Sony’s E3 2017 press briefing was heavy on sitars, VR, and Marvel

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How do you perplex an audience of gamers? Sony began their E3 2017 show with a musical number performed by live sitar players and drummers. Then, for maximum confusion, just as the new trailer for Uncharted: the Lost Legacy started, Sony dropped their audio feed for most outlets. Is this a Lara Croft game? No! It’s a spin-off from Uncharted, now with girl power tomb raiding. Don’t fix the audio just yet, Sony! You’ve got The Frozen Wilds DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn to put on the big screen and make gamers strain to hear it.

Unfettered by the need to push any new hardware, Sony concentrated on PlayStation games. Here, a tease for the PlayStation 4 remaster of Shadow of the Colossus. There, an extended look at Detroit: Become Human‘s main character and android revolutionary, Marcus. Sandwiched in-between was another look at totally not Walking Dead Days Gone. If spandex heroes mashed up with videogame licensed characters are your thing, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite has got you covered. We got a peek at Call of Duty: WW II‘s cinematic take on action warfare. Monster Hunter: World reminded all the Horizon fans what fighting dinosaurs used to be like. Destiny 2 rolled out their first big bad guy, Dominus Ghaul, who should absolutely not remind anyone of a Halo boss.

PlayStation VR got some time on the stage. Bethesda announced Skyrim VR for everyone that thought clumsy-looking VR waggling should be extended to dragon shouts and Nords. If that wasn’t your thing, you could guide a mouse through VR environments in Moss. Too cute? Try The Inpatient, a VR horror title that takes players through another ho-hum haunted sanitarium.

Sony wrapped their show with two headline games. There was an extended trailer for God of War, with Kratos teaching his son how to commune with nature and find his inner peace. Also, how to tear his enemies apart by hand. The show ended with a good chunk of Insomniac’s Spider-Man. In the clip, the fearless web-slinger hit a dozen quick-time events and aped Rocksteady’s Batman as hard as he could. The quips were solid though, so the game has that going for it.

Ubisoft’s E3 2017 show knows how to take the wind out of your sales

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This is how you get gamers to cheer. Start your E3 press show by marching Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto on stage to play with goofy gun props and laugh with Yves Guillemot over Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Is there anything more infectious than Miyamoto’s smile? Sure, the game is a weird three-way between Ubisoft’s Rabbids, Nintendo’s characters, and XCOM’s tactical turn-based combat (complete with zoom-in views for dramatic shots) but with Miyamoto chuckling along it looks like a good time.

Without Aisha Tyler hosting, this year’s Ubisoft E3 show barreled through game announcements. The Crew 2 adds boats and speed planes to the open-world racing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting a mob revenge story in the campaign this time around. Assassin’s Creed: Origins continued to wow folks with its lush recreation of ancient Egypt. Remember how you wanted someone to make a full game out of the piratey goodness in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag? Ubisoft Singapore took the ship-to-ship combat straight out of that game and made Skull and Bones out of it. It’s pirates and competitive multiplayer on the open seas. South Park: The Fractured But Whole made it’s 156th E3 showing. Elijah Wood and SpectreVision made their virtual reality debut with Transference. Full-motion video and VR? It’s like Lawnmower Man with Night Trap. We got a little snippet of gameplay in Far Cry 5. Hey, your best buddy in crazyland Montana will be a dog! Starlink: Battle for Atlas excited everyone until it turned out to be a toys-to-life game for the Nintendo Switch. Steep is going to going to the Olympics, and by that I mean the game is getting an official 2018 Winter Olympics expansion.

Finally, Ubisoft aired a cinematic trailer for a sequel to The Fifth Element, no wait, it was for Beyond Good and Evil 2. Gorgeous, evocative and exciting, right up until Ubisoft used these dreaded words: “Shared online playground.”

In the next expansion for XCOM 2, the aliens will choose you

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Firaxis has announced the War of the Chosen expansion for XCOM 2. The DLC will add enemy and allied hero units, as well as new environments, daily challenges, and story additions to the campaign. The new human factions will offer players their own unique abilities and heroes to combat the alien threat, which is good because the dastardly xenos have a trio of deadly warriors that are trying to recapture the Commander. Also, there are zombie hordes, because everything is better with zombie hordes.

