E3 2013 Game Design Notes and Commentary

June 28th, 2013

I got back from my trip around China last Saturday and it feels like it’s taken ages to catch up on E3 news and videos. Here’s what caught my attention at this year’s show:

New IPs

For a long time I’ve been hung up on the idea that new IPs represent progress in the games industry. This year, though, a few things changed my mind. The first was the E3 Nintendo Direct presentation. Although Nintendo didn’t announce a single new IP, and the coveted Retro Studios game turned out to be another Donkey Kong title, I loved everything they showed. Of the big three companies, Nintendo has the most exclusive and original titles, and they’ll probably have more to show at the next Nintendo Direct in a month’s time. The second thing is something that Shigeru Miyamoto said in an interview with GameIndustry.biz, a conclusion that I was forming myself after watching the three main conferences:

“So this is actually a discussion that I think is tricky to balance, and certainly internally at Nintendo we have people on the teams who say, “Wouldn’t this be better if we created a new IP around it?” But to me, the question of new IP really isn’t whether or not [you have a new character]… I look at it from [the perspective of] what is the gameplay experience in the game you’re playing? For a lot of people, they would say if you take an old game and wrap a new character around it, that’s a new IP, but that game is still old, and the experience is still old. So what we’re doing is we’re always looking at what type of new gameplay experience can we create, and that’s the same for whether we’re playing with one of our existing IPs or we’re doing something new.

Pikmin 3 is a good example; the Pikmin characters were something that were born out of a new gameplay idea when we first came up with that game. We created the gameplay idea first and we decided that the best characters suited for that gameplay idea were Pikmin characters. That’s where the Pikmin IP came from. Similarly, if you look at our booth here, we’re showing it as a showcase of all of Nintendo’s great characters, but in each and every one of those games the gameplay experience is what’s new. So from my perspective, it’s not a question of just how can we create a new character and wrap it around an old game and put that out and call it a new IP. It’s always about starting with a new gameplay idea and a new experience that’s unique from an interactive standpoint and then finding a character that’s best suited with that. In some cases, it may be an existing character, and in some cases it may lead us to a new IP at some point in the future.”

Miyamoto hits the nail on the head. New IPs are often perceived as original and innovative because the difference from established IP is immediately clear: there’s new characters and a new world. The gameplay, however, may be quite familiar. So the only way to really determine innovation is to look at the gameplay of each individual title.

The third thing is the lack of originality elsewhere in the conference. Sony said that they had a whole slew of new IPs coming in the next year or so, but only showed Drive Club and a CG trailer for The Order. TitanFall looks great, but everything else Microsoft showed was more of the same driving and shooting.

The Role of Nintendo Direct

I’m a big fan of the Nintendo Direct presentations, and also the Developer Direct presentations, because they slow down and take the time to explain to the viewer how the games work. As someone that enjoys thinking about game design, I really appreciate this format. Nintendo have copped a bit of slack for not doing a live presentation, but I think they’re better for it. My friend, Richard Terrell, said something that esonated with me recently which is that at E3, the games press is looking for sizzle, but Nintendo are taking the slow and truthful route by focusing on gameplay. I think this summarises the situation perfectly.

Third Party Support at Conferences

As has become increasingly apparent over the past few years, third party exclusives are now something of a rarity. Between the big three, there were something like eight exclusive third party games between them (Dead Rising 3, Ryse, Bayonetta 2, Wonderful 101, Crimson Dragon, Below, D4, and Sunset Overdrive). What’s interesting about all these exclusives is that they’re published by the console manufacturer themselves.

Something I’ve never understood is the air time that Sony and Microsoft give to multiplatform third party games. Sure, if they lock in an hour of exclusive content or get timed exclusivity on DLC, it’s kind of worthwhile, even though such bonuses are often quite trivial to begin with (Batman skins, yes!). However, if the game is identical to games on other consoles, I don’t think that it deserves much more of a mention outside of a name drop or presence in a video montage. Take for example, the trailers for Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III at the Sony press conference or the Metal Gear Solid 5 trailer at the Microsoft conference. These games are coming to all platforms not because of good publisher relations, although it probably plays a part, but because of the direction of the market. So including them in the pressers, even as a gesture, is ineffective.

Sony Exclusives

According to Shuhei Yoshida, Sony have thirty titles in development at their worldwide studios, twenty of which will be released in the first year and twelve of which are new IPs. So far we’ve seen six of the twenty first party games to be released in the first year (Knack, Killzone Shadow Fall, Drive Club, Infamous: Second Son, The Order, and the Super Stardust HD successor) and three of the twelve new IPs (Drive Club, Knack, and The Order). I guess we have a lot to look forward to over the next year or so.

