e3 2019

From Project Scarlett to Gooigi: The best of E3 2019

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony | No Comments

Every story about E3 has opened with a mention of Sony’s absence, and this one’s no different. The lack of one of gaming’s “big three” loomed large over the show, right down to a strange sense of space on the showroom floor.

Even Xbox chief Phil Spencer mourned the absence of the company’s biggest competitor, stating, “I wish Sony was here,” during a live stream.

But the show went on, as it has through countless ebbs and flows of the gaming industry. Sony’s clearly got plenty up its sleeve with regard to next-generation content, and frankly, no one’s too worried about their health.

Microsoft, meanwhile, came out swinging on Sunday. The company had a TON of games to reveal at the show, with dozens of trailers, all told. And while Microsoft did touch upon two key pieces of news, it ultimately ended up blowing through those announcements, with very little time devoted to either its next-generation 8K console, Project Scarlett, or its streaming service, Project xCloud.

In fact, we ultimately went back to Microsoft later in the week to clarify some things about the service and discovered in the process that console streaming will be free and not a part of the broader xCloud offering.

While Microsoft ultimately seemed cautious (or pressed for time) to go into either xCloud or Game Pass in too much detail onstage, streaming was unquestionably the biggest story of the show. That’s due in no small part to the fact that Google took a little wind out of E3’s sails by shedding more light on its Stadia offering during a surprise press conference last Friday.

On Tuesday, a Nintendo executive confirmed for me that the company is exploring streaming, but wasn’t able to comment on any specifics. Regardless, the writing is clearly on the wall here, and Nintendo has certainly taken notice. In the meantime, the company showed off its latest Animal Crossing title, a sneak peek of the next Zelda and the surprise hit of the show: A gooey Luigi called, naturally, Gooigi. Honestly though, I’m most excited about that Link’s Awakening remaster.

Square’s big event was fairly lackluster, though we did get a preview of the Uncanny (Valley) Avengers. Ubisoft had some cool demos on tap, including Watch Dogs: Legion and story mode for Assassin’s Creed. The publisher is also launching its own streaming service, with help from Google Stadia. Bethesda, meanwhile, is getting in on the battle royale phenomenon with a new mode for Fallout 76. Though the Fall Guys’ version is far more adorable.

There’s a Razer energy drink, Opera gaming browser, new George R.R. Martin game, Warcraft-meets-The-Office show from the It’s Always Sunny crew and a dance game for the Nintendo Wii. Not the Switch, not the Wii U, the Wii. Happy E3 2019!

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Nintendo exec on E3, streaming and game delays

Posted by | Charlie Scibetta, e3 2019, Gaming, Nintendo | No Comments

This year’s E3 was a bit of a mixed bag. Sony was completely absent, Microsoft was looking toward the future and Nintendo, as ever, was all about the games. The show came at an odd time in Nintendo’s release cycle.

The company recently spilled all the details about soon-to-be-released titles Mario Maker 2 and Pokémon Sword and Shield, making Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Luigi’s Mansion 3 the foundations of the company’s big Nintendo Direct unveil on Tuesday morning.

The long-awaited Animal Crossing title, sadly, came with the caveat that players are going to have to wait until even longer (2020), but the company had plenty of playable titles at the show, including the Link’s Awakening remaster and the aforementioned Luigi sequel. That featured arguably was the surprise hit of the show, Gooigi — which, as the portmanteau suggests, is indeed a gooey version of Luigi.

Absent during the event were any new hardware announcements and any new news on the fourth Metroid Prime. The company did, however, have a major surprise up its sleeve in the form of a teaser trailer for an unnamed sequel for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

We sat down with Nintendo’s Senior Director, Corporate Communications Charlie Scibetta following the big unveils to discuss the company’s take on streaming, mobile and what things look like following the departure of Reggie Fils-Aimé.

TC: I wanted to start off by talking about some broader trends. Microsoft, Sony and even Apple see streaming as being the future of gaming. Where does Nintendo come down on that, from both the point of potential hardware agnosticism and subscribing versus buying?

CS: Streaming is certainly interesting technology. Nintendo is keeping a close eye on it and we’re evaluating it. We don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of adopting that technology. For us, it’s still physical and it’s digital downloads through our eShop. Certainly a lot of downloadable content to keep the games fresh, but in terms of streaming as a way to run the games, we don’t have anything to announce on that front.

