A few weeks ago, the video game industry came together for the 22nd annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. One of gaming’s biggest annual traditions, E3 is a huge, glitzy display of cool games on the horizon.
Growing up, E3 was a huge event for me. Every year I’d grab the E3 issue of Nintendo Power or EGM and pore over all the new details, dreaming of where gaming was heading, of the cool stuff I’d get to play soon, and what games my parents were going to lose their minds trying to find for Christmas.
While I’ve been able to attend E3 in the past, this year I was able to really dedicate time to see the spectacle. Rather than rushing around trying to get a peek at everything, I was able to wait in line and get hands-on with some of the games.
For those who couldn't be there, here's my take on some of the most exciting games at this year's show.
Dragon Quest Builders
The tidal wave of adoration for Minecraft has been one of the coolest things in gaming over the last few years, proving that you don’t need to have $500 million sitting in the bank to get a game started, you just need dedication, passion, and a drive to learn.
Dragon Quest Builders (DQB) from developer Square Enix looks to meld the creativity and freedom of Minecraft with a directed JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) experience. You’re still leveling up, getting new equipment, and saving the world, but now you’re doing it while crafting your own items, finding parts, and creating your own town.
The storyline of DQB establishes you as the last person alive with the ability to build, so everyone you meet has zero idea of concepts like: “Hey, if you construct walls, you can have a house.” The storywriters know how ridiculous this is, and play it up for laughs. Characters flip out when you can do tasks like turning a stick into a torch. They clap and act amazed, then ask you what “building” is. It comes off as endearing and charming rather than exasperating.
DQB plays from a top-down perspective, kind of like old school Zelda, but you do have full camera control. The controls are snappy and responsive—I didn’t have any problems building houses or bashing cute slimes in the face.
Right now DQB is only coming out for PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, but I’m very hopeful that we’ll see it on PC. I can’t wait to get more hands-on time with it.
Sea of Thieves
All right, I have a confession to make. On the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, I was that guy who, as soon as you got underway, would start singing “Yo Ho Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)” as loudly as possible. My Halloween costume one year was a Corporate Pirate; I wore a suit and an eye patch, carried a briefcase, and sported a hook, saying things like, “Arrrgh matey, ye need to be signin’ me Non-Disclosure Agreement” or “Walk the plank of litigation, ye scurvy dog!”
To say I like pirates is an understatement.
Sea of Thieves looks custom-built for me and anyone else in love with the stormy seas. It’s a online pirate simulator by Rare, the crew who made games like Donkey Kong Country, Viva Pinata, and Goldeneye.
In Sea of Thieves, players need to work together to crew a ship. Pilots need lookouts, cannons need to be manned, and holes below deck need to be patched if you don’t want to sink. You can explore islands, drink grog, and run around like fools—but you better also be scanning the horizon for the sails of other players if you don’t want to end up in Davy Jones’ Locker.
Sea of Thieves is coming out for Xbox One and Windows 10. I really wish that the lines to play the game at E3 hadn’t been three hours long, because my pirate fervor can only be sated by getting my hands on this game and talking in a fantastically terrible pirate voice.
Cuphead just oozes style out of its ceramic pores. Taking inspiration from old Max Fleischer cartoons like Popeye and Superman, Cuphead brings that old timey style to life, from its visuals to its jazz music. The sound effects even mimic old school Foley.
You play as Cuphead, or his buddy Mugman, running around and shooting enemies. In terms of gameplay, it’s heavily inspired by the run-and-gun classic Contra. You’re progressing level to level and fighting huge bosses. The boss and enemy design is top notch—one standout boss from the E3 demo was a giant potato that would spit dirt at you, followed by a huge carrot with crazy psychic eyes. It’s nuts and a ton of fun.
The gameplay is simple enough for most people to pick it up and have a good time, but don’t be fooled—this game is hard. Thankfully there’s an easy mode, but I’m still hoping putting in the Konami code will give me 30 lives… er, cups. Cuphead will be playable on Xbox One and PC.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Civilization series. I adore the gameplay: how you can guide your civilization through the ages, expanding their technology, shaping their ideals and culture. I’m constantly impressed by Civilization’s design; it makes me change how I approach the game based on what civilization I’m playing. The game pace always makes me feel like I’m on the edge of a major breakthrough, whether I’m on the cusp of swaying everyone to my side diplomatically or my armada is about to stage a major assault.
However, I hate that whenever I launch a Civilization game it’s suddenly four in the morning and I don’t know what the concept of “time” is anymore.
The new Civilization has continued its war on my sleep schedule by introducing improvements to cities and making them feel more alive. In previous games, you would upgrade your cities by constructing buildings, but you could stack them on top of each other in every city. Now you need to dedicate space to the buildings. You need to pick and choose where you’re going to place them, and they’ll get bonuses depending on where they’re located. You’re going to need to specialize, so you’ll naturally end up with your own versions of Sparta and Alexandria.
This also leads to more storytelling; while you might not feel the impact of losing a city if they’re all the same, when Barbarians sack your science center, you’ll remember it.
Civilization also has fantastic educational value. You might learn about the printing press in school, but when your civilization invents it and launches into a golden age of learning, you’ll understand just how vital it was.
Civilization 6 is due out in October for PC, so I have at least a few more months of sleep before I get to play it. Hopefully this time I can stop Gandhi from nuking me. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you haven't played enough Civ.)
Play Great Games, Then Design Your Own
Weeks after getting home from E3, I’m still excited about the games and ideas that were on display. From refreshed versions of old standby games to amazing new stories and gameplay, the show lived up to the vision I had of it growing up. If this small sample is anything to judge by, this is going to be a fantastic year for games. View our video game summer camps >
When designers, artists, and programmers come together, they create truly inspiring stuff. These days, games aren't only made by large teams, but also by small groups of dedicated people—Cuphead's development team started with two brothers!
This summer, take your love for gaming to the next level by learning to design your own, from coding to storytelling to character modeling. iD Tech offers summer camps and immersive teen academies so that kids and teens can start learning no matter their skill level. Our camp alumni have gone on to land internships at top game dev studios like Bethesda and create award-winning indie video games. Check out our game design summer camps or find a camp location near you.
Main image courtesy of E3 Insider