And here we go.

e3

It’s that time of year again. That time of year where journalists will go fetal, whether they’re covering it from home or on the ground in Los Angeles. That time where the smallest thing in any of the press conferences will be analysed to a molecule. And where it’s time to go big or go home.

E3 2014 is here. And with the song and dance of the next-generation hardware launches out of the way, it’s time for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s first real test: backing themselves up with some of the finest software currently in development as part of both machines second generation lineup of games.

phil spencerMicrosoft – Monday, 9:30am PST/12:30pm EST/5:30pm BST/6:30pm CET

If there was ever a bigger opportunity for someone to get redemption and a shot at that proverbial brass ring, this was it. Last year, Microsoft were more or less a wreck. Even with an otherwise fantastic press conference lined wall-to-wall with games last year that comprised of Dead Rising 3; Battlefield 4; Sunset Overdrive; Titanfall and more, Xbox One still had a lot of stuff that very anti-consumer: the always-online and second-hand game restrictions, the necessity of Kinect and a very, very high price point.

Since then, Microsoft has had to do a lot of soul-searching and make a lot of hard decisions. For a start,  it dropped the always-online requirement and its second-hand game restrictions pre-launch. Then this year, cutting the price before Titanfall, albeit for the UK only by £50. And then, dropping the Kinect as a must-have part of the system and reducing the price further by another £50 (or for the first time elsewhere). Not to mention, a change of leadership within Xbox which has brought curried good will so far to date.

With Don Mattrick now gone – and a brief interim spell with Microsoft head of devices Julie Larsson-Green in charge – Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer is now Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer. And already within his first few months, he has seemingly breathed new life to Xbox One. And even with just a few days to go before the show begins, an argument could be said it has the strongest first-party lineup right now in terms of announced and released stuff.

There’s also now a lot of thought as to what Microsoft could be showing. After all, announcements of a price-drop + Kinect removal, Halo 5: Guardians, Forza Horizon 2 and a 2015 date for Remedy time thriller Quantum Break are all more or less conference biggies on their own rather than dropping them from the show for their own thing.

So what does Microsoft have? Sunset Overdrive plus a proper showing of Horizon 2 are confirmed for the press conference, as is the first official showing of Fable Legends, announced at gamescom last year. But what else? Well, that’s the million dollar question. We’ll likely see a showing of Season Two for Killer Instinct, maybe something from Rare that’ll finally instigate hope in it again if it isn’t something Kinect-only again. And will we see for the first time Project Nagano, the rumoured Microsoft-published Platinum title said to be in the works?

And like I mentioned above, there’s surely a reason why Microsoft announced pre-conference Halo 5: Guardians, Quantum Break’s release timeline and the removal of Kinect plus price cut for a reason. Is Microsoft set to do a Natal-like announcement and drop the bass on its own VR thing for Xbox One? Spencer also tweeted recently he’s looking to spring new life into Microsoft’s PC gaming program, although it’s very likely it could still be too soon to hear details on that front.

Otherwise, Microsoft have shut up shop until Monday very well. Little-to-nothing has managed to escape before the show. In his fifth E3 on stage, his first as Xbox boss, Phil Spencer will have to go a long way to gain some favour back, but if what he’s done since becoming kingpin of Xbox and what could potentially be shown in Los Angeles is any indication, there’s some massive potential there to get it.

andrew wilsonEA – Monday, 12pm PST/3pm EST/8pm BST/9pm CET

EA went big last year with a doozy of a press conference. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, Titanfall, Need for Speed: The Run, Dragon Age: Inquisition, EA Sports’ lineup and a fair bit of DICE stuff with a good portion of games from the presser running on its Frostbite 3, not to mention Battlefield 4’s multiplayer reveal plus the reveal of Star Wars: Battlefront and Mirror’s Edge.

This year, EA is set to go big once again. As well as the usual EA Sports lineup, you’ll also get six reveals as part of the presser. Battlefield: Hardline was set to be one of them, but got out before the show. So make it five. Actually, Criterion’s been confirmed to announce something from the show, so that’s four. “Oh, what about the next Mass Effect from BioWare Montreal?” Yup, Mass Effect: Contact – as it’s officially called – is all but confirmed to be there. If you’re still counting at home, that’s now three. And Waystone Games has something up its arm. Only two left. It’s from there it gets slightly dark.

EA’s also confirmed new showings for Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Sims 4 and Star Wars: Battlefront, whilst Mirror’s Edge will also be part of the show. But what else could we see? Could we get a further look into what EA has planned with Star Wars outside Battefront? Like, say, a teaser of Visceral Games’ Star Wars project being headed up by ex-Uncharted creative director Amy Hennig? BioWare is also part of EA’s Star Wars plans and it was heavily implied in the announcement of EA grabbing the rights that it was working on a new title alongside BioWare Austin’s work on The Old Republic, although that remains yet to be seen (As well as BioWare Montreal’s Mass Effect game, Casey Hudson and Mac Walters’ team at BioWare Edmonton have been working on a new IP and Austin has been said to be working on a new game or two for a while now according to the GAF hivemind, though could be too soon for a reveal).