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen launches on PC on August 29th.

Bethesda finally let the other shoe drop on paid mods at E3 2017

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Bethesda announced paid mods for Skyrim: Special Edition and Fallout 4 via the upcoming Creation Club. This is something Bethesda has been creeping towards since their ill-fated experiment with Steam and the original version of Skyrim in 2015. This time, we’ll see if they get it right. It’s the Bethesda.net mod workshop but with curated community-made DLC you buy with credits. There’s no word yet on the exchange rate between real dollars and the Creation Club funny money, but you can assume it will be controversial no matter the cost.

The rest of Bethesda’s E3 2017 briefing was a parade of sequels and oddities. Doom VFR moves the demon ripping and tearing to virtual reality. How will Doom’s dance of death work in VR? It doesn’t. Movement seems to be changed to teleporting around. Fallout 4 VR offers the full open-world experience but with virtual fumbling and hand-waving. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a standalone serving of stealthy assassinating. Evil Within 2 showed off more inexplicable horror and things shuffling in the dark. Finally, BJ Blazkowicz returns in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

The Microsoft E3 2017 show premiered a new console and a new car

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Microsoft brought out a new Porsche for their E3 press briefing. The 2018 911 GT2 RS was silver and looked like it could go really fast. It was a “monster” according to the breathless presenters. The car was at the briefing to introduce Forza Motorsport 7, but it was obviously also a metaphor for the new Xbox One X console, formerly known as Project Scorpio. Scads of horsepower in a teeny package. And expensive. The Xbox One X will launch on November 7th for $499. I’m sure there will be holiday bundles for even more money.

Microsoft showed off 42 games in total. Some of them only got a couple of seconds of video during a buzz reel for the indie games program, but the company hammered on the fact that 22 of the games shown were exclusive to the console which is a fancy way of saying “Pay no attention to the PC you already have.”

4A Games kicked things off with a surprise announcement for Metro Exodus which puts fans back into post-apocalyptic Russia. Ubisoft showed Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which now has random loot and a Far Cry primal hawk buddy that acts like a sighting drone. If trolling and betrayal are your thing, PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds should be right up your alley. Speaking of trolling, Battlegrounds will be exclusive to Xbox. State of Decay 2‘s trailer presented a min-tale of finding a new survivor in the zombie apocalypse, saving her, letting her join your game, then ended with her ultimately leaving. Rare answered the question “How can we show Sea of Thieves with co-op plaers that do not exist in real life?” Super Lucky’s Tale looked like Conker’s Good Fur Day. Crackdown 3 rounded up the games section of the show with Terry Crews and some decidedly last-gen looking explosions.

Microsoft announced that the Backwards Compatibility Program will be extended to original Xbox games. Good news for people that have held on to their Crimson Skies or Fable disks.

Finally, BioWare ran through some canned gameplay for Anthem. Giant robots. Exosuits. Beasts. Open world co-op gameplay. Jump jets and random loot. It’s Destiny all smashed up with Horizon Zero Dawn and Titanfall. The video also took a cue from Sea of Thieves and presented co-op gaming wholly incongruous with reality.

Electronic Arts shows how much Star Wars they can fit into their E3 2017 show

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E3, now starting even earlier, kicked off with Electronic Arts’ EA Play press conference on Saturday. There was a lot of Star Wars. It’s EA, so of course there was the sports and bombast of various flavors, but droids, lightsabers, and Darths loomed large over the proceedings.

There was a taste of Madden 18‘s first-ever cinematic and playable story campaign, Longshot, which seems to take cues from the work already being done in other sports titles. We saw a glimpses of NBA Live 18‘s gameplay. EA Sports was keen to let everyone know that Cristiano Ronaldo supplied mo-cap for FIFA 18.

