Today, guest overthinking correspondent Mike Litzenberg (Mike from LA to podcast listeners) sends this first report from his visit to the E3 conference. (While we’re on the subject: We would love to improve our coverage of videogames. Do you overthink while you overplay? Give us a shout.) This first post collects some observation; we’ll post his overthinking later in the week.
Though not by any stretch of the imagination what you would call a Gamer, I had the great fortune of spending the day at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3)—the video game industry’s largest annual trade show—and thought that I ought to attempt some overthoughts on my experiences there.
So with the day’s level eleven sensory overload piping hot fresh in my mind, and my fingers doing the nervous bagel bite-sized laps caused by a day on one’s feet in a place where off-brand energy chemicals are a promotional gratuity but water runs you four dollars a bottle, I will endeavor to sort it all out for your edulightentainment.
My close associates and I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center at 10a on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009. Theoretically, the convention is by invitation only: it is free to industry professionals but several hundred dollars for everyone else. The truth of the matter is that what qualifies as industry when applying for a pass is decidedly quite liberal; the “industry” apparently includes my friends David, a professional extra, and Vince at a risk management firm. Thus, the glimmerings of inferiority found in an entry level professional at a VIP event were thankfully erased from my mind, my group and a couple thousand guys from across the Kevin Smith look-alike spectrum waited two hours for the convention doors to actually open.
As I said before, video games are not my true passion, historically. My degree is in Film Production, and my primary interests are in screenwriting and media editing, but I learned Adobe After Effects as a résumé sweetener for the latter, and it somehow landed me in a job at a company that does facial animation for some movies, but primarily games (Watch this example). So coming in with that perspective, the two games I was most looking forward to seeing were Batman: Arkham Asylum and Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
Neither disappointed, though the difficulty I had with the controls for GB was painfully obvious to the Sony rep trying patiently to coach me through some tutorial busting. The Batman game is freaking rad, the writing, design, and action of which are very clearly the products of grown-up Batman fans for others of the like. These two games alone make me desperately want to own a Playstation 3. As a matter of fact, I’m establishing my own Overthinking It contest: girls were passing out free passes to the Spearmint Rhino on the way out of the convention center, and I somehow wound up with like ten of them. If you (or your mom) will somehow get me a PS3, I will take you and your eight closest friends (or your mom) to the Spearmint Rhino.
[Ed. Note: This is not actually an Overthinking It contest.]
I played a soon to be released fighting game called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash Up” that was fun, albeit clearly a watered-down version of Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers, at least at this stage. A developer who talked about the game with me explained that it was not based on one particular TMNT canon (Is this a contradiction? I think if you know the Ninja Turtles, you will agree with me that it is not.), but that they had gone through all of the iterations of the franchise in picking out the mostly-unannounced characters for the game. Despite offers of Xtreme Gratitude, he would not tell me if Bebop and Rocksteady or the Rat King would be in the game, but if they are, I will buy the game.
It seems to me that these three games actually have a lot in common in terms of their relationships to their respective franchises—Ghostbusters, Batman, and TMNT. They all have a history of video games as long as the History of Video Games. This, this, and this should fill you in on those histories if you don’t know.
With a few exceptions, the vast majority of these games have been promotional merchandise for their corresponding properties. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles: The Arcade Game was TMNT animated series merchandise for kids who liked video games the same way that a Michelangelo t-shirt was TMNT animated series merchandise for kids who liked t-shirts. The original Ghostbusters movie NES game was actually a whole other game in Japan called Car Wars which they just retooled to be Ghostbusters.
But these new entries reverse this. Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a Ghostbusters work that takes the form of a video game rather than the other way around. It was written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis! Though I am justifiably not as excited as I was last summer for the Dark Knight, I am probably as excited to get my hands on Batman: Arkham Asylum as I was for Brian Azzarello’s graphic novel “Joker,” and while I don’t see it as a blight on my Batman cred that I have never even seen a frame of the Batman Begins game, with Arkham Asylum it might be different. The Ninja Turtles developer’s words are true of each of these games: they’ve picked and chosen the tastiest dishes in the franchise cafeteria to create an original series entry. If you look at Marvel’s upcoming game Ultimate Alliance 2 on the next page, you will see similar characteristics.
