This was our first E3 as the newly reformed TNL, and it was exciting to actually have something of our own to announce. Granted the re-launch of TNL was hardly a major buzz, but the reaction we got from our contacts was very encouraging. It was, of course, a smaller show this year, and we had a smaller crew with us to cover it; just the editors that contributed to this feature, and James, who had to sit this one out.
After passing on last year's underwhelming E3, I had lowered expectations for the show. Walking back into the Los Angeles Convention Center was a bit of a shock. The place looked like a ghost town, with the large halls that once housed giant neon shrines to the giants of our industry left empty and closed off. All the action now happened behind closed doors in meeting rooms throughout the venue, and most were strictly by appointment only. This was no longer a show of might for the industry, but a very controlled environment for PR to feed a hungry media.
But if E3 is a way for publishers to reach the public via the media, they sure did seem to do everything wrong. The press conferences, long broadcast to the public on various streaming media sites, were flat-out abominable. It was like the first parties didn't even really show up. Nintendo demonstrated how the Wii makes gaming easy by smacking into the ground repeatedly in Shaun White Snowboarding, Microsoft put the rumored Halo announcement on the shelf, and Sony, well … was Sony even there?
It's a phenomenal waste of time and money to come to an event like this and not bring your A-game. As the show progressed, I gradually realized that this event has a ton of potential, if the companies bring the games to back it up. For companies like Sega, with a sparse lineup and demos played by employees, you have to wonder why they spent the money to show up. But for those that put their weight behind it, the payoff could be huge.
EA's showing was as impressive as it was ironic. The publishing giant, one of the driving forces behind the demise of E3 as we knew it, now stood as its biggest supporter. It also surprised plenty of cynics that so often joke about how EA delivers the same annual updates each year by presenting a lineup of mostly original titles that completely stole the show. Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, and Spore all proved that you don't need an endless parade of sequels to make an impact. If this represents a real reform in EA's strategy, the company might just might make some new friends in the cynical hardcore crowd.
Capcom's booth was also one of the happening places to be, so much so that our own Chris Scantleberry practically moved in for the first two days of the show. About once an hour, one of us would get a call from Chris asking if we could cover his appointments while he and Chun Li took care of some important business. After a while, people just assumed that Chris was a Capcom employee there to demonstrate the finer points of Street Fighter IV. There were also playable versions of Dark Void, Mega Man 9, Bionic Commando, and, of course, Resident Evil 5. All the attention left Capcom looking very, very good.
So there might not have been the glitz and glamor of E3s past, but this time E3 was just about the games. We had time to sit down and really appreciate the titles without having to wade through crowds or deal with gimped timed demos. When the games were good, it paid dividends for the companies, and when there was nothing to show, it was a waste of time. And isn't that how it should be?
That isn't to say there wasn't some goofing off. Bethesda won points for its after-party, an open bar at a country-western joint on Sunset. James was the only one brave enough to ride the mechanical bull, and Chris and I quickly succumbed to alcohol and found ourselves drunkenly singing karaoke on stage. I completely lost my voice singing (read: screaming) "Psycho Killer" to the cheers of an easily amused crowd. We were all upstaged by John DiMaggio, voice of Marcus from Gears of War and Bender from Futurama. "Fuck you Bethesda, Epic Games is here," he announced, adding "and now I'm going to sing the last thing anyone expects." I won't bother to review Mr. DiMaggio's performance of "Me and Mrs. Jones," but let's just say there wasn't a dry pair of panties in the house.
The entire week had us all exhausted, and nearly destroyed most of our immune systems, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. With the show in flux, searching to find a format that can keep everyone happy, there's always the question of whether or not the show will go on, but I really hope it does. The new format has tremendous potential, and if companies step up and get behind it, they might see how E3 can be just as important as it once was.