Bet­ter to­gether

E3 2017 shines with some truly mem­o­rable dis­plays of un­likely unity


E3 2017 shines, giv­ing us some mem­o­rable dis­plays of un­likely unity. Also, hang­overs

We mostly re­mem­ber the bad times. The stand­out mo­ments of E3 con­fer­ences past tend to be in­fa­mous, rather than revered: we think of Mr Caf­feine, of Ravidrums, gi­ant enemy crabs and, well, just about ev­ery­thing at Kon­ami’s in­fa­mous con­fer­ence in 2010. This year’s show was not with­out its cringe, of course – we’ll get to that later. But E3 2017’s most en­dur­ing, en­dear­ing mo­ment will live long in the mem­ory for all the right rea­sons. It’s the CEO of a colos­sal multi­na­tional pub­lisher, and the most fa­mous de­vel­oper from a multi­na­tional plat­form holder, hav­ing a mock shootout with com­i­cally over­sized guns in front of a world­wide au­di­ence of mil­lions. Yves Guille­mot and Shigeru Miyamoto’s tensec­ond play­fight will go down in his­tory not only for its play­ful silli­ness; it was mo­men­tous, too, and set the tone for an E3 that was char­ac­terised by unity, of long-stand­ing walls fi­nally com­ing down.

Nin­tendo and Ubisoft have long been part­ners, sure, with the lat­ter pub­lish­ing games on the for­mer’s sys­tems for generations. But as pub­lish­ers, they are also ri­vals – es­pe­cially at E3, where at­ten­tion is so cov­eted. The rea­son for their com­ing to­gether is Mario + Rab­bids King­dom Bat­tle, a game whose ex­is­tence had been ru­moured since be­fore Switch was even re­vealed, and widely writ­ten off as a ter­ri­ble idea. The leaker, how­ever, omit­ted two cru­cial pieces of in­for­ma­tion. First, the game is ba­si­cally XCOM in the Mush­room King­dom; sec­ond, it is fan­tas­tic. The game went over bril­liantly, and as Miyamoto and Guille­mot mucked about on stage, the cam­era cut to cre­ative di­rec­tor Da­vide So­liani, over­come, bit­ing back tears. And to think peo­ple still try to tell you that E3 no longer mat­ters.

Else­where, Mi­crosoft, for so long one of the big­gest pro­po­nents of the walled soft­ware gar­den, tore down an­other bar­rier. It an­nounced cross-plat­form mul­ti­player for Minecraft along­side a raft of sweep­ing changes that are fi­nally start­ing to show why it paid $2.5 bil­lion for Mo­jang’s world-con­quer­ing block-builder. Psy­onix would later do the same with Rocket League, an­nounc­ing along­side the newly re­vealed Switch ver­sion that its as­ton­ish­ingly suc­cess­ful driv­ing/foot­ball hy­brid would en­able play­ers on just about ev­ery sys­tem to play against each other on­line.

Yes, just about – be­cause Sony is still hav­ing none of it. Play­ing devil’s ad­vo­cate for a mo­ment, the ru­n­away mar­ket leader has no need to share its colos­sal user­base with other plat­form hold­ers; there are al­ready, to put it mildly, suf­fi­ciently busy Minecraft and Rocket League com­mu­ni­ties on PlayS­ta­tion plat­forms, and why should Sony let its ri­vals take a slice of that pie? It’s a rea­son­able enough per­spec­tive in the board­room, per­haps, but this is an ide­o­log­i­cal is­sue, a ques­tion of val­ues. It sticks in the craw that a com­pany which has spent the gen­er­a­tion claim­ing its busi­ness is For The Play­ers should be the last one brick­ing up the walls that keep them apart. For The Play­ers Who Give Us Money, ad­mit­tedly, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

This was an un­com­fort­able year for PlayS­ta­tion in gen­eral. Its E3 win streak was al­ways go­ing to come to an end at some point, and with no new hard­ware to an­nounce – and know­ing that Mi­crosoft would be push­ing its new of­fer­ing and a resur­gent Nin­tendo would have Su­per Mario Odyssey – it made sense to have some­thing of a fal­low year. Shawn Lay­den, the sole stage pres­ence, book­ended an hour of game trail­ers and demos that was solid enough, but lacked the spark and spec­ta­cle of its show­stop­ping re­cent con­fer­ences. It was all oddly muted.

