E3 2008: Gut Reactions
E3 2008 has come and gone. Find out what the GameSpot editors thought of this year's show.
E3 made its sheepish return to Los Angeles for 2008 after having a brief fling with Santa Monica last year. The show may have returned to its old digs, but it kept its "Media & Business Summit" exclusivity, which restricted attendee invitations and put limits on exhibition booths to create a more intimate business environment. Nevertheless, for all that has changed, much has stayed the same. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft kicked off the show with their traditional press conferences, and there were plenty of games on display, including Gears of War 2, Prince of Persia, and Resident Evil 5. We asked our editors to share what they thought of E3 2008.
This past weekend, lots of people asked me to pick my favorite of the many E3 stage demos that we hosted during GameSpot's live coverage of E3 2008. I didn't have an answer for them right away. In fact, due to either advancing age or simply being overwhelmed during the three-day show, I could hardly remember some of the demos that I myself hosted. That said, with a little reflection (and some timely re-viewing), here's my list of top-five stage demos. Note that these aren't my five favorite games that were shown, just the most fun I had onstage during E3 2008.
-- I didn't host this segment, but the fact that we could provide the viewers with on-demand nuclear blasts was definitely above average.
Far Cry 2 onstage demos, each of which showed off distinct levels. Kickass.
As for E3 2008 itself, it seemed to be a utilitarian event at best. Yes, the press got to see most, if not all, of the games that we'll be playing in the coming months and, yes, it was easy to get around from one place to the next, get to all the appointments, and basically get the information out there. So thumbs up for efficiency.
Unfortunately, an efficient E3 is not necessarily an alluring E3, as evidenced by the staggering lack of mainstream coverage of this year's event. Whereas the old E3 was full of pomp, circumstance, and gratuitous booth babes, the last two years have given the nonenthusiast press very little to point their cameras at that says "Hey, games are fun!"
The constant buzz from the folks I spoke with at E3 2008 was that next year's show will need to amp things up to stay relevant. Not necessarily taking things back to the mindless bloat of 2006, mind you, but something with a bit more kick. If you ask me, the Tokyo Game Show and Leipzig Games Convention show model--which is designed to include a couple of days for business and media only, followed by open-to-the-public access--seems to be just what the doctor ordered. All the ESA needs to do is get over its innate fear of the general public and we'll have an E3 that everyone--developers, publishers, media, and fans--can enjoy.
America. The only country ostentatious enough to pull off 24-hour weddings, the '63 Corvette Sting Ray, and the 15-pound hamburger. It's also the only place that could ever have coped with the excesses of E3 '06, even if it did leave Los Angeles with the mother of all hangovers. E3's subsequent downsizing has been well documented, but I just want to add one personal anecdote: I spent half an hour of the first day of E3 '08 just trying to find the show floor. I literally couldn't find where they'd hidden the booths.
But you know what? I kind of like it. As a Brit, I feel at home with polite reservation and nervous embarrassment. And to use a tired but still relevant idiom, it's all about the games, and E3 '08 offered both quality and variation. I found my favourite game of the show on the first day, as Flower's striking beauty brought me close to tears. On the second day, I casually wandered into Microsoft to be greeted not only with extended plays of Fable II and Halo Wars, but also with one-to-one time with the developers themselves.
And with everything covered off by Thursday, I managed to clean up and see amazing games like Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter IV, and Animal Crossing: City Folk. Whereas the noise, crowds, and sweat of E3 '06 left me in a head-broken stupor, E3 '08 was (and I'll whisper this in case any of my bosses are listening)...fun.
The only real disappointments were the press conferences from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. None of them really captured the imagination of the attendees, but that's to be expected halfway through console cycles. The good news is that E3 is only the first of the annual trade shows, and there'll be loads more news from Leipzig and Tokyo. Not only that, but unlike E3, these two shows actually give the public a chance to play what we've been writing about. So, to use an American expression--bring it!
