E3 2009 Wrap-Up: Roundtable Discussion

Originally Posted on June 7, 2009: Link.

Hello there everyone! Welcome to what we hope to evolve into a series of discussions among the staff about many different topics, all having to do with the gaming industry and its effect on the RPG genre. My name is Zack, and I will be joined today by Roger, Ken, Miguel, and our great and all-powerful leader and founder of RPGSite, Alex! Let us begin.

Please offer your feedback on the press conferences and their impact on the RPG genre.
Ken: Well to be honest, I felt that as a whole, the press coverage was pretty even handed. There was enough of it out there that you could formulate your own opinion without one developer shoving their opinion down your throat.

Now that high-speed internet is readily available, we’re seeing more media/video presentations and a focus on more casual internet online gaming. RPGs seem to be slowly merging with Action Adventure more this year, with the exception of a few die-hard series

Roger: In terms of direction, the press conference showed what most gamers already know – the market is diversifying to satisfy a much more casual audience, and that RPGs in general have far less of a place in today’s games industry.

What E3 highlighted in particular was the diminishing appeal of the traditional RPG, and the evolution of the action RPG in particular, with announcements such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, FFXIV and Mass Effect 2 showcasing exactly where the industry is headed.

Although there were some traditional announcements in the shape of the new Crystal Chronicles game amongst others, the lack of Mistwalker in particular meant that the traditional RPG market lacked the announcements the purists were looking for.

Mig: I agree with Ken and Roger – the RPG genre is certainly diversifying more than ever. This is a direct result of the games industry growing from a smaller market, supported by a ‘hardcore’ audience to a more mainstream media format. If titles, and therefore developers, are to survive in the modern game industry they must sell, therefore they have to appeal to a wider, more casual audience. We’ve seen the same sort of thing happen in the music industry to a certain extent.

Bioware particularly impressed – Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age Origins all look to become fantastic additions to the RPG Genre. The news that Bioware are planning two years of DLC for DAO for DAO is also very encouraging.

For me, however, the single biggest and most important RPG announcements were the joint showings of FFXIII and FFXIV. We were shown a new trailer of FFXIII, and FFXIV was unveiled, which interestingly Sony categorically declare as an exclusive, despite Squeenix’s later claims that they are “considering all options”.

Zack: As far as Microsoft is concerned, I do not think a lot of attention has been given to the way Natal may impact the RPG genre. Imagine being able to walk around town and having people instantly recognize your scanned-in face and address you by name accordingly, allowing full immersion into the main character. Another aspect would be to scan your favorite clothing and dress your character up that way, which can bring endless pallet of customization.

I won’t even begin to imagine how enjoyable a battle system may be with Natal. It is very exciting, to say the least. Of course, the only thing I fear is Natal may not necessarily be able to capture all the complexities of a Japanese RPG, but games like the Elder Scroll series would be perfect for this — at least, to a degree. I do not want to be running around in placing for 100+ hours.

Although Sony had a great press conference, I was a little disappointed they didn’t try and promote some of the biggest games of the year for them in terms of the RPG audience. Games like White Knight Chronicles and Demon’s Souls only showed up for a few seconds in the video reel they showed off halfway through the show, despite the fact that both were actual system sellers for the company in Japan. It shows that they really need to reminds themselves that the RPG crowd was absolutely massive for the PS2, but have not been getting a lot of love on their new system. It was only until we finally got a look at Square-Enix’s “Rapture” Final Fantasy XIV, did they remind me that one of the big reasons I got a PS3 was for the potential RPG line-up.

Finally, Nintendo was still far too focused on the casual gaming audience despite the fact that most people who go to E3 in the first place are hardly what you would call part of that market. However, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was jumping up in down in front of my television when they announced Golden Sun DS. Finally — perhaps the greatest 2D RPG of the 21st century has a sequel. It was a long wait, but I am glad that they not only announced it, but brought a trailer with them as well. This will definitely be a first-day for me.

Outside of the main three conferences, EA also did a great job catering to us with games like Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins, and Star Wars The Old Republic. Although they are all Western RPGs, the amount of quality in each of these titles is certainly staggering.

Alex: Just some quick things. I noticed that the lack of Mistwalker means they’re working hard and not being rushed, which is a great sign. I would also like to point out that FFXIV is about as exclusive to PS3/PC as FF11 was. Finally, it was great to see the return of Golden Sun – a nod to hardcore gamers. It increases the likelihood of a big budget Wii RPG from the series. Unfortunately, we also did not see a new Fire Emblem!
Anything you saw that you weren’t expecting to? And also, any you didn’t see but you expected to?
Ken: Well for me, I was expecting news on Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep from Squeenix. That didn’t happen. I was also hoping against hope that now that we have the DSi we could get a handheld port of FFVII: Before Crisis. And I never expected to hear of a game on Wii called Redneck Chicken Riot.

