This week in video games: at E3 2016 in Los Angeles

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      The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is going on this week. The Georgia Straight is in Los Angeles and attended the major news briefings that always take place in the days before the trade show begins.

      Sunday, June 12

      Electronic Arts decided to skip E3 proper this year. Instead of spending money on a booth in the Los Angeles Convention Centre, where only industry types and media could attend, EA decided to splurge on its own event, accessible to the public, down the street in Club Novo at L.A. Live.

      EA Play kicked off with a media event at noon on Sunday. The space opened up to the public soon afterward. A London, England, EA Play took place at the same time at the Hammersmith Apollo theatre.

      In his opening remarks, EA CEO Andrew Wilson said the company was “inviting you in to play” before stepping aside for looks at upcoming games. Highlights included:

      Titanfall 2 will include a single-player mode so more people will be able to enjoy the tight gameplay.

      Mass Effect Andromeda leaves the Milky Way and drops players into a galaxy where they are the alien.

      FIFA 17 will include a story mode called, The Journey, which will let gamers play through the life and career of the fictional protagonist, Alex Hunter.

      Fe, pronounced “fey”, a new indie game being supported by EA’s new Originals program, which supports small developers.

      • A look at a new Star Wars game coming in 2017, with Amy Hennig of Visceral Games sayng that it will be “not just a Star Wars game, but a story in the Star Wars universe”.

      Later on Sunday, Bethesda Softworks held its second media event. Last year, the game developer and publisher staged a splashy affair at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. This year, the event was held at LA Hanger Studios outside downtown.

      A display of Dishonored 2 props at the Bethesda Softworks news conference.
      Blaine Kyllo

      Bethesda’s big game this fall is from Arkane Studios. Dishonored 2, set in the same Victorian era-inspired world as the 2012 game, lets players take on the guise of either Corvo, the protagonist from that first game, or his daughter, Emily, now 25 and empress.

      For a limited time, preordering Dishonored 2 will get you the "definitive edition" of the first game, remastered for PS4 and Xbox One.

      Arkane also revealed that the Austin studio is working on Prey, a game that once existed as a sequel to Human Head’s 2006 game but which appears to be more of a reboot than a sequel. It’s planned for 2017.

      Quake: Champions was another new game revealed at the event. It’s being developed by id Software, which is led by the original game’s codesigner, Tim Willits.

      More details about the arena first-person shooter will be revealed at QuakeCon, held annually in Dallas.

      There will be three more updates to Fallout 4, including Nuka World, a big expansion with a new map that will, according to Bethesda’s Todd Howard, bigger than Far Harbor, recently released.

      And in October, Bethesda will release a new edition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, remastered for PS4 and Xbox One. Windows players who already own Skyrim and its add-ons, or the legendary edition, will get a free upgrade to the remaster.

      Monday, June 13

      Bright and early this morning (Monday), Xbox woke things up with its event, held at the Galen Centre near USC.

      Xbox boss Phil Spencer opened and ended the event with announcements of new hardware. He started by confirming the existence of the Xbox One S, a 40% smaller version of Microsoft’s console that will display 4K video and comes with a built-in power supply.

      Xbox head Phil Spencer announces the Xbox One S console, coming in August. (Pricing on the screen is in U.S. dollars.)
      Blaine Kyllo

      The Xbox One S arrives in August and will be available in three configurations (Canadian pricing listed):

      • 500 GB hard drive for $399

      • 1 TB hard drive for $449

      • 2 TB hard drive for $499 (limited-edition launch edition)

      The other console Spencer revealed was Project Scorpio, which is planned for late 2017. It will be a high-powered machine built with the input of game developers—Including six teraflops of graphical processing power (read: a lot)—and it will be able to drive virtual-reality experiences like the Oculus VR system and, presumably, Microsoft’s own HoloLens.

      Spencer said that the Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio systems are all “part of the same family” and that Xbox games will work across all systems.

      That includes Windows 10, too. All of the new games coming from Microsoft Game Studios will be Play Anywhere games, so purchasing a game on one platform gives you the game on the others. And the game will save your progress and achievements so you can pick up and play on whatever system you want.

      Gears of War 4 is one example. In development at The Coalition in Vancouver, Gears 4 is Xbox’s biggest game of the year. In a lengthy gameplay demo during the event, studio head Rod Fergusson and voice actor Laura Bailey showed that the new game in the franchise is as chaotic and frenzied as those in the first trilogy.

