Why E3 2015 was the most thrilling in years - TechCentral

Why E3 2015 was the most thrilling in years

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Anything seemed possible at E3 this past week as the gaming industry gathered to showcase new games and technologies in Los Angeles.

Events that seemed inconceivable just two weeks ago — full backwards compatibility for the Xbox One, revivals of Shenmue and Final Fantasy 7, and more — became tangible realities as Sony and Microsoft laid out their plans to conquer the gaming market.

Both platform holders dropped bomb after bomb in their most exciting press conferences in years.

Sure, E3 2015 wasn’t perfect. Nintendo had a muted showing, perhaps because it’s planning the launch of its next hardware platform. Among the third-party publishers, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft had dull conferences, and a presser dedicated to PC gaming was a damp squib.

But none of that mattered in the least because The Last Guardian is a thing.

Here are some of the announcements and trailers that caught our eye.

Horizon: Zero Dawn PS4; 2016
Dutch, Sony-owned studio Guerrilla Games is best known for its Killzone franchise — graphical showcases for the visual prowess of PlayStation platforms. Its new action role-playing game (RPG) is Guerrilla’s attempt to show that it’s as good at creating gameplay systems and engaging narratives as it is at technical wizardry.

It has employed people who have worked on Fallout: Las Vegas and The Witcher 3 to work on its first open-world game — and the reveal trailer looks promising. Set long after the collapse of human civilisation, the game tracks the adventures of a resourceful young huntress in a world where dinosaur-like robots dominate the natural order.  It’s won many Game of the Show awards from games critics.

The Last Guardian PS4; 2016
One of the previous console generation’s most infamous pieces of vapourware is an actual game that should finally be released during 2016. Sony proudly displayed a gameplay segment for the title during its E3 press conference — the first time we’ve seen the game since its reveal in 2009. Development has since shifted from the PS3 to the PS4 — director Fumito Ueda apparently couldn’t get it running properly on the older console.The game doesn’t look too different from the title we were shown six years ago. But that’s fine — as much as other developers have tried to copy the whimsical aesthetic and haunting atmosphere of Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the games remain unique. The sheer artistry and charm of The Last Guardian means that it hardly matters if the visuals are no longer cutting edge.

Final Fantasy VII PS4 and other platforms; TBA
Sony’s press conference glossed over the upcoming launch of its Morpheus virtual reality headset in favour of a focus on the past. And what could be more nostalgic than a revival of Final Fantasy VII, one of the games that defined the first PlayStation home console? Details about the full remake of the beloved Japanese RPG are scant, but publisher Square Enix has lined up a team of heavy hitters to steer the production. A release probably lies at least two years into the future — by announcing it so early, Sony is selling the faithful the dream that the glory days of PlayStation are truly back after the difficult PS3 era.

Fallout 4 PS4, Xbox One, PC; 2015
Bethesda’s first full E3 press conference was one of the best shows at the conference, with tasty footage from the upcoming Doom 4 and an announcement trailer for steampunk stealth-action sequel, Dishonored 2. Just a few weeks before E3, the publisher revealed the long-rumoured existence of Fallout 4 — in its press conference, it confirmed we’ll be playing the much-anticipated game as soon as November. How cool would it be if more games were announced this close to their release date? The game looks brilliant, of course.

Just Cause 3 PS4, Xbox One, PC; 2015
Avalanche’s next game in the free-roaming action franchise ratchets the insanity of Just Cause 2 up to the next level — and the game will be out in early December. Expect even more emergent chaos as agent Rico Rodriguez wreaks havoc on an island paradise with an extensive arsenal of guns, vehicles, and toys.

Dreams PS4; 2016
LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule’s cute but enigmatic teaser for the upcoming Dreams left many people watching Sony’s press conference scratching their heads. Is it a movie creator? A game maker? And will it be available for Morpheus? The answer is apparently yes to all three. Media Molecule has hinted that the game creation tool will be even more powerful and flexible than LittleBigPlanet.

Halo 5 Xbox One; 2015
Following the debacle that was the Master Chief Collection and its broken multiplayer functionality, Microsoft studio 343 Industries has a lot to prove with the next entry in the Halo series. We’re promised the most ambitious Halo campaign to date, but the real game changer is a new, large-scale multiplayer mode called Warzone.

Sea of Thieves Xbox One and PC; 2016
Microsoft finally seems to be waking up to what an asset it has in Rare Software — the British developer established as Ultimate Play the Game in 1985 by Tim and Chris Stamper. For the past few years, Microsoft has had the studio working on shovelware for the Kinect motion camera and Xbox avatars. At last, the team is getting to make a proper game again. The pirate-themed massively multiplayer online game seems packed with the humour and charm that are Rare’s trademarks.

Plus, Microsoft is releasing a 30-game strong compilation of Rare’s games spanning its work on the Speccy and Commodore 64, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, the original Xbox, and the Xbox 360. It should be a fascinating time-lapse photograph of the way gaming has changed over three decades.

HoloLens
Microsoft’s partnerships with Oculus Rift and Valve seem like efforts to hedge its bets just in case virtual reality takes off, but the HoloLens augmented reality tech is where the software giant’s heart lies.

