The Best of the E3 2014 Conferences

OK, so, I may not be in Los Angeles for this year’s E3, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about what’s happening at the press conferences anyway. It’s the digital age, after all, and the miracle of streaming video allows all of us to enjoy the game announcements, scripted demonstrations, and awkward moments that make E3 worth paying attention to in the first place. Without further preamble, here’s a rundown of my favourite parts of the E3 2014 conferences.

1. Concentrating on New Games

The most exciting part of E3, for me, has always been seeing new games. 2014’s conferences were pretty heavily focused on showing titles we already knew existed but, just the same, consisted of a number of great, in-depth looks at upcoming releases. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all largely eschewed hardware and sales announcements to bring viewers a nearly constant roll-out of game trailers and announcements. From the fantastic-looking The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s griffin-hunting demonstration to Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4’s colourful gameplay clips, the conferences were full of in-engine footage of titles we’d only seen glimpses of beforehand.

2. Instant Availability

One of the nicer trends from this year’s conference was the one-two punch of announcing and immediately releasing newly displayed games. Microsoft detailed new Dead Rising 3 downloadable content right before telling interested viewers to go ahead and download it, Sony offered a quick demo of indie game Entwined then went on to release it straightaway, and Electronic Arts capped off its (lengthy) look at Battlefield: Hardline by opening up its public beta. Not only is this sales tactic a great surprise, but it’s also a nice change of pace from the interminable gap between announcing and releasing titles that the game industry is so prone to.

3. A Bit of Levity

Trailers for games like Dead Island 2, Sunset Overdrive, Magicka 2, the new Dead Rising 3 DLC, and LittleBigPlanet 3 replaced the typical melodrama of E3 conference demonstrations with a refreshingly light-hearted tone. While there were still blood, guts, and scowling faces enough to satisfy viewers with a taste for darker games, E3 2014 was largely defined by a sense of fun. Nintendo’s entire pre-recorded presentation best typified this. It was filled with bizarre humour that saw black-suited CEOs fighting wire-fu battles, yarn-crafted Yoshis traipsing through sunlit game levels, and gags where the (really neat-looking) Mario Maker gameplay demonstration ended with the moustachioed character stuck in an endless running animation. Sure, the different conference jokes didn’t always land, but the departure from the self-serious form that usually characterizes these events was very much appreciated.

4. Genuine Surprise

Every E3 has the potential to reveal something that viewers honestly were not expecting. It’s been harder in recent years for developers and publishers to maintain secrecy, but even a handful of zero hour announcement leaks didn’t represent every surprise. Regardless of whether or not these games turn out to be worthwhile, it was still exciting to see titles like Suda51’s Let It Die, Rainbow Six: Siege, Splatoon, Rise of the Tomb Raider (ugh, that name), LittleBigPlanet 3, a new, apparently open-world Zelda, and Playdead’s Inside make their debuts on an E3 stage rather than an unceremonious blog trailer. A few more unexpected releases would have been appreciated, but even having a handful of genuine surprises helped to make the conferences more interesting than they would have been otherwise.

5. Nintendo Hits Hard

Big entertainment companies try the hardest to impress potential consumers when their backs are against the wall. Considering Nintendo’s current difficulty in selling Wii U consoles, no other publisher was as concerned with impressing conference viewers than the House of Mario. Luckily, their pre-recorded Tuesday morning event was full of game announcements and footage that, for perhaps the first time, made picking up a Wii U seem like a good idea. Nintendo showed off not only new entries to well-established franchises starring Link, Yoshi, and Kirby, but also a more inventive side with its level-builder Mario Maker and new multiplayer title Splatoon.