Even though Nintendo seem to be covering their bases…PS3 had the most games on show by console. Apologies…it was 360 by 3 games.

Roger: Well, in terms of games I never expected to see ever, Sushi Academy and Redneck Chicken Riots might just get that accolade. It seems like there isn’t a niche market Nintendo aren’t prepared to fill.

The exclusion of Birth By Sleep is an awkward decision, in terms of Square’s usual track record of announcing games far in advance. Especially with a franchise as large as the Kingdom Hearts series (a game which managed to out sell FFX and FFXII on PS2) you would have expected even some new screenshots or gameplay footage.

Now, the games I weren’t expecting but got all the same are unfortunately few and far between Hannah Montana was of course, the talk of E3, with possibly the most surprising announcement there.

Again, there are few games that appeared out of the blue – we were well informed on most of the up coming RPGs, and E3 failed to surprise us in terms of quantity – but in terms of quality? Oh yes.

The blockbuster games again became even more hopeful, with The Old Republic, Mass Effect 2, and FFXIV setting up what looks to be a golden transition phase from a dominant Eastern to Western RPG era.

Mig: Being a bit of a Trekkie, I was anticipating perhaps an announcement on Atari/Cryptic’s Star Trek Online MMORPG. However, The Old Republic and Mass Effect 2 went a long way in satisfying my sci-fi nerd cravings. Also not shown was anything pertaining to the Pokémon Gold and Silver remakes. Heartgold and Soulsilver respectively; perhaps we can expect to see something of them at TGS.

In terms of pure didn’t expect to see, but was more than happy to; MGS: Rising was a shock surprise. I honestly never thought I’d see Sony’s beloved MGS make it onto a Microsoft platform.

FFXIV was equally as surprising, that definitely jumped out from behind a very large, very concealing bush. Metroid: Other M was a well kept secret which could turn out to be a decent Metroid game, and SW: The Old Republic surprised me a bit as well. Oh and let’s not forget Lego Rock Band…

I think the rest have already been mentioned and don’t really need much re-iterating. Very disappointed at the lack of Kingdom Hearts though.. even the DS version only got around a minute of airtime at Nintendo’s conference before the subject moved on completely.

Zack: I did not expect to see Golden Sun DS. As I already mentioned, it was really my favorite handheld RPG of the last generation, and am really glad to see Nintendo catering to its base by developing a sequel. Of course, Final Fantasy XIV was a pleasant surprise, and I am excited to learn more about that game.

As far as titles I expected to see and didn’t, I bestow that honor upon Parasite Eve: Third Birthday. I consider it to be the best mature-rated game they have ever released, and unfortunately, they did not feel it necessary to reveal anything more about the new title.

I would also like to mention that the Sony Online Entertainment MMO line-up wasn’t even touched on during their conference. Free Realms is about to reach 3 million active users, and it was not even glossed over. Sony should have been more organized in the presentation department, because if they had been, they would have been the clear winner this year.

Alex: I did not see a new DS title announcement from Square. Expect one soon!
We have talked a little bit about Final Fantasy XIV. What are your thoughts on the title and the series return to the online arena?
Ken: I am pumped for XIV. They only need to fix the two things from FFXI – the GUI (Graphical User Interface) and the grind. Although from the trailer I saw earlier, it seems it will have a more FFXII style of gameplay. And it has been mentioned that it will be more individual-player experience, instead of solely party-grind.

I would like to see a more WoW-esque GUI to be honest. It works really well for an MMORPG. Plus, I would love to take on Bahamut with a group.

The question for me is whether the job system will stay the same from FFXI, or will it change to a one-class restriction like most other MMORPGS.

Roger: Well, again, Ken has covered all the main bases I was going to discuss. My general view on Final Fantasy trying its hand at the MMORPG market once again are mixed – although a large part of me enjoyed the time I spent on XI, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

I miss the traditional RPGs personally, and with Square’s imminent diversification already underway, I feel that there is too little thought going into the production of FFXIV. I’ve heard of the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but this might be taking it a little far. The trailer already indicates a large amount of similarities with XI, which to most will be welcome.

I, however, wanted a little more from the wizards at Squeenix.

Now, the innovations that they have said to be considering and using from other MMORPGs will make the experience a lot more user-friendly – again, quoting Ken, the GUI and leveling grind in particular need large overhauls – something Square has most likely already sorted.