And we could have done with a pickme-up by then, since Sony’s show brought to a close a marathon three-day run of events and press con­fer­ences that had us pin­ing for the days when ev­ery­thing was con­densed into a sin­gle, if ex­haust­ing, day. Two years ago, Bethesda brought E3’s open­ing party for­ward to the Sun­day night; last year EA moved it back to Sun­day morn­ing, and this year it took things even fur­ther, be­gin­ning its three-

E3 2017’s most en­dur­ing, en­dear­ing mo­ment will live long in the mem­ory for all the right rea­sons

Hav­ing 10 mil­lion sub­scribers on YouTube does not mean you can speak live to all of them at once

day EA Play event with a livestreamed press con­fer­ence on Satur­day morn­ing. This was the sec­ond year of EA’s fan­fo­cused ex­per­i­ment, and it went over well enough, with the more size­able Hol­ly­wood Pal­la­dium com­plex a much bet­ter fit than last year’s cramped show­ing at a ho­tel in the shadow of E3’s home, the LA Con­ven­tion Cen­tre. On stage, even ro­botic CEO An­drew Wil­son man­aged to show a lit­tle hu­man­ity when bash­fully ac­knowl­edg­ing the luke­warm re­sponse to 2015’s Star Wars Bat­tle­front. More came from af­fa­ble, yet freak­ishly tall VP of stu­dios Pa­trick Söder­lund, but he had noth­ing on Josef Fares. The di­rec­tor of Broth­ers: A Tale Of Two Sons is the lat­est to sign up to the EA Orig­i­nals in­die ini­tia­tive with his co-op crime tale

A Way Out, and he stole the show, pas­sion­ate, an­i­mated and just the right side of bonkers.

EA says that Play is about get­ting games into the hands of its cus­tomers sooner, and while that rings true, the live show sug­gested that it is prob­a­bly more in­ter­ested in the hands of peo­ple with mil­lions of YouTube sub­scribers.

Siz­zle reels of fa­mous – for­give us – con­tent creators prais­ing EA’s games made the pub­lisher’s pri­or­i­ties clear, yet the show also proved that these things have their lim­its. YouTube prankster Jesse Wel­lens, tasked for some rea­son with in­tro­duc­ing Need For

Speed Pay­back, had an ab­so­lute brain­fart on stage: whether the teleprompter failed him or he got stage­fright, EA will have learned that hav­ing 10 mil­lion sub­scribers on YouTube does not mean you can speak live to all of them at once. A cynic might won­der if maybe that didn’t need test­ing in a live en­vi­ron­ment to be shown up as a bad idea but re­ally, we don’t want to rub it in. Poor sod.

Sun­day was Mi­crosoft’s day, with the plat­form holder fi­nally cot­ton­ing on to the ob­vi­ous fact that go­ing live on Mon­day morn­ing means you only get a cou­ple of hours in the head­lines be­fore at­ten­tion changes to the other con­fer­ences, and only a few more hours af­ter that be­fore Sony stuffs it up for you by an­nounc­ing some­thing that’s not com­ing out un­til 2025. For all its power, Xbox One X was a dif­fi­cult sell. It’s a very ex­pen­sive way

of play­ing games you al­ready own, that also risks mak­ing own­ers of the base model feel like they’re now sit­ting at the kids’ ta­ble. This, how­ever, was a finely judged con­fer­ence, with a de­cent bal­ance of hard­ware blus­ter and game demos. Sadly the fre­quent trum­pet­ing of the word ‘ex­clu­sive’ should have been ac­com­pa­nied by a bunch of as­ter­isks; much of what was shown is ei­ther headed to PC at the same time, or to other con­soles later on. Strip away all the caveats and Mi­crosoft’s first­party lineup is as trou­bling as ever. Sea Of Thieves is great and

Crack­down 3 is, well, Crack­down. Beyond that, how­ever, the first­party Xbox stu­dio lineup is too mired in the grind of

Halo, Forza and Gears to sug­gest that any­thing truly ex­cit­ing is on the hori­zon.

