I'm new to gaming conferences, as in this was literally my first one. I really didn't know what to expect other than white dudes in light jackets telling me that the biggest thing in gaming was happening right now (or in early 2018). I was thrilled none the less.
First thing I noticed is how friendly and helpful everyone was. The staff working the event treated me too well as I fumbled through my jacket looking for the barcode to get me in, sputtering apologies and neurotic asides. Most people there seemed chill and kept to themselves and their group, which was kind of a relief for me. There is a labyrinthine walk from check point to check point before reaching the conference building, each checkpoint featuring a friendly face holding a green umbrella pointing me to the next check point. It's another damn walking simulator.
"Is it okay if I'm an a**hole?" a man turned to me showing me his t-shirt which had the XBOX face-buttons on it but the "A" was replaced by the Apple logo. We laughed. We didn't speak for much longer than half a minute. I reached the final check point and a police dog sniffed my bag, then i went through a metal detector, and after several steps and more help from the kind staff, I found myself sitting in the conference hall. All the seating was lit with that neat XBOX Green(TM). Too far up to be among the superfans, I didn't get to check out the t-shirts, but I still found a way to crack a few jokes at their expense online, where I live part-time.
I want to say there was a buzz or an air of anticipation, but it didn't feel any more electric than any other conference. One seating section unsuccessfully tried to do the wave, clapping and cheering whenever someone new sat in the section or someone walked by that they recognized as an XBOX-adjacent figure. The music before the show was bad! You know, like the worst tracks possible on a FIFA game kind of bad? The crowd's din and the trash music persisted I while checked my Twitter mentions and surveyed the massive 4K screens and multi level stage. The show took full advantage of all the lighting equipment and and LED lining, which any good game conference does. There was no one sitting next to me for two or three seats. My section was one of the only two that had empty seats. I just wish I had more leg room.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. The briefing will begin," boomed the announcer. Applause and woos abound. We all wanted this to be great. Not just the Most Powerful Console Ever, but actually great, with great games and a great ideology behind it. Some more silence as folks took selfies and made some snarky comments, as gamers are wont to do.
"This preview is rated E through M for mature. It contains blood & gore and violence." The crowd roared again, and this time only a thirty or so seconds went by before the lights dimmed and the presentation began. Boom! The industrial electronic trailer track started to play, the lights glowing and shifting among the panels on the showfloor and the 4K screens. The bass on the track shook my body. The sounds of this place would pulse around my butt multiple times throughout the night, whether it be music or a shotgun. I instinctually tried to lower the volume on my phone at one point to no avail.
*4K ULTRA HD* blares on the main screen in bright bold white font! The spotlights and effect lights dance across the room! The panels around the screen flash and spin!
"This is the XBOX E3 briefing" said the announcer. So before anything else, they made sure we knew this was 4K. This worried me a bit -- I hoped they actually went into the games since XBOX One is seriously lacking there. Here was to hoping. Once the image of the console was revealed to rapturous applause, Phil Spencer came out. People love Phil Spencer.
"Phil Phil Phil Phil Phil," chanted the diehards on the ground floor. Then Phil got into the specs. He referred to it several times as "a monster" a reoccurring word throughout the conference.
"There is no power greater than X" says Phil.
"Yeah!" says a guy in the audience. It's pretty funny. Phil plays off all of this stuff really well, and I kind of like him.
The monster thing was routinely mocked on Twitter. It's okay to have buzzwords when you're trying to sell a console to not only the masses, but to higher up investors and the like, but "monster" or "beastly" or "epic" are each antiquated in their own way.
In short, this is the most powerful console ever. It is one-trillion Tera something with 4G megadrive cooling/heating massive power. Hypertech super...time. Look, I'm not gonna lie, my eyes glazed over at this point. Don't get me wrong, Forza 7 looks incredible, and it's hard to imagine Anthem working on anything except a machine that can suck me into a world that vivid, open, and realized (more on that later). I'm glad this console is happening, but liquid cooling means nothing to me if the games aren't good. But the games do look really, really good.
I couldn't tell if the Forza presentation was trying to sell me a car or a console. It was arguably the least inspiring portion of the presentation, but Forza games have their fans, and I can't imagine seeing a game that looks this good and not being excited. There's a partnership with Porsche, so they brought out a Porsche. You feel me? I don't want to get into this. The game looks awesome if you like racing games that aren't Burnout or Mario Kart. I do apologize on not being the biggest racing guy.
