Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

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.]

Day 1
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...

Read the rest of this post...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

E3 2006 Part 1 - The Sony/THQ Media Event

Grandma's E3 story actually begins a few weeks before E3 itself during a short trip out to LA for a Sony media event. For Grandma, it was her chance to interview David Jaffe and Cory Barlog about God of War 2, sample some cool games and meet the best and the worst of the gaming press. For me, it was a chance to exploit that industry secret, that beautiful and mysterious custom: the open bar.

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.

Holy shit.


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.

Sweet Jesus...


"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.

Tequila 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."
"You excited?"
"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."

Game on.

Read the rest of this post...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

...And back from LA

Big post coming... Need to sleep... E3 Internet access crazy, hoarded by "journalists."

Stay tuned!

Read the rest of this post...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Headed to the airport...

Everything's packed. The camera, the camcorder, the laptop, the wireless card, the DS, the iPod, the Coffee, the comfy shoes.

It's a long flight from Cleveland to LA, but thanks to the miracle of time zones, we leave at 9:00am and arrive at 10:30. We'll have updates whenever possible, and a full report upon our return.

To E3!!

Read the rest of this post...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Let's get started: My perspective

That's really a picture of me. REALLY it is. Tim has been bugging me to no end to give everyone a different perspective of Grandma. So here goes…”Grandma” as seen through the eyes of her daughter.

Mom and I have lived together forever. This has been a very interesting relationship. Let me tell you of a general day in my life with “Grandma.”

A typical day begins with Mom sleeping away. Usually, she has just gone to bed a few hours earlier after being up half the night playing one game or another. If it is not the newest RPG game then it is poker. She speaks of her Xbox friends quite often. I go to work; the children head off to school. I do not know what she does while I am at work but I do know if the game is good, I am cooking dinner. She will call me at work on occasion to ask if I gave permission to one child or another to go with their friends. Mom is very street smart and usually knows when the kids are trying to pull a fast one. Or, just being a sweet Mom, will bring me lunch.

Usually, when I get home from work she is sitting in her recliner playing a game. I never know what system she will be playing. This depends on the game. She swears there are great games for each system. It just depends on what you like. It is a little funny that she knows so much about each system. As the children were growing up, she knew what system should be purchased for which child. This child likes sports; he should have this system. This child likes RPGs he should have that system. Of course she will only allow them to play their games if homework is done and they have been outside for a while. And no children are permitted to play her games without her permission. This is taboo. A definite do not go there type of thing. If, as a child, you want to see your young adult years, do not ever touch one of “Grandmas” games or her memory cards.

She may sit in her recliner for hours at a time playing a game. Headphones on. (I really like those. She hasn’t blown any TV speakers since getting them. She is very hard of hearing. Have you ever tried watching a movie with a game on in the next room, full volume? You really get to hate the background music.) The only reason for Mom to get up would be to go the restroom. Question, is it old age or all those diet cokes that make one go so frequently.

If she has played all the games she is interested in and nothing is out she wants she will dabble in some of her other hobbies. These include reading, painting, ceramics, card playing and our old time favorite shopping.

Mom and I used to spend hours and hours at the mall. This has been shortened quite a bit because of her back and legs. It is easy to spend hours at the mall with Mom. First we hit the clothing store of my choice, then a game store of hers, another clothing store of my choice, and a bookstore for both of us then coffee! A nice tall Grande Skinny Mocha Cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso. Mmmm, that sounds good. I think I will fix one when I’m done writing.

If she is not off doing one of her hobbies and the gaming is good let me give you a few examples of what you may hear.
If you were to listen to the two of us it we reverse roles quite a bit.

Mom is in her game room playing some RPG game where people are gathered in a semi-circle bouncing their knees. Can anyone tell me why the characters do that? Tim tried explaining but it seems just plain silly to me. Suddenly you see Mom’s leg go up in the air, controller and arms flying. That stupid fucking bitch killed me. “Mom” I quietly complain. “No, you don’t understand. I have spent hours getting to this point only to have that bitch kill me. Now I have to start in some village or something somewhere.”

