The ben­e­fit of Ex­pe­ri­ence

Sony’s sec­ond PlaySta­tion Ex­pe­ri­ence shows more love for fans, and more reliance than ever on indies

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On the ground in San Francisco for Sony’s PSX ex­trav­a­ganza

The Moscone Cen­ter is not nor­mally quite so hy­per­ac­tive. We know this venue best as the home of the Game De­vel­op­ers Con­fer­ence. For a few days ev­ery March this San Francisco con­ven­tion cen­tre is filled with the great and good of the dev scene, a re­laxed, cool, re­strained game of Busi­ness Card Swap­sies and Count The Fe­dora, at­ten­dees saving the rau­cous­ness for the next night of par­ties. Yet the 2,000 PlaySta­tion fans who got to the Moscone early enough to see Sony’s key­note ses­sion are making one hell of a racket. It be­gins well be­fore the show has even started when Vlam­beer’s Rami Is­mail gets up from his seat to head out­side and is spot­ted by fans and cheered loudly. That Rami Is­mail is lauded for sim­ply be­ing Rami Is­mail says a lot about PlaySta­tion Ex­pe­ri­ence; we feel a lit­tle like out­siders here. Some may say that PS4’s mar­ket­ing tagline can ring hol­low, but this is an event made purely for the play­ers.

Well, al­most. When some of the most com­mit­ted mem­bers of your fan­base are sat in the room with you, is it really the best time to mass-release a host of in­die games onto the PlaySta­tion Store? While it may have ticked the box for the now­manda­tory sur­prise mid-con­fer­ence release, ev­ery­one else – not least the de­vel­op­ers of Nu­clear Throne, Fat Princess Ad­ven­tures, Guns Up, Bit Trip Col­lec­tion and the Vita port of Bas­tion – might’ve been bet­ter served by the games be­ing spread out across what was a quiet Q4 for PlaySta­tion lovers.

Still, you can see why Sony did it. Noth­ing gets the crowd go­ing like a sur­prise, and this throng was only too happy to oblige. One of the weird­est cheers came right at the start, in re­sponse to one of the strangest parts of the whole pre­sen­ta­tion. We sus­pected Sony would kick things off with Un­charted 4 – it’s out in March, af­ter all, and it was at last year’s in­au­gu­ral PSX that Naughty Dog showed the game run­ning for the first time. What we hadn’t ex­pected was that the sum to­tal of footage for a game that will be on shelves in less than four months would be a sin­gle cutscene. Yes, it was our first look at the dy­namic be­tween Nathan Drake and his es­tranged brother, Sam. But it re­vealed noth­ing new about the game apart from a sin­gle mid-cutscene di­a­logue choice, which prompted an­other, faintly con­fused, shout from the crowd. While pre­sum­ably a con­scious de­ci­sion to avoid a re­peat of Un­charted 3’ s pre-release mar­ket­ing, which left few set-pieces un­spoiled, it was a cu­ri­ously dis­ap­point­ing way to kick things off.

The theme con­tin­ued, by and large, for the rest of the show. While the now-re­al­time Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII Re­make is ei­ther the best or the worst thing ever de­pend­ing on your view­point, it was one of few true high­lights. Once that was out of the way it was over to Shelby Cox, SCEA di­rec­tor of pub­lisher and de­vel­oper re­la­tions, who must’ve drawn the short straw dur­ing an early plan­ning meet­ing. Hers was the Con­trac­tual Obli­ga­tions spot, pimp­ing DLC for Bat­tle­front and Black Ops III, the lat­ter of which will ap­pear first on PlaySta­tion. Cox did her best to couch this as be­ing a de­ci­sion made for the play­ers, rather than for the mes­sage it sends. “All for you guys,” she said, with a whoop. “All be­cause it makes Mi­crosoft look bad” might have been more hon­est.

In the con­tin­u­ing ab­sence of the sort of first­party ex­clu­sive lineup be­fit­ting of the big­gest-sell­ing con­sole in the world, Sony con­tin­ues to in­stead se­cure ex­clu­sive ex­tras from third-par­ties, if only so it has some­thing to ac­tu­ally talk about dur­ing shows like th­ese. Gear­box’s please-don’t-call-it-a-MOBA Bat­tle­born, for in­stance, will launch in May with 25 playable char­ac­ters. On PS4, you can make that 26, pro­vided you play the open beta on PS4 – where it will, of course, launch first. Gear­box hasn’t ac­tu­ally got round to de­sign­ing this bonus yet, but com­pany pres­i­dent Randy Pitch­ford seemed con­fi­dent enough about it. This, though, is a man who re­mains proud of Aliens Colo­nial Marines and took to the stage in a quite mes­meris­ingly aw­ful shirt. As if by way of dis­trac­tion he un­veiled a new Bat­tle­born char­ac­ter: a screechy pen­guin in a mech suit called Toby. It just about worked.

Else­where, Sony seemed to have gone over 2014’s PSX show plan and de­cided to sim­ply do the same stuff again. The Vita port of Bas­tion that launched dur­ing this show was an­nounced at 2014’s. Third­party re­la­tions exec Gio Corsi fol­lowed up 2014’s sur­prise news of a Yakuza 5 lo­cal­i­sa­tion with a long-over­due release date for it, then an­nounced a lo­cal­i­sa­tion of Yakuza 0. He was joined for some awk­ward ban­ter by Tim Schafer, who an­nounced a re­make of Day Of The Ten­ta­cle at 2014’s PSX. This time he gave it a release date, then re­vealed Full Throt­tle Re­mas­tered. No doubt he’ll be back in 2016 with a release date for that and the an­nounce­ment of some­thing else.

