From the Ground: PlayStation Experience 2015’s Keynote, Show Floor, and People

on December 22, 2015 8:51 AM

Walking out of Moscone West on Sunday night at the close of PlayStation Experience 2015, I tried to think what my favorite part of Sony’s second annual fan conference was. The show floor was full of third party games from major publishers and independent developers, but the major announcements that stuck with me, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Ni No Kuni II, and Ace Combat 7 were nowhere to be seen. I did know what I enjoyed most, which was the atmosphere and excitement throughout both convention floors. Talking with people in line or to developers showing off their games, and getting to play smaller titles like Read Only Memories and revisit Night in the Woods all mixed together to create a wonderful weekend.

PSX is a fan convention through and through, and while their conference is rehearsed and made to sell products to people, seeing people like Adam Boyes and Gio Corsi casually walk the show floor and engage with attendees removed any cynicism I may have had. There were still some strange decisions made as far as the set up of the convention floor, keynote announcements, and lack of announcements, but it was still a great convention through and through.

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Finding a seat for the keynote wasn’t too hard when you are a party of one, though I still came across people holding some for those who never appeared. Greg Miller showed up at one point yelling at people to stand for a picture and then amassed a line that had to be moved and then dissipated. This was not the last time during PSX this sequence of events happened. There is something to be said about attending events live. Just like concerts are different live compared to the curated video clips edited together afterward, press conferences are much the same. Audience reactions are much more audible and palpable, and you see much more than you would during a hosted livestream.

Sony opened with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which has now had a two year long lead into release, first appearing at the PlayStation launch event as a teaser, E3 2014, PSX 2014, E3 2015, and now PSX 2015. The character Nadine was introduced, and so was a dialogue choice system. I doubt the mechanic will be consequential or affect anything in the game in a major way, which makes their inclusion more of an attempt to differentiate it from previous entries than a substantial addition. Overall I think Uncharted 4‘s development story has been worrying at best and making me doubt its release quality at worst.

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Next was the biggest story out of PSX this year, Final Fantasy VII gameplay. We were blown away at E3 and didn’t expect to see the game again for quite some time, so it was a big surprise when Tetsuya Nomura appeared with other Square Enix staff to showcase a gameplay trailer for the first installment of the remake. The news of the “episodic” approach to releasing this game didn’t come out until later but nonetheless reinvigorated conversations about just what this final product will be. Also the PlayStation 4 version of the original game, first announced a year ago for “Spring 2015” release is now out and comes with one of the better PlayStation 4 themes: static images taken from the trailer, SFX from menu navigation, and a piano version of Aerith’s Theme.

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The next lineup of games were third parties returning to remind us about games already released or upcoming such as Call of Duty: Black Ops III getting DLC first on Playstation 4 (repeat of Xbox 360’s deal last generation), Star Wars Battlefront’s Jakku DLC (playable since the previous Tuesday for those who pre-ordered the game), Battleborn with a visibly nervous Randy Pitchford, and Street Fighter V showing off an unannounced fighter and previously leaked information.

Gio Corsi came onstage near the end of the Street Fighter V segment and I still cannot tell if he was legitimately there to kick Ono off for taking too much time or if it was an awkward lead in to the hundred hand slap. Nevertheless, Corsi then did what he did best and announce indie titles coming to PlayStation 4 (and Vita) such as: Dead Star, Death’s Gambit, Ray’s the Dead, Rain World, Small Radios Big Televisions, Head Lander, Day of the Tentacle Remastered, Full Throttle, and Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, a PlayStation VR game which mocked TIME Magazine’s cover image of Oculus’s founder Palmer Luckey.

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Invisible Inc and Don’t Starve Together are console exclusive debuts, Zodiac: Orcanan Odyssey has Final Fantasy Tactics inspired art and naming, but is definitely Child of Light when it comes to gameplay direction. Hitman Go is coming to PlayStation 4 and Vita which was surprising, and Brawlhalla, Yakuza 5, Yakuza Zero, Last Blade 2, and King of Fighters XIV were part of #Buildingthelist. Nioh from Koei Tecmo appears to be trying to get in on the post-Dark Souls audience, and then Sid and Nick of the PlayStation Blog appeared to announced Bastion on Vita, the Bit.Trip Collection, and Nuclear Throne were available starting that very day. In fact all attendees would be getting a copy of Nuclear Throne and Bit.Trip Collection if they checked in to certain booths at the convention floor with their special badges. Stormcloud Games showed off Brutal, MLB The Show 16 was announced, and Scott Rohde showed up to talk Guns Up and Fat Princess Adventures. Ted Price showed off more of Ratchet and Clank, promising an April release.

Magic Lab then came onstage to begin a PlayStation VR demo that did not go well. The main presenters arms did not work due to the PlayStation Move controllers failing, and rather than restart he just continued through it. So we were then subjected to a long demo where one player was essentially immobalised and the other threw discs around a blank, empty room. The next game, Rez Infinite, was much more impressive, with Tetsuya Mizuguchi playing the demo decked out in his very own Synesthesia Suit.

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Adam Boyes then took the stage and announced some more PlayStation VR games, with Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight which appeared to be Assassin’s Creed eagles flying through a classical city but with much more stylized graphics than the usual realistic direction of the Creed series. Santa Monica showed Modern Zombie Taxi Co a humorous take on the post-apocalyptic zombie world. Job Simulator was another humorous VR game, as was 100 Foot Robot Golf, that showed very little of actual golfing. Lastly Ace Combat 7 was officially announced along with VR compatibility in a trailer showing off the classic Ace Combat superweapons approach. Hopefully they can return to the stories that made Shattered Skies and Unsung War so phenomenal on the PlayStation 2.

