The game industry’s giant trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, wrapped up over a week ago, and our writers put this roundup together to recognize the best of whatever. What booth tickled showgoers in all the right/wrong places? What game needs to shut the hell up? What did the PR rep say to put us in our place?
Behold: Our E3 2013 Non-Award Awards!
Sponsored by VB
The Most Uncomfortable Game to Play in Public award: Killer is Dead
Two words: Gigolo Mode. Grasshopper Manufacture’s and Suda 51’s upcoming action game has you seducing the ladies as executioner Mondo Zappa — but first you must sneak in snapshots of their bits and pieces while they’re not looking to build up Mondo’s confidence. After a few minutes of unsuccessfully trying to take a picture of a woman’s tits in a bar, I realized what it was I was exactly doing, and that I was doing it in the PlayStation booth surrounded by my journalistic peers. Red-faced and feeling slightly dirty, I quickly moved on to a more PG-13 part of the demo. —Stefanie Fogel
Bossiest Game award: Call of Duty: Ghosts
During our demo of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ campaign missions at E3, we got nothing but earfuls of characters barking orders at us. “Take them out.” “Go to the kitchen first.” “Let them separate.” Sheesh! A lot of games directly guide players these days, but Ghosts seems to take the hand-holding to new levels. Can’t we just take initiative and play it how we want?
It’s a good thing that following all these commands is purely optional. The developers explained that their user playtests prove that most players want these specific directions — otherwise they may not understand what they need to do next. At the same time, the creators want Ghosts to feel really organic. If you do the opposite of what a character tells you to do, the game will adjust accordingly.
So go ahead and don’t shot the bad guys in the kitchen first. Your fellow Ghosts will know what to do. —Dan “Shoe” Hsu
The Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days Memorial award for Dumbest Name at the Square Enix booth
It was another competitive year for this coveted trophy. Square Enix was clearly in it to win it with titles like A Realm Reborn: Final Fantasy XIV and Murdered: Soul Suspect, but the champion was Bloodmasque. It’s amazing that the company that gave us Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance can still somehow manage to wow crowds with a name as dumb as Bloodmasque, but I guess that’s why the publisher’s naming department makes the big bucks. —Jeff Grubb
Cutest Game with the Weirdest Origin award: Hometown Story
Hometown Story looks like a typical Harvest Moon-type experience, complete with chatting up villagers and eventually getting married, but it’s so much more than that. As you run around building the best shop you possibly can, you might notice that all the people and animals look suspiciously like denizens of the Pokémon universe. That’s because Pokémon character designer Ken Sugimori was the lead artist on this project. Things get even more odd when you take in Hometown’s cheerful tunes. Oh, wait, former Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu wrote the soundtrack. Seriously, Sugimori and Uematsu both worked on Hometown Story, and this is probably the first time anyone has mentioned the game to you. —Jasmine Rea
The Most Honest and Entertaining Developer Presentation award: Steve Sinclair and Tramell Isaac (tied)
During Nvidia’s E3 press event, Sinclair, the creative director on Digital Extremes’ Warframe; and Isaac, the senior art director on PlanetSide 2, presented their respective shooters, showcasing how they feature the hardware maker’s technology.
Sinclair went first and spoke candidly about using Nvidia’s assets to achieve the results his small team wanted for its free-to-play release: “I didn’t realize the programmable-shaders bit because I remember when I was at E3 … there was a little handout with all the assembly instructions, and I thought [expletive], I’m out of a job because I didn’t know how to do that. … But copy and paste from Nvidia code and you’re set.” [The room laughs.]
He ended his portion with another lighthearted line, “[Nvidia] gave me a backpack, so I have to talk until [the company is] satisfied.” [More laughs.]
Isaac walked on stage next and started his portion off with a couple of zingers. “Good lord, how do you follow that? I want to buy a used car from that dude,” he said. For a second, I felt like I was at a standup comedy show. When Isaac mentioned that he worked on the original PlanetSide, an audience member whooped. “We got a fan here. … You wanna do [my talk], dude? I’ll give you a fiver.”
