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E3 Announcements That Mean More Than You Realize

E3 week is one of the busiest times of the year for the gaming industry, and 2017 is no exception. Over the course of the show, fans have gotten their first look at highly-anticipated titles like Anthem, Skull and Bones, and Beyond Good and Evil 2. Every day is crammed full of press conferences, online streams, hands-on demos, and more news than anyone could possibly follow. It's no surprise that some announcements slip through the cracks. With that much information going around, it's inevitable. 

Still, while the following news stories haven't gotten as much attention as that crazy Super Mario Odyssey trailer, don't count them out just yet. They may not be as flashy as the Xbox One X's 4K display, but they're just as important. Watch carefully, and you could see the future of the game industry unfolding before your eyes.

Minecraft gets cross-platform play

Calling Minecraft the most popular game in the world isn't a stretch—every month, over 40 million players boot up their PCs, consoles, tablets, and smartphones to enjoy Mojang's blocky sandbox game. Given that Microsoft sells about 53,000 copies of Minecraft every day, you can understand why they'd want to put it on as many machines as possible. However, Minecraft's all-consuming presence comes with one a major drawback: before now, there hasn't been any way to transfer creations between different devices. If you play Minecraft on your Switch, anything you build stays there. You can't move it to the Windows 10 or iOS versions. 

That's changing. At its annual E3 press conference, Microsoft announced that the "Better Together Update" will unify all the different versions of Minecraft (save for the original Java edition, which is popular with modders and more hardcore fans, and the PlayStation 4 outing). Even better, you'll be able to team up with users who happen to be playing on other devices. If you have a Switch and your buddy has an Xbox One, don't sweat it. You'll be able to team up anyway.

That's amazing, and not just for Minecraft players. While cross-console multiplayer is a much-demanded feature, it's also not one you see very often, given that every console manufacturer has its own proprietary online network and enabling cross-console play would require competitors like Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony to work together, which they're often hesitant to do. It happens occasionally—Rocket League supports matches between players on the PC and various consoles—but never in a game as popular as Minecraft. Let's hope that this is the beginning of a trend: multiplayer games live or die by their communities, and everyone benefits if that crowd is as large as possible.

Lucky's Tale forgets its roots

If you watched the Super Lucky's Tale debut trailer during Microsoft's press conference, you probably noticed its cute lead character, its Super Mario 64-like level design, and its general resemblance to the 3D platformers made by Nintendo and Rare back in the Nintendo 64 days. And yet, you probably didn't hear or see anything about virtual reality—which is a little weird, given that the most important thing about the original Lucky's Tale is that it was a launch title for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Of course, one of the biggest complaints about Lucky's Tale was that the VR integration didn't add much. It was cool to control the game's camera by moving your head and looking around, but it didn't really shake up the tried-and-true 3D platforming formula, despite Oculus' claims to the contrary. Maybe the team at Playful simply realized that VR wasn't necessarily the best format for a platformer, and decided to use the extra processing power to flesh out Lucky's colorful but repetitive worlds instead. Maybe the developers simply wanted to reach a larger audience than the small group of enthusiasts who have Oculus headsets.

Either way, Lucky's departure doesn't bode well for the Oculus Rift, which has already seen former exclusives like the space shooter EVE: Valkyrie head to rival platforms and is currently being outsold by its main competitor, the HTC Vive, two to one. At best, the headset-free edition of Super Lucky's Tale is a tacit admission that virtual reality isn't necessarily the best format for 3D platformers. At worst, it's an implicit condemnation of Oculus' platform—which, combined with a recent court ruling forcing the company to pay $500 million to ZeniMax for stealing VR tech, doesn't exactly put the beleaguered company in the best light.

Free DLC for Star Wars Battlefront 2, sort of

Electronic Arts and DICE's Star Wars Battlefront revival did a few things right—two years after release, it still looks and sounds gorgeous—and a lot of things wrong. Thankfully, the Battlefront team has learned from its mistakes. Buried amid all of the talk about a single-player campaign, space battles, and multiple timelines was the news that, like its predecessor, Star Wars Battlefront 2 will receive regular infusions of content, including new characters like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi stars Finn and Captain Phasma. Unlike the last Battlefront, however this game's extra content will be entirely free.

That's a pretty massive shift in priorities for EA, which hawks expensive season passes and premium downloadable content for pretty much every game it makes (shortly before the big Battlefront 2 presentation, EA devoted a chunk of its press event to Battlefield 1's "In the Name of the Czar" DLC, which is part of the game's $50 premium service). The practice also divides the multiplayer community—typically, games will only connect players who own the same content—making matches harder to find, and making it more likely that you'll run into the same players over and over again.

Of course, free content doesn't mean EA won't try to grab as much money from Star Wars Battlefront 2 players as possible. While nobody said anything about it during the EA press event, Star Wars Battlefront 2 will sell packs of cards filled with character-based upgrades. These packs, naturally, cost real money. Despite what it looks like, EA isn't getting rid of premium content. It's just experimenting with new ways of delivering it, hoping to devise a less intrusive way of draining your wallet.

