Vicarious E3 Chicanry

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on June 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm

It’s times like these that I loathe Chicago for being a good for nothing city when it comes to cons, conventions and entertainment trade shows, as I’ll never get to see anything good unless I take a holiday specifically to patronize it.  Which I’m not going to do because I’d honestly rather spend my vacation time going to London for a chippy.  However, thanks to the wonders of the internet, with no small contribution to my boss’s well timed vacation out of the office, I was able to follow this year’s show quite closely.  What did I find?  Treasure!  Treasure beyond your wildest imaginings…

Kind of.  I feel that, if you’re into western developers and their games, the spoils were yours; Sony and Nintendo offered up new hardwares, but all the impressive bits were in the software.  Microsoft unveiled the new Xbox experience, which looks very slick and includes a number of great features to make it the media center of your house, including getting live TV!  But it was a few of the engines that really turned my head.  Maybe that’s just me; I’ve a bit of a blind eye for these things, and I really do appreciate a good, healthy, optimized engine to the actual game it’s running on.  And why wouldn’t I?  Back in the day I was hawking the Unreal 3 engine like I had a cut in its licensing, but if you think about it, so many games have been produced on it that it’s not an understatement to say that this generation of games wouldn’t be anywhere near this next-gen without it.  It’s an engine that was designed for consoles.

However, this may explain why our palette has shifted from colors to color; rainbow to brown, grey and black.  The limitations of our current gen come more and more to the forefront with each passing day, and when you remember that the 360 only has 512mb of RAM, you begin to see why there’s a limitation on the variety and resolution of textures you see.  Your options?  Make big levels with no variety, or much smaller ones with a modicum of such.

This is why I was so impressed with Rage.  Despite the post-apocalyptic setting, and even for seeming of a very cutting-edge Borderlands, it impresses in both the detail and variety of its texturing (not to mention all of its other bells and whistles).  Wellspring, one of the towns in the game, has verisimilitude far above what we’ve seen in its contemporaries.  The reason being, is that the new engine, idtech 5, has some kind of magical process, called virtual texturing, where textures are streamed to the memory as needed (rather than preloaded with the rest of a level’s assets).  This means they can bypass system and RAM limitations and present widely varied high resolution textures, while keeping it at 60hz.  Truly, this is the engine to license as we recline into the decade.

I must confess to a small amount of enjoyment when an id software rep said that, while issues will be ironed out by release, that the PS3 version of Rage is running at 20-30 FPS, due to it having weaker architecture than the 360.  It’s not that id is a shoddy developer, it’s that Sony needs its head out of its ass when it designs its next system.

But I really must say, that the economy, or whatever, caused this generation to stick around for as long as it has, potentially through 2012 (I assume 2012 will see the 2013/14 announcement for the new Xbox and PS), this has really allowed the industry to grow and mature.  Without focusing on new hardware every couple of years we’ve seen the refinement of user interfaces, downloaded content, multiplayer, social gaming, and yes, even game engines that make these 2005-era consoles seem brand new.  We’ve been allowed to grow and we’re seeing more and more neat ideas alongside sequels and follow-the-leader types.  It’s a great time to be a gamer.

On another new engine, Frostbite 2.0, and Battlefield 3, both look incredible.  They look real.  Full scale, detailed destruction and the animations, sound and everything else just… I mean, it just looks real.  That’s all I can really say.  I can’t even really find an image that does it justice.  So look at a few trailers on the youtubes.

It was great seeing a reimagined, thoroughly well-planned Tomb Raider practically steal the show.  That franchise has long since deserved to come into its own, and it’s nice to see the devs are putting their backs into building it into the fully fleshed, well characterized cinematic flagship title that we all pretended it had been for years.  What’s notable is that Laura interacts with everything, from her animations when she’s taken a spill, slipping on something slick, wading through any height of water, to her running commentary that bordered on gibberish for the frightened woman.  Yet she is mortal, so much less the disaffected god of gymnastics we’d previously seen, and through this mortality she can grow into the strong character we know she’ll become. 

I’m not super excited about the Halo announcements: a Halo 4 and a Combat Evolved remake.  I always consider each Halo title to be the true successor to the last, upgraded in every way.  After 3 I didn’t play 2.  After ODST I didn’t play 3.  After Reach I didn’t play ODST.  So I see little reason for there to be two such titles in the upcoming future, though Combat Evolved will have a feature that allows you to toggle the remade models and textures with the old version; kind of a “look how impressive this is” feature. 

For the “what the hell” feature, is Dust 514.  I may buy a PS3 for this game, for wont of knowing what the hell they’re up to.  For reference, this game is going to a persistent shooter MMO that shares its world, and thus the consequences of its persistence, with EVE.  Yes, that very same EVE that has you building a fictional empire with slightly less effort than building a real one.  Apparently, EVE players can hire the mercenaries of Dust 514, and both sides will gain or lose benefits depending upon the outcome of the battle?  Sounds wild.  But I need to know more.

Mass Effect 3 will be Kinect “enhanced” which means you can give verbal orders to your squadmates, which sounds cool, or you can vocalize which conversation option you want Shepard to take, which sounds less cool (Player: fuck you; Menu: *selects fuck you*;  Shepard: Hey, fuck you!).  Allegedly, Gears will also be “enhanced” but in what way I have no idea.  I do know that the new Horde mode looks very compelling with its mutators as well as its scoring system for assisting allies (through assists, revives and ammo and weapon sharing).  These points may be spent on weapons, ammo, fortifications on the maps themselves, or some kind of armored battle suit.  Sounds more involved than just killing dudes until you die, and since Gears really set the standard for the last bunch of horde-like modes, I’m happy to see them setting the bar a bit higher.

Lastly, and this touches on a bit of a nerve for me, but Prey 2 looks really cool if you forget that all we’ve seen are cinematic trailers.  Let me be blunt on this.  Game announcements, especially where games with intriguing or possible innovative if not revolutionary gameplay ideas are concerned, should not be limited to prerendered trailers.  We play games.  We play them.  I skip the opening trailers for games because they spoil crap in the game.  Stop giving us these damned trailers and just focus on making the goddamned game.

  1. Good stuff, though to be honest I still prefer ODST over Reach.

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