Gameological At E3

Sony E3 2012 press conference

Life After Death

At its E3 2012 press conference, Sony strays (slightly) from the shooter.

By Gus Mastrapa • June 5, 2012

It is more than a little disingenuous to call Sony an underdog—they’re a huge company with an enormous global business. But the game we play at E3 isn’t about the balance sheet. As people who love video games (when we’re not hating them) we’re here to witness the industry’s pitch for the next 12 months. A good E3 press conference comes off as part vision statement, part three-ring spectacle. Eyes glaze and patience dwindles when these spiels devolve into sales pitches or infomercials. As an audience, we want a little bit of pie in the sky. Preferably, we’d like a taste of said pie. But at the very least, we want something to anticipate—a game or two that shows promise. A nifty new technology to capture our imaginations.

At the tail end of a console generation, these promises are getting harder and harder to deliver on. The truth is that the people who make video games are biding their time. Waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger on the next generation. The right time clearly isn’t this year. So at E3 2012, Sony swept up the remaining crumbs of their PlayStation 3 offerings, squished them together and offered them up as dessert. It tasted okay. Some of the bits were almost delicious.

Sony E3 2012 press conference

It helps that the company showed a good number of games. Especially when compared to Microsoft, who bunted this week by trotting out just a few games, mostly from hit shooter franchises, hoping that more of the same would be enough to please their gaming audience.

More of the same is a good bet, business-wise. We may gripe about the glut of shooters and sequels, but people keep playing them and keep, begrudgingly, loving some. That’s not to say that Sony’s slate for the next year or so is full of crazily innovative stuff. Their PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale is a riff on Nintendo’s series of Smash Bros. brawlers, and Sony’s version is brimming with a slew of somewhat beloved characters. The game’s roster, which includes Fat Princess and the Killzone antagonist Radec, is a fairly stark reminder that creating iconic pop culture hasn’t been their strong suit. They’ve excelled at giving other people a place to put deliver household names. But when Parappa, their most recognizable (and admittedly delightful) mascot, hasn’t been in a new game in 10 years, it is clear that those fields are mostly fallow.

Sony E3 2012 press conference

Their best received showing, judging by audience response, was Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us, which feels like a survival horror game set at the end of the world. The demo saw the game’s protagonist grappling with other survivors, wresting guns from their hands and killing them in increasingly gruesome ways. All this under the eye of his ward, a young girl with a conspicuous resemblance to actress Ellen Page (more on that in a bit). The sequence, a prolonged celebration of death, felt like that bit in Old Boy where the lead works over a bunch of punks with a hammer. The final kiss-off, a shotgun blast to the face, was met with a roar of approval from the crowd. We were connoisseurs of violence, like the masses at a gladiatorial match.

David Cage, the haughty creator of Heavy Rain, made an extended pitch for his latest project, Beyond: Two Souls. He took an unusual tack, focusing on casting. The Frenchman swooned over Ellen Page, whom he cast in his game, rather than merely mimicking her with a lookalike. He rolled a cutscene from Beyond in which Page said next to nothing. Her face, though occupying a nice plot of land in the uncanny valley, delivered a nuanced performance. Cage, though high on his own supply, isn’t above pandering. Page’s character has paranormal powers. Unlike Heavy Rain, which was mostly walking and talking, Beyond looks to be full of action and destruction. There will be long stretches occupied by nothing by story, but the message seems to be that you’ll be rewarded with carnage for sitting through those bits.

Sony E3 2012 press conference

Sony showed a questionable love for children with a new last-ditch effort to make something (anything) out of their Move motion-control peripheral and PlayStation Eye camera. The company unveiled a new “book” by J.K. Rowling that comes alive when under the PlayStation 3’s gaze. Of course, this living book didn’t sing and tap dance so much as shamble, reacting lazily to waggles of the Move wand. Sure, kids may want this thing. But like most gimmicky toys, the bloom will be off the rose in minutes, and they’ll be back to begging their parents to let them play Call Of Duty.

Peppered between the big game spiels were blink-and-miss-em dashes of Sony headscratchers. The company harped on a move into the mobile phone space, touted ways that the PlayStation 3 and portable Vita play nice, and bragged about all the multimedia tricks that their box of electronics can perform. That stuff likely fills some nitpicker’s score card. But forces for the development of games as a creative medium had their own checklist—at least, I did. And it didn’t go unnoticed that PlayStation CEO Jack Tretton name-dropped some obscure, independent minded games when slogging his way down the teleprompter. When a long-gestating game like Retro City Rampage gets a mention next to big-budget blockbusters, it became clear that Sony wasn’t just giving lip service to making games of all kinds. Sure, they too have a spot reserved for the Call Of Duty cash cow (on the Vita), but there’s room at Sony’s big-kids table for the weird, odd, and obscure. At E3, even a nod of recognition that there’s life and entertainment outside the first-person shooter can reassure the aesthetes in the crowd.

