It’s okay that you didn’t notice, but last week was the biggest video game event of the year–E3, also known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo. While companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo throw lavish press conferences at the expo, it also features dozens of developers showing off their latest games represents billions of dollars of investments in the interactive arts.
And while most of the industry is still focused on the same, 35-year-old, chiseled-ab guy with a gun, we’re also seeing some incredible visual creativity emerge, as graphics and animations are pushed to their limits. Which is why even if you’re not into playing games, all artists and creatives have something to gain by keeping an eye on the industry. Here are some of my favorite picks from the show.
Detroit Become Human
Most video games look like video games. French game designer David Cage, head of studio Quantic Dream, has always wanted them to look and feel a lot more like an interactive movie–with sets, stories, and characters that fill your psyche with emotional weight. Detroit Become Human is his latest opus, billed as a neo-noir sci-fi thriller. I’d urge you to set that YouTube window to full HD, skip to 4:14, and appreciate the attention that Quantic Dream’s designers give to the remarkably challenging design of human faces and forms. And then realize that this scene is being rendered in real time–60 frames drawn every second. One day, not so far in the future, we might pause the movie, pick up a controller, and finish the story by playing it.
Coming at an unknown date, PS4.
What if Walt Disney owned an Xbox? Would he have made the landmark animated short Steamboat Willy? Or would he have designed Cuphead? It’s a platformer (think of side-scrolling games like Super Mario Bros) by the Canadian brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, who run StudioMDHR Entertainment, but it’s inspired by the cartoon designs of the 1930s. And it looks so good–with so much animated character dripping from every frame–that, if someone told me it was a short film, I’d believe them.
Coming September 2017, Xbox One and Windows 10.
The Last Night
Pixel art was charming a few years ago. But now, even as independent developers have taken these simple sprites to unforeseen levels, it’s become an overplayed aesthetic. Enter The Last Night, by Odd Tales. This adventure game is said to capture a post-Cyberpunk world. I don’t even know what that means. But what I do know is that by mixing depth and bokeh into each frame, it almost looks like a post-pixel art aesthetic, with all the future noir lighting and set design of Blade Runner.
Coming 2018, Xbox One and Windows 10.
Super Mario Odyssey
On the other end of the spectrum from tiny, independent studios, Nintendo showed off its biggest bet of the show, Super Mario Odyssey. It’s the new Mario game! It looks a lot like a 3D Mario game! I’d urge you to skip ahead to 2:07 in that video, though, to see where Mario appears in a semi-realistic metropolis, akin to New York City. Nintendo is mashing up its cartoon aesthetic with reality in a way that reminds me of stunts pulled by the Muppets, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Especially with the influence of augmented reality apps like Snapchat and Pokemon Go, I wonder if we’re going to see a whole lot more of this hybrid of reality and augmented space across all media before we see less.
Coming October 2017, Nintendo Switch.