Yes, It’s Another E3 Games Roundup

You’ve got to love E3. For those who don’t know, E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo. It’s an annual event held in Los Angeles, where video game developers and publishers show off upcoming games and unleash cringe-worthy marketing stunts. For every gamer, the big publisher conferences are must-see events. So I thought I’d take a break from my writing-themed blog posts, and do what every other gamer does at this time of the year: give my thoughts on the games shown.

Prior to E3, there’s always a slew of speculative articles and blog entries, written by every gamer from the excitable individual through to the monolithic journalistic websites.

During E3, social media lights up with reactions to the announced news, and memes.

After E3, the same gamers and news outlets sit down and analyse what they’ve just seen. More often than not, the excitement mellows into mild disappointment. The internet collectively shakes off that unfamiliar cap of excitement and optimism, and dons the soothing hat of cynicism.

This year, however, I really enjoyed the conferences and presentations. There was less bafflingly ill-conceived, desperately hip fluff than usual. The less said about EA in that regard, the better.

We even had trailers that featured actual gameplay footage! See, I knew the Dead Island trailer would become a cautionary tale… Sorry, I digress. In short, it seems that there’s plenty to look forward to this year and in 2018, and, in the case of Metroid Prime 4 and the untitled Pokémon RPG, when the ice caps have melted and artificial intelligence has analysed Trump and decided that humanity can no longer be trusted with its own survival. I jest, of course. Sort of.

There were a few particular highlights for me.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus looks to have retained the dry humour, over-the-top action, and diligent world-building of its predecessor. In my opinion, Wolfenstein: The New Order should be hailed as the golden standard of how reboots should be done. It kept the spirit of the old Wolfenstein games, and the violence, but demonstrated that these facets don’t preclude a surprisingly engrossing story.

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Microsoft had a decent showing in my book, but didn’t show any games that demand to be raved about. That in itself is telling. I’ll keep on happily playing my PS4 until the next generation comes along, then I’ll decide all over again which console has the best offering.

A few previously-revealed games surprised me. Days Gone looked like frantic, braindead nonsense in its first reveal trailer. In the latest one, however, it showed impressive stealth chops and great potential for environmental interaction.

God of War continues to look better and better, particularly with the sensible decision to explore Kratos’s humanity (or lack thereof) through his son. I adored the original God of War on the PS2, but by the third game it had simply lost its way.

Heck, even Ubisoft managed to pull off a decent conference. I’m sure they’re breathing a big sigh of relief right now; their plan to wait a year and hope everybody’s enthusiasm for the Assassin’s Creed series rekindles itself seems to have worked.

I want to give a special shout-out to a little indie game called The Last Night. It takes a lot for indie games to get prime spots in E3 conferences, and I have a feeling we should be very excited for this upcoming beauty. The Last Night’s gorgeous pixel art lends itself perfectly to the dystopian cyberpunk aesthetic. It looks simultaneously bleak and thought-provoking.  There’s a lot of rain, a lot of neon, and a lot of resignation. Basically, it could be Blade Runner: The Game. Need I say more?

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Before I finish off with my favourite games shown at this year’s E3, there were a few letdowns. Marvel’s Spider-Man looks slick, but was so heavily-scripted it’s hard to get an idea of what the gameplay will be like outside the huge set pieces. Even so, the prevalence of QTEs is worrying; I want to feel in control of Spidey, not being given permission to witness his exploits by pressing the right buttons. Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is another game on my radar. The first Ni No Kuni was a delight, and shouldn’t be overlooked by any RPG fans. Its sequel, however, has ditched the collectible sprites called familiars, which tapped in to the collector instincts in every RPG fan. Instead, there are unremarkable critters called Higgledies which can be commanded in battle. That said, the story is supposedly more mature, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Enough of that doom and gloom, however. Have a picture of a dinosaur with a Mario cap on.

super mario odyssey t rex

You’re welcome. Although we already knew Super Mario Odyssey was coming, we didn’t know just how wonderfully insane it will be. Nintendo’s short and sweet Direct presentation showed us more of the plucky plumber’s latest outing, with lots of gameplay footage shown afterwards. I could write a whole article about Super Mario’s Odyssey’s unbridled creativity, luscious environments, and intriguing mechanics. I won’t. Instead, just look at that dinosaur again. You can possess all sorts of things in Odyssey, including a T-Rex. I need to start saving for the Switch now.

Nintendo also perused social media a couple of hours before filming the Nintendo Direct presentation, and identified the games that people most wanted to see announced.

“Metroid Prime 4 and a Pokémon RPG? Okay, we can do that. Only got time to make up one logo, though. Take your pick, Mr. Artist.”

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That’s how I imagine it went down, anyway. Still, the announcements sent the gaming community into a meltdown, aptly demonstrating that we’re still desperate for Nintendo to fully utilise their IPs once more. It’s anybody’s guess how long we’ll have to wait for these two behemoths, but at least Nintendo have shown some sort of awareness of what the community wants from them. That’s an improvement over the last eight years or so, anyway.

And there you have it. Those were the games that really piqued my interest from the E3 2017 presentations. There are plenty more I didn’t touch on – Anthem, Star Wars Battlefront II, Far Cry 5, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, The Last Guardian remake, and so on. What caught your eye?