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  • Binsbein

    Sony gave a free year of PS Plus to journalists to soften the blow of showing a wonky AR book for what felt like a half hour.

  • Binsbein

    See also: http://i.minus.com/iCXX1fHU2RUXn.gif

    • unknowncast

      That is the greatest thing I have ever seen.

  • RidleyFGJ

    Boy, Sony sure made me want to invest in a Vita after this presentation!

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      No shit, right.  I want to want a Vita very badly.  The Gravity Daze demo actually felt new and exciting, and the promise of a portable Bioshock tantalizes me.  Cross play, remote play, there are a lot of features just ripe with promise. But if Sony doesn’t give a shit, I’m hard pressed to figure out why I should.  I’d have anxiety attacks buying such an expensive handheld, and feeling support would drop out from under me at any time.

         I’m assuming your comment was sarcasm, by the way.

      • RidleyFGJ

        You assume correctly!

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I would say, “Get to importing,” but we’re hitting disaster levels there, too.

  • PugsMalone

    A list of things wrong with Heavy Rain could fill a whole set of encyclopedias. It’s just begging for a Plinkett-style takedown.

    • Binsbein

      Quantic Dream has a mixed record at best (even Omikron had some really bad design choices!) so I’m surprised Sony is doubling down on another David Cage glorified tech demo game.

      • blue vodka lemonade

         People love to talk about them, write thinkpieces about them, and on and on. This inspires people to buy them to see what the fuss is about. It keeps a dialogue going about games-as-art, because it very directly addresses the things people see as being “missing” from games: stories that matter, writing that doesn’t blow, interactions beyond running and shooting.

        They don’t really care if the game is “good.” They care that other people are going to argue over whether they’re “good” for a couple years after the game is released.

  • Swadian Knight

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as underwhelming as the Wonderbook was. The presenter started hyping it up as the next step in the evolution of games and books and storytelling, and it turned out to be… a piece of cardboard that does nothing but sit there as you play silly minigames.

    • Binsbein

      It was great when the Sony stooge who got stuck doing the Blunderbook presentation was like, “We’re enhancing the world’s first content delivery system…The Book” and you could only imagine all the unspoken groans in the audience.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I’m trying not to be too harsh on the Wonderbook, because I understand that I’m not its target audience. I can imagine it being something parents might want for their children. That being said, the presentation for the product was glitchy as fuck.

      • Swadian Knight

        I understand that, but I think it was underwhelming even by those standards. When they started their trailer, it looked like a 3D screen to play pop-up books in, which is definitely something kids would go wild about. The thing they actually showed, though, I don’t see how a child would find it even remotely interesting unless they were very young; they really need to work on the product’s presentation.

  • Effigy_Power

    More like mEh3, amirite… The “roar of approval” at increasingly mainstream games featuring big heaps of violence while still limiting any kind of sexual context is yet another sad reminder of how far gaming still has to go. It’s a bit like Col. Kurtz says, you can napalm the hell out of people, but don’t write “fuck” on the bomb.

    Also, the only Sony “mascot” I can think of would be Crash Bandicoot, which didn’t seem to be featured. That particular animal was no more than a Tasmanian Devil knock-off, but at least it had some character.

    • RidleyFGJ

      It doesn’t seem like that Activision is willing to do anything with Crash these days, so I can’t imagine that he’d be hard to secure for the game.

      Very, very strange that Sony would go after BioShock’s Big Daddy over Crash. When I think of “characters I associate with Playstation gaming,” I don’t think that Big Daddy would make even the top 100.

      • Effigy_Power

         Especially since BioShock wasn’t a PS-exclusive. You’d think only character from platform-dependent games would make that list.

        • RidleyFGJ

          Well, it’s not like Solid Snake had a rich history on Nintendo platforms when he was included in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but I could at least see the argument for that since the NES port of Metal Gear did quite well.

          Spyro would certainly make a hell of a lot more sense, even after his drastic reinvention as something entirely different from those games on the PS1.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          @RidleyFGJ:disqus To be fair, Nintendo did wait for the third Smash Bros game before using any third party characters. Also, in addition to the original NES Metal Gear games, the Gamecube had that remake of the first MGS game.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I don’t think I’d even be able to make a top 100. I really can’t think of any PlayStation mascots aside from Sly Cooper and Crash Bandicoot. (And Nathan Drake, I guess, but he’s not much of a “mascot.”)

        • RidleyFGJ

          Well, it’s not just stuff that Sony has published; characters like Solid Snake and Cloud Strife are ones that I would immediately associate with Playstation before anything else.

