E3 2006 Part 1 - The Sony/THQ Media Event
We arrived the airport only a few minutes after I finished the last video, so I was dragging. Grandma, however, wanted some breakfast, but not just any breakfast- the best place to get some bacon and eggs in all of Cleveland: the Max & Erma's in Concourse C. The bacon is soft but crunchy and always hot. The eggs are made birdnest-style in toast. The waiters and waitresses somehow always remember us and god DAMN the coffee is delicious. We already knew what we wanted, but Grandma looked through the menu anyway, if for nothing else but to scoff at the rest of the food, for who the hell would want any of that other shit when there is dead pig and chicken to be had?!
For those of you who have never flown from the East Coast to the West, know that it takes anywhere from 5 to 8 hours depending on the plane. It's a great chance to observe America from above and learn the exact reasons why those on the coasts think the rest of us who live somewhere in the middle are either trapped or insane. When you finally reach the West edge of Ohio, the rolling hills and trees stop abruptly; replaced by nothing but fields and the occasional river. Everything looks artificial and designed. Ocean and clouds are more interesting.
But then, with the subtle warning of complex irrigation patterns, the mountains appear. Grandma had never before seen the snow topped Rockies or the multi-colored deserts of the Southwest. It's a beautiful thing to see, really; and for me- it never gets old. It only takes one trip to recognize Lake Meade, Las Vegas, Bryce Canyon, The Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah... it's fantastic.
We landed on a perfectly clear day at LAX feeling the cool breeze of the Pacific Ocean, and all Grandma could think about was God of War 2. She was trying to memorize her questions for David Jaffe and Cory Barlog, and kept discussing new ones. The main topic of conversation in the car speeding towards the hotel in Hollywood was Cory Barlog. God of War 2 is his baby. He took his experience from the first and led the team to make the sequel. So, Grandma wondered, why was David Jaffe there? It was clear that God of War made his name recognizable, even though he had directed great games in the past, such as Twisted Metal Black. Grandma wondered if her interview would at all be construed as rude.
She worried about this quite a lot.
At the hotel, Grandma and I checked in, took our carry-on bags upstairs, careful to hide the two Nintendo DS units so as not to make waves at a Sony function. The Hotel Mondrian on Sunset Blvd. has a gorgeous, stark white interior, and for some creepy reason, they don't hire ugly people. No kidding, every motherfucker in that hotel probably brought a headshot to their interview. The view from the rooms those few days was everything one could hope to get in a LA experience. It wasn't foggy and overcast like it sometimes can be, it was clear and haunting- and you can't help but think of a few Bob Sieger tunes looking at those perfect hills.
That night, we went downstairs to mingle with the other press that had arrived early for the event. For a little while before dinner, the drinks were on Sony, so I politely accepted the invitation to begin my downward spiral on behalf of my very special friend, Whiskey and Coke. We ate some of the best food of our lives and met with the rest of the MTV crew. After dinner, Grandma stayed inside to talk about games with the rest of the guests. I wandered out to the Skybar to order a couple more drinks, stand under the gas-heaters, look out over Southern California, smoke a cigarette and drunk-dial my ex-girlfriend to whine about being "too wasted" to go back inside, worrying that I would make an ass of myself. It turns out there is this little thing called "time-zones" that one forgets about when drinking, so, Ally: sorry about that. In my defense, you were awake anyway.
When we went back up to our rooms to recover from The Great Sony Feast, we were amused to find a little card left by housekeeping on each of our desks. "Shit, that's right!" Grandma said with sudden realization. "It IS Easter, isn't it?" Somehow I don't think we were paying attention. Grandma had many other things on her mind. Grandma went over her questions again and we talked a bit about the first God of War. She wanted to ask him why they made God Mode so fucking impossible, but then remembered that GameInformer or EGM had already asked about the Hades level, so she didn't want to sound redundant.
The next morning we met with the other crew and went down the road to the Director's Guild Theater to see Sony's presentation on God of War 2. The first thing Grandma and I saw were massive reproductions of the concept art behind the game. Of all the games Grandma's ever played, I think the God of War series has, by far, the best concept art. For another example, check out the cover of GameInformer issue 156. They need more galleries for this sort of thing. While the Sony team set up in the theater, Grandma and I stepped outside so she could get some fresh air, and I could suck down a couple cigarettes. We spoke with Blair about different functions and if this was typical of what one would see at a junket for a video game. Grandma turned around and the man of the hour himself, Cory Barlog, stood ready to shake her hand. He said he was honored to finally meet her- fuck man: we were honored to finally meet YOU.
