Here It Goes Again (E3 2016 and WWDC 2016)

On Monday at 10a PDT (1p EDT), Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) kicks off with the as-usual keynote speech by Apple CEO, Tim Cook. It’s been a tradition for a long time that the early-summer conference reveals the software upgrades to Apple’s iOS and Mac OS X systems, and this year adds watchOS to the lineup. As a dyed-in-the-wool Appleologist (hail our Eternal Leader, the Jobs), this has always been something for me to look forward to, and this year is no exception– but for a completely different reason. We’ll get to that in a moment.

On the flip side of the equation, though, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) also starts on June 14th (Tuesday) this year; much like last year, when the two events converged. Even though E3 proper doesn’t start until Tuesday, two of the Big Three– Microsoft and Sony– typically have their major announcement events on the day before. Microsoft begins the coverage at 9:30a PDT (12:30p EDT), with Sony starting at 6p PDT (9p EDT). Nintendo isn’t doing a major event, but will instead be running their Treehouse Live stream all day on Tuesday starting at 9a PDT (12p EDT). E3 has been winding down as a major show since the “pause” it went through after 2006 (incidentally, the only one I ever went to– and yes, I do bring that up more often than I should), with more companies either front-loading the majority of their announcements in their own venues, or simply skipping the show altogether in favor of more “open” events such as PAX or Awesome Games Done Quick. 

Still, it’s been a tradition for the years that I’ve been blogging to go over each company and make some predictions, assertions, and otherwise look like a total nerd. Who am I to argue with a tradition that I set myself up for? To save space, though, and to have them all in the same place, I’m going to go over both WWDC and E3 in this post. Buckle up, kids, this is gonna get geeky.

Apple: iOS hits a major milestone this year with the inevitable release of version 10. The annual refresh cycle of the force behind Apple’s outstanding growth post-iPhone is not expected to be the revolutionary leaps forward that iOS 4 or 9 were; instead, Apple is focusing on usability and minor tweaks across the board. Siri– Apple’s long-parodied digital assistant who often requires assistance herself– is slated to get an API for third-party developers, allowing users to command Siri to handle tasks in apps beyond the default ones. Honestly, being able to ask Siri when my next bus arrives will be a godsend, as right now I need to tap on an incredibly unresponsive watch interface to get that info without digging out my phone. Speaking of the Apple Watch, watchOS 3 is slated to become more independent of the iPhone– a few months back, Apple began mandating watch apps be able to do something without requiring communications with the phone. This will be a blessing, particularly if it’s not limited to the next iteration of the hardware (but who am I kidding). Siri is also coming to the Mac, as Apple sunsets the clunky OS X name in favor of MacOS– incidentally, that’s what they used to call the operating system after System 7 but before OS X. Beyond that, I can’t really think of anything that I’d want from Apple this year. Honestly, if the rumors that this year’s iPhone hardware is going to be of minimal improvement compared to the 6/6s come true– which I’m more than willing to believe– I may end up breaking my every-two-year upgrade pattern and waiting for the 2017 device, which is supposedly going to be a significant departure. We shall see.

Sony: PlayStation VR, Sony’s answer to the Oculus Rift and suchlike, is scheduled to make its full debut next week. One of the major things that both Sony and Microsoft have been fending off has been the rumors of a hardware refresh for the relatively young PS4 and Xbox One, respectively. In the PS4’s case, I can see that happening if only to incorporate the PSVR’s “booster box” (additional hardware that sits between the headset and the console) into the console as an all-in-one unit. I don’t think Sony is going to make a big deal out of it, but it would be interesting to see if they announce the new hardware alongside other titles in their Monday evening event. (By the by, I’m still salty that I didn’t get tickets for the Fathom Events-powered theater experience. I had completed the registration, on time, twice, and got error pages. Kinda thinking Sony might want to consider a better way to get those tickets distributed.) In terms of software, we’re going to see a lot of third-party stuff highlighted, but Sony might reveal a new Gran Turismo title that works with the VR headset. I would love nothing more, in terms of ludicrously out-there wishes, for the PSP to be officially sunsetted and its software added to PS Now (their streaming rental service), along with a completion of the PSP’s catalog on digital; it is criminal that some of the system’s best games (Brave Story: New Traveler, the Star Ocean remakes, Valkyrie Profile Lenneth, Tactics Ogre…) are still physical-only.

