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Ubisoft’s awesomely weird E3 kickoff was the best part of its show

The first day of E3 presentations went about how you would expect. The day wasn’t filled with anything too exciting. There weren’t any pop-offs out of chairs, or screams of “LETS GO!” about many games. In all, it was a rather low-key affair. In that quiet, though, one part of the show rang out — not loudly but it was certainly all-encompassing.

Before Ubisoft’s E3 Forward event started, the publisher ran an hourlong countdown stream. While most of these preshow countdowns have been unnecessary so far, Ubisoft took the time to actually fill it with some content. We saw snippets of gameplay and some messages from developers at Ubisoft and its various studios during that time.

But in between the trailer bits and talking heads, Ubisoft did something wonderful. It showed slow, beautiful, plodding gameplay of titles that already have been released. These moments were akin to ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and they were the highlights of Ubisoft’s showcase.

The calm before the storm

It’s not controversial to say that gaming shows aren’t exactly known for their subtlety. For the most part, they’re full of developers and CEOs getting up on stages to thunderous applause and blaring music to announce a game, usually with an equally loud trailer. And don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff — it’s part of the game conference experience. However, Ubisoft’s subversion of that was a magnificent way to lead up to a showcase.

Instead of being thrown right into a tsunami of trailers and developers bragging how their game is amazing and changing the gaming world, we were eased into it. The countdown to Ubisoft’s stream began with a trailer for For Honor, which is getting some extra content. It was a jarring start for a game that wasn’t exactly on my radar and doesn’t often make news. But immediately after, the pre-show switched gears, transitioning to a scene from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. In it, Eivor wasn’t celebrating with their fellow Vikings in a mead hall or chopping off heads. Instead, they plodded along a rough stone trail, surrounded by falling leaves and distressed pillars. The only sounds you heard were the chirps of insects and birds, along with Eivor’s footsteps on stone and dirt.

I am listening to that clip right now, as I write this.

Not many people just walk around (or “RP walk” as it’s sometimes called) in games, and there’s a good reason for that. We always want to get to the next exciting thing, the next cool piece of content. We sometimes miss the auditory subtleties that go into games as a result. Ubisoft continued to flex the muscles of its various sound designers with ASMR-like clips from Watch Dogs LegionThe Crew 2, and even more Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Each offered its own delicious sound profile, a nice, smooth treat to the ears before they were assaulted by more hyped-up music or the voice of a human being.

Ubisoft revealed some great games during its Forward event at E3. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope looks fantastic and irreverent, and Rainbow Six: Extraction is the perfect game for me, someone who’s interested in Rainbow Six Siege‘s mechanics but not its competitive gameplay. But the standouts of this loud, boisterous show were its quiet moments. I’m going to end up listening to what I’ll call Viking-core ASMR while I write for the next few months until I eventually get tired of it, and it’s all thanks to Ubisoft.

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