MANY millions of gamers around the world had their attention focused on Los Angeles throughout last week, where the annual E3 (electronic entertainment expo) revealed the biggest and best new games that are on the way, as well as more than a few surprises, too.
As the world’s biggest gaming show, and always reliably like a mash-up between a circus, a party, a rock concert – and a bank’s stuffy AGM, behind the scenes – E3 is a fascinating mix of fanboy service with looks at the hottest new and developing games, great networking opportunities for the industry and media, and serious backroom deals as the suits, analysts and moneymen get together.
This year’s E3 didn’t disappoint, with lots of terrific games about to be released or in development, with a noticeable ramping up in design quality and gaming potential as developers have become more comfortable with current-gen consoles.
However, apart from the stellar games and interesting tech, E3 2015 will surely be looked back on as the year of surprises, with a number of unexpected big revelations that set the internet on fire, and created a huge stir in the gaming world.
If I had four pages to fill about E3, I couldn’t do it justice – besides which, E3’s main releases have been well covered in general media already – so instead, here’s a roundup of just four of the biggest surprises and news stories from this year’s event…
Jaws collectively dropped across the globe when Square Enix announced the biggest surprise and best-kept secret in gaming – that it is remaking the seminal 1997 PlayStation title, Final Fantasy VII.
As not just the highlight of the long-running and hugely popular Final Fantasy series, critically-acclaimed FF7 has been an old reliable in critics’s charts of the top five games ever, seeing fans of the long obsolete game clamouring for a remake for many years – to no avail.
Now, however, their wish is unexpectedly coming true, with the game’s remake – to be released initially for the PlayStation 4, and sporting a huge visual upgrade – under way, although it won’t be seen for quite some time yet.
Still, some fantasies can come true, it seems.
Another big E3 story – and another fanboy reveal – came from the cult classic, Shenmue (1999).
As a critically acclaimed blast from the past, the planned trilogy stalled with Shenmue II (2001). Despite repeated fans’ campaigns in the long years since, Shenmue was firmly shelved – until its creator, Yu Suzuki, launched a surprise Kickstarter campaign at E3.
He said that if fans would kick up $2m as an initial exploratory sum, the powers that be would take it as confirmation that there was a commercial market for the closing part of the trilogy, and proceed to developing Shenmue III.
The subsequent flow of money smashed Kickstarter records in just a few hours, effortlessly cruising past the $2m goal.
Despite some questions being raised over launching such a high-profile title via Kickstarer, hopefully, Shenmue III will finally get made.
Did you see that?
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) were once again a feature of E3, with a variety of kits and tech seeking to wow consumers by letting them use headsets to explore virtual worlds, or enabling people to see virtual objects “placed” in the real world.
A long-promised (but undelivered) reality, VR kits finally delivered with something tangible this year, with the Occulus Rift headset, and hand controller, continuing to impress as it nears an imminent consumer release, with several high-quality games and VR experiences currently in development.
However, Microsoft arguably stole the show with its HoloLens AR kit and demo, with its projection of a Minecraft world that could be manipulated largely by just looking at, into and around it (while wearing the Hololens headset) proving pretty breathtaking.
While it’s likely to be pretty pricey when it launches – US reports peg it at being likely to cost a good bit more than an Xbox One console, for example – the HoloLens tech wowed at E3.
Either way, financial and consumer success looks virtually assured for the VR and AR sector …
Last, not least
Yet another unexpected surprise came from the PlayStation 4 exclusive, The Last Guardian – a title that’s been famously lost in development hell for many years now, and which was first seen back around 2009.
Tasked with guiding a boy and his ginormous animal friend – like some kind of cat-bird creature – through dangerous ruins, the game’s troubled development has seen one crisis and delay after another, with its transition from a PS3 to PS4 title further delaying progress.
Given that its creator, Fumito Euda, was the creative genius behind two of the most loved and lauded games out there – Ico (2001), and Shadow of the Colossus (2005), hopes have been high – and dashed, repeatedly – that Guardian would ever be released, especially after Ueda stepped out of his original role on the project.
However, the presence of Ueda at E3 to unveil the first new (and high-quality) footage in years, and the claim that it will be released in 2016, instantly became one of E3 2015’s highlights, and was a welcome surprise to gamers and critics alike.