E3 2019 is now officially in the books. The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo unofficially kicked off Thursday, June 6th and ended Thursday, June 13th. The next year leading up to E3 2020, and all prospective conferences, should prove very interesting. I’m going to make an easy prediction. Change is coming to the conference. Somewhere down the line, maybe even by 2020, a Thursday start (or even earlier) will no longer be an unofficial beginning to the conference.
Around April of every year, people start foaming at the mouth knowing that plenty of big news is about to hit once June rolls around. For many, it starts even earlier since, surprises, and the official unveiling of previously announced and unannounced games, rule this time of year. During those months before the annual event, gamers start doubling down on their internet gaming news in search of every bit of info they can find about the individual keynotes. It’s safe to say that most of us have been doing this for longer than we care to remember, and will continue to do so for years to come.
This year Electronic Arts once again hosted their own version of the E3 demo floor with EA Play 2019 at the Hollywood Palladium. We, of course, watched every second of their unconventional keynote (if it can be called that) led by Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller. Why? Because that’s exactly what we all do when it comes to video games. We watch, we wait, we dream, we salivate, and sometimes we complain. Ok, that’s a lie, MANY TIMES we complain. EA continued to take things further this year, regarding their Pre-E3 plans. Just like they did for the first time a few years ago, they opened their EA Play Fan Fest event for free to the public immediately following their new style 3-hour keynote/presentation/interview show. This all happened because EA once again made the decision not to have physical floor space at the actual conference this year. But it was still E3, even if it was not within the confines of the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 11th to June 13th.
If you kept score, then you know that between Thursday, June 6th, and Tuesday, June 11th, there were 12 presentations/keynotes/showcases that took place away from E3 this year. That, of course, included only two of the big 3: Microsoft and Nintendo. It also included the other three usual suspects: EA, Bethesda, and Ubisoft. Now sprinkle in Google, Bungie, Devolver Digital, Limited Run Games, and Square Enix. Throw in two showcases with the PC Gaming Show and the Kinda Funny Showcase, and you have yourself the makings of a full E3 slate before E3 even dreamed of starting. Microsoft continued with their traditional press conference while Nintendo once again took the non-traditional approach of using their Nintendo Direct to make their big announcements. In some small way, Nintendo was the first company to boldly step outside the normal confines of the E3 conference to share their message.
Sadly, Sony skipped E3 entirely this year, but personally (and I could be wrong) I don’t believe this will be a yearly occurrence. They were sorely missed, and PR wise it may not have been the best decision considering all the E3 hype was focused on Microsoft’s official unveiling of their latest console, Project Scarlett. Throw in Google’s new Stadia platform arriving in November of 2019, and it clearly makes it a questionable decision not to attend. In gaming, the phrase “No news is good news” never applies. With Sony’s absence aside, this brings me to the main reason for writing this article. Is this growth, and apparent defection involving many in the industry getting away from E3 for a short time (or maybe permanently), hurting the conference itself?
I read a lot about gaming and over the last two years, I’ve seen a few comments here and there about more companies stepping outside the confines of the Los Angeles Convention Center to share their upcoming release schedule. Developers are starting to put their focus on using E3 as more of a backdrop, than as their primary vessel for delivering their forecast for the coming year. These actions can often paint the separation from E3 as having adverse effects on the conference and video gaming itself. But I see it differently; I see it as the participants of this conference laying a larger foundation to build upon. In fact, I have no issue with this practice. I fully understand the idea that some messages can get muddled when they’re all placed together under one umbrella that is no longer large enough for the behemoth that the video game industry has become. I can even understand – although I’m not in complete agreement with – why Sony (or others) may want to take a step back from time to time due to the current structure.
The Unofficial New Normal for E3
With things kicking off early every year, it should be obvious to gamers that this is no longer just a trend. This is now officially the new unofficial normal for E3. In previous years you’d see the big names doing their showcases on the Monday prior to everything starting on Tuesday. We’ve watched as that moved up to Sunday recently, and for the past 3 years, we have EA Play starting on Saturday. Now this year we had Google’s Stadia Connect, and Bungie’s presentation take place on Thursday, June 6th. If you do the math, that’s a full 5 days before the official start of E3. But what you’re witnessing isn’t an implosion of gaming’s premier event. It’s a great sign of a much-needed expansion being driven by the participants themselves. Although this isn’t a scientific discussion the words that would best describe what’s occurring would be a paradigm shift. The question that could easily arise about the conference hype machine as we move on towards the 2020 show, and all subsequent shows, will be: Is it ever too early to start E3?