And EA announced recently a new deal that’ll see it continue to work with Respawn Entertainment on the future of Titanfall. Since Titanfall only came out this year, it’s highly unlikely we’ll hear a sequel being announced – right – or a Sigma Edition of sorts for PlayStation 4 featuring the main game plus DLC. Maybe we’ll hear of DLC or actually nothing at all on it. Who knows.

It’s Andrew Wilson’s first EA press conference since taking over from John Riccitiello and becoming CEO of EA, but if the outlook towards Monday is looking as it is, it’s going to be a piece of cake.

yvesUbisoft – 3pm PST/6pm EST/11pm BST|Tuesday, 12am CET

How do I put this? Ubisoft has had presentation issues in the past with its press conferences at E3, although in defence of Aisha Tyler, I’m sure I prefer her to Joel McHale’s stint as host of their press conferences (not to mention, his stint as VGX host), but most of its lineup can be pretty great for the core (lets not mention Battletag, Just Dance or Rabbids Invasion, shall we?)

Last year was mainly a current-gen focussed show for Ubisoft, Splinter Cell: Blacklist; South Park and Rayman Legends aside. There was Assassin’s Creed IV, Watch Dogs and Trials Fusion plus the unveils of Reflections and Ivory Tower’s The Crew and Massive Entertainment’s Tom Clancy: The Division.

For Ubisoft this year, its lineup will consist of two Assassin’s Creed games – Unity on PS4 and Xbox One plus the game codenamed Comet for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – as well as The Division, Far Cry 4 and The Crew, to name a few.

Considering its recently-gained status as not only Ubisoft’s highest-selling game of all time but perhaps the biggest launch of a new IP so far to date in the generation (not a long stretch considering the infancy of the PS4 and Xbone), we may even hear something on Watch Dogs DLC.

But there’s other variables in play too. Will we finally see Beyond Good & Evil 2 proper? With Michel Ancel’s team at Ubisoft Montpellier now moved on from Rayman Legends, surely the time is right to bring it back to the forefront following Ancel’s comments in 2011 that BG&E2 would be aimed at Xbox One and PS4 rather than Xbox 360 and PS3. Where’s Rainbow Six: Patriots? That’s been held back and – as previously confirmed – rebooted from the version shown back in 2011, but still in the works according to the publisher.

And a recent trait of Ubisoft has been the old Apple trick of just ‘one more thing’ at the end of its press conference. Last year, it was The Division and two years ago, Watch Dogs’ infamous reveal that more or less seal Ubisoft’s victory in the press conference stakes that year. So what will be the ‘one more game’ for this year? Obviously, it’ll be a new IP. The question is, from who? My money would be well bet on Jade Raymond’s Ubisoft Toronto. It has multiple teams on the go and Raymond stated as far back as 2011 it has numerous projects on the go, although she could have meant collaborations as well like the studio’s involvement on titles like Assassin’s Creed: Unity or Rainbow Six: Patriots. Nonetheless, I’d still for Ubisoft Toronto to drop the ‘one more thing’ in the conference.

It may or may not have presentation issues again, but Ubisoft will have the goods to back it up either way. Just please, no more girlwood.

andy houseSony – Monday, 6pm PST/9pm EST|Tuesday, 2am BST/3am CET

The onus will be on Sony after last year’s knockout performance, easily one of the best ever E3 press conferences if not the best. The megatons were adroppin’ with Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts III, Mad Max, Elder Scrolls Online plus demos of Assassin’s Creed IV and Watch Dogs. And of course, Tretton and House bringing the roof down with the no DRM/always-online component of PS4 as well as the machine’s unveiling and announcing of price.

But they also didn’t have a lot of first party announcements. A good portion of what was already announced was shown in new trailers for Killzone: Shadow Fall, inFamous: Second Son, Driveclub and Knack (and even then, of the three games promised for launch, only two showed up in Killzone and Knack, with inFamous coming in March and DriveClub getting nearly a year’s delay) with only one game announcement for Ready at Dawn’s The Order 1886 (no, Quantic Dream’s The Dark Sorcerer does not count due to being a tech demo).

Now, it’s time to go big with those first-party hitters. DriveClub will be there as will The Order 1886. but what else? For Uncharted 4, it’s time for it to come out of the shadows. Announced at PS4’s US launch, Naughty Dog’s next big thing post The Last of Us has not had a lot about revealed, although a recent Game Informer interview with co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra all but confirmed Nathan Drake and co would be returning, with initial fan thoughts being the game would be a full-blown prequel going back to Francis Drake.

