It's that time again. Forget baseball season. Forget the Stanley Cup playoffs. OK, maybe not. But this IS the time of year that the gaming media dreams of and that the G4 channel gets the next two years of their programming content from. For those rock dwellers out there, E3 has been coined as the “superbowl of video games” where all of our favorite developers and publishers show off all the games coming out in the next year. This write-up is kind of a live journal going over the E3 experience overall, most importantly, from the eyes of a lone media mogul for a small gaming website. This was my second year at the show. You can read last year's writeup in the features section of the website. I was pretty pleased with how last year's journal came out, hence this one. I also intend this to be somewhat of a replacement for some technical difficulties that came just in time for SwankWorld's E3 coverage. Since these articles have turned out ten times larger than I expected and have more images on them to somewhat capture the experience, the write-up will be split into three chewable, easily digestible doses. Enough jibber-jabber, on to the write-up!
Part 1: Stinky and sleepy in LA
Pictured Above: Heaven or hell?
So I'm sitting here at the local Starbucks on Hollywood Blvd on a one day free pass from T-Mobile. Turns out my hotel (the ever so luxurious Super 8 on Sunset Blvd – SwankWorld spares no expense) didn't have the internet connection that hotels.com professed they had, so just a huge speed bump on the site's E3 coverage. The hotel also refuses to check me in until 2pm . Now I left the secure confines of Colorado yesterday at 5pm and drove through the night to get here at noon . The drive from San Bernadino to the hotel took three hours alone…blech. I haven't slept and I'm a tad cranky at the moment, as there's nothing I'd like more than to just get bathed and crash until 5 so I can get to the Microsoft press conference tonight at 6. It should be pretty exciting as it's going to be my first press conference. I'm looking forward to hearing some more info on Halo 2, Doom 3, Conker Live and Reloaded as well as some tidbits on the next Xbox (Xbox Next is a ricockulous name). I have the Nintendo press conference tomorrow at 10am . Unfortunately, Sony only gave me the runaround when I asked where I could register for theirs. They only responded with “we'll have someone call you back” but never asked for my number. Sega also did me some injustice by telling me I was in on their big announcement in a couple of days, only to have them tell me they were out of room ten hours later and I'd be subscribed to their newsletter to find out the announcement. When I replied back and let them know I replied back as soon as the email came into my inbox, I got a response back saying “sorry for the confusion” and proceeded with the same email telling me they were out of room. Thanks a lot guys, guess I wasn't “big enough” for you. Anyways, it's almost check-on time. Mocha Valencia , don't let me down!
Just got back from the press conference and I have to say that Microsoft knows how to treat the press. They were giving away apple martinis and wine along with chicken-on-a-stick with what I like to call “crazy California sauce” like “sweet and sour carrot”. What ever happened to ranch dressing? One thing I've noticed about the gaming media is that they're not very approachable. They all seem to know each other, but aren't too social otherwise. One weird thing about it all is having Adam Sessler from X-Play standing next to you in the pisser. Anyways, the MS press conference write-up pretty much covers everything, but in a nutshell, MS is sticking to the “software sells” point of view. They covered all the big titles like Conker, Doom 3, Jade Empire, Unreal Championchip 2, Star Wars: Republic Commando, DOA Ultimate, and KOTOR 2. They also talked about the new and upcoming features of Xbox Live with video chat and the Live Arcade where you can play classic arcade games and games otherwise available on MSN Zone. Anyways, read the recap and watch the videos. Nintendo scheduled their press conference early tomorrow, so it's sleepy time.
Part 2: Nintendo Rocks
Nintendo held their press conference at the Hollywood and Highland complex on Hollywood Blvd. so thankfully, it was about in walking distance from my hotel. Luckilly, the walk had its sights as it took me right down the Hollywood walk of fame. I got to take some shots of Pee-Wee Herman, Jackie Chan, Bella Lugose, and Arnold Schwarzzeneger's stars on the way. One thing that I noticed that McDonald's has a twenty-five cent eat-in tax here. The hell is with that? A movie was also being shot across the street from the press conference which was neat since it's something I don't get to see every day.
I honestly wasn't expecting much from Nintendo aside from some specs on the Nintendo DS and some info on Resident Evil 4, Paper Mario 2, and Metroid Prime 2. I can honestly say I was blown away by it since they announced the DS would be out by Christmas time and would be playable on the show floor. They already had some titles in development as they showed a new Metroid Prime title where the 3D action is on the bottom screen and the top showed your map as well as Mario 64x4 which is a four player version of Mario 64. The big surprise came when they showed the new Zelda game being developed with the grown up Link. Kudos to Nintendo for focusing on functionality and listening to gamers whine. More details on the press conference are in its respectable write-up.
