PlayStation Experience 2015 Round-up

When I attended the 2015 PlayStation Experience event in San Francisco, I detailed my daily experiences, the games played, and the panels attended over the course of several posts between December 6 and 9 All PSX 2015 posts have been combined herein.

PlayStation Experience – Day Zero

PlayStation Experience starts tomorrow. But a whole bunch of people, myself included, got into town early for the event.

My day started off with my flight from Phoenix to San Francisco. Per Twitter and Facebook, I knew a few other Phoenicians and I were going to be on the same flight. Firstly, I ran into the guys from Radio PlayStation right in front of me in the security line. Next, I ran into my buddy, Nate, whom I had met at Kinda Funny Live and then again at the Beyond 400/Unlocked 200 IGN House Party. After the flight, we shared an Uber from the airport to our hotel and dropped off our bags, where I ran into Brittney Brombacher (aka Blondenerd). And we grabbed a quick breakfast while waiting for our roommates to arrive and check-in.

Then I got word that my Kinda Funny who’s who of roommates had arrived at the hotel: Jonathan Xyger LanderosAndy Cortez, and the 3/4 crew behind Knerds Online (Sean PittsTom Hawkins, and Fred Sully), along with fellow Kinda Funny podcast alum: Alex Aziz. Throughout the day I would run into countless other friends I’ve made in this online community this past year.

As our group gathered together, we left the hotel for the IGN Offices where we were enjoying their monthly First Friday event featuring a tour of the offices and Q & A with some of the staff. It was great seeing a lot of their friendly faces again and I got to see some parts of the offices that were locked down for E3 prep when I was here in May. The Q & A was great and insightful. I asked if they had begun devising strategies for how to cover the ever-growing interest in VR. Some weren’t quite sure what they’d do that would be compelling but they’re definitely thinking about how to approach it.

While at IGN, I got to say hi to friendly faces like Jared Petty and jokingly threaten Max Scoville and Brian Altano that Alex O’Neill of Irrational Passions and I were coming after their jobs.

I also got to share the exciting news with Brian that SisQó had followed me the night before. Near the end of the event, I tweeted out a picture from the IGN Q & A:

After leaving IGN, news broke that the PS2 emulation on PlayStation 4 with Trophies was indeed real and launching with eight titles, including one of my favorites: Dark Cloud. I tweeted out a quick thank you tweet at Shuhei Yoshida (who was credited on the blog post). Within the span of 15 minutes, IGN retweeted me and Shu responded to my tweet. Our large Kinda Funny group split into a couple different groups. Knowing that I’ll be staying with Sean, Tom, and others all weekend, I chose to join Alex, Barrett Courtney and a few others for some grilled cheese sandwiches before picking up our badges for PlayStation Experience. During lunch, I took the time to thank Kiersten Slader and Kyle O’Connor for coordinating the First Friday event.

At the badge pick-up, our group saw Adam Boyes and Gio Corsi walk by. I tweeted at them hoping that Gio would be wearing a jersey tomorrow and both favorited the tweet. Then our group walked back over to 21st Amendment for some drinks and conversation. My phone pretty much died at this point. Eventually, we walked back to our hotel and hung out a bit while my phone recharged before joining the Kinda Funny meetup across town, led in part by Kaylie Woomer. By the time we arrived, the group was just about to disband and head back across town to Jillian’s (the site of tomorrow’s Just Cause 3/Kinda Funny meet and greet). A small contingent walked down the wharf to In-and-Out instead. I hadn’t eaten in awhile so I grabbed a 3×3 and cheese fries before catching a lift to the bar. At the bar, we enjoyed an open bar for an hour or so. I ran into Brittney/Blondenerd again and gave her an awkward hug (at her request). I ran into more awesome Kinda Funny friends like Nikki Powell of Lipstick Nerds and Xavier Ramos, a fellow-Phoenician who lives about a mile from me. As we left to return to the hotel (and it’s bar), none other than Pandamusk was outside (ironic as Tom Hawkins and I had just been discussing him in the bar).

I got back to the hotel and as many of the Best Friends went upstairs to the bar, I returned to the room and recharge my phone again, as well as write the first edition of this post. Then I headed over to the party brewing upstairs at the hotel bar. Amidst the beautiful 46th floor view overlooking the city, the real beauty was witnessing all of these friends from across the world meet and strike up new friendships after having only ever interacted online before. And the party became particularly “LIT” when Grimecraft joined us. Soon, the long hours of the day began to take their toll so I decided to head back to the room in order to complete this entry before going off to bed.

