Well, my feet are still recovering from the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, but my fingers are still working, so it’s time for me to share with what I saw during my two days there!
It seems like every E3 has a theme, and the catchword this year, for better or worse, was choice. EVERYone, it seems, wanted to brag on how much player choice was featured in their new games.
Two days go by awfully fast at a show like E3, so here are my thoughts on the games I chose to explore.
The Walking Dead, Episode 2
Telltale Games had a HUGE year in 2011, adventure-game-wise, with their Hector, Puzzle Agent, Back to the Future, Law & Order, and Jurassic Park episodic series.
This year they’re back with Episode Two of their riveting Walking Dead series. Episode One: A New Day came out in April, and Episode Two Starved For Help will be available for download sometime this summer.
What’s interesting about this property is that the creators of the popular comic decided to go into business with Telltale Games at all. It seems like they could have easily sold the IP to a major game publisher for big bucks. But they didn’t want The Walking Dead to just be the next zombie game. They wanted a game that preserved their concern with character and story. In other words, they wanted The Walking Dead to be an adventure game!
I got to see a demo of about the first twenty minutes of the new game. The production values seem high, with good character models (sporting a sort of quasi-cell-shaded look), convincing environments and excellent voice acting.
In the three months since the first episode ended, the characters have been holed up in a compound, where they are rapidly starving to death. While foraging for food, some of the characters come upon another trio of survivors. One of them has his foot caught in a bear trap. There are several choices you can make to resolve the situation, and let’s just say none of them skipping, singing, and eating cake. [Shudder.]
The signature gameplay element in The Walking Dead series is decision-making. Everything you do and say is tracked, even into further episodes, so you are always building (or tearing down) your rapport with the other principal characters. The game even remembers who you save and who you let die from episode to episode, and adjusts your game experience accordingly!
A perfect example of this decision-making is a wrenching sequence that has your character making painful decisions about rationing food. In a desperate situation, there are no easy or consequence-free actions. These decisions really help you feel invested in the game’s story outcomes.
Like the comic or the television series, The Walking Dead isn’t for the faint of heart. But I can’t wait to get my hands on it later this summer.
I like: The graphics, the voice acting, the difficult choices, the “play a movie” type gameplay.
I’m concerned: Waiting too long between episodes could damage my emotional investment in the story.
The Unstoppable Bethesda
Juggernaut publisher/developer Bethesda Softworks showed demos of two huge upcoming releases.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Though it’s been under development for five years, Bethesda only made the big announcement about their upcoming MMORPG a couple of months ago. E3 was the first time they presented a preview of the game to anyone.
Inspired by the Elder Scrolls twenty years of game development, associated developers Zenimax Online felt the Elder Scrolls was a rich property to mine for MMORPG goodness.
Set a thousand years before the events of last year’s megahit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, ESO takes place during Tamriel’s Second Era. The various provinces of the continent are divided into three broad alliances: The Ebonheart (Nords, Dark Elves, Argonians), Daggerfall (Orcs, Redguards, Bretons) and the Almeni Dominion (everybody else). The central province of Cyrodill (the location of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), is a contested area which is overrun by the undead the land’s ruler foolishly invited in as an allies.
The developers are working hard on social systems for the game. Following what seemed to be the mantra of this year’s show, we were told that the game is all about – you guessed it – choice. It will use a real-time combat system (relying heavily on traditional Elder Scrolls game mechanics) and a quest system that emphasizes freedom.
You’ll play a character who’s soul has been stolen by the very unpleasant old god Molag Bal. The main story will be about you resolving that problem, and you’ll be able to solo that entire extended quest if you like.
The game will feature dungeons, raids, puzzles, non-instanced “public dungeons” and a grouping system which will allow your character to fulfill more than just one role in a group.
They’re trying to keep the user interface minimal.
Combat sounds like it will be very strategic, with blocking a very important component. Your performance in combat will help determine the loot table of the enemies you defeat.
The developers also promise medium minimum computer specs.
