I’m finally back from the show, and while there was nothing really unexpected I somewhat enjoyed it more than the previous edition. Let’s have a look at what’s new in the world of video games, seen from a Japanese perspective.
[NOTE: updated on Sept 21st – many additions since the previous version ]
First, this show seemed a little more crowded this year in terms of space. I may be wrong but there were overall more booths, while there were clearly some “fillers” in the form of Asian booths from smaller countries (let me be fair here, I did not check them out), and indie developers. But that’s good, it’s better than having a big empty space in one hall. This is the first time I did not join the keynotes, while it’s been many years I attend the TGS. This year’s keynotes were about how be successful in globalization, and another one from Google, about mobile games I guess… none of them were appealing to me so I ended up spending more time testing games. Which is a good thing.
Note that attending a game show is probably one of the worst places to actually test games, since it’s super noisy, you only spend 5-10 mins per game and most versions are early alphas, buggy as hell in some cases. But well, a game that’s already shitty that late in development has little chance to be great later on, and on the other hand a good game may not become much worse when released. But when it comes to average games, it’s hard to say how they will turn out, or if you saw enough of it to have a proper opinion.
There was no sense of rivalry between the Xbox One and the PS4, especially since both consoles are not very successful locally, and most new titles being made for both machines. Anyway the Xbox One is dead on arrival, they just started selling it a couple of weeks ago and they had miserable figures – I’m not sure what they expect from their presence at the show. The PS4 is not selling well in Japan but it’s still nowhere as bad as the Xbox One.
I feel the Xbox One is going to have a really tough job to be more successful in Japan than the Xbox 360, since the 360 was known for a number of specific Japanese genres (RPGs, love simulations, shooters) yet that support is not likely to materialize anytime soon for the One.
Nintendo was, as usual, absent from the show, and even more so since none of the third parties I visited had any WiiU game (or maybe only a single game I could see). I was actually looking forward to play Bayonetta 2 on WiiU until I realized it was actually PUBLISHED by Nintendo and therefore not on the show. Arf.
Same goes for the PSVita, it was hard to see any, while a number of 3DS games were in demo here and there. But even the 3DS seemed to be less “a thing” than in the last year – at least from what I can recall.
The first thing I did in the morning was to go for the Oculus Rift booth. It was very small, and still preparing when I arrived first there. I wanted to try by myself the DK2 version of the Rift and see for myself if it was as great as people mentioned before. And I was actually… disappointed. For several reasons.
But first, the tech. It’s now significantly improved vs the previous DK1 kit, and the resolution is much better as well as the latency. Moving your head from one side to the other really makes it feel natural. That’s great, but that’s where the greatness stops. I felt the 3D effect was not really that strong or powerful. I could see it, but it did not seem very deep. You could definitely tell you are watching a screen because it was far from looking real. Second, no matter how better this version is, your field of vision is VERY limited. It still feels like you are looking through a window or something. Third, you can see the pixels. Yeah, even at the better resolution, I can definitely see individual pixels on screens and that throws me off in terms of immersion. I really wanted to like it, but I’m now thinking they will have a hard time selling that sustainably unless there’s some significant improvement for the launch timing.
In terms of VR hardware you could also see Project Morpheus from Sony, and unfortunately I could not get to try it. There was a very long queue (more than an hour and a half) and I was running out of time already. I may have another chance to try it at some point, we will see…
Samsung also had a booth to showcase his Gear VR, which is, I think, developed in partnership with Oculus. This thing is basically another VR headset that connects directly on your phone, without any powerful PC needed. This is basically a mobile equivalent. The idea is cool, but it will be a while until we can have great looking games in VR with phones or tablets. The power is just not there yet.
Alienware was at the show to showcase their Steam-based console, called the Alienware Alpha. It’s Steam based, but not a Steam Machine in the sense that it does not run on Linux but on a Windows backend. Therefore you can play the full catalogue of Steam games, which is an interesting proposition. It was looking pretty neat.