Bethesda's Creation Club is paid mods all over again

A few years ago, the folks at Valve opened a digital storefront on Steam where users could sell fan-made modifications for Bethesda's Skyrim for real-life money. It was a disaster. Fans rebelled, with some claiming that the revenue split was unfair to creators (Steam and Bethesda pocketed 75% of the cash), while others balked at the concept of paying for mods, which are usually released online for free. Some for-profit mods included content that was stolen from other creators, and a petition asking Steam to end the program gathered more than 130,00 signatures. A week or so after going live, Valve closed the store and apologized to players.

That's why some fans greeted Bethesda's Creation Club, which was announced at the company's Sunday night E3 event, with skepticism. Ostensibly, the Creation Club is a place where fans can buy extra content for games like Skyrim and Fallout 4—some made by Bethesda employees, some by third-party developers, and some by "community creators." All of it will cost "credits," which "are available for purchase on PSN, Xbox Live, and Steam."

That sure looks like a paid mod system, but the Creation Club website sends some mixed messages. The site claims "mods will remain a free and open system where anyone can create and share what they'd like," and notes that "we won't allow any existing mods to be retrofitted into Creation Club, it must all be original content." At the same time, "Creators are paid for their work and start receiving payment as soon as their proposal is accepted," and anyone can apply to be part of the system.

In other words, the Creation Club lets users make and sell mods for profit, but it's a highly curated and controlled marketplace, and shouldn't affect any of the thousands of mods already in the wild. Maybe the Creation Club has finally figured out how to do paid mods right—at the very least, there's no way things can go worse than they did last time.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds learns some new moves

The announcement of a basic feature for a still-in-development game isn't normally a major news story, but PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds isn't a normal game. In Battlegrounds' first two weeks on the market, publisher Bluehole sold over one million copies. In April 2017, the first full month after Battlegrounds' launch, the game was making more money than Overwatch or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In May, it was the fourth-most watched game on Twitch, and continues to build a dedicated audience on streaming services.

As a result, anything that changes how PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds works is going to be big news—and two new mobility options will shake the game up quite a bit. As announced at the PC Gaming Show, soon Battlegrounds players will be able to climb on top or over objects, and will be able to vault over obstacles that get in their way.

In most games, those wouldn't be crucial features. In Battlegrounds, they're huge. A hundred players congregate on the same map, where they search for resources, craft weapons, and try to kill each other. The last man standing wins. In any given Battlegrounds match, you only have one chance—if you die, you're out—which means that if you're cornered or trapped it's pretty much game over.

Until now. With climbing and vaulting enabled, players that would've previously found themselves trapped can escape, and that'll require experienced competitors to completely rethink their strategies. Vaulting and climbing aren't the only new features coming to Battlegrounds, but they're the ones most likely to have a major impact on the game (although, admittedly, those new maps are a welcome addition too).

Ubisoft has all the feelings


Ubisoft's presentation may not have had E3's biggest games, but it did have the most heart of any of the major press conferences. From CEO Yves Guillemot beaming from the audience as his developers took the stage to Michel Ancel choking up while introducing a trailer for the long-awaited Beyond Good and Evil 2, Ubisoft's annual gathering did more to celebrate the people who make and love games than all the other press conferences combined.

The waterworks started early, too. While crashing Ubisoft's event to introduce Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, an XCom-like strategy game set in the Mushroom Kingdom, Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto called out the game's creative director, Davide Soliani, by name. In response, Soliani stood up, took an awkward bow, and burst into tears.

There's a story there. See, Soliani isn't just a Nintendo fan. He's a diehard follower of everything Miyamoto—and he has been for his entire life. In 2002, when Solani learned that Miyamoto was visiting Milan (where Solani lived), the fledgling game designer called every hotel in the city until he learned where Miyamoto was staying, then waited outside for ten hours in the rain until he finally met his idol.

15 years later, and Solani isn't just working with Miyamoto (and trying not to geek out—Solani describes their first meeting by saying, "I was split between the urge to ask for an autograph, and the responsibility to represent the game in the most professional way"). He's accepting compliments from the veteran designer during one of the biggest events of the year. For a dedicated fan, it doesn't get better than that.

Monster Hunter World isn't like other Monster Hunter games

The Monster Hunter World trailer debuted near the beginning of Sony's E3 conference, and was quickly overshadowed by games like Destiny 2, God of War, and, um, that Final Fantasy fishing thing. It shouldn't be. To the uneducated eye, Monster Hunter World looks a lot like other entries in the franchise, but it isn't. For one, Monster Hunter World is debuting on a powerful, modern console for the first time in years and getting a simultaneous worldwide release for the first time in series history, which speaks well of the Monster Hunter franchise's slowly growing popularity in the west (in Japan, it's already a massive, massive hit).

