Every year I take a look at the massive video gaming conference that is E3 and offer my completely unbiased and level-headed preview for the gaming year to come. Ok, that’s a lie. I watch the conference and bitch about how they’re consistently ruining a medium that I love. This year, my thoughts on E3’s offerings are fairly easy to distill into a single thought. “What the hell!?!” Strap in. This is going to be a good one…

Overall, last year was disappointing just because of a lack of triple-A titles and a seemingly never ending focus on Kinect/Move and the terrible things coming out of Nintendo. This year, by comparison, was so all over the place I don’t even know where to begin. Yes I do, that’s a lie. Microsoft, you’re up first.

Normally, I spend the most time checking out the Microsoft presentation because that’s typically the most familiar for me. This year I found nothing interesting, familiar or worth the price of admission. In fact, there’s so many things wrong with what Microsoft is doing, I’ve actually let my XBL membership lapse and I have no intention of restoring it.

Halo 4 is, well, Halo 4. It was going to happen. Its the 2nd biggest mediocre game franchise in existence, eclipsed only by Call of Duty and it’s “we’re never going to upgrade” engine. I don’t care about Halo anymore. They killed splitscreen co-op, they killed firefight, I just don’t care. They took all that was good and wonderful about FPS games and homogenized it so completely that it’s the gaming equivalent of vanilla ice cream. Everyone likes ice cream, and vanilla is the most popular flavor, it’s also boring as fuck and you’ve had it 1000 times. Moving on.

Media Content was another HUGE selling point for MS this year. Your Xbox can now play and stream content from a bajillion different providers. That’s great, except in order to watch things like ESPN, or Netflix, you have to be a gold member. So, that cable subscription you already pay for, that Netflix membership you already pay for, yeah, you need to pay again to use it. That doesn’t make any damn sense.

There was a great article about why Xbox Live should be free over on Gizmodo, and while I completely agree with that concept, their reasoning was flawed. The article pointed out that “multiplayer gaming is a value-added service”, which is complete and total nonsense. If anything, the OTHER services are “value-added” and the fucking box was designed from day 1 to, oh, I dunno, PLAY VIDEO GAMES. It’s only recently, with multiple software updates, evolved into a multimedia platform.

Also, as a general point of contention, what are we exactly paying for with XBL these days? MS doesn’t run the servers, games are “peered” with other consoles in either a “host” or “player” roll. The lobbies are self-contained within the game. The network is YOUR connection that you’re already paying for. You already bought the game. What is MS doing besides REMOVING the server browsing choices and forcing random pairings and/or matchmaking? That’s worth $60 a year? Nope. Not anymore. In the beginning, when Halo was literally the only massive console multiplayer gaming to be had, and PCs still ruled, there was a reason for MS to charge for it. It was unique on the console landscape. Now, unfortunately, in the same way you shouldn’t be paying for cable TV, you shouldn’t be paying for XBL, you just always have, so you keep doing it.

Adding service after service into the box doesn’t “add value” to the subscription either. Especially not when you’re double paying for it. My Amazon Prime membership costs me roughly the same as a year of XBL. Guess what is the ONLY device in my house that makes me pay to access it. Yup, the Xbox. My PCs, my Mac, My PS3, my phones, my Roku, my TV, all access it just fine and none of them charge me to do it. Also, the flip side of that is that if you ONLY use the Xbox to game, and don’t have a single subscription to anything else, you’re bombarded with every opportunity to do something other than gaming. The ads, the dashboard content, the system messages. The entire thing is designed to make gaming secondary. If all you want to do is game, it’s arguably the most un-friendly dashboard to your interests.

It’s also completely unacceptable that media providers was a primary focus of their presentation. Media, SmartGlass and, oh, yeah, we’ve got Halo. That sums up Microsoft’s entire hour and a half show. GIVE ME GAMES. GIVE ME EXCLUSIVES.

More over, what I didn’t want last year, is exactly what they gave me more of this year. More Kinect integration. I don’t want to say the words “Fire Now” or “Hike!”. I want to push a button. Yelling “Green 22, Green 22, Hike” at the TV while I’m playing Madden makes me sound like a mental patient. Oh, and what exactly are you supposed to do if you have kids you just put to bed? Jumping around the living room, flailing your arms yelling “fire! fire!” isn’t the best way to get them to stay asleep.

The worst offender was Fable. Holy crap. That’s the single worst idea in gaming history. That was the fastest, most direct route to ruining a franchise as I’ve ever seen.

