E3 2016; celebrating 20th birthdays

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Posted by David on June 24, 2016



This year, I covered the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, the world's biggest videogame tradeshow. It was my first time attending the show since 2007. I've been out of the games journalism/enthusiast press (pick your term) for years, and I forgot just how busy and loud E3 tends to be. I also forgot how much fun it is to play new and hotly anticipated games months ahead of the rest of the world and, even better, to talk to developers and write about their pet projects.

This was a great year to go. I was aware Nintendo intended to host the world premiere of gameplay from the then-unnamed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Wii U and the company's forthcoming NX console. I'm a huge Zelda nut, and Steve Watts, the editor-in-chief of Shacknews, was kind enough to schedule me for a hands-on appointment at 12pm on Tuesday June 14th, the first day of the show and the first hour the show floor was open.

Being among the first outside of Nintendo to play a new Zelda game was a magical experience. So, of course, I wrote about it, plus lots of other games I got to play in Los Angeles. I've collected links to and excerpts from my E3 previews below.

Along with those articles, you'll find links to pieces I've written over the past week. The games industry hibernates for a week or two after E3, as most companies devote all their marketing muscle behind announcements before and during the show. That leaves us journos with little to write about other than articles we didn't have time to write during the event, and ample opportunity to write long-form pieces centered on historical events.

This week, Quake, Nintendo 64, and Super Mario 64 turned 20. I wrote articles reflecting on those games and technologies, and a look back at the hints Nintendo dropped regarding Zelda: Breath of the Wild's creative direction over the past several years. Any and all things Zelda are hot right now, so my EIC thought it a good idea to put my prodigiously nerdy knowledge of Zelda to good use during our post-E3 respite.

I'm proud of how these articles turned out. To be honest, writing E3 content is not my favorite thing. Every member of the games press sees the exact same presentation from exhibitors; more often than not, this results in near-identical write-ups on every site. If there's one thing I hate to do as a writer, it's retread ground.

The editorial voice and direction Steve has set for Shacknews ensured that that was unlikely to happen. As he put it, we are not a mouthpiece for publishers. Our goal when approach each meeting was to find an interesting angle for our preview. Theses along the lines of "this game has X number of guns!" simply would not do. Being given free rein to set the tone and direction of my articles was exhilarating, and made me excited about providing coverage I usually consider to be a chore.

With that in mind, I hope you enjoy the articles. I'll be back next week with some exciting book news.

Happy reading,



* Changing the System: How Nintendo 64 revolutionized 3D game design. Excerpt: What really blew minds was Mario's range of movement. Tilting the stick forward just a bit caused him to tiptoe; a little more pressure, and he'd speed up to a walk. Going full tilt sent the mustachioed mascot into a sprint. Whether sidling against walls to sneak past sleeping piranha plants or dashing across the sunny fields that comprised the bulk of Super Mario 64's zones, Mario responded instantly and effortlessly to player input. Spending hours running, leaping, flipping, and climbing in the Princess Peach's garden outside her castle was just as enjoyable as completing objectives in levels.

* How Eiji Aonuma teased The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's creative direction years ago. Excerpt: I was giddy over Breath of the Wild's trailer and my hands-on experience with the game at E3, but I wasn't surprised. Any Zelda fan who gave headlines over the last five years at least a cursory glance knew just how radical a departure Aonuma had planned, even if some of the particulars were (and still are) hidden behind a veil of mystery.

* Tremors: How Quake shook first-person shooters to their core. Excerpt: Doom's 3D playground was wrought from smoke and mirrors. It was fast, but incapable of executing true 3D environments. Enemies only appeared to fly over or walk underneath one another, and no two platforms could be made vertically parallel. Nevertheless, Doom popularized deathmatch, a mode where two or more players could blast each other to bits over modem or network connections, as well as mod tools that let players build their own maps and campaigns. Enter Quake, a revolutionary game made by a small team—less than two dozen developers. Yet despite id's small stature, Quake quickly grew into a giant whose technical pedigree and deceptively simple gameplay notions set the standard for FPS and 3D titles going forward.