Both presentations stood out amid myriad PowerPoint slides littered with jargon-laced bullet points. —Eduardo Moutinho
The Best Time to Use Street Fighter’s K.O. Sound award: The end of Sony’s press conference
The last third of Sony’s press conference was beautiful. Using Microsoft as its proverbial punching bag, Sony delivered a devastating combo of announcements: indies who can self-publish, no restrictions on used games (at least for first-party titles), no required online check-ins, and that the PlayStation 4 will cost $399 ($100 less than the Xbox One). The crowd roared so loudly that we could feel the vibrations on press row. Sony did neglect to mention a few critical details, but the momentum still shifted heavily in its favor. —Giancarlo Valdes
The Biggest Heart award: Epic Games for Oculus VR
The team at Oculus VR was devastated when it lost a cofounder just before the big show. Chief executive Brendan Iribe said that the untimely death of Andrew Scott Reisse also threw the company off-schedule for its big E3 demo. For a time, the whole company was thunderstruck because Reisse, a brilliant programmer, was killed in a police car chase while he was walking through a crosswalk in Santa Ana, Calif. Police arrested an alleged gang member for the fatal accident.
Iribe said that programmers from Epic Games came out to finish the work that Reisse was doing. They did it voluntarily and were instrumental in finishing the demo on time. He was grateful for their contribution and proud of the team for getting the work done. — Dean Takahashi
The Game Most Trying to Emulate Skyrim award: Bound by Flame
Bethesda’s open-world fantasy series, The Elder Scrolls, is pretty much the standard by which most new fantasy role-playing titles are judged, but this year several games really want to take The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on directly. The most obvious is Bound by Flame, a dark fantasy adventure from Spiders. You play as a hero possessed by a flame demon, and how the story progresses depends on whether you give into your fancy new flame powers or not. While battling for your soul, you’ll take on massive enemies, explore dangerous tombs, and even woo a few people. It’s most like Skyrim from a combat and crafting perspective, two areas that really gave the Elder Scrolls game its addictive edge. Bound by Flame looks intriguing, but it might feel too familiar for gamers wanting to explore different takes on fantasy RPGs. —Jasmine Rea
The People’s Console vs The Big White Trailer Truck award: Ouya vs. the ESA
Ouya chief executive Julie Uhrman rented a space in a parking lot for her company’s exhibit, Ouya Park, because that was the only way that gamers would be able to visit the booth and play Ouya’s games. (The Entertainment Software Association does not let the general public into E3.) But the ESA apparently didn’t like the parking lot move and rented a big truck to block the view of Ouya Park from the convention hall. Ouya then rented parking spaces in front of the truck and posted its signs there. The police visited on the first day of E3 to see if Ouya’s permits were in order. They were. So the people’s console exhibit was able to continue. The ESA declined comment, but the controversy gave Ouya a lot of awareness above the noise at E3.
“Ouya is all about being open, and we want to have any gamer be able to come and experience Ouya, meet developers, and play great games,” Uhrman said. “Being outside the convention center was the only way that we could be open to everybody.” —Dean Takahashi
Game Most Likely to Cause an Acid Flashback award: SoundSelf
Many games are colorful and trippy, but only developer Robin Arnott’s SoundSelf caused me to have a transcendental experience. SoundSelf is a game for the Oculus Rift VR visor that creates a swirl of light and shapes that responds to the player’s voice. After humming for a good five minutes in the software — and watching as the game began reflecting my inner peace — I now know what it means to be at one with the universe. I would like to take this time to announce that I am ending my career as a game journalist to pursue my new passion of writing the world’s most-respected treatise on growing hair. —Jeff Grubb
Non-Press-Conference Press Conference award: Nintendo
Nintendo defied conventions by announcing it would not stage an E3 press conference this year and instead would offer a Nintendo Direct webcast for its fans. It announced games during the webcast and then proceeded to have a … press conference. Reggie Fils-Amie, the president of Nintendo of America, and game design chief Shigeru Miyamoto made presentations for the press in Nintendo’s booth. Then the press was able to play games and interview game developers on the spot. It was a much smaller affair than usual, and Scott Moffitt, the executive vice president of sales and marketing, said it was appropriate given the company’s focus on games this year. —Dean Takahashi
The Accidental Sexual-Experience award: Activision booth
On the E3 show floor, publisher Activision had a giant 180-degree screen that would play a promo video for developer Bungie’s first-person shooter, Destiny, every 15 minutes or so. Everyone would gather around and sit crossed-legged on the ground while waiting for the video to start. Once it did, the ground would vibrate violently with the music and explosions … and that’s when I started to notice a few men and women looking around a bit guiltily.
It was clear that the vibrating floor was causing some of those sitting on it to feel … feelings. I imagine that many industry insiders will forever associate Destiny with an inner-awakening that they’ll never forget. —Jeff Grubb
This Should Be a Game award: The Playroom (PS4)
Sony reps made it extraordinarily clear to us press guys: “The Playroom is a tech demo for E3. It is not a game or an announced product.” Got it. But it should be. Hey, if Double Fine’s Kinect Party can keep kids occupied with on-camera, on-TV nonsensical activities — and I’ve seen firsthand that it can do that very well — then The Playroom’s got a shot.