Also, Microsoft, no one likes your search engine. Forcing people to say it’s name is NOT going to re-enforce the brand. “Xbox, Bing “ways to rage quit”

The Sony presentation was, comparatively better, but still pretty bland. They pushed their PS Move experience, but remembered to point out that it was “additive” to games, not a requirement, making it an optional experience IF the player wanted to use it. They also pimped their handheld, it’s cross platform gaming and PS Plus service. Again, all optional. They pretty blatantly ripped off Super Smash Brothers with their Playstation Battle Royal game. What Sony did do, that MS clearly forgot about, was to show off their best and newest exclusive games. They showed Beyond, a suspense game similar to Heavy Rain, they showed a couple AAA cross platform games like Assassins Creed, and finished it off with their biggest exclusive Last of Us. They get at least a B- for staying on topic and not throwing crazy useless crap at us.

That’s probably the biggest difference in the philosophies at this point. Microsoft wants to be the ONLY box in your entertainment system. Sony realizes that the PS3 is a gaming machine that also happens to be able to play a movie or two, but those features (Bluray, Streaming) are almost never talked about, but are among the PS3s stronger points. MS so desperately to be the premier brand for entertainment, not just gaming, and it was willing to make gaming a 2nd tier priority to do it. They’ve done more for streaming content the past two years than they have games. That’s sad.

I purposely skip the Nintendo conference every year and catch up on the random news from it the next day. My only comment about the system I’m never going to buy is why on earth would you think its “comfortable” to play a video game with your thumbs wrapped around a tablet PC? Tell me that? Why? Why do that? Why make it a selling point that you can use the touchpad controller to make “interaction combos” with the game. Yeah. So, I look at the TV, push a button, look DOWN at my controller, swipe my finger, press another button, and look back up at the TV? Guess what just took me OUT of the “immersive experience” gaming was supposed to be? Yeah, looking at my lap and the piece of cheap LCD I have in my hands. Good job Nintendo, way to completely not understand. Nintendo isn’t so much making games or a gaming system anymore, they’re making terrible interactive childhood memories. Remember when Mario used to be awesome? Here, play this and you can think about all those good old times and how this is nothing like them. Aren’t you glad you paid money to have your childhood ruined! Nice!

Sony – B-
Microsoft – D
Nintendo – ¿

Games! There were a few bright spots in an otherwise terrible year for headlining games. It pretty much details what I’ll be buying Q4 2012 and Q1 2013.

Splinter Cell – Blacklist. With the stunning lack of Jack Bauer in the world (WHY, Oh WHY?!?!), Sam Fisher is pretty much the only personification of terrorist ass-kicking left standing. I was one of the few people the enjoyed the last entry into the Splinter Cell universe and from what I can tell from the promos, they’ve taken the art direction that was questionable, threw it away and just made the game mechanics rock-solid. Take downs from behind cover gets you an “execute” bonus, which is perhaps the coolest death mechanism since bullet-time. They also say they’ve made the movement more fluid so that you can run through and environment and “flow” from one enemy to the next. Finally.

Assassins Creed 3 – I’m not going to lie. The last two AC games sucked, and I didn’t play them. My good buddy Dane loves them, it’s right up his alley. The first game bored me, the second game bored me, and he swears the 3rd and 4th “unnumbered” games improved on the formula. AC3 had so completely failed off my radar until I say the demo footage. Moving from tree to tree, smashing Red Coats in the face with a Tomahawk, running around Boston and Philadelphia, hmmmm. I may have just become interested again. Also, BOATS!

Dishonored – Bethesda does terrible terrible things to my free time, and next year promises more of the same. What really got me interested was when interviewing the developers, they said right off the bat that they were inspired (and had worked on) by games like Thief and System Shock. If you’ve never played those classic combinations of frustration and awesome-sauce, you’re missing out. The ability to sneak through the game, be a super powered assassin and have a funky British accent is a combination that’s too hard to pass up.

Last of Us – Holy crap. I don’t really know what to add to that. It’s from Naughty Dog, makers of arguably the best and certainly the most “cinematic” games, especially for the Playstation. A zombie (check), survival (check), post-apocalyptic (check), adventure (check), shooter (check). You had me a “zombie”. Hell, I might just pre-order this one now. I’m going to stop talking, and just link to a video or something. Damn this looks good.

Sadly, that’s about it. Call of Duty looked terrible, and I want nothing to do with it. They’ve run that right into the ground. Medal of Honor looks mediocre, just like the last one. I don’t play Metal Gear, Tomb Raider, Far Cry, Crysis, Forza or Madden, so I couldn’t honestly form an opinion of them (that’s a lie, I have opinions on everything, it’s my raison d’être). Still, they didn’t interest me previously, they don’t interest me now, and their presentations didn’t sway me one way or the other.

I know at least a couple of you are gamers. Did any of you see anything differently than I did? Anything interest you or anything you’re excited about? Honestly I’m kind of disappointed in mainstream developers these days. I’d rather spend my money and time on indie games and small developers putting out fun and quality stuff. I fully expect 2013 will be the year I buy less than 10 major games. If you know anything about me, you know how huge that statement is.