Technology

E3: Switch on for the gaming extravaganza

Screenshot from Assassin's Creed: Syndicate Image copyright Ubisoft
Image caption Assassin's Creed moves to London for its next instalment

Big names, big games. E3 is all about spectacle. And the 2015 show looks set to be a bumper year for game fans.

The list of the titles expected to be previewed, debuted and detailed at the show reads like a player's fantasy.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Deus Ex; Mankind Divided, Doom, Fallout 4, Final Fantasy, Halo 5, Legend of Zelda, Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid V, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Star Wars Battlefront - lots of big hits are there.

And the list does not stop there. Gears of War 4 and Dishonoured 2 are also rumoured to be making appearances at the show. Some lucky attendees will also get their hands on the rebooted versions of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. And there will be more time with games that were big last year - such as spacefaring adventure No Man's Sky.

Image copyright Microsoft
Image caption Microsoft is expected to reveal more about Halo 5: Guardians at E3

This year too there will be more for younger players in the form of toys and figures they can collect that unlock the same characters in a game. Skylanders pioneered this approach and at E3 2015 it will launch the Superchargers add-on which brings vehicles to the game.

The $1bn (£642m) Skylanders has made in sales has led others to copy the approach - most notably Disney with Infinity. At E3 we are likely to see more about Infinity 3.0 that introduces well-known Star Wars characters - including Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Yoda and Darth Vader - to the game.

Lego looks set to join this sector later this year with its Dimensions title that uses its popular kits and minifigs as the characters for its own game. Dimensions will be launched in September 2015 and might get more of an airing at the show.

Virtual there

This much is known. It is what is not yet confirmed that lends the show an air of tension and anticipation. All those games people are expecting to see are well-established, well-known and for the new ones, well trailed. It is the new stuff that must shine this year, say experts.

In particular, 2015 is the year game makers need to show they have properly got to grips with what many think will be the next big thing in gaming - virtual reality.

Image copyright Oculus
Image caption Oculus has shown off what its headset will look like when it is launched early next year

"This needs to be a big year for VR," said Graham Smith from the Rock, Paper, Shotgun website.

We know all about the headsets, he said, but this year it needs to be about what people can do with what might be an expensive hunk of hardware.

"If the general market is going to get onboard with an unproven and expensive new device, there needs to be involvement from the likes of EA, Activision and other major games publishers," he said.

Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at analysts IHS, concurs.

"This is a really important opportunity for the fledgling VR industry to now show off the type of content you can get access to through the headsets," he said.

"Before now we have had demos and short bits of games," he added. "Now, it's vitally important to show more.

"I do not think the content is there yet. I'm hoping that at E3 that some of those worries around content will be dispelled by seeing some really interesting games."

Image copyright Konami
Image caption Long-awaited titles such as Metal Gear Solid V could be on show at E3

For YouTube game critic John 'TotalBiscuit' Bain, VR is an exciting development.

"It has great potential in the long run but it's going to change the way that games are designed," he said.

"Traditional user interfaces do not work as well in VR and the field of view needs to be much, much wider on those games otherwise it gives you really bad simulation sickness," he said.

VR presents problems because its requirements - all around visuals, freedom of movement and 3D audio - are so different to those that developers have conquered for games played via a flat screen, he said.

Design philosophies for games will have to change if VR catches on, he told the BBC.

The picture is complicated, he said, because game maker Valve, which is also working on VR, believes it should not be a static experience - this despite the fact that early games that have done well with it involve people sitting down.

Image copyright EA
Image caption Gamers are expecting to see more gameplay from Star Wars: Battlefront

"Valve seems to believe VR is not going to work unless you have physical motion involved," he said. "Without that you get simulation sickness and it also ruins immersion."

But, he said, not everyone was sold on that idea.

"If it's going to start involving a lot of motion then you are going to limit your market because frankly people cannot dedicate a room of their house to VR," he said "That's absurd."

E3 looks set to sort out some of VR's future as the three major systems competing for the attention of gamers - the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, Sony's Project Morpheus and the HTC Vive - are expected to feature heavily at the show.

Some VR hardware developers are restricting how much of their kit can be filmed or photographed - largely because some of it is still in development and is likely to change before it appears on shop shelves.

Some of the uncertainty was lifted late last week when Oculus Rift showed off what will be the finished version of its headset. It goes on sale in the first quarter of 2016. It has not said how much it will cost.

Oculus also gave a quick look at some of the games being prepared for the headset. These included space war simulator Eve: Valkyrie, icy adventure Edge of Nowhere and role-playing game Chronos.

The early launch also saw it reveal a deal with Microsoft to use the Xbox controller in the first versions. Hints were dropped that some Xbox games might eventually be playable via the Rift though no specific titles were mentioned.

And that's what E3 is there for. To give us specifics.

Game on.

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