Home Editorial From a Dark Place: Microsoft’s E3 press conference

Green. The color of envy. The color of sickness. The color of the grass I haven't seen in weeks.

Those of you who listened to the inaugural Top Tier Talkcast will already know the reason why I couldn’t make it to E3 along with WiNGSPANTT and Rabid Ferret. But that’s ok. I didn’t want to go anyway. Screw those guys. What’s E3 anyway? Just a bunch of bad sequels for bad games, plus a few bad sequels for good games. Harumph. Who needs it. Grumble grumble.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from working at T3, however, it’s that WiNGSPANTT will never miss a chance to kick me while I’m down. Here is the email he sent me this morning.

“Hey, kid! Rabid Ferret and I were too busy hitting on booth babes and chugging free booze to go to either the Microsoft or the Sony press conferences. I know you’re still recovering from the beating I gave you after your latest Hypetrain didn’t make the front page of TIME Magazine, but do you think you could do a writeup of whatever we missed? If not, you’re dead.”

So, yeah. Here’s why every last thing at the Microsoft press conference looked terrible! I will even simulate the live update format, so it’ll be just like you’re really here with me, in my prison of despair, watching E3 on YouTube.

  • We begin with a very concerned looking fellow holding a controller during a barely-interactive segment of the Modern Warfare 2 campaign. There is a gimmick scuba segment where he deftly holds left to avoid mine. Then, there are a lot of explosions and scripted events. It’s definitely Modern Warfare 2, but I can’t quite remember this level– wait! It’s Modern Warfare 3!
  • A game honcho comes on stage and thanks the fans for their support. “It’s truly humbling to be a part of this game.” Maybe his face was used as the model for an enemy soldier?
  • Don Matrick, an important fellow from Microsoft Interactive Entertainment, comes on stage. He says nothing of any interest to anyone. Last year was “the biggest year in Xbox history!” A hilarious quote for the ages: “Let’s continue with what you love most: games.” Scattered applause.
  • A company I’ve never heard of called Crystal Dynamics comes on stage. They’re making a new Tomb Raider, called Tomb Raider. Do I really have to write about a new Tomb Raider?
  • Lara Croft is a scared-to-death teenager struggling to escape a damp cave full of freaky cultists. She endures grievous injury and talks to herself in a panic about every little thing. It feels like I’m watching a snuff film. Oh my fucking god.
  • In terms of gameplay, it’s the same shit as usual. There is one interactive thing per room. You interact with the thing. You move onto the next room. There are some quick time events.  Lara Croft weeps and pants, her eyes will never again bear the optimistic spark of youth.
  • Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, comes on stage. It takes every ounce of willpower I can muster to keep paying attention.
  • He starts talking about Kinect. I leave my computer to inject cocaine into my eyeballs. By the time I come back, Mass Effect 3 is on the screen. This stuff really works!
  • Alright, let’s get into it. It’s gameplay! Shepard takes a few steps down a hall, and then– a dialogue scene. Well, ok– wait, oh Jesus. He’s using Kinect to read the dialogue options aloud. Seriously?
  • Now he’s using Kinect to issue voice commands to his squad-mates with infinitely less efficiency and precision than the tactical pause option allows.
  • The omni-tool is now your melee weapon. The melee animation is now relatively lengthy, because I suppose they figure it will still look cool the 200th time. My stomach grumbles.
  • Would WiNGSPANTT murder me if I took a break to get some food? I’ve been trapped in this room for days…
  • He would probably kill me.
  • A trailer for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier plays. There is no gameplay in this trailer, so I opt not to pay any attention to it.
  • Yves Guillemot, co-founder and CEO of Ubisoft, comes on stage. He begins speaking French– no wait, ha ha, that’s English. “We are going to use Kinect to enhance our core games!” A cheeseburger and fries. That’s all I want.
  • A guy starts using Kinect to scroll through the game’s rather involved weapon customization menu. He then struggles to aim an imaginary gun at some training dummies. “Congratulation, Chris,” says Yves.