TC: Hardware’s always been a big differentiator for Nintendo. Do you think we’re moving toward a point of hardware agnosticism? Or is hardware going to be a major differentiator for Nintendo?

CS: Well, we think our games really come to life best on our hardware because our software and hardware developers work closely together to make the best performing game based off the way to bring that software to life. You go back to the Wii, for example, the way it brought tennis and bowling to life was with motion control. That really worked well for that, it was a launch title that came with every system that really sold the system because you understood the value proposition right away. Just even by walking by somebody that was playing that you understood it, and we think we caught lightening in a bottle the same way with Nintendo Switch because it’s a whole console you can play at home, enjoy on a big screen TV, and then you can take it with you.

And the market has responded. As of the end of our fiscal year which, ended in March 2019, we sold over 34 million units worldwide. Fourteen million in North America. People are buying the software. This past fiscal year extended over 70% more software than the previous year, over 23% more hardware. So, people are buying the games to play on the system. And a show like this, at E3, is all about showcasing the games that are going to power that system. So for us, it’s about unveiling games and getting people to interact with the games. They’re going to have a good time on the system.

TC: Obviously the line has softened a little bit on Nintendo’s stance when it comes to mobile. The company had taken a very hard line against that of only offering gaming experiences on first party hardware. How important is mobile? How important are iOS and Android, to Nintendo’s play going forward?

CS: Mobile is very important to Nintendo. You’re right that we did not participate with mobile gaming for a lot of years, but we have jumped in headfirst now and are bringing a lot of our most valuable IP to mobile — Mario Kart being the one that’s upcoming. And what we like about it is, as I was talking about with the combination of the hardware and the software, we only bring the software to mobile that we think you can really play well on a mobile device with the control speed that a phone offers, so not every single IP is appropriate. The ones that have come out are the ones that our developers have determined are appropriate for that. So people can have a good time with our IP on a mobile device.

TC: Sony’s absence looms large on the show. It’s shifted some focus and the spatial dynamic in this hall. Nintendo obviously made a shift into Direct and Treehouse, so all of the content is being fed to the general public, and us as well. How important are shows like this for Nintendo?

CS: We’ve been to many E3s. We’re a supporter of the show. We think it’s a great way for us to interact with people, like yourself, journalists, influencers who make YouTube videos, retail partners and, most importantly, most recently, with consumers. We like seeing the reactions of consumers to our games in the booth. We do interviews here and try to bring those game to life by explaining more; the Treehouse Live approach is nice because we do a Nintendo Direct the morning on the first day. Then, we go deeper on those games with people that are interested in those with our experts and with developers.

We think it’s a great way to showcase, not only our offerings and what the industry is as a whole. We’re part of the industry, so we support the show. Other companies have to make their own decisions based on what’s right for them, but for us, we like E3. We think it does a great job of helping connect us with the consumers and the people that cover the industry so they can learn about the products.

TC: Doug [Bowser] took over for Reggie [Fils-Aimé]. Any time that happens, even with a really large company, it tends to be a good opportunity to reassess things, rethink things, look at the broader context. Do you see there being any change in direction or a reassessment of the role that Nintendo is playing in the industry at the moment?

CS: Reggie was a great leader for us for a lot of years. We wish him well and he’s still a fan, in his own words. He said he’ll always be a Nintendo fan, so he’s always going to be with us. Doug is an industry veteran himself and he’d been with many companies and he’s been at Nintendo for over four years, so he’s well-grounded in the way that we do marketing. I would say that thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re a product-first company. We always like to bring our messages back to what is the game about, how does it make you feel, what is the emotion we want to generate with that game, and so Doug is really carrying on the legacy of Reggie and others that went before him.

TC: There have been a lot of rumors about a Switch Lite and Pro, having the devoted portable, and things of that nature. Does it make sense to have a Switch that is purely portable? How integral is that hybrid experience? And are we getting close to or approaching that point of the life cycle when it’s time to start thinking about new versions of the hardware?

CS: We have nothing to announce at this show in terms of new hardware. We do have over 2,000 games available right now. So we think as long as we have great games to power, the system is going to have a good life. Our developers will have to make the decision when they think that it’s time for new hardware to bring whatever their creative ideas are to life. That’s really what drives the decision on when it’s time for new hardware. Is there something that can’t be done for their creative vision with the current hardware?

