E3 wrapped up last week, and I’m still sifting through all the headlines. As always, there was plenty of excitement, but this year’s excitement felt like the good kind, the kind that makes me enthusiastic about what the industry’s big companies are doing. Part of the reason that I follow E3 every year is for the surprise announcements and big reveals, but over the past few years, it had become a morbid fascination. What sort of train wreck would it be this year? Instead of watching spontaneous disasters, I spent this year pleasantly surprised by what the big companies had to show.
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Deep into E3 and my ears are still buzzing with the sound of explosions. There’s an itch in my throat that is the telltale sign of a convention pox, and earlier in the day, I overheard an exhibitor say loudly, “I hate E3.” Understandably, at a consumer event that feels like the oppressive churning of an impossibly hungry machine, the games industry can feel like a strange mix of unbridled excitement (I’m looking at you The Last Guardian) and deep cynicism. It’s with this mixed message in mind that I want to make a concerted effort to celebrate some of the non-gaming moments that I find hopeful from the show.
Almost more shocking than the reveal of Shenmue 3 was the appearance of a surprisingly diverse group of protagonists featured in some of the most exciting games of this coming year. It seems some developers are finally learning that female protagonists do not doom a game from selling big.
The heroine of Recorp.
Of course Faith returns in the much anticipated Mirror’s Edge 2, as does Lara Croft in Rise of the Tomb Raider. They are joined by the heroines of Recorp and Horizon Zero, both brand new franchises (robot infused franchises at that). Meanwhile, Gigantic, a MOBA-like third-person action game, features a strong woman of color that looks entirely badass, as well as an old woman and a young girl. None of these games hypersexualize these characters, yet all explore entirely different aesthetics. These are not hastily created token characters made to check a box. Rather, they seem built from the ground up out of a genuine enthusiasm to include diverse and interesting protagonists in games.
I wasn’t expecting it, but Splatoon often feels like a game targeted at adults. Perhaps this is a shooter for someone like me; that is to say, a working stiff without the time or reflexes it takes to compete with the sharpshooter kids who weren’t alive when Quake came out.
Simplifications and small improvements to the standard multiplayer shooter conventions make Splatoon feel very modern. There are some exceptions that make Splatoon feel like it’s trying to catch up to its more militant big brothers, but the end result is something that feels strangely mature.
I had barely scratched the surface of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, the epic fantasy open-world game that features well over a hundred hours of action/magic/sword-fighting gameplay, when I decided to sit down and play Gwent, an optional card game within the game. The game crashed after my first win, and I haven’t been back since. I think I need a break from all the seriousness of gaming.
See, I don’t think I have had fun playing games lately, at least not the jovial free-spirited form of fun that I associate with child-like playfulness. The world of The Witcher is dark and rough. Geralt, who sounds like someone constantly waking up from a nap, lops off heads and runs quests for murderers and racists. It’s not exactly a light romp through magic-land.
One year ago I started what turned into a “season” of Mario Kart 8, complete with gameplay tweaks and paid downloadable content (DLC). It’s the first time I’ve played a Nintendo game that has bought into the “long-tail” content and add-on strategy that is so prevalent in the large publisher space. Instead of a capsule frozen in time, Mario Kart 8 got something similar to the season pass and map pack treatment. The question is: how did this work out?