When it comes to video games, and this love we all share for the medium, I don’t care how early E3 starts. It could begin in May and I’d be just fine with that. I also don’t care how many different venues and settings are used to better share the message. Why? Because seeing new game trailers stirs something inside all of us. It feeds our anticipation of finding the next great game. This ever-growing love we share of gaming affords us the wonderful opportunity to watch the world of video games grow. So, if E3 wants to spill into the preceding week or even the week before that, then I say let it be! Especially since it continues to be expanded by developers and publishers, to add new locations around the Los Angeles area. This type of much-needed expansion is coming soon, mark my word, and I believe it will now be hastened due to Sony not participating in E3 2019.
Speaking of Sony, their departure from E3 this year isn’t solely because they want to find better ways to share their message and connect better with gamers, as they’ve claimed. I believe Sony knows that they will always be in direct competition with Microsoft (And now maybe Google too). But the current big 3 already understand that they each have their own loyal and diehard fan base. Some gamers choose one, some choose two, and some choose all three consoles. Those three core groups will never change. This makes me wonder if Sony was trying harder to appeal to the casual gamer with not attending? Because we all know what will definitely change from generation to generation. It’s the casual gamer. If that’s the actual case, then they should be smart enough to understand that even though the casual gamer is not at E3 or spending this week poring over all the news and announcements. They aren’t doing that at any time of year. To think otherwise would be bordering on the absurd.
It makes you wonder if the real reason for their absence this year, is that these three days of E3 have become too much to bear, even for companies as large as Sony. Knowing they will ultimately face backlash for some perceived slight to their fans while investing exorbitant amounts of money to cater to those same fans. Call it burn out, or just call it what it probably is, the Tower of Babel. Having only three official days of E3 means there are way too many voices screaming unintelligible information at the same moment. All in an effort to simply have their message stand out in a crowd. So what is the real reasoning? Reaching casual gamers? Facing backlash? Their message getting lost? Maybe it’s a little of everything, and they’re the first company to openly admit that E3 needs an overhaul by not attending.
This is exactly why I think it’s time for E3 to officially be expanded to 2 weeks. Not the playable demos on the conference room floor, that should still be only 3 or 4 days. I think the scope of the conference needs to be expanded so every big developer, and small indie, gets the right amount of time and space to share their story. Allowing them to get a better return on their investment in the conference. Of course, this will ultimately create fighting on who goes first, who goes last, and who gets stuck in the middle. To me the spot wouldn’t matter, it never has. What this would do, is it would be like a cup of tea that finally gets the perfect amount of time to steep. As it exists now, we are barely processing news, before the next piece of major information breaks. I’m sure this wouldn’t be an issue for game fans. But this may be a major issue for developers and the outlets that send people to cover all the gaming news. Either way, it’s clear that times are changing, and something must be done to assist this expansion, and not fight it. Just look to the Olympics for a little inspiration. Think of how many venues across the host city and country that are utilized. Los Angeles can easily handle multiple sites over this proposed 2 week expansion.
E3 2020 and beyond will be interesting. Until then, our focus is on the fact that E3 2019 has now ended and we’re once again excited beyond all reason to comb through every piece of news. The end of each E3 always brings some disappointment over not hearing about certain games we know are currently in development. Thankfully there’s always plenty of pleasant surprises that ease that disappointment throughout the remainder of the year.
E3 is every hardcore gamer’s favorite unofficial holiday. A time of year that never seems to lose its magic. Sure, some years have less marquee game announcements than others, especially the year prior to new consoles launching when the key players tend to hold their cards a little closer to their chests. Even then, we know the industry we all love, and support, is doing everything it can to keep producing the content that feeds our passion. The conference that provides the platform for delivering all this news is evolving, and at the end of the day it may turn out to be a forced evolution. But change doesn’t always have to be bad. The idea of change may scare some people. I’m here to tell everyone who might be concerned, don’t be. Evolution is what will always save gaming from going the way of the dinosaurs. It always has. Which brings me to something said in jest during the conference, that sums up this whole need for change. If you happened to watch Kinda Funny’s Independent Games Showcase, there was a brief moment at the very beginning when the announcer prophetically joked. He said, “Filmed on location in Los Angeles, California. Home of E3 and a bunch of smaller events that don’t want to pay to be in the Los Angeles Convention Center. E3 isn’t a place, E3 is a state of mind.” Joke or not, this hits the nail directly on the head.
The month of June means many things. School is out for the year. Summer begins. Families take a much needed vacation. Sun, beaches, barbecues, and swimming reign supreme. As I’ve gotten older, June has taken on another meaning in my world. It signals one of the most anticipated weeks in video gaming. I once thought I’d reach a point where gaming no longer interested me, but today I know that my passion lives on, and it continues to grow. E3 continues to remain a part of that passion I have for gaming. This is why I will always say this with complete confidence, and all the optimism I can muster. Even if the conference we all know and love is currently in a state of flux.
Long Live E3.
- Tony Strothers
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale
Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?
From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.
“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”
The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.
Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.
However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.
At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.
“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”
The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.
On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.
Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.
‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror
If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.
RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.
Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.
The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.
The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.
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