It’s actually quite small, much more than I thought, roughly the size of a Wii or not too far from it. The games on display were running very well, which is not really a surprise. It’s too bad they did not showcase the better looking games like Witcher 2, Metro Last Light or stuff like that which make the PC stand out. I wonder what the people who prepare the booth think about sometimes… Anyway, they have three models planned, with different specs, and different prices of course…They are all
It can already be reserved on Amazon in Japan and the three models are fairly expensive (from 800 to almost 1000 USD!) and will be available around the end of November. As you can see from the specs it’s quite beefy, with pretty fast CPUs, and a Maxwell generation GPU from nVidia (though we don’t know which model it is precisely), and relatively large hard drives. Is it good value for the money ? Well, maybe, but it’s not cheaper than building a box yourself, that’s for sure.
3 key issues in Japan to make this work: Alienware is unknown over here. Two, Steam is unknown. So you have to go and educate people about Steam first. Three, it’s much more expensive than a PS4 – twice the price. I could add that you probably need a keyboard and mouse for a number of games that do not support the Xbox360 controller, but that’s the least of their problems I guess. Good luck with that! I’d be very surprised if they sell dozens of thousands of units, but hey, I may be wrong. It’s probably a decent platform to play on, but marketing it in Japan may be the wrong place. That’s probably why they only sell it via Amazon in the first place, in order to cut down on distribution costs and see how it goes.
Now let’s talk about the games. I mentioned the version I saw/played in brackets. Some games will be available on multiple platforms, so do not consider it always means it’s exclusive.
Forza Horizons 2. [ Xbox One ]
I did not have to play the first one before so I have no clue how it compares, but the second one at least is a good refection of what the Xbox One can do. It’s pretty impressive and probably one of the best racers available out there currently. Steering is as accurate as ever but I kind of felt the Xbox One pad was not as good as the Xbox 360 one in terms of analog response. It feels a little stiffer or something. Graphically it’s much better than the other racer seen on PS4, DriveClub, while that one improved since its first show in the last year. The cars in DC are very, very well rendered with a great amount of shader effects, but the landscape and the road look sub par compared to what I could see on Forza Horizon 2.
Halo : The Masterchief Collection [ Xbox One ]
There was only a multiplayer level that could be played on the show, but it was a lot of fun, as always with Halo. The mechanics are great and work well when playing at like 8 or more. Visually the overhaul is great, and represents certainly a good reason to purchase the collection, along with the opportunity to play in co-op or deathmatch again on this excellent series of games. By the way, I must have been fighting against noobs during the show, because I survived for like 4 minutes without being shot down once and killed 9 opponents in a row. On Xbox Live I would have been killed in no time.
Bio Hazard Revelations 2 [ PS4 ]
The demo was quite boring. You were playing Claire Redfield (from RE2 fame) trapped in an underground level with another girl. And you had to try to find the way out of that level. Technically it was meh, and about everything was just average about it. You had a few zombies coming up, and the usual knife and gun to handle them. You had to switch characters a few times during the demo in order to unlock some doors or find some objects and I found that kind of co-op mode more annoying than anything else. Obviously it’s hard to rate a game just based on a small level like that but at least I was far from impressed. Capcom was also showing off the HD remake of Resident Evil 1, but I’m not sure whether it was playable on the show. I was not looking for it, I saw the trailer and it looked alright. I may not want to play a reboot of a reboot one more time, though. These kind of things are starting to get old.
Bravely Second [ 3DS ]
The only 3DS title I tried on the show. I did not play the first game Bravely Default so once again I cannot compare, but it looked like a decent RPG, with very nice 2D and 3D artworks. What stood out was how beautiful the 3D environments were even on a system as low performance as the 3DS (this shows how much actual graphic design and texture work can make a lot of difference even when you have technical constraints) despite the low screen resolution. If I had a 3DS I would probably pick this one up when it came out, but I don’t anyway, so i’ll leave it to the fans of the first game. The fighting system still use the two modes “Brave” and “Default” but they may have changed some things following the first one.