Metro Exodus then showed up. It looked very cool, but it also looked like another FPS survival game. I didn't really understand why it was more exciting than a similar game with no new mechanic to hook me. But it looked good, and it probably plays good. I'm intrigued but I'm going to need more than a dude shooting cat-esque monsters with a crossbow (again, it did look cool).
Then Assassin's Creed Origins. Let's get into this. People were very excited for this one. When creative director Jean Guesdon said "XBON" there were audible snickers. English isn't his first language, so that could be a cruel snicker. However, I like to think people were just finding it funny that we had to say XBOX ONE X at all, because that's a dumb, bad name, and Guesdon messing it up was kind of a relief from trying to pretend it's anything other than a bad name. Seriously it's a bad name.
The gameplay trailer for ACO looked really nice, but people began to point out that it had a ton of visual similarities to the scrapped Prince of Persia game. That's fine with me, because what was really wonderful was the use of the bird. It felt like a fantastic mechanic to help justify quest markers. It got me really excited, and controlling it looked really fun and engaging. However, the rest of it left me kind of lukewarm. I liked seeing the stats on the weapons, but it's frustrating to see this franchise hitting such a boring stride. We'll see how it looks going forward though.
This middle portion had the games I was most excited about.
I'm super pumped to play The Darwin Project now that I saw the presentation for it, which was completely crazy and out of nowhere. There was a vague trailer with no introduction, no context, and then some deaths, and then a man in yellow came out on stage and started yelling like a commentator.
"Mighty Girl wins the round!" this yellow man shouts. I'm confused but delighted. It was a surreal and terrific presentation, better than any of the dull run of the mill things I see from bigger companies (EA). The game looks like it could be some kind of PUBG for teens. I love PUBG and I wish I was younger so I'm down.
Minecraft is now 4K and there was audible laughter at that fact. But the truth is the game looks so much better now. Yes it's still the same aesthetic and not the most complex modeling or environments, but it looks so nice and keeps true to the feel of the game.
Dragonball Fighter Z looked absolutely stunning in all the right ways. It was made by the Guilty Gear developers and it showed in the frenetic, stylish gameplay, but also in how much it looked like you were playing an anime without taking away from the either the anime-ness or game-i-ness of the experience. It reminded me of South Park: The Stick of Truth where it's as if you're playing in the show's universe.
The Last Night looked like the dopest game I haven't played. The music, the art design, the way the character models have that old-school Mortal Kombat animation appearance, that Flashback animation technique. That was a way to show me a game I barely know anything about and get me excited, unlike Metro Exodus.
The Artful Escape followed immediately after and it was my favorite one I saw that night. I have a very strong preference for powerful art design and weird mechanics and that game looks like it had that in spades. It has an Alan Ginsberg looking protagonist with a third eye traversing a fantastical, quickly shifting side-scrolling world. He plays the electric guitar as a super power. There was an arid desert that used lighting to create a removed, contemplative mood, and a pink kingdom where you ride on wicked carriage with a sail made from the stars. I need to know more about this game and fast.
Sea of Thieves is the kind of online game a softee like me loves. Sweet, fun, cooperative -- competitive in a way that works diegetically, and has that Rare charm that was missing from something like, ahem, Yooka-Laylee. I encourage you to watch the trailer to see exactly how fun it is, but it's a game where you play with your friends as pirates sailing the high seas. It's as good as it sounds.
Cuphead and Tacoma look so good they hurt. There's plenty already about those games out there. They finally got release dates though! August 2nd for Cuphead, and September 23rd for Tacoma. This fall is looking really good.
A mix of AAA and indie games blast through this section. It didn't excite me as much as the previous section, but a few titles looked really neat.
Terry Crews' name pops on the screen and everyone cheers. He's in a full scifi get up with a giant gun and all.
"Mother f*cker" Crews says, "They killed the power around the world."
"You got the talent," he continues, "Now you need the tech," and what follows is the kind of thing Terry Crews has become known for. He's screaming, laughing, and shooting off his big dumb gun, with the kind of off-tempo editing that is very Old-Spice commercial (aka sanitized Tim & Eric). For a second there it looked like it'd be the Terry Crews FMV game I've always wanted, but alas, it wasn't. It was Crackdown 3, which did not look that impressive from this trailer (the bargain bin "Black Skinhead" that played over the trailer didn't help). The ones where the buildings were falling down looked way better. This one did not have buildings falling down so I was far less interested. It's that simple. The Crackdown art style also hasn't aged that well, but I'm still pumped to see how it does, and maybe I'll even get it. Sorry y'all, just not a Crackdown guy.