Then they take it in a different direction. In the case of the Nintendo Switch, obviously we have the Wii U and our developers wanted to start thinking of gaming in a different direction where you can take it on the go, any time, or you can play at home. So, that’s why the Nintendo Switch was created. That’s why they married the software and the hardware that way. There’s nothing to announce in terms of where we want to go for the future, because right now, what we have on our hands is working really well.

TC: What happened specifically with Animal Crossing? Clearly no one’s really psyched when a game gets delayed. Is there any kind of info you can give, just in terms of why it’s being pushed back to 2020?

CS: We’re not going to put a game out before we think it’s ready to be enjoyed by fans. In the case of a franchise, like Animal Crossing, that has so many loyal fans, we’d be doing them a disservice if we put out a product that was rushed. So it’s a difficult decision for a company to make to move a ship date out. We think moving to March 20 of next year was the right decision, because we needed to give the development team enough time to make it the game we want to make. So, that’s been the Nintendo approach from the beginning and it’s something that we’re going to continue to do. We’re not going to rush a game out until it’s ready because we want to keep that quality bar high.

TC: Metroid [Prime 4] was kind of conspicuously absent. Is there any update on that end?

CS: It’s in the hands of Retro now; they certainly have a historic history with that franchise. They do a great job with it and we’re looking forward to what they do with this version of it. But there’s nothing new in terms of any ship date or any details about the game.

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Nintendo: we’re ‘evaluating’ streaming

Posted by | e3 2019, game streaming, Gaming, Nintendo, nintendo of america | No Comments

Game streaming loomed large as the biggest story of E3. Between Google’s Stadia news late last week, Microsoft’s Game Pass additions, a Ubisoft announcement and even the presence of Netflix, the writing is clearly on the wall.

Nintendo, of course, has largely been absent from that conversation. No real surprise, really. The gaming company has always marched to the beat of its own drum, bucking larger industry trends in favor of its own singular vision. The approach has sometimes been to its detriment (as is the case with its longtime heel-dragging on mobile), but has largely resulted in a number of the industry’s most beloved platforms, titles and IP.

Given the company’s rich and storied gaming history, a Netflix-style approach to content makes a lot of sense for a company like Nintendo. And certainly, the notion of paying $10 a month for access to 30 years of Mario, Zelda and the like doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Though for Nintendo, much of the calculation no doubt comes down to whether or not gamers are willing to continue to pay for downloads.

In an interview with TechCrunch this week on the show floor, Nintendo of America executive Charlie Scibetta said the concept is one the company has been considering. “Streaming is certainly interesting technology,” he told TechCrunch. “Nintendo is keeping a close eye on it and we’re evaluating it. We don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of adopting that technology. For us, it’s still physical and it’s digital downloads through our eShop.”

The sentiment echos similar statements made by new Nintendo of America chief Doug Bowser, who told The Hollywood Reporter, “We’re always interested in how various new technologies can enable different ways to play games.”

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Tesla’s in-car touchscreens are getting YouTube support

Posted by | Android, automotive, cars, e3 2019, electric vehicles, Elon Musk, in-car navigation, Louisiana, Media, streaming video, TC, Tesla, tesla model 3, Tesla Model S, YouTube | No Comments

Tesla has consistently been adding software to its in-car touchscreen infotainment displays — including sometimes things that probably leave a lot of people scratching their heads. During a special Q&A today at annual gaming event E3 in LA, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Tesla’s in-car display will support YouTube someday soon.

This isn’t the first time the Tesla CEO has suggested YouTube might one day have a home in the company’s cars: In response to a fan’s question on Twitter last August he noted that version 10 of the company’s in-car software would provide support for third-party video streaming. The company debuted its Software Version 9.0 last year.

Musk specifically said YouTube would be coming to cars during the E3 event today, at which he revealed that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 would be coming to the infotainment displays, and unveiled a demo video of Android game Beach Buggy Racer running on a display in a Tesla Model 3.

On a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO also said the company would consider opening the platform more broadly to third-party developers for both apps and games. The company has done a lot on its own to add software “Easter Eggs” to the dash display, but turning it into a true platform is a much more ambitious vision.

On its face, adding to a car attention-heavy apps like streaming video services definitely seems counterintuitive, but to be fair to Tesla, a large number of drivers today use their phones for in-car navigation and those can also all technically display YouTube at any time. It does seem like a case of Musk’s mind racing ahead to a day when his cars are fully autonomous, something he recently reiterated he expects to happen within the next couple of years.