There was a tremen­dous amount of filler, too, par­tic­u­larly for those whose

That Rami Is­mail is lauded for sim­ply be­ing Rami Is­mail says a lot about PlaySta­tion Ex­pe­ri­ence

in­ter­est in games ex­tends be­yond the PlaySta­tion brand. There was a trailer for Don’t Starve To­gether, a free ex­pan­sion to Klei’s sur­vival game that PC play­ers were play­ing six months ago. There was an­other for Zo­diac: Or­canon Odyssey, al­ready a month old on iOS. Bungie an­nounced a three-week-long rac­ing event in Des­tiny that would launch three days later. There was a twin-stick shooter whose name we’ve al­ready for­got­ten, and we only just looked it up again.

It wasn’t all bad. In­som­niac Games’ af­fa­ble head hon­cho Ted Price put a release date on the charm­ing-look­ing Ratchet & Clank. There was the sur­prise an­nounce­ment of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant King­dom, though the ap­par­ent ab­sence of the first game’s bril­liantly Welsh side­kick Drippy was keenly felt. And Tet­suya Mizuguchi’s Daft-Punk-suited demo of PSVR’s Rez In­fi­nite (see p38) sent at­ten­dees of a cer­tain age into rap­tures.

Ah, yes, the ele­phant in the room. The im­mi­nent ar­rival of VR is go­ing to chal­lenge al­most ev­ery cor­ner of the game in­dus­try: how to best make, film, mar­ket, cover or il­lus­trate it will be some of the big ques­tions of 2016. And, as this showed, how to demon­strate it, too. Dr Richard Marks from Sony’s Magic Lab cer­tainly talked a good game about the in­no­va­tive way in which his team was go­ing to use the three on­stage screens to show­case a twoplayer VR bat­tle – the left and right dis­plays for each war­rior’s view, and third­per­son in the mid­dle. Sadly his setup wigged out, his avatar flail­ing around a bit be­fore slump­ing over, im­mo­bile. The au­di­ence winced, bit its fist, and waited for it all to be over. Soon enough it was, Epic Games clos­ing out the show by prop­erly re­veal­ing its new project, Paragon. Sur­prise, sur­prise – it’s a MOBA.

The pre­sen­ta­tion dragged be­cause, at the end of a long year of an­nounce­ments, there sim­ply isn’t that much new to show off. Sony can­not un­veil a Shen­mue III ev­ery three months, af­ter all. But the point of PSX is not to wow the world with an E3-ri­valling suite of an­nounce­ments, it’s to give Joe Pub­lic a peek be­hind the cur­tain, a taste of in­dus­try life. While we raise an eye­brow at an out­burst of whoop­ing dur­ing an E3 press con­fer­ence, here the cheers were hon­est, born of ex­cite­ment not nec­es­sar­ily at the news it­self, but of sim­ply be­ing in the room for its an­nounce­ment. While we eye tradeshow cos­play­ers and swag-bag car­ri­ers with sus­pi­cion, at PSX we know they’re here out of pas­sion, and on merit.

Sim­i­larly, while peo­ple can look at the dis­tance from Nin­tendo to Warner Bros on an E3 floor­plan and ask if it’s really worth the bother, here at­ten­dees cov­ered the whole floor. This wasn’t just a mat­ter of en­thu­si­asm, how­ever, but also some savvy gam­i­fi­ca­tion of the for­mat by Sony. Staff were sta­tioned about the place hand­ing out one of a 35-strong deck of PlaySta­tion-themed col­lectible cards. At­ten­dees signed up for the event us­ing their PSN han­dle, which was then im­planted in a QR code on their show passes. At scan­ning points, queues quickly formed so fans could check in, un­lock­ing re­wards –- avatars, themes and dis­counts – on the PlaySta­tion Store, all tracked in a mo­bile app. There were even Tro­phies to be had.

The re­sult was that ev­ery part of the Moscone felt busy all week­end, and en­sured that show­go­ers saw more than just the big-hit­ters. Just as well, per­haps, since so much floor space was given to games that were al­ready out – in­clud­ing Star Wars Bat­tle­front, NBA 2K16 and Des­tiny – or al­ready playable ( Un­charted 4’ s vast booth housed a mul­ti­player demo the day af­ter the launch of its mul­ti­player beta, for ex­am­ple).

The great­est thrills were to be found off the beaten track. Sony might’ve clus­tered in­die games to­gether in tight cor­ri­dors around the pe­riph­ery of the Moscone Cen­ter’s three floors, but do­ing so be­trays how re­liant on them the big­gest-sell­ing con­sole in the world has be­come. Per­haps next year it should throw them a party, too.

Sadly his setup wigged out, his avatar flail­ing around a bit be­fore slump­ing over, im­mo­bile

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT Fans gather for the open­ing of PlaySta­tion Ex­pe­ri­ence’s doors; PlaySta­tion VR hard­ware ready for test­ing; SCEA pres­i­dent and CEO Shawn Lay­den mod­els a T-shirt that could be po­litely de­scribed as “bor­rowed from a friend”

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