I like: It’s the Elder Scrolls. Duh. Such a rich wealth of lore, mystery and gorgeous environments to choose from.
I’m concerned: 1) Are MMORPGs tired? 2) The Elder Scrolls games have been spectacular single-player experiences. Isn’t there a danger that the vibe will be gone in an MMO? And 3) The combat-performance-based loot tables could lead to a vicious cycle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, shutting out more mediocre players from grouping.
PC, PS3, XBOX360
Here’s the game I’m the most excited about for 2012.
I was a passionate fan of the Thief series (well, the first two, anyway). I loved all three Deus Ex games. I love first-person stealth. Just love it. I also love missions that give me a variety of choices about how I fulfill them.
I’m also a big fan of Arkane Studios, the folks behind the wonderful first-person subterranean RPG Arx Fatalis (2002).
Dishonored has a remarkable pedigree, as it’s being developed by Bethesda and Arkane, with contributions from Viktor Antonov (the designer of Half-Life 2’s City 17) and other honchos who have worked on everything from Deus Ex toBioshock 2 to Thief: Deadly Shadows.
Like Thief, Dishonored takes place in a vast, mysterious city. Dunwall is a steampunk metropolis that runs on whale oil. It’s decadent, opulent, and very very naughty. It’s also fantastic to look at.
In the game, you play Corvo Atano, a “supernatural assassin,” who’s out to clear his name when he’s blamed for the death of the Empress. Like Thief and Deus Ex, the game doesn’t take place in an open world, but in a series of linear missions. And like Deus Ex, you have LOTS of choices of how to accomplish your missions. You can run-and-gun (or run-and-crossbow), use your supernatural abilities, or just sneak and be a ghost.
One thing I loved about the most recent Deus Ex game was the fact that you could actually go through the entire game without killing anyone… except bosses. The creators of Dishonored have upped the ante: In this game, you can even neutralize all of the assassination targets without killing them if you wish.
I watched a thrilling demo of the game which included examples of one of the character’s most useful supernatural powers: Possession. Corvo needs to infiltrate a bordello, and the method he chooses is to possess a fish, who then swims up through a sewer grate into the complex. That’s something I’ve not seen in a game before.
Missions can updated as you play through them depending on how events play out and on new information you might glean. One of the ways you do this is from the very fun-looking game mechanic of eavesdropping. Like all stealth games, the sound design is as important as the visual design, and it was cool to listen to the muffled voices unsuspecting characters who were behind a doorway you were about to peer into the keyhole into.
I simply cannot wait until October when I can get my mitts on this game!
Prolific adventure game publishers Daedalic Games have two upcoming adventures, and Hauke Schweer sat down to show them to me.
The Dark Eye / Chains of Satinav
June 22, 2012
Based on one of Europe’s most popular table top roleplaying systems, The Dark Eye/ Chains of Satinav is an ambitious new point-and-click adventure game.
The graphics, which are inspired by the table top game’s rule books, are simply gorgeous. They remind me of the watercolor/storybook style of Final Fantasy IX, and for your reference, that is a very good thing. Additionally, the hand-painted look of the environment is nicely accented by small animated details (like, charmingly, the breathing of a sleeping pig!).
The main character of Geron is a young bird trapper who has a collision with destiny after an audience with the king. His quest will take him all over the Aventuria.
All of the dialog in the game is voiced. Unfortunately, as in the last game of theirs I played, A New Beginning, the voice actors are German. And, as in A New Beginning, it shows.
The interface seems solid, with the admirable “spacebar reveals all the hotspots on the screen” feature, always a plus in a third-person game like this.
Magic will figure into solving some of the inventory- and environment-based puzzles.
While the player has choices to make while engaging in dialog with other characters, his choices have no effect on the gameplay and the story. Disappointing. Also, as in A New Beginning¸ some of the dialog just seems… odd. Like it wasn’t well translated.
I like: Those gorgeous graphics. They help create a world I want to spend time in. Also, having a solid, decades-long roleplaying IP like The Dark Eye behind it seems promising. However…
I’m concerned: That creative team repeated some of the same mistakes that made A New Beginning such a frustrating mixed bag.