      Games coming from Microsoft Game Studios will also be built to support cross-play, so players on Windows 10 computers can play with and against those on Xbox One consoles.

      Minecraft is one of those experiences that has gone completely platform-agnostic. With the latest update, now players can share worlds and play together regardless of what platform they are on, including Oculus VR. The game is also bringing add-ons that will enable “fully mod-able” play.

      Xbox exclusives mentioned during the event included Halo Wars 2, Recore, Scalebound, Sea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2. And there were more than a dozen independently-developed games being released through the ID@Xbox program, including Canadian-developed titles like Below and Cuphead.

      Microsoft is also letting gamers design their own Xbox controllers—expect other customizable items before long—with the Xbox Design Lab.

      Ubisoft’s news conference started off with an acid-trip-inspired dance number from the company’s Just Dance franchise.
      Blaine Kyllo

      Ubisoft, celebrating 30 years of game development and publishing, took to L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre on Monday afternoon. Actor and comedian Aisha Tyler hosted for the fifth year and joked: “It’s not for the money. Ubisoft is French, they’re paying me in red wine and sarcasm.”

      The French company is riding the success of The Division, the open-world shooter that is getting a substantial expansion on June 28 for Xbox One players (August 2 for PS4 players) in the form of The Underground. In it, players get bigger rewards the farther down into the tunnels they go. Two more expansions are planned: Survival and Last Stand.

      For Honour, in development at Ubisoft Montreal, was a surprise at last year’s E3 media event. This year, creative director Jason VandenBerghe revealed the story that will anchor the game: Years after a global apocalypse, Apollyon, the Greek translation of the angel Abandon, sustains the fighting between three factions: knights, samurai, and Vikings.

      Ubisoft also showed a chunk of gameplay from Watchdogs 2, coming in November. The new game is set in San Francisco and centres around a group of hackers that call themselves Dedsec.

      The lucrative Assassin’s Creed franchise also made an appearance, but not as a game. Instead, film producer Frank Marshall was on-stage to talk about the film adaptation starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, which releases on December 21.

      Ghost Recon: Wildlands is the next in the Tom Clancy series of games. This one is set in Bolivia and imagines what the country would be like if it were controlled by a drug cartel that industrialized cocaine production.

      South Park: The Fractured But Whole (say the last two words quickly for full Trey Parker and Matt Stone effect) picks up where The Stick of Truth left off, but sends up the superhero genre this time.

      And Steep is a new game developed at Ubisoft Annecy, which blends open world action sports with social features, letting players ski, snowboard, and wingsuit their way through the Alps.

      Ubisoft also showed off two virtual-reality games. Eagle Flight lets players embody raptors and engage in co-op and competitive-flying games, and Star Trek: Bridge Crew puts up to four players in control of the USS Aegis. As Tyler said while talking to Levar Burton on-stage: “You’ve imagined yourself on that bridge. Now you can be.”

      : Media get hands-on time with PS VR and other PlayStation games.
      Blaine Kyllo

      PlayStation always anchors the pre-E3 events, and on Monday night at the Shrine Auditorium, the company’s event had a full orchestra and chorus accompanying it. The music was courtesy of the composer of a new God of War game, which is being described as “a new beginning”.

      The orchestra’s first overture led into a reveal of Kratos, the protagonist of the God of War games. He’s older now. And he’s not in Greece anymore. He’s gone north, to the land of the Norse myths, and he has fathered a son.

      The PlayStation event focused exclusively on games. The only mention of hardware was when Sony’s Shawn Layden said that the PS4 console was powerful enough for virtual-reality experiences and that the PS VR, coming on October 13, benefitted game developers because it offered a standard platform in the PS4.

      Layden said that by the end of the year, there will be more than 50 games for PS VR. Among them are Farpoint, a shooter set on an alien planet, Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission, Batman: Arkham VR, Final Fantasy XV VR Experience, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and Resident Evil VII: Biohazard.

      Other games for the PS4 that were presented included:

      Days Gone, a third-person action-adventure set after a zombie apocalypse

      The Last Guardian, the long-awaited adventure from designer Fumito Ueda, which will be released on October 25.

      Horizon Zero Dawn, from Guerrilla Games, featuring a female protagonist in a world of machine creatures.

      • Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human, in which players take on the guise of an android, and where choices made in the game govern how the story plays out.

      A couple of the games that were shown were nothing more than teases of what is to come: Spider-Man, as created by Insomniac Games, and Hideo Kojima’s new game, Death Stranding, which stars Norman Reedus.

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