Beginning to wrap up the nearly two hour press conference was Sparrow racing in Destiny as a limited event within The Taken King, Hob from the Torchlight developers, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (YES), and lastly Epic Games’ MOBA Paragon which closed out with a trailer featuring music by M83.

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While the ending felt a little flat, don’t forget last year saw David Jaffe come onstage to curse and talk about Drawn to Death very candidly, so endings are varied when it comes to PlayStation Experience. It did appear to fall prey to the echochamber of the internet and the hype train. Though with the big three E3 announcements of The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Shenmue 3, there was little to hold people back from expecting the greatest thing ever. It was a solid conference with 44 games in total being showcased, and continued the now tradition of two hour long keynotes. Exiting the keynote I did feel a little disappointed on some of the big rumors that went missing, PlayStation Network name changes and Sony Bend’s PlayStation 4 game being the most prominent. Despite this, it was time to move forward to the show floor itself.

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Moscone West is a strange beast, split between three levels with a set of escalators leading up and down the south east side with regular stairs to the north. I mainly mention this because it meant when the 15,000 attendees were released from the third floor keynote to literally descend upon the show floors on the 1st and 2nd floor it created a massive bottleneck of human traffic. Besides the split between floors, one other design choice stood out to me, the real estate of the floor itself.

When you first entered the 1st floor’s showroom, you were greeted by Capcom and the PlayStation store for merchandise. On the second floor it was 2K Games’ Battleborn and Bandai Namco with the oft featured Dark Souls III fountain/statue hybrid. Along the central avenues for both floors were major third parties, Ubisoft, Square Enix, Activision, EA, and the occasional 1st party like Uncharted 4. Behind all of these large displays were the indies, from Double Fine and Campo Santo to smaller developer’s games like Randall and the Force and Soft Body. This felt like a major shift from last year, where indies weren’t pushed behind curtains and walls but instead featured in open sections with much wider spaces.

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Another strange choice was the inclusion of scanners at nearly every booth that would check attendees in using their badge, as well as the collectible card meta game. Adam Boyes admitted in conversation late Saturday night that it was to push people to visit and see indie booths that might otherwise be skipped over, but sadly a majority of people lined up behind scanners, not the demo, and would wait in line until given a card and leave. Seeing how PlayStation relying on indies helped their late PlayStation 3 life and is the reason PlayStation Vita is still alive, it was surprising to see them get the short end of the stick as far as real estate.

Other than those small observations, the show floors themselves were huge, with one floor by itself easily encompassing the entirety of last year’s convention. Surprisingly there was a lot of games already out that showed up yet again: Just Cause 3, Uncharted 4 multiplayer beta, Call of Duty Black Ops III, Uncharted Nathan Drake Collection, Guitar Hero Live, and Star Wars Battlefront. It was also the premiere for the public to try out lots of new games as well, such as Far Cry Primal, Firewatch, RIGS, Zodiac: Organon Odyssey, Manifold Garden, and more.

The increase in size has its problems, mostly with gameplay demos generally lacking time limits, and lines for major booths forever staying unencouragingly long. The latter is mostly a complaint leveled at the PlayStation Gear store, whose line appeared to be moving at the pace of a overencumbered player in Fallout. Not that I was dying to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a cotton t-shirt but I did want to get a good look at the products on display.

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Lines are an actual problem though, when you have gameplay demos with no time limit and nothing pushing you along. Campo Santo’s Firewatch demo is one example, with co-founder Jake Rodkin admitting it did run a little long. Thankfully the two screens also had developers walking players through the demo, so they were not free to wander aimlessly. Other lines were not as fortunate, as Darkest Dungeon and Invisible Inc‘s queue took some time to get through. This was only an issue at the first PSX with The Order: 1886, which had a confusing demo runtime of over 20 minutes and a queue that lasted all day Saturday. I’m hoping next year is smaller, not just for lines, but so it has a more intimate setting befitting the casual presentation of PSX.

Visiting and talking to developers also reaffirmed a common sentiment throughout all studios: video games are hard to make. Several game demos I played had certain sections, that when triggered, would crash or freeze the system. Generally these were very small things like trying to activate a video setting I discovered when poking around the options menu, or something more serious like a scripted section losing a steady frame rate. Talking to the developers themselves showed that sometimes games perform perfectly one day, and the next decide to load half the game world as a cutscene plays. I call it the convention curse, they call it a part of their daily life.

The PlayStation Vita, which had its own section, however small, last year alongside the PlayStation TV, was near nonexistent in this year’s show. Drinkbox had four Severed demos running on Vita, Crypt of the NecroDancer had two for their demo (and a spare in the back a developer told me), and Sony’s first party section had four hooked up to a Phineas and Ferb game and some real time strategy game I can’t recall or find online. Suffice to say, Vita is all but dead despite the frequent cross-buy excuse given by players and publishers. Drinkbox is the only true Vita developer, with Severed only coming to that one handheld device and nothing else, for now.

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I really enjoyed my time at PlayStation Experience 2015, some of the best parts of which were simply being able to once again talk to the community of fans and developers as well. Both parties have such a passion and love for this hobby, you can’t help but be excited for what the new year may bring. For those of you who were unable to attend, Adam Boyes definitely wants to make it a roaming convention, specifically targeting the South-East for next year. Sorry Northerners, but due to this event taking place on the first weekend of December every year they’re going to be staying far from any snow covered city.

 /  Staff Writer
Born in Queens, 21. I talk about video games and film. Favorite games are Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Pokemon Gold, and Persona 4 Golden. Favorite films are The Grand Budapest Hotel, Princess Mononoke, and Skyfall.