One night in Paris

With the com­pe­ti­tion at home, Sony de­liv­ered a very Euro­pean de­but con­fer­ence at Paris Games Week

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Sony had Paris Games Week to it­self: what did it do with it?

There’s a buzz of the con­verted from those who have tried VR and now want to cre­ate for it

When an­nounc­ing the fu­ture, there are far worse places to do it than La Défense, the dystopian glass busi­ness dis­trict of Paris that looks like 20 dif­fer­ent vi­sions of a real-world Deus Ex. Sony chose this spot, un­der the mono­lithic Grande Arche, to co­in­cide with Paris Games Week, the Porte De Ver­sailles trade fair that since 2010 has grown to ri­val Gamescom in size, and to which PlaySta­tion at­tached its Euro­pean con­fer­ence for the first time this year.

Some sound rea­son­ing sits be­hind the de­ci­sion. E3 and Gamescom shuf­fled closer to­gether than ever in 2015 – PGW’s end-of-Oc­to­ber slot of­fers more time for stu­dios to pol­ish code and as­sets, which can be pre­sented to a pub­lic full of in­tent-to-pur­chase in closer prox­im­ity to the Christ­mas peak. Aside from pipe­line pres­sures, it also leaves PlaySta­tion stand­ing alone – much as Mi­crosoft did in Au­gust – with space to de­fine the nar­ra­tive on its own terms, with­out com­par­i­son or blow-by­blow points scor­ing.

And this, pre­sum­ably, was the im­pe­tus be­hind the de­ci­sion to fo­cus on PlaySta­tion VR, dur­ing the con­fer­ence it­self and par­tic­u­larly on the show floor. VR is a tech­nol­ogy that can use­fully and eas­ily be la­belled ‘the fu­ture’ – peo­ple have been do­ing that since the late ’80s – and it gave Sony a vi­sion to sell and an ini­tia­tive to seize. This was a smart way of making the most of the iso­la­tion Paris Games Week of­fered, to con­cen­trate on some­thing that Sony’s ri­vals in the con­sole space don’t have – a real, touch-it-andwear-it-on-your-face VR ex­pe­ri­ence, the in­tan­gi­ble made plas­tic-han­dleable – which in turn ex­plains the gen­er­ous phys­i­cal space given to a piece of iso­lat­ing hard­ware that is dif­fi­cult to pub­licly demon­strate.

Much-in-de­mand tick­ets on the densely packed show floor gave lucky con­sumers brief slots en­veloped in on-rails shooter Un­til Dawn: Rush Of Blood, duck­for-cover ac­tion demo The Lon­don Heist, and first­per­son arena bat­tler RIGS: Mech­a­nized Com­bat League. The con­fer­ence, mean­while, of­fered the kind of broad pa­rade of semi-an­nounce­ments in sup­port of VR that we might re­mem­ber from pre­vi­ous tech­nolo­gies – cam­eras, mo­tion con­trols – that con­spic­u­ously didn’t go on to de­fine the fu­ture. There will be VR in Tekken 7, in Gran Tur­ismo, in DriveClub, and in Me­dia Mol­e­cule’s hal­lu­ci­na­tory sculp­turethe­atre puz­zler, Dreams, among oth­ers. But this lat­ter an­nounce­ment in par­tic­u­lar, let slip be­hind closed doors and play­fully con­firmed on Twit­ter, shows a real en­thu­si­asm on the part of de­vel­op­ers for this new tech­nol­ogy. As much as there ever can be be­hind the cor­po­rate re­as­sur­ing (yes, there will definitely be lots of games to play on your brit­tle crown of 3D fan­tasy) there is a dis­cernible buzz of the con­verted from those who have tried VR and now want to cre­ate for it. Did this grab at the fu­ture come at the ex­pense of ap­peas­ing the bulk of PlaySta­tion’s hit-hun­gry base? There is some pres­sure here: the non-VR por­tion of Sony’s show floor served as a re­minder that PS4 has no big first­party re­leases this side of Christ­mas. Sub­stan­tial square me­tres were filled by a boom­ing Gui­tar Hero Live speaker, a chunky booth of Black Ops III mul­ti­player, and a TIE Fighter and AT-AT Walker cour­tesy of Star Wars: Bat­tle­front. Sony’s own games, in­clud­ing the ab­sur­dist walk­ing sim­u­la­tor What Re­mains Of Edith Finch and Blood­borne’s The Old Hun­ters DLC, were squeezed into a sin­gle row of pods.

