E3 2012 Game Design Insights and Commentary

June 13th, 2012

Walking down a hallway, solving an obvious puzzle and mashing a button for a quick time event: sounds like one of the most anticipated games of 2012 to me! Or at least, this was the response by many “critics” in print, the enthusiast press and on blogs to the Tomb Raider reboot showed off at last year’s Microsoft E3 event. The game’s second live demo at this year’s show, a bunch of disconnected; barely-interactive gameplay sequences, only provided further proof of the lack of concrete game design. Yet while the game’s gratuitous brutality has been rightfully questioned, the equally dubious gameplay has avoided heavy scrutiny. The uncritical eye of the majority of game “critics” continues to be distracted by flashy graphics and throat stabbing. (For many of the reasons why, read here. I’ll be exploring some more reasons later). This year’s E3 brought its fair share of Tomb Raiders including Resident Evil 6, Last of Us, boating in Assassins Creed, Star Wars 1313 and Sleeping Dogs—most of which will be hyped beyond reasonable doubt; some of which will probably win something at the game critics awards. Update: Turns out I was right on the money.

While there is growing disapproval around Tomb Raider and other games of its ilk, such voices haven’t reached a critical mass to drown out the marketing buzz. This E3, I compiled notes on the conferences and key games of the show, with a focus on insightful commentary and game design. Although my ideas are limited to trailers and game demos put online, I hope it gives you an idea of the type of commentary we’d be getting if critics valued gameplay as much as they say they do.

Please let me know what you think and what you made of the show in general with the new Disqus comment system. You can sign in with your social media handlers too.

Microsoft’s Conference


Halo 4

Tomb Raider and Resident Evil 6

“I’d get excited more if all the effort/money that went into spectacular-but-shallow set pieces was diverted to deepen the core mechanics. Look how much Mario does with a simple JUMP mechanic. That’s what I want to see from shooters: versatile core mechanics. Instead you get sequences that don’t gel with the core mechanics, so they get simplified into something that is incoherent with the game. We all know why they exist though: eye candy for trailers, to shift units.”

Dead Space 3

Farcry 3

Metal Gear Rising

Sony Conference

Last of Us


Call of Duty Vita

God of War: Ascension

Nintendo Conference


Paper Mario: Sticker Star

New Super Mario Bros 2

New Super Mario Bros U

Game and Wario

Rayman Legends

Nintendo Land

Batman: Arkham Asylum Armoured Edition



  • Yeah it was a pretty lackluster E3.  I am looking forward to the WiiU though as long as I am not forced to hold it up to the screen all the time like a idiot.  The nintendo park looks technically impressive; lots of self shadowing on the characters walking about.

  • Oh and the Last Of US is a scripted mess.  And the fanbois are defending it to the max.  The ps3 is like the quicktime-movie-player-game system. With all the processing power we have in games nowadays we are still making pac-man games with dumb ghosts in mazes (and if you think about it most game levels are less complicated than a pac-man maze). 

  • Matt Glanville

    Thanks for the quote!

    I’m actually hopeful about The Last Of Us. I agree that a lot of it looked scripted and set up to show off the best of the game for E3 (as is the case with pretty much every game there), but I was impressed with Uncharted 3 recently. Even though it contained some scripted moments, many of its combat scenarios still allowed for a wide range of player actions and choice.

    They were generally self-contained and didn’t impact later scenarios though, which is something I hope TLOU addresses as it certainly detracts from the ‘survival’ aspects. In Uncharted you always knew you would find a gun when you needed one, and the only real inventory management was choosing an appropriate gun and not wasting all your ammo.

  • I have several pages of notes on Uncharted 2 which will eventually find their way into the form of an article, probably a series of them. I think it’ll elaborate on my cynicism on Last of Us somewhat, so that we can all talk more in specifics. In general, I worry that these kinds of games are leading the industry away from good game design and towards spectacle which is what we saw a lot of at E3.

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