Heading down to E3 this year, I was full of anticipation. For the first time, I would actually be walking around the show floor and seeing games in person, rather than following the proceedings from a digital remove. I couldn't wait to see the GameSpot field headquarters and be a part of the massive on-site crew. I was so busy getting excited for the experience of the event that I sort of forgot to get excited about the games. It turned out that this was just as well, given that my days were fully consumed with checking out my assigned games at the convention center, then heading back to the hotel to write them up. I ended up having a great time at E3, despite the fact that the show itself didn't provide many thrills.
E3 was back in the LA Convention Center this year, but it was far from the bombastic spectacle that it was in years past. This easily navigable and fairly peaceful environment made my job easier, but the lack of excitement in the air was a bit disappointing. With many of the publishers squirreled away in conference rooms, the show floor felt more like a high-school art fair than a video game extravaganza. I had a good time playing the Super Mario Bros. theme song with steel drums in Wii Music, and kicked it middle-school style by singing "Come Out and Play" by The Offspring in Rock Band 2, but my assignments were mostly set in subdued conference-room setups that each felt like a less-enthusiastic version of a run-of-the-mill press event.
By contrast, the GameSpot headquarters was bustling and brimming with excitement. People were writing, editing, and programming furiously while guests such as Peter Molyneux, Cliff Bleszinski, and The Miz (I'm a sucker for WWE showmanship) sat on the live stage talking passionately about their games. A handful of GameSpot users were on hand, and it was great to talk with them and see how psyched they were to be on hand. Homer Rabara alone generated more excitement than most of E3, and it was great to feel everyone feeding off of each other's energy. That experience did more than all of the exciting, high-profile sequels to make this E3 a memorable one. That, and seeing The Who live in concert. They rock.
E3's already been confirmed for 2009, but I for one have a big request to ask of the ESA: Don't have it at the Los Angeles Convention Centre.
It's not that the LACC is a bad venue--far from it. This is the second year of the downsized E3, and from a journalist's point of view, having the entire show in one location made it even easier to traipse from appointment to appointment (compared to the Santa Monica strip's hotel-to-hotel shuffle from E3 2007). And keeping the show trade-only is still way better than the E3s of old, where you had to fight through the sweaty masses just to get from point A to B.
What bugged me about this year's show was the ghost of E3 past. Coming back to the scene of E3's greatest excesses--the LACC--just rammed home the fact that, sadly, I kind of miss the craziness. Sure, the GameSpot editor in me appreciates the ease of the new E3, but the rabid game geek inside still wants to see that over-the-top insanity. Back in 2006, the entire LACC was plastered with gigantic game advertisements on absolutely every surface. This year, the convention centre was absolutely devoid of color; passersby wouldn't even have known that there was anything on, let alone the gaming world's biggest event of the year. The show floor of E3 2006 covered several halls, but this year's entire floor would have fit inside Sony's booth two years ago.
I'm not saying that the ESA should let every GameStop employee in America back in for next year's E3. All I'm saying is that if you're going to stick with small (and believe me, I prefer it), change the venue so I'm not constantly reminded of how mega-insane and cool the old E3 used to be.
I finally understand the expression, "You can't go home again." I had attended three over-the-top, megaloud E3s at the LA Convention Center, the Real E3 Experience. The fabled land where booth babes run free and skateboarders perform death-defying tricks mere feet from an unfortunate man wandering around in an oversized Gumby suit. Last year's show, which felt as much like a tour of various five-star hotels as a gallant video game extravaganza, was a cruel tease for the real thing. I thought I could relive the glory of being engulfed in waves of blaring music while choking down the sweat of thousands of squirming gamers by going back to the scene of the original spectacle. Boy, was I wrong.