On a much lighter note, Daedalic is also working on a humorous adventure called Deponia. It’s a comic adventure from the creators of the Edna and Harvey series.
It’s got a fun, cartoon, colorful look. The game’s title refers to a planet that is so filled with junk, your character (“Rufus”) is desperate to escape it to a happier planet called Euphoria. His main ally in this endeavor is his ex-girlfriend.
As with The Dark Eye, the interface seems very solid. It even features choices for the inventory systems. You also have the choice to play through or skip the game’s tutorial. The game also has a selection of minigames, which are also skippable if they aren’t your cup of tea. [Choice is GOOD!].
To give you an idea of the offbeat comic nature of the game: Rufus is so dirty that his toothbrush comes to life to escape his dinginess. No, I didn’t understand that, either.
He’s so dirty . . . his toothbrush comes to life (struggling to find the logic there…
The puzzles are inventory-based in this third-party game. I’m sure Deponia is a title we’ll want to keep a close eye on.
Tad Williams Online!
Calling all Tad Williams fans. If, like me, you managed to make it through all 3,300 pages of his four volume cyber fantasy masterpiece Otherland, you may be interested to know that this fascinating IP is becoming a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game!
I got to speak to Anthony Guzzardo of Gamigo, the company producing and developing the game.
Otherland will take place sometime after the events of the concluding volume of the book series. It’ll be free to play, and you’ll start the game as a fairly anonymous character trapped in a Virtual Reality world. Your mission is to sort out its mysteries.
There will be four starting classes: Assassin, Rage, Energizer and Gunner (Mr. Guzzardo emphasized that these class names are subject to change).
You’ll begin the game in one of three launch “lands:” Lambda Mall. It’s the social and character hub of the game. Visiting various stores with appropriate titles like “Metamorph” or “Class,” you’ll be able to design your character’s appearance and play style.
The game will be free-to-play, so micro transaction opportunities will abound. Example: Redesigning your character.
One of the most interesting areas of Lamdba Mall will be Mr. J’s Club, which will be a social area and quest hub. If you can figure out how to get into the club’s “Hacker Zone” you can delve into the game’s PvP portion.
In addition to Lambda Mall, the game will launch with 8 Squared Land, which looks like a huge, wooded chessboard. You’re caught between the two factions of the huge game that is in progress.
Finally, there’s the Asian-themed 5 Isle. It’s based on the Chinese elements, and it’s a place where you can investigate the mysteries of the origins of Otherland.
Guzzardo told me that combat in Otherland will more action-oriented than in traditional MMORPGs.
Design-wise, the game has fun with the concept that the environments are “virtual.” In places you see random bits of code (like in shallow water) and even wire frames as incomplete structural elements.
PvP in Otherland may include the concept hacking – rival clans stealing your group’s IP address so they can invade! The game will also include minigames that will be “fun to play with your friends.”
I Like: The idea of a game based on Otherland, the freedom, and the fun “meta” feeling of playing in a virtual VIRTUAL world.
I’m Concerned: It looks awfully rough for an MMO scheduled for launch this year. Plus, isn’t the Free-to-Play MMORPG market getting a Tad crowded?
Free-to-Play Sandbox MMO
Gamigo was also showing a rowdy game called Grimlands, billed as a “Free-to-play sandbox MMO.” It’ll be characterized by tons of character and gameplay freedom and no set classes. Players can design their classes by focusing on the particular skills they want to develop. The system sounds similar to that employed by the recent Elder Scrolls games: Improve a skill by using it
The game will feature 25 highly customizable weapons.
I like: The game looks very pretty, and could appeal to the crowd who enjoyed Rage and Fallout: New Vegas.
I’m concerned: That, like me, potential players might not get quite exactly what the game is. Is a PvP action game? A PVE MMO? Both? I wasn’t quite sure.
You might be interested in the gimmicky new Spheero Gaming Ball. It’s basically a simple robot ball that you can control from your smart phone or pad. The idea is that you could race yours against a friend’s, put it through an obstacle course, frighten your pets, etc.