For tomorrow will be another busy day.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anybody who I’ve linked in this article is well worth a follow on Twitter.

PlayStation Experience – Day One

The Day Begins

Day One started with my entire room over-sleeping. Sean said his alarm was set for 5am and was gonna wake us all to go get in line for the Keynote. That didn’t happen. I woke up at 7am (to a beautiful sunrise), saw it was already 7am and quickly got ready and left for the conference, leaving the rest of my roommates behind me.

Sure enough I arrived and had to walk half-way around the building to the end of the line. “Crap! Guess I’m not sitting front row like last year,” I thought. It’ll be fine. I’ll still get in. Then when I finally get inside the building I start hearing security say the event is capped at 1,000 people. Based on pictures other people are posting, I’m easily not within that cutoff. Fortunately, those folks were misinformed and I eventually got in just fine. Sat way in the back, but I also sat with a bunch of friends, making it that much more fun.

Keynote Highlights

Rather than give a full rundown of the Keynote, I’ll just touch on my highlights here.

  • New Uncharted footage. After live demos as last year’s PSX and E3, they went with canned demo of (presumably) the opening of the game and Nate meets his long-lost brother Sam. Great little story moments here and the allusion that you may have a greater say in Nate’s dialogue as you got to choose which Uncharted game to tell Sam about.
  • Crash Bandicoot? Seemingly taking a page from Phil Spencer’s book when he wore a Battletoads shirt at a press conference, Shawn Layden came out in a Crash Bandicoot one, fueling rumors of a return for the character. Sony and Activision (the rightsholder) are playing nicely between Destiny and Call of Duty…But no announcements came from it.
  • Final Fantasy VII. The Final Fantasy VII port is available now on PS4 and Vita. And we got to see a new two-minute trailer for the Remake. This is insanely crazier than pretty much every Final Fantasy ad campaign I can remember. Usually we get a few very beautiful cinematics in the original Japanese first (with English subtitles), then months/years later, we get the same trailers in English with a few more cinematic moments. This one kicked off with an English teaser at E3 and today’s trailer was in English, with world and combat gameplay. Lip-syncing suggest it was still the Japanese animation but this is moving way quicker than I ever thought it would. Though it’s entirely possible that that opening Mako Reactor 1 stuff is all that’s really built so far. Still, for me this was the most exciting part of the show. Which doesn’t really bode well given it’s placement right up front.
  • Street Fighter V. I didn’t make the prediction on my own list, but I sent the prediction to Irrational Passions that the final Street Fighter character would be revealed and I was right.
  • Tim Schafer. Following the Psychonauts 2 announcement from earlier in the week, Tim came out to announce a release window for Day of the Tentacle Remastered, and the 3rd game in the trilogy, Full Throttle would be remastered for PlayStation 4 and Vita. Psychonauts VR also seems like an intriguing fit.
  • PlayStation and Chill. Nick Suttner and Sid Shuman came out and gave me three free Vita games: Bastion (since I already own it on PS4, I got it free through Cross-Buy), Nuclear Throne and Bit Trip. This and the rewards attendees get for checking in at booths seem to be the purpose of people using their PSN names to register for the show.
  • Ratchet & Clank. Live demo of the new game. Looks interesting enough. Never played the other games so maybe I’ll check this one out.
  • PlayStation VR. Sony’s answer to the recent Hololens demos were really rough. Additionally the Move controllers weren’t working. New VR games shown off. Crowd really got behind and enjoyed 100ft Robot Golf
  • Sparrow Racing. That thing that people immediately jokingly did in the game is now actually coming to Destiny: The Taken King. And the audience went nuts.
  • NiNoKuni 2. I didn’t ever get around to playing the first game (but I did buy it), but given I heard nothing but great things and think Level 5 does solid work, this game should turn out well.
  • Lackluster Finish. The showcase sputtered out at the end of the conference with the new console MOBA Paragon. Really weird structure to the conference. Final Fantasy VII section probably would have been the best closer.

