Baddies, babes and blasts? Must be E3
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings may have vacated Staples Center for New York's Madison Square Garden this week, but the blocks surrounding the arena have been replaced with a level of testosterone that not even the NHL can muster.
Cloaked assassins, military tough guys and a fantasy knight have taken control of the neighboring Los Angeles Convention Center and beyond.
All that aggressive advertising can herald only one thing: The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has once again landed in Los Angeles. North America's largest video game trade show, one that pumps $45 million into the local economy, never makes a modest entrance.
"The future begins," is E3's slogan for 2014, and the 45,000 registrants will ensure at least that the future is hyped.
Less than eight months after Sony and Microsoft each released new consoles, this year's E3 will step away from heralding the lofty ambitions of next-generation consoles. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are off to a fast start, having collectively sold more than 8 million consoles globally by early 2014, according to data from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Now, the attention is shifting from dazzling core gamers to reaching a broader consumer, and the video game industry will do that the way it knows best — with lots of explosions.
Coming games such as "Battlefield: Hardline" will pit cops and robbers in an all-out war on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. "Batman: Arkham Knight" will spark the boyhood dreams of many by putting players behind the wheel of the Batmobile. "Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain" is teasing war at its most melodramatic, and the makers of "Star Wars: Battlefront" took field trips to the original film locations for inspiration.
Even Nintendo has come out swinging; we recently learned that the company's bumbling Italian sidekick has a mean streak. The latest Internet meme, the Luigi death stare, comes courtesy of the just-released "Mario Kart 8."
Set to stun
But out of the gate, what E3 dubs "the future" looks and sounds an awful lot like the present and recent past.
Early Monday, when Microsoft took over USC's Galen Center as a sort of pre-E3 event, the arena screens were showcasing soldiers being pulverized by the futuristic weapons of the latest entry in the "Call of Duty" franchise. The clip ended with the phrase "power changes everything," reinforcing the old video game industry standby that bigger worlds, faster hard drives and stronger graphics equal a better game.
This is blockbuster video gaming, and E3 in its 20th year knows that subtlety isn't the best way to stun. E3 attempts to wow with effects, or, in the unfortunate case of a new "Assassin's Creed," high-definition beheadings. While Microsoft's Phil Spencer dubbed video games "the fastest growing form of entertainment in the world," E3 often adheres closely to the idea of the game as perfectly chiseled technological product — worlds that get taken out for a test drive and then shot up with precision.
This E3 will give us recognizable characters in new settings. Lara Croft, for instance, was shown in the office of a psychiatrist in the teaser for the new "Tomb Raider." It was a welcome change of pace, but lest anyone think it's a complete reinvention, Croft before too long was shooting an arrow into the back of a man's skull.
Self-reflection makes for a good set-up, but E3 doesn't stray too far from the ol' familiar tropes of death and destruction.
Perhaps that's for the best, as anyone who's been around the conference more than twice knows that the next big thing at E3 can quickly become the opposite.
Last spring, Microsoft introduced its Xbox One with a tethered Kinect, a revamped edition of motion sensor that could better understand voice commands and was said to be so precision-correct that it could read a heartbeat.
Aspects of the Kinect were treated as revolutionary. Say, for instance, the word "snap," and voila, like a techie Harry Potter, you could suddenly conjure a picture-in-picture. But as impressive as the Kinect may be, there's yet to be a game that showcases why it's vital, and Microsoft recently slashed the price of the Xbox One by $100 and made the Kinect an optional add-on.
Set your VR
There will be some highly touted tech offerings this year as well. Nintendo this week will reveal details on how its "Skylanders"-influenced figurines will interact with its Wii U console, and Sony is showcasing its virtual reality headset dubbed "Project Morpheus." Another immersive piece of headgear, the Oculus Rift, recently acquired by Facebook, has its own vision for a virtual reality-enhanced future.
As for the future? Perhaps E3 should stick to championing more attainable goals in its slogan. Here's a start: Ensure that female characters are generally more clothed than not.
Microsoft's 343 Industries will release a new "Halo" game in 2015, and when last we saw the franchise, the woman in the lead supporting role — a hologram, essentially — appeared largely in the bare.
"I know, I know," said 343 Industries' general manager, Bonnie Ross, who cringed just a little when asked about the portrayal at a recent press event. "She is wearing a digital pant suit. I look at it that way."
She then added, "We can probably add some more digits there."