Part 3: E3 Day One
So today was the first day of E3 and it just seemed to fly by, whereas eight hours would seem like an eternity. I wish my day job went that way. The day started with the E3 media briefing where the president of the ESA talked about a number of subjects, namely the differences between the first E3 and now. It's kinda hard to believe that when the expo started Sony was a newcomer and the top developers were Virgin Interactive and IBM Multimedia. The top selling games were NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat 3, and Donkey Kong Country. How times have changed. After a quick stop at the media room, I was off to take position for the start of the event.
Now I learned a lesson from last year and started my day at the Half-Life 2 booth for part one of their two part demonstration. I got the opportunity to hobnob with a couple of guys from Blizzard where we talked about old Blizzard games like the Lost Vikings and Rock N' Roll Racing. Though I went to the demo right away, there was still a thirty-minute wait. Despite this small setback, the Half-Life demo was great, as expected. They demonstrated a couple of levels, some environments, vehicle physics, and the neato combat level with the big daddy long legs looking thing walking around destroying everything. Yeah you know, that thing.
Pictured left: E3 officially starts and I take a blurry pic of the pearly gates ahead. I was walking, cut me some slack!
Once the demo was over, I tried out what the rest of VU Games had to offer. I'm seeing a lot of promise in Leisure Suit Larry. The premise is that you guide Larry around a college campus as he attempts to hit on chicks. While he's laying the moves on them, you play a mini game at the bottom of the screen and Larry's conversation will go based off of how well you play the game. The presentation is pretty seamless as Larry's conversation won't hesitate as it waits for you to succeed or mess up. It's really something. I also met the lead designer of Tribes Vengeance as he gave me a demonstration of the game. Not only will it have the typical multiplayer modes, but it will also have a single player story mode with five playable characters – a first in the series. The Unreal engine is really making this game look great, as both indoor and outdoor environments were really lush and just looked awesome. Speaking of awesome, Chronicles of Riddick is turning out to be a pretty good FPS. The visuals on it are top notch and it features some hand-to-hand fighting elements in addition to run and gun gameplay.
Oh yeah, check out the hat this guy is wearing over on the right. He was a play tester for EA and just got finished remastering the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD. But who cares about that? He's wearing a NKOTB hat! How deliciously nostalgic and nauseating at the same time.
The time had come for a little change in scenery, so I traveled over to Namco's booth. They had a pretty small setup last year, but they went all out this year. Complete with a giant stage with dancers, fashion shows, and prize flinging booth babes. Ace Combat 5 is turning out to be even better than its predecessor. I thought that Ghost Hunter was pretty neat, but it doesn't seem that many people would agree as they picked it up and only played for a few minutes just to walk off. The gameplay seems a bit repetitive at this point, where you have to throw a grenade at every ghost you encounter and ray beam them to death, just to repeat the whole process again on the next wave. Also on display was a very entertaining drum game called Taiko Drum Master. It's similar to Donkey Konga in execution, but instead of tom-toms, you have a drum and two sticks. You have a series of red and blue circles flying by on the screen. Red ones are beats of the drum, blue circles represent taps on the side. The demo had a variety of music to chose from, from classical medleys to music from Soul Calibur. Totally cool, just makes me wonder how much Namco expects to charge for the drum itself. Does anyone remember Samba de Amigo? Dead to Rights II looks to be more of the same great action gameplay that the first game brought. Despite the fact that I sucked really bad at it. Really, really bad. SRS Racing also seems to have all it needs to give NFS: Underground a run for its money. The game is gorgeous and plain fun. Car junkies will have fun with this one. I also made sure to register to win a date with the SRS girls, yeah my wife would love that. Perhaps the game of the day award has to go to Tales of Symphonia, which is a beautiful cel-shaded RPG. The battle system is very action oriented and there are plenty of baddies to kill. I wish I could say the same for Death by Degrees, which bored me to tears. Sure, it stars Nina Williams from Tekken, but you wouldn't recognize her as she slowly lumbers throughout the level half heartedly punching all who oppose her. The only plus is that the game uses a fighting scheme like Rise to Honor, which uses the right analog stick to attack in different directions. I think I'll stand by Jet Li for this round rather than a Nina Williams who walks at the speed of a sixty year-old woman desperately in need of a bone marrow transplant. I also caught the Tekken 5 trailer, the game looks great and Heiachi is dead. That's about all I could gather from it.