My Predictions:

  1. Final Fantasy VII port will be released during the Keynote alongside new footage from FFVII RemakeNailed it. Exactly what happenedCombined with my E3 prediction that the port would be delayed in favor of making an actual remaster of FFVII, I had a phenomenal year for predicting Final Fantasy VII news.
  2. Last Guardian September released date. No show.
  3. Uncharted 4 live demo focused on a set piece. Demo was canned and focused on character beats/story.
  4. PlayStation VR/No Man’s Sky release date and price announced in June w/ No Man’s Sky bundled in w/ PS VR. No Man’s Sky was a no show and no date or price announced for VR.
  5. PSN Aliases. No mention of name changes. Hell we didn’t even see Shuhei in the conference. Heard an interesting theory on that from Andrew Goldfarb but I’ll let him share it on Podcast Beyond next week.

Final tally – 1 out of 5.

Games and Panels

I’ll be following up on the games I’m playing and the panels I attended in separate posts later this week. But so far I played SeveredTricky Towers, and my first PlayStation VR demo: Classroom Aquatic. I’ll delve more into it in a separate post but I walked away still waiting for something else to sell me on VR. This didn’t quite do it.

And I attended all of the afternoon’s panels up through the P.S. I Love You XOXO panel. Again, I’ll write up some thoughts on these later. But if you’re interested, I’m sure PlayStation will be posting them to their YouTube channel within the week.

Kinda Funny Meet and Greet

Got into the Kinda Funny meet and greet and had a great time overall. Very crowded but very fun chatting with friends and introducing myself to some of my role models. I ran into Alexa Ray Corriea from Gamespot and Destin Legarie and Sean Finnegan from IGN on the show floor. Chatted with Alexa about the Final Fantasy VII stuff at the show and then visited with her some more at the bar. I had similar experiences with Marty Sliva and Andrew Goldfarb from IGN and Kristine Steimer and Brittney Brombacher. Really happy with the networking I was able to accomplish in my time there.

Highlight of the Day

At the Uncharted panel, I happened to be sitting 3 seats down from Shuhei Yoshida and he was kind enough to sign my Vita. So at the meet-and-greet, I had Greg, Colin, and Tim sign it too. Then Gio Corsi showed up and I added his signature. Lastly Andrew Goldfarb arrived and I got him, as well. My final showcase.

PlayStation Experience – Day Two

The End

PlayStation Experience 2015 has come to a close.

Today was a game-filled day. I found time throughout the final day to play 10 games on the show floor, ranging from stuff I’m actually interested in (AlienationGravity Rush Remaster) to games I’ll probably never touch again (Disney Infinity, Just Cause 3, Driveclub Bikes), as well as upcoming showcases (Ratchet & ClankShadow of the Beast) and then the occasionally Indie surprise that caught me as I walked by (Read Only MemoriesTumblestone). As alluded to yesterday, I’ll be writing a full game impressions piece later this week.

The Workload

I often hear games media personalities talk about the stress and long hours that go along with conventions. This weekend has definitely felt a lot like that. I’ve spent long hours attending panels, playing games, networking, and writing this weekend.

And I’ve been loving it.

Now I’m not under any kind of delusion that what I did this weekend is like the content IGN, Gamespot, or the other big sites produce. Rather than a multitude of articles provided a base news report of a given item, I’m compiling the whole experience into a few separate posts with my own editorializing. And during the Keynote I was spending as much time checking Twitter and crafting my own live tweets as I was actually watching the conference. If I were working somewhere like IGN, I’d probably be writing a series of quick articles detailing the announcement and including a couple of related links from around the site. Which I’m sure I could manage. But right now I really appreciate getting to approach it as a “host” would: noting some highlights for discussion and glazing over the parts that don’t speak to me personally.

The Wear and Tear

But I will also admit that today, in particular, started wearing on me. All weekend, I’ve been carrying my NES Controller laptop bag with my laptop, Vita, 3DS, and other miscellaneous supplies (chargers, pens, etc.) over my shoulder. And damn my shoulder and back were sore today. As were my feet. Walking from the hotel to the convention center was a 10-15-minute trip. Then you’re standing in line a lot of the time. And even when you’re playing the game, you’re usually standing up. Then you walk to the next game. I definitely found myself taking more breaks today to sit and recover, today (probably because I spent half of Saturday sitting for the Keynote and the Panels).

But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. This was my third event in San Francisco here and people at IGN know me, by name, when I go up to them to tell them my thoughts on a certain piece of news or content. That’s a great feeling! So this time around I was bold enough to hand out business cards and seek out feedback. I don’t know if any of them will but I’m hopeful. And if not, they still might remember me even better next time.

