OCC E3 2012 AwardsClayMeow -
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Winner: Wii U
Say what you will; Nintendo's new console will change the way we interact with our games. Similar to how the original Wii was able to turn motion controls into a mainstream phenomenon, the Wii U will definitely be a stepping stone to a multi-screen console experience. Now I know what you're thinking; "hey, but the DS already has two screens!" While that is true, the integration of a handheld screen in conjunction with the television screen will open up the game development community to numerous creative possibilities. No, I'm not saying that we're going to start seeing large screens integrated into future Sony and Microsoft hardware (though we never know!), but it may open the potential for handheld systems, tablets, and phones to directly affect console gameplay; more than the simple cross-game save files and leaderboards we have currently. It will be the first time that such a controller will be featured as a main controller; practically a mandatory feature for game developers. And the great thing is that we're already seeing the competition make use of Nintendo's concept. A quick look at Microsoft SmartGlass and LittleBigPlanet 2's PS3/Vita Cross-Play functionality reveals developers' effort to integrate the functionality of various devices into a single game. Nintendo's new console itself may not be a revolution, but it will be sure to bring innovation to the industry.
Runner-Up: The Unfinished Swan (PS3)
Have you ever wondered how the concept of Portal came about? The game was actually based off Narbacular Drop, a college senior game design project that involved navigating through levels using portals placed by the player. The developers were soon picked up by Value and the result was the critically-acclaimed Portal and Portal 2. This year at E3, one game that caught my attention was The Unfinished Swan. Originally a graduate student project, this game starts off with a simple white screen; buttons and sticks seemingly having no response. It's only until the player pushes on the left trigger that a black blob of paint flies into view. The more paint is shot, the more of the environment you see. It is then that you realize it is now actually possible to navigate through the level. This is exactly what is so unique about The Unfinished Swan; you carve your own path through the environment. Whatever you shoot is whatever you uncover; it is a giant game of exploration and creating something out of nothing. But of course, the developers are planning to do more than simply letting the player run without objectives. In the E3 demo, a hint of contrasting yellow duck footprints were found near the middle of the stage. Maybe it's a clue to the use of colors in future levels? Nevertheless, this is definitely a game to watch for; a unique experience like no other.
Winner: Unreal Engine 4
Neither of my innovations count as games, though both will impact the gaming world. My winner in the category comes from the team at Epic Games and its new Unreal Engine 4. Past Unreal Engines have powered a great number of games and Unreal Engine 3 is still one of the most widely used around. Unreal Engine 4 seeks to push the boundaries of what is possible in a game engine and the footage shown so far makes it look downright realistic. Accurate lighting, shadows, fire and smoke effects, and environmental destruction are just a few of the new tools being added to Unreal Engine 4, but the best part is something else. Epic is designing UE4 to allow developers to cut production time in half. A shorter development cycle will mean more games can be created and will still look amazing with all the features of Unreal Engine 4. We may not have any UE4 games for a couple more years until the engine is finalized, but once we do, oh man, I can only imagine how great they will look.
Runner-Up: PlayStation 3/PS Vita Cross-Play
Like I said, neither innovation is a game per se, but the runner-up will sure to be employed in many PlayStation titles. Sony is expanding the cross-play between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita in grand ways, starting with PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale. Currently PS3 and PS Vita owners can share save data between games on both systems, but All-Stars: Battle Royale will allow you to play opponents on either system. No longer will you have to be at home to battle your buddies as the PS Vita will allow you to jump into the action anywhere with an Internet connection. Sony demonstrated this setup on the E3 stage, and I have to say the action looked seamless. The PS Vita players had no trouble holding their ground against those using a PS3, so you should not be concerned about getting in a few matches on the go. This Cross-Play will only be the start for the Sony systems, as upcoming titles will be sure to take advantage of it. We just have to see to what degree the Cross-Play ability is utilized.
Winner: Unreal Engine 4
It's not a game, but it may have the biggest impact of anything shown at E3. The fourth iteration of Epic Games' Unreal Engine truly impresses and I can't wait to see games using it. The demo shown off at E3 features "real-time, dynamic, global illumination and glossy, specular reflection", which basically translates to the amazing, realistic lighting and shadow effects. The demo showed direct and indirect lighting sources, various particle systems, and day-night cycles. As someone currently getting his Master's in Digital Game Design and Development, I must say I was highly impressed with its capabilities. Lighting has become such an integral part of gaming, especially with all the stealth-based gameplay prevalent in so many games. It's also such a crucial aspect in creating a sense of realism, or more accurately, plausibility. I still remember the first time I turned on HDR lighting in the original Far Cry (a brand new technology at the time that had to be turned on via a console hack) and was immediately blown away.
Runners-Up: The Unfinished Swan (PS3), Soul Sacrifice (PS Vita)
When it comes to actual games, no game at E3 was as innovative as The Unfinished Swan. You play a young boy, in first-person, searching for a swan. The game starts you off with a white screen with no instructions. Eventually you discover you can shoot balls of black paint and slowly uncover the environment around you. There are often arguments about whether video games are art. The Unfinished Swan is most certainly a work of art. Then there's Soul Sacrifice. Whereas The Unfinished Swan seems like it would be a serene, relaxing experience, Soul Sacrifice is the exact opposite. Soul Sacrifice is the PS Vita exclusive from Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune. Soul Sacrifice uses a simple premise – nothing in life is free. Instead of a mana system, you make sacrifices, often to the detriment of your health, such as sticking your hand down your throat, pulling out your spinal cord, and using it as a sword. Sacrifice parts of your body too often and you'll slowly lose your human form. What repercussions this will have and whether or not body parts will grow back has not yet been unveiled. But there will also be multi-player, where players can actually sacrifice their life to aid teammates. It's a unique and gruesome take on the action genre, one that Inafune is coining "true fantasy".