It's E3 again? You're kidding me. It seems like just yesterday we were huddled around screens, watching Microsoft announce the various unsavory aspects of the original Xbox One vision--always online, no used games, and that $500 price point--only to have Sony blindside everyone later that night with a $400 PlayStation 4 that worked...well, basically the same way as the PlayStation 3, but with better graphics.
And here we are again. The wheel in the sky keeps on turning, but a lot has changed on the ground. Microsoft backtracked on most of its more radical Xbox One features. We've witnessed both consoles launching to record sales numbers, although the PS4 has steadily outpaced the Xbox One for the last few months. The biggest game at last year's E3, Titanfall, released to notable acclaim, but failed to match either the addictiveness or sales numbers of Call of Duty. Watch Dogs released and was underwhelming. Microsoft did what it said it wouldn't--couldn't--do and pulled the Kinect out of the Xbox One, dropping the price by a hundred dollars in one fell swoop.
Even the faces will be different this time around--both Sony's Jack Tretton and Microsoft's Don Mattrick have left for greener pastures. What a year.
So what's next?
I feel like every year, people ask for the same thing: simply to be surprised.
We're all chasing that feeling from our childhoods, when E3 was this magical place. The July/August issue of your favorite gaming magazine would come in and bam, there was the year's big game on the cover. It always felt so unexpected, with pages and pages of game announcements inside.
We've been robbed by the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Just look at how many E3-style announcements we've seen in the past month:
A Kinect-less Xbox One.
The dismantling of the Xbox Live Gold paywall.
Far Cry 4.
Halo 5: Guardians.
Battlefield: Hardline (a.k.a. cops vs. robbers).
Homefront: The Revolution.
Unreal Tournament. Yes, Unreal Tournament.
What's...what's even left to cover?
Expect to see more in-depth information about those games, and as always, there'll be a few surprises in store. Microsoft and Sony undoubtedly have exclusives loaded, cocked, and aimed at each other. Microsoft needs a stellar lineup to erase the last of the "Xbox One is not for games" stigma and put a drag on Sony's headway. Sony needs a solid lineup to counter any momentum Microsoft gained with its recent price drop.
When the dust settles on Monday, will there be a clear winner? I hope not. I expect those who are on the fence between the two consoles will have to make some tough decisions this year. Microsoft will throw us Halo news, and hopefully show off some new first-party titles. From Sony, we can only hope for teases of a next-gen Naughty Dog project--Uncharted 4?
Games. We need games. These systems have been released for over six months, and still neither console has a definitive answer for a fairly simple question: "What game should I buy to go with my Xbox One/PS4?" That's a problem. People need a reason to care, other than simple tech lust.
I do hope for the continuation of one incredible trend: The PC as neutral territory. The PC is always going to miss out on a few console exclusives--I wouldn't hold my breath for Halo on PC anytime soon.
But I hope we'll see more of the Titanfall model. Titanfall was an Xbox game, and Microsoft will not let you forget it--except, you know, it also released on PC. For that matter, it was a better game on the PC, thanks to increased resolution and a steadier frame rate. PC ports are given more care these days than at any time in the past, and it's a welcome change. Hopefully Microsoft and Sony can wage petty warfare with exclusives and leave the PC crowd above the fray.
The same model is in place for many indie titles. Sony's seen an upswing in indies with this console generation, driven by its faith in the niche and the Vita hardware--a lot of these smaller indie games are perfect for on-the-go gaming. Microsoft has its defenders though, and certain games like Capy's title Below are Xbox-exclusive.
The PC is still the premier place for indie titles, though. You can expect to see a hefty number of indie titles thrown about at both E3 and the Game Developers Conference (GDC) for credibility, but always as "console exclusives." Make no mistake, though: That's a convenient euphemism for "Oh yeah, it's also coming to PC."
And then there are the PC stalwarts--companies like CD Projekt Red, CCP, Blizzard, Crytek, et cetera. E3 is a console-friendly show, so there's never a ton of PC-exclusive news. But damn, I'm excited to hear more about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. And my editor seconds that emotion.
Seeing is believing
Hardware won't be nearly as important this year as last year, but there are a number of experiments on the horizon worth paying attention to.
Oculus blew apart March's Game Developers Conference by revealing the amazing Dev Kit 2, the first purchasable hardware update since the original Oculus Rift virtual reality headset shipped over a year ago. Does the team have something more in store for E3? Hard to say. We're all waiting on the consumer Rift, but I don't know if we're going to get a release date yet.
I fully expect to hear more about Sony's Project Morpheus headset during the press conference, though. Sony's a sucker for showing off peripherals during E3, and this is a great chance to show off the gadget to the gaming community at large.
Does Microsoft jump into the VR war too, as consolation for losing the Kinect battle? Be still, my heart.
And just like GDC, we'll no doubt be bombarded on the show floor with shoddy VR also-rans and weird "immersive" tech. I look forward to strapping on some arm bands, wearing a power glove, running on a hamster wheel, or whatever else companies plan to sell to me as "the future of gaming" this year.
And don't forget the big hardware question mark: Steam Machines. Valve recently announced it would have to delay the release of the oh-so-crucial Steam Controller to 2015, potentially pushing the whole enterprise back a year. Do we get confirmation of that at the show? Do we get our hands on one of the fabled Steam Machines at the show? We'll see. I certainly hope so.
Hell freezes over
Cue the Journey track. Some dreams will never die.
Half-Life 3? The Last Guardian? Fallout 4? A sequel to Red Dead Redemption? A new Tony Hawk? Don't hold your breath... but hope.
Live from Los Angeles
If you aren't at E3, no big deal--all the major press conferences are being streamed this year. Watch from the comfort of your own home. If you want an authentic experience, make sure not to shower for three days ahead of time, turn your thermostat up to a balmy 90 degrees inside, and consume nothing but Doritos and Mountain Dew for four days.
Monday, June 9 (Press Conference Day)
9:30 AM Pacific/12:30 PM Eastern: Microsoft Press Conference
12 PM Pacific/3 PM Eastern: EA Press Conference
3 PM Pacific/6 PM Eastern: Ubisoft Press Conference
6 PM Pacific/9 PM Eastern: Sony Press Conference
Tuesday, June 10
9 AM Pacific/12 PM Eastern: Nintendo "Press Conference"
Once the show has actually started, you can find official E3 content on Twitch.tv. The team over there will be showing off footage of a number of unreleased (and even some unannounced) games for six or seven hours each day.
And, of course, stay tuned to PCWorld and TechHive, our sister sites. We'll be on the floor and bringing you the E3 news that you need to know, starting Monday.