When Not Having a Game to Show Still Works

To anyone that wasn’t a fan of Metroid or who has no knowledge of the masterpieces that are Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, the surprise announcement of Metroid Prime 4 and the genuine excitement Nintendo fans expressed might have been more than a bit confusing.

It was just a logo, letting you know that they’re working on a new game. Kingdom Hearts had a cinematic trailer letting fans know it was in development back in 2013 and that game isn’t coming out for at least another year, so why be excited about a game that isn’t coming out for a long time?

E3 has a long history of games being announced prematurely, or without gameplay long before they’re released. Back in 2014, CrackdownScalebound, and Phantom Dust were announced on Microsoft’s stage via cinematic trailers and only one of those three are even still in production. In 2015, Sony had Final Fantasy VII Remake announced on their stage and Microsoft announced Re:Core, both with cinematic trailers.

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Like Metroid Prime 4, a lot of those titles were met with excitement, or at least interest at first, but quickly devolved into impatience and frustration over not really knowing what those games were, or when, and if, they would even release. Over the years, cinematic trailers and simple “we’re making these” announcements have gained ire for how little they show and how often they’re used for cheap buzz.

The height of this was probably the last few years of Electronic Arts press conferences, especially 2014, where Mirror’s Edge (2016), Mass Effect (2017), and an assumedly cancelled Criterion project were shown in “prototype gameplay”.

So under what context do things like this work?

Known Titles and DLC Reveals

Well, the obvious way is if players know what they’re getting even without any gameplay shown. Destiny 2Fire Emblem Warriors, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite all didn’t require gameplay because those titles were announced a while back and viewers should have already seen gameplay. However, without gameplay and less interest in the story than the presenters likely hoped to have, all three found themselves with a mixed reception.

Compare that to the cinematic trailers for Dishonored 2: Death of the Outsider or The Elder Scrolls Legends – Heroes of Skyrim. Not only is the gameplay understood as they’re additions to already released games, the content plays on player’s attachment to the characters and worlds of those games. The stories in games like FE Warriors and MvC Infinite have a harder time doing that because, despite using known characters that player’s may have histories with, their connection to the weird, crossover world the characters inhabit is completely new and different.

A DLC trailer that should have had a similar impact to Death of the Outsider was the second Zelda: Breath of the Wild DLC, The Champion’s Ballad. Where the prior used the trailer to set up the DLC’s plot of “Billie Lurk is going to kill the Outsider”, The Champion’s Ballad told the player that the Rito bard, Kass, has a song about the 4 Champions and Zelda, and that’s about it. Any more direction would have greatly helped the trailer because gameplay was already assumed and the story was what viewers cared about. Without it, the trailer was fairly dissatisfying.

New Game Reveals

With new game reveals, there’s barely any wiggle room left. Without knowing a game ahead of time, a reveal normally needs to get across the type of gameplay to expect and the tone of the story and experience. The game that most clearly had issues with this was Ubisoft’s VR game Transference, which seemed to get a tone across fairly well, but failed in giving an idea as to what kind of game it was and whether it would have plot.

It didn’t help that as a new IP, a game like Transference has more to prove than a title in a long running franchise. The reason a Pokémon game got such a positive announcement was because, despite not knowing anything else about the title, a lot can be assumed from a title in that franchise. Pokémon games all generally have the same gameplay and tone, with the changes between titles that players have interest in revolving around the characters, collectible monsters, cool locations, and additional features the new titles come with.

So then, when comparing two announced sequels in Metroid Prime 4 and Beyond Good & Evil 2 that don’t show gameplay, and only the latter showing characters and a storyline, what’s the difference, and why would the reactions be diffferent?

Context

Consider this: Beyond Good & Evil 2 was first announced in 2008. It reset development several times in the last decade before being re-revealed late last year. So we did already know about it prior to this E3. We know that the director, Michel Ancel, has been working for 3 years as director on a title for Sony called Wild that hasn’t been seen in a while and has no release date in sight. Add that on to the fact that BG&E2 has been in development for a decade now and we still don’t have a release date in sight, and it makes it a little harder to be excited for the title, even with a trailer giving us a sense of the story and characters.

Conversely, consider the aforementioned Pokémon announcement, which, contextually, may have been included in the Spotlight presentation simply to respond to the backlash over the announcement of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon on 3DS two weeks before E3. Fans were upset the titles were coming to 3DS instead of Switch and appeared to be just an updated version of Sun and Moon. Announcing that a new core RPG Pokémon title was in development for Switch and likely releasing holiday 2018 or 2019 was essentially all that crowd needed to hear to be appeased, and possibly even look forward to Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon holding them over until the franchise’s Switch debut.

It’s a little funny to think that same process was actually what lead to Nintendo unveiling a Metroid Prime 4 trailer so early in development. On the treehouse stream later, they announced Metroid: Samus Returns, a remake of Metroid II, which is also releasing this year for 3DS this year. Announcing Prime 4 beforehand essentially flipped the potential script, making Prime 4 a big reveal to look forward to in the future and Samus Returns a 3DS title to hold players over, instead of a 3DS title when fans wanted a game on Switch– a situation reminiscent of Federation Force‘s announcement in 2015, which was met with fan ire and even a petition to have the title cancelled.

But what really added to the excitement was simply that the last core entry in the Prime series released a decade ago, and fans have been clamoring for a new title ever since. More and more, it seemed that their pleas fell on deaf ears, so making the announcement of a new title in development also stand as an acknowledgment of the franchise and fans desires by Nintendo.

Plus, in relation to both those titles, the last time a game was announced this early, without a trailer or gameplay, it was Satoru Iwata standing on stage at E3 2011 mentioning that after Masahiro Sakurai finished Kid Icarus: Uprising, he’d be working on a new Super Smash Bros. title for 3DS and Wii U. This is a company with a good history of getting games out in a timely manner, and almost always of high quality, which stands in stark contrast to other companies that have done the same like a Ubisoft or Square Enix.

That’s the real difference: Fans have an idea of what a Prime or Pokémon game entail, they’ve been asking for those titles, and based on the developer’s pedigree, they know they won’t have to wait a decade to get them– at least now that Nintendo and Game Freak have finally started working on them.

When you carry that much baggage with you, a title card is all you need.

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