LOS ANGELES--Last week saw a changing of the guard in the game industry. After nearly a decade of being the biggest third-party publisher on the planet, Electronic Arts saw itself eclipsed. The new top dog is Activision Blizzard, a publishing colossus built out of the union of the makers of Guitar Hero and Call of Duty and Vivendi Games, France-based parent of the World of Warcraft and Diablo III developer-publisher Blizzard Entertainment.
With the onus now on EA, the publisher convened the gaming press at the Orpheum Theater, a well-worn art deco theater in downtown Los Angeles. There, below an elaborate interior built in the early 20th century, executives, investors, and the omnipresent games press crammed into narrow seats as the requisite rock soundtrack blared over speakers. The question on everyone's lips was simple: What would EA's big news be?
[2:58] Flash bulbs pop off inside the theater which has a distinct orange hue. EA VP of corporate communications Jeff Brown glad-hands VIPs in the front, beaming.
[2:59] A sonorous but firm female voice tells everyone to turn of their cellphones. On a giant screen in front, the names of EA' massive development roster flash by.
[3:00] Less-than-friendly security personnel tell people to keep their bags out of the aisles.
[3:04] "Make sure all PDAs and cell phones are turned off." Yeah, we heard you the first time.
[3:05] Still the press comes! Sit down already.
[3:06] The lights dim. The conference is finally starting.
[3:07] A whopping massive EA logo hits the screen, heralding the obligatory video montage.
[3:07] Mercenaries 2, Facebreaker, EA Sports clips all run by to the tune of Wolfmother's "Dimension." Remember when those guys were underground?
[3:08] Monopoly, iPhone games, Harry Potter, and "New Games" are mentioned in the clip.
[3:09] EA CEO John Riccitiello welcomes everyone to "EA's largest press briefing."
[3:10] "We're gonna do something different--no Power Point, no statistics, no charts to show you why we're bigger than everyone else."
[3:11] "We're gonna just have you meet the guys who make the games," says Riccitiello. "Isn't that why you come to E3?" Genuine applause. Enter Ron Humble, head of the Sims Studio.
[3:13] A trailer for SimAnimals plays, showing woodland creatures as they play in the forest.
[3:14] Humble tells how to make baby bears in the game. "You take a mama bear and a daddy bear who love each very much..." Laughs. The game is coming in January 2009; DS screens are shown.
[3:15] He touts the Sims 2 Store beta, and then talks up the Sims 3, due out next year.
[3:15] "The coolest thing is it's a seamless world," he says of the Sims 3. "One thing happens on one side of the world and it affects what happens on the other side of the world."
[3:15] The first Sims 3 trailer rolls.
[3:16] A guy doing domestic things in his house toils in black and white, then goes outside and...oh, the colors!
[3:17] Detailed and expressive Sims chat on cell phones, dance, and play music. A seaside BBQ is shown. Applause.
[3:18] Next out is Glen Schofield, executive producer at EA Redwood Shores. He's here to show of a "very M-rated game, called Dead Space."
[3:18] He touts the fact the game has no HUD, and the fact "you have to tear these creatures apart limb by limb to kill them."
[3:19] Cue live demo. Game hero Isaac walks around in his armored space suit, using an in-game holographic display to check his inventory.
[3:19] "Unknown bioforms detected." Uh-oh.
[3:20] A HUGE crash heralds the arrival of a massive creature that looks like a gorilla turned inside-out.
[3:21] Isaac literally lights up the monster with his laser, which just seems to make it angrier.
[3:22] As Isaac does more damage, the color of his laser goes from blue to red. Eventually, the creature explodes in a bloody mess.
[3:23] Relieved, Isaac turns the corner--only to have his leg grabbed by a giant tentacle, which pulls him down a shaft.
[3:24] Schofield says all the footage was in-engine in real time. Game is coming to 360, PC, and PS3 in October.
[3:24] October 21, to be exact.
[3:25] On comes Patrick Soderlund, DICE founder and head of EA's European studios.