“Mom, it is 12:00 a.m., Kenny has to get up to go to school tomorrow,” I state in that motherly tone. “Just a few more minutes, I can’t get through this part it hurts my hands. We have almost made it.”

Mom is walking across the house, in pain. The “f” word is mumbled every other step. “Oh mom, why can’t you be like grandma and moan yoi or something?” But this is mom. It is simply her way of speech.

The roles reverse.

I come home from work and a beautiful, elaborate dinner is prepared. The children are thrilled. “Grandma” is a fantastic cook. It is the good old fashioned, very fattening Hungarian way of cooking. Cholesterol is there, carbs are there, and life is good.

“Linda (that’s me). Do you have my DS upstairs? How many times have I told you, if you are going to play my game, put it back?” I must admit, we are both addicted to Brainage. If I have missed a day of training and the professor shakes his head, I feel really guilty.

I am sitting in the living room playing the game Katamari. Trying desperately for the hundredth time to catch one of the cousins, when of course I fail. A few words too bad to mention escape my mouth. My daughter catches me. “Mom, you just said a bad word.” “No I didn’t. I said gosh darn.” “No mom. You said the really bad word.” “Shush, don’t tell your grandma.”

It is now 1:00 a.m., I am done reading or playing some game on the computer and Mom is just getting started. She is really on a role in her game room discussing different game methods, etc. with Tim. I understand only half of what they are discussing. They talk about all the friends they have made through the blog and how excited they are that they are going to be meeting a few at the convention. I think this is one of the things that have them so hyped about going. Me, I’m going to bed.

Read the rest of this post...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Welcome Another Author!

We got back from LA, more on that trip coming. I have a ton of projects I'm working on at the moment, including a book about Grandma and mature gaming, so we thought it would be interesting to bring in another author to the fold, to give you more frequent updates and a fresh perspective from another person who lives here with Grandma, her daughter Lynn.

The only one who calls her that here is Grandma. The rest of us simply know this strange person as "Mom."

Mom is an elusive character only because she works so damn much. She's one of those "8-5 white collar office denizens" we hear about but only see in movies, right before they snap. Mom's a gamer to be sure, anyone raised under the St. Hilaire matriarchy has to be. She's a different sort of gamer, however. Her favorite games include BrainAge for the Nintendo DS, Katamari Damacy, Guitar Hero, Taiko Drum Master, Sly Cooper 3, Spot Goes To Hollywood, etc.,. Seems normal enough, yes? Yet if I continue the list I begin to think of games like Zuma, backgammon, spider solitaire and the like; games that some folks connect with that elitist class of Western Culture that plays occasionally but doesn't associate with the rest of us. Those people do not classify themselves as gamers. In fact, if gamers were the drunkards of society, the games of this particular group would be the communion wine.

Mom still plays the console games enough for her to be considered a gamer.


Mom doesn't know each Final Fantasy game has a character named "Cid."

Mom doesn't know what Grandma is talking about when she mentions GameFaqs.

Mom doesn't read Penny-Arcade.

Mom doesn't know the meaning of the acronym "EGM."

Mom can't name more than two game development companies.

In short, Mom is like so many out there who love games but don't get into the culture, fanaticism, or hype. She is untainted and innocent in the ways of our people; the fly-on-the-wall observer to the strange world Grandma and the rest of us occupy.

We shall suck her in soon enough. She shall soon become one of us. Show her no mercy. Mercy is for the WEAK.

As for me, I'm still going to post as well, trying as hard as I can to keep a decent schedule with words and videos for everybody. Mom needs some coaxing, though. She's nervous about posting. She thinks she's going to fucking SUCK. She thinks she's not going to know enough jargon or understand what Grandma is playing enough to comment on it.

That's partially why I'm so excited. I'd LOVE to see her posts degenerate into a "Flowers for Algernon"-esque black hole; a gradient starting with pleasantries and cordial apprehension that over time becomes the same burned-out lunatic ramblings to which I've subjected all of you. She's not taking over, she's simply adding another voice that can help illuminate the woman we all love: Grandma.

So everyone welcome Mom to Old Grandma Hardcore!

Read the rest of this post...