E3: 2013's Biggest Surprises
From the rise of the indie game makers to Nintendo's surprising lack of partners, the things that snuck up on us at the annual electronics expo.
The Rise of Indies
No matter where you looked at E3, small, scrappy game makers were out in force. Both Microsoft and Sony pledged allegiance to the indie flag in their press conferences (though Sony has a more convincing lineup to show). Small teams making addictive, brilliant games of manageable size were the talk of the show, from Jonathan Blow’s The Witness to Dennatton’s Hotline Miami 2.
Microsoft Plays Dead
The makers of the Xbox had a chance to change the narrative about the controversial always-online philosophy of their new system that sparked outrage in video-game circles in the weeks leading up to E3. But instead of addressing the issue, or even redirecting the conversation to the benefits rather than the negatives of always-online console, they led vague obfuscating demos and talked about the games they have coming out (which, admittedly, look pretty good). Sony didn’t miss the opportunity to hand them a proper drubbing over their game-sharing policies and always-online requirements, though it remains to be seen just how consumer-friendly the PS4 will be.
Sony Stomps Sticker Shock
There were audible gasps in the room when Sony announced the $399 price point for the PS4 during their press conference. The company initially priced the PS3 at $599, which, many analysts said, hurt sales and allowed Microsoft to get the upper hand during the last generation of consoles. Earlier on the day of Sony’s $399 bombshell, Microsoft announced that Xbox One would cost $499. Oops.
Disney Comes Alive
Disney, a company not always known for their strong in-house video-game offerings, came strong with two very well received games, Disney Infinity and Fantasia: Music Evolved. Infinity leverages Disney’s considerable back catalog for a shared video-game world with massive merchandising crossover. Rather than hold too tight to license restrictions, it appears they’ve done a lot of things right. The Mouse dropped another bombshell as well with Fantasia: Music Evolved. For development, they tapped Harmonix, the music game developers behind Guitar Hero and Rock Band, to create a mind-bending music manipulation game that lets you modify music through body gestures using the Xbox’s Kinect sensor. Fantasia came into the show an unknown and left a fan favorite
Nintendo’s Lack of Pals
While Nintendo announced a slew of updates to their classic franchises (Mario Kart, Mario Party, Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country, Super Smash Brothers), what was missing from the show was anybody else talking about them. Not a word was breathed at Activision's or Ubisoft’s press conferences about the Wii U, and Nintendo hardware was thin on the ground in most third-party booths. With meager Wii U sales and their handheld market being steadily eroded by tablets and smartphones, it was hard to escape the thought that Nintendo’s relevance in the game industry is waning.
Rise of the Plants
One of the strangest and most delightful announcements came during EA’s press conference when John Vechey, head of powerhouse mobile developer PopCap, announced that they’d be evolving the company’s rampantly successful Plants vs. Zombies universe into an online, multiplayer, third-person strategy shooter. This marks one of the first times a game has started in the mobile space, then made the jump upstream to consoles. It looked like an immense amount of extremely