The big problem? It costs $129. That’s not a misprint. I played with it for about five minutes, and it was fun, but it was nothing approaching $129 fun. No way. I wonder who they think their customers are.
For the record, you can also reverse the controls, and use the ball as a game controller for your smart phone or pad. The examples I was shown of this looked primitive and uninteresting. The developers hope the ball will soon be supporting lots of games (I’m not holding my breath).
Finally, I could conceivably understand the crazy price tag if the ball was very very sexy. It could fit into a sort of “Sharper Image” niche. But the sad fact is, the ball is cheap-looking and not particularly attractive.
I like: The general concept.
I’m concerned: How these dudes will pay their rent when this overpriced toy tanks.
Spheero Robotic Ball
Divinity: Original Sin
2002’s Divine Divinity, despite its gimmicky name, was a high point in role playing games of its era. It combined the visceral, hack and slash gameplay of Diablo 2 with the extreme environmental interactivity of Ultima with the deep storytelling and rich lore of Baldur’s Gate. It was an irresistible combination. Alas, I was very let down by the first follow up, Beyond Divinity so much so that I stayed away from the third game II: Ego Draconis.
However, the lusciousness of the upcoming game in the series, Divinity: Original Sin, will very likely bring me back into the fold.
The demo drew me in immediately with its gorgeous graphics. The designers have put together lush environments using a very warm palette of colors. It’s a very inviting game world.
The magic in the game is very elemental and environment based. Are you or your team members on fire? Call for rain! However, be careful: If you’re wet, you’re more vulnerable to electricity damage!
You can also use environmental objects with your elemental strategies. See a barrel full of flammable oil? Use one of your attack turns to toss the barrel towards your foes, then light it aflame! Or, see a mushroom: Pick it up, apply it to your sword, and voila: You’ve added poison damage to your weapon. Add an apple to a health potion: You’ve got an antidote potion!
This is a party-based RPG. You can play all of your party members yourself, or you can have friends drop in (and out) of your game to play other party members.
The Larian designers wanted character interaction to feel very much like table top role-playing. Everyone in your party gets to participate in decision-making. The dialog mechanics are very reminiscent of what Bioware did with Star Wars: The Old Republic. If there are multiple people playing in your party, and it’s time to say something to an NPC, you much reach a consensus if you disagree on what to say. You can use abilities like Intimidate to bring disagreeing party members to your way of thinking. If consensus cannot be reached, the dialog choice is determined by a random roll.
Also, all characters in the game, from NPCs to your party members, react to your actions based on an “attitude” system that’s affected by all of your actions and decisions in the game.
You can use skills like Persuasion to completely avoid some fights. Curiously, at this point in the game’s development, if you resolve a conflict in this way, you do not get any XP. I questioned this choice to the Larian presenter, David Walgrave. He agreed with me that you probably should get XP for avoiding a fight. If this feature finds its way into the final version of the game, I am TOTALLY going to take credit for it.
The game is a prequel to the original Divine Divinity and is heavily influenced by it. I am truly looking forward to getting my mitts on the final version of this game!
I Like: The look, the turn-based combat, the connection with the original game, the interactivity between elemental-based magic and environmental objects, the dialog system… shall I go on?
I’m Concerned: That the game might not live up to my very high expectations. But this is a quality problem!
Larian was showing another game that will fit into the Divinity mythos: A real-time strategy game called Dragon Commander.
Despite its distressingly generic title, this game (which is a prequel to all of the Divinity RPGs) looks very fun indeed.
It’s an RTS game with lots of adventure, role-playing, and even card-based battle games.
The story, which involves some complicated religious conflicts, sounded quite interesting. All of the dialog is voiced.
The flow of the gameplay takes you through several different modes. There’s character interaction, planning screens, Risklike maps, and then 3D battle sequences. While the entire affair is technically turn-based, the battles feel fluid and dynamic.