Destiny [ PS4 ]
The game is I believe already out so maybe not much to learn there, but it does play very much like Halo, and that’s for sure. Graphics were OK but nothing to keep you awake at night. It’s very much a multiplayer game, since the mission I did would be completely impossible if I were alone. My partners died several times during the mission and I had to deal with swarms of enemies – almost impossible since you have to reload once in a while and that kind of pause just kills you. So you end up running to revive your partners and hope to turn the tide against the enemies. While the shooting part was effective, game-wise it was nothing like Halo: I could not really see any interesting enemy AI or stuff like that. I guess when you focus on making a multiplayer shooter you don’t really spend time on making enemies smarter.
Metal Gear Solid 5 Phantom Pain. [ Not playable / Saw demo only ]
I saw Kojima talk about it during the first day of the show. He was spending a lot of time to explain the scale of the game and how big it was, as well as the open world aspects. Somehow it feels a little bit like Operation Flashpoint where you move on the map to do one mission after another in the order that you like. We had a real demo of a whole mission at the show and while it was certainly interesting I am a little thrown off by several aspects. First, capturing soldiers with the Fulton chutes. That was kind of fun in Peace Walker because it introduced some strategy elements in a portable game that was severely limited in design. But in MGS5 if feels out of place and it looks ridiculous within a game that pretends to be realistic. Second, you can set an inflatable plastic doll of yourself up to make enemies think that you are in a different place. The idea is funny, but that’s just another gimmick that should not be needed in a stealth action game, and they abused of it during the demo. Third, there’s this sniper woman character (almost naked in the game…) who is your partner at some point. You can involve her in missions too to support you. The thing is, she is like a super hero or something, can become invisible and can run at three times the speed of the best 100m runner out there. She can hit a grenade you throw in the air to deflect it so that it hits an helicopter. Wait. Seriously ? Was that really necessary ? *Facepalm*. I wish Kojima stopped going too much in that direction in every single game. MGS1 had the right balance between wierdos and believable characters, but this game is shaping to be rather messy in that regard. This being said, MGS V was technically impressive, probably one of the best looking games on the show, especially during the cut scenes. It’s supposed to be released in 2015, but we all know Kojima may delay it further and further so I would not hold my breath regarding when it will be actually available. It will be also available on Xbox One (and PS3 and Xbox 360).
Dead of alive 5 Last Round: [ PS4 ]
Not much new under the sun. Still the same mechanics and bounding boobs with better graphics yet nothing really that outstanding either. This series had clearly lost a lot of ground over the years and it’s not like it is still massively popular or something. But it’s a genre thing. Most fighters have decreased in popularity, except maybe Street Fighter 4 in recent history.
Winning Eleven 2015 [ PS4 ]
If there’s one thing Konami does well apart from Metal Gear Solid games, it’s Winning Eleven also known as Pro Evolution Soccer everywhere else. Visually it’s clearly behind EA and its FIFA, they don’t have the tech to really compete with them, but it was a dream to play. It’s precise, sharp, and extremely fun to play. I lost against the AI, but it’s been years I did not touch a Winning Eleven so I have an excuse.
Bloodborne [ PS4 ]
A lot of people were waiting to play this game, so there was always about 1 hour of queue or more. I had to go through the same kind of wait to get my hands on it. From Software is at work here again so it feels like a Dark Souls derivative. Graphically it was one of the prettiest games of the show, with some really cool effects that were shown in the trailer. But it’s also unforgiving and I had to restart the demo 4 times after dying. I’m no expert at Dark Souls so more trained folks had probably more fun than me on this.
