It’s E3 o clock.
As a millennial kid, I remember growing up with E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Exposition, for the uninitiated) being one of THE big things every year.
It used to be a massive get together for the games industry and its fans, to show off new and upcoming games, tech and generally put all the gaming nerds in one place for a huge explosion of awesome.
Some years later, around the time I would actually be earing enough to potentially go to the damn thing one day… they changed it from ‘open to everyone’ to an ‘industry and professionals’ only event.
And it steadily went downhill. It was sad times all around.
Last year, I watched E3 via Twitch as the various publishers of games tried to get us excited about their projects, and Nintendo did what it has done for years now, and simply phoned it in from Japan via pre-recorded dialogue.
It was awful.
Between presenters in their 40’s+ trying to be cool and down with the kids, to companies spending more money on their presentation than on actual script writing for the games on show, it was painful. That ‘Mario vs Rabbids’ was about the best the year then went on to offer kind of sat as a cherry on top of the poop cake we were being force-fed. Just one more disappointing facet to the misery that was 2017.
So, what does all that grumbling have to do with writing?
Well, ‘stories’ is the answer. I got into gaming when I was young with simple things like Mario and Lemmings, but I stayed with the hobby because of stories.
I have always talked about games as interactive tales, and my favorite examples of the industry all tend to be single player epics. Not that I don’t like multiplayer games – the Borderlands series managed to combine narrative and co-operative play in a way few games have before or since, but single player games tend to have even stronger story is all.
There are games out there that have moved me as much as any novel. For every tear-jerker of a book I have read, there have also been games where I haven’t wanted to push the button because of what will happen next, found it as tense as turning a page knowing the character you love will die in the next paragraph.
In some ways, games can be even better at it – many these days offer choices in games or different ways to play with morality systems. A lot of these games don’t do it very well, as all play styles are generally geared to all finish up at the same ending, but for those games that do pull it off, I have a very hard time playing them in a way that goes against my own morals.
Movies are of course the first ‘motion medium’ we have for stories, but games are just the logical next step, in my mind. With Virtual Reality coming along the way it is, I would love some life extension to my allotted years just to have the time to see where all this goes.
Games are all about stories for me (and not ‘multiplayer online experiences, EA. Just saying.) They can deliver thoughtful or fun insights into the human condition and the thoughts of other creative people in an engaging and unique way and that is why last years E3 was such a letdown.
And why this year has been so much better.
The range of titles displayed last year were not very story based.
There were two Mario games, and Mario has never been the worlds most story-based series. Inevitably, Princess Peach gets into some kind of jeopardy thanks to Bowser, and Mario has to go jump on things to save her. Ad infinitum.
There was the new Wolfenstein of the year, but in a world of all too many war shooters, it didn’t tickle my fancy.
There was a trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2… which had nothing to do with its predecessor, no mention of the old characters and a very sweary chimp for no good reason.
Anthem was announced, as essentially a Destiny Clone, instead of a new idea, and in a spectacular failure to learn from the past, another Spiderman game was announced… though we won’t know yet how bad it is because it still isn’t out.
There was also an announcement of Metroid Prime 4, but seeing as the ‘announcement’ was just a black screen with the words on it… E3 2017 was summed up as a year of no stories, with the only plot-centric games all still well over a year away. (I’ll get to God of War/Shadow of War at the bottom of this post for anyone currently foaming at the mouth).
2018 has been very much the opposite.
A new Devil May Cry has been announced, just a matter of days after I had a good old complain that there would never be another proper Dante game after the last installment in the franchise was a reboot, written by a team that apparently hated the fanbase.
Devil May Cry has a place in my heart for its light-hearted, over the top, very 90’s anime-inspired craziness, not least of which because it is a fantastic example of good character writing.
Dante is an asshole. There are no two ways about it. The man is a complete punk, self-assured, cocky, arrogant, rude, and annoyingly he is also a super badass due to demonic lineage. Yet you can’t help but love him, because he’s a mix of amusing, witty and just so damn cool. It’s his whole deal, and he’s written well enough you don’t hate him, you root for him.
Devil May Cry 4, the last ‘proper’ one we got also managed something I really appreciate in writing – it introduced a new ‘main’ character, younger and even more of a punk than Dante, but did it really well. Nero showed off his own personality in such a way I immediately liked him too, and he also put into perspective the Dante we had come to know and love. The two played off each other wonderfully, the story called back to previously established plot points from previous games, and it was fun as hell.
I can’t wait to see what 5 will have in store, as both Nero and Dante are back, and a welcome sight they are too in this age of exploitive ‘multi-player experiences’.
We’ve also been given the promise of another Doom game from Bethesda. Doom, as if there’s a human alive who doesn’t know, is among the games that started the First Person Shooter genre, it’s a classic and a building block on which the games industry very much depends. Doom 1 & 2 are frequently played to this day in my household for the kickass soundtrack (even if it is midi files), tight gameplay and simple premise. You are the Doom Guy, all hell has broken loose, literally, go shoot the demons with this shotgun.