We took our seats in the theater, the lights dimmed a bit, and before the presentation began we were given a stern warning that absolutely NO filming would be permitted of the preview movie or game demonstration. We would be allowed to film such things at E3 in a couple weeks, the man said. I looked around expecting a couple of IGN folks slumped down in the chairs with a MiniDV carefully hidden, but I didn't see any. The presentation was quite impressive. The fear that God of War 2 would be a bastardization of the first game was quickly calmed; it looked GREAT. Grandma commented that it also appeared to be "fucking HARD, I mean god DAMN!!" The plot wasn't discussed too much, other than to say "don't worry, it WILL make sense; we're not going in some crazy direction where the parameters of the first game are thrown out." So... that's good news. Cory played a level of the game to demonstrate the differences (the same level Grandma would later play at the GoW2 kiosk at E3.) The most impressive difference was the AI of the enemies; their ability to work together to route Kratos. The puzzles were improved a bit, moving towards a more complex, linear yet environmental approach. The weapons, particularly the arrows, looked, as Grandma put it "pretty fucking cool."
David Jaffe and Cory Barlog then stepped on stage for a Q&A. Gaming journalists have been critiqued as being nothing more than PR mouthpieces; reprinting almost word for word the included literature given in the press kits at these sorts of things, so let me just say this: most of the people we met were actually pretty knowledgeable about games, but oh yes, there were the quiet few that give journalism a bad name. So... we're sitting in the theater not asking anything (because, shit- Grandma will have an interview in a few minutes with these guys, why waste a question on a Q&A?) and I swear to fucking GOD, a man towards the front asks with a straight face to the men who are STILL WORKING on God of War 2: "This game looks pretty great right now; why won't I be able to go pick it up in the store next week, why the delay?"
This is where I started to get worried, not because it was a stupid fucking question, but because only about half of the audience groaned a bit, while the rest of them positioned their notepads eagerly awaiting an answer.
Jesus fucking Christ.
I would later learn from a couple, actually decent gaming journalists at the function that there are those who only do this so they get to travel and get free food. They get off on this shit. They could care less about games or gaming, it's just their ticket to feel important. Fuckers.
Then it came time for the interview. (You can actually see it now on MTV Overdrive, it's on the last episode of The G-Hole, Episode 5.) Grandma did a little intro where she went up Cory and David and said something like "Sit the FUCK down and ANSWER MY QUESTIONS!" We thought it was pretty funny, anyway :) The part that got cut from the final product was when Cory and David say in response "Dude! It's Fucking Old Grandma Hardcore! Fucking SWEET!" Grandma asked her questions, most of which were later cut, however the answers were spliced together in editing so it all looks smooth and jazzy.
Grandma's opinion: "God of War 2 looks a lot like the original, which is why I'm so damn excited about it. You don't want them to take something you, you know- really LIKE and either fuck it up or do it exactly the same, you want the best of keeping the game cool and adding something new. The only bad part about going to these press things is when the game really does look interesting and you get excited about it (the game companies try to get you excited about EVERYTHING, even the stupid shit like 'Kitchen Gardening Wars 3000' or something) you feel jaded because they say things like 'late 2006' or '2007' and waiting sucks."
After the interview, we went back to The Mondrian for a hands on preview of some of Sony's new stuff. It was three or four suites connected to make a long chain of flat-screen tv's, PS2's, and PSP's. Everything that excited Grandma the most at the demo were ironically PSP games; ironic because neither of us yet own a PSP. Even after the price upcoming price dip, it's going to be difficult to get enough money to snag a couple.
Grandma played a bit of Killzone on the PSP, which has a pretty nice multiplayer system built in, but you know how she is with FPS games, so she only played for a little while. She LOVED the Ratchet and Clank PSP game; it looked so much like a console version of the game it was FRIGHTENING. She has always been a fan of the series, so it was a welcome addition to the PSP library. Grandma is still a little awed by the developers of such games, so to have the Sony rep give her a hand and say "I worked on this game" is a big deal for her. "Really?!" she'd exclaim. "Well done! Did you work on the first one as well?" ...and then they start talking, and he'd help her through a few levels pointing out all the new features. The words on the lips of everyone at the press event were "Loco Roco," which may turn out to be the new breakout hit for the PSP. This game looks cute as hell. Grandma played that one the most, I think. In Loco Roco, you play as a little ...gooey ball dude, and you use the left and right shoulder buttons to tilt the world to allow this little guy to roll around. It's hard to describe, but it's quite a fun little game.
