By reading the headline, you can guess that I was a super cool kid. Younger Jade was dedicated to playing video games and hiding in the closet. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t that bad. She had many friends, hobbies that she enjoyed, and a love of video games that lasted well into adulthood. I’m now a foul play journalist, which has soured my perspective a bit.
But before the days of publishers paying me for reviews and adopting an agenda to destroy everything related to gaming with my filthy leftist brainwashing, I was a casual consumer like the rest of you. Well, I still am, loving nothing more than tuning in to a press conference or press conference to watch a flood of new trailers and cross my fingers for the reveals I’ve been waiting years for. I grew up watching shows like this and for a long time I wanted to be a part of them.
E3 demos are a special breed. Select portions of upcoming games prone to falling apart the moment it goes off the rails, either by complete accident or entirely on purpose. Time and time again we’ve seen magnificent glimpses of future games fall apart as those behind the scenes scramble to fix things before the audience realizes it. It’s tense to watch these situations unfold, praying that nothing goes wrong, but also morbidly hoping that everything will go right.
I’ll never forget the iconic Madagascar section of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which began with Nathan Drake refusing to move from his starting position for several seconds. It was painful to watch because a driver had clearly stopped working in the debug console, causing staff to scramble for a replacement hoping it wasn’t too late.
We eventually saw the demo unfold, but not before this awkward beginning burned into our brains. Naughty Dog even shipped the game with a trophy that pays homage to this moment, rewarding players with a tongue-in-cheek praise for refusing to move as the chapter begins. He might have gotten out of control, but choosing to amuse himself with his own unfortunate mistake meant we were able to embrace him in the same way. E3 demos can often be canned and awkward, filled with fake talk and over-the-top cutscenes that rarely represent the finished product, so honesty like this will always be refreshing to me.
But I want to go back even further. To explore the appeal of demos with deliberately slow camera movements and epic reveals designed to take us into a myriad of worlds without representing the actual pace or even content of the games we’ll be playing. I am referring to BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, Fallout 4 and so many others that see us live new experiences with epic narratives from voice actors or developers that promise us something we have never seen before. It was so easy to be sold on hype at times like this.
Like I said, I’m super cool. So when he played with friends, he would often joke that it was like an E3 demo when we entered a new area or the open world was revealed to us after hours of teasing. It can even be tempting to throw in a bit of false narration, hyping up the game we already have in our hands even though we already know what to expect. This works especially well with first-person shooters like Cyberpunk 2077 or Call of Duty, where free-form exploration of exploding pieces can be played at an infectious pace.
Move up to an impressive skybox before focusing on the streets below, walking slowly towards your target while stopping at points of interest scattered throughout the environment as if you were introducing this game to an audience of millions. Act as if each procedural action is secretly a planned instance, engaging in combat with great deliberation or moving in ways that ensure focus never dims for a viewer who doesn’t even exist. It’s weirdly fun and allows us to see games in a light that our usual pace often can’t accommodate.
Games are capable of depicting fictional realms in ways that no other medium is capable of, so taking the time to smell the roses and shifting our perspective to that of a viewer can make revisiting games with this perspective easy. so fascinating. I did a lot with the original BioShock. I was 11 when it came out, so don’t feel so pathetic when you remember me trying to demo the game to myself while I was playing it for the umpteenth time. Especially the opening.
The first stage of BioShock is iconic and absolutely perfect for being shown at such a slow, gradual and deliberate pace. You are a random man who finds himself subject to a plane crash and stranded in the Pacific Ocean, with no way to go but a lighthouse shining in the distance. You stumble inside for shelter until we come across the bathysphere, and you have no choice but to venture into the underwater city below for help.
Andrew Ryan’s egotistical storytelling, Atlas’ humble introduction, and the way each new environment is designed to stun and surprise make this opening hour a conveyor belt of painfully slow camera movements and brutally scripted combat encounters. Much of it remains unmatched, and if BioShock were to be remade today, you could see this exact approach with a demo on stage.
I’m not ashamed to say that, at least when it comes to replays, I’d find myself playing small parts of games like this. It could be about showing my favorite games to someone who doesn’t even exist, or adding a new layer of fun to worlds and characters I’ve seen countless times before.
I might even consider it a form of role-playing, removing the expected role of a player and putting myself in new shoes for the first time. Maybe I’m just weird, but the next time you boot up a beloved classic, pretend you’re sitting in the chair of a nervous developer trying to make it look like the best game in the history of everything. You may discover something new or just have a little fun.
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