Winning E3

What makes the perfect E3 press conference?

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Nintendo’s shares have plummeted this week after – what has been perceived to be – a weak E3. SEGA’s slide out of the console market arguably started when Sony gazumped them with the infamous ‘299’ at the Saturn’s stealth launch. Microsoft and Sony have both dropped the ball this generation too. What does this mean? For all its detractors, the power of E3 can not be underestimated; so what makes a ‘good’ E3? What is the formula to success?

Pacing

In recent Directs, Nintendo picked up the pace of games shown which has been met with positive feedback. Microsoft, who aped this speedy succession of showings at E3 this year, have been considered to have had a strong E3 whereas Sony’s disjointed conference diluted the message they tried to convey. Having a quick flurry of games means you can (almost) please all of the people all of the time. If a game is shown that doesn’t resonate with you, rest assured there’ll be another along soon. Pace can also be affected by ill-judged technology too…

Gimmicky Tech

Kinect. Move. Vitality Sensor. Wonderbook. MotionPlus. All of these technologies are no doubt impressive but make for boring – sometimes farcical- presentations. There’s nothing more jarring than watching a rep holding whichever whatever is in vogue this gen and failing miserably. Save it for the show floor!

Stupid Spin-Off Conditions

Don’t announce left-field spin-offs. Or, if you do, announce a mainline game in development in the series. Metroid Prime Federation Force failed because fans wanted a proper Metroid. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee is announced and people eat it up because they know a ‘proper’ Pokemon is coming soon. At this year’s Microsoft Conference they knew this; if they’d left it as just Funko Pop Gears there would have been riots. However, because Gears 5 was announced, it’s okay!

Free Games Out….now!

We all love free stuff. We especially love free stuff which we don’t need. I’ve downloaded and tinkered with Fallout Shelter and Fortnite on Switch as well as Elder Scrolls Online and Division through Game Pass. It turns out if I didn’t buy/stick with those games a few years ago then I’m not going to now. But they’re free! You could buy Fallout 4 for about £3 pre-E3 so although one should never turn down a free lunch it’s usually something not needed. Just look at how much good will Microsoft has got for backwards compatibility though.

Old Games

Dev: “Last year was a great year for us!”

Us: “Show us new stuff!”

Don’t talk about or showcase games which came out last year.

Beloved Franchise Resurrection

Final Fantasy 7. Resident Evil 2. Shenmue 3. Shadow of the Colossus. Crash N’Sane Trilogy. We love remakes and long-lost sequels. Especially, when one of these comes out on Switch.

Indie Darling

Every dev needs an indie title which looks visibly stunning, plays slicker than an oiled otter and cost £1 to make. EA and Ubisoft have entered this space in recent years and Nintendo has fully leaned into the indie love-in.

However, E3 is often remembered for the unplanned moments: Ubi devs crying, Ubi devs whispering they nailed it (shoutout to Ubisoft!) or IGN staff going wild at Nintendo announcements. Leading up to E3 is a time to dream and ultimately if you want to succeed, these must be met or exceeded. After all, we never knew we needed a console-handheld hybrid…

Guardians of the (Mario) Galaxy?

On the verge of E3 2018, game announcements – and cryptic viral marketing – are flying at us left right and centre. Buried beneath the Pokemon avalanche of the last 24 hours, Fallout 76 and even Team Sonic Racing is the recent rumour that Starfox is being reimagined as a kart racer. Only Mario, Zelda, Smash and Mario Kart can truly be described as being on top form at the moment: Starfox devoid of its star status since the N64; Metroid Prime 3 is a decade old and perhaps worse of all F-Zero is stuck on the GameCube. The space between the high points of these franchises and where they stand now is vast but is also the thing which binds them: space…

These franchises – all set in the black – have struggled for a variety of reasons. Starfox has struggled to push past the reality of it being a plastic – yet furry – Star Wars. Metroid has never had the commercial appeal of its peers; F-Zero also has failed to reach Mario numbers. It is worth noting that Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the first real mega-success in terms of units sold. Although beloved by a hardcore army of fans, many Nintendo’s franchises beyond the aforementioned and Pokemon are in need of radical reform. What if Metroid and F-Zero and Starfox became one?

Banding together the unlikely heroes in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy could be the inspiration for this. Captain Falcon – who many would be hard-pushed to associate with his franchise – needs a reboot/revamp in personality. Think 90s Tomb Raider to the PS3 era series or more recently God/Dad of War on PS4. Give him an edge. Give him a purpose other than winning races. Make him Starlord.

Obviously, the small mammal role goes to Fox McCloud. Star Fox’s plucky captain would make a good fit to the group as well as competition to Falclord (you.are.welcome.Nintendo). It also gives a narrative excuse to cut some of Fox’s anthropomorphic ensemble cast. Contrastingly, Samus Aran of Metroid fame has struggled to hold down a meaningful supporting set of characters. Samus brings an air of mystique, a sense of duty and also prevents this being a fully male team. It would be easy to call her the Gamora of the group but Samus is far too incorruptible as a renowned yet straight- laced bounty hunter. She is the boy-scout (girl guide?)/Superman (erm..Supergirl) of the group.