[3:25] He's here to show off Mirror's Edge, the parkour-infused sci-fi first-person action game.
[3:26] He shows the game's heroine running along rooftops along red pipes and zip lines.
[3:27] Now she's clambering up the side of a building. The path is marked in red due to her "runner vision."
[3:27] Now, she's confronted with some puzzles in the form of multiple routes...
[3:28] A wrong turn leads to an encounter with some guards--back to the roof!
[3:28] More runner vision tricks, slowing down time, deep focus, etc.
[3:29] Cornered, she disarms a bunch of guards, Matrix-style.
[3:29] Faith, the hero, tosses a message to another runner, Celeste...and meets still more guards.
[3:30] She's faced with a series of very dizzying jumps. If you have vertigo, do NOT play this game.
[3:31] Applause greets another trailer, which shows off the game's ultra-bright visual style, which has an almost exclusively primary color palette.
[3:31] High-production techno soundtrack booms as a title card prompts even bigger applause.
[3:32] A totally unassuming Will Wright shambles onto stage in a black T-shirt to talk about Spore, which apparently began with his childhood chemistry set.
[3:33] A slide show describes his fascination with science, up to and including the work of Dr. Frankenstein.
[3:34] He said the goal of Spore is to have science and expression overlap.
[3:35] He said they reason the Spore Creature Creator was released first was to have everyone populate the game with 100,000 creatures in two months. The game now has 1,756,869 species of creature--more than on Earth itself.
[3:36] And that only took 18 days--just 11 more than God, Wright jokes. Ergo, Spore creators are 38 percent of God. Lightly blasphemous laughter ensues.
[3:37] Now slides of various creatures are shown, including all-bone animals, realistic humans, and a giant red living whack-a-mole machine.
[3:38] YouTube now boasts 85,000 Spore videos, including ones from celebrities ranging from David Lynch to...Melissa Joan Hart?!?!?!?
[3:39] Now they're going to let the public play around with the Spore prototypes.
[3:39] Wright now reveals he's very excited to have a partnership with SETI, which will use Spore to research extraterrestrial life.
[3:40] He says the Sims is Spore's "bigger brother," but he thinks Spore could be just as big--cue the next trailer!
[3:41] Very Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy shows the whole life cycle of the game, with a creature evolving from a little microbe to a brawny predator.
[3:42] Hot blue alien reproduction precedes some primitive wars, leading to civilization, world peace, and then space travel.
[3:43] "All the way someone guided these creatures--that someone is you!" Game is coming September 7, 2008.
[3:43] EA Sports president Peter Moore saunters onto the stage, cocky as ever.
[3:44] This year is the 20th anniversary of Madden, and this week is the launch of NCAA Football 09.
[3:45] "But what we have for you today will take the online experience to a whole new level," enter NBA Live 09 producer ... and NBA Legend Bill Walton. Applause.
[3:46] He reminisces about how Spore looks better than anything he saw "hanging out with Jerry Garcia and Neil Young back in the '60s..." Raucous laughter.
[3:47] Walton says his favorite part of basketball is the "mental and emotional aspect...which you guys have perfectly captured here at EA."
[3:47] "You can't script sports," says Walton--leading to a rehearsed segue from Moore.
[3:48] Now they're talking about "Dynamic DNA" which imports information from the real-life NBA in real time.
[3:50] This will affect the behavior of the players in the game, meaning teams that start out powerful at the beginning of the year could end up weak by season's end--if the real-life team does badly.
[3:50] Walton throws in a few digs at the Phoenix Suns to make his point.
[3:51] Producers describe how the season's roster changes by the Boston Celtics led them to the championship. The same thing could happen in the game.
[3:52] A virtual Celtics-Lakers match ensues. Walton bags on the Lakers' defense, getting mild boos from the LA crowd.
[3:53] Dynamic DNA will even map what parts of the floor players shoot best from with color-coded "hot zones."
[3:55] As Walton walks off, Moore starts talking up the Wii All-Play initiative.