  • “Please welcome, from Xbox Live: Marc Whitten.” Marc says, “At Xbox, we have a simple vision. All of the entertainment you want, with the people you care about, made easy.” While I try to parse the simplicity of this vision, a woman starts giving her Xbox vocal commands, like it’s a dog, to navigate a new menu. One person in the audience goes “woo.”
  • “But this is only the beginning,” Marc continues. “Our goal is the entertainment you want. So this year, we will increase our number of partnerships by a factor of ten… as one example of an exciting new partner, YouTube is coming to Xbox Live… the next great challenge: discovery. How will you find the entertainment you want, when you want it? Is there a better way?” I hope so.
  • The woman starts telling Xbox to Bing things. I make a break for it. Maybe if I can just make it to the vending machine downstairs for some Pop Tarts, WiNGSPANTT will never notice?
  • As soon as I touch the doorknob, I hear his voice. “Space Hamlet. If you are hearing this message, it means you attempted to abandon your post. I have already been notified. This will not be forgotten, but you can still make things better for yourself by returning to your computer immediately. You have ten seconds to comply.”
  • An ad starts playing, portraying a couple embracing on their living room couch while the woman navigates the Xbox menu with her voice and never selecting anything. They start to watch Harry Potter, but the man tells Xbox to go home. Turns out his favorite show is on! Maybe they are trapped in their room, too? Maybe their lives are like mine?
  • At first I thought this was a UFC game but they’re actually just talking about how I can watch UFC on my Xbox. You can watch fighters’ other recent matches and crap like that. Okay.
  • Phil Spencer from Microsoft Studios comes on stage to tell me about how interactive TV features were invented by the game industry. People in Europe who have their TV provided by Sky already know this to be a lie. I sure hope Europe keeps its mouth shut!
  • Gears of War 3 involves yelling, rock music, the color brown. Cliff Bleszinski comes on stage. I need to get out of here. I can’t listen to Cliffy B. I can’t.
  • He brings Ice-T on stage. Is this real? Am I dying?
  • Cliffy B and Ice-T cooperatively shoot little spiders with no health and follow orders from their own loudmouth characters. I might be crying, but I can’t tell anymore.
  • “Keep shooting, ’till it moves!” Keep holding button until something happens. Got it, game. I’m trying to figure out how this boss could actually do damage to the player. I don’t think it can?
  • Ice-T says: “Since this game’s so incredible I decided to reunite my rock band Bodycount, to do a special song to commemorate the mode everybody’s been missing and wanted back, the horde mord. The– the horde mode. BC’s gonna do a song for you.” Just in time, this particular YouTube clip of the conference ends. I look at the related videos tab to see how much more I’ll need to endure.
  • There are fourty-one minutes to go!?
  • Mercifully the next clip does not open with Ice-T’s band. It opens with a non-gameplay trailer for something set in ancient Rome called Ryse. A douchebag-looking fellow pretends to fight in his living room. Why’s he doing that? Oh, Kinect, of course.
  • “Ten years ago, Halo changed the way we play videogames.” Oh.
  • They are remaking Halo so it’ll have graphics that look two years old instead of ten years old. I notice that my hair has started to fall out.
  • Forza Motorsport 4 has some cars in it. It will use Kinect. Kanye West plays over the trailer.
  • You can turn your head to look around in the cockpit view! That must be great if you also have a TV that moves wherever you are facing.
  • Hi, Peter Molyneux. Welcome to the normal people world. Please try not to stare at anyone.
  • I’m going to entertain the opposite of my usual policy, and take this trailer for Fable: The Journey completely literally. The game contains no gameplay at all, only pre-rendered cutscenes!
  • Oh wait, they are showing gameplay now. A man named Dmitri is pretending to hold the reigns of a horse. Why is he doing that? Oh, right. Kinect again.
  • I take back what I said about this having no gameplay. It seems to be a spellcasting rail shooter! Dmitri waves his hands and the little imps are one-hit-killed by a magic missile which homes into them. Masterpiece.
  • Minecraft is coming to Kinect. Just a status report: I am now sweeping clumps of hair off of my keyboard.