Even with the drama that’s faced the studio following Amy Hennig and Justin Richmond’s departures from the project and the developer earlier this year, Uncharted 4 is still Sony’s big first-party hitter for the show. Anticipation for the game will also be bolstered by the news that The Last of Us leads Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley have taken over the project.

Guerrilla and Media Molecule’s next big things post-KZ:SF and LittleBigPlanet/Tearaway respectively won’t be in Los Angeles – if you hear that faint whisper in the wind, you’ll hear it whisper back ‘gamescom’ – but it does leave open some good questions. What about Quantic Dream’s next thing after Beyond: Two Souls? What’s Sony Bend up to? Studio London is said to be working on something big alongside Morpheus stuff. And Studio Japan? Project Beast with From Software is now more or less a given, anything else? Don’t you dare say Last Guardian. Even if it shows itself, you shouldn’t believe it until you see it on an actual retail shelf.

“But Johnny, you forgot about Sony Santa Monica!?” True, they have their co-collaborations coming out for the show, like Hohokum with Honeyslug and The Order 1886 with RAD. Plus, we may see one or two other collaborations announced during the show. But one of their own? If you had asked about six months ago, the chances were mid-to-good. But following a round of layoffs and the cancelation of a brand new IP led by God of War III director Stig Asmussen, since left Sony Santa Monica, earlier this year, that’s all but likely not going to happen. Admittedly, the game being made by the returning Cory Barlog could be teased but that’s said to still be far out for a proper reveal as yet.

On third-party, Destiny is confirmed for the press conference in some form, whilst Ubisoft making an appearance with either Assassin’s Creed: Unity or Far Cry 4 (or both) is as likely as the sun coming up, the sky being blue and grass being green. We may even get an EA appearance for Battlefield: Hardline.

But Sony needs a bigger first-party push this year more than it does third-party, an opposite of what happened last year. Sony has a big lead over Microsoft in terms of sales and has a lot of momentum as it goes into E3, but it needs to disclose more of its first-party plans to keep that momentum going following its press conference on Tuesday morning UK time.

reggieNintendo – Tuesday, 9am PST/12pm EST/5pm BST/6pm CET

A year on from that disappointing E3 Direct, in which we knew of what it had planned for the show six months in advance without being in a press conference – hello Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros. – Nintendo is holding its cards a lot closer to its chest this year.

And personally speaking, this is probably the first Nintendo event at E3 I’ve ever been excited for. Yes, it’s still doing an online stream for it (though it’s calling it a ‘Digital Event’, not a Nintendo Direct), but – and here’s the kicker – that excitement stems for what’s coming to Wii U. And what could be coming.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata will be sitting out of E3 due to health reasons, so a good portion of the hosting of Nintendo’s Digital Event – assuming it’ll actually be live and not pre-recorded ala Nintendo Direct – will go to Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime.

For what to expect, on the Nintendo 3DS front, we will likely hear about Super Smash Bros, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labryrinth, Thearhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, to name a few.

But Wii U is, somewhat surprisingly, the place to be if you’re a Nintendo fan right now. Hot on the heels of Mario Kart 8’s release at the end of May, the future is now looking brighter, if albeit slightly brighter, for the hamstrung machine. We’ll learn more on Hyrule Warriors – the Dynasty Warriors-like Zelda spin-off coming from Koei – as well as the console version of Smash Bros. Oh and, considering Eiji Aonuma’s hints last year, we’ll very likely finally see the first glimpse of The Legend of Zelda for Wii U. A proper Zelda for Wii U, I mean, not something like Wind Waker HD.

But what has me excited is the blowout that’s almost likely gonna happen for two particular games and one hopeful reveal of another. We’re all but likely going to get a date and new footage plus info on Bayonetta 2, a game that looks set to be as batshit amazing as its predecessor, going by the time I spent with it at last year’s Eurogamer Expo. And we’ll also get a new look at X, Monolithsoft’s next big thing following Xenoblade Chronicles, which hopefully includes an actual release date for it.

And that one hopeful reveal? Considering how last year’s New Leaf on 3DS was my first foray into the series, I now want Animal Crossing to make the leap over to Wii U. Hey, Nintendo, announce that and drop the bass on Bayonetta 2 & X goodies and you’ll have me as a happy critter. Anything extra like Zelda Wii U is a bonus.

And what about Nintendo’s Quality of Life plans? They could very well be referenced in some part during the Digital Event, but right now, it’s all being kept very hush hush. And all of that is before any other announcements Nintendo has planned for the stream, so we’ll just have to see.

For now, it’s another make or break event for Nintendo and Wii U in particular, but if it pans out with a great deal of amazing games – and just maybe a price-cut too – Wii U’s future will be looking a little more rosy by end of play Tuesday than it is right now.

Stay tuned to johnnycullen.net, a special batch of Cullen Plays LIVE shows and @Project_Boom all throughout next week for E3 thoughts and other bits. More details on Monday.

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