The E3 2014 press conference PC gamers deserve
E3 remains the place for big developers and publishers to reveal and showcase their games. We love PAX, Gamescom, and GDC, but E3 is where Microsoft, Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA, et al. come out swinging with millions of marketing dollars to try and outdo one another in spectacle in a series of Monday press conferences.
The PC, lacking a sole, corporate representative or elected monarch, doesn’t have its own press conference at E3. Our platform has a great presence on the E3 floor, which we’ll be covering tirelessly this week, but we can’t help but wonder each year: if PC gaming a press conference, what would it be like? As we’ve done in 2013 and 2012, here’s our vision.
The room glows. At the edge of the stage, a flag emblazoned with the logos of hundreds of developers. Mojang. Valve. Cloud Imperium Games. Obsidian. The Fullbright Company. Blizzard. All united, all equally sized. An unseen voice announces to the crowd: “Please rise and remove your hats… for the playing of the PC gaming international anthem.”
A 32-piece orchestra moves silently onto the stage, led by a tuxedoed Warren Spector, who steps to a conducting platform in the middle of the stage. The musicians take their seats, Spector pays them a nod, and the instruments spring into motion, weaving a quiet introduction before bursting into the dramatic notes of the Deus Ex title theme by Alexander Brandon. Inexplicably, Command & Conquer series composer Frank Klepacki descends from the ceiling clutching a flying-V guitar to hammer out the final verse.
Spector and Klepacki absorb the applause, take a bow, then clear the stage for the conference’s host: StarCraft evangelist Sean “Day” Plott. Plott plays the crowd, charming and relatable as always, then breaks down the structure of the conference. To avoid favoritism, all presenters are given equal time, Plott explains, and the order of the presentations was determined by the results of a Minesweeper tournament that preceded the press conference.
Day brings the first guest (and obvious Minesweeper champion) to the stage: John Carmack. He’s flanked by Oculus VR CEO Palmer Luckey. “Behold, mortals,” Carmack lifts an open palm toward the ceiling, from which a plume of white smoke bursts. A translucent sphere descends into the middle of the seating area, suspended by a wire. “We’ve created a stereoscopic camera that captures video in all directions.” Carmack rattles off enough jargon to fill a computer engineering curriculum, but eventually comes to a point: the whole PC Gaming Conference can be watched through the Oculus Rift through a client anyone can download today. For free. Oculus will redeploy the technology later in the year at The International, which will feature a live feed of the action inside Seattle’s Key Arena.
Palmer and Carmack keep talking. They announce a $1 million dollar VR game jam, partnered with Unity, intended to stimulate indie development on the device. They give a release date for the commercial Oculus Rift, and mention a set of other games being ported over to the device: DayZ, Next Car Game, Arma 3, Fallout: New Vegas. The takeaway is clear: Oculus is going to have a huge hand in the future of PC gaming, and they’re pulling out all the stops to make it a vibrant platform as early as possible.
CD Projekt is next. Its presenter gives a brief callback to its the interesting GOG Galaxy platform announced last week, then dives right into a live, unscripted demo of Cyberpunk 2077. It has all the appearance of a Mass Effect game with a more mature, grounded sensibility. The presenter closes with a new trailer for The Witcher 3, using all in-game footage.
Then it’s Blizzard’s turn. Rob Pardo parts the curtain. He rattles off some impressive Hearthstone numbers--more than 10 million accounts--as he talks through the next year of planned content for Blizzard’s surprise hit. We get our first look at the next Diablo expansion, which will add the Amazon and a new Cleric class.
There’s a seemingly endless stream of demos, all thoughtfully presented, all free of the marketing doublespeak and dull celebrity cameos seen in the larger publishers’ conferences. Firaxis gives an encouraging demo of Civilization: Beyond Earth’s late game, finally showing how the new victory conditions play out. Relic reveals the next armies coming to Company of Heroes 2 after The Western Front Armies. Bohemia gives a look at the next Arma 3 expansion, themed around arctic warfare. Double Fine drops a megaton: a Grim Fandango HD remaster. Epic gives a super-early update on the Unreal Tournament pre-pre-pre-pre-alpha, which already looks fast and fluid. In between, AMD and Nvidia are given equal time to talk up Mantle, G-Sync, GeForce Experience, in addition to showing off their next generation of cards.
The audience is genuinely surprised to see Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser take the stage. “We’ve missed you, PC gamers. Moddability has caused us some headaches in the past,” Houser half-jokes, referencing the Hot Coffee code uncovered in GTA: San Andreas. “But our games belong on the PC.” The main screen flips to a new slide: Red Dead Redemption: JUNE 24. GTA V: October 7. Both will be moddable, with GTA V supported by an SDK. The crowd vibrates with appreciative sounds.
Indies take the stage to showcase their work. The Long Dark. Hyper Light Drifter. Frozen Endzone. Prison Architect. Starbound. Rust. There’s not enough time to feature every worthy indie game, but Plott announces that there’ll be a demo area open to the public immediately following the press conference.
Everything seems to be wrapped. The conference room goes quiet, the house lights come up, and Plott exits the stage. Attendees get to their feet, looking toward the exit. But there’s a sound. A weird, rhythmic noise. What is it? The slow trod of a horse? It can’t be that.
A unicorn clomps onto the stage, saddled by Gabe Newell. “Hello, everyone,” Gabe says in his genial tone, “I still can’t show you Half-Life 3, but if you follow me, I’ll show you something even better.” The room stands and empties, all attendees trailing behind Gabe Newell’s unicorn.