A cool demo at its E3 press conference showed how the tool can bring Minecraft into the real world by overlaying its distinctive, blocky visuals on a real-world tabletop. Augmented reality has always been a bit of gimmick — whether in the Nintendo 3DS, in smartphones or Google Glass. Could HoloLens be the breakthrough to finally make it truly useful and interesting? For now, its gaming appeal seems a bit niche, but Microsoft appears to have a lot of faith in it.

Microsoft HoloLens in action

Microsoft HoloLens in action

Shenmue 3 Kickstarter PC and PS4; 2017
Sega’s ill-fated Dreamcast only sold in the region of 10m units, but its software catalogue had an influence on the gaming market out of proportion to sales of the console. And among its titles, Shenmue 1 and 2 continue to inspire cultish devotion among gamers and game developers alike. Shenmue, which pioneered the open-world gameplay so popular today, never received its third entry when the Dreamcast flopped.

Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki took the stage at Sony’s press conference to announce a crowdfunding campaign to make the game. The Kickstarter has already easily blasted past many of its stretch goals, which means that one of the unlikeliest sequels ever is well on its way to being made. The campaign seems as much about gauging demand for the game as raising the cash, since Sony and other investors are thought to be helping with the funding. After 14 years, Shenmue is back.

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst PS4, Xbox One, PC; 2016
Electronic Arts’ press conference was poorly paced and awkward, but there were some pleasant surprises. Its physics-based puzzle platformer, Unravel, looks adorable, and Star Wars: Battlefront impressed with some slick FPS action.

The highlight, however, was the trailer for the reboot of the first-person parkour game, Mirror’s Edge. The open-world game looks set to capture stomach-churning sense of motion and vertigo that made the first so thrilling to play.

Uncharted 4 PS4; 2016
Naughty Dog, Sony’s god-tier development studio, showed a fresh slice of gameplay in the third-person action game during the Sony press conference. Nathan Drake’s next adventure looks likely to set a new benchmark for graphics in the current console generation — it’s hard not to be amazed by the many throwaway details and effects crammed into every frame of the demo (watch the video above). Naughty Dog makes cinematic set-pieces look breathtaking again — clearly, everyone else who copied Uncharted 2 over the past five years was just doing it wrong.

Gears of War 4 Xbox One; 2016
Having bought ownership of the Gears of War intellectual property from Epic, Microsoft wanted to show that the series is in good hands with a trailer for Gears 4. Though the new Gears troops lack the charisma of the iconic Delta Squad of the earlier games, the moody footage assures that the game will be a visual showcase when it comes out for 2016’s holiday season.

Xbox One backwards compatibility
Microsoft’s announcement that the Xbox One will be backwards compatible with the Xbox 360 was one of the most surprising of the show. Enabled by software emulation of the Xbox 360 software and hardware inside a virtual machine on the Xbox One, this feature should eventually allow you to play most popular Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One.

You’ll even be able play multiplayer games with your friends who still game on the older console. Microsoft promises that all it will take to get an Xbox 360 game to work on the One is a nod from the publisher and a simple quality assurance test. Simply pop your disc into the console, download a small piece of code, and the game should work.

The list of supported titles is short, but is expected to grow fast once the feature is widely rolled out later this year. It’s a real win for Microsoft since Sony may not be able to copy this feature — the complex and exotic architecture of the PS3 will not be easy to emulate on the PS4’s hardware. Sure, Sony is rolling out cloud-based streaming of PS3 games to the PS4, but at a cost and only for people with zippy broadband connections.

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Xbox One early access programme
After a rocky start to relations with smaller developers at the start of the Xbox One generation, Microsoft has been trying hard to make up to the indie community. Its efforts are bearing fruit — its E3 conference had some interesting looking indie games on display, including Tacoma from Gone Home developer Fullbright, Ion from DayZ co-creator Dean Hall and Ashen from small New Zealand outfit Aurora44.

And its on-stage announcement of a Steam Early Access-like programme for the Xbox One will surely help capture more hearts and minds among indie developers. Xbox Game Preview will allow gamers to buy games that are not quite finished and help developers to beta-test them — giving indie developers an early infusion of cash while they’re still polishing their games.

Preview versions of Elite: Dangerous and The Long Dark are already available for Xbox One owners who are part of the dashboard preview programme.

PS4: the new ‘home’ of Call of Duty
The mighty Activision military first-person shooter has long been associated with Xbox, thanks to a long-term marketing deal that saw Microsoft’s consoles get new maps and other downloadable content before PlayStation platforms. The arrangement is a big part of the reason that Xbox is the console platform of choice for Call of Duty eSports players and hardcore fans.

Even though the franchise is on the wane, Sony has scored a coup by becoming the co-marketing partner for Call of Duty. This will move more PS4s than the promise of Final Fantasy VIII and The Last Guardian combined. The practice of timed exclusivity on content for third-party games remains as obnoxious and anti-consumer as ever — among the unicorns and rainbows, this deal is a reminder that the games business is still all about the money.  — (c) 2015 NewsCentral Media

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Yu Suzuki discusses Shenmue III and how his dream project became a reality

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