There are two words that describe E3:
Tiring - you will be exhausted by the end of the day.
Shameless - Hot girls, flashy lights, free stuff. They know the demographic, that's for sure.
I had been to a number of large conventions before, notably the San Diego Comic Con which I'm skipping this year, so a large place with large booths and lots of people isn't anything new. You go prepared: wear good shoes, dress comfortably, don't carry a lot of stuff with you and have a plan of action. Stay the course and you can make it, so I ended up hitting E3 hard for eight hours straight, not stopping to rest or even eat anything (I had water with me, another tip for future E3 goers).
My plan was as follows: Get to the West Hall first. Hit Nintendo with the 3DS and Zelda, then Sony, then back and forth and around playing whatever catches my eye. The West Hall was full of many meeting rooms too, so it actually didn't have a lot but had some heavy hitters on what was there. After that, The South Hall with pretty much everyone else: focus being Konami, Microsoft, Square Enix for the big hitters and the smaller developers. Then, like the West Hall, rummage around to whatever catches my eye.
This article doesn't cover every little screen I looked at, but the major high (and low) points of E3 I experienced. A lot of games I simply passed by, such as Sims 3, Fe3ar (cool because of the misspelling, right?) or Valkyria Chronicles 2, but I saw them certainly.
The Day Begins
9:00AM - Arrival
The morning started out like most LA mornings: overcast, noisy and overall confusing as you aren't quite awake yet. I arrived, checked in quicker than expected and eventually found myself aimlessly wandering. So I snapped a few photos, a life size Halo armor collection, the very popular Final Fantasy XIV stairs (FFXIV had a lot of banners/adverts but a small demo area, which confused me) and others like myself, sitting, drinking coffee and waiting.
I kind of just took it all in, because I knew it would be a busy day and with a lot, lot more people than was already there. In fact, at that point, the line for the Starbucks was the most popular thing going on. I thought it was something important, then I saw all the leaning/groggy/tired folk and realized they just need some caffeine, stat.
~10:00AM - The Doors Open.
After standing outside the West Hall doors for an hour or so, they opened and people began darting in. Like I said, it was plan of action. But I was distracted by Dead Rising 2 for just a few minutes. That few minutes cost me, though, because the line for the 3DS was so long when I got to it, I ended up standing for nearly two hours.
The line for the 3DS was probably the worst experience there. I knew it would be popular and busy, so I went there first because you simply need the energy to stand for two hours. I probably would have liked it better if the people in line weren't so utterly annoying. Not everyone, but there's this group of persons in front of me that drove me nuts. To quote Jason Pullara (Lordkat) "These guys....let me tell you about these guys." They weren't professionals or media, they were just fans. Fair enough, there's room for them there, but they were the "can't find anything nice to say" kind of fans, saying Kirby looks "stupid" and Zelda not "worth the wait" yet here they are, at E3 and really trying hard to not have a good time as they stand in their little bubble.
In fact, here's a few images of Nintendo's booth before and then the crowd after.
Squinty old guy included in one pic. I pretty much just stuck my hand up and took a snap, though his expression was similar to everyone in the line I was in (hint = pain). That thing in the back there is the "deck" of sorts for the Nintendo 3DS. This was about a third of the way there and I still had a lot of time in line still. Nintendo's booth looked nice, but the line management was horrible and weaved all over the place. For what it was: it was at least organized, plus it allowed me to watch (and later play) games that were along the side such as Kirby's Epic Yard (which looked very pretty) and Metriod Other M (which I'm still a little unsure of).
The 3DS itself
Was two hours worth it? Yeah, sort of, I suppose. This was the big talk of the show, so allow me to go into it as best I can. For the most part, the 3D worked. Some games really used the 3D well, such as Mario Kart and Metal Gear where you could really see the depth and motion and sense of actual objects and not just generic planes. Others kind of felt like paper figures in different fields, notably Kid Icarus and Resident Evil (which was just a trailer). Graphically, the games all looked fantastic. That little thing has some power in it. 3D was just hit and miss, and sometimes I'd slide the effect all the way to "off" to just see the game. There were also times when playing the Starfox demo I would see double on things. Maybe I was angling it wrong- because if you angle it too much all you see are blurry lines. Also, Kid Icarus looks like it could be a lot of fun, but I can't help but think it might have made for a fine Wii game as well.
The picture to the right here is of the "deck" with all the demos I mentioned earlier. Sorry for all the ass shots, but there were 3DS behind those (and really hot girls behind that, so Picture Fail on my part, though you can see the elbow of one of the girls...I think that's an elbow anyways).