That uses up the A-list characters from these franchises; there are still two places to fill. Drax and Groot are the two (MCU lineup) guardians remaining. This is where it gets weird.

Groot is a fairly easy character to cast. Petey Piranha from the Mario series is an obvious candidate. That would be a like-for-like switch. Another possibility is a Pikmin. It stands to reason that this group could have stumbled across these creatures at some point. Finally, a Deku Shrub from Zelda could fit the bill if we really wanted to connect the UNESverse (that’s either a TM or a cease and desist…).

In the role of the muscle, there are more limited options. Who is this crew’s Jayne? There’s only one answer: Waluigi! This would add a criminal element to the ensemble whilst giving this cult favourite a chance to shine at last. If not, insert your choice of Pokemon here.

Now that we’ve got a lineup, the genre needs nailing down. What would be the game style of choice? A 3rd person Tomb Raider/Witcher/Uncharted style adventure would possibly fit best. With the unique abilities of the characters co-op or squad mechanics would add variety to each play through. Perhaps there are branching areas and secrets only specific characters can access. It would be a great addition to Nintendo’s online portfolio. If we really want to dream, adding in Strikes and Raids – in addition to a story mode – would give Nintendo their games as a service title. There would definitely need to be racing and Arwing battles to pay homage to previous games.

On a quick note, the antagonist could easily be one of the many previously seen in the individual series. Or a newly created character. Or Earthworm Jim…

Back in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, we are introduced to each character in a police lineup as they are processed ready to send to the kyln. Imagine the Nintendo equivalents in that lineup (probably not having Falclord giving the middle finger).

10 Predictions for Xbox in 2018

Football rules here: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (half-happens) and diddly-squat for a loss.

1. Xbox One X Price Drop – already had dramatic deals and bundle-ins: inevitable and likely sub £400 to compete with PS4 Pro

2. Kinect Replaced – Alexa/Siri style wireless peripheral reintroduces voice commands to the Xbox interface

3. Crackdown 3 Fails – underwhelming and not wait the wait

4. <E3 announcement voice> Console Launch Lifetime Exclusive for Today – Microsoft tie a major 3rd party title to timed exclusivity

5. Dormant Rare Franchise Rebooted – Banjo Odyssey anyone? Perfect Dark Zero Dawn? Hmm?

6. Halo 6 – announced not released; the game is vastly different from predecessors (games as a service or reboot)

7. Lost at Sea of Thieves – has a moment but quickly drops off: like Arms

8. Cuphead 2 – announced at E3 to thunderous applause

9. Xbox One S 1TB – becomes the base standard of the Xbox One family and 500GB consoles are sold off for peanuts

10. Momentum – Xbox now resigned to 3rd place this generation but ground is gained on PS4

10 PlayStation Predictions for 2018

Football rules here: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (half-happens) and diddly-squat for a loss.

1. Spyro Trilogy – just look at Crash…

2. PlayStation 4 Pro Price Cut – £279 or less

3. Final Fantasy 7, Shenmue 3 and Dreams miss 2018 – see you next year guys!

4. PlayStation Now discontinued – a promising service slowly winds down

5. Rocksteady’s Arkham 4 – whatever this is it’s at E3 and has a BIG presence on the PlayStation stage

6. Horizon 2 – announced; not released

7. Death Stranding – we get a release date

8. 4k Streaming Push – Sony leans in heavily to this service, ignoring 4k UHD Blu-Rays

9. Metal Gear Solid HD – Konami agrees if Sony pays for, develops and markets it plus buy the company a nice dinner

10. PS4 Mini Announced – PSTV-esque but basically an OG PS4 but tinier and no Blu-Ray drive

10 Nintendo Predictions for 2018

Football rules here: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (half-happens) and diddly-squat for a loss.

1. Q2 Zelda – this will be a smaller title and/or remake of a previous game

2. 2D Mario – a new iteration (leaving the ‘new’ name behind) in a new art style

3. Virtual Console HD – all releases are HD, with online features and 2018 comforts (this includes GameCube games)

4. Nintendo flicks the 4k Switch – Games look a bit better

5. 3DS HD lineup revealed – cue classics ported to Switch

6. Smash Bros Switch Edition – remixed Wii U and 3DS game

7. Video streaming comes in full force – enter Amazon and Netflix

8. Gameboy Pocket Classic – contains 20ish games from OG Gameboy with Color games saved for a future retro console

9. Super Mario Odyssey dlc – extra worlds to explore

10. Wave of 3rd party ports hit Switch from Q2 – some will be shameless!

Game of the Year 2017

What is 2017’s best game?

It’s been a bit quiet at pennilessdads as real-job commitments have dominated October and November. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more active in December – starting with my picks for game of the year 2017. This article will be updated every day this week until number one is revealed.