Oh, and did I mention that during combat you’re, uh, commanding from the back of, you guessed it, a really badass dragon.
The game will feature a single player and multiplayer campaigns.
I Like: Despite my historical inability to play RTS games, this one really draws me in.
I’m Concerned: That this curious RTS may have trouble finding its audience. (Hope I’m wrong.)
Square Enix/Airtight Games
PC, XBLA, PSN
In 2009, Kim Swift, the lead designer on the now-legendary puzzle action/adventure Portal, left Valve to join Airtight Games. The project she left to create was the now nearly-finished Quantum Conundrum.
Anyone who loved the Portal games will be thrilled to hear that this extremely fun looking-game is not only about to be released, but will only cost $14.95! Huzzah!
I like: A new environmental puzzle game from the lead designer of Portal? What’s not to like? Also, that great bargain price tag!
I’m concerned: Can’t really think of a downside to this one.
I didn’t think this would happen in this lifetime, but I actually saw a Facebook game that I thought I’d like to play.
Jigsaw Puzzle Adventure
NOW IN BETA
High production values gives this new game real glamour. It’s also got a fun jigsaw puzzle mechanic that’s quite addictive. There’s even an actual story, a globetrotting affair that involves a troubled romance and disappearing world monuments. It was described to me as a “Romantic Comedy Jigsaw Puzzle Game.”
Even if you’ve played jigsaw puzzle games before, like Pandora’s Box or the excellent Puzz3D games), you haven’t seen jigsaw puzzling done like this. It’s fun, it’s flashy, and best of all:
YOU WON’T HAVE TO BUG YOUR FACEBOOK FRIENDS OR MAKE REAL-MONEY PURCHASES TO FINISH THE STORY MODE OF THE GAME.
Sure, if you do have other friends who are playing, you can get bonuses by interacting with them. And sure, you can make extra purchases for power-ups. But the developers promise that these elements will be strictly optional.
Each player will also (inevitably, I suppose) have a Farmville-type mansion that their various victories in the game will allow them to decorate. And of course you can visit your friends’ mansions for added bonuses.
One thing I really like about the puzzles is that they are all based on photographs of real-world locations. I’m already playing the beta, and I’m really enjoying it.
I like: The high-class visuals, the innovative jigsaw game mechanics, the fact that it’s at least TRYING to be less obnoxious than the standard Facebook game
I’m concerned: That I won’t be able to get away with playing it at work.
Every year I show up at E3 ready to be annoyed with the almost universal lack of Booth Hunks. Booth Babes are, or course, a tradition at the show, and they’re always fun, colorful, and good sports about posing for pictures. But honestly, you’d think the show’s producers didn’t understand that there are many women and gay male gamers out there who deserve a little tacky model objectification, also!
I’m convinced that it is the event producers, not the actual game publishers themselves, who make this mistake. Still, it needs to be corrected, because it’s so extreme that as to be actually insulting.
Example: Whenever there’s a big publisher showing off some military shooter, you can count on their being a bevy of buxom female beauties toting AK-47s while wearing skimpy fatigue-patterned halter tops and short shorts. Next to them will be three utterly normal guys in boring fatigues. [I actually saw this exact thing this year.] Come on, folks, this isn’t rocket surgery!! This is Los Angeles. Finding available hunky guys to hire for the day isn’t exactly difficult.
Last year, there were exactly two Booth Hunks at the entire show: Derek Opperman (demonstrating a UFC –type fighting game) and Eric Carpenter (playing Uncharted’s Nathan Drake).
This year, there was one.
At least they went for quality: Handsome fitness model Dominic Pentis was demonstrating an exercise game that featured the Nintendo Wii’s (ridiculous) new controller. Dominic is extremely impressive in person, which accomplished exactly the same thing as if he’d been a Booth Babe. I watched, and no one was paying nearly as much attention to the other stations featuring this game, as they all had “normal” folks doing the demonstrating.
So the lesson here is, wake up and check the calendar, O Stodgy Event Producers hired by E3. It’s 2012, and we want our Booth Hunks!