The A.V. Club At E3 2010: Day 2

The A.V. Club At E3 2010: Day 2

The hot fashion statement on the E3 floor this week is a free shoulder bag that is being handed out at the Nexon booth. Nexon makes Dungeon Fighter Online, a game that I’m aware of for two reasons. One, the company sends me PR emails on an almost-daily basis featuring headlines like “Girls With Guns – A Winning Combination.” Two, a Dungeon Fighter ad is printed on the side of this enormous bag, which is adorning nerd shoulders everywhere at E3.

David Wolinsky and I don’t have a tape measure here at AV Club Games Section HQ (West), but by our reckoning, the faux-canvas bag measures 2.5 feet tall x 2 feet long x 2 inches wide, with a huge shoulder strap that makes it hang practically down to the floor. Given its bizarre dimensions, this is clearly designed as a swag bag. Well, it’s really designed to turn attendees into walking billboards for Dungeon Fighter Online and Vindictus, but the swag-bag concept is a tenuous justification for its existence. The sad irony is that there’s not so much free stuff being handed out this year aside from the bags themselves, so they mostly twist in the L.A. Convention Center breeze as industry rank-and-file shamble between the South and West Halls.

As I predicted in the previous post, this was a pretty hectic day for me, so it was catch as catch can on the show floor—I just grabbed demos when/where I could. Thanks to everyone who left suggestions for games in the comments, though. I think by the end of the day tomorrow (which ought to be less crazy), we should have the lion’s share of your requests covered. David is going to take a closer look at Nintendo and EA stuff; I’m hitting up Bethesda, Konami, and Namco, among others.

Here are some impressions on what I got to see today.

Final Fantasy XIV

I know I said this isn’t a “real” Final Fantasy game, and it isn’t. It still says Final Fantasy on the box, though, so I can’t resist taking an interest. I got a 15-minute “hands-on” demo. I’m not going to pretend that actually having my hands on the buttons made a dramatic difference in the experience. Hands-on demos are better in theory, but the fact that you have a PR attendant back-seat driving over your shoulder tends to neuter any sensation of freedom you might get from taking the controls.

I built a couple of FF14 characters, although the PR watchers nervously cut me off whenever I got to the “name your character” stage of the process, as if they were afraid I was going name the character Poopy McDorkpants or some such just to see it on the big screen. (And I was going to do just that, of course, but still, it’s the principle of the thing.) One innovation of the FF14 character-creation process is that you won’t be nailed down to a single “job” from the start. You’ll be able to change your character’s deal, so to speak, by picking up a different type of weapon in the game. Equip an ax; boom, you’re a warrior, and your stats adjust accordingly. Pick up a staff; you’re a mage, etc.

It’s a solid innovation, as there is way too much pressure in the character-creation portion of most MMOs. You’re forced to make huge decisions about your style of play before you’ve even gotten to play the game—it’s the worst possible time to be making those choices. I never thought that there was a good way around this, but FF14’s approach is a step in the right direction. You’re sketching the broad outlines of your character at the beginning, but you can fill in (and tweak) the details later.

I also got to play a short quest in a pre-release build of the FF14 game world, which was described as “alpha” but looked quite nice. The quest was to kill three giant crabs—pretty standard MMO beginner fare. The only notable thing for me was that the developers are clearly making an effort to optimize the game for gamepad use as well as keyboard and mouse. Also, the gamepad they provided was one of those models that has little fans in the grips to keep your hands cool. I always thought that was a dumb gimmick, but after the demo, damn if my hands didn’t feel slightly less damp than before. Technology, wow!

Epic Mickey

Some of the commenters (politely) disagreed with me when I slagged Epic Mickey in yesterday’s writeup, so I went to the Disney booth and got a more in-depth demo today. The demo didn’t really change my mind. “Play style matters” is the catchphrase being parroted by all the game’s developers from Warren Spector on down, but from what I’ve seen so far, that idea boils down to a framework in which you can make Mickey be a sweet guy or a mischievous troublemaker. Given the game’s focus on Disney history, this is a cool idea, as Mickey was kind of a jerk in those early cartoons. But it doesn’t appear that there’s any advantage to being mischievous rather than good. At least judging by the section I saw, the game is less varied and fun if you take the mischief route, and the characters like you less.