The next stop was the all-too-exciting Capcom booth, where there were some suprises in store. First off, I wasn't expecting Devil May Cry 3 to be there. The game looks really good and the game plays similarly to the first one. One amusing thing is that the data cards next to where I was playing stated that the young Dante was back, crazier and more stylish than ever. I didn't think that many people hated DMC 2, but who am I to say? Anyways, DMC 3 is a prequel to the first two games. Capcom seems to have taken the action even more over the top and the intro is worth buying the game itself. The action is that good. Also on display was the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, which I was personally looking forward to. Every version of Street fighter was playable, though I opted to play 3 rd Strike since I haven't tested my mettle much on that one. After promptly getting my ass beat (thus bringing my E3 record to 5-3. Hey, it's respectable) I tried out Monster Hunter, the four player monster/dinosaur hunting game. I didn't find much fun in it, as it seemed like a lot of really tedious hack-n-slashing. Now I like hack-n-slash as much as the next guy, but this game just wasn't that much fun. Looking for some more positive stimulation, I happened upon Viewtiful Joe 2 and decided to give it a spin. Only Sylvia was playable in the demo, which was fine with me. There really wasn't much in terms of improvement in graphics, but Sylvia was pretty fun to play. Instead of punches, Sylvia fired a ray gun (or was it just blue plasma from her hands? Anyways…) in addition to kicks. The speed up feature was also used practically as you needed it to hurtle a platform high enough for you to make an impossible jump. Sure, it seems like Joe just entered our lives recently and this may seem rushed, but the addition of another playable character gives some fresh air to the series. I got to try out a bit of Under the Skin since nobody else was. Looks like THQ isn't the only company dabbling in alien invasions. The game seemed pretty confusing to me at first, but I got the hang of it after being thwarted a couple of times. You're an alien who takes on the identities of miscellaneous men, women, and Elvis impersonators as you try to use alien gadgets to scare the bejesus out of people for coins. You can go to UFOs floating throughout the level to change to another costume. I personally found solace as Elvis. The game had a couple of amusing moments, but I think I'll try my hand with Destroy All Humans. Next up was Resident Evil 4, the next iteration of Capcom's once trailblazing and since floundering survival horror series. This one took me by surprise as it seems a lot more action oriented this round. You control Leon as he happens upon a small village where the residents don't seem too human. Critics of the series will be happy to know that Leon controls just like Samanosuke or Dante now, in other words, the human tank control is gone as are the fixed camera angles. The action is a lot faster with bigger explosions, more enemies pursuing you, and about as little ammo available as ever. Well, I can only vouch for that last part personally. This game, at least at this point, seems like it's truly going to be a rebirth of the series. I couldn't be happier. I passed on playing Mega Man X8. I loved Mega Man for his NES outings and the very beginning of his SNES career, but the game hasn't really changed in ten years. Maybe more. Sorry. One big disappointment was that only trailers of Capcom Fighting Jam and Killer 7 were being shown. I was totally interested in how Killer 7 was going to turn out in terms of gameplay, but alas, I suppose I'll wait until release. If it even comes out this year. Can someone remind me how long ago that game was announced?
But who can blame me for passing up on some ten year old Mega Man action when the Microsoft booth was right across the way? Sure, Street Fighter is cool, but there was more to be seen. After all, Microsoft was offering Doom 3, Jade Empire, Conker, Fable, and of course, Halo 2! The booth was arms-to-your-side-touching-the-guys-ass-in-front-of-you crowded. I managed to swim over to Doom 3 which the kiosks were equipped with headphones. It seems the coolest games of E3 have headphones attached to them as to not hinder the experience (see also: The Suffering last year). I had my doubts, but I can honestly say this game looks as good as what I've seen of the PC version. The controls were tight as well and the action never slowed down a bit. One problem is with the flashlight that you have. So this game is really dark. You have to put away your weapon to equip the flashlight. At the same time, the monsters you fight all have a good pretty reaction time. Good for the shock factor, bad for the flow. Maybe it'll grow on me. Maybe not. It was a pleasing experience nonetheless. With Doom out of the way, it was Fable time. I've admittedly been hanging on every screenshot that has been put out on this game for the past few years and at last, it's finally playable. While waiting in line to play, a guy came up to me with camera man in tow and asked if I played the game yet. I responded with “eagerly waiting!”. He asked if he could ask a couple of questions which I had absolutely no problem with. I spent all of last year trying to get into the passers by in the background, now I'm getting an interview! He asked about what games had totally blown my mind so far, so I let him know that I was impressed with Doom, Tales of Symphonia, the drum game, and everything Street Fighter. His next question was “DS or PSP?” I should have answered with “Gizmondo” to toally throw the guy off (more on that later), but I thought I'd be serious and I responded with “No comparison between the two. The DS is for gamers who like twitch multiplayer gaming and drive Volkswagon Bugs. The PSP is for hardcore gamers who drive BMWs. They each have their respectable traits” or something along those lines. Come to think of it, I think it was totally phrased better when I was on camera. Either way, I knew I should have made a SwankWorld shirt for the convention this year! Anyways, the guy's mic said “Mag Rack” on it, so doing some internet research, it's a show for select cable systems and (of course) not available in my area. Seven and a half minutes of fame spent, half of it to go. Back onto topic, it turns out Fable is a hack-n-slash RPG at heart. You were taken through a small level where you fought plenty of baddies and found tons of accessories to fit your character with. I think this was mainly for the show to show how much your character could be customized. I opted to have my guy fight in his unmentionables, complete with embroidered flag of England , pasty white skin, and a bandanna that covered both his eyes and head. Next up was Conker which has become totally unrecognizable in the past year. The characters have all new models which look really really good. Last year it was just the N64 version with N64 multiplayer and Xbox Live support. The game also had a bunch of great looking real time lighting effects. There was a multiplayer game of woodland creatures versus Teddiz going. The multiplayer had all new maps, controllable vehicles, and different character types with their own unique weapons like grunts, pilots, etc. Imagine a cutesy love child of Tribes 2, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Halo and you might get the idea or even more confused. One of the guys from Rare was there for questions. He let me know that the single player game is the same as the N64, but you can now remove the bleeps from the F and S words from the options menu, because you know that cursing animals are cool. Halo 2 multiplayer was everything I could have expected, though I got my ass handed to me repeatedly (that seems to be the theme of the day), the experience was very pleasing. Dual weapons are very handy, and nothing seems to beat the Elite sword thingy. You just have to make sure if your vehicle gets destroyed and you survive, to run the hell away to avoid the second explosion. At this point the crowd was getting out of hand, so I decided to move on to less claustrophobic surroundings.