[3:57] The point is to make EA Sports games accessible to sports gamers and sports fans. He cues LPGA pro Natalie Gulbis to take the stage and they play some Tiger Woods PGA 09.
[3:57] Moore takes a swing and gets it on the virtual green. It's still odd seeing the former Xbox pitchman gleefully playing with a Wii Remote.
[3:58] Gulbis, in full golf gear, takes a swing in non-All-Play mode, fiddling with the club setting.
[3:59] She almost lands in the water hazard. Moore's point is pretty clear. With All-Play, a pro golfer and a rank amateur are evenly matched.
[4:00] She goes for par and misses. He makes a birdie, thanks to the "All-Play advantage."
[4:02] EA Sports All-Play--five games this summer and fall. "We're serious about the Wii," says Moore.
[4:03] On comes John Pleasants from EA Redwood Shores. He's the new head of EA's online and publishing divisions, and came on board after working at Ticketmaster.
[4:03] "We need to give core gamers and casual gamers more access."
[4:05] He introduces Nanea Reeves, head of EA's online group. She introduces Nucleus, which is basically EA's take on the Xbox 360 gamer profile. It keeps a single identity across all EA games.
[4:07] This will be key for EA's microtransactions initiative, allowing one to buy in-game items in different games.
[4:08] Enter Shawn Fanning, creator of Napster and now head of Rupture, the social-gaming network EA recently scooped up. He talks about a new set of social achievements he's letting independent developers create.
[4:09] Out comes Travis Boatman, head of EA Mobile, to talk about iPhone games.
[4:10] He talks about how iPhone games such as Spore will take advantage of the device's accelerometer, touch screen, and Wi-Fi capabilities. Apparently in the scrabble iPhone game, you can shake the phone and the letter tiles shake.
[4:11] Need for Speed Undercover and Tiger Woods 09 are also coming to the iPhone, apparently.
[4:11] iPhone Spore game is called Spore Origins.
[4:12] Onto the stage walks Greg Zeschuk, co-founder of BioWare, to loud whoops. He's gonna show off the recently renamed Dragon Age: Origins. He says the game is the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate.
[4:13] He says the "origins" refers to the fact both that it's a return to BioWare's roots, but also how the characters will have detailed back stories. "You origins are the lens with which you will see the game."
[4:14] Roll Dragon Age trailer. It shows a very Lord of the Rings-like stand off with Orc-ish monsters attacking a castle.
[4:15] The game's Elf-like hero is assaulted by a minotaur, and then ends the trailer.
[4:15] Looks like the subtitle isn't the only announcement from BioWare. Dragon Age "is coming to the PC and consoles in the future," says Zeschuk.
[4:15] Enter Valve Software's Gabe Newell to display Left 4 Dead, which "will let you feel like you're inside in a horror movie."
[4:16] He says the goal of Left 4 Dead is to combine the social aspect of Counter-Strike and Team Fortress with the narrative of Half-Life 2.
[4:19] The game will have an AI "director" which will change how events unfold in the game depending on how you play the game. Play badly and the game will offer lesser challenges, but also lesser rewards. He shows the difference in the form of a shootout at a gas station. The bad players only face a few zombies, while the skilled players face a whole wave of zombies--and are rewarded by a massive explosion.
[4:20] After showing some detailed character models, Newell says the game is shipping November 4 for the PC and Xbox 360. Cue another trailer--easily the bloodiest yet.
[4:21] Riccitiello takes the stage again, talking up Newell. He then plays up the EA Partners program, which allows EA to help distribute the work of independent developers...hold on.
[4:22] "We're excited to announce a new partnership with the developers behind the very first person shooter," he says and then introduces...id Software's John Carmack.
[4:23] Carmack braves the flashbulb explosion to say how excited he is EA will help publish Rage, id's new Road Warrior-esque action game. Cue a new trailer.
[4:24] The very Fallout-like game looks extremely detailed, showing mutants and armed mercenaries and a dusty wasteland town.
[4:24] John R retakes the stage, and begins wrapping up. That's it! Lights come up and the crowd shuffles out.