    • Mookalakai

       Don’t tell me you missed the 14th anniversary of the release of Crash Bandicoot? http://www.theonion.com/articles/14year-anniversary-of-crash-bandicoot-passes-by-la,18526/

    • caspiancomic

       Play Brothers Station Smash Brawl-Stars or whatever has me scratching my head in a way that I think might actually be good, or at least mistaken for good from a distance. Sony characters will obviously never come close to Nintendo’s roster in terms of exposure or sheer variety, but the reveals so far have been kind of interesting. When I saw that somebody on the planet besides me remembers PaRappa I was pretty much overjoyed, and since the doors are open for second and third party characters- even non-exclusives- this could be a really cool opportunity to see some disparate characters wail on each other. I just hope the game doesn’t lean too hard on personality-free generic 6′ tall brown haired caucasian men, and includes a few more jorts-wearing toothy marsupials, horned boys flailing 2x4s around, and whatever the hell Patapons are supposed to be.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    I have a two year-old daughter and watching this trailer for ‘Last of Us’ made my heart hurt. The sense of vulnerability and urgency was so tangible in the trailer, heightened by the utter lack of music.  It must have felt completely different watching it in an auditorium full of people cheering for death, because in the silence of my home, the game appears to do a fantastic job of showing just how high the cost of life is.  If the game is capable of maintaining that tone throughout, without devolving into camp or bloody rampage, Naughty Dog will have achieved something truly impressive for an action game. Hell, any genre, really.

    • hastapura

      Cheering after that does seem to miss the point a little. Why bother trying to instill your game’s violence with any gravity when it’s going to go down the same as a Gears of War sizzle reel?

      • Effigy_Power

         That’s a very good point. I guess the problem in games isn’t violence, but that violence is so universally judged the same, as awesome, that is. When having to fight a stranger for survival and inadvertently killing him in desperate combat gets the same reaction as mowing down 300 zombie Nazis then there’s a big thing wrong.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          It’s seriously weird to me, but not surprising at all, that videogame press hasn’t really moved beyond the maturity of a 14 year old boy. I mean, the audience here are purportedly journalists right? What the fuck are they doing cheering stuff like this. There’s a reason that the medium seems regressive compared to the rest of the world.

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          It seems to me that it says “journalist” on their business cards but in reality they’re just gamers who incidentally write about games for a living. They approach games not as critics but as fans, hence the whooping and hollerin’ for some good ol’ murdering.

    • blue vodka lemonade

       I don’t know about a trailer for it without music, but I watched one set to Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” and it gave me serious chills.

      I haven’t played any of the Uncharteds (lack of PS3) but was mildly impressed by their decent-summer-movie presentation. I’m with you that if they can pull off The Last of Us the way they have in the trailers thus far, it’ll be one of the rare games that delivers on something more than cheap thrills.

    • rvb1023

       Um, the one cheer I do remember during The Last of Us’s presentation was when the girl distracted a guy with a brick.  I more of took it more as that the girl (Who I had honestly forgot was there in the tension of the moment) had not only been given some sort of agency but also as a moment of characterization, she wasn’t the “helpless extended escort mission”, she was instead an important part of the situation.  While I admit some people obviously reacted with “Herp derp, hit by a brick, awesome”, I assume some people (like me) were genuinely excited that her being there is important for reasons other than to put a girl on the box.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        “The final kiss-off, a shotgun blast to the face, was met with a roar of approval from the crowd.”
           See, personally I don’t know the crowd’s reaction from bananas.  I’ve been in the middle of the country exporting jpegs all day.  I’m just responding to what the article stated.

        • rvb1023

           Since it’s a “final kiss-off”, it sounds more like they were impressed with the demonstration overall, not seeing the umpteenth person shot with a gun that day.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          @rvb1023:disqus So you weren’t there, either?  Well, then I guess neither of us will really ever know for certain what the reaction was.  Let us both go forth, humbled in the knowledge that there is much in this world we do not know.

    • unknowncast

      I think they were just surprised by the micro gore they saw (like the fact that you saw some dude’s chin literally exploded which, while something normal in generally gory games, is a highlight reel for much more realistic game).

  • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

    “Page’s character has paranormal powers. Unlike Heavy Rain, which was mostly walking and talking, Beyond looks to be full of action and destruction.”

    Heavy Rain with paranormal powers and more action sequences? Sounds like Indigo Prophecy to me.

    • A_N_K

      I hope none of those action sequences make you mash on the trigger buttons as fast as possible like you’re playing a more difficult version of Track & Field for the NES. I was intrigued by Indigo Prophecy, but I never got past the storm in the apartment hallucination part.

      • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

        Believe me, you didn’t miss anything worthwhile.