Ubisoft’s E3 2017 Conference Was the Purest Joy to Behold
All screengrabs taken from the official YouTube upload of the Ubisoft E3 2017 Conference.

Ubisoft’s E3 2017 Conference Was the Purest Joy to Behold

Now that the pressers are all behind us, we can all look back and appreciate the unreserved happiness evident on their stage.
June 14, 2017, 4:14pm

The conferences, the briefings and the directs are over. E3 2017 is now about press hands getting hold of the games we, the remote audience, have been streaming into our lives, and reporting back on whether or not what we were wowed by in a CGI trailer actually has the potential to amaze us again when it's out, 18 to 24 months from now.

As such, we could look back at each presser, each presentation, and talk about who "won" E3 2017. Who had the most games, the best games, the games we're most excited to play. We could do that. Some of us have, some of us still will, and pretty much all of us have made an internal, private call on the point, which may or may not make its way to Twitter.

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But what I'd prefer to do is focus not on winning and losing, but heart and humanity. Events like E3 deliver overwhelming numbers and stats, predictions and boasts, and conferences can feel robotic. There's always a torrent of rhetoric, a tsunami of it, to be fair. And to not be cynical about much of it is to be blind to the reality of this area of the video games industry: These people are up there, above anything else, to sell you things.

But when I watched Ubisoft's conference, held at 1pm local LA time on Monday, 9pm here in the UK, I didn't feel like I was being lectured to. Not initially, at least, and certainly not right at the end. Yes, the company used the platform to show off a wealth of video games in the time-tested format: shiny trailer, some context, perhaps a release date if you're lucky, and onto the next. But bookending the hour-long show were two reveals that cut through the convention cacophony and melted the usual corporate steel.

And my heart, it swelled, just a little, to see the emotional side of making games, put out there, completely transparently, for everyone to see.

Pictures paint a whole lot of words, right? So it's best that I let them do a lot of the talking, here. The first game shown during Ubisoft's conference was its long-rumored collaboration with Nintendo, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, by all accounts a cutesy spin on XCOM-like tactical combat mixed with open-world exploration.

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It looks good, and it's out really soon, on August 29th (exclusively on Switch, obviously). But what looked better was Ubisoft chairman and CEO Yves Guillemot completely failing to mask his absolute glee at announcing the game. That smile of his could have lit up the length of Venice Beach. It didn't need a cry from the crowd of "We love you, Yves" to get any broader.

And when he welcomed Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto to the stage, and they larked around for a few seconds with some weird blasters from Kingdom Battle, the joyousness that these veterans of gaming were feeling was writ large on their faces and body language.

As the two conversed, it was revealed that they'd known each other for 25 years and more, have long respected each other's work, and that Miyamoto has recorded messages for Ubisoft staffers in the past. "We're so happy to have you today," Yves tells his Japanese counterpart, who reciprocates the sentiment.

Miyamoto then tells us about how he gave the green light for Ubisoft to produce a game based in and around the Mario world and franchise: "When I met Davide Soliani, the creative director, I had just one condition: try to make a Mario game that has never been made before. And it's great."

That guy in the audience? The guy with the beard, barely holding back tears? That's Davide Soliani. That's Kingdom Battle's creative director. That's the same guy who, back in 2002, waited for 10 hours in the rain to get Miyamoto's autograph. The same guy who's now working with an idol of his—and look at what it means to him. As he says in the linked GamesIndustry.Biz interview: "[Mr Miyamoto] is the creator of my favorite game, and the inspiration of my whole career."

"I think we've done something you will love," Yves tells Miyamoto as the camera cuts away to show us more of Kingdom Battle. "Thank you very much for giving us the chance." You will rarely hear a more sincere thank you on an E3 stage.

And after that: Assassin's Creed Origins, The Crew 2, the much-delayed new South Park game, the potentially Sea of Thieves-sinking pirate 'em up Skull & Bones, some freaky VR thing called Transference with Elijah Wood involved, another Just Dance, some Winter Olympics DLC for Steep, a South Park mobile game, Far Cry 5 and its Action Dog, and a very unexpected toy-to-game project by the name of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which feels like it's about five years too late to a party that's been gradually winding up for a while now (but we'll see). Lots of games! Many of which look pretty good!

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The climax of Ubisoft's E3 2017 was a running joke brought to vibrant life. For ages, as long as I've been dipping in and out of the games press, people have gossiped about when a sequel to 2003's cult adventure game Beyond Good & Evil would emerge, for real. Its director, Michel Ancel, said back in 2008 that there was to be a sequel, and showed off a brief CGI clip featuring a piggy-faced character, obviously BG&E's Uncle Pey'j, and a back-turned someone-else. Jade, we all thought, the protagonist of the first game.

Now, what with it being the unforeseen finish to Ubisoft's show (and perhaps a little too foul-mouthed, but that's a discussion for elsewhere) we know that Beyond Good & Evil 2 is a prequel to the original—Jade's presence, TBC. And we know just what it means to Ancel to finally break cover with a game that he's been making for the last three years. There's a high-five, with Gabrielle Shrager, narrative director at Ubisoft Montpellier. And then: Look at his face. Just look at his face.

"This is just amazing," Ancel says. "Special thanks to the fans for sticking with us for so long." And then, it wraps: Ancel invites Yves back onto the stage, and almost immediately the show's complete roster of Ubisoft personnel enters from the wings, too. Yes, it's staged, it's still a show underneath the surface—but there's such warmth there, amid the hugs and the handshakes and the applause, for each other but also themselves.

And why not. It's deserved. People work really hard on these things, and it's important that they get their moments of recognition on the very biggest stages.

EA had science-fiction characters on its stage. Microsoft had a car. Ubisoft had a community. That doesn't mean they "won" E3, but where others delivered bewildering numbers and questionable riddles, referring to games and consoles as beasts and monsters, here was the human side of 2017's E3. And that really did make me smile, too, inside and out.