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A Writer’s Thoughts – Part 3: The Comfort Zone

I’m always on the lookout for morsels of advice to inspire me to write. One such nugget that I keep coming across is to ‘write what you know’. I understand the philosophy behind this guidance. In essence, it says that a writer shouldn’t attempt to write in a genre or on a topic that they’re not familiar with. Their impetus will either fade due to a lack of interest, or they’ll produce something that doesn’t sound authentic.

The advice can be applied to real life. As a writer, I wouldn’t attempt to rewire my house; I’d leave it to a professional electrician, otherwise risk blowing myself up. Similarly, I would never stroll into a garden centre and start telling the staff how to look after their plants. Horticulture interests me so little that I have trouble keeping artificial plants from wilting.

So ‘write what you know’ makes sense, right? I would agree to a certain extent, but at the same time I find the guidance restrictive and unambitious.  Let me explain why.

In my opinion, our society is chock full of “experts”. To become an expert, one must stay doing the same job for years on end, often within a large corporation that encourages and expects that inertia. I spoke more about this in my blog entry entitled ‘A New Chapter’, so I won’t get carried away here.

Suffice to say, so-called experts become so familiar with whatever their field of expertise is, that often complacency creeps in. Many of us need fresh challenges to stretch ourselves, to push ourselves to develop. If we stay within our respective comfort zones, if we only ever “write” what we’re absolutely sure that we know, then how can we develop?

The renowned playwright David Mamet says “You gotta stand being bad […], cos if you don’t, you’re never gonna write anything good.” That sounds so simple, but for me is one of the hardest things to grapple with. It’s far easier to never venture out of your comfort zone, and therefore minimise the risk of being “bad”.

‘Write what you know’ is certainly a snappy buzz phrase. I believe, however, that it should be laden with caveats. If something in life lies outside your comfort zone but you approach it half-heartedly, chances are you’ll fail. You’re unfamiliar with it, and therefore you’ll struggle. With enough discipline and enthusiasm, however, I believe there’s nothing wrong with trying your hand at something different.

Calling someone a jack-of-all-trades is often seen as an insult. The implication is that that person doesn’t specialise in anything, and therefore is not particularly good at any one thing. In short, they’re not an expert in any field. Personally, I believe it’s more advantageous to have a broad range of knowledge and some experience in many fields, than know all there is to know on one niche topic. In a writing context, a breadth of understanding of topics and genres can result in more sincere, layered writing.

In my opinion, it’s important to venture out of one’s comfort zone. That is where mistakes are lurking, and therefore where lessons can be learned. The important thing is not to tiptoe out, but to stride out with purpose and enthusiasm.

A Writer’s Thoughts – Part 2: Metaphor for Life

“What do you do, then?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh, really? What do you write?”

I’m sure every writer has experienced an exchange similar to the above. I wish I had a concise answer to the question. I usually fumble around trying to explain that I enjoy a variety of different formats and mediums, before, invariably, the questioner’s eyes glaze over.

Sometimes I’m more decisive: “I mainly write stories.” This response is usually met with a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment. Occasionally, there’s some amusement in there, too. Recently, I thought about why this might be the case, and concluded that it is because storytelling’s raison d’être isn’t immediately apparent.

Writing marketing copy has a clear, easy-to-explain purpose: to convince, or persuade. An academic article’s purpose may be to inform through logical reasoning. On the surface, storytelling’s purpose is to entertain, but that doesn’t scratch the surface of the power of stories. There may be a tendency, therefore, for it to be regarded as the black sheep of the writing family.

When I read Robert McKee’s statement that ‘Story is metaphor for life’, it immediately intrigued me. However fantastical the worlds are in which stories are set, and however enigmatic and colourful the characters are, stories resonate with us when they comment on life. It makes sense: life is something that we’re all pretty experienced in, in our own unique ways.

There is no need for a story to be rooted in reality, but it must be rooted in life. Take Tolkien’s masterful book The Hobbit for example. On his journey to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo Baggins has to overcome all manner of fantastical obstacles, and meets a host of magical characters. Its themes, however, are those of overcoming one’s fears to go on an adventure. At first, Bilbo is motivated by greed, and a suppressed desire to see the world outside of The Shire. As he progresses, however, he comes to realise the importance of the friendships he’s developed, and learns that the world needs people to stand up and be counted. In short, by taking a risk in setting out on the escapade, he comes to understand what he’s truly capable of.

The Hobbit is a quintessential hero’s journey. The lessons that Bilbo learns are all valuable life lessons. We, the audience, can relate to Bilbo because we have all experienced a reluctance to leave our comfort zones. We have all taken risks, however small, and learned about ourselves in the process. The Hobbit, like every great story, is a metaphor for life.

“Why do you like writing stories, then?”

I encounter this question less (usually I’ve lost the person’s interest long before this point), but it’s the most important one of all. The short answer is, of course, because I just do. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to crack a story, or realise a colourful character, and put pen to paper to start the building process.

A more comprehensive answer would be that I’m attracted to storytelling because I acknowledge the power that good stories have to move people. As metaphors for life, stories can make us feel without the requirement to have experienced that which the story’s characters experience. I completely agree with Michael Hague’s assertion that the primary objective of storytelling is to elicit emotion.

It is tempting to champion storytelling because it teaches us about life, but I don’t quite agree with that. Good stories cannot teach us, but they can awaken dormant emotions within the audience. Stories are the puppeteers who pull our strings. They make us feel something and, in the process, throw into focus aspects of our own lives.

That, to me, is simply fascinating. That is the reason why I love writing stories.