Will it be the future? Yeah, probably. It's Nintendo's next handheld so it's pretty much written. I think some games will benefit better than others, but at least the 3D isn't a requirement for developers. It's a perfectly fine 2D handheld as well. I do think you'll start seeing more refined versions of this technology within the next year or so, such as cell phones.
Back in Line
~12:00PM - Back in Line for Zelda
I kind of wanted a T-shirt by this point, so I waited in line for another 40-50 minutes to try out the Zelda: Skyward Sword demo. Impressions: looks better on a screen in front of you than a video, and the controls were a little hit and miss at times but overall pretty fun.
There were two people in front of me that, when asked if they wanted to play on the big screen, slinked back and said "no."
"No?" I thought. It turns out, the big screen was just too prominent. They didn't want to be embarrassed or front and center or something.
I can't blame them, that TV was pretty front and center. So they pointed at me...and there is no way in hell, after standing in line for nearly an hour, I'm not going to go into that booth and play. Like I said, I'm hitting the big stuff first because I have the energy for it, no point in wasting it now. And you know what? After I grabbed my T-shirt and darted in, I ended up doing pretty darn good, making it all the way to the boss before my time expired. I was slashing, I was blocking, jumping, kicking everything that moved and throwing bombs left and right.
As for the controls. It can follow your motion exactly when you're still, but when you attack it feels like you're just triggering an animation. I'd slash right to left, and Link would slash left to right, so it was hit and miss on that sometimes. It had trouble telling when I was jabbing as well. Also if you ever have to shoot things, it's not exact and takes some getting used to. It's still some fun controls, though, once you get into it. Needs to work on the jump attack, I thought, also.
The fact is, it was fun. A lot of fun. The graphics were crisp and moved incredibly well and the controls were intuitive, although I did fudge with the slingshot a bit. I'm not sure why there's such a backlash, but it's solid Zelda-ing.
Done with Nintendo (but I'll be back)
~1:00PM - Moving on
At that point, i was done with lines and just went to random booths and demos in the West Hall. Sony's booth was pretty cool, but also pretty cramped.
But it all looked slick, I'll give it that. And even though I couldn't find the lines to a lot of the demos, I had a great time just watching them. Twisted Metal looked phenomenal, that is going to be the next big online hit, guaranteed. Tron was also a surprise looking game too, and now reading more on it makes me interested even more.
Sony's booth also had large glass (living rooms) where you can watch people act like idiots as they dance around with the Move and wear funny looking glasses. I actually got more a kick just watching that than actually doing it.
What I did do, though, was watch some pretty impressive videos on the large screen there. All were there that you'd expect. Infamous 2, looked pretty solid and I sat with Little Big Planet 2 for a time. It didn't wow me, necessarily, but that game is more about the community than it is a standalone platforming title. It looked and moved great, though. There were also videos of some newer games, but for the life of me I can't remember the names. Sorry, especially seeing as one looked very impressive on the big screen.
~1:30PM - Capcom and Others
Capcom had a pretty average showing. They were pushing Marvel Versus Capcom 3 hard, but with their tournament rather than a lot of playable demos. That game, let me tell you, is every bit Marvel versus Capcom. Crazy, fast, hectic, funny even. It's all you want and moves incredibly. I did find myself distracted by the backgrounds.
Dead Rising 2 was also there. I just took a picture and moved on having played it briefly already. But outside of that, there wasn't a lot Capcom had going for it and, what's worst, few game demo stands.
So I went on to Nintendo's real quick, played some Kirby, played some Metroid and watched some Goldeneye and NBA Jam. Kirby's Epic Yarn had some style, reminding me a lot of Yoshi's Island, and Metroid, despite some camera issues, it controlled nicely. It didn't really exude "Metroid" to me, though.
Then there was Donkey Kong Country. At first, I thought to myself "why?" Then the music started to hit me. The I watched the animation, and started to get into the groove of things. Then I actually played it and had a lot of fun. It's not a big, major title, but it's true to the Country roots.
I checked out the DS section, a section I missed earlier. Dragon Quest IX was fantastic. Only ten minutes with it and I was hooked. It's old school JRPG all the way, and with great music and a sharp looking interface, this could be the best RPG on a handheld. I don't even own a DS, and I wanted one.
It was getting a little late on my schedule and plan of action, but I wanted to do one last final sweep of the West Hall. Bethesda had a cool booth, but it was appointment only which I couldn't do due to time constraints. From what I hear, Rage was, well, all the rage at the show. But I didn't know this when I was actually there, unfortunately. I watched a few other demos in the Sony area one last time but it was time to move on by then.
