Boy, people sure got excited about that Overwatch reveal, didn't they? It's been a while -- Watch Dogs' E3 announcement probably being the last case -- since I saw grown humans lose their shit over a trailer and a lil' bit of early gameplay. But in the case of Overwatch there's a very good reason for it, and it's one that I wish more developers would make use of.
When it comes to weighing up your thoughts/feelings on a game you haven't yet played yourself -- and really, you wouldn't be reading this website if you didn't get carried away with that sort of stuff every now and then -- you only have a few things to go on. The genre itself, art design, maybe the pedigree of the team involved, the quality -- however misleading -- of a cinematic trailer.
Overwatch's debut trailer, the epicentre of the hype, had all of those. It's coming from Blizzard, one of the best studios on the planet. It's a team shooter, a genre that has remarkable staying power. The trailer itself was very slick, playing more like as short film than a game trailer. And while it's a subjective thing, the character design seemed to go down pretty well with most folks.
But none of those things on their own did the trick. Instead, it was the tone of the thing. The feel of its universe and characters.
Consider the vast majority of blockbuster video game releases. They usually star men. Those men are scowling. They're involved in bloody violence of the grimmest sort. The lighting is dark, and smoky, and hostile. From Call of Duty to Battlefield, Assassin's Creed to Far Cry (and most games in between), the big games from big teams share a very similar tone. And that tone isn't very fun.
Now consider Overwatch's reveal. Happy kids, a talking ape, a very chirpy British girl. It didn't really seem like a video game trailer at all, did it? People compared (wrongly, I think) the art design to Pixar, but they're close: it felt like a Pixar movie, with a youthful sense of joy and excitement.
In this business, that's pretty rare! Which is bizarre when you think about it. Humans, even nerd humans, have a variety of interests, which allow them to enjoy things across a wide spectrum of genres, tastes and styles. We love Toy Story as much as we love Aliens. Yet when it comes to games, we usually only get the latter.
Sure, there are exceptions. Loads of smaller indie titles get by just fine being super happy. You could say Borderlands does as well (though its toilet humour and violence sets it apart from Overwatch's gentler comic-book approach), as does TF2, along with Blizzard's own World of Warcraft. But those are just that, exceptions.
The world's biggest video games can't always be so serious; sometimes it's great to let the full colour spectrum in, embrace the absurdity of the medium (and the comic books its so clearly drawing inspiration from) and just have fun with a game's universe.
Now, let's just hope the game itself ends up as fun as its reveal was...