The 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has come and gone — a somewhat lackluster showing, dampened by a lagging industry and growing disillusionment. Have the so-called big three (Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) fallen out of touch with their usually gung-ho squadron of fanboys and girls, or were the exhibitors at the world’s largest video game convention simply humbled by push-back from their attempt to smartphonify their consoles? Nah, the truth is that where creativity shines is where it has been all along, with the little guys, the producers and developers who aren’t trying to find a way to connect your gaming system with your iPhone, Android or tablet.
Take for instance Microsoft’s E3 press conference, introducing the new Xbox 360 — a revolutionary way to pretend that your smartphone is a gaming console. Rather than spend time and creative energy focusing on new franchises, Microsoft introduced new partnerships with ESPN and Nickelodeon as well as new features to better get you, a gamer, to listen to music on your gaming console. Xbox Music, formerly known as Zune, will be a way for you to take your music with you on your Windows Phone and listen to it via your console whenever you decide not to use it realistically.
It’s easy to get angry. Truth be told, entertainment is coagulating into an everything bagel of networks. The average user will pay $400 for a console, but only if it can play movies and music, be a personal coach and assist in home gardening.
The real genius and brilliance of E3, as in years past, is at the small, out-of-the-way booths.
Take Perfect World, a mild-mannered company unafraid of deadlines and cost. Headquartered in Asia, it’s steeped deeply in the world of massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). In front of a large skeleton of a dragon of some sort, silver-haired Jack Emmert, CEO of Cryptic Studios — the same Cryptic behind the popular MMORPG City of Heroes — demonstrated the seductive fluidity of his Neverwinter Nights. Set within the Dungeons and Dragons mythology, players in groups of varying sizes take on various monsters of varying strengths.
Of course, it’s free to play. It kind of has to be now that it’s taken so long to arrive. The good news is that with as much energy as has been put into the game, it’s gorgeous. One would expect a minimum $9.99 per month activation, but lo — Perfect World delivers (or will soon) an MMORPG that has all of the depth and craft of your World of Warcraft for $14.99 per month cheaper.
Level 5, the fantastic creators of the action puzzle Nintendo DS series Professor Layton, made an appearance with its Studio Ghibli animated Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a colorful RPG set in a whimsical world of cute things and complicated RPG elements. Studio Ghibli, the production studio founded by anime director Hayao Miyazaki (Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle) teamed up with Level 5 and delivered a wonderfully imagined world that captures the spirit of the studio’s Japanese films.
The 10-minute demo thrusts players into the world of a Miyazaki film — making dreams come true for those of us who wish to be reincarnated into his magical realms, and impressing the skeptics. Expect Ni No Kuni toward the end of the year.
We would be remiss if we neglected to include the Gamer’s Notebook Best of Show. This is an award entirely fictional and worth a fraction of a cent, but meaningful in a sentimental kind of way. This year’s award goes to the team at Telltale Games, who supplied the press with real-life turkey legs after their 20-minute demonstration of The Walking Dead: Starved for Help.
Nothing sounded more appetizing than a hunk of meat soaked in fat after watching a man use an axe to remove a leg. This, plus many more grotesque feats, are possible in the second (of five) installment of the story-driven game for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC based on the comic book, which spawned the hit television series on AMC.
E3 is the kind of show that causes a gamer to focus on the small fry rather than the sharks eating up new technologies and spitting out sequels. This is the year of the krill, the little developers that too often are swallowed up. Let’s hope they stay afloat and continue to impress.
Chris O’Neal is really only living in anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises. Follow him on Twitter@agentoneal.