But as The Verge observes, Monster Hunter World's biggest change isn't the fancy graphics, the global audience, or the dynamic, changing world and seamless, load-screen-free world maps. It's that, in the Monster Hunter World trailer, one player takes down his foes solo. By himself. No help from others.

That's not how Monster Hunter works. In most Monster Hunter games, you need to form a group first, then outfit your party with the appropriate weapons and gear, and then set out to track down your prey. Not here. Monster Hunter Worlds does feature multiplayer, but it looks like it's optional—if you need help, you can light a flare, and other players will rush to your aid—not a requirement. Monster Hunter World looks like the first Monster Hunter game that lets you make some progress even when everyone you know is busy. For those of us without many gamer friends, we say: thank goodness.

Sony's Spider-Man has a secret guest star

 The final part of Sony's E3 showcase was devoted to a lengthy demo of Insomniac's upcoming Spider-Man game. It looks like it's full of classic Spider-Man action, including fluid combat and fast-paced web-slinging through Manhattan's skyscrapers. But the best part of the demo is the end, when a kid holds up his smartphone before turning towards the camera with a smile.

And if you don't know who that is, it's time to get with the program: Peter Parker might still headline Spider-Man's big-screen outings, but comic readers know that Miles Morales is where it's really at. Originally introduced in Ultimate Fallout #4 by Brian M. Bendis and Sara Pichelli, Miles—the second person to pick up the Ultimate Spider-Man mantle—quickly won over fans still grieving for Ultimate Peter Parker. It's not just Miles' determination and optimism that make him popular, either. Half-black, half-Latino, Miles shows that heroism isn't dictated by the color of your skin, and proves you can successfully introduce diverse characters into established superhero universes. It just takes work. 

Since his debut, Miles has appeared in his own ongoing comic and the Ultimate Spider-Man TV show, and he'll star in the upcoming Spider-Man cartoon series and Phil Lord and Chris Miller's animated Spider-Man feature. Insomniac hasn't elaborated on what role Miles will play in the PlayStation 4 exclusive Spider-Man title, but judging from his dramatic reveal, it looks like it'll be more than just a quick cameo. Let's hope so, anyway—there's more than enough room in the Marvel Universe for two Spideys, and frankly, Peter Parker can use all the help he can get.

Metroid Prime 4 is coming, but there's a catch


It's been almost seven years since Samus last donned her iconic battle suit for a solo Metroid outing—and even longer since Metroid Prime 3: Corruption delivered the last classic Metroid adventure—but Nintendo's favorite bounty hunter is back in a big way at E3 2017. In the fall, Nintendo will release Metroid: Samus Returns, a side-scrolling Metroid game based loosely on Metroid 2, while the biggest surprise in the company's brief video presentation was the Metroid Prime logo, accompanied by the number four.

But here's what Nintendo's not telling you: while Samus and Metroid Prime are returning, they're not bringing Retro Studios with them. That's too bad, because Retro is behind everything that made Metroid Prime great. It was Retro that successfully translated Metroid's non-linear, exploration-heavy gameplay into 3D. It was Retro that devised Metroid Prime 2's dimension-hopping structure, and it was Retro, not Nintendo, that devised Metroid Prime 3's exciting, movie-worthy storyline.

In fact, the only Prime game Retro didn't have a hand in is the DS-exclusive clunky shooter Metroid Prime Hunters. Hopefully, the Metroid Prime 4 team will have better luck. Nintendo exec Bill Trinen says that a "talented new development team" headed by former Prime producer Kensuke Tanabe has taken the reins. Let's pray that they're up to the challenge. After so long out of the limelight, Samus deserves the best she can get.

A Pokémon first

Nintendo didn't announce the long-rumored Pokémon Stars, a hypothetical spinoff of Pokémon Sun and Moon, at E3 2017, but the company did confirm that a "core Pokémon RPG" is currently in development for the Switch. In other words, we're about to see something happen that's never happened before: a main Pokémon game is going to launch on Nintendo's home console, not its portable.

In the past, GameFreak co-founder Junichi Masuda poo-pooed the idea of a console-based Pokémon. "I think the Pokémon core series is always going to be with handheld hardware, in the future as well," Masuda said. "I consider handheld hardware you can carry around with you as almost being equal to being with Pokémon, always." But then again, the Switch isn't a typical console. Nintendo's latest toy works just as well on the go as it does attached to your TV, and it sounds like GameFreak is ready to take full advantage of the Switch's strengths.

Of course, Pokémon's move to the Switch raises a number of questions about Nintendo's 3DS line: mainly, how much time does the handheld have left? Nintendo has promised that the 3DS will be around for a little while longer, but given that the Switch pulls double duty as a console and a handheld, watching the 3DS lose its signature franchise feels fairly ominous. Maybe it's time to start wishing the 3DS a fond farewell. It's been one hell of a run.