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Tesla is bringing the ‘Fallout Shelter’ game to its cars

Posted by | arcade games, asteroids, Atari, automotive, Bethesda Games, e3 2019, Elon Musk, fallout, Gaming, missile command, TC, Tesla, video games, video gaming, ZeniMax Media | No Comments

As part of the gaming option for Tesla’s cars, Todd Howard, the director of Bethesda Games, said that the company’s “Fallout Shelter” game will be coming to Tesla displays.

Elon Musk is a huge fan of the Fallout series, saying in an interview at the E3 gaming conference that he’d explored “every inch” of Fallout 3.

Earlier this year, Tesla announced that it was adding “2048” and “Atari’s Super Breakout” to the list of games that drivers and passengers can play on the company’s dashboard display.

The company added Atari games to its slate of apps and services last August via a software update. At the time, the initial slate of games included “Missile Command,” “Asteroids,” “Lunar Lander” and “Centipede.”

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Microsoft will offer console streaming for free to Xbox One owners

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Microsoft’s Sunday E3 pressure was all about the games. In fact, while the company did offer some information about hardware and services, the information all arrived fast and furious at the end of the conference. While it’s probably unsurprising that the company had very little to offer in the way of information about its upcoming 8K console, Project Scarlett, most of us expected Project xCloud to get a lot more face time on stage.

The company powered through a whole lot of information about its upcoming streaming offering like it was going out of style (or, perhaps, like the lights were going out at its own theater). The speed and brevity of it all left a number of audience members confused on the specifics — and caused some to speculate that the service night not be as far along as Microsoft had hoped.

We caught up with a few Microsoft reps on our final day at the show to answer some questions. The company is unsurprisingly still mum on a number of key details around the offering. A couple of key things are worth clarifying, though. For starters console stream is not considered a part of Project xCloud. Rather, the ability to play games on one’s own Xbox One remotely is a separate feature that will be coming to users via a software update.

Asked what advantages console streaming has over the parallel xCloud offering, Microsoft’s answer was simple: it’s free. Fair enough. This serves a two-fold purpose. First, it helps differentiate Microsoft’s streaming offerings from Stadia and second, it provides another value proposition for the console itself. As to how performance is expected to differ between console streaming and XCloud, it wouldn’t comment.

As I wrote earlier today, the company does see the potential of a large scale move to the cloud, but anticipates that such a shift is a long ways off. After all, if it didn’t, it likely wouldn’t have announced a new console this week at E3.

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Fall Guys is a kinder, gentler battle royale

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, Mediatonic | No Comments

You’d be forgiven for assuming that “battle royale” is an inherently violent genre. Hell, the word battle is right there, staring you in the face. Certainly the most prominent examples of the category, like Fornite and PUBG, represent a particular strand of gun-toting mayhem. Mediatonic’s Fall Guys, on the other hand, presents an interesting example of a warmer, fuzzier direction for the category.

I ventured across the street at E3 earlier today, to the series of trailers where Devolver set up shop this week, in staunch defiance of the conference’s over-the-top show floor. Inside one (mercifully air conditioned), Mediatonic set up shop with a gaming demo with a kind of nursery school rumpus room aesthetic — a fitting choice for the subject matter.

I sat down in one of the bean bag chairs and demoed a trio of short “qualifying” games. The game will support 100 players when it launches on PS4 and Steam. For the sake of the demo, it was me and a handful of human players pitted against a whole bunch of less-sophisticated bots.

The first level involved racing through a series of walls. Some crumbled with contact and others were solid as concrete. You can either follow behind and let the few couple of waves of players test out their density or lead the way and risk losing precious time by slamming headlong into one.

The second level was a version of tag that revolved around snatching a tail from one of your oblong compatriots. They’ll almost immediately steal it back. The only rule is that you have the tail in your possession when the clock runs out.

The third level is a kind of catchall uphill obstacle course requiring you to avoid obstacles, like swinging hammers. I was awesome on the first two and utterly sucked at the third. There’s plenty of room for self-improvement is my point. Ultimately there will be around 30 levels in all.

It’s a fun time, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing a casual, mobile-style game on the PS4. Certainly there’s no hardware demands that require such hardware. It seems like an easy thing to port to iOS or Android — particularly in the age of cross-platform battle royal like Fornite. Mediatonic senior developer Stephen Taylor says the company opted for the most advanced platform for control/interface reasons, though the company’s exploring the possibility.

