Notes from EA’s E3-Adjacent Press Conference 2016

Battlefield at EA
EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson steps out only about 7 minutes late and is excited about “content creators.”

He’s welcoming Peter Moore who is hosting in London via remote stream, so they’re co-hosting?

But then back to Andrew Wilson quickly in LA.

Respawn’s Vince Zampella is onstage to discuss Titanfall 2, and has a video of multiplayer gameplay which will be on Playstation 4 for the first time. Looks fun, I hope that it gets more players on Windows this time, Titanfall 1 was fun.

As was leaked, and Zampella joked about, he’s announcing that Titanfall 2 will have a single-player campaign. A single-player trailer ensues. Release-date October 28th 2016.

On to football with Madden 17 footage. It looks like Football, and Peter Moore is in London telling people who don’t care about American Football about American Football video games.

Peter Moore is now talking about eSports. EA will have three new kinds of events.

EA’s live streaming video interface is so awful I switched to the YouTube player where at least when you click “hide chat” it stays hidden and doesn’t pop out again. The gaming community is out in full force to demonstrate how awful they can be.

A video plays to tell us about how amazing the Madden 16 competition they’re going to have is. Nobody cares. Back on the LA stage an announcer talks to the competitors and makes jokes that nobody thinks are funny.

Back to Peter Moore and he’s talking about how much money they’re putting up ($1 million) for competitions.

Aaron Flynn is on stage from Bioware to talk about Mass Effect: Andromeda. He’s leading by talking about how different the Andromeda galaxy (the game) will be from the previous games. He promises more detail this fall and walks off stage so that a trailer can start. “To Andromeda, to build a new home for humanity” The trailer cuts between in-game footage and shots of animators and artists animating and artisting character models and environments. Protagonist appears to be a woman, get your pitchforks ready gators.

Here’s that trailer:

Back to LA stage, crowd shot where everyone looks bored and they show guy looking at his cell phone. The trailer wasn’t that boring.

Andrew Wilson is talking about how much they love their community. You still can’t gift games on EA’s Origin storefront. They really care about their community. Their community is currently tossing epithets around in their chat. Amazing community.

Now discussing charities. They’re going to add some baloney to various games and donate a million dollars to charity. Well, charity is equally important as eSports to EA in terms of dollars.

Back to Peter Moore in London and discussing FIFA 17, finally he’s talking about the correct football for his audience. A trailer shows how the game has changed over time. It’s now using the Frostbite engine as a logo with a bass drop confirms. Back on stage Alex Hunter (no idea who that is) is here in his Dr. Tracksuit cosplay talking about his dreams of playing football.

Apparently there was a real Alex Hunter who played for the Tottenham Hotspurs, according to Wikipedia. I assumed that team was a joke made up by A trailer demonstrates his career path in FIFA 17’s “The Journey” which is a single player campaign.

Peter Moore is back to tell us that for the first time Premier League managers are appearing in-game. A bunch of bizarre uncanny valley screenshots of faces that look like they’re made out of clay appear on the screen behind him. Moore introduces Manchester United’s manager onstage.

Peter Moore assures us that the manager’s model in-game looks great, it looks terrible.

They chat a bit. It is not entertaining.

Peter Moore introduces FIFA producer Aaron McHardy. He has another trailer to show us. The trailer has gameplay improvements to ball handling and lots of discussion of balls without any hint of irony. FIFA is serious business.

Patrick Soderlund is here to tell us about how they surprised us last year with Unravel. It was pretty surprising. He reintroduces EA Originals which I’m pretty sure was originally the name of something they had back when Mirror’s Edge came out. Well, it’s back, in pog form, to fund third party developers.

Klaus is here from a third party studio in Sweden under EA Originals to tell us about a game called Fe. Fe is apparently about our relationship with nature. It looks like a 3D platformer and very much reminds me of Ori and the Blind Forest. Klaus tells us that the game is going to be open-ended and won’t have much direction in-game telling you what to do. The trailer looks good and very stylized.