Tron: Evolution

This game was described to me as a “bridge” between the original Tron movie and the upcoming Tron Legacy. There appear to be two main modes—a third-person action quest and the obligatory light-cycle fare. Both sides of the game had a light, fast motion to them, along with an ultra-high-contrast use of color. I found the latter more impressive It’s tough to pull off the Tron visual style while still keeping the game legible; so far this game appears to be doing a good job. I’m a sucker for games that use color in a novel way, though. It’s one reason that I liked The Saboteur better than most other people, and it could explain why I already have a soft spot for a movie tie-in game that will in all likelihood let me down.

LittleBigPlanet 2

I saw LBP 2 a month or so ago at a Media Molecule event; it hasn’t changed much in the intervening weeks. If you never liked the level-creation process in the original LBP, you’re not going to like it any better in the sequel. The developers at Media Molecule essentially had two choices: they could revamp their “PopIt” design system in an effort to simplify it for the masses, or they could reward the users who had bought into LBP wholeheartedly. They chose the second option, so LBP2 is more complex, but it has a huge amount of potential. While platforming still forms the heart of the main quest, creators can build pretty much any type of game they want. Media Molecule has already shown off racing games, multiplayer puzzle games, side-scrolling shooters, and other variations that would have been unimaginable in the first LBP.

I gave that original LBP an “A” in the A.V. Club, and while it reflected the way I felt at the time, I did come to be a little less enamored with LittleBigPlanet. While the concept was brilliant, in practice, I never found very much that was worth playing. LBP2 has me caught up in the enthusiasm all over again, though, because Media Molecule has made a huge effort to make the sharing features more organized—so we can finally make our way to the coolest stuff without sifting through mountains of dross—and broadened the potential far beyond the idiosyncratic run-and-jump style that the series started with.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I

Please don’t get your hopes up for this game. Even after playing just one level, some annoying flaws came to the fore. Chief among them is a new jumping mechanic in which Sonic “snaps” to objects of interest (pulleys, springs, and the like) that are indicated by a blinking target. It’s hard to tell when the target is going to appear, though, despite the fact that the game encourages you to rely upon it. (Indeed, some portions are impossible to complete without it.) I can’t count the number of times I pressed “jump” expecting to see Sonic snap toward a blinking target only to watch the hedgehog plummet to his death instead. I watched the next guy after me play the game to see if it was just me. It wasn’t.

Wheel Of Fortune

Pat Sajak makes a pretty terrifying Mii.

Power Gig: Rise Of The Six-String

This is another game that I saw shortly before E3 and again on the show floor. Seven45 made a splash at GDC with the announcement of Power Gig, the Rock Band-type game would featured a working electric guitar. Two things have happened in the last couple weeks to kill that buzz. First, Harmonix announced that the next Rock Band would also feature a functional electric-guitar accessory. So they pretty much ate the Power Gig team’s lunch there, or at least sneezed in their champagne.

The second downer is the drum set, which uses infrared “break the beam” technology to register hits instead of requiring physical contact like Rock Band drums. As you might expect if you’ve ever had to deal with this type of IR gimmickry, the Power Gig drums were pretty miserable to play. I could never register consistent hits, and my hands kept drifting away from the beam area. Yes, there may be a learning curve, but I don’t think that this drum set will ever be as satisfying as a set where you get to pound on a physical pad. And that’s being polite. (Fortunately, you can use Rock Band drums with Power Gig.)

When I first saw the cheap-looking drum kit on the floor of the demo room, I thought of the Sega Activator, the misbegotten Genesis accessory that invited players to awkwardly slice their hands through erratic IR beams in lieu of a handheld controller. So it was especially weird when Seven45 released an instructional video that bore a striking resemblance to the infamous instructional video that came with the Activator. It’s like they were made by the same director, one lonely man who pulls out his green screen and stock footage every couple of decades to plug doomed game peripherals.

After some much-needed sleep and a final blitz through the show floor, I’ll be back to wrap things up tomorrow night. Thanks again for those tips/questions/whatnot in the comments. Keep ’em coming.