10 Questions from E3 2013 About Next-Gen Gaming

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E3 2013 is underway in Los Angeles, and now that the console makers and big-name software publishers have held their big events, we still have a few questions about this whole “next-generation” business.

1. Will Microsoft blink?

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Sony swung for the fences with its big PlayStation 4 press conference, one-upping the Xbox One with a $100-cheaper-than-thou price tag, no restrictions on used games, and no always-on Internet connection required to play. With Nintendo once again refusing to go toe-to-toe with the other two in the “next-gen console” competition, we’ve got a familiar two-horse race once again between Xbox and PlayStation. Only this time it’s turned into a game of chicken, and the ball is in Microsoft’s court.

Sony scored points with its sexy new machine while Microsoft has created a big, boring, black brick. Sony is loosening the knots on its insular ecosystem while Microsoft is tightening its grip. But the biggest problem now facing Redmond is the price difference. With both companies closely watching every move made by the other, Microsoft has to know that it’s facing an uphill battle against the PlayStation 4’s more attractive price.

Ironically, last generation, their roles were reversed; Xbox 360 was very affordable while PlayStation 3 was considered far too expensive at launch. Both companies clearly took notes during that battle eight years ago, but Microsoft seems to have written down all the wrong cues.

Will Microsoft step up to the plate and lower the Xbox One’s price, even if it means taking a loss (as Sony will no doubt be doing)?

2. Does Nintendo still matter?

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I know I’ve beaten this dead horse before, so go right ahead and sharpen those flaying knives, Nintendo fans. But I just don’t get the appeal of the Wii U. I didn’t understand what was so great about it when it was first announced, and Nintendo’s showing at E3 hasn’t changed my mind. Their hardware is about to be made obsolete when Microsoft’s and Sony’s new powerhouses arrive later this year.

Neither EA nor Ubisoft — who held the other two big press events on Monday — made a single mention of games made for the Wii U in their presentations. The Wii U’s only worthwhile titles so far are from Nintendo’s (very) old franchises or re-releases of third-party games from Xbox 360’s and PS4’s back catalog (like Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, et. al.). Nintendo looks like it’s standing still compared to its two biggest rivals, and without the gimmicky fun of the Wii motion controller to propel them foreword this time, there’s just nothing going on at Nintendo worth buzzing about.

3. Where were the E3 surprises?

Aside from some great-looking indie games and a couple of new IPs from Ubisoft, this has been a surprise-free E3 so far. Where are all the great surprises from yesteryear that set the convention floor (and fans at home) abuzz and made big headlines?

I remember when Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo would round out their big shows with jaw-dropping announcements of titles that no one had the slightest inkling was in the works. Granted, it’s harder than ever to keep spoilers from leaking, but I miss those shocking, grin-inducing “wow” moments. Heck, even the cheesy celebrity appearances gave the proceedings some flair.

4. Why do I need a new Xbox?

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Sony made a strong case for upgrading to the PS4 thanks to welcome features for power users, some fantastic-looking games, and a decent price. But where Sony focused on gaming, Microsoft has recast the Xbox as the central media hub for your home, and it feels like games are just one bullet point on the long laundry list of things the Xbox One can do.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the new games look good. Really good. But are better graphics and bigger game worlds enough to justify upgrading to a new console? I’ve been an Xbox fan since the first one, but Microsoft’s press conference this week did nothing to convince me that I need to let go of my Xbox 360 — and the $500 price makes it a luxury, not a necessity.

5. Why were there so many tech glitches at the console events?

I know we don’t live in a perfect world. And technology is one of the least-perfect inventions of man. Tech is complicated, moody, and can always be counted on to malfunction at the most inopportune moment.

But come on.

This is Microsoft and Sony we’re talking about, for crying out loud. They’re two of the biggest and most respected tech companies in the world. If anybody can bring to the table enough hardware to ensure that a big, multimillion dollar media extravaganza goes off without a hitch, it’s these guys. And yet both companies’ events suffered from multiple instances of frozen hardware, absent audio, and more. What the heck, people?

6. Is the new Halo game for Xbox One Halo 5?

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And if so, why didn’t they just call it that? When Halo 4 came out last year, 343 Industries made a lot of noise about it being the first in a new trilogy. So why all the mystery now? It’s all but guaranteed that this new game is Halo 5. Unless they’re going to drop the numbers and go with a new naming convention, like subtitles. Regardless, it’s obvious this is the next chapter in Master Chief’s story. I can’t wait to find out how he finds himself in this striking desert setting, in damaged armor.

7. What the heck is The Order: 1886, and how soon can I get it!?

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This PS4 exclusive was teased at Sony’s press briefing with a killer trailer (it looked pre-rendered, but Sony swears it was all in-game) that introduced us to a steampunk Victorian London and a band of secret heroes who might just be King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, still alive after all these years.

If that’s the case, they’ve seriously upgraded their armory from the Medieval days. The trailer shows off all sorts of gloriously retro-advanced technology when our heroes are attacked by barely-glimpsed monstrosities. Sony says the game is set in an alternate history, “nearly forty years after the Industrial Revolution.” And then the trailer was over as fast as it began.

The visuals and the story were enough to hook me, and the gameplay looked incredible. I want more details, and I need to know how soon Sony can shut up and take my money.

8. Why does the PS4’s controller have a touchpad?

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Dozens of games were shown during Sony’s media briefing on Monday, but not a single one made use of that teeny tiny touchpad on the PlayStation 4’s DualShock controller. I’m sure someone out there will find a use for it, but so far it’s kind of like the tilt motion on the PS3’s controller — kinda cool for a handful of games, but ultimately pointless.

9. What is Media Molecule working on and why aren’t they at E3?

It’s been two long years since Media Molecule put out LittleBigPlanet 2. MM showed up to the PS4 reveal event a few months back with an impressive tech demo that involved sculpting virtual stuff in midair using the Move controller. But they’ve been tight-lipped ever since, refusing to say if that demo was part of an upcoming title or just a tech demonstration. Fans hoping that E3 might shed more light on what Media Molecule is up to will be disappointed, because they weren’t even mentioned at Sony’s presser.

10. What is Quantic Dream up to with The Dark Sorcerer?

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Is it just another tech demo like Kara, or a new IP being bread-crumbed out to us a bit at a time? The demo shown this week, with its peeling-back-the-curtain twist at the end, raised a lot of eyebrows (in a good way). But what was the point? We need details, QD.

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