Jade Raymond is now on-stage to tell us about the Star Wars games EA is working on. Opened the chat for a second and saw a “Sieg Heil”. Closed the chat again.

Jade tells us about a new game coming from Visceral in 2018 with Amy Hennig but no footage so far. Respawn’s Star Wars game is mentioned.

A trailer plays to tell us about what braaaaand experiences EA is working on. DICE talks about updates coming to Battlefront. Respawn shows an embarassing mocap session with actors. Capital Games talks about their terrible free-to-play garbage game for mobile devices. Visceral is talking about grounding the familiar in the unfamiliar. We finally see some in-game footage from her game but it’s very short shot of a desert planet scene. I could really go for a dessert planet right now, haven’t had lunch yet.

Patrick Soderlund is back to tell us about Battlefield 1 and it’s unique take on World War 1. We get some footage of the game with a bird trying to escape a tank. Odd. Biplanes attacking an airship.

Patrick Bach from DICE is on stage now. He has a gameplay trailer. Here it is:

From the side of the stage we see Zac Efron and Jamie Foxx who will apparently be playing the game after the show.

Patrick is Bach to tell us about how the game has changed. Destruction is supposed to be much improved as well as weather effects. Vehicles get an upgrade with behemoths, airships, armored trains. The game comes out October 21st. I am psyched. Open beta this summer. Maybe the game won’t be so broken at launch? Unlikely.

We now see more of the same trailer we saw earlier. Bird flapping about tank, etc. See it embedded above. A burning zeppeline falls to the ground on a town, looking quite impressive. It’s not clear if this is multiplayer or single player. Horses with riders armed with swords stampede to attack an armored train.

Peter Moore is back to close things out. He quickly gets back to Andrew Wilson and that’s the show.

A bunch of obnoxious YouTube personalities are now broadcasting some Battlefield 1 gameplay. I’ve got to mute it because they’re really loud and really terrible. Gaming culture in 2016 is the worst.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review (PS4)

Again?

I can’t believe that Naughty Dog, the developers of The Last of Us and 3 prior Uncharted games came back to make another Uncharted again. Nevertheless, here we are for Uncharted 4. It’s almost like they’re running a business of making excellent games and then selling them for money but have locked onto this one idea of climbing and third person shootering and will keep going until it is no-longer making money. 

Like the final season of a favored television series, all of the beloved characters have reached their final form by the time this game is done.

Nathan Drake is still our protagonist, he’s been wedded with Elena, I must have missed that when I skipped out on Uncharted 3. Nate has a normal-ish job these days, you’ll see what it is if you play the game. Sully (Victor Sullivan) is still old as dirt and this time won’t participate much in the action but is happy to lend a hand or fly everyone around. New to Uncharted 4 is a surprise guest appearance by Nathan’s older brother, Sam. I can’t remember ever hearing about him before, but here he is complete with flashback sequences to Nate and Sam’s childhood together throughout the game.

Sam is reunited with Nate for one last adventure to save Sam’s bacon over a debt that could cost him his life if they don’t quickly recover Henry Avery’s pirate treasure to pay off a drug lord.

You and me

Early on I was incredibly bored with Uncharted 4’s gameplay. The style of the climbing and third person shooting is still good, but was so similar to previous games that I thought I might not make it very far in. This is one of the best looking games I have ever seen, but that alongside the exact same adventuring from the Playstation 3-era wasn’t going to be enough to keep going unless there was something more to it.

Thank goodness there are changes to the gameplay as well as the story.

Everyone knows that Nathan Drake is kind of an ass. He straight up murders hundreds of dudes in each game’s beautiful set pieces, usually in places that he doesn’t really have an excuse for being in. The witty remarks he makes about straight up murder seem to indicate that he doesn’t seem to be losing any sleep over it.

The most important thing upgraded in this sequel’s story is that while Nathan Drake is still a compete ass to everyone around him, finally, in Uncharted 4 the consequences for his behavior are found in his rapidly dissolving marriage and through witnessing his brother’s impulsiveness impacting the lives of those around him.