My job was pretty much done. My capacity as a production assistant is only necessary some of the time, so I was invited to play some games, hang out, or do whatever. It was then I noticed that in the back of the main loft, there was a man serving drinks. People would approach this man, say a few words, recieve a beverage and walk away.
AN OPEN BAR!
The consensus from everybody was pretty much "yeah, we're good, dude. You're free to do what you want for the rest of the day."
"They have an open bar."
"Go for it, man! Have a ball." So I did. By GOD I did. Whiskey and Coke, you are my only true friend. I had a few drinks and played a couple more games that had already been demo'd to the other press so I wouldn't overstay my welcome at any particular kiosk. (I didn't want to be 'that guy.') I had a happy buzz; not sick, not drunk, not slurring, not obnoxious; I was very much like Goldilocks. It was just right.
After all the games had been played, Grandma went back to her room and took a nap. Meanwhile, I spoke with some other folks who informed me that there was another function like this up in some mansion in Hollywood Hills, and Grandma and I should crash it, because well... why not? MTV would be there, so Blair and the crew would vouch for us and we'd know some people. After a few hours of mulling it over and considering the options (take a cab to some tourist trap, buy shitty souvenirs | go to a THQ party, test some new games, hang out some more) I went to Grandma's room to see if she was awake yet. I told her about the party and she said "sure! Why not!"
So up the mountain we went, not really knowing what to expect.
We went with the rest of the press in a shuttle van. Apparently the press for the Sony event was at the Mondrian, and the press for the THQ junket was across the street, so we met up there. When we arrived at the mansion at the very top of the hills overlooking Los Angeles, we were met by the long arm of parking enforcement: Crazy Valet Pit Boss Guy. This guy (pictured) was yelling at the top of his lungs in anger trying to direct the shuttles to drop off their passengers and get the hell away. He was the lead of the valet crew, and he wore a headset. This man was REALLY into his job. He would bang on the sides of vans, point menacingly and scream "YOU PARK SOMEWHERE ELSE!! NO PARKING!!!" He was highly disciplined and a master of his work. Grandma and I really like Crazy Valet Pit Boss Guy.
This place was fucking OBSCENE. I counted three pools, a huge dual level patio, all glass walls, a spa, several bathrooms, three kitchens, and that was just upstairs. It appears that the only way someone could afford to own such a house was to lease it out for events like this. The weirdest thing was the bathroom upstairs, which had large glass windows on one side overlooking the patio, where people were standing. Needless to say, this was a feature of which I was not aware until it was too late. Because Grandma and I were indeed crashing this party, we only had access to the upper levels of the party. The lower levels had a presentation and some other kiosks, but we were happy where we were.
The heads of THQ gave everyone a short welcome and invoked the luxury of this place to illustrate the success of THQ. A few things perked everyone's ears a bit, including the announcement that a working Nintendo Revolution would be available to show the controller's capabilities, and Destroy all Humans 2 among others (at this time, they were still calling it the Revolution.) Blair was filming elsewhere and Grandma and I were only here to play some games. I played my share and noticed something at the center of the room. A woman. A woman serving drinks. She was not accepting currency in exchange for these liquid filled glasses.
AN OPEN BAR!!
"Hey Grandma, what are you doing?"
"I don't know, I think I'll go try Destroy all Humans 2 for a while. What are you doing?"
"There's an open bar."
"Hey! Go have fun!" So I did. OH YES. I did have fun. Poison of choice: Whiskey and Coke. So delicious. So inviting.
Drinking is required at these events. It is common knowledge that being drunk or high makes video games just that much more fun. Of COURSE they'd have an open bar. It just makes sense! However, when you drink a LOT, such as I did, you start taking pictures of crazy shit. Like the view from the third floor balcony:
I really hope I was working the camcorder properly at this point so I can get some videos of the party for you folks.
I stood on those patios with a stunning view of the sunset over Malibu, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills exchanging pearls of wisdom with other plastered gaming press; lamenting the loss of Working Designs; wondering if Treyarch got a raw deal in advertising CoD2: Big Red One, the far superior game of the series; guessing what E3 would bring this year; sharing media stories with media people and smoking cigarettes outside a house none of us (we, the lower paygrade of the world,) would ever be allowed near again.