I walked by this year's show floor three times before I realized that I had been standing right next to it. Even The Who's Tommy wouldn't have been able to miss the intoxicated fever of the previous E3s. (He'd be able to feel the music, of course.) But this year's show floor was held in the closet of the enormous Convention Center. It took only five minutes for me to weave through the modest displays, see stations either completely empty or being played by paid attendants, and realize the bitter truth that I had been ignoring for so long: The beast has been slain.
Once I got over my nostalgic pull for the days of yore, I started to really like this year's show. In previous years, I would have walked right past a quirky 2D platformer like The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, lured away by the flashing lights of some extravagant, beckoning oasis. But this year I was able to talk to the creator (a USC student) for half an hour, see the ins and outs of the novel gameplay mechanics, and have now placed this toward the very top of my most-wanted list--assuming that the game finds a publisher. With big games like Fallout 3 and Banjo living up to their promise, and even the downtrodden Wii Music offering way more fun than I expected, from a pure game perspective, I loved this year's show.
Oh, and I got to see The Who. I'm still giddy.
The biggest surprise of E3 2008 simply had to be that there will be an E3 2009. I didn't want it to go, but I had a sinking feeling that this would be my last E3, for a few reasons. First, the convention is a drain on developers looking to get their games out on time and up to spec. These guys are busy cranking away on a game when a publisher comes to them requesting a polished level to show off to the press. That takes time and effort out of the traditional development cycle.
Second, it's not like big games are going to disappear if E3 isn't around for their announcements. If Halo 3 had been announced at GDC or CES or Comic-Con or on a street corner, it would still be a huge story. Fans are going to get their news, whether it comes from a convention or not. With all of the glitz and glam, practically speaking, E3 seemed to be a money pit, probably the reason that publishers such as Activision and LucasArts bowed out.
But again, I'm just being practical. As a fan, it's like Christmas morning for me on the show floor or behind closed doors to see games like Resident Evil 5 or Mirror's Edge. For so long, E3 has been the place to make announcements and show off hot games. It's part of gaming culture, if there is such a thing. Despite all of the work that goes into covering the show on our end, I love coming to E3. There's nothing else like it. I would gladly live off of beef jerky, Twinkies, and gummy bears if that meant that I'd get hands-on with Gears of War 2, Street Fighter IV, or Empire: Total War months before they came out. Heck, I first played Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway at E3 2006.
We'll see what happens next summer. Practically speaking, E3 makes little sense. It's not like the film industry has one major annual convention where you get to see what every studio is up to, from big-budget blockbusters to indie flicks. Movies hit the theaters, some hit, some miss. Without E3 or a similar event to take its place, that's pretty much what would happen in the game industry. But where's the fun in that?
I didn't find the show all that exciting from a games or hardware point of view. Several of the large games at the show were well covered prior to the event, and the only big hardware news to come out of the show was the Wii MotionPlus.
If you think back to E3 in 2004, 2005, and 2006, a great deal of the attention focused on new consoles and portables. Each of the big press conferences held gigantic announcements focused on the then-unreleased consoles. This year the big guys sat around and showed us some games that we already knew about, a couple that we didn't, and then proceeded to flog us with how well they're doing. "We shipped X consoles, sold Y, and made Z amount of money." Handy information for investors, but hardly groundbreaking material for people who are concerned with actually playing games.
The next-generation consoles aren't quite so "next" anymore. We're almost into the third year of the Xbox 360, and the second for the Wii and PlayStation 3. The Nintendo DS and Sony PSP are also getting pretty old. The hardware hullabaloo is done for the time being.
Even with the dearth of hardware related news, I was most impressed with Microsoft's plans for the Xbox 360. The fall update, or the New Xbox Experience as it's been dubbed, really is something to get excited about. The console will get a total makeover and feature some truly useful gaming and nongaming-related content. The Primetime game-show concept intrigues me, and supporting Netflix is a fantastic idea.