One way to ease the pres­sure would have been a glimpse at the ac­tion-heavy block­busters planned for 2016 and be­yond, but aside from an ap­pro­pri­ately pol­ished-look­ing dip into Un­charted 4’ s mul­ti­player – a mar­ket­ing beat, not a show­case bomb­shell – this tac­tic was over­looked. There might be a ter­ri­to­rial

di­men­sion here; much of PlaySta­tion’s block­buster stable is in the hands of SCEA, whose own Las Vegas show­case in De­cem­ber needs its own slate of whoop-able an­nounce­ments.

And so, aside from the big VR push, we were left with a con­fer­ence that felt res­o­lutely, de­fi­antly Euro­pean in char­ac­ter, though it was hard to tell if that was by accident or de­sign. The reg­u­lar thun­der and blow of E3, all bass-throb­bing PA sys­tems and bul­let-flare light shows, was re­placed with a more es­o­teric slate star­ring ti­tles fo­cused on open­world shaman­ing, 3D mod­el­ling, and Asi­mo­vian ethics and roboti­cism.

Hear­ing the crowd re­spond to Michel An­cel’s on-stage pre­sen­ta­tion of the lush mys­ti­cism of Wild was to re­mem­ber that France was the one coun­try in the world to fully em­brace David Lynch’s Dune.

Wild is an earthy, HUD-free game of ex­plo­ration set in a colos­sal open world, which can be var­i­ously gal­loped, slith­ered and flown over when you adopt the bod­ies of var­i­ous pos­sess­able an­i­mals. An­cel’s new stu­dio, Wild Sheep, stressed in pre­sen­ta­tions that the game is about dis­cov­ery as much as ob­jec­tives – a No Man’s Sky for en­thu­si­as­tic campers.

Me­dia Mol­e­cule’s Dreams was more slip­pery to grasp still, to the ex­tent that an on­stage game­play pre­sen­ta­tion couldn’t even clar­ify the mat­ter of whether the ac­tiv­i­ties it of­fers can ac­cu­rately be de­scribed as ‘game­play’ at all. As with

Lit­tleBigPlanet, the Guild­ford stu­dio is clearly driven as much by the idea of making as it is play­ing – Dreams is part tool­box for making games and lev­els, all wo­ven to­gether via links, with sculpt­ing, an­i­ma­tion, mu­sic and game logic tools avail­able for edit­ing. The pack­age builds on the same ba­sic foun­da­tions as LBP – build­ing, shar­ing, play­ing – with the craft-and-stick­ers mo­tif switched for a clay­ma­tion sur­re­al­ism. It’s a spe­cial kind of im­pres­sive: the tech­nol­ogy and the po­ten­tial it un­locks are as­tound­ing, even though it’s hard to imag­ine a pop­u­lar­ist rush on carv­ing pan­das. In other words, it’s very bou­tique, very Paris, and very PlaySta­tion. (We take a closer look at the game on p46.)

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, the re­veal of Quantic Dream’s new game was even more Paris, de­spite be­ing named af­ter an­other city en­tirely. Detroit: Be­come

Hu­man res­ur­rects the an­droid star of the stu­dio’s pre- Be­yond tech demo, Kara, and places her at the cen­tre of a story of self­de­ter­mi­na­tion and con­scious­ness in the faded Amer­i­can mo­tor city. David Cage, who said the word “emo­tion” so many times dur­ing the an­nounce­ment it was surely the re­sult of some kind of bet, has a knack for strik­ing stag­ing, if not a track record of ex­e­cu­tion, and the game’s com­bi­na­tion of pro­gres­sive tech­nol­ogy and hu­man en­deav­our make Detroit a charged and ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting. It con­sol­i­dated the feel­ing of the evening: not quite a lo­cal con­fer­ence for lo­cal peo­ple, but a show­case de­voted to nu­ance, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and (yes, David) emo­tion that it’s hard to imag­ine hap­pen­ing else­where.

Aside from this cen­tral trio, the big­gest an­nounce­ments came from Ja­pan. Tekken

7 and Street Fighter V brought a play­ful on­stage col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween ex­ec­u­tive drink­ing pals Kat­suhiro Harada of Bandai Namco and Yoshi­nori Ono of Cap­com. It was con­trived fun be­tween real friends that felt like a nos­tal­gic hold­out from an ear­lier era, which could equally be said of the games they came to rep­re­sent. That said, the evening’s other Ja­panese re­veal served as a re­minder of the power that still lies in PlaySta­tion’s home na­tion.

