LOS ANGELES — I spent three days surrounded by millions of dollars worth of electronics powering games and accessories that technically don't exist yet — and it was a dream come true.
Yup, I was at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this week, the industry-only trade show in which video game companies of every size showcase their plans for the next year.
Presentations for major game titles included recorded gameplay movies in makeshift theaters, live performances, playable demos and plenty of free T-shirts and posters for those willing to wait several hours in line to see a particular game in action. The smaller independent game presentations typically consisted of one person standing near a laptop, willing to take every interested visitor on a private tour of his or her new game.
I spent most of the week here taking in the various sights and sounds of E3. I tried to get a healthy mix of both worlds by meeting with employees from industry giants like Activision-Blizzard and Bethesda as well as up-and-coming companies like No Goblin and Popcannibal Studios.
Here are a few of my E3 observations:
Nintendo still relevant
Industry and media eyes were fixed on Nintendo to see if the venerable gaming company would finally fold under the pressure of sagging Wii U console sales.
The announcements of "Zelda: Wii U" and "Super Smash Bros." were exactly what the fans wanted. Nintendo's strength is in its established franchises. There were solid entries in the "Donkey Kong" and "Mario Kart" franchises in the last year, but I believe "Zelda" and "Super Smash Bros." will go even further in helping Nintendo get back into the console wars.
Nintendo also showed a few solid titles for the 3DS hand-held console. "Pokemon: Omega Ruby" and "Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire" will add updated graphics and new game features to the previous generation of the Pokemon franchise, while "Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" will bring two cult-favorite characters together for one adventure.
Nintendo capped things off by announcing Amiibo interactive toys for "Sky- landers," "Disney: Infinity" and "Super Smash Bros."
The toys will use Near Field Communication technology to transfer data from plastic figures to video games. I was surprised that the developers of "Skylanders" and "Disney: Infinity" allowed Nintendo characters to be featured in their games. I am sure more details on the toys are coming.
Shooter genres are going for broke
Shooter games are a major part of the gaming landscape. Last year, fans of the genre were treated to several decent entries from the "Call of Duty" and "Battlefield" franchises, as well as a few smaller options.
If you are a hardcore shooter fan, then it's time to start saving your money. The next year and a half will offer nearly a dozen solid first-person and third-person shooters.
The major franchises are experimenting in really interesting ways.
"Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" will break away from the series' hyper-realistic military theme to deliver a futuristic sci-fi adventure. The graphics in the 15-minute theatrical video were on a different level than anything else at E3.
It appears that developer Sledgehammer Games has perfected the motion capture technology that allows for realistic movement and facial features in video game characters. I haven't looked forward to a "Call of Duty" game in a while, but the latest incarnation will be pretty tempting.
"Battlefield: Hardline" looks even more interesting. The game will replace soldiers and tanks with police officers and SWAT vehicles.
A demonstration of a "Hardline" multiplayer mode showed two 32-person teams battling in city streets. The thieves tried to evade police in various custom vehicles, while the police team chased them down in patrol cars. I am not sure if this change will translate well to the game's single-player mode, but the multiplayer features look amazing.
PlayStation 4 owners get access to the exclusive third-person shooter "The Order: 1886." Unlike "Call of Duty" and "Battlefield," I was able to spend some time actually playing "The Order." I love the story angle of an alternative London with King Arthur and his knights battling mutants, and it looks like the mechanics and visuals of the game will deliver as well. "The Order" was hands-down my favorite game of E3.
I also highly recommend the cooperative shooters "Destiny" and "Evolve." The strategic elements of both games force players to consider tactics in addition to skill.
Indie arms race benefits console owners
PlayStation and Xbox are in an all-out war to acquire and publish independently-developed games on their respective networks. I would guess that each company had around 20 of these games on the show floor, and I spent a lot of my time combing through the hot, crowded aisles looking for hidden gems.
The Xbox One exclusive "#IDARB" was particularly interesting. The game is very simple: Two teams of three attempt to throw a ball into two goals. However, players and spectators can Tweet to a specific Twitter account in order to throw the game into chaos. During my demo, a pixelated Rick Astley danced across the screen during our game.
On the PlayStation side of the building, I found "Helldivers," a multiplayer shooter in which players must defeat swarms of alien bugs using advanced weaponry. It was pretty difficult, but I think a full team of four players with a sound strategy could handle the bugs.
Mikael Bauer, a programmer for "Helldivers," sold me on the project by telling me that it was a mix between "Magicka" (a successful indie game from 2011) and the "Starship Troopers" movie.
There were a few more solid titles in the mix, so be sure to check Xbox Live and PlayStation Network regularly for interesting new titles. Virtually all of them are less than $15, so even the thriftiest of gamers is sure to find something.