He isn’t constantly a jerk to his wife, Elena, but he certainly isn’t upfront and truthful about the work he needs to do in order to liberate his brother from the drug lord to whom he owes his life. Those moments with Elena and Nate upset with each other aren’t necessary fun, and it can be awkward to watch Nathan’s “real life” crumble, but watching their life unfold at home before he leaves for another adventure is very relatable to anyone who has been in a long term relationship. Not that normal people are going out to find pirate treasure, it just humanizes the characters in a way that isn’t typical for big action games.

This story is what carried me through the otherwise same-y climbing and terribly implemented one on one fist-fighting introduced early on in the game. That part of the game’s combat just isn’t fun, thankfully it isn’t something that you’ll be forced to play through much before going back to ducking behind cover and shooting in set piece areas that you can decide how you want to approach. Stealth options are present, and it is fun to kick a dude off a cliff, snap his neck and drag his corpse into the bushes, or pull him over a ledge that you’re hanging below, but you’re going to end up breaking out of it before long when a more distant enemy who has slightly better vision than Metal Gear Solid goons spots you grabbing one of the other guys.

There are gameplay improvements as well. Since this is an adventure about pirating Nate is now equipped with some magic grappling rope that can attach itself to any grapple point at a distance. This can be used to quickly get up over an obstacle or more often the rope is used for swinging around between chasms, buildings, and everything, like Tarzan. It is a fun as hell addition and you can use this in combat to move quickly between vantage points as well as shooting while swinging which works amazingly well. It’s completely ridiculously implemented, you’ll always attach to the appropriate point as long as it is on screen. After playing around with it I would love to see a Spider-Man game from Naughty Dog.

The new climbing piton, the spike that mountaineers drive into walls when there otherwise isn’t a handhold, allows Nate to climb along a little bit more organically into points that are specifically designated for it. It’s not as great an addition as the grappling rope, but any positive change to a climbing mechanic that has been brutally beaten into us in every Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed is an improvement. I wonder how different it would have been if you could have combined the piton with the grappling rope and attached one to the other, swinging across larger gaps between handholds in rock faces more easily.

Due to the success of Call of Duty 4’s laser-like focus on a critical path through a single player campaign, other action games tend to focus on a very limited path through the environment, to the detriment of exploration. The reasoning behind this decision has been “why spend a game’s budget on something the player might never see? Also, we don’t understand pacing at all.”

In a very few open-world games you do have a bit more freedom to explore but it’s usually not worth spending the time to do so. What’s the point of exploring if the world doesn’t have any detail to it outside of where the major story beats take place?

This is it

Uncharted 4 gives you a few open areas that are very detailed, a Jeep with your buddies in it, and says “have fun.”

Driving that Jeep and watching as it attacks the terrain is super fun. Attaching its winch in order to solve puzzles in the environment is fun. The chatter from your passengers and how they switch seats to help you out instead of the game making you backtrack to the jeep in order to artificially lengthen the experience is fun.

Your reward for exploring those open areas is more information about the quest you’re on as well as more quick sketches of what the characters are looking at and thinking about in Nate’s journal.

Those sketches feel like Nathan, and the designer’s, notes to the player. While playing I was unexpectedly excited every time I got the prompt for Nathan to write or draw in his journal. You can tell that Naughty Dog knew what a great thing they had made since you can access Nate’s journal directly from the main menu of the game.

There are still puzzles, just like previous Uncharted games, and they are fun. The way they integrate with the journal is nice and the puzzles are still best when you have an audience of friends or family locally to help you solve them. Not that they are any kind of serious challenge, it’s just fun to have the input.

Journal

Multiplayer is still included and is still incredibly well put together. It isn’t why you would buy an Uncharted, but it feels like something that could be packaged up on its own with a different name and compete for the multiplayer shooter players’ attention with Overwatch and other recent games. The multiplayer package is far more than you might expect to be bolted onto a series that is regarded only for its single player campaign just to keep people from trading the game in.

