E3 2006 Part 2: An Exposition of Electronic-type Entertainment products
"My friends encouraged me to start this blog to share my grandma with the world. Anyone who lives near us hearing her scream "Fucking Cocksucker Won't FUCKING DIE!!" at the television at very late hours knows she's something special. I'm her 22 year old grandson and I wouldn't trade her for the world- for many reasons; but one stands out..."
That's how it began a little less than a year ago. I remember a conversation with Grandma last July after the initial article on MTV.com in which she confessed her first material ambition as a result of the blog's success. "You know what would be cool; it'll never happen but still- if this thing really takes off maybe I really WILL get to see E3!" Now, how was I supposed to respond to that? There is no way I could possibly build up a disappointment like that; a silly trade show to some, but quite literally a DREAM to Grandma.
"Maybe" was the only impotent reply I could manage.
And yet there we were, the early hours of May 10th, packing our bags and getting our media credentials ready for the event over which she dared to indulge a little dreaming. Rather than blow another $40 on long term parking, Mom gave us a ride up to Cleveland Hopkin's International Airport before she went to work. The ride was a bit strange; it reminded me of all those amusement park conversations as a kid.
"So what do you want to see first?" I asked, trying to get wake up.
"Shit, I don't know... Let's see- I want to see Martin, Annie, the guys at Double Fine & Majesco, Treyarch, Microsoft, the XBox Live folks, TriXie, Parker, Major Nelson; I want to see the Sony folks again, I want to meet the people from Ninendo and see the new BrainAge game, I want to play a PS3, the Wii- I HAVE to fucking try that thing, which reminds me- we have to e-mail Jeff as soon as we get back for EGM, they're doing a thing on the Wii... I want to meet Victor, FINALLY; PackWolf said he's gonna be down there... I want to try GoW2, Dirge of Cerebrus, Ninety-Nine Nights, the new Zelda, ...CHRIST... I don't... I don't really KNOW what I want to do first, I can think of a lot more!"
If anyone was excited about E3 this year, it was Grandma.
We talked about E3's of the past; what we'd read. We reminded ourselves that it wasn't long ago that the PS2, GameCube and XBox hyped themselves as the end-all video game consoles for the home; that E3 was the rock concert performed by PR agents and marketing gurus on behalf of corporations who sought to own the largest piece of our hobby's pie. Still, it wasn't difficult to be excited. If advertising agencies were the Grateful Dead, it would be the gamers that would define the tour. It would be our own personal celebration of gaming and things to come.
Nintendo Power, GamePro, EGM, GameInformer, MTV, G4 and CGW had all portrayed E3 in there own way before. It was now our turn to experience the lines, the kiosks, the swag, the booth-babes, the presentations, the demos, the parties; the largest, American video game trade show of the year. Grandma remembered that her purpose there was not to only enjoy the scene but also to work; to interview, to form opinions, and provide a window for those who didn't get to go.
She was fucking READY.
But first! Breakfast.
We returned to the same Max and Erma's in Concourse C that we had so enjoyed on our last trip out to LA. The waitress, Lisa, remembered us from the month before; in part because of Grandma's unique looking back-brace and my goofy request for "look, all I want is just a big fucking plate of BACON." For one reason or another, the cheese on Grandma's eggs didn't sit well with her, and she made her usual grimace face with the appropriate "I do not in fact like this" sound. Spelled out it looks something like "Eeghhhllat!!" Grandma wears her opinions on a very visible sleeve. She settled on coffee and a bit of a muffin.
While waiting to board, I met a dude with an Invader Zim courier bag. I immediately clocked him as another E3 pilgrim. He told me he was a third-key GameStop manager from the area. He said that getting into E3 was particularly hard this year, as usually anyone who has some faint affiliation with the industry just logs on and prints their invitation. Understand also, that this guy had a pass to get into E3, but he had to pay for his own airfare and hotel. He was venturing into the fire alone. He seemed like a decent sort of dude, so I took his card with the intention of hooking him up with some drinks in LA later in the week with the rest of us. We boarded the plane and I went to sleep.
I woke up somewhere over Arizona and Grandma didn't look so good. She said her stomach was upset and the airplane breakfast didn't exactly help. I hoped this wasn't an omen of things to come.
We landed in cloudy Los Angeles right on time and Grandma hurried to the restroom. I called our MTV contacts to let them know we had landed. We made our way to baggage check and quickly found the dude holding up the sign that read "St. Hilaire." On the way out of LAX, the Invader Zim bag GameStop guy waved us down. "Hey, the guy who was supposed to be our ride missed his flight- are you guys going to the convention center?"