Still, if it was ex­cite­ment you were af­ter, then Bethesda had you cov­ered – so long as a mocked-up the­mepark, a sur­prise set by MOR EDM-ped­dlers The Chainsmok­ers, and a few trail­ers are your idea of ex­cit­ing. This was the Bethesda presser’s third year, which means the pub­lisher can’t re­ally take a year off now with­out los­ing face. Af­ter all that we were hop­ing for a quiet Mon­day, but it took us back to EA Play, then to Ubisoft for that won­der­ful Miyamoto mo­ment, then over to Mi­crosoft again for a hands-on event, then fi­nally to Sony. Only the fi­nal jour­ney was walk­a­ble, and we have one ma­jor take­away from the day. A mes­sage to Los An­ge­les Uber driv­ers: we know mak­ing a liv­ing in the gig econ­omy is rough, and you need to keep costs down. But please, if a gag­gle of sweaty Brits crams into your back seat, do us a solid and crank up the air con­di­tion­ing.

Af­ter all that, there was the small mat­ter of the big­gest videogame show on Earth. And while Miyamoto, Guille­mot, Minecraft and

Rocket League had done their bit for break­ing down bor­ders, E3 or­gan­is­ers the ESA had saved the best for last. For the first time, E3 was open to the pub­lic, with some 15,000 ex­tra bod­ies help­ing fill up a show that has, over the last few years, felt pro­gres­sively emp­tier. E3 2017 was packed, sweaty and teem­ing, and hon­estly a bit of a night­mare for any­one with ap­point­ments to keep. In years past, even at its busiest, E3 has al­ways worked: every­one in­side the LA Con­ven­tion Cen­tre has some­where to be, and a de­sire to get there on time. A sud­den in­flux of peo­ple with no real agenda meant that the first day in par­tic­u­lar was an ab­so­lute mess. Call Of

Duty: World War II was at ca­pac­ity within an hour ev­ery day. On Wed­nes­day, Nin­tendo did it in four min­utes.

Yet while it made life dif­fi­cult for peo­ple scur­ry­ing be­tween ap­point­ments, game mak­ers were de­lighted. Ev­ery de­vel­oper we spoke to was de­lighted by the change: more peo­ple were play­ing their games and more were talk­ing about them, shar­ing their de­light on so­cial me­dia in their thou­sands. It was a headache, yes, but it was also a cel­e­bra­tion. Yet most of the peo­ple we spoke to agreed that some­thing, some­where, will have to give. The model of Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show, where the trade has the floor to it­self for a day or two be­fore the pub­lic are al­lowed in, seems most likely. A change of venue – or dra­matic re­model of the ex­ist­ing one – is an­other op­tion. Ei­ther way, it’s a good prob­lem to have. E3 is, for all the doom­say­ing, ac­tu­ally get­ting big­ger. And it’s do­ing so by bring­ing peo­ple to­gether. It would be a shame if the price of suc­cess would be pulling them apart.

E3 is, for all the doom­say­ing, get­ting big­ger. And it’s do­ing so by bring­ing peo­ple to­gether

Mi­crosoft’s stag­ing changes lit­tle year on year; we wish they’d at least move the teleprompter, which half the crowd can see. We like sur­prises too

De­spite all the power con­tained within, Xbox One X is the small­est con­sole Mi­crosoft has ever made

Af­ter last year’s Hyrule stylings, Nin­tendo made up its 2017 booth like New Donk City. It was quite a sight, if you could ac­tu­ally get to it through the crowds

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