Montage time! A bunch of games (Osiris, Raiders, Unruly Heroes, Surviving Mars, >Observer_, Dunk Lords, Brawl Out, Ooblets to name a few stand outs) some of which are already out on other consoles. Overall, it's a diverse, fascinating line-up. The Ashen trailer came and went. It looked grim and moody, and maybe a little Dark Souls-y. The artstyle was quite nice and reminded me of Absolver, which is the game I'm most looking forward to finally getting my hands on.
Life is Strange Before the Storm trailer came around and it kind of washed over me because I can only take so many edgy-hip-drama story games (Heavy Rain and the like). I'm really happy they exist for a variety of reasons involving gaming as an art-form, but I'm just not that into playing games like it.
Shadow of War dropped and featured a sassy Street-Shark looking orc named Bruz the Chopper. The graphical upgrade from 2014's Shadow of Mordor is delightfully noticeable. The Nemesis System has been upgraded with more ways to control orcs and mess with the orc tribe power dynamics.
"In Shadow of Mordor, we introduced a way to create unique, personal stories for every player," says Michael de Plater, VP of Creative at Monolith Productions. "And in Shadow of War, we're expanded the Nemesis system." And that's all I needed to hear.
You can now forge an army of followers to attack fortresses, and then build them and maintain them with the Nemesis Fortresses system. It's like a strategy game mixed with an action game mixed and it seems like it's an incredibly detailed simulation of these ideas. The environments look way more diverse than the original game which was far too brown, gray, and green for my taste. I also wonder if they'll further address Talion's ambition to seemingly mind control a whole race of people, I think they might. The game looks stunning and spectacular. You can do jumping arrow shots. I loved the first game, I was jumping in my seat for this one.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Looks beautiful, but I didn't get a sense of what it was outside of that. I can tell it's one of The Big Indie Games, but I wasn't particularly grabbed by it in this moment. I'm interested regardless.
Big Phil returns to the stage to remind us that we're watching something revolutionary in gaming. But it's fine because he talks about backward compatibility! I didn't play a ton of the original XBOX, but I wouldn't mind getting back into Crimson Skies. The crowd, by the way, lost their mind at the idea of increased backwards compatibility to XBOX titles, especially to Crimson Skies.
P-Dog drops that price on us: the XBOX ONE X will be $499! Everyone is cheering because there is a price at all.
Patrick Söderlund comes out to introduce Anthem and the room is buzzing. He gets through his weird boring intro and let's the game speak for itself. Guys, it looks spectacular. Sure, it's Bioware's take on Destiny, but to call it ambitious technologically is an understatement. This game was operating under the codename Dylan because they wanted to make a game that changed gaming the way Bob Dylan changed music. I don't know if this game will pull it off, but it looks nothing short of extraordinary. In that theatre I was totally immersed in the the kinds of jet pack flying, landscape hopping (from air to sea to land!), rocket launching, monster exploding the game offers. God it's really hard to put into words how tight this game looks -- how realistic it looks and how vivid its realism is.
Watching these suited up folks dash across multiple landscapes seamlessly in the most stunning graphics I've ever seen thwarted any chance of me becoming a snooty gamer. That's right, this trailer made me less pretentious. Yes the fake online dialogue was cheesy as hell, yes it looks like more generic scifi, but the game looks fresh as hell -- a new take on something stale by virtue of the tech available. That's something gaming can offer and I'm here for it.
After Anthem was done, there was a closing trailer with typical platitudes "Feel the Power" or "Feel the Thrill" or whatever. I literally don't care, the XBOX One X comes out on November 7th and that's sweet. I don't really need the 4K thing, but I do want to play those games. And that's what I was hoping for!
I filed out of the theatre. People complained about how Assassin's Creed had a big snake or whatever. Other people were yelling about how sick Anthem looked. Most people were trying to go home. I felt lost in the crowd, but pleased I experienced this with the crowd I was lost in. I'm glad I left this conference excited instead of defeated, hopeful instead of disenchanted with the whole "4K" revolution talk. Games are what matter with gaming, and I think Microsoft might have learned that this time around. I guess I'll go to another one of these conferences after all.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.