This time Naughty Dog have wisely decided to not lock the additional levels they’ll make to their multiplayer after the game is released behind a season pass or another additional charge. You can buy cosmetic items that change the look of your characters but the game isn’t going to be less fun when 10 identical Nathan Drakes are running around the map. That is sometimes pretty hilarious.

The only real fault with the game is that it waits until chapter 10 to give you access to the Jeep and open areas. It should be inexcusable to hide the best part of the game until then.

So many people have already spoiled some of the great parts of this game, and I’ve tried to avoid doing so here. it is a surprisingly great sequel to a series that could otherwise have stopped at the second game in it and been fine.

Before this game came out, I couldn’t name an exclusive for the PlayStation 4 that made the console worth recommending. If you have never played an Uncharted before, or if you have and gave up on the series’ repetitive nature, you should come play Uncharted 4. Those in the first group, well, I imagine that you’ll enjoy the first ten chapters even more.

Why stay

4 out of 5 Pyrate Adventures for Uncharted 4.

Here’s an extended snippet of gameplay, without commentary, I recorded while I’m putting my recording studio back together. This features almost everything I’ve talked about in this review that makes the game great but does contain some story spoilers if you’re concerned about plot details.

Beautiful Old Boxart

Computer Foosball

Liza Daly has this great collection of beautiful old boxart from 30 years ago, along with a little bit of the story behind each one. Here is Liza’s write-up for Computer Foosball, pictured above:

I don’t even know where to start about how much I love this. The art is credited to Janet Lopez. The game was written by Apple employee Keithen Hayenga and came free with the Sirius Joyport, an external game adaptor which was less titillating than it sounds.

I love that the brush strokes are clearly visible in the background, and that one of the foosball teams is composed of little matching robots. I guess the spheroid thing in the middle is supposed to be the foosball flying at us, but the composition is weirdly static.

The Westminster typeface was already a cliche in 1983 and was rarely used in actual game packaging. The flat design of the background and the minimalist byline are also pretty odd. The net result is that this cover art looks less like an actual artifact and more like a contemporary designer’s idea of 1983.

Sirius Software published dozens of games in the period between 1980 and 1983, many coded by Nasir Gebelli, who left to form his own company when the Sirius founders refused to give him equity. Steven Levy covered Sirius in his seminal book on the early computer age, Hackers. If this post were about videogame titles rather than covers, they would get prime placement for The Earth Dies Screaming and Copts and Robbers.

Both Gebelli Software and Sirius published a lot of turds, in terms of both games and cover art. But the best of them are the best this period has to offer, almost indistinguishable from a lot of modern design. Some are credited to Lopez but most have no credit at all. They are great.

It brought a smile to my face when the Sirius Joyport game controller adapter page on Wikipedia reminded me that the device was also designed by a legend, and my old pal, Steve Woita.

House of the Dying Sun in Early Access

Developed by one human, House of the Dying Sun is a tactical space shooter in the spirit of Freespace 2 and Tie Fighter mixed with a bit of Warhammer 40k styled lore. I love killing traitors to the emperor!

It’s only available for Windows, currently, but does support the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in addition to regular monitors. You can buy it directly from the developer’s Humble widget or on Steam. Either way it’s 2 bucks off until the 14th of June.

Regular Human Basketball

Powerhoof, the creators of Crawl, put out Regular Human Basketball back at the end of May 2015 and I just found out about it:

It’s local multiplayer, for 2-10 players, and it really is an explosively ordinary game of basketball, with absolutely nothing weird going on and DEFINITELY no giant robotic death machines!

It looks very fun and regular humans can freely download it on itch.io for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Definitely don’t download it if you’re a giant robotic death machine.

Upgraded Playstation 4 Rumors Confirmed by Sony

Speaking with the Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw, Sony’s Andrew House confirmed the rumors of an upcoming upgrade to the Playstation 4:

Andrew House, president and global chief executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment, told the Financial Times that the “high-end PS4” would be more expensive than the current $350 version.

