Being at E3 is a bit like walking through the doors of an overpriced superclub. The swelling, monstrous swamp of noise. The hordes of sweaty bodies jostling for space. There’s a wide-eyed joy in the beginning but by the end, as you haul your beaten, bruised, exhausted body through the exit door for the very last time, you exhale.
That’s relief you’re feeling. It’s over. It’s finally over.
Before the doors were flung open, before the first conference, the first buzzword, there was a sense that this year’s E3 would be an important one. The launch of next generation consoles, the unveiling of new exclusives, Nintendo’s attempt to rescue what has been a disastrous launch for the Wii U. Even if the stakes weren’t high, even if this whole rigmarole loses its significance in a few short months when the Xbox One and the PS4 are finally released, E3 felt important.
It was important, I think.
If we’re talking in old-fashioned terms of who stole the show or who ‘won’, then yes Sony was the victor, clearly. It was a bloodbath. The swirling doubts, the constant miscommunication, the contradictions; Microsoft’s bungling attempts to share its grand vision of an all-in-one box to rule them all was ramshackled by a blistering (often hilarious) incompetence that Sony obliterated with crystal clear, cutting simplicity. How do you share games on the PlayStation 4, asked Yoshida, at his trolling best?
He simply passed the physical copy of the game to his colleague. Game over. Congratulations Sony, you have won E3. And the internet.
It wasn’t that Sony’s product was better; that the exclusives were better, or the hardware. It was the message. It arrived in stark contrast to Microsoft’s garbled PR circus. Years ago Don Mattrick would literally slide onto the E3 stage with a practiced slickness that seemed unassailable. In 2013 he seemed older; confused, beaten down and a little bewildered by the reception. He couldn’t open his mouth without saying the wrong thing.
“Microsoft needs to get its shit together,” one person said to us, during the conference. “All jokes aside, we need them.”
The scary thing is this: behind closed doors, speaking to the folks at Microsoft, it wasn’t hard to get a feel for what Microsoft is trying to achieve. There’s a genuine vision behind what it’s trying to create with the Xbox One. The Xbox One is a modern, truly next generation box hampered by the limitations of the present. Hampered by bandwidth, hampered by an aging retail model. These are problems that most likely won’t exist in four or five years but now? Right now? They are game breakers.
For almost each and every issue consumers are currently having with the Xbox One, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, sometimes there’s even a reasonable solution. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Because each and every time a Microsoft exec opens their mouth, sense and logic is sucked into a black hole by an idiot wind so potent that it might sink the whole enterprise.
Keep it concise. Keep it consumer friendly. It seems simple, but Microsoft seems to be having a real hard time doing simple at this precise moment.
And Nintendo? Nintendo did what it always seems to do. Quietly tucked away amongst the roaring engines and splatter of constant video game gunfire, Nintendo focused on the games. The games that no-one was really talking about, the games most journalists seemed to overlook. There was no Zelda announcement, no Metroid. The Mario game Nintendo did announce seemed to underwhelm a press machine looking for the next ‘big’ 3D Mario; the next Galaxy.
But if you stayed awhile, picked up a controller and just played you’d find a company in fine form, with quality control at an arguable all-time high. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was a video game bustling with inventive wizardry. Super Mario 3D Land solved the multiplayer 3D Mario problem with a casual shrug of complete genius. Even Mario Kart, arguably the most staid, flaccid part of the Nintendo puzzle, seemed to innovate within its own traditionally rigid confines.
Then there was the 3DS, a handheld on the tipping point. More new games, a building catalogue gamers are finally taking notice of. Nintendo might struggle to transfer that success across to the struggling Wii U but the first party games are there. Help is on the way.
And that was the story of my E3. Sony won the battle for hearts and minds, but Microsoft genuinely intrigued me with its vision for the future. Cynicism is easy, and completely justified, but I wonder what the playing field will look like in five years time? I wonder if Microsoft is better prepared for those eventualities. And Nintendo? Nintendo had the games but, considering the lack of third party support, it might not be enough.
I left E3 for the last time and exhaled. That was relief I was feeling. I was relieved to escape the noise and bustle, certainly, but also relieved that I could still be excited by games, excited for the future. Video games aren’t perfect, but they’re certainly still worth caring about.