To the South Hall
~2:15PM - The biggest hall, and with Olivia Munn to boot (and booze).
One thing E3 has above just a regular public convention is this: all are over the age of 17, most older than 30 actually, and all have done this plenty of times before (usually). So there's not a whole lot BS with kids, parents with strollers, fanboy teenagers and the like. It comes at a cost, though: more line standing, less things to snoop through and buy and because there are certainly business minded people there, not everyone is in a fun, gleeful mood (I know I had some "get away from me" moments).
It's every bit as packed, though. The shot to the right, here, is the "main path" right when you walk into the South Hall. Like the West, it was cramped.
Also noticeably different are the bars and networking lounges, a good place to just relax and take a load off and buy some overpriced beer. It was mid-afternoon, I hadn't eaten yet so I figured it's a good idea to not drown myself in whiskey just yet. I still had a full hall to hit.
I thought the surprise booth, to me at least, was Sega's. Some surprisingly good looking games, Sonic 4 was fun(though there is a learning curve) and they pushed Yakuza 4 and the Dreamcast titles hard. It was all Sonic, though. They're trying desperately to keep him relevant. If Sonic 4 ends up as good as the Demo was, then they might find new life for the little guy. There were certainly flashes of classic Sonic, but with some alterations. For one, you had a double-jump/targeting technique that acted like an attack. You would jump, a red target would appear on an enemy or something you should/could jump on and launch off of, then you would hit the jump button again and Sonic would shoot towards it, either bouncing off, grabbing on or killing the enemy. It's a welcome addition, I though, but having played so much Sonic over the years, it took some adjusting. Once you get in the "zone" I bet it would flow seamelssly.
On a side note, the game felt a little "slower" than past Sonic Games. Of course, that's relative to Sonic games, the level design and focus on speed were certainly built right.
The winner here was Vanquish, though. This game really came out of nowhere and was pretty damn cool. Sega has a really good looking game on their hands here.
~2:30PM - Moving on
Had some fun with Sega, but moved on. Did a quick play with Splatterhouse - great in atmosphere but still needs some refinement. Random booths abound, including one with some luchadore wrestling, but they didn't wrestle. Rather, they cam out and talked a lot. There were, noticeably, a lot of online-based games. I can't recall all of them, but Koei/Tecmo had a Rome title that looked pretty nifty. It was really all that was in their booth from my recollection. There were some others along the back area, some with some pretty impressive booths and presentations, but I kind of just skimmed past them.
I then checked out Ubisoft. Nothing really grabbed me, to be honest. Child of Eden was playing on a big video screen, that actually looks really great. Downloadable games are really showing strong and I loved the music. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood seemed fine, there was a "hype man" for that and a video screen as I pretty much said to myself "this wasn't in Assassin's Creed II, why?", but I soon moved on to Square Enix which was right behind me.
Now let me tell you about Square Enix: cool booth design, but with nothing really interesting. They had a large theater area, which you see to the left here, where you could sit and watch videos, but the demo section and game choices were well below standard for them (with barely any RPGs). Tomb Raider was fun, but I got bored with it, and Front Mission Evolved made me wonder where all the strategy games were these days. They pushed Kane and Lynch 2 hard, and Final Fantasy XIV had a small corner with only a few play areas. Mindjack was a bore and if blink you'll miss Professor Layton (which, if you haven't seen Eric Power's review of a past Layton, you should).
They also had a large section for toys and statues. If you want to see a video I haphazardly shot, click here.
The quality of them were pretty good, but what does it say about a company when the best thing in your booth is a massive theater screen and some toys? I don't know, but their booth was underwhelming. I spent most of my gaming years a huge fan of this company and there was little that grabbed me. Warriors of Light seemed fine, and Final Fantasy XIV is good, but nothing hooked me like in the days of Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI/VII. People loved the Deus Ex 3, though. Even though Square Enix is only publishing it.
After that it was a few small vendors, controllers and the like, then on to 2K games. I spent a total of ten minutes in the whole booth. They were pushing Mafia II the hardest, and the video fro Xcom. Notably, there was a large statue of a Big Daddy (though not full size) and a Little Sister. People took pictures more with that than, I think, paid attention to Mafia II.
Right next to it, though, was Konami. A nice set up, and surprisingly short lines. Castlevania was fun, though it's a little stiff. The atmosphere was spot-on, and the graphics were impressive (especially the rain and water effects). Another Castlevania, Harmony of Despair, was a weird game. Kind of a co-op puzzle-like title. There were also some Castlevania iphone, a Contra title and a large rap show for Def Jam Rapstar.