  • Now you and your whole family can go to Disneyland inside your Xbox. I am still watching this shit.
  • Some child actors pretend to enjoy themselves as they play through cheap Kinect game versions of famous Disneyland rides. These children are a metaphor. They are a metaphor for me, and my lost hope. Disneyland. A place of plastic imagination. Kinect. A device of misguided innovation. Life imitates art.
  • The Star Wars theme plays and the crowd cheers. Their applause dims the second they see awkward Kinect gameplay where Obi-Wan slowly passes his light-saber through some battle droids, while absorbing blaster fire through his hip. This is Kinect Star Wars!
  • If the next game is another Kinect shovelware title, I am not even going to tell you what it is. I am just going to do us both that favor.
  • Guess what: It’s Kinect shovelware from Tim Schafer. About Sesame Street. I’m sorry I told you what it is.
  • The Kinect creative director, Kudo Tsunoda, comes on stage. I quickly realize that this is the man to blame.
  • Kudo makes a big deal about how the Kinect allows players to enjoy games without having to deal with the medium of a controller. Does no one find it damning that the controller-free format calls so much more attention to itself than the controller ever did? Every Kinect game is little more than an absurd extension of “look ma, no hands.” The potential for the technology is there, but there will be no good Kinect games until developers stop approaching it as a gimmick. Furthermore, the Kinect’s quest to build a new audience out of non-gamers will never succeed if all the games that new audience comes to see have no more complexity or richness than the toys we give to our children so they’ll stop yelling in our ears for a few precious minutes. Non-gamers aren’t idiots, they’ve simply never been interested in good games, and you can’t fix that by introducing them to a lot of bad games. This industry has no respect for itself, no belief in the integrity, of– oh, I’m sorry, I stopped listening to the conference.
  • Some of those Xbox avatar characters are now playing some sports. God, I don’t care. Only ten minutes left.
  • “Just a natural swing, like I would on a real golf course.” Except there’s no weight of the club in your hands and you have no depth perception with which to gauge the distance and no sense of how hard the wind is blowing. Do you seriously expect me to believe that this is– Oh shit, they’re playing football now.
  • I can’t even tell you what is happening right now. I think some ogres are yelling at each other while running in place. I believe a bazooka is involved. He is looking from side to side as though he was yelling his order to a real football team. Why is he doing that? Do they just think we are all stupid? Why? Why?
  • Dance Central 2 has “several new features.” Including voice control, which is very important to dancing.
  • Some dancing occurs. Just some bread… some water…
  • Don Matrick comes back and says more general stuff which interests nobody. The big surprise at the end is Halo 4. I am very surprised. I am very surprised at just how hard game devs squeeze the udders of their cash cows. I am surprised at how much loathing I can feel for an industry with this much potential.

Thanks for reading, everybody, and please join me again soon as I toil through the YouTube recording of Sony’s press conference! I can’t wait, because I am literally not permitted to do so!

7 replies to this post
  1. This article was flawless with exception of the fact that you clearly took time to breathe and or stretch. Get back to work, hippie. I have amoral LA parties to attend.

  2. “Furthermore, the Kinect’s quest to build a new audience out of non-gamers will never succeed if all the games that new audience comes to see have no more complexity or richness than the toys we give to our children so they’ll stop yelling in our ears for a few precious minutes.”

    My thoughts exactly! And I am so sorry you had to watch the Kinect-fest unfold…all 40+ minutes of it.

  3. Amazing article. I haven’t followed E3 much this year, but I’ll definitely be reading the Sony one here!

  4. I feel your pain bro, but wait, are journalists allowed to imply that innovative motion controllers aren’t the best damn thing that’s ever happened to video games? That must be like breaking a rule or something.
    I’m tired of them being overhyped too.

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