Microsoft: And here’s where I kinda fall down, because I don’t yet have an Xbox One, and so far I have seen nothing to make me want one. Cuphead looks kinda cool, but I’m willing to bet that’s just a timed exclusive. Rock Band 4 was literally only on my short list because of the sunk-cost fallacy (read: all my DLC was on the 360). I could honestly not care less about the Halo games, and there are no other exclusives on the horizon that have me interested. Not even the system’s precipitous price drops over the last few months could sway me (even if I had the money). The cynic in me says that the price drops are due to a hardware refresh coming, but that makes little sense because unlike the PSVR, there’s no reason for the Xbox One to become more powerful than it already is. I think we’ve hit the wall of diminishing returns in terms of graphics, and that’s okay. What I want to see is MS embracing its “it can’t get worse” status at the moment and start taking risks with games and ideas that might not be conventional, but might be hits in hiding. Really, I want MS to become the company that they were in 2007, when I picked the 360 over the PS3.

(As a side note to Microsoft’s thing, I want to give a mention to one of the people who became one of my personal heroes while he was at Microsoft, Stephen Tolouse. His blog is full of incredible insights on the state of the video game industry from the perspective of one of its giants. Please check it out.)

Nintendo: Okay, first things first: we’re not gonna see the NX this year. Period. Not gonna happen. Whether or not that’s because Nintendo is adding VR to the system or just because it’s not entirely ready is up for speculation, but it is going to remain under wraps until next March at the earliest. For good or for ill, we’re stuck with the Wii U and 3DS for at least one more year. In my opinion, that’s in the “good” column. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of what either of those systems can do, particularly the New 3DS– though that particular machine is a victim of being too late for its own good. Nintendo is going to make Pokemon Sun and Moon the focus of its Treehouse Live show, along with Kirby Planet Robobot (releasing today). There’s also been rumors that a new DLC pack is coming for Mario Kart 8. Beyond that, quite frankly, there is no telling whatsoever as to what Nintendo will show. We might hear about some paid DLC/expansions for Splatoon and Super Mario Maker, and we may also see a few more indie darlings like Freedom Planet 2 and whatever Yacht Club Games is doing to follow up Shovel Knight. We might see a new, proper Metroid game. We might finally see Nintendo dig deep into its back catalog and reboot some series– the Wii’s preview slides back in 2005 teased a “Gumshoe” remake, which would probably be much cooler than it has any right to be. My pie in the sky wish is that Nintendo buckles and finally remakes Gyromite with an augmented-reality ROB, possibly through the New 3DS. You can’t tell me that the thought of ROB coming back wouldn’t be cool. (Oh, and Mother 3, but that’s less of a silly hope now that it’s the only one left.)

Square-Enix: We already know about the HD Remaster of Final Fantasy XII, titled The Zodiac Age. There was a comparison video released earlier which shows off some of the graphical upgrades; that’s not the reason I’m excited for the game. No, the fact that it’s based on the improvements made in the International Zodiac Job Edition that has me excited. Beyond that, we’re probably going to see only a few minor things announced; Final Fantasy XV is nearing release, which is nice, but eh. (I know it sounds like sacrilege that I’m not excited about a mainline FF game, but… eh. It just looks so… run of the mill.) We might see a few more clips of the FF VII remake, which is slightly less eh; I’m interested in seeing how the game changes as it shifts towards a more episodic format. It really seems like Nintendo is getting the best of the Dragon Quest series, but it also seems like North America isn’t. SE is also thinking about the Mana series, which hasn’t been done justice in North America since Legend of Mana in 2000; it’s entirely possible we could see a compilation release, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Kingdom Hearts 3 is also probably on the list. For a major surprise, we might see the first glimpse of the 4.0 expansion for Final Fantasy XIV– particularly now that the 3.3 patch landed last week– which may involve the liberation of Ala Mhigo, giving players the first opportunity to go on the offensive against the forces of darkness. Of course, if SE were to consider re-making Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, too, I wouldn’t complain (best damn beginner RPG since Super Mario RPG).

Blizzard: Don’t expect a whole lot here. They just released Overwatch– which I should be playing instead of writing this– so they’re going on a bit of a break. I honestly don’t know what they have left beyond continuing World of Warcraft expansions. 

Atlus: Persona Persona Persona Persona. Social Links Social Links Social Links SOCIAL LINKS

Sega (and Atlus): I forgot Sega bought them. Seriously, outside of P5, Sega doesn’t have much on its slate that has me really excited, except maybe Sonic Boom (which I still believe in) and Dawn of War III. I’m going to insist that Sega try to bring Puyo Puyo Tetris out in the West, but that never happens.

Valve: More Team Fortress hats. Still no Half-Life 3.

GungHo Online: More Puzzle & Dragons, hopefully announcing a localization of the new 3DS game. 

Bushiroad: give Cardfight Online pls

With that, I think we’re set on what’s coming next week. I’m probably going to be completely wrong on a lot of these, but that’s actually a good thing. I like surprises.