The Look

I made a very deliberate wardrobe choice on this trip. Every day I had the same basic look: my red suede shoes, black dress slacks, a PlayStation-related T-shirt (with another one underneath for warmth), a sports coat, and a pair of 8-bit sunglasses keeping my hair out of my face. This is the new brand I’m working to establish and I’m hopeful it’s working. I received a lot of compliments on how sharp I looked or how cool my glasses were so I’m quite happy with the response so far.

The Friends

As I’ve written about before, last year’s PlayStation Experience was a very solitary one for me. Since then, everything with Kinda Funny has happened. I even had a few people talk to me about my time on the Gamescast, which was so so SO awesome and humbling! But other than that I was almost always hanging out with people outside of the show. I typically hit the games alone but meals, panels, after parties, or just random stops around the convention center were almost always pleasantly filled with friends from the Kinda Funny community, some of whom I met on previous trips, others whom I only knew online, and some I didn’t even know at all. In fact, I had an Uber Pool back to the hotel after dinner with friends and got paired up with a couple who were also in town for PSX. Turns out they were Kinda Funny fans as well and we chatted about the show and shared contact and project information.

Back at the hotel, I hung out with another group of ten to wind down the trip and just shoot the shit.

And now I’m finishing this post all while Sean Pitts, Jonathan “Xyger” Landeros, Tom Hawkins, Andy Cortez, and I chat about anything and everything at a diner at 2:30 in the morning.

PlayStation Experience – The Games I Played

As I did last year, I’m dedicating a blog post to the Games I played at this year’s PlayStation Experience. One of things that certainly hovered over this year’s show that I didn’t touch on in my earlier posts was the fact that this year’s event was much bigger than last year’s. Not that last year’s event was small per se but this year there were more booths, more games, and a LOT more people, which meant more lines. So some of the big things I might have been interested in tackling (Far Cry Primal for example) were passed over in because I didn’t want to wait in the line. Firewatch was another example. At 3pm on Sunday, I was told I might get to the demo before they kicked everyone out at 6pm so I decided to leave and go exploring elsewhere instead; too few setups (two to be exact) and apparently way too long of a demo because there were probably only about 20 people in the line at the time.

But enough about the games I didn’t play. Let’s run through what I did sit down with.

Severed – When I got out to the show floor Severed was the first game I sought out. I love the art-style and design of Drink Box Studios Guacamelee and when I played a demo of Severed at last year’s PlayStation Experience, it was one of the games I walked away most looking forward too. And while it has indeed been a year, I was a little surprised to find this year’s demo so similar. For those who don’t know, Severed is a PlayStation Vita game that mixes gameplay elements from old labyrinthine dungeon crawlers with combat akin to Fruit Ninja. You’re tasked with slashing enemies using the Vita’s touch pad and will often be surrounded by enemies in a room meaning you’ll have to turn and manage the battle to avoid getting hacked at from behind or the sides while your focus is on the enemy in front of you.

Drink Box Studios presented largely the same early game vertical slice tutorial as last year. The only aspects I didn’t remember were some beautifully animated scenes providing a bit of story context and the game’s progression system. When you attack enemies you are occasionally able to slash off limbs, eyes, etc. that actually serve as components for powering up your character. Want to extend the critical mode timer: that might cost a few eyes and arms. Now it’s entirely possible both of these elements were in the demo I played last time and I have just forgotten them over the course of the year but either way, I’m still very excited for this game and what Drink Box Studios has in store.

Tricky Towers – Tricky Towers was a game that caught my eye as I was walking the floor early on just using my badge to check-in to various stations around the show floor for the conferences meta game and PSN rewards. From what I saw and played, it is essentially reverse Tetris. Instead of using those classic 4-tile shapes to keep the structure low and clean, you’re in a race against your opponents to build the tallest tower as fast as you can. But if you just try and build it lopsided and it becomes too unbalanced, parts of the tower can come tumbling down, setting back your progress. I absolutely had a blast with this twist on the classic. You can also activate different types of magic spells with utilities like a vine that locks the piece in place with any piece connected to it to a spell that will change the size or shape of your opponents pieces, which can drastically tweak how it affects their tower. I think this is definitely a couch co-op game I’ll enjoy with friends.

Classroom Aquatic VR – I was fortunate enough to get into one of the limited PlayStation VR demos. I’ll go into more depth on my impressions on VR in the next day or so but I wanted to cover the “game” aspect of this one as part of this write-up. Classroom Aquatic puts you in the fins of a dolphin in a pop quiz where all of the questions are ridiculously difficult and obscure. Fortunately, every other dolphin in your class knows the answers so you can cheat off of them for the 5-minute duration of the quiz. But you have to be sneaky about it or the teacher will catch you and…well I don’t know what happens then but it’s probably bad. You also have a few erasers at your desk that you can throw at the other dolphins or around the room if you need to cause a distraction.