Later this week, some more general thought on the conference and video game industry from Mike.
One of the most overthought pieces at E3 this year was the Star Wars: The Old Republic cinematic trailer. There were two viewpoints on it: the game will be the best MMO ever released because gameplay will obviously be as cinematic as the CGI trailer or the game will be awful because there is no way the game could ever live up to the quality of the trailer.
People are already extrapolating ideas of what the game is going to be like at release, and Bioware has not even set a year for a release date or even said what gameplay mechanics are going to include. I’m guilty of this to an extent, but I absolutely love over-hyped games and following new MMOs as they go through the development cycle.
@Beej – I saw the trailer, and it’s awesome.
But it tells you precisely nothing about the game. All it tells you is that Bioware should be given the money to produce a Star Wars TV show, immediately. I really have trouble believing that ANYONE thinks the trailer reflects actual graphics or gameplay.
Love the Ghostbusters game trailer. It’s worth pointing out that one of the things the trailer says you can do in the game is “DESTROY THE WORLD” (which is subsequently crossed out to say “SAVE THE WORLD”). I think this is working off the same assumption Belinkie did in his previous post about how the Ghostbusters irresponsibly risked the destruction of “all life as we know it” by crossing the streams.
That being said,
Bustin’ makes me feel good.
@lee – Actually, I really DON’T like that Ghostbusters game trailer, which gives us a lot of footage from the movie, and not a single shred of dialogue from the game. Show me some NEw Bill Murray one-liners, THEN I’ll preorder it. The fact that they don’t makes me nervous. Is it funny?
But you have a good point, Lee. The game may very well reveal the exact consequences of crossing the streams. (I imagine this will be something you have to avoid as a player.) Since this game is written by Ackroyd and Ramis, I think we should consider any new info about the Ghostbusters and their equipment canon.
Mike, I’m jealous. I was the nerd who scheduled his lunch breaks so that he could stream the big three’s pressers.
No need to get a PS3! Arkham Asylum is on the 360, too, and Ghostbusters is on every. single. console. and. legitimate. portable. gaming. device. known. to. man.
RE: the Old Republic — I’m not a fan of MMORPGs, but I’m intrigued enough to give it a try because of BioWare’s history with KOTOR and Mass Effect… great storytelling reeled me in for over 30 hours of gameplay in both of those cases.
Video game trend that I’m loving more than anything: better and better voice acting. Have you seen this?:
Speaking of great voice acting, and bringing it back to Arkham Asylum, I have two words: Mark Fucking Hamill.
That’s three words, bro. ;p
But I agree. He’ll be awesome. So will the rest of the voice cast (look it up, it’s pretty awesome- lots of people from the animated series). I have been anticipating _Arkham Asylum_ for… I don’t know… a long time… and have been rather devastated because the most advanced system I have access to is a Wii- no fancy PS3 or XBox 360 in my universe. So I have missed out on all kinds of awesome and will probably miss out on _Arkham Asylum_ (and others). But hey, if _Ghostbusters_ is going to be on *everything* like you say, I have a glimmer of hope in the corner of my little eye now.
The cafeteria selection thing seems to be the trend each time a new “edition” or whatever gets added lately- newer stuff picking and choosing from older stuff and then adding its own. Sort of. I mean, okay, _Wolverine_ was all kinds of out there, but isn’t that what _Iron Man_ and both Batman film franchises did, too (albeit more successfully- or at least the first two Burton/Shumacher Batmans)? I suppose it’s easier to cafeteria pick for a movie revolving around a specific character from a comic series like Wolverine or Batman, though, versus something like _Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles_*, an idea coming from less source material. And, given the format of the _Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles_ movie, it doesn’t really need all that much plot or backstory to fall in or out of “canon” in the first place. And I think it works each time because they aren’t establishing themselves as continuation stories.
Tangent: Am I forgetting something, or did this whole abbreviation to “_TMNT_” thing start up with the CGI movie made in 2007? For the life of me, I can’t remember ever hearing _Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles_ referred to as “_TMNT_” before. In fact, I had a distinct conversation wherein a newer fan (read: hipster) said about the movie, “TMNT,” and I didn’t know what they were talking about.
By “movie” I meant game in reference to format.