"No, man- we're going to a hotel up in Hollywood, sorry."
We never saw him again.
After a ride through LA traffic to the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, we stashed our crap in the room and waited outside for our ride to the convention center.
It turns out that for $10 more than the standard price, one can rent a Hummer H3 in Hollywood instead of a regular sedan. So... they did. The only problem with such a beast is it's still fairly tall for an SUV, so Grandma had trouble getting in the damn thing. Once she was in, however, she would be there for awhile; for there was one thing about the opening day of the exposition we didn't anticipate:
Where the FUCK do we park?!
The LA Convention center is next door to the horribly named "Staples Center." There are tons of public pay lots around for Lakers games or Disney on Ice or whatever happens to fill up that grotesque building. Standing guard at each of the lots was a man holding two signs. The first sign usually read "PARKING: $40" and the second: "LOT FULL." Well.... that's just great. We drove around looking for a space for what must have been 45 minutes. The dude even asked Grandma "you sure you don't want me to just ...drop you off while I find a spot?" But, being the stubborn woman that she is, she would brush off the suggestion.
"Nah, it's okay. I'll just walk with you guys."
After we had found a place out in the middle of god knows where, we began the long walk to E3. I'd like to say that we skipped down those California sidewalks, hand in hand, singing a happy tune as random people join us in a spontaneous moment of dance and song; but it didn't happen quite like that. Grandma's stomach wasn't doing so well, and I was sucking down cigarettes in anticipation of a long nicotine-free period. The first sign of E3 came in the form of large groups of people wandering around looking lost carrying shopping bags adorned with the XBox 360 logo. The second: badges.
Everyone had badges. Most were labeled with red, or "Exhibits Only." Our stranded GameStop friend would have had one of these. We passed a Starbucks; everyone inside was wearing badges. People were bitching out a cab driver for some reason; they were wearing badges. Even the poor homeless dude pushing a shopping cart had some game-related swag stashed inside. It was as though the madness had spilled out into the streets of LA; the arms of the Standard Oil octopus reaching out for all of us. Finally, we came upon the West Hall.
They checked through our bags; Grandma had a purse, I had a backpack with camera gear that would later prove useless. Apparently they were making sure none of us were agents of Jack Thompson or Osama Bin Laden; the only two people I would suspect to sabotage the trade show. We went upstairs to get our badges. The media resource room was divided up between print, web, magazine, international and broadcast. We went to the "broadcast media" booth, conveniently located next to a line of exhausted looking people with laptops sitting against the wall searching for WiFi access.
The name "St. Hilaire" carries with it certain unique properties that cause panic once and a while. This was one of those moments.
"I'm sorry, I'm not seeing your name here. Which company are you with?"
"Oh, ok.... let me look with those guys..... no.... No, I'm still not seeing you."
"Try spelling out the word 'Saint' maybe?"
"Okay....how about 'Sainte' with an 'e' at the end?"
"Okay let me check..... ...No, sorry. Is there someone you could call? You're not on any of the lists."
"Try spelling it all smooshed together, like 'Sthilaire' perhaps."
"Alright...... Oh! Okay, there you are!"
I was sweating the situation more than Grandma for some reason. "I figured that's what it was.." she would tell me later.
Here's a shot of Grandma's badge, misspelled name and all. It's not the ESA or MTV's fault, that's how it's spelled on everything, only because there are rules against punctuation in names in Ohio or some such stupid thing. She was the only one in our group that had a blue "Media" badge; the rest of us, including me, had black "E3 Early Access Media" badges. There was no harm done, we had arrived too late to use the privileges awarded to such a badge anyway.
We had our badges, we had our E3 booth map and guide book, we were set to go inside. We went to the MTV booth and met up with a couple others in the crew to get the cameras ready for Grandma's big entrance. They gave us a couple of the new G-Hole shirts which I put in the bag for later in the week. "You guys don't have to wear them here, you don't have to advertise or anything" they told us.
And so it began.
[note: the speedlight for my camera was more or less fucking destroyed at a shoot involving children a few days prior to the conference, so I didn't get many pictures inside the halls. I lack the necessary f/2.8 lenses to shoot in such dark and forbidding places.]
The first booth one is drawn to upon entering the South Hall is Electronic Arts. EA might have had the best booth at E3. They had a 360 degree screen that surrounded a large crowd, complete with powerful, directed audio and a rumble floor with ass kicking active sub-woofers.
