By Sage Ashford
With June only a few weeks away, gaming fans are finding it more and more difficult to contain their excitement as the biggest gaming conference of the year approaches. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, gives gamers a look at the titles developers have been working on and plan to release over the next year and even beyond. But as the main show itself is closed to the general public, what gamers have learned to be most excited for are the pre-show press conferences given by the three main console developers.
These conferences, streamed online for viewing by anyone with a broadband connection, are picked apart and analyzed both live and for days, weeks, and even months afterwards as gamers try to decide just exactly who "won", and what each company did right or wrong. A good conference can often indicate a sudden upcoming shift in sales momentum, while a bad one can just as often be a sign of trouble ahead.
While E3 is an annual occurrence, this year's has the privilege of being a post-console release E3, during which Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are all pressured to give the biggest and best shows to convince on-the-fence gamers which console to choose as we make our way towards the holiday months. All three companies find themselves in their own unique position with specific reasons that they need to give their best performance in the hopes of "winning", and this weekly column will be devoted to discussing those reasons. Let's kick things off by looking at Microsoft's XBox One.
Where They Stand: Between the poorly explained, much-reviled DRM practices, a price tag that looked almost exorbitantly high compared to Sony's $399 Playstation 4, and the PR nightmare that was Adam Orth's twitter page, last year was pretty rough for Microsoft. Currently they sit in third place behind even Nintendo's Wii U, a system declared dead in the water by gamers and critics alike, and while that's not something that's likely to persist for much longer, it's still not exactly something anyone would want to brag on.
Even when they began to reverse some of the changes that had turned them off to core gamers like dropping DRM, it was seen more as a reactive effort to the overwhelmingly positive attitude fans have had to Sony's decisions rather than doing anything innovative themselves. Worse still, their $499 pricetag and rumors (now confirmed as true) that their system was in fact, weaker than the Playstation 4 piled on the problems.
Things were so bad in fact, that perception actually overrode reality and led fans to believe Sony had the superior E3, despite Microsoft revealing far more new titles than their competitor. Trailing in so many key areas has put Microsoft in an unfortunate position of needing to prove themselves to gamers this E3.
What They Need To Do: Fortunately, Microsoft has proven themselves up to the task of winning gamers over again. Even as a self-professed Sony fan, I have to admit that they've been quite responsive to the needs of their customers. They dropped their draconian DRM policies shortly after E3, and released a wide array of video games on launch to give fans a reason to buy their product.
And most recently, they've even created a new Kinect-less SKU for $100 less than their normal model, giving them price parity with Sony's system again. It's choices like these, and the seemingly more friendly new head of the Xbox Division Phil Spencer, that will help Microsoft get back into the good graces of gamers. Of course, none of that means anything without the games, so let's have a look at some of what Microsoft probably has planned for the show.
What to Expect: Most of these games were announced at last E3, but generally if a game doesn't come out during the interim, it's given a new, different trailer and shown off for the next show, generally with a release date.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection: The line of HD re-makes for new gen consoles continues with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which will contained all the numbered Halo titles. Near as I can tell, the collection will release in time for this fall.
Halo 5: Guardians: Microsoft's long-running shooter franchise had its sequel confirmed for an appearance at E3, with a release in the Fall of next year. Presumably the Steven Spielberg-helmed television series won't be too far behind it.
Fable Legends: Lionhead's co-op "not quite an MMO" RPG has already made several appearances on gaming websites and had a decent-sized update on their blog (http://www.lionhead.com/blog/2014/april/17/dynamic-global-illumination-in-fable-legends/) not too long ago. Confirmed for E3, Fable Legends will be one of the bigger games to show off what Epic's Unreal Engine 4 can do.
Sunset Overdrive: The latest release from Insomniac Games, Sunset Overdrive is one of the more visually creative games I've seen come out of any developer. It recently had a media blowout in Game Informer along with a new trailer put online. Since it's still scheduled for 2014, at E3 I'd expect more gameplay and probably a release date.
Below: The top-down roguelike adventure game focused on a tiny adventurer exploring and surviving on a mysterious island, Below hasn't really been seen outside of a trailer released last year, but it's still scheduled to release later this year, so an E3 appearance is likely.
D4: D4, or Dark Dreams Don't Die, is probably one of the Xbox One's quirkiest games…and also one of the quieter ones in terms of information. The only thing I could find was that currently its creator is trying to get the game to be perfectly compatible with Kinect (such that you can finish it with that alone). Pretty neat, but I can't imagine that's helping to meet the release date. Still, it's another game you can add to the pile that will probably make a re-appearance if only to boost the total number of games Microsoft talks about at the show.
Quantum Break: From Remedy Entertainment comes Quantum Break, a third-person shooter where the main characters all have some form of time manipulation powers. That's unique enough, but from what I understand there will also be a live-action television show that will ship on disc with the game itself, and your choices in the game will affect how the television show plays out. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to work, but it sure sounds neat.
Of course, I'd be beyond shocked if this was all Microsoft had to offer, so look forward to more than a few surprises. Also, a game that you probably shouldn't look for at all…
Gears of War: Seriously, developer Black Tusk just started on this. There's less than a year's worth of development time that's gone into this title, and by all accounts they are in the very, very early stages with this title. If anything, we might see a cinematic trailer but unless they're just dying to impress gamers I'd expect them to hold this back for next E3 for a release in 2016.
And that's it for this edition. I'll be back next week with Nintendo's version of this series, and finish it out the week after with a look at Sony's prospects. 'Til next time.
Sage Ashford is a college kid with far more hobbies than he has free time. You can find him on Twitter @SageShinigami, but also at his own blog Jumping in Headfirst.