Saturday, June 6, 2009

E3 2009: Where were you, Jim Raynor? Or you, Gordon Freeman?

What a week. We laughed, we cried, we shamelessly scoured other blogs for links. While some big news broke and 2009’s AAA beauties were on parade, something – or things, really – was lacking. Two of gaming’s most beloved francises, Half Life and Starcraft, were no-shows, despite an already grueling silence surrounding their status. What does this say about their future, and the future of episodic gaming in general?

In all fairness, Blizzard has their own convention, and there’s a whiff of snootiness about their reticence at E3. I mean, c’mon, people, they’re making a game to span the ages, not a Q4 flash-in-the-pan, gone by next year. Can’t you see that true art can’t be held to a release date?

Honestly? That line’s getting old. I’m willing to let the whizkids at Blizzard slave away on their capolavoro until Lara Croft’s boobs knock around her knees, but with the recent demise of Duke Nukem Forever, the when-it’s-done game is becoming less artistically ambitious and more quixotic, foolish and self-indulgent. E3 was the perfect time to announce a release date, followed up by an in-depth preview at BlizzCon ’09. As it stands, we’ll have to wait until August 21 for SCII news, when the Blizzard faithful convene in hopes of new screenshots, new videos, anything.

But let’s not forget that we’re not getting SCII in its entirety. The jewel we’re waiting on is Wings of Liberty, the Terran campaign, Episode One of Three – and we’ve been waiting for two years. If they deliver in Q4 2009 and continue on at a similar pace, we can expect Starcraft II to complete itself in 2014. By then, I fully expect to be dancing like a crazed monkey for Project Natal, my new robot overlord.

Another episodic game was conspicuously absent – Half Life 2, Episode 3. It’s been roughly a year and a half since Episode 2 was bundled with The Orange Box and released to great critical acclaim. Since then, Valve hasn’t so much as confirmed labor on the game. Some concept art surfaced, but so what? By now, more than four years, after the release of Half Life 2, people are expecting Half Life 3. If something’s happening, we need to know, before we lose interest in one of gaming’s most important franchises.

Instead of announcing a new Half Life title, Valve announced Left 4 Dead 2, a sequel to a game released less than a year ago. I’m not going to say this suggests a paradigm shift at Valve, but in total absence of Half Life news, one must wonder: has the “game” changed?