This was where my demo ran into trouble, I threw my first eraser at a dolphin to my 2 o’clock in order to draw the teachers attention so I could look to my left or behind me. This seemed to have the negative effect (as I would later discuss with the gentleman manning the demo) of both stopping the teacher from pacing around the room and allowing me to throw the remaining two erasers. Confused that the teacher was just stuck looking in my general direction, I felt very limited in actually leaning over in any direction for fear of getting caught. Overall, that bug aside, I found the premise cute and thought it served as a decent tech demo for the hardware but I don’t know how interested I would be in playing much more of the game.

Alienation – On Day 2 of the PlayStation Experience, I was finally able to locate the other game on the show floor that I was probably most anticipating: Alienation by Housemarque (ResogunDead Nation). The game is a twin-stick shooter very much a spiritual successor to Dead Nation. You are fighting off hordes of aliens (alone or with a squad of other players). It very much felt like this year’s Helldivers as well but without the brutality of being able to kill your own squad (at least not in the demo I played). There’s also a bit of a Destiny/Diablo-style loot drop mechanic where you might be regularly encountering better weapons (or worse ones that you can just scrap) as you level up and face tougher and tougher waves of enemies. I’m sold on this one and it’ll serve as yet another game that I can play with friends on the couch.

Star Wars Battlefront – As I mentioned in my Games of PSX preview piece, I have identified that as a strictly multiplayer experience, Star Wars Battlefront is just probably not for me but I figured I’d give it a shot at PlayStation Experience. This tweet pretty much sums up my experience.

Disney Infinity 3.0 – Not gonna lie, I mostly played this one because it was one of the few games on the floor that you could play sitting down and (as I touched on yesterday) I occasionally needed to get off my feet. That said, I played a cart-racing game build in the Disney Infinity 3.0 sandbox of Star Wars. So I was driving around Tatooine in a Mario Kart-type game with boosts and weapons…as Hulkbuster Iron Man. I enjoy the art style of the Disney Infinity games but I fully recognize I’m not the target demographic but it certainly seems like something that could be very fun to play with my kids, if and when that day comes.

I won the race at least.

Read Only Memories – This was another one that stemmed from the fact that I walked by and though, “sweet I can play this sitting on a bean bag chair. Awesome!” But the game itself grew on me. From what I could gleam from the opening 16-bit style cut scenes, the narrative behind the game is a very heady one set in the near future and focused on androids and what, if any rights they might have (a theme that seems to be in the zeitgeist at the moment with other examples being some story points in Fallout 4 and the apparent premise behind the next Quantic Dreams/David Cage game Detroit: Become Human. Gameplay-wise, it’s very much a point-and-click puzzle adventure game where you’re tasked with moving the story forward by asking the right questions of characters and using the right items in your inventory on the right prompts. Unfortunately, I experienced a hard crash before finishing the demo but I saw enough that I’m certainly intrigued to revisit it when it comes out (the developers mentioned the goal of 1st half of 2016).

Gravity Rush Remastered – I learned the hard way that this is a hard game to come into without the tutorial. I just picked up the controller during a side quest that somebody else had initiated where I was tasked to get a guy around the city to his son. Having only playing a little bit of the original game on my PlayStation Vita, I was having a hard time getting the controls right to perform the gravity shifts needed to complete the task. Ultimately I just ended up giving up and walking on to the next game but I will say that the Remastered graphics look beautiful. Much like the recent example of Fallout 4 compared to Fallout 3, the people who saw the Tokyo Games Show announcement trailer and said it just looks like the Vita version are speaking to what they remember the Vita version looking like, not what it actually looks like. Still a very innovative action-adventure game, I might pick Gravity Rush Remastered up when it comes out and enjoy it from the beginning, so I can actually learn it’s mechanics properly.

Rachet & Clank – Much to the dismay of some of my friends, there are some series I’ve never played any installments of and Ratchet & Clank is one of them. It was always a series I look at fondly from the outside in though. I’m sure I almost picked it up for rental a few times because I had heard about how crazy and eccentric some of the weapons were. But playing last year’s Sunset Overdrive was really my first introduction into Insomniac Games’ lunacy. And it was my favorite console exclusive game of last year so with the new Ratchet & Clank reboot coming out, I might finally jump into the series.