With the obligatory sports titles out of the way, EA demonstrated how much Need for Speed Payback could look like The Crew mashed together with The Fast and Furious movies sprinkled with a dash of Burnout spice. Battlefield 1 piped up to ask everyone not to forget about it. Josef Fares, the writer and director of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, presented a first look at his cooperative story game A Way Out. BioWare teased a snippet of Anthem, their new game. EA was so excited to let everyone know that Anthem was a “new IP” that you could almost see the disappointment of Mass Effect Andromeda peel away and float into space.

Finally, they got to the headliner of the show: Star Wars Battlefront II. With stormtroopers and fanfare EA kicked off a thirty-minute extravaganza of Lucasfilm videogaming. Their preview began with a mea culpa of sorts; by sheepishly acknowledging the criticism of Battlefront’s absent story campaign and map packs that split the community. All corrected this time around. An epic campaign story! All post-launch maps and modes for free! More charcater customization options! Remember that bit in the Star Wars prequel trilogy when there was a running gun battle on Queen Amidala’s home planet? Throw Han Solo, Yoda, Rey, and Boba Fett into it. Eschewing any sense of timeline coherency, EA and DICE have opted to let fans play with their toys like they did as kids. Why can’t Han Solo fight Separatist droids on Theed? This isn’t Star Trek! No one cares if it doesn’t make any sense!

An open letter to the person that just tried to ruin Cyberpunk 2077

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Dear Anonymous Jerkwad,

It’s been a long time since CD Projekt RED first announced Cyberpunk 2077 in 2013. You were probably still anticipating The Witcher 3, when that awesomely evocative trailer hit the web and shattered your world like it did for everyone else. But, you could wait. You still had Geralt to look forward to, and besides, the Mass Effect series was filling your need for hot sci-fi RPG action. Then CD Project RED said Cyberpunk was going to miss its late 2016 launch. And recently, Mass Effect: Andromeda turned out a bit broken. So, like many people in your position, an unfocused petty rage slowly built up towards CD Project RED. They were holding out on you! There they were in Poland play-testing their Cyberpunk work in progress, while you had to sit in your parents’ unfinished basement scamming people out of Counter-Strike skins. How unfair!

You did the only thing you knew to do. You crept into their network, (virtually, of course) dodged all their Black Ice and stole a bunch of Cyberpunk 2077 files. Then, because you didn’t have the skills necessary to do anything productive or creative, you sent the studio a ransom demand. Surely, this would turn out well. CD Projekt RED would send you money to save their files, and they might even see what a badass decker you could be. At the very least, your shut-in online acquaintances would have to acknowledge your chutzpah.

No, you buffoon. Take a lesson from Axel Gembe, the chap that stole Half-Life 2’s files from Valve in 2003. Not only did the studio not hire Gembe as he hoped, the authorities put Gembe on the “Let’s Make An Example Out of This Idiot” list, and every gamer on the planet immediately hated him for endangering their beloved Half-Life sequel. Axel Gembe will always be that jackass that almost killed Valve.

That’s you now. You’re the guy that’s screwing up CD Projekt RED and Cyberpunk 2077. No one thinks you’re cool. Nobody admires your skills. CD Projekt RED told you to pound sand and now you’ve got a pile of virtual stuff that’s only useful as evidence to use against you.

What can you do now? Run away. Go off the grid. Live somewhere in Chiba City. There are legions of Witcher and Cyberpunk fans that want to flatline you, and they all have access to the matrix. Your only hope is to go away for a long time and hope Cyberpunk 2077 comes out on schedule and is mind-blowingly terrific despite your attempt to sabotage it. Hire on as merchant marine for the Marcus Garvey. Hopefully, everyone will just forget about you. Years down the road, maybe after The Great Crash, tentatively fire up an antique Ono-Sendai and try to play Cyberpunk 2077 off a Gibson Archive before the Psycho Squad zeroes in on your signal.

Is the story important in What Remains of Edith Finch?