The Playroom shows off how well the PlayStation Camera and the PlayStation 4 controller can work together. At the show, we sat on a couch in front of the Camera, which mirrored us right onto the television screen. The demonstrator then summoned a small herd of adorable little spacemen on the floor right in front of us. If we waved at them, they would wave back. If we kicked at them (hey, it wasn’t our idea — the developer told us to do it), they’d fly out of the way.
Then, the demonstrator used the PS4 controller as a powerful vacuum and sucked all the spacemen into his onscreen controller. From there, he gave us a virtual peek inside the gamepad itself, where you can see buttons moving and the spacemen squeezed together in their tiny chamber. Then he tilted and shook the controller, which caused the squealing little guys to stumble and slide all around the room — much like these poor pups.
After seeing The Playroom, I wanted to show it off to other people — it’s just that cute. Hopefully Sony will consider officially releasing it as a consumer demo for the PlayStation 4. —Dan “Shoe” Hsu
The Actions Speak Louder than Words non-award: Sony and indie gaming
Although Microsoft and the Xbox One have become a punching bag for the entire gaming industry, I wasn’t particularly offended by its press conference at E3 this year. In fact, it showed over an hour’s worth of nonstop next-gen gaming, sometimes even with sound! It got me excited about games again. But as a longtime journalist covering Xbox Live Arcade and a blossoming indie developer myself, my mind was figuratively blown at how delusional and brazen Microsoft’s claim to being the No. 1 support of indie games was. I’m more impressed than upset that the company would have the audacity to tout such erroneous words after years of outcry from developers of games such as N+, Fez, Castle Crashers, Super Meat Boy, and others.
The Xbox Live Indie program has also been slammed time and time again for being nice on paper (and of course, in press releases and E3 conferences), but in practice, more akin to a forgotten, underdeveloped realm pushed far, far away from the Old Spice ads and non-gaming content that plague the front page of the modern Xbox Dashboard.
Sony, on the other hand, didn’t just proclaim its intangible love for indies and then in the same breath announce another version of Minecraft (now the least indie indie game of all time); instead, it brought several indie developers onstage to show off their wares. If the story behind games like Journey and the existence of the Sony Pub Fund haven’t already convinced you, Sony’s commitment to indies at E3 embarrassed Microsoft’s nonsensical corporate babble more than any other instance, in my opinion. ––Sebastian Haley
The Closest We’ll Ever Get to a Pinky and the Brain Game award: Tiny Brains
“One is a genius, the other’s insaaane!” Anyone who watched those dastardly mice try to take over the world in the ’90s has that intro memorized by heart. That’s why I was so happy when I played Tiny Brains, a co-op puzzle game with four superpowered critters: a hamster that can create icy walls, a rabbit that can pull things in with a vortex, a bat with a Force Push-like power, and a mouse who can swap places with objects. They must work together to escape a mad scientist’s laboratory. Pinky and The Brain would be proud. — Giancarlo Valdes
Best PR Line award: Hohokum demo
During a demo of the bizarre indie game Hohokum (PS4, PS3, Vita), a PR rep for Sony took control of a long rainbow ribbon; flew around the flat, minimalist landscapes; and sought out trees to grow and creatures to fly kites on mountains. It is reminiscent of other leisurely, discovery-oriented adventures like PS3’s Flower. When I realized this, I asked the PR rep an odd/stupid question: “Oh, so this is just for fun?” (I meant that Hohokum doesn’t have any objective markers, inventory screens, stuff to shoot, or other more common game mechanics, but my exhausted E3 brain couldn’t muster up the proper words.)
Her reply, with a smirk: “Oh, it’s all for fun.”
Of course it is. That response made me chuckle (and realize how silly my query was), so it wins this award. —Dan “Shoe” Hsu
Worlds Colliding award: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is still set in the Victorian era, but Sherlock’s cool new look and attitude sure aren’t. That’s because Frogwares, the developers behind the long-running Sherlock Holmes adventure series, looked to modern representations of the great detective to piece together an experience that will hopefully draw in fans of actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. This new Sherlock is disheveled, openly rebellious toward law-enforcement procedure, and superpowered — he can stop time when searching for clues. All the changes Frogwares made definitely improve the experience, but it is a little weird to see so many versions of Sherlock Holmes collide into one representation. —Jasmine Rea