~3:00PM - Microsoft
I had been avoiding it, because I was hoping the lines for Kinect would cut down. That never happened, so like with Sony Move I just watched people in glass boxes play it. I don't think I missed much. Tickling tigers just isn't my thing, and even though they are shoving that down our throat as the next pillar of gaming, I'm more impressed with it as a non-gaming device with interactive menus on your television.
I'm all for new ways to play and new technology, but it'll be the games that determine it, and both Sony and Microsoft didn't really have the games behind their marketing push. Compare that to the third parties lined up for the 3DS, and it's obvious that motion control, which is great in concept, still has a long ways to go. Until something really comes up and says "you have to play this game" will it really achieve anything. In the meantime, I'm fine watching people jump around and have fun even if the "long run" isn't quite set yet.
Halo Reach was only being shown in a theater, but I didn't want to wait in line so I just stood outside and watched through the opening. It's the same one you've seen, so it's nothing special. They had a good area with a lot to play. Fable III wasn't too bad, but felt clunky and a ways off. For the life of me, I couldn't find Gears of War 3. So easy to overlook stuff there.
By this point, I was pretty much zoning out. I had though another hour, maybe. I re-walked the South Hall one final time, played a few PC games, got a few free things and watched a wrestling match with no wrestling. I also took a quick look at Rock Band 3.
Namco had a nice little booth, with an old school table to Pac Man game playing Pac Man championship edition. It actually had a decent crowd around it, so note to Namco: Bring more next year. Between this and the Marvel v Capcom 3 crowds, it was bringing back old memories of the arcades and was a lot of fun to just watch and clap.
Here's a pic of it plus some statues.
Meet and Greets
~3:45PM - Exhaustion setting in, I can feel it
I was exhausted and tired by this point, and really just wrapping stuff up. I headed back to the West Hall one final time. Just watched more in Sony's booth, Nintendo's, and a few smaller areas.
Now I know there were people coming to E3 was familiar with. Noah Antwiller (The Spoony Experiment) Joe Vargas (The Angry Joe Show) James Rolfe (Cinemassacre) amongst others. It's not surprising I didn't see any of them. In fact, I'm willing to bet I walked right by them numerous times. Standing in line I ran into a few other people, some from Sony and Nintendo all waiting for whatever i was waiting for at the time. Yet, in a sea of thousands, there's one fellow in a hat that stuck out:
Justin Carmical, aka JewWario, was humble and nice, and if you've listened to his Spinebreakers podcast (with Coldguy and Rabbi from That Guy With the Glasses) or follow his blog (and You Can Play This / Gaming Pipeline series) then that should come as no surprise. Well spoken and pleasant. I had sent him a message before E3 but I don't think he'd gotten it yet, either way I didn't want to take up a ton of his time as we were going separate directions and I had a work issue emergency but I grabbed him quickly for a pic, but maybe next time he's in town over a weekend I'll buy the man a drink.
I had spotted him earlier, but he vanished like a Ninja so I moved on. Then there he was again with Shuuki (I think it was him, he was walking off elsewhere, apologies if it wasn't) and finally snapped a photo.It's the hat,you can spot that anywhere even in a crowd of thousands.
Look, I work in the film industry. I love movies. I do a lot of movie reviews. But in my heart, I'm a gamer and guys like Justin are great representatives of gamers, especially older games like myself that had Ataris and Pong Machines. E3 felt complete now, but I wasn't quite done yet.
On a side note, I was approached by a stripper after this and she gave me free VIP passes. It's in West Hollywood...so it might not be the stripclub I'm thinking it's supposed to be.
A few More Demos and a Picture for Good Measure
~4:-something. I don't know anymore.
I spent the next thirty minutes playing and checking out some booths I passed over earlier. First was EA with NBA Jam (again) and Sims 3 (which I didn't really play because having played two previous Sims games, I'm willing to be I know what it's like). EA had a nice booth, I might add. Good size and with a kind of open floor plan.
They also had a crazy guy on stage. I mean, Jersey Shore crazy. This guy was there to get the crowd hyped for the likes of Crysis 2, Old Republic and Call of Duty. Lots of videos played.
I walked out and took a left and found myself in a farm. It was Natsume's booth, and Harvest Moon was front and center. I didn't really do much here, to be honest. I took a picture, watched some of the new Lufia and moved on to the media area for G4 where I took a picture of Olivia Munn from behind - the best angle if you ask me, even if it is blurry. They were live and talking with the Gran Turismo 5 producer/director.