5. Sonic Mania

The success of this game can be quantified by two pieces of evidence:

I) how poor Sonic Forces is in comparison

II) how long it has been in the Switch eshop charts

Sonic Mania is all things: nostalgia-evoking; stylish and modern yet retro at the same time. The cutscene at the opening positions the game in exactly the right place – the continuation of Sonic and Knuckles. It is also the genesis of one of the best Sonic fan theories ever regarding a certain upside down boss fight!

4. Horizon: Zero Dawn

A truly amazing game which firmly holds the title of ‘best looking game’ of this generation. The DNA of Horizon can easily be sourced from the likes of Tomb Raider, Phantom Pain and even Skyrim – plus many more. What it does exceedingly well is mix the mechanics it iterates on into a beautiful odyssey for protagonist Aloy to embark on. Everything about this game screams AAA. Even on my launch PS4 and 1080p tv the game is head and shoulders above any other current-gen game visually.

3. Destiny 2

After sinking hundreds of hours into the original, Destiny 2’s challenge was making millions of lapsed guardians care again. Destiny 2 has an epic campaign, clear, uncomplicated progression and great – great – multiplayer. The game is polished and is the definitive video game fps. Nothing feels as slick as Destiny and – despite a few minor controversies – everything it does is with the type of confident swagger Bungie can deservedly show.

2. Super Mario Odyssey

This makes number one obvious! Super Mario Odyssey has been a rollercoaster for me. It started with a gradual climb, followed by a dip before a thrilling second-half campaign kicked off with New Donk City. SMO, which scales to all abilities, is another game perfect for the Switch. The sense of wonder and “I bet there’s something cool around that corner” feeling oozes from every corner of this game. The cherry on the cake is the endgame grind which is perfect for dipping back into – comfort food – after a hard day in the Real World Kingdom.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

When you start Ocarina of Time on N64, a subdued background cutscene plays before going to the traditional Zelda file select screen. Wind Waker and Twilight Princess unspectacularly imitate this and by Skyward Sword the opening formula to Zelda felt tired. Breath of the Wild does something bold, confident and new: a blank, white screen – quiet yet striking – then it simply says in crisp black letters ‘The Legend of Zelda’. You quickly embark on Link’s most epic of adventures – there’s no knight school politics or fishing tutorials this time. Just like the introductory screen, everything this game does can be described as bold, confident and new. There’s plenty of nostalgia for those who want to seek it but what this game does so well is evoke the spirit of adventure in the player. It’s Frodo leaving the Shire where a daunting, unknown world awaits. BotW’s stylised graphics, true open world progression and creative use of physics enhance it above most games. Although stunning, the underpowered Wii U and Switch game doesn’t quite pop and impress visually as much as Aloy’s amazing PS4 masterpiece. However, what sets BotW apart from all other games this year, this generation and all time is the feeling created by it. The weekend this game came out was 48 hours lost in the ruins of Hyrule’s wilds. Away from playing the game, I dreamed of climbing those mountains and what wonders lay ahead. God help the next Zelda game as it has a lot to live up to. For me the new benchmark has been set; it’s a great time to be playing video games!

Xbox Mini?

Nostalgia for past consoles appear to be at an all time high with Nintendo’s licence to print money: the SNES Classic. Coming a year after the NES Classic, the recently released 16 bit bundle of goodness has flown off shelves. A like minded Gameboy Classic or PlayStation Classic should be expected over the next few years; but what about Xbox?

Entering the console space near the start of the millennium, Microsoft doesn’t quite have the rich history its competitors do. What they do have though is the roadmap for what the next generation of consoles will look like. The iterative Xbox One X will either be the true beginning of the end of distinctive console generations akin to mobile phone updates or it will be the Xbox One 32X: repeating SEGA’s expensive mistake it the 90s. What Microsoft do offer – to a greater extent than Sony or Nintendo – is choice: the vanilla Xbox One, Xbox One S and the X. With production of the original console ending, a new third pillar should be expected. Could this be Microsoft’s answer to a ‘classic’ or ‘mini’ console? Let me explain…

Since the 360 days, there have been rumblings of a discless Xbox. This may finally be a reality. Imagine if you will, a smaller, streamlined Xbox One: HD – no 4k, 500gb hard drive and packaged with some classic games. The Xbox One will soon be compatible with the full lineage of Xbox games from the original Xbox 1 to the modern Xbox One. This would enable the One family to be its own retro machine – if you want it to be. One of the biggest criticisms of the Nintendo classics has been the lack of expansion: further downloadable titles would have been another money maker for Nintendo. 

Xbox One C? Xbox One Mini? Xbox One TV? Whatever it would be called, a cheaper (£150?) Xbox One might just be the best of both worlds. For now, Sony and Microsoft are ignoring the home/handheld hybrid market (don’t quite believe that…) but the mini market may just be about to explode. We can expect at least one more retro console from Nintendo; time will tell if Microsoft can exploit their unique position and marry the past, present and future together.