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