I suspect Devolver’s involvement played a role in this as well. The publisher’s been far more interested in console and PC gaming, along a premium charge up front, rather than the free to play Fortnite model. Fall Guys will follow this model — though the pricing has yet to be announced. Ultimately, of course, paying upfront is generally cheaper for many gamers than the death by a million cuts that is in-game purchases.

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What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

Posted by | Apple, e3 2019, events, Gadgets, Gaming, Google, Hulu, Media, Microsoft, Netflix, Nintendo, Sony, Spotify, stadia, Streaming Media, ubisoft, Uplay, xbox | No Comments

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

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Fortnite maker Epic acquires social video app Houseparty

Posted by | Apps, e3 2019, epic, Gaming, HouseParty, Social | No Comments

What does a gaming company do after raising $1.25 billion? Acquisitions seem like a pretty good place to start. Epic Games — of Unreal Engine and the ridiculously successful Fortnite phenomenon — has just picked up Houseparty.

The social video app announced the news via blog post this morning. The deal seems like a natural fit for Epic. Social has been an integral piece of Fortnite’s success as a multiplayer battle royale title.

Founded in 2015, Houseparty is a social network that delivers video chat across a number of different platforms, including iOS, Android and macOS. Like Fortnite, the offering tends to skew younger. Specifically, the app caters toward teen users, providing a more private and safer space than other, broader platforms.

“Houseparty brings people together, creating positive social interactions in real time,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said in a post announcing the news. “By teaming up, we can build even more fun, shared experiences than what could be achieved alone.”

For Houseparty, the acquisition appears to mean the app will continue to operate relatively unchanged for the time being. In an FAQ, the company noted that the app is largely staying the same as of today. Things like friendships and streaks will remain untouched by the company, and Epic and Houseparty accounts will stay separate. How such integration looks going forward remains to be seen, of course.

“Joining Epic is a great step forward in achieving our mission of bringing empathy to online communication,” Houseparty co-founder and CEO Sima Sistani said of the news. “We have a common vision to make human interaction easier and more enjoyable, and always with respect for user privacy.”

With some massive investments on its side, it seems more acquisitions are likely in the cards for the gaming company. In January it purchased Serbia-based computer design startup 3Lateral.

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Nintendo reimagines a Zelda classic with Link’s Awakening for the Switch

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, zelda | No Comments

It’s going to be a while before players can get their hands on the Breath of the Wild sequel teased at the end of Nintendo’s E3 Direct earlier today. The good news, however, is that Nintendo’s got a few other Zelda-related adventures in the pipeline before that. There’s the compelling beat-based Cadence of Hyrule, due out this Thursday, and later this year, the company is releasing a remastered version of the Game Boy classic, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

That one’s due out in September. As is the case with a number of recent titles (see: most of Square’s presser from earlier this week), Link’s Awakening isn’t so much a new game as a revamp of an older one designed to get the most out of the latest technology.

Here that means more than most, however. Released in 1993, the original version of the game was subject to the Game Boy’s 8-bit, monochrome limitations. The title began life as a portable port of the third Zelda game, SNES’s A Link to the Past, but ultimately became a real boy under the direction of long-time Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto.

The Link to the Past connection is very much present. Link’s Awakening feels cut from the same Hyrulian cloth as A Link to the Past. As someone who’s old enough to have played the original title during its first go-round, things came trickling back to me during a gameplay demo at E3. But the graphical advances are pretty substantial. The game is a far cry from the 1998 Game Boy Color reissue, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX.

Link’s Awakening is very much a Zelda title through and through, but the visuals are more than enough to make it feel like a fresh title. A direct line for the character design can be drawn to the GameCube’s The Wind Waker, when Link became decidedly more adorable. That’s coupled with the familiar 3/4 RPG perspective that was a staple of the franchise’s early days.

The backgrounds have been refreshed nicely, with a kind of tilt-shift style art that selectively blurs out set pieces. As someone who plays Switch almost exclusively as a handheld, it was refreshing to see it played out on the big screen.

Gameplay came back in a flash. Though a rep had to walk me through a few pieces of the first mission: finding a magic mushroom for a witch’s potion. It’s all very Macbeth. Or the Scottish video game. Nintendo did a much longer walkthrough on Treehouse this morning, all of which should prove familiar if you’ve played the original.

Nothing quite scratches the itch of a new Zelda title, but a full revamp of a Game Boy game more than a quarter century after the original comes close.

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