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What to Expect from the Massive E3 Games Conference: Guns, Explosions, and Cool Indie Titles

Dan Tynan

Explosions, murder, and mayhem. Blood, guts, and gore. A post-apocalyptic dystopia where robots, zombies, and aliens run amok.

Welcome to Los Angeles during E3 week.

What to Expect from the Massive E3 Games Conference: Guns, Explosions, and Cool Indie Titles
(Thinkstock)

Starting Monday, June 9, L.A. plays host to the biggest gaming extravaganza on the planet. Yahoo Tech will be there to bring you a running body count (and other highlights) from the show floor. Here’s what to expect.

Rise of the indies
At the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo last year, two new consoles — Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One — were battling for the hearts and thumbs of hard-core gamers. With no new gaming systems to unveil this year, E3 2014 will largely be a contest to see who can make the most noise about upcoming big-budget games that run on those consoles. 

“Last year, it was all about, ‘What are these new consoles and what can they do for us?’ ” says Mike Schramm, manager of qualitative insights for gaming consultants EEDAR. “This year we know what the consoles can do. Now people want to know where the software is and how it’s going to play out.”

imageIf it’s E3, there must be guns — and Halo’s Master Chief is likely to bring some. (Commorancy/Flickr)

The most heavily anticipated titles — like Halo 5, Mortal Kombat X, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and dozens more — are almost all sequels to previous blockbusters. Like Hollywood, the game industry tends to favor bankable franchises over original ideas.

The more interesting and unusual games will likely come from smaller independent developers like Thatgamecompany (Journey, Flower) or Playdead (Limbo). Over the past few years, the major gaming platforms have embraced the indies, who have their own show within the show: the “IndieCade.”

Indies may not generate the massive revenue numbers of the big-budget titles, but they enhance Sony’s and Microsoft’s reputations with the core gaming community, says Jesse Divnich, VP of insights and consumer experience for Tilting Point, which helps independent developers bring their games to market.

“Every year at E3 there are always two or three independent titles that come out and surprise everyone,” he says. “For independent developers, E3 can be a launching platform and is generally the first time the world finds out about these future critical darlings. But nobody can predict in advance who will emerge at the show.”

Virtual gets real?
There won’t be consoles at E3, but there will be interesting hardware shown off: mostly gear that adds additional layers of realism to the gaming experience. In other words, virtual reality.

Sony, which introduced the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset for the PS4 last March, will likely be showing off Morpheus-friendly titles, says Schramm. But until Sony reveals a ship date and a price for its VR tech, it’s unlikely to translate into anything consumers can actually buy.

image

The Project Morpheus VR gear is still more virtual than real. That might change at E3, or it might not. (Sony)

Similarly, the Oculus Rift headset has gotten a massive amount of attention for a product with no announced release date. Oculus will have its own booth at the show to preview games that work with its hardware. Will its new owner, Facebook, announce pricing or availability? Insert your own best guess here.

Having recently unbundled the Xbox One and its Kinect Motion Sensor, Microsoft might also have some new hardware up its sleeve, Schramm speculates. Still, don’t expect to come out of E3 with blueprints for your home holodeck, warns Lewis Ward, director of gaming research at IDC.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any big headlines coming out of this show about virtual reality,” he says. “The hardware is still expensive, and there’s not much software available. It’s not yet close to being a mass-market product.”

Family ties
Though E3 is mostly about fast-twitch, graphically intense games, it will also feature more mobile and casual games than it has in the past, Ward adds. Even some family-friendly titles will make it into the mix.

imageThe Avengers mob will join Buzz Lightyear, Captain Jack Sparrow, and the rest of the gang for Disney Infinity 2.0. (Disney)

The Mouse House already announced Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Heroes, a sequel to its first “toys-to-life” game, where kids use highly detailed plastic action figures to interact with the video game. As the name suggests, Infinity 2.0 adds Iron Man, Thor, and their Spandex-suited associates to its crew of characters.

Activision will preview Skylanders Trap Team, the fourth installment of its wildly popular toys-to-lifer featuring more than 200 characters. That game is scheduled to be available in October. Harmonix, the pioneer in rhythm-based gaming (Guitar Hero, Rock Band), is planning to unveil Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, which will feature playable songs from Elton John, Peter Gabriel, and other rock luminaries.

Nintendo has been largely mum about its E3 plans, but it is expected to launch some new family titles, as well as updates to those indefatigable Italians, the Super Mario Bros., and a new Wii U game from the company’s vaunted Zelda series.

But mostly, it will be murder and mayhem. 

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.