Konami has been my favorite developer for the past few years, and were by far my favorite booth of E3 last year. This year didn't disappoint as they were showing off Metal Gear Solid 3, Neo contra, Silent Hill 4: The Room, and Gradius V among others. I made a b-line to the MGS 3 both first as my excitement for that game has been uncontainable. I couldn't help but have mixed feelings upon playing the demo. The gameplay was truly Metal Gear, but in the short time I had to play, I couldn't remain hidden to save my life and I had to run to the previous screen to get everything reset so I can try again. One I was found, I has horrible luck with evasion. Konami was also playing the new MGS 3 trailer where they hinted a little more why Snake was in the 1960's. They also showed Revolver Ocelot, while he was in the Russian army of course. I'm very sure I'll like the game when there isn't a line of impatience behind me and I can actually get accustomed to the gameplay. Oh yeah, the best shwag of E3 is always the Metal Gear related stuff. Last year they have out books describing the game with origami Metal Gears. This year they gave out info sheets inside of a record sleeve. At least it looked like a record, but upon further inspection turns out to be a CD of a song called “Snake Eater”. Cool. Putting my MGS impotence aside, I decided to try my hand at some Gradius V action. Gradius is shaping up to be just as great as recent entries into the shooter genre like R-Type Final and Ikaruga. Not only does it look good, but it's got some crazy moments and, of course, some of the series staples like the first level boss (only waves of them) and the traditional power up system of speed boosts, missiles, and my personal fav, the ripple laser. I didn't see any Easter Island heads however, but I'm sure they're in there. After finishing the demo, I decided to try out Silent Hill 4. I don't know if it was the level I was playing, but it reminded me a bit of Siren since it took place out in the woods. The melee combat kinda sucked too and my inventory seemed to consist of sticks of varying shapes and sizes. I'm going to keep the faith on this one. I really liked Silent Hill 3 after all. The booth was really cool too, since it was a kitchen get up. I got to play on the monitor over the kitchen sink. Score. Neo Contra is totally reminiscent of Super C and the Contra games on the PSOne. Bill Ryzer is back, along with a samurai named Jaguar who has a sword but never uses it. Like Shattered Soldier, each player has three weapons to choose from the get go. Fireball, shotgun, and the infamous spread gun. The game still feels like a Contra game, complete with the barfing baby head boss. My only gripe is that the rate of fire no matter what weapon you're using is really slow. Like, frustratingly slow. Hopefully the developers will get that fixed up or at least adjust the game to compensate for it. Slow fire just broke the flow of the game for me. One game that really took me by surprise was Nanobreaker, which is billed as a spiritual follow-up to Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and shares the same producer. The game featured a cybernetic warrior type person who was fighting hordes of other robot warriors. The hook on this game is the gallons upon gallons of blood colored “oil” that spills out of every enemy. There was even a contest going for the top three people that could drill the most oil would get their name in the game credits. Needless to say, I didn't drill enough. Before I knew it, the floor had emptied out. I suppose I didn't catch the loud speaker announcement that the show was closing amidst all of my drilling action. I proceeded to wander around the hall a little more just to find out that I haven't covered half of it. I spent the day taking my time and trying everything I could. I suppose I'll have to make up for it tomorrow.
And so ends day one of E3. I didn't know this would take five pages to do (at least in MS Word), but then again, I've gotta make up for the lack of coverage, due once again, to horrible timing on part of my router at home. Take heart, as this part alone is bigger than last year's write-up. Whether that's good or bad, I'll leave that entirely up to you. Stay tuned for part 2!
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media