While this year’s announced attendance was up at the E3 game convention, the number of exhibitors was significantly smaller, and many parts of the show floor felt almost quiet. Disney Interactive and EA didn’t attend, nor did Activision Blizzard, and Konami was just taking meetings. Many of the other booths were significantly smaller than they were last year— and the pervasive advertising around the venue was also, well, less pervasive, as many walls remained just walls.
Entering the main hall, the eye catcher was not the Square Enix “World of Final Fantasy” exhibit, but a giant inflated bag of Doritos. Doritos gave away chips and customized T-shirts while they encouraged show goers to visit their 60-foot open-air arcade game situated between the Staples Center and L.A. Live. This was probably a PR stunt better suited to PAX Prime, but I’ll get back to that.
For companies without significant announcements, and global communications eliminating the need for physical meetings at trade shows, it appears there was a reduced need to attend or invest in E3 this year. It might be just a hiatus. Next year could see the return of hype as VR and new games rekindle competition. The other idea that could drive the show, which was hinted at by the appearance of Doritos and supported by a murmuring undercurrent of discussion among attendees and exhibitors, would be to allow fans and gamers access to this very industry-focused event.
Time will tell how E3 evolves. In the meantime, there was still plenty of cool stuff worthy of attention. Here’s my pick for the top five coolest announcements and trends of E3 2016.
1. Microsoft Doubles Down on Xbox. And in this case, doubling down means two Xboxes. The Xbox One S is a smaller version of the Xbox One with up to 2TB of storage and 4K video and Blu-ray support. That unit should be available in August of 2016 starting at $299. Project Scorpio is both more interesting and further distant (by the holidays in 2017). Scorpio will support 4K video with six teraflops of graphic processing power. More importantly, it will include its own VR capabilities.
2. Sony Playstation VR release date. Arguably the coolest looking of the VR headsets, Sony finally announced October 13, 2016 as the release date for their long awaited VR game offering. At $399 it will be more accessible than HTC Vive or Oculus Rift because it will work with an existing PS4.
3. Dell’s Alienware OLED gaming ultrabook. Dell was showing off everything from backpack VR totes, to upgraded Steam boxes and ginormously powerful towers to drive gaming and VR experiences. The coolest item though was their Alienware 13 with OLED graphics which offers an absolutely gorgeous display and plenty of power for basic gaming with its duel-core i7 processor and NVIDA GeForce GTX 960M graphics. Expect OLED to set the new mobile display standard.
4. VR Everywhere. You could not move put a few paces before encountering a VR something. Here’s a list of the top technologies and games.
• Nyko was showing off its VR Guardian virtual boundary system that adds invisible walls to VR experiences. Unlike the sensors that ship with HTC’s Vive, tossing up a grid as you wander to the edge of the world, this system sports haptic feedback through a bracelet, which lets you know when you’ve left the playing area.
• Turtle Beach Stealth 350VR Gaming Headset with a top indentation to support the VR tether, 30+ hours of battery-powered amplification, and a removable noise-cancelling microphone. Audio controls are built into the headset to help keep VR participants in VR. Planned for launch fall of 2016 for a MSRP of $79.95.
• A number of VR games were announced, some with preview experiences. New games included WB Games Batman: Arkham VR; Capcom’s Resident Evil 7; Square Enix Final Fantasy XV’ Bethesda’s Fallout 4 and Doom; and the EA Dice game, Star Wars Battlefront X-Wing VR Mission.
• But as a Star Trek fan, by far the coolest was Star Trek: Bridge Crew from Ubisoft, a four player co-op game that places the participants on the bridge of a starship, playing various roles during a mission. Here is a video of what some of Star Trek actors, past and present, thought of the game as well as an early look at the experience.
• Oculus was no longer a stealth exhibitor, though they had plenty of meeting-only experiences. The Rift was now out in the open and available for everyone who wanted to stand in the hours-long line to have a go.
• HTC was also more accessible, sponsoring a partner exhibit in the South Hall lobby.
• 3D Rudder demonstrated its near shipping foot-oriented VR controller, while Zeiss was showing off its soon to ship Zeiss VR ONE Plus.
• Vuzix was demonstrating their now-shipping iWear Video Headphones, which offer a home theater-like 125” inch screen perceived to be ten feed away. Video adapters connect to almost anything, including PCs and smart phones.
• Popupgaming.com showed off their mobile rig that brings VR experiences to corporate and private events. VR is now ready to compete with henna tattoos, face painters and photo booths.
• One of the biggest consistent crowds huddled in the back of the South Hall around Naughty America, a VR experience for adults. The subscription-based service leaves little to the imagination. For those more interested in gambling than gawking, AlicePoker was showing off its multi-platform, multi-player VR poker environment. Unlike many VR plays, AlicePoker will integrate with mobile and traditional PC clients.
5. Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild (Nintendo) and the Last Guardian (Sony). It’s easy to get caught up in pure shoot-outs, movie and television franchise spin-offs and action sports, but some games really create art for their characters to roam through, and delve into deep narratives that create compelling experiences. Sony will release The Last Guardian on Oct. 25. Zelda fans received more details about Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild and a new trailer, but only a vague 2017 release date.
Well, OK, for pure geeky fun, ‘South Park: The Fractured But Whole’ offers a peek at this upcoming game which pokes fun at the convoluted Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe. From Ubisoft.