Is E3 Still Gameplay Focused?

This year, I watched Steven Spielberg and James Cameron appear on stage at E3, to talk about both Microsoft Natal and Avatar respectively. They spoke of storytelling, of film, of true narrative and how it can be applied to videogames in a way that will engage on the same mental and emotional level as the latest summer blockbuster. The prospect of someone coming onstage at E3 and actually saying "gameplay isn’t everything there is" was shocking, and something that filled me with the same warm happy feeling most people get when they realise they’ve finally finished the achievements for LEGO Batman.

I am by no means a gaming ninja: I found Ninja Gaiden 2 fairly tricky at times on an average difficulty, and I played Bioshock on "easy" the first time round because it was my first console FPS in aeons, not to mention I suck at games that involve anything creepy, usually being too jumpy to nail that headshot (excuses, excuses, I know). But I consider myself above average for the most part, and thus I find gameplay is extremely important to me, not to mention the fact that if I would ever want to have a thousand enemy ships on maximum difficulty shooting lasers made of death in all directions, I can do so. I need the ability to challenge myself.

However, whilst this works for Geometry Wars, this is also an incredibly bad way of constructing a game that isn’t something you pick up and play for a few minutes at a time. Titles like LittleBigPlanet and the aforementioned Geometry Wars, even WarioWare, are simply tempting morsels of digital entertainment, designed to keep us pacified without drawing us into a complex narrative on a Friday night. But when it comes to a summer blockbuster where we’re inundated with the latest graphics, gameplay mechanics and a torrent of quick-time events, do I want gameplay, or story? For that matter, why are we always choosing?

This year, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories shocked a lot of people who came to preview the title. To have a psychologist question your sexual history, to have a game question the player in the same way Eternal Darkness questioned your sanity, is true horror. No longer are we relying on what lies inside that UMD for inspiration to terror; we are now the pawn of some larger game, and our personality may define what comes next. Avatar was also another game extremely focused on storyline, though with James Cameron’s detailed (read: spoiler-laden) explanation of the film’s plot, you’d be hard-pressed not to yawn and wonder why he bothered telling you there was a decent story at all. But that was the point. There was a decent story, and the only way to get the E3 press audience to focus on something that isn’t QTEs and jiggle physics is to force them to sit down and listen to a good old fireside tale.

When you saw the trailer for Final Fantasy XIV, were you shocked? I’d assume so. But were you, like me, then disappointed at the revelation that the game with a trailer telling the visual story of friends fighting through a storm on a wave-tossed ship was the teaser video for an MMO title? I was. Sometimes, when you’re live blogging, as Jason and I have been in the past couple of weeks, you don’t always get time to absorb the emotional impact some announcements will have on you. It was only when Team Ninja’s Metroid title popped up on screen near the end of the Nintendo conference that my brain practically boiled inside my skull. Afterwards, I watched, I re-watched, and I read about it, and I began to realise this was Metroid Gaiden. Can you remember the story of Ninja Gaiden 2? If you can, you’re one of a select group, because the narrative was there to serve as an explanation for the gameplay, not as the reason for the game’s existence.

To think that we were denied Beyond Good and Evil 2, and to think that the title I speak of now would have really cemented this year’s E3 as the return of storytelling. With that title backing up the crew of narrative-focused games led by Monkey Island’s return, it could’ve been a whirlwind year, but let’s be honest – we were all gawping at Natal.

Microsoft Natal is all very good and shiny, but what were we paying more attention to this time around; the potential for ridiculous internet memes, or the potential it holds for storytelling? There’s a reason Molyneux was sat there, cocky bastard that he is (and now fully deserves to be), talking about Natal’s potential as a whole new way of experiencing games. I saw a boy talking smack with a ninja master, through his television. 3D Breakout is all very good and well, but imagine Black and White returning as a title where you are the floating hand yanking around your cow on the leash. Imagine the level of immersion, and having the cast of the latest 360 title turn to you for guidance and conversation.

Sometimes, you have to wonder whether people are more excited about which members of Greek mythological text Kratos is going to be decapitating next, or whether or not it has "amazing blood effects and wicked-sick combo moves." It seems to be one of the few games that has become almost as mythic in the genre it dominates as the mythology it rides on the back of, and yet you’ll note it will always garner a hearty round of cheers compared to the stunned silence of the gaming press after Cameron dared suggest story was a seriously important component.

"So here’s our main character, Jake Sulley, who was a marine who was wounded in combat, paralyzed, goes to Pandora, and in his avatar body of course he can walk, he can run, he can live again." – James Cameron detailing Avatar‘s protagonist.

A paralyzed marine who gives up part of his humanity to walk again? No wonder it scared seven hells out of a load of journalists wondering when he’d quieten down and talk about potential DLC.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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