The E3 press conferences are, if past events are any indication, something of a preview for the 12 months to come. Not only do they reveal upcoming videogames, but the general tenor of the industry’s mainstream during the following year. And so, with this in mind, it seems worthwhile to go through a few of the most disappointing—or worrying— trends and announcements from this year’s E3 press conferences.
Remasters, Reboots, Rereleases, and Revivals
In last week’s Best Of article, I mentioned a handful of remasters (Final Fantasy VII), reboots (DOOM), and revivals (The Last Guardian; Shenmue 3) as highlights of the press conferences so it may seem strange that I also find the announcement of these games one of the most disappointing aspects of this year’s E3. The issue is that the whole trend is a complicated enough that it’s neither entirely good nor bad. On the one hand, as noted last week, it’s great that closure is being provided for players who desperately want to see some of their favourite concepts realized. On the other, there’s the fact that obsessing over projects—especially those that may have left active development for good reason—involves a degree of reverence for the past that stifles creativity.
Instead of hoping to see old series revitalized with new installments, why not look forward to seeing these same developers try something new? Remembering old games fondly isn’t a bad thing, but new ideas must be explored to keep the medium vital. Originality is essential for making videogames as interesting as they can be. It’s creative thinking, in fact, that made the titles these reboots are based on so beloved in the first place.
Guns, Grit, and Gore
Whether an increasingly noticeable trend or just general weariness on my own part, this year’s E3 press conferences seemed to feature an outsized number of games with detailed violence and “gritty” militaristic scenarios as key design elements. There’s the Arkham Knight trailer where the camera lingers over Joker’s body being cremated, the torture and cartel gunfights of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, the sword mutilations of For Honor, and the post-apocalyptic bandits fighting for survival in The Division. All of these games, regardless of how much promise they may show, share a tone that has become all too familiar to players.
Just like the “nostalgia problem” mentioned above, the real issue with relying on these topics isn’t necessarily the subject matter, but the repetition of well-worn themes and aesthetics. Nihilistic action titles and hyper-violent games can be great, but the medium’s mainstream needs to be willing to explore other forms of storytelling more often. Otherwise, everything begins to blend together—just like so many of this year’s game trailers.
Release Windows, Rather Than Dates
As with previous years, E3 2015 continued the trend of announcing games without providing specific release dates. Titles like Dishonored 2, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Tacoma, For Honor, Firewatch, The Last Guardian, Fire Emblem: Fates, No Man’s Sky, Kingdom Hearts 3, the untitled NieR sequel, and many, many more were revealed either without any launch date or only vague seasonal/financial quarter release windows.
More than an annoyance, this lack of specific launch dates speaks to the larger issue of videogames being announced before they’re close enough to completion to warrant publicity. Games take a long time to develop and it seems likely that premature reveals are tools for monitoring public interest or gaining quick bumps in market visibility, rather than any real indication that a given title is close to completion. It’s hard to see how this model helps players learn about upcoming games or allows developers to continue their work without the burden of unreasonable expectations.
Nintendo Treads Water
Nintendo was a highlight of last year’s E3 conferences, announcing plenty of new games that made its faltering Wii U suddenly look a lot more desirable. Rather than take advantage of the momentum it began building so recently, the developer/publisher used this E3 to show trailers for known quantities—Xenoblade Chronicles; Fire Emblem: Fates; Super Mario Maker—alongside uninspired-looking new additions to long-running series: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer; Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam; The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes; Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
None of it was particularly exciting and all of it came together to give the impression that Nintendo is just treading water until it can begin publicly discussing its new system at next year’s conference. The lack of any truly novel upcoming games not only hamstrings the Wii U’s tentative rebound, but worryingly echoes the company’s willingness to stop supporting consoles—like last generation’s Wii—when other aspects of its business begin to take precedence.