Grandma: "I absolutely LOVED EA's showing at E3. I normally couldn't give a shit about games based on comic books only because I haven't followed them enough, but I have to say that the new Superman game EA is putting out soon looks fucking AWESOME. I know that a screen that large could make ANYTHING look awesome, but that game in particular looks promising. Tim has been bugging the shit out of me about Spore, but it's for the PC, and PC's hate me. Tim's computer doesn't even like HIM, why the hell would it let ME play a game on it. The only thing about EA that made me feel a little uncomfortable is the whole time I'm standing there in that beautiful booth thinking 'alright, how many people did they lay-off to get enough money to put it together?' I expected all the reps by the game kiosks to have some big burly dude in a suit with a whip standing close by."
Buena Vista Games, Inc.
Grandma: "Fuck Desperate Houswives. Fuck them. Fuck that stupid show and fuck the people who make it."
We had some appointments to keep so we bolted out of South Hall and made our to West Hall. There was a TON of stuff Grandma wanted to see at Microsoft, but it would have to wait.
Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.
Grandma: "I had only been inside E3 for a half hour and they had me inside a VIP booth at Sony interviewing a dude about the PS3. And I got to PLAY it. Tim and I had read people's reactions to Sony's presentation online before we left Cleveland, but I'll be completely honest with you: I'm impressed. The controller was a bit lighter than the Dual Shock I'm used to, but I like it. I think I made the poor guy nervous with the way I played Resistance: Fall of Man. I was all over the place with that thing. It's nice to be able to play the thing instead of relying on pre-rendered trailer to make an opinion. I will say that I think the rep we interviewed was a bit of a smart-ass. You know how I am with FPS games, so I wasn't exactly tearing up the screen, but he would keep saying shit like 'you're not doing bad!' and 'good job!' and 'there ya go!' Look, I don't need you to kiss my ass. I LOVED the game, I REALLY liked the system's line up presentation, especially MGS4, Final Fantasy XIII, and Assassin's Creed (FUCK. YES.) I know that graphics aren't everything, but it looked sharp as hell. All they need to do is keep the same massive library build-up the PS2 has and they won't have any problems with the PS3. I really can't complain about the $600+ price tag because I know I'll never be able to afford it. I know that doesn't make any sense, but what can I say, I'm broke! Same thing goes with the PSP, only I didn't spend too much time over there, we saw most of what they were coming out with at that thing a month ago, and it didn't look like people were stepping away from the PSPs. They just kept playing forever. Other than that, I remember that Sony had really cushy carpets. They didn't have a big enough kiosk for God of War 2, which makes me think that was the reason we had the media event before, because they didn't have enough space and not enough time. I could be completely fucking wrong, though."
After the PS3 interview we had some play time with a unique sort of card game involving cameras suspended over a lighted board, on which you place cards- the cameras read the marks on the cards and the system renders 3D manifestations of the characters on the cards on screen. The whole thing seemed sort of unnecessary. Cool, sure- but unnecessary and overly complicated. One could make a similar if not better game by just including a card input dialog on the screen rather than requiring physical cards. I'm sure they'll devise a way in which you'll need to keep on buying cards in order to satisfy the requirements of the game, in sort of a, dare I say it, "gotta catch 'em all" sort of mentality.
While we were filming Grandma interview this rep about the game, this woman came into the VIP booth, addressed the poor dude and said "who told you that you could talk to media?" She quite literally starting bitching this guy out because he didn't have clearance to speak on camera about this particular game. She ushered him away and came back with the game's developer and a translator; for his English was too limited for an interview. I don't even think we used any of the footage. The whole situation was just awkward.
Meanwhile, I was outside the booth on the cell phone getting in touch with Annie. Talking on a mobile phone at E3 is kinda like trying to test your abilities at a foreign language for the first time. I would say at any given time during the expo, 1/5th of everyone there had a finger in their ear, trying desperately to capture the right moment to communicate without interrupting the other person.
It's very much like dancing.
I knew that meeting Annie was incredibly important to Grandma. Getting dressed before leaving for the airport, I noticed she was wearing a Blizzcon t-shirt.
"I find it very interesting that you don't even PLAY Worlds of Warcraft, and yet that's the shirt you chose to wear."
"Well... it's E3! People are going to recognize you; ask you what you're playing and take their picture with you. They're going to pass by you and scream 'For the Hoard!' and you won't have a fucking clue what they're yelling about."
"I'll just tell them the truth! Annie got me this shirt."
After Annie and I finally recognized that indeed, I had called the right number, it was Tim and Grandma from OGHC, and that we were at the Sony booth, she flew right over; understand that navigating the crowds quickly is no easy task. To be completely honest, I think Grandma was more excited about this than she was to finally play the Wii.
To be continued...