The main question for me is whether with a game such as World of Warcraft dominating the market share so strongly, there is room enough for Square to continue to produce an MMORPG that is both user friendly enough for the casual gamers to peacefully coexist with the game, and adequate end-game difficulty for the purists to enjoy the game. Personally, I don’t like the decision to try their hand once again at the online stage, but hey.

Mig: I’ve never been an MMO player, as such, and have never played FFXI. However, considering the massive popularity Final Fantasy has gained within the RPG genre, it’s a certainty that many fans of the series before the release of XI were frequent MMO players on games such as WoW (simply citing an example) – why should those fans not have the opportunity to experience Final Fantasy online?

Nevertheless, the trailer looks awesome and the game is bound to surpass the sales of FFXI with its newer emphasis on more ‘casual’, single-player gameplay as opposed to FFXI’s predominantly party-based gameplay (as stated before).

I know, FF isn’t what it used to be, and there are whole legions of purists screaming at Square Enix for more ‘traditional’ FF titles. But as much as I myself love the ‘traditional recipe’, it has to be admitted that the series needs to change, it needs to stay fresh in order to prevent itself from going stagnant, old and dare I say boring? Many old series have gone down the drain by overworking a tired recipe. I think an online installment, once in a while, does a lot more good than harm to a series as iconic as Final Fantasy; however, it has to be said that it wouldn’t hurt to see a return to more classic FF roots once in a while.

Zack: I honestly do not believe that there is anything wrong with the new online game being released under the moniker Final Fantasy XIV. I mean, we are talking about a game that will be released the same year as Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIV. I have personally played Final Fantasy XI a lot, and other than from Ragnarok Online, was an online game I have devoted the most time to.

With recently added features such as Level Sync and Fields of Valor, the grind is far easier than ever before. What used to take someone hours to accomplish now takes minutes. I am glad that Square-Enix decided to take a more single-player focus this time around so that they can tailor towards gamers like myself who can only devote at most an hour a day to video games. It leaves a lot of frustration over finding a party at the door.

It isn’t a particularly bad idea that they are trying to update an 8-year old game for the new generation, but when I heard them give the excuse that they only came up with the idea because they were too lazy to port to the Playstation 3 with a game that debuted on the Playstation 2, it did not sound quite as appealing.

However, since the same team behind the original will be working on this game, we can definitely expect to see a fairly robust cinematic story with plenty of character-driven action. I just hope they have some real gameplay at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, or at least by next year’s Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival.

Alex: I feel that FFXIV is a great addition to the series. It gives the series a chance to actually hit the now traditional “3 titles per generation” despite FFXIII’s long development time. The team seem to be learning from the lessons learned in FF11 and seem intent on delivering a much more user friendly game.

As I mentioned before, FFXIV is about as PS3 exclusive as FF11 was. They have admitted they are looking at an Xbox version. Chances are Microsoft isn’t happy with the idea of their players playing with PS3 players and are being childish, thus it being PS3 only at the moment. This won’t last, though, as it didn’t with FF11. Microsoft will cave.
There were certainly a lot of other great games announced at E3. What games other than RPGs excited you?
Ken: For me, it was Beatles Rock Band, and Spore Hero. Spore Hero seems to just take the beast stage of Spore and turn it into a sort of gladiatorial style, fighting for body evolution parts. Plus, rocking out to Beatles is never bad. Oh, and the English version of Dissidia because of the Voice Cast…minus the FFIX characters.

Roger: Dissidia has my pickle well and truly tickled. The idea of using Kefka to annihilate just about half the Final Fantasy cast by mashing buttons a la Street Fighter makes me weak at the fan boy knees, and bar the FFIX voice cast, the talent behind the sound will be fine. If not, hopefully there’s a Japanese voice option, like Street Fighter IV.

Assassins Creed 2 looks VERY nice. Being a fan of the original, even with the large amount of dull killing to be done before the main assassinations, I was expecting great things from the Ubisoft boys. I wasn’t disappointed, with the Italian setting and the jaw dropping trailer setting me well on my way for dusting down my peaked cloak and attempting some leaps of faith.

I am also optimistic for Modern Warfare 2, which is looking set to be the Christmas time waster for all online shoot ’em up fans. Microsoft will be rolling in the Live subscription fees, and with good reason – its predecessor was the online Halo killer of this generation.