The demo I played very much gave me the platformer/3rd-person shooter experience I was expecting and felt very much akin to Sunset Overdrive. I got to try out the weapons shown off in the Keynote live demo the day before: The Groovinator and Pixelator (I think those were the names, but I could be a little off) and getting an attack robot to dance with a disco ball grenade only to shoot him into pixel graphics was certainly a fun experience. Might be a game I pick up for Catherine to play. It seemed like something she’d like (and then I’ll just borrow “her” copy to play myself).

Tumblestone – Tumblestone was another independent game I knew nothing about going into it. I was just scanning a badge for a free PSN theme or avatar and the guy running the booth offered me a play so I went ahead and did it. Another good candidate for a casual co-op game, the goal of this puzzle game is to clear your screen of the different-colored stones by shooting them in matching sets of three (ex. Green-Green-Green = Good; Green-Green-Red = Bad and resets your tiles). The players raced against one another to clear their grid first. The first round or two I did was pretty simple but I definitely got a couple resets later as I didn’t plan ahead enough in looking at the order I had to eliminate the blocks. Certainly a fun experience if the price is right.

Uncharted 4 Multiplayer Beta – I have the Uncharted 4 Multiplayer Beta waiting for me at home because I pre-ordered The Nathan Drake Collection but the stage setup for this one was so extravagant and the line got to a point late in the date that I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Playing a round of 5-vs-5 Deathmatch (I think, forgive me I don’t play enough MP to be confident on the terminology: the mode where you’re just killing the other team and the first team to XX kills wins), I had a really good time running around as Sully and shooting my opponents. The controls felt very familiar compared to The Uncharted Collection. The new grappling hook was in there but apart from using it once to jump over a gap I stuck mostly to the guns and grenades. Midway through the match though I had enough money to buy a grenade launcher so I went ahead and did that and made short work of a few guys. I even, much to my surprise, ended up leading my team to victory, scoring the most points in the match.

I had a good time with it and it’s out in the wild now so if you have the opportunity, give it some time and let me know what you think about it.

Shadow of the Beast – This side-scrolling action game seems to be taking a page from the God of War playbook with brutal attack combos, excessively blood violence, and a similar “protagonist tricked into killing something they didn’t want to kill” inciting incident. The game looks beautiful but I found it a little slow for my taste in this genre. And for the purposes of the demo I played, there wasn’t really a clear tutorial explaining how to time and stack combos and point multipliers.

Driveclub Bikes – I just shouldn’t play racing games. Looks beautiful. Just not for me.

Just Cause 3 – Despite multiple opportunities at the Just Cause 3 Kinda Funny meet and greet the night before, I didn’t actually play the game until Sunday. It was actually the last one I played. Having not played any of the previous games and having no interest in actually picking this one up, I just played for the explosions. In my few minutes with the game, I flew a helicopter to a power plant of some sort, grapple to the top vents of the plant, and shot up a lot of fuel tanks. Mindless action. I really wasn’t a fan of needing to grapple yourself to move quickly. I have a hard enough time aiming my guns, let alone my grapple trajectories. For short jaunts, I’d much rather control a character who can run.

So those are the games I played. If you were at the event, leave a comment and let me the favorite games you played.

PlayStation Experience – The Panels

One of my favorite aspects of last year’s PlayStation Experience was the panels. I got to take some time away from the games on the floor and hear from the talented people behind the games. So I was admittedly a little disappointed that this year’s panel offerings had been drastically cut back. I get it, though, a lot of the panels I attended last year were sparsely populated so the events team probably thought by narrowing down the offerings, each one would have a bigger audience. And based on the panels I attended, that certainly seemed the case. But the larger audience size could have also been a result to how many more people were at the conference overall. But more panels also would have freed up the show floor a little bit, cutting down on the lines to play the games. Additionally, because there was only one room set up for panels this year (the main hall that also housed the Keynote), there was only space for one panel at a time (compared to the three rooms available last year). Lastly, partnering with the Capcom Cup meant that panels were only offered on Saturday, as the room was used all day Sunday for the tournament.

