The last time I went to E3, it was one of the most annoying experiences of my life. I remember feeling assaulted by sound in a convention hall that was so crowded, I couldn't take more than two steps without stopping. It was miserable.
Yesterday, I went back to E3 for the first time in two or three years, and it seems to have been vastly improved; it's not nearly as loud, not nearly as crowded, and the games and booths I saw seemed to put substance over style, which is the inverse of my memory.
I went downtown to have lunch with a guy I know from EA, so after we ate (with everyone else in the world) he took me over to the Electronic Arts booth, where I got to see a demo of Deadspace 2 that blew my mind. It was everything I loved about Deadspace: scary, gory, and scary. The game takes place on a colony, instead of a single ship, so there are all these different environments and sets to explore. The demo they showed us took place inside a church, so the room we all sat in looked like a gothic cathedral, complete with LED candles, stained glass windows, and pews. One of the designers talked about the game while a guy played through this particular level, and I will admit that I was one of about 4 people (out of 12 or so) who jumped out of his seat when one particularly terrifying monster showed up ... there was even a moment that could be compared to the infamous Cat Scare from Alien where I may have, uh, