Harrison Ford is crouched in a corner atop an incomplete high-rise building, clinging to life by the tips of his fingers as the heavy rain comes down. Standing across from him, bloodied and bruised, Rutger Hauer’s Batty gazes at nothing in particular. “I’ve seen things you people could never imagine,” he says, waxing philosophical on the nature of death, the idea of humanity and the scope of the universe. There is nothing comparable between an intergalactic war zone from Blade Runner and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) save for the insanity of a neon-strewn city engorged with the seething masses, futuristic technology on display and otherwise taken for granted, and a thin line between reality and fiction. Which is to say that E3 is the closest one will ever come to time traveling without a flux capacitor.
E3, the annual gathering of all things video game by developers and industry professionals, began last week at the L.A. Convention Center. Decked out in massive banners and bizarre ornamentation, the venue saw 46,000 attendees over three days, all jonesing for games still months away from release. Most of what’s special about the show isn’t necessarily the gaudy displays by the big three developers, though.
Take for instance Telltale Games. Its booth, tucked away in a makeshift rectangular cubicle in an undecorated hall, housed new spins on some very familiar titles. Once inside, a zombie arm juts out at passers-by through double doors marked “DON’T OPEN / DEAD INSIDE,” a clear indication that Telltale is working on a game based on the insanely popular zombie drama Walking Dead.
Set in a time before the original story, the Walking Dead game introduces two characters never before seen in the comics or TV series: Lee Everett and a 7-year-old girl named Clementine. Rick Grimes, the original protagonist of the series, wakes up from a coma and enters Atlanta around the same time that Everett and Clementine are on their way out. Characters may cross paths, making way for a new expansion to the Walking Dead canon. Expect more action than previous Telltale titles (such as Back to the Future, for instance). The release date is yet to be announced.
In the massive Warner Bros.’ booth, next to Batman: Arkham City, was Bastion, an unassuming action RPG set in a world post-destruction — our goal is to rebuild it. Imagine a hand-painted model of the world, set not in grayscale but all the colors of the rainbow, and you have the beautiful renderings of the world of Bastion.
Jen Zee, art director for Bastion, was tired of seeing every shade of brown in her apocalyptic games. Having finished Fallout 3, Zee decided that the apocalypse could be beautiful and set about hand-painting levels, transforming the end of the world into a lush green. Bastion’s real-time narration also adds to the “death can be beautiful” idea with quirky remarks about everything you do, from wailing on random objects to falling off of into space (“And then our hero fell to his death . . .” he says, followed by “Just kidding” when your character respawns). Supergiant Games, the developer, hopes to have Bastion available by this summer.
At last year’s IndieCade in Culver City, I sat in on a meeting discussing new gaming mechanics for a mysterious game called Journey. Upstairs in Sony’s meeting room at E3, Journey was near completion, shown now as an otherworldly environment of flowing sand and enigmatic heroes on a mysterious journey through an open desert.
Soon to be released for the Playstation Network, Journey pits you against sand dunes and hazards toward a to-be-determined spiritual goal. Characters pray before altars for guidance and gaze longingly at a mountain in the distance. Footprints in the sand reveal that others have come this way before; obstacles that seem impossible to traverse are made doable with help from strangers. Choose to work together, or ditch them and work alone, but don’t expect to see them again. In Journey, the world is as vast as the Sahara, with others few and far between.
Despite being set in a desert, the environment is bright and alive. Collecting floating parchment enables your character to leap higher while bright symbols are illuminated on its flowing robes. Journey, for all of its simplicity, is a story rich in depth and symbolism. Look for it later this year.
E3 is a lot like Dick’s futuristic city from Blade Runner. It’s bright, it’s loud, and there are no promises that a very large person won’t step on your foot and make you faceplant in front of attractive women dressed as video game characters. (I refuse to admit that this happened.) With a bit of searching, there are several treasures to be found and cherished, sans androids (phones excluded).
Chris O’Neal is a time traveling soldier sent from the future to protect the mother of the only man who can save humanity. In other words, we’re doomed. Follow him on Twitter @AgentONeal.