E3 2015: is there anything new at a convention dominated by sequels?

It's now surprising when games don't come with a number at the end — so where should gamers go to find anything novel?

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The Independent Tech

E3 is the biggest event of the gaming calendar. Preceded by weeks of rumours and leaks, it’s seeped in suspension and expectation: What new games are going to be announced? Are we going to get new trailers or gameplay footage of games we’re avidly waiting for? And, more and more, what sequels and remakes are we going to see?

This year is showing once again that the maxim "innovation in gaming is coming from indie developers" is true. The games that are getting claps and cheers, the trailers getting shared all over social media aren’t novel stories – they’re the same ones fans in the 90s excitedly read GamesMaster to see.

Games like ‘Doom’ will always get the nostalgic vote but really, what’s new? This particular incarnation, previously named DOOM 4, has been in fractured development since 2008. Nintendo pumped up a new Star Fox – Star Fox Zero; a day before that Sony announced that Final Fantasy VII, often named as the best of the series, is getting a remake on PS4; Microsoft led with a video focusing on Halo 5, The Rise of the Tomb Raider, Gears of War 4, and Forza 6. It’s surprising when games don’t come with a number at the end.

Gaming as a medium is still relatively young. As much as we yell about cinema doing the same things (formulaic stories, endless sequels and remakes), there’s such a large canon for cinema to fall back on. Is gaming really descending into monoculture? And if so, why now?

It’s true that new IPs were announced at the big company conferences but the focus, undoubtedly, was on the safe bets. Sony, for one, mentioned the fantastic looking FireWatch – a first person adventure game developed by San Francisco based Campo Santo, studio headed by members of the podcast Idle Thumbs – it’s a game that looks to have a nuanced and exciting narrative, told without the need for guns and machismo.

For the big names, the newness is coming from the tech side. Everyone has a Virtual Reality headset to show off with a few games – some of which look interesting, true, but you get the feeling that if and when VR takes off, these same companies are going to surround our heads with games we’ve already played.

For multinationals like Sony and Microsoft, this is the safest option. Make a game you know people already like, make it again and again and people will usually buy it. There’s no risk in remaking Final Fantasy VII because you know it’s good and people like it, it takes skill to mess up an already renowned game.

Now more than ever people are treading lightly in gaming, online discussion has far too often spilled into scary real-world actions. Both Playstation Network and Xbox Live have had service disrupted by massive DDoS attacks. In the end, they’re companies with shareholders; those shareholders like to know their companies are making money, not that they're being culturally challenging. When it comes to media, profit is a homogenising force.

Admittedly, I’m as excited about Fallout 4 as everyone else. There’s some talk about whether the graphics are up to scratch but it still looks like a fantastic game that’s going to take away a number of my weekends – rolling apocalyptic scenery and guns are always fun. But how new is the story going to be?

 

For new narratives and new voices, you have to go indie – you have to look at studios like Devolver Digital, who consistently bring out games that are fun to play while also subtly or overtly making a statement. The fairly recent Not A Hero centres on an anthropomorphic Rabbit mayor who hires you to clean up the city by killing all the criminals – this, he thinks, will help him get re-elected. It’s a joke about our political system, one told in such a ridiculous way that it makes the satire all the more cutting.

E3, instead, feels like a consistent, safe, rehash of old ideas. It should be a conference of ‘new’ but everything feels old. New tech is important but are we willing to let all semblance of the narrative’s importance slide in the pursuit of more lifelike hands?

A tweet I read last night summed up the feeling: “Character is in writing, not realistic skin pores”. E3 doesn’t seem to agree.

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