“It is intended to sit alongside and complement the standard PS4,” he said. “We will be selling both [versions] through the life cycle.”

The new console, which is codenamed “Neo”, will target hardcore gamers, he said, as well as consumers with a 4K television set looking for more high-resolution content.

You should probably still hold off on buying one since pricing information (beyond that it will be more expensive) and other details were not revealed, and won’t be announced at E3 next week.

It’ll be very interesting if this is the final console generation for a long time and we end up with a more iPhone-like annual or bi-annual console upgrade cycle that maintains software compatibility.

Are Steam Machines a Failure After Only 7 Months?

Valve’s first foray into home computing hardware, the Steam Machine collaborations with various computer makers, have sold fewer than 500,000 units since they were released last November. A figure estimated by Ars Technica via the number of Steam Controllers sold which includes Steam Machines as a portion of that total:

Half a million might not sound like a bad sales number for a brand new hardware platform, but it starts to look pretty tepid in the context of the wider gaming market. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sold over a million consoles in their first day on the market in 2013. After just over seven months on store shelves, Microsoft was up to about 5.5 million Xbox One sales and the PS4 had racked up 10.2 million worldwide sales. That’s what a successful gaming hardware launch looks like these days.

Valve is often guilty of starting something and then just giving up on it without iterating to find success. Their cousins at Microsoft would have had the same issue if they gave up on the original Xbox which sold only 24 million consoles over its first 7 years and was another system frequently referred to as a failure.

Sales figures of hardware over the course of a few months aren’t necessarily going to make or break a company, but I believe that Valve still needs SteamOS.

Quantum Break, the remastered Gears of War: Ultimate EditionForza Motorsport 6: Apex, the upcoming games Halo Wars 2 and ReCore are all exclusive to Windows 10’s built-in app store. SteamOS and Steam Machines continue to be a hedge against Microsoft’s built-in Windows app store restrictions that Valve will need to remain competitive in the event of even more anti-competitive changes to Windows.

Liam Dawe of Gaming on Linux is right on about the lack of advertising hurting sales of the nascent Steam Machines and SteamOS/Linux games:

We are facing real issues, like a lack of bigger platform-pushing titles and performance. Valve do need to up their own advertising a bit too, not just of Steam Machines, but of new Linux releases. They give big homepage banners to plenty of new Windows releases, but only a few SteamOS releases have been graced with such advertising. Valve haven’t even managed to get their own VR device with HTC on Linux yet, they need to up their own game.

GOG Connect

Online DRM-free retailer Gog announced Gog Connect. Gog Connect connects your Gog account to your Steam account and receive DRM-free Gog versions of some games if you already have them on Steam.

The list of supported games is short at just 23 currently, but Gog have said they will change the list up frequently by adding games and removing old ones. Unfortunately you will need to revisit the Gog Connect page when new games are added in order to receive DRM-free Gog copies.

Microsoft Lays Off 1,850

Microsoft’s press release:

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced plans to streamline the company’s smartphone hardware business, which will impact up to 1,850 jobs. As a result, the company will record an impairment and restructuring charge of approximately $950 million, of which approximately $200 million will relate to severance payments.

That’s a lot of weasel words to say they’re firing almost two thousand people. 

“We are focusing our phone efforts where we have differentiation — with enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability, and consumers who value the same,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “We will continue to innovate across devices and on our cloud services across all mobile platforms.”

The weasel wording continues on to say that Microsoft won’t be developing features for actual people with Windows phone devices and will instead focus on what businesses want, which is a shame since Windows phones were better and more secure than Android in many ways.

Here Microsoft, I streamlined your press press release:

Our phone business hasn’t been successful with people because we focused on what businesses want. We will continue to focus on businesses by firing almost two thousand people who worked on or supported features that people might want. Regrettably, we will have to pay them money so that they don’t cause a scene.