Mig: Where to start? I was immensely captivated by a few titles at this year’s show. One of those was definitely Modern Warfare 2. CoD4 recently won the Guinness World Record for most played online game – averaging in excess of 15 million minutes played online, daily. I wouldn’t be surprised if MW2 not only surpasses that, but also becomes the biggest video-game blockbuster of all time, beating Halo 3 into the ground – as Roger rightly said, CoD4 “was the online Halo Killer”. The new trailer and gameplay footage is nothing short of orgasmic.

The same goes for Assassin’s Creed II. As with MW2, both the trailers and the gameplay footage look amazing. Built on the winning formula of the original AC, the many improvements such as AI, technological advance owing to the more modern setting of the Italian Renaissance, as well as the inclusion of two mechanical wrist-blades, will make for some classy killing. Can’t wait for this title.

An exciting announcement was Metal Gear Solid: Rising. It will be curious to know how the MGS franchise débuts on the 360. I’m slightly worried by the fact that Kojima is just producing, and not directing the game though. At least his influence is still there, though he is apparently focusing on MGS: Peacewalker for the PSP.

“I’m not the director. I’m not doing game design either. Although, I do issue complaints (laughs). But, not too much,” – Kojima.

And finally, to keep it brief – Sony’s exclusive shooter, MAG, impressed tremendously with the 256-player online demonstration.

Zack: Nothing quite like seeing 256 people on a large PowerPoint slide to really put things in perspective.

There were a lot of great games shown this year. I am really excited what the team from Remedy will do with Alan Wake, which makes me think of Luigi’s Mansion with guns.

Modern Warfare 2 will be a first-day grab.I had a blast with my friends online, and the single player was one of the most well-crafted stories in any shooter. I don’t remember ever feeling that much heart-wrenching emotion from a game, let alone an FPS.

The Monkey Island games were big announcements for me, and I am also pretty stoked about Mount & Blade Warband. I really enjoyed having the ability to create a massive army in the thousands, and then going around raiding and pillaging towns and villages all in the name of the great Zack. I am stoked that I will now be able to do that online against dozens of other armies. It is going to be absolutely ridiculous.

Brutal Legend looks absolutely hilarious, which is standard for any Tim Schafer game. I find Jack Black to be one of the funniest men in the business, and being a huge metal fan as I am, this game hits the sweet spot in what I love about video games.

Finally, I loved seeing Last Guardian, the new game from Fumito Ueda, the man behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, Definitely my Best in Show at E3.

Alex: I am excited about a lot of different titles. Allow me to go down the list:

Battlefield Bad Company 2 – Very lovely developers. Very fun game – great evolution of the first.

Wii Sports Resort – everything that made the Wii launch fun increased tenfold.

Zelda Spirit Tracks – debatable if it is an RPG or not, but amazing.

Forza Motorsport 3 – Superb, could at last be the Gran Turismo killer.

Uncharted 2 – Very impressive graphically and great set pieces, but bested by…

God of War 3 – Wow, wow, wow. Brutal.

Halo 3 ODST – Different to Halo. No regenerating health. More focus on plot, more focus on individuals… a Call of Duty style game in the Halo-verse.

Alan Wake – Absolutely amazing. Great narrative, great looking, and really the first horror game in ages to actually look scary.
What are you most anticipated games coming out of E3 2009?
Ken: Most anticipated? Possibly Spore Heroes, Kingdom Hearts, both Birth By Sleep and 358/2, Dissidia, FF XIII, Mario vs. DK Minis March Again, New Super Mario Brothers, and Possibly the new Katamari Game. I can never get enough Katamari.

Roger: For me, it’ss Mass Effect 2, or Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was a huge fan of Star Wars and sci-fi, I loved both Mass Effect and The Old Republic, and I cannot wait for either of these games to come out. I am also looking forward to Assassin’s Creed II, CoD:MW2 and Final Fantasy XIII. Still.

Mig: FFXIII, both Kingdom Hearts titles, Golden Sun DS, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect II, Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed II, and MGS: Rising are my most anticipated. A very similar list to the previous, but for good reason.

Zack: I am pretty stoked about Modern Warfare 2 since Infinity Ward never fails to deliver. Aside from the games I mentioned before: Uncharted 2, Dragon Age Origins, Saboteur, APB, Splinter Cell, and Heavy Rain are my most anticipated titles. All the games that we have talked about today are very impressive, so gamers should be very excited about what’s to come from every platform.

Alex: All of the above, definitely. Mass Effect 2. Crystal Bearers. Dissidia a little bit. Batman: Arkham Asylum. Rock Band: The Beatles. Perfect Dark on XBLA.

The Best RPGs of the show would have to go to Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Crystal Bearers, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

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