Doom 3, some years back, tried to take the series to a more horror-survival theme, and it didn’t work. The Rock himself starred in a movie based on the game… and despite how genuinely awesome The Rock is, even he couldn’t make something out of a game that is literally ‘shoot the demons’ and nothing more.
But then we got Bethesda’s take, simply titled Doom, just to confuse everyone. And it was brilliant.
It was doubly so for knowing its audience, its point, and how to handle its plot appropriately. Because yes it does have a plot. It’s just that it’s plot optional. Doom Guy gets up, punches the first demon he sees, smashes a computer terminal, and then stomps through Mars/Hell killing demons and it’s up to you to read the information you find if you care about the deeper plot. If you don’t, the basic plot linking one kill spree to the next is quick, snappy and totally appropriate for what the game is.
It was on point, well executed and so well liked there’s going to be another. Awesome.
On the topic of story delivered at your own pace, From Soft, the creators of the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, are also about to give us a new game.
From Soft are amazing at scene setting. Whether its medieval knights and dragons from the Souls games (put through a unique twist thanks to Japanese perception of western fables) or the Victorian/Cthulu horror of Bloodborne, it is hard to find any creative medium anywhere that sets the scene quite like From Soft do. On top of that, there are layers on layers of story, background, world building and interest to be found from reading the descriptions of your items. It’s not necessary for the game, but for people like myself who love world building, it’s a great implementation for the medium.
This time, they are going to be tackling samurai-era Japan, in a way that reminds me of the old Onimusha games. I’m looking forward to it, and just what the story From Soft intend to tell with so much lore to draw from.
Then we got a new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077.
I am a massive Shadowrun fan. Shadowrun is a tabletop pen-and-paper rpg set in the future after megacorporations have taken over the world – very standard Cyberpunk fare. It’s all transhumanism, and Shadowrun stands apart from other such settings because magic has come back too. It’s a great setting to romp around in, playing Mission Impossible with futuristic guns, drones and spell slinging. Awesome.
Cyberpunk 2077 is the closest we are ever going to get to a Shadowrun game that’s not a stylised tactical game. (Though, I adore Harebrained Scheme’s recent Shadowrun games and highly recommend them to anyone and everyone.)
Best of all, it’s being made by CD Projeckt Red, who made the Witcher games. Those games are based on a series of books and brilliantly brought to life. If you have never played a story game in your life, you could do FAR worse than diving into The Witcher for a starter. It has everything a good story needs, and the transition to game mechanics was executed phenomenally.
I can only hope (and be fairly safe in doing so) that Cyberpunk will do that same. The trailer is gorgeous and I’m genuinely excited for the story waiting to be told.
E3 this year feels like a success and a return to form for the whole games industry to me because so much of the focus has been on what matters most in my life – stories. I want to know what happens next in all these things, and in others I haven’t talked about here. There was an announcement for the next Elder Scrolls game, for one, another Wolfenstein (sensibly not focusing on BJ this time, and moving the timeline forward), and of course we have some of the announced games of last year actually coming out at last, like the new Metro game (also based on novels).
Vampyr, one of last years few story-based games is finally out, though I haven’t played it yet to comment on it… and I’m praying to any god not yet angry at me that it will, in fact, be good.
I love a good story, be it deep and meaningful or fun and engaging. Games are just stories in motion, in my book, and I am so pleased to have some new stories to look forward to, just like I look forward to the next book by my favored authors.
And now I have the gaming fangirl out of my system, I can hopefully return to more normal writing form on Friday.
God Of War Disclaimer: Yes, I know that was a huge story based game teased at E3:17, and it has come out to glorious reviews since. I am not a God of War fan, on account of Kratos being everything Dante is, but without the ‘likable’ part. You can only be angry about something for so long, and after he gouged out two games worth of viscera, it was already old.
I’m not sure ‘grizzled dad’ Kratos is any better, even though he’s finally getting some actual depth which he has long since needed. I just can’t get into his headspace or that of his writers and if I have a choice about my hack and slash adventures, I would rather replay the Devil May Cry games, every time.
Shadow of War: Tolkien wrote his epics, they became movies, they became games. I’m not sure which of them he would have approved of, and which not, but I can say with almost absolute certainty ‘sexy humanoid Shelob’ was not on his list of ok things. Not to mention bullying orcs until they beg you to stop is some way away from the creators intent, I think.
Some books make it to games in a way that makes everything better. IMO, the ‘Shadow Of’ games do the exact opposite and I sincerely dislike them. Hardly quality writing to save any E3.
While I’m at it… Evil Within 2 and Far Cry 5 didn’t/don’t have stories, they have a premise, and that’s it. Especially now I’ve seen how FC5 ends. Days Gone is another zombie game, lets not even bother.
But yes, I should have given leeway for Ni no Kuni 2, and for that one, I apologize.