The order of the panels this year was also odd. A lot of people wound up in the Call of Duty panel just to get better seats to the P.S. I Love You XOXO panel. And then I watched as a ton of the audience bailed after that show, which had to be a blow to the last two panels of the night. For PlayStation Experience 2016, I hope they find a happy medium between more panels and better scheduling. We’ve seen now from two years of experience that Greg and Colin have the biggest draw so schedule them up front or at the end of the day. I also feel a variety in panel length would help. Last year, panels were an hour and this year, they dropped to about 40 minutes. As a result, some of last years panels ran out of things to talk about and ended early, but none of the panels I attended this year had any time for Q&A’s, which tends to be a staple of the Kinda Funny live shows especially.

So with all that out of the way, here’s what I thought of this year’s panels, all of which have been uploaded to YouTube and will be linked here:

PlayStation VR and the Future of Play – There was a similar panel at last year’s show titled “Virtual Reality: A New Era for Games”, featuring Shuhei Yoshida. This panel was talking about the early VR demos that some of the teams had worked on and the difficulties faced. This year’s panel touched on similar themes. Dave Ranyard, a Director at London Studio, the team behind The London Heist demo talked about VR as being a huge new world to explore for game designers, while Anton Mikhailov of Media Molecule descibed the idea of developers creating in Virtual Reality. He likened it to having the tactility of clay with the flexibility of digital design.* Another point discussed was the logistical problem companies face getting people to try it. At events like PlayStation Experience, there had to be a balance between the number of people getting to experience it versus the time per session. In order to get the maximum amount of players, the demo time had to be shorter. The overall feeling of the panel, unsurprisingly, was that they are very excited for the possibilities VR holds for the gaming industry and beyond.

* For me, Mikhailov’s words really hit home later in the conference when I caught him hosting a live demo of Dreams on the LiveCast stage. People drew monsters on big sheets of easel paper and then one of the Media Molecule developers designed one of the creatures live in-engine onstage. It made me think that Media Molecule is really creating a new artistic medium that’s accessible for artists who might not have the skills to code.

Uncharted 4: Stories from the Performance Capture Set – The Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End panel featured Neil Druckmann alongside cast members Nolan North (Nathan Drake), Richard McGonagle (Victor “Sully” Sullivan), Troy Baker (Sam Drake), and newly announced cast member Laura Bailey (Nadine Ross). The panel was filled with incredibly familial banter between the cast. It was abundantly clear how friendly all of these people are outside of the game and the chemistry onstage was electric.

A couple short scenes were shown: the introduction to Nadine that has first played on Thursday’s The Game Awards and a new scene featuring a meeting between Nadine and Sully. These scenes were also replayed in a package showcasing the different cinematic passes at the scene, from the motion capture live action footage through a couple of animatic stages, and on to the final design.

One of the most interesting aspects the panel addressed was the controversy that stemmed over a white actress playing a black South African woman. Druckmann explained that Bailey read for the part and “was Nadine” and then saw design from the development team that “was also Nadine.” He expressed that actors in video games are not beholden to look like the characters they play, identifying that another character in the game yet to be revealed is a white man played by and African-American actor.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3: Unlocking the Potential of A.I. – Having never played a Call of Duty game, I had no direct interest in this panel but still found myself intrigued by the discussion. Unfortunately, it was very technically driven and felt like it would have been a better panel at something at the Game Developer’s Conference for people within the industry instead of a fan-focused event like PSX. Still, I found it interesting how they discussed being able to rebuild their AI systems using the power of the new generation of consoles. This new power has led to a change is development strategy. Rather than being restricted by technological constraints (“No we can’t do that.”), they’re finding that they can work from the perspective of design constraints (“No we don’t want to do that.”) instead. When discussing the future of gaming AI, they predicted that there will continue to be a deeper engagement between the AI and the game world. The AI will have it’s own story and the player will be able to clearly answer why they do the things they do.

PS I Love You XOXO – Much like last year’s Beyond panel, this one featuring Greg Miller, Colin Moriarty, Shuhei Yoshida, Gio Corsi, and Ryan Clements played to a packed house. The whole cast played excellently off the energy of the crowd and were all excited to be talking PlayStation with each other in front of probably upwards of a thousand fans. They went through the standard topics of an event show like this: best moment of the Keynote, favorite game shown, what was missing, etc. As I touched on above, the only two things this panel was missing was extra time and audience Q & A. Plus, Arthur Parsons of Tt Games showed up to help Greg announce that he’ll be appearing in LEGO Marvel Avengers in his first voice acting.