Gameplay, Please

FMVs, cutscenes, non-interactive sequences, and gameplay with a high degree of automation were more frequent than ever at this year’s show and it’s quite worrying. I mean, does anyone have any idea how to play Quantum Break?

Sony’s Presser

TitanFall

Killer Instinct

I found this comment by Eion on Eurogamer to be quite amusing:

“Meanwhile, Tekken Revolution launches tomorrow. It is free to play, with 8 characters free initially. It’s based on a solid, modern fighting game engine from a veteran fighting game developer – not an attempt to recreate an engine that was old in 1996, from a developer who has never touched a fighting game before.

Shocking how badly KI holds up to that kind of comparison.”

Metal Gear Solid 5

Super Mario 3D World

Ryse

Dead Rising 3

Watch Dogs

Final Fantasy XV

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Mario Kart 8

  • ben

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  • Steve Johnathan

    More people need to read Miyamoto’s statements on IPs because they’re at the core of a lot of people’s idiotic disdain for Nintendo despite their protests for “new games” and “innovation”.

    Sony has always been lousy in the game business. Even in the ps1/2 days, they were the benefactors of most 3rd parties hating Nintendo, not because the consoles were particularly well made. Sony is riding on the hype wave for essentially doing nothing and people in the industry hating Nintendo and Microsoft.

    Here’s my guess for what’ll happen to the ps4. Once those 20 games or so that Sony has planned are released, there will be a drought of games. It was the same with the vita where there was an appealing launch and then almost nothing afterward. Buying a console is an investment and Sony only shows me that they don’t plan in long term. But apparently, neither do their consumers/fanboys.

    At least plants vs zombie is colorful looking and has a more functional visual design than many other shooters I’ve played. The little squeaks the characters make are annoying and their attempts at being funny with the disco zombie only made me embarrassed to even be watching it.

  • Yeah, it’s pretty amazing how even the Nintendo faithful subscribe to some of the sillier comments made about Nintendo (they’re playing it safe, they should become a third party, the WiiU is doomed, etc).

    I don’t agree with you on the PS4. I think it’ll take a while for those games to all come out, some will probably get canned. Throughout this time Sony will probably get the usual supply of third party games. The PS4 is more of an asset to Sony than the Vita, so I don’t think that Sony will falter much there.

  • Steve Johnathan

    I don’t think Sony’s going to get the 3rd party support they’ve usually gotten. The industry has changed.The increasing expenses of game development and their failures make it so that companies like EA, Ubisoft and Square Enix can’t make as many games and as many risks or move towards other markets (iOS, free to play). It’s also why the surplus amount of ram on the ps4 is a nonfactor. We can expect a lot of games to be multi-platform, even on the WiiU.

  • So, what did you think about Super Smash Bros 4? I mean, you cover a ton of other big games, but not what’s arguably the biggest reveal of the entire show.

    Personally, I thought it was pretty great. Especially the bit at the end where Mega Man was revealed for the first time complete with a ton of weapons from his original series.

    However, there is one thing I think Nintendo got wrong this E3 (and for a while now), and one thing that the other companies don’t seem to be doing as well at either.

    The lack of hype.

    Nintendo seems to have forgotten that as a company, they need to market and sell their products, not just build them and hope the fans will do it for them. Remember how well they stirred up emotions and fan reactions with that Twilight Princess trailer back in 2004 or so?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0Xnv6LQGRw

    Or the Smash Bros Brawl or Mario Galaxy announcements?

    They got people excited, and it meant some of these games sold better than others in the series in years.

    They need to market/show their new games a bit better. Show Smash Bros 4 with say, six newcomers and more content rather than two and the third a day later. Mario 3D World with a bigger mix of interesting levels from later in the game. Heck, Mario & Luigi Dream Team is a fantastic game, but they haven’t really been selling it to people that well in the trailers/commercials (and are pretty damn lucky it’s somehow still managing to rank high in the European sales charts). We don’t care for ‘level 1’ again or a basic footage of only the first few areas where nothing much really happens. Show the best parts, not the most ‘average’ ones.

    But hey, maybe I’m being too harsh on them.

  • I try to only write about games I know enough about and I haven’t even played SSB Brawl, so I’m not in much of a position to talk about the new Smash Bros. The trailer was nice, though.

    I think that Nintendo probably have a pretty good idea about marketing games, at least better than most of us without any marketing experience. So I trust that they can sell their games well. The core fans are also only one part of their consumer base. I much prefer the spoiler-free, short and concise gameplay trailers to extended play videos or FMV trailers.