With any luck, next year's show will be a return to the E3 that we all remember. I'm hoping for something that takes up a bit more than a hallway, but not as crowded as past E3's. What I'm really hoping for is a glimpse into the future of gaming. Show me what's next. (A playable God of War III wouldn't hurt, either.)
Going into E3 2008, I knew that I would be walking into a toned-down version of what I saw back in 2006, but I was still disappointed when the press conferences came and went and I ended up being more excited about getting my stories up on the site rather than the news itself.
The first time I went to E3, it felt like Las Vegas because of all the lights and the huge crowds. It was definitely a dream come true because I was sitting in a giant arcade with games that weren't even out yet. It was overwhelming and incredible because my eyes were drawn to anything and everything. There were so many screens on display and people shoving schwag in your face, it was hard to get from one appointment to the other.
I was not bogged down with oversized T-shirts, key chains, stuffed animals, notebooks, and guides this year. There was no large crowd to follow and no real indication that there was even a big trade show going on. I wandered the sparsely populated halls between appointments, but there were enough attendees around for me to realize that I was going the wrong way if I turned into a completely empty hallway.
The most exciting piece of news to me was that Final Fantasy XIII was going to be on the Xbox 360. But now that I think about it, I don't really care because I'll end up getting it on the PlayStation 3 anyway. I was more thrilled when I heard that Chrono Trigger was going to make its way to the Nintendo DS, but that was announced prior to E3.
I got to cover some games that were visually appealing, but I think my overall favorite from the show was Flower. I like it when developers try something new and different, without just combining genres and calling it "innovative," but actually going out there and thinking of a unique way to play a game. It's not the type of game that would appeal to most of my gamer friends, but it's the type of game that I would share with my nongamer friends to see if they would want to give it a try. As scaled-down as E3 was this year, I still didn't have the time to see all of the games that I wanted to see, but I did get to see a variety (or weird) selection of games.
I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens next year at E3 2009. Maybe they'll finally announce a date for FFXIII!
You know in BioShock, how you'll encounter those ghostly flashbacks as you wander through the corridors of Rapture? E3 2008 was a lot like that. I didn't mind the smaller scale last year, when we were at the Santa Monica Pier, because the venue fit the size--and the area is beautiful, to boot. This year, as I wandered about the convention center, I was struck more by the memories of years past than by what was actually there. Gone were throngs of people waiting outside a theater to see a trailer. A trailer! I recalled my first glimpses of Call of Duty 2, Quake 4, Tabula Rasa, and Okami as I wandered about, and those haunting spirits were more palpable than anything that 2008's lackluster showing had on hand.
That said, some games had a positively electric effect on me. Literally. My personal game of the show was inFAMOUS, a superhero title being released exclusively for the PlayStation 3 in which the hero wields electrical powers. Developer Sucker Punch obviously believes in this game, and the real-world inspirations that they cited--riots in Seattle, Hurricane Katrina's pummeling of New Orleans--were completely evident in the bits of gameplay I saw. Imagine scaling walls, Assassin's Creed-style, while electrocuting enemies with lightning bolts in a dingy modern city. It's more than pure fun, though; it's also a study in human nature, and the animal instincts that we wrestle with when thrust into extraordinary circumstances. I feel like I get what Sucker Punch is doing, and I am genuinely excited by it.
Trouble was, we had to go searching for the excitement, given that the big three certainly went out of their way to underwhelm, what with Nintendo's incessant self-congratulation, Microsoft's loss of identity, and Sony's...well, I am not even sure what I would call that. I still haven't quite recovered from Jack Tretton's tasteless Jack Palance joke, honestly. Don't get me wrong: There is plenty to be thrilled about on the horizon, and we saw a lot of fantastic games (Fallout 3, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Prince of Persia, to name a few personal favorites). But I was hoping for streamers and noisemakers, and the press conferences (and the show floor) delivered shrugs and whimpers instead. I am more thankful than ever for passionate developers like Sucker Punch, who still deliver the raw enthusiasm that used to pervade E3.
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