Little Big Planet 3 [ PS4 ]
Media Molecule is back with a new episode. I have only played one level so it was hard to see exactly what new features they included, but they had this character that can shrink at the press of a button, which is used for game mechanics. When small you can run very small and go in small tunnels, while you need to be big to jump on springs to get to specific places. It was as fun as always, but technically disappointing. On a PS4 I expected 60 fps yet the frame rate was very low, just like on PS3. It feels like you are playing on ancient hardware or something… the overall art and design is as solid as ever, but I always wonder… “why do I need to get the next game in the series? It’s the same thing all over again…”
Borderlands: The pre-sequel [ Xbox One ]
I did not play it directly but watched someone else playing it. It looked fun and definitely very similar to the previous versions. This is coming for Linux too, and that’s another solid shooter for this platform!
Others [ PS4 ]
I did not try those, but saw a number of trailers. Let it Die seemed like a new kind of Manhunt – gory and messy. Final Fantasy XV is taking your protagonists on the road, putting them in a car and making them drive across the world to fight monsters in nice-looking locations. It looked pretty cool visually, definitely in the same style as FFXIII, but the game that used to be known as FFXIII Versus is now very late and coming for PS4 only, i believe. It kind of feels like Monster Hunter in a way, from the trailer… moving and killing monsters in different places. I hope they have a solid story behind it, and I don’t mean the shite story from FFXIII when I say that.
Dragon Quest Heroes: another DQ game, albeit non canonical, and that’s understandable because this one actually looked awful. The character design is sub par and the colors balance is off. The 3D graphics look like they are 10 years behind what one can do now. Onechanbara Z2 takes the girls wearing bikinis armed with swords again. Technically it’s also years backward, it looks like a PS3 game even though it’s supposed to be on PS4. Animation is jerky and amateurish, but hey, that’s what mid-sized studios can only produce in Japan, and they have other serious arguments to sell their game: girls in bikinis.
Indie Game Area
The indie game area was sponsored by Sony and had lots of indie developers both from Japan and Overseas. I happened to meet 2 of the Swing Swing Submarines guys, creators of Blocks that Matter and Tetrablock, and they were great and friendly people.
In that area I was very close to greeting Inafume (the creator of Megaman/Rockman, but he was busy talking with someone else and had to leave right after). He is now working on Mighty Nine (with a bunch of other ex-Capcom folks including Ben Judd).
There was also Yoshida, one of the top execs of Sony, as he was taking a pic with a developer I talked to. Funny how casual that area can be – devs talking to devs, it was a really cool place to hang around.
This was actually a fun TGS. It’s one of the ones I have enjoyed the most in recent years. For several editions I used to feel there was nothing new and mostly shitty games, but this time the VR headsets renewed some of my interest and a couple of other games were actually worth seeing and playing. The PS4 looks like the new PS2, aka a new standard, and there’s a number of games coming in 2015 for it that may be worth it – while most of them won’t be Japanese, I guess.
This TGS is still nowhere near what the TGS probably was in the 90s, but at least I don’t get an impression of downward trend at this point. It was a decent, well organized show.
So what’s my take-away ?
- VR is now clearly in the wild. Every major company is trying to get the word out, except Microsoft which is a little worrying if they intend to compete in that space. The remaining question is the gamer acceptance, and how much of a thing this will become.
- There are still solid Japanese games coming up, but very few that can compete with AAA titles from overseas. Mid-term, the mid-sized studios and publishers in Japan will have to consider where to play, being mediocre is not going to cut it on the global market.
- Vitas and WiiU do not get much love or visibility in this show. Either we are witnessing fading support or it’s just not a priority for most 3rd parties.
- The Indie scene is very much alive with many new titles coming. And most of them are not targeting a single platform. Linux is very much out there as well, at least for the foreign devs. Japanese indies seem to focus on the Ps4 and Vita mainly, which is disappointing. they don’t “get” that there’s a mass market out there outside of the Sony platforms.
- There’s a good amount of titles coming for both the Xbox One and PS4, and they look convincing enough to convert people to these new machines.
- Mobile Phone gaming but focuses on free, shitty games, and people are not reluctant to spend money on them to unlock stuff. That’s why a number of mobile companies are making large profits and taking a sizable part of the TGS floor. And these people are spending time on mobile which is not spent on other platforms.