I moved back over, one final time at Microsoft, one final time at Sega, then back down to Disney and Tron. Though I watched others play for a good five minutes or so, I skipped actually playing Tron. "Why" you ask? Because Epic Mickey was the surprise gem for me and sucked me away from it. I loved this thing. The graphics were spot-on, stylish and even a little dark. The quest based system is perfect and there's flashes of Okami abound. Plus, the Disney booth had some awesome artwork to check out and a great feel to it. Like Metroid Other M, I had an issue with the camera, but it was far from game breaking.
Then I saw a line next to the Toy Story 3building (yes building) and saw that Disney Artists from Epic Mickey were doing requests. I was situated between some Gamepro people and a couple of old Japanese guys from Nintendo, and we waited...and waited...and waited. The line dwindling, the artist taking a break, and finally I was up front and drawn one of the best pieces the guy did (or any of the three there as I stood in line for an hour). Mickey from Fantasia drawn by an artist name Joe, who was bold and kind of standoffish in a friendly kind of way (if that makes any sense, let's just call it "I've been here since 10AM where's by scotch?" mentality). Awesome stuff, and I need to get that puppy framed.
The first image is the EA booth, the second the Epic Mickey demo area and the last artists.
Home and Schwag
If you've ever been to things like this, you know you get some stuff. Truth is, most of it is junk. I got some little plush thing from Sega, lots of little fliers with art and game info, some press materials because you can pretty much just ask for them, but there's only three things I really came out well with: two T-Shirts and a hand-drawn picture of Mickey Mouse from the Disney artist in the Disney booth.
It was the sequel and franchise show, certainly. Very few original IPs and new titles around. The two big things there were anything with motion controls and the 3DS, all of which had long lines that tested patience. I saw less pushing forward, though, and more "sliding sideways." This is going to be one of the longest generations of consoles and this E3 really shows that with more stretching out the current hardware than building something new.
Does that mean the future of gaming is in dire straits? No. There were some good looking games there and a lot of fun, but I feel it's starting to wind itself down with less original content and more add-on hardware. I don't know if motion controls will be the next big thing, the titles there certainly weren't anything to get excited over, and even though I thin 3D without glasses and on handheld devices will become more prominent as we move on, it still wasn't 100% perfect and has a bit of a ways to go (plus I was more impressed as the processing power of the thing than I was the 3D aspect).
Walking is great exercise, and E3 is a good test to see just how good of shape you're in. I would give myself a 7 out 10. Not sitting once and never eating anything, I lasted capably up to 4PM then started to really feel it. I suppose if I had more days to attend, I could have paced myself. But, like I said at the beginning, hit it hard and hit it fast. I now need to hit the lights, because I am tired.
Best Booth: Hard to say, but I'll go with EA for the open design. Also, when the stage show hit, that place was loud.
Worst Booth: Sony's looked slick, but it was cramped in its design. Then throw in the people.
Worst Lines: Nintendo. Too long of lines and too little room. It was organized, but at the same time all over the place. I will give them props for the best army of cute booth babes, though. I really didn't take a lot of pictures of booth babes. Some were blurry, but some were certainly memorable (Russian army girl and warrior amazon woman were tops in my book).
Most Disappointing Booth: Capcom. Just not enough happening, though what they had was solid. If we're talking strictly games, though, it's Square Enix, but they had a nice design so I give them a pass.
Best Demo: You might think Zelda, but I have to give it to Epic Mickey. If anything because I had such low expectation but ended up really enjoying it.
Too Much Of: Motion control. They are forcing this one, and I just don't think the games back it up.
Too Little Of: Zelda demos. They needed a good ten more stations, I thought.
Biggest MIA Game: The Last Guardian. Sony had a lot going for it, but this could have put them at the top. Plus the show needed some original games, not sequels and franchise players. Would have been nice to see.
Game I Wish I could Find: Gears of War 3. It didn't even occur to me I missed it until I already left. No sign of Portal 2, but it might have been in video somewhere and I missed it also. I had a hell of a time finding Gran Turismo 5 too, but then I did and decided I was tired of lines by that point.
Biggest "The hell?" Moment - Wrestlers who aren't wrestling and a lot of online MMORPGs I never heard of that looked exactly alike.
For more pictures (sorry, couldn't post all of them here), you can check out my gallery with nearly 100 floor pictures with captions and check out the blogs written already at www.digital-polyphony.com with more game impressions I probably forgot to add here.
Old Twitter Feed from E3 (I don't Twitter, so this is all there is)