So how was E3 this year?

, | Games

Bioshock Infinite apparently made quite an impression at E3. I’ve heard people talking about Songbird and Elizabeth and Columbia. Someone showed me a picture of a giant robot crow sticking its head through a hole at the 2K booth. I don’t know what any of that is. And I don’t really care to know.

After the jump, Bioshock Infinite fails to impress me

I don’t need to know anything about Bioshock Infinite because I’m already sold based on who’s making it. That’s all I need to know and all I want to know. There. I’m done. I’ll see you when you’re out Bioshock Infinite. Good luck and God speed. I feel the same way about Xcom, which looks terrible from the trailers, but I’m sold based on the fact that it’s by 2K Marin, the folks who made Bioshock 2. Even if it turns out as terrible as the trailers, I want to play the next game made by those guys.

I see movies based on who makes them, not what they’re about or even what genre they’re in and especially not based on how they’re packaged in trailers, which I avoid religiously. I’d just as soon play games — and write about games — the same way. Which makes me a terrible journalist, or “journalist”, or games writer, or blogger, or whatever you want to call me. I’m awful at future-looking and future-commenting and future-caring. I feel strongly that we have plenty to talk about with what’s out now, and how it relates to what came out earlier this year, last year, five years ago, and so on. Videogaming has a rich body of work to draw from and to talk about. Context and history matter infinitely more than anticipation. This isn’t a road trip, where we look out the windshield and only occasionally glance in the rearview mirror. It’s a body of work. A library. A storehouse. A treasure chest. We have a cornucopia spilled out before us and we act as if we’re starving and in dire need of our next meal.

So E3 is a weird experience for me. Up until last November, I was running a general site about videogames. It was partly my job to know about games before they were released and to pass along what the publishers were saying about them. To comment on games before they were out. Basically, to help sell them. That’s a significant part of what the enthusiast press does, and there’s no shame in it. We don’t have to compromise our integrity to get excited when the folks who make games carefully calculate how best to get us excited. That’s their job. But when my site closed, it was an enormous relief to be free of that. It’s not a part of the process I’m interested in. I’d much rather get excited by an actual game.

So, yeah, E3 was like having to be a real games “journalist” again, if only for a few days. I saw some nifty demos and even spotted a few encouraging trends. Crystal Dynamics’ attempt to humanize Lara Croft is probably the most exciting overall thing I saw; even if the game doesn’t turn out well, I admire the direction they’re taking. A group of Swedes at a new studio called Overkill are doing a really promising and smartly designed co-op shooter for Sony called Payday: The Heist. Paradox’s Crusader Kings 2 is a game I’m dying to play based on the way Paradox continues to improve their interfaces and hone their basic data-surfing experience. I was won over by Dead Island’s unique RPG approach to a zombie apocalypse. Human Head’s open-world design for Prey 2 looks like a bold experiment that just might work.

I am discouraged by other trends. The shameless attempts to shoehorn Kinect into core gaming. Now that graphics have plateau’ed, new hardware is forcing gimmick-based game design. The homogenization of shooters and RPGs by Activision and Electronic Arts, respectively. I’m worried that Ubisoft is shying away from some of their more daring games in favor of playing it safe. As bullish as I’ve been about strategy gaming, it’s hard not to feel small about the genre at E3.

But, really, the best thing about E3 was coming home and jumping into Infamous 2, a game that I knew next to nothing about. So what if it wasn’t very good. I’d rather be surprised by a middling game than excited about something I can’t even play. I have a lot to say about the former, and really not much at all to say about the latter.

(For more on this year’s E3, I contributed to Gameshark’s A-Z round-up this year, as well as their recaps for day one, day two, and day three. You can also hear me on the previous three episodes of their podcast, Jumping the Shark.)