that we essentially know all of the big blockbuster games for the year, and we know precisely what each of the major players will be doing over the next year.

I am disappointed, generally speaking. Despite all the evidence that the games industry is expanding, despite all the evidence out there that there is genuine demand for creative and innovative games, and despite the increasing criticism of needlessly and excessively violent games that is largely what we were peddled from the major players, what we got was almost exclusively violent, western-themed games from three of the four conferences.

And, when it wasn't a violent shooter of some description, it was instead a racing game or sports game. All built with the American audience in mind and all purely targeted towards Americans. Which would be fine if Americans were the only people that bought games, but contrary to what the AAA-developers would have you believe it is possible to build successful games that don't function as a poor imitation of a Michael Bay film.

Let's have a look at just a fraction of the games I'm talking about here. Destiny. The Order. Assassin's Creed. Battlefield. Far Cry. Call of Duty. The majority of money in the entire games industry is clearly going towards these creatively bankrupt games, each trying to outdo one another in terms of gore, but offering experiences that are not fundamentally any different to what we've already played a hundred times before.

This is something that people have commented about for some time with regards to E3, and it's disappointing that publishers still appear to be unaware of the fact there are people out there that want to play games that don't involve extreme dismemberment and/ or gunfire. We keep arguing that games are a form of art, and then we, as an industry, continue to allow ourselves to get excited over games that argue the exact opposite thing. Most of the games that Microsoft, EA and Ubisoft paraded out weren't art. They were empty games that traded meaningful depth and thematic intensity for flash and spectacle. The vast majority of attention in E3 continues to go towards games that are cynically produced for a single demographic - a teen/ young adult boy's club that actively resists innovation and creative risk.

I know that these criticisms I have of these games often gets misunderstood for a distate of them, but I have to clarify; I don't have a problem with these games existing. I have issue with these games existing in such quantity and with so much attention focused in on them that the games that deserve genuine interest from the community are largely ignored. Ubisoft's finest game was Valiant Hearts. It got five minutes (if that) out of the hour, and I've barely seen it mentioned amongst the coverage of Far Cry and Assassin's Creed since. I didn't even get a press release regarding the new tear jerker of a trailer among the half dozen I got from the publisher immediately after the show concluded.

EA, meanwhile, to its credit has sports games and Bioware to balance out the more juvenile stuff, but there was still much more attention and pizazz thrown on to the Battlefield game. While I can appreciate that there is a demand for these games, and they do sell, I do find myself very frustrated that these big publishers simply do not wish to represent a diversity in content.

All, that is, except for Sony. Only Sony had developers on stage showing off beautiful and nonviolent games like Entwined in any meaningful quantity. Hell, only Sony got up and bothered to even acknowledge that Japanese game development still exists.

Sony's show was effortlessly the best of the four we saw today. It quite genuinely offered something for everyone. From From Software's latest work, to the extreme gore shooter, right through to the artful little indie games, Sony was the only one that showed any understanding that games are no longer just there for boys or a young adult demographic.

And even then Sony's conference wasn't without fault. In two hours not a single game that was shown had an identifiably female, human, lead character. This isn't a reflection on Sony, mind you, but rather a reflection on the entire industry that continues to refuse to acknowledge that it's possible to have a good lead character that is not a Caucasian man. I'd be very surprised if, across the four conferences, people can count the number of lead female (human) women on one hand. I can't.

That aside, Sony mostly made me happy this year. I mentioned Entwined before; it looks beautiful and I'll be grabbing my copy ASAP. Then there's the From Software game, Bloodborne, which looks like an an even darker and more brutally effective game than the Souls games. Then there's a Goichi Suda game, Let it Die, which you just know is going to be creative, edgy, intellectually challenging game, regardless of how it plays. There's even a Grim Fangango game - an adventure franchise we'd just about given up about - and Paradox Interactive is working with Sony for some of its games as well.

Actually, while we're on the topic of Paradox, the knowledge that every single Paradox studio is working on a PS4 game gives me hope that the company is actually going to release a hardcore strategy game on the platform. At the show we only saw Magicka 2, but there's more to come, we're promised. Hearts of Iron or Europa Universalis, perhaps? Paradox has studios that, to the best of my knowledge, are focused entirely on strategy games, and this would be a rare treat for those of us who prefer to play games on consoles to finally be able to play a complex strategy game on our devices.

I don't see how anyone could look at the conferences today and argue that Sony hasn't done the best job by everyone who plays games. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best example of the direction that the industry should be heading.

This has now been two years in a row that Sony has been flying the "inclusiveness and creativity" banner alone. I do expect Ubisoft, EA and Microsoft to step up next year.

- Matt S. 
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld 
E3 Opinion; Four conferences and a startling lack of creative progress, but Sony shone
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