As I was one of the throng of people who left after the panels on The Future of Storytelling and Fighting Games, I can’t speak to either of them, but I have provided them here for your viewing if you’d like. As a storyteller myself, I hope to find time soon to watch that video. I’m not really a fighting game fan so that panel is certainly a lower priority, but I might try to squeeze it in anyway.

PlayStation Experience – PlayStation VR

I’m closing out my PlayStation Experience coverage with my impressions on PlayStation VR. When VR Demo registrations opened up Friday at noon, I immediately nabbed slots for the RIGS Demo and the General VR Demo for Saturday. Unfortunately, at some point Friday afternoon, while my phone was dead, I got booted from my RIGS Demo and by the time I found out, the limited slots had all been filled. But my General VR Demo remained intact so shortly after the keynote, I showed up and checked in for my 1:30pm appointment. The way the General VR Demos worked, they shepherded you to the first next available demo. As I touched on in Monday’s Games recap, my demo wound up being Classroom Aquatic. Here’s what I wrote about the game…

Classroom Aquatic puts you in the fins of a dolphin in a pop quiz where all of the questions are ridiculously difficult and obscure. Fortunately, every other dolphin in your class knows the answers so you can cheat off of them for the 5-minute duration of the quiz. But you have to be sneaky about it or the teacher will catch you and…well I don’t know what happens then but it’s probably bad. You also have a few erasers at your desk that you can throw at the other dolphins or around the room if you need to cause a distraction.

This was where my demo ran into trouble, I threw my first eraser at a dolphin to my 2 o’clock in order to draw the teachers attention so I could look to my left or behind me. This seemed to have the negative effect (as I would later discuss with the gentleman manning the demo) of both stopping the teacher from pacing around the room and allowing me to throw the remaining two erasers. Confused that the teacher was just stuck looking in my general direction, I felt very limited in actually leaning over in any direction for fear of getting caught. Overall, that bug aside, I found the premise cute and thought it served as a decent tech demo for the hardware but I don’t know how interested I would be in playing much more of the game.

So now that we’re on the same page, here are my thoughts on the VR experience.

The Headset

First things first, they put the headset on. It all felt very comfortable. The demo proctor didn’t go to the extent of really tightening it down on my so I felt a little like if I had turned my head quickly, it could have shifted. But that didn’t end up being a problem for this particular demo. The next thing I noticed once on my head was something I’ve heard other games media people refer to as the “Screen Door Effect” where it looks like you’re looking at the game world through a screen door. I immediately connected with that description in how the world looked, being acutely aware up front of the thin horizontal and vertical lines. Given that the screen is only a few inches from your face, I suppose that’s too be expected. Sit three inches from your television and you’ll probably have a similar experience. Fortunately, your mind should be able to compensate and blur the image together for you so you perceive it as seamless over time.

The Movement

Looking around the classroom felt responsive. I didn’t notice any kind of delay. Leaning over to the row of desks next to me or turning around in in my chair to cheat off the dolphin behind me all felt natural as far as movement tracking goes. In the back of mind my though, I was always aware of how silly I looked with this thing on my head leaning or turning around in a chair with nothing around me. I didn’t push the limits of the demo by fully getting out of the chair and, as I touched on above, I was wary to move around too quickly for fear of the headset sliding around but to the extent of what I experienced, the motion tracking was smooth.

Tech Demo vs. Game

My biggest takeaway from my demo was that I wasn’t sold on VR…yet. And I think that hesitation comes from the fact that I didn’t play something that I’d be interested in investing a lot of time into. My experience with Classroom Aquatic fell very much into “casual game” territory for me. This is the kind of game you could play in 5-minute bursts, taking one quiz at a time, like an extremely difficult version of Brain Age that you need to cheat your way through. Apart from the occasional break on my cell phone, these kinds of games aren’t for me and I honestly felt like this was still more in the realm of tech demo as the “game” aspect was somewhat limited to leaning around and looking at other tests, pushing a button to throw erasers as a distraction, and pushing another button to bubble in your answers. Now something like No Man’s Sky (which I still maintain will be a launch title) fits much more under the umbrella of “game” for me.

Final Verdict

As I said, I’m not sold on PlayStation VR for myself yet. I am however interested in the idea of opening a VR Arcade of sorts and charging people for the chance to demo it themselves once it’s out. I definitely see the promise behind the tech but this is definitely a case where the price point and some kind of killer app will really determine if and when I buy in for a system at home. But given the potential of non-gaming VR (e.g. virtual tourism), I can easily see 2016 being the beginning of a new generation of media.

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