We went back inside and hovered around the Nintendo Revolution kiosk, which the rep wouldn't let anyone touch. He just played the same two levels of some Spongebob Squarepants game, over and over again. This game, unlike the others, was not that impressive. The graphics looked like something from a Playstation One, which would have been fine, but they were touting this as "next-gen." Also, the rep really jerked the controller around to get the craft on screen to move, which didn't exhibit the smooth gameplay from the Revolution that we all expected. I attributed that to exhaustion, because this fucking guy was doing this all night standing up, but that says something about one's ability to play for awhile with the game. It was probably the big disappointment of the evening. We hoped it didn't represent Nintendo's showing at E3. It also scared a few of us who noticed when one of the glitches crashed the game and it had to be reset; the rep reached into a covered box and restarted a system we weren't allowed to see, and the classic GameCube startup screen graced the big screen. We all looked at each other nervously, wondering "were we supposed to see that?"
It was also difficult to keep track of what we could write about and when we could publish it. Certain games had embargos, agreements that stated we would get a glimpse of the action in exchange for a designated date for information release. They weren't taking any chances.
Grandma was talking with someone about some Motocross game for the XBox 360, so I decided to fuck with the Destroy All Humans rep from Pandemic. The conversation went something like this:
Rep: "Alright, ask me something good, I'm tired of all the bullshit questions, give me something GOOD."
Me: "Um..... Okay. The first Destroy all Humans was known for it's humor, the little quips the characters in the game, particularly the humans would make as they ran away, such as an army character saying 'I'm going to go join the Texas Air National Guard!' as he tried to escape. Many liberal blogs picked up on this and some even bought the game because of it's topical humor. I guess my question is: why does Pandemic Games hate America?"
Rep: "...........THAT'S your first question?"
Me: "Also, as a follow-up, how do you jump? It's 'B' button, right?"
Rep: "Um.... ...well, if that's your thing know that in this version, in Destroy All Humans 2, you can kill hippies if you want."
I laughed my ASS off. See this? I have no ass. It's in Hollywood somewhere. I laughed it right off. It was a decent answer. I actually really dug the political humor in the first game, but fucking with reps is a fun little perk of getting to go to these things. It keeps them on their toes, you see.
The party continued for a few hours after that with some live entertainment. Somehow, none of us had managed to get into a drunken brawl over a PC vs. Console argument. Everyone was polite. They were trashed, that was certain, but polite nonetheless. Grandma had had her fill of games for the day and relaxed listening to the band, which was sort of a Postal Service meets The Shins kinda groove. We had met some pretty cool people, played some awesome games, prepared ourselves for what we would see at E3, and it had all gone down without a hitch.
This meant, of course, that a disaster would be necessary to complete the evening, and wouldn't you know it- it was because of drinking.
We went back to the hotel in another shuttle and Grandma decided to go to bed. "Are you gonna crash?" she asked.
"Nah, I'm going to meet up with Blair and those guys over at the Saddle Ranch and have a few more drinks."
"Alright, cool. See you in the morning!"
The Saddle Ranch (I think that's what it's called, I was a little tipsy at the time) is on Sunset Blvd. just a few blocks from the hotel. I walked down and met up with the crew, and we all bought shots.
On top of a full day of Whiskey and Coke.
I guess you know where this is going. I ordered another Whiskey and Coke and went out on the patio (riding the mechanical bull isn't for me, I suppose) and talked with some folks for a while. We sat down (first mistake) and ordered another drink (second mistake.) You know how when you drink too much you try to go to sleep but when you close your eyes the rooms spins downward no matter what you do? I felt like that with my eyes open. We were talking and having a good time and then suddenly "Um.. well, it's been a great night guys... ...I'm going...I'm going to head back now..." [WHAAAARF!!!] I fucking puked all over my damn self. Also, I was wearing white. I started laughing, cleaned myself off a bit, told them I was alright, and headed back to the hotel covered in the smell of my own stupidity.
It was a hell of a trip :)
The next morning a car picked us up for our flight back to Cleveland. Grandma couldn't stop laughing at my experience, and I was humbled by a headache the size of California. As we looked out the tinted windows of the car at the passing neighborhoods of LA, we spotted this sign at a very modern and clean looking video rental store. It was the only neon sign in the window. It seemed like a sign of things to come at E3; a reminder of why we were here in this beautiful city. Grandma didn't need a reminder, however. "We're going to need another suitcase for E3" she told me. "A guy at the party last night said we can get a bunch of demo CD's from the different booths."
"I can't fucking wait!"
The flight back was uneventful for me, but it was hell for Grandma. We weren't seated next to each other for one reason or another, and she was crammed in between two fairly big people whose elbows claimed any hopes of an armrest on either side. Also, it seems as though the infamous "screaming kid kicking the back of your seat in anger for having to sit for so long" found it's way directly behind her. I looked out the window as the City of Angels passed below, snapped a picture and thought "we'll be right back."