E3 articles

* The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a Breath of Fresh Air. Excerpt: Everything's the same in Breath of the Wild, yet everything's different. Director and producer Eiji Aonuma got his start designing dungeons for 1998's Ocarina of Time, a game considered not only the pinnacle of the Zelda series, but one of the greatest and most influential games of all time. That pedigree sharpened into a double-edged sword. Thirteen years and four console installments later, Nintendo has clung to Ocarina's award-winning formula with a grip so tight it had the series in a stranglehold. Find dungeon. Collect item. Defeat boss. Find dungeon. Rinse and repeat. Now along comes Breath of the Wild and voiceover work. In a Zelda game!

* How The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild breaks the Zelda mold. Excerpt: This week, Eiji Aonuma pulled back the curtain on Breath of the Wild, the next chapter in the series and, according to Aonuma, the next seismic shift in franchise conventions. Many elements have been refined; others overthrown by brand new ideas. Here are just a few ways Breath of the Wild is poised to revolutionize The Legend of Zelda--and perhaps open-world design as a whole.

* Resident Evil 7 Ushers in a New Age of Horror. Excerpt: Where RE4 managed to balance large-scale battles with environmental tactics and creepy atmosphere, RE5 and 6 veered closer to Call of Duty campaigns. Horror DNA flaked off like putrid skin with each additional bombastic set piece until no trace of Shinji Mikami's trademark don't-pee-your-pants brand of terror remained. Resident Evil 7 marks a third evolution, and a back-to-basics approach for a series that could not afford one more misstep.

* LawBreakers Prioritizes Character Mastery in a Genre Founded on Map Control. Excerpt: Where Battlefield 4 specialized in large-scale battles across sprawling maps, LawBreakers is an arena shooter, a genre rooted in map control and lightning-fast reflexes. It's also a genre only recently exhumed: after enjoying success in the '90s, cinematic blockbusters like Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield ground the likes of Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 into the dirt. How will LawBreakers compete? By flipping the script that arena shooters followed to relative success in the 1990s.

* Batman: The Telltale Series aims to rethink Batman rather than Telltale conventions. Excerpt: But while the story in each Telltale adventure is unique to its world and characters, there exists (by the company's own admission) a formula that tends to make each feel more or less the same as any other. I tend to play the games whose settings interest me and ignore the rest, the same way I sample TT Games' Lego titles. Since the company seems satisfied with its conventions to interactive storytelling, the creative team behind Batman: The Telltale Series is tackling a different challenge: disabusing players of the long-standing notion that Bruce Wayne is nothing more than a mask for Batman.

* Nioh is Ninja Gaiden Souls. Excerpt: The ability to reclaim stamina right after spending it revamps combat dramatically. Every swing and thrust has weight, like in Dark Souls. But the way Ki replenishment keeps you in the fight, spliced with Ninja Gaiden's blistering pace, gives rise to a satisfying and joyful loop—unleash a combo, mash the Ki regen button, and keep hacking away, over and over until your enemy folds at your feet.

* Titanfall 2 Impressions - Collecting Bounties in Multiplayer. Excerpt: Forget all the hubbub around the presence of a real, honest-to-goodness campaign in Titanfall 2. That wasn't on display when I went to battle against other attendees at Electronic Arts' EA Play event. Instead, the same mechanics that comprised the cornerstone of the first game, with plenty of refinements rolled in for good measure, served as a reminder that frantic multiplayer action is still the primary draw in Respawn Entertainment's shooter.

 * Battlefield 1 Impressions: Hands-on with Conquest mode. Excerpt: What I really want to know is whether or not the game's story will do justice to one of the most pivotal periods in the world's history. Video games make excellent teaching tools, and WWII-themed campaigns did an admirable job conveying the gravity of famous battles while still letting them have fun playing a game. Battlefield 1 has the technical pedigree and mechanical depth to follow suit.

Being given free rein to set the tone and direction of my articles was exhilarating, and made me excited about covering an event I usually find a chore.


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