I’ll admit it. For me, this year’s E3 left me with a weird taste in my mouth. There was something about the console reveals and the fanboys all coming out in force over their particular side’s newest offerings that just made my brain shut off.
Before we go any further, I suppose I should explain my background as a gamer. I have been in a little bit of everything since I received my first console, a Nintendo Entertainment System. I’ve stuck with Nintendo throughout their long and strange ride. Mario/Duck Hunt was my first game ever, and I wore it out. From there, my journey as a gamer began. Zelda II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and about every Megaman game that was ever made. When the SNES came out, it was like my world couldn’t get any better. Super Mario World and Megaman X were near weekly alternated as rentals from my local Blockbuster.
Since those early days, I’ve owned Gameboys and all their variances, including only a short duration with the DS so that I could play Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. But aside from my Nintendo bloodline, I travelled into Sega territory with a Genesis and a Game Gear. I had an original PlayStation for some time. But when the big modern era of console wars hit, I’ve been on the Microsoft / Nintendo side of things. Let this be my acknowledgement openly that I am aware that I missed out on some pretty amazing games by never dabbling in the PlayStation’s wares.
But don’t let my background fool you on where my loyalties lie when we pop back into the present day. I’ll give you the quick answer: I am wholly undecided, though I’m swaying for the first time in over a decade towards a Sony-branded console. However, you’ll soon see that this article is less about which side I am on, but instead the innovations that I am looking forward to.
What I really want to talk about is that silver lining that ran throughout E3 that really grabbed me and actually made me excited for the next generation in console gaming. It wasn’t what each of the two major companies in play were talking about. (It should be noted that when it comes to Wii and Wii U, those consoles already have my money at some point because a new
Mario Kart, Smash Bros., and a new HD Wind Waker and Zelda adventure on the Wii U will always be enough to garner my purchase at some point.)
What really got me going when E3 was said and done were the innovations on the developer front. If you can get past the increasingly annoying wall of buzzwords, the ideas that developer teams were able to come up with while proper using the Cloud, that seemingly ethereal magic room of servers, really took me into some sort of excitement that I haven’t experienced in a very long time. So let’s look at the games that excite me because of this new innovation and see why you should be excited for where we are heading in the next five to seven years.
First up is the upcoming release of the newest IP from Ubisoft. As a fan of the first Splinter Cell game and a complete nerd for all things Assassin’s Creed, I am very excited for what Watch Dogs offers. It’s an entire game concept that I am excited for. Enough so that the more I get excited for Watch Dogs, the more I forget about where Assassin’s Creed is heading.
Watch Dogs offers a lot of interaction with the game world, but it also begins to offer something we’re probably going to see a lot of in the future. That innovation being persistent worlds, the idea that your single player experience is always connected to the Cloud and at any given time it can become a multiplayer experience, whether you are aware of it or not. Watch Dogs is offering a second-screen experience where other players can log in and either help you or hurt you. There also seems to be some sort of player versus player intrusion mechanic too, though as of this time, it hasn’t been seen how this works exactly.
The grand new IP from the creators of Marathon and Halo might be the first time I heard of an example of the persistent world experience. Destiny, Bungie’s newest sci-fi future shooter, touts what may be the most complete persistent world experience shown yet. While their gameplay demo at E3 was most likely fitted with a few more smoke and mirrors to give the game the extra smooth showing, it was easy to see how they envision the experience. If all goes accordingly, any single player in Destiny can be by themselves in their own world, be running through a dedicated instance, and then seamlessly step into a world event or open area and find themselves pitted against the environment with any number of other players also playing out there in the real world. If you are unfamiliar with the game or the E3 demo in question, the full standalone video of the demo was released this week. Give it a look sometime.
Here’s the surprise showing of a new Tom Clancy branded game by Ubisoft that sold me on next-gen consoles and what developers are looking towards in the future. The Division is a post-apocalyptic third-person shooter, with RPG and open world elements, where you play a customizable agent set to police the streets of a desolate New York City. Like Watch Dogs, the second screen experience is here. A player on a tablet can offer up a support role by flying a small unmanned aerial vehicle that can buff players with positive effects on their strength or damage, debuff enemies, or mark targets for visual cues behind objects. This second screen experience was one that I actually felt like I was excited about. Being able to quickly drop in and play the support role in a way that doesn’t distract from the experience of the game seems perfect for the tablet-based gameplay.
The Division also has the same persistent world mechanics that you find in Destiny, but instead of being placed into random co-operative situations against big baddies in the environment, you can happen across other teams of agents. This PvP experience, while not yet explained in the canon of the game (rogue agents?), offers a nice seamless single-player/multiplayer experience with matchmaking going on in the background without ever getting in the way of your game.
So why buy into the persistent world experience?
Since the idea is still so new on the console front, and can only be partially likened to the MMO experience, it’s a little hard to make the case for why persistent world experience is going to be something we see a lot more of in the next era of gaming. However, allow me to offer up some of my personal opinions on the matter.
First of all, I’ve dabbled in the MMO genre. However, I always had the tendency to be a lone-wolf kind of player. It’s always the same for me. Pick the ‘Ranged’ class, play until I’m tired of the game, move on. My social interactions came in the form of instances with other players, but only for the short time that they happen. I never joined a guild group because they rarely offered me the team dynamic that I wanted. I also gave up my Xbox Live Gold subscription for the same reason: I never played multiplayer anymore, so why pay out money I could be saving when I never really used the service?
But for the first time in three years, I’ve actually felt like I had a reason to subscribe to a multiplayer experience again. I grew up in the previous era of gaming playing the Phantasy Star Online port for the GameCube. I played it split screen with three friends and we would dungeon crawl and hack-and-slash for hours. I would put in more single player hours into my
character than might be healthy for a fourteen year old. But at the end of the day, there was something special about that experience that shaped what I desire from games that we are only just now getting.
For the first time, I am being offered the seamless connection of all the things I want. A rich single-player experience filled with story and exploration, a multiplayer experience to team up and test out my skill against those other players out there in the same world, and an ever-changing social dynamic where I can be forced to work with or pitted against whatever the game chooses.
Here’s the dire consequences of the persistent world experience, however. If you were one of the people who went up in arms over ‘Always Online’ connections for your consoles and plan on playing single player experiences without an active internet connection, you might have to forget about taking part in this direction of games. The developers have said all along that none of this would be possible if not for the Cloud. Because while you’re sitting in front of your console at home, that server bank out in Montana is doing all the work, computing anything from what players match you to taking a part of the rendering burden off of your home console so that you can be given even more beautiful environments to play in. Without a connection to that Cloud, you are fundamentally unable to take part in the dynamics that games like Destiny and The Division are actually built around.
So next time you see an argument about what console is better or whether always online connections are bad or good, take a few seconds to look at the big picture and where the developers of our beloved games are looking for the next innovation to bring you the game experience you truly desire. It may take some sacrifice on our part, or some better explanation on the part of the publishers and console makers, but I believe we are headed into something special when it comes to console gaming in the next five to seven years.