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What Remains of Edith Finch is one of those quiet games like Gone Home or Firewatch that spur conversations about narrative, art, and even gaming itself. While detractors are quick to toss it into the “walking simulator” pile, supporters say the key to enjoying it is letting the story of the Edith and the Finch family unfold naturally through the environments and the puzzles. They point to the Finch house and draw the stories of the Finches out of character vignettes nestled in the objects. Here, a tale of great-grandmother Edie. There, a yarn from uncle Gregory.

Ian Bogost, video game philosopher and creator of Cow Clicker, posits that story shouldn’t matter. In his essay in The Atlantic, Bogost argues that the industry obsession with being a narrative medium is in opposition to video gaming’s strength. Games are at their best when they present a new way of contextualizing the world.

At stake is not whether a game can tell a good story or even a better story than books or films or television. Rather, what it looks like when a game uses the materials of games to make those materials visible, operable, and beautiful.

Anyone who played Cow Clicker can tell you story is paramount. Cow Clicker wasn’t just an aimless trifle in which players clicked an image of a cow to watch numbers get bigger. It was about gamers defying logic and even Ian Bogost’s own expectations. It was about people clicking on enough cows that it went beyond a sick joke and became a phenomenon that had to be artificially stopped by the creator. It’s about gamers “beating” the game. Woo! We won!

The latest Mass Effect: Andromeda update has an indecent proposal for you

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If your character in Mass Effect: Andromeda is Scott Ryder and you were disappointed that you couldn’t have a romantic relationship with Jaal, then the 1.08 patch for the game is going to be good news for you. Once your game is updated, you’ll be able to get sweaty with the angaran resistance observer. BioWare assures fans that this change wasn’t done lightly. They consulted with members of the community and weighed the feedback they received before moving forward. That’s fine, but when are we going to get a Krogan as a love interest? This is a series in which you can woo an alien with such a weakened immune system that coupling with a dirty human should be a death sentence, but somehow that works. Let’s get some nookie from Wrex!

In other Mass Effect news, Kotaku has a report that alleges that most of the game’s development took place in the last 18 months prior to launch. Issues cited by studio sources include difficulties adapting the Frostbite engine, a change in project management, staffing problems, and communication challenges with geographically distant offices.

Backwards compatibility on Xbox One is 98.5% wasted effort

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The Xbox One backwards compatibility program has been scooting along since November 2015. During the launch, Microsoft hailed it as one of the biggest requests from Xbox gamers. Certainly, gamers are willing to defend the feature. The forum to request new Xbox 360 BC additions lists hundreds of thousands of votes per title. Purchases of landmark games like Red Dead Redemption or Call of Duty: Black Ops II are strong enough to push them into current sales charts when they launch on the compatibility service. It’s a huge win for gamers in principle, but is it actually used much?

According to data compiled by Ars Technica, the answer is “not really.” In fact, looking at the total time that Xbox players spend across all services the console offers, it amounts to 1.5% of everyone’s activity. That’s not a lot of return on investment in sheer user time, but intangibles like marketing and retention may hold value to Microsoft beyond those disparaging figures. Everyone seems to want it, but very few people take advantage of backwards compatibility. Maybe Sony’s global sales executive Jim Ryan was on to something when he asked Time “Why would anybody play this?” in regards to how older games look on newer consoles.

There’s a pristine new area in RuneScape to defile with memes

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Menaphos, the largest new area added to RuneScape, is now live. The venerable free-to-play MMO which has been trucking along since 2001, has expanded organically over the years, so Menaphos is a bit of new thing for the game. Instead of a progression of bits and bobs, developer Jagex is releasing one cohesive package of new content that includes two new cities, about 40 hours of quests, new skills, and new loot. Unlike the 2014 update of the Elvish lands of Prifddinas, which was previously the “largest” addition to the game, Menaphos is completely new content. Lead designer David Osborne told PCGamesN that Menaphos marks a change in the way Jagex will release content.

“We’re used to drip-feeding good, additive pieces of content weekly, but this is about bringing all of that together to give players something they can really immerse themselves in – a long-form story, a lot of skilling and combat content, an expansion to a level cap – all the things you’d want or expect from an expansion.”

Menaphos for RuneScape is available now.