Gran Tur­ismo Sport might be just the reg­u­lar en­gine-revving fore­play for the next full in­stal­ment of Polyphony Dig­i­tal’s im­mac­u­late rac­ing se­ries, but it re­mains a stan­dard bearer for Sony, a dis­play of tech mus­cle and de­vel­op­ment re­source. That PlaySta­tion’s Euro­pean chief Jim Ryan re­mained on­stage to in­ter­view se­ries di­rec­tor Kazunori Ya­mauchi was a re­spect­ful salute to this stand­ing.

Dreams is a spe­cial kind of im­pres­sive: the tech­nol­ogy and the po­ten­tial it un­locks are as­tound­ing

Fi­nally, there was No Man’s Sky, a game whose de­vel­op­ment sched­ule has long threat­ened to ex­pand in­def­i­nitely like the uni­verse it’s de­signed to pro­ce­du­rally cre­ate. The re­veal of a release date – June 2016 – not only puts a stop to that line of spec­u­la­tion, but in so do­ing puts a cap on the num­ber of on­stage show­ings left for a ti­tle that has clev­erly gar­nered a mo­men­tum of mys­tique from leapfrog­ging from one con­fer­ence to the next. We might see a farewell ap­pear­ance at next year’s E3; if not, this was a fit­ting send­off, Rut­ger Hauer de­liv­er­ing a wide-eyed voiceover book­ended by two halves of his most fa­mous line in Blade Run­ner.

It seems, then, that Paris helped de­fine the tone of the PlaySta­tion con­fer­ence. But once the noise of that con­fer­ence was over, the show it­self strug­gled for much char­ac­ter at all. At­ten­dance this year was 307,000 – not far off Gamescom’s 375,000, al­though Paris feels smaller, the main stands clus­tered in a sin­gle hall (a kid-fo­cused sideshow takes place in an adjacent one), which is dwarfed by the weary­ing vol­ume of the Koel­n­messe.

Maybe more vol­ume would help give Paris Games Week room to breathe. Even more so than Cologne’s jammed cor­ri­dors and shoul­der-to-shoul­der pro­ces­sions, Paris Games Week was a dense hustle of hun­gry crowds, reach­ing for free­bies thrown from boom­ing booth­corner pre­sen­ta­tion stages, queue­ing rest­lessly un­der block­buster lo­gos, and ooz­ing like a silted river around the Porte De Ver­sailles. Sony gave away he­li­um­filled bal­loons printed with PlaySta­tion’s fa­mous sym­bols through­out the week; by the show’s end there was a small set­tle­ment of them cov­er­ing the hall ceil­ing, and it was hard not to be en­vi­ous of the room up there.

So Paris Games Week might feel like a lit­tle show made far big­ger by the ap­pear­ance of Sony, rather than a size­able one just wait­ing for the proper recog­ni­tion, but the plat­form holder will likely be back next year. The show works in too many ways, slot­ting neatly into mar­ket­ing cal­en­dars, de­vel­op­ment time­lines and re­tail sched­ules, and giv­ing not just PlaySta­tion but SCEE in par­tic­u­lar the kind of el­bow room not found on the show floor to make its mark. This first run might not have been Sony’s loud­est tri­umph, but there were at least no noisy neigh­bours to drown it out.

PlaySta­tion VR and Street FighterV are two of Sony’s big hopes for the first half of 2015. The two aren’t com­pat­i­ble, but Tekken7 will sup­port the head­set

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Rab­bid­sVRRide is an on-rails VR ex­pe­ri­ence star­ring what the French call Les Lap­ins Crétins (lit­er­ally, The Silly Rab­bits); the crowds pack in for the fifth an­nual eS­ports World Cup; Mas­ter Chief swaps wet­work for fret­work

Some high­lights from Sony’s con­fer­ence (clock­wise from top left): Guer­rilla Cam­bridge’s com­pet­i­tive VR shooter RIGS:Mech­a­nizedCom­bat­League; Me­dia Mol­e­cule’s typ­i­cally play­ful toy­box Dreams; No­Man’sSky, which now has a June release date that ev­ery­one is ab­so­lutely, definitely cer­tain Hello Games is go­ing to hit, so re­lax; on-rails PSVR shooter Un­tilDawn:RushOfBlood; Bandai Namco’s Tekken 7, con­firmed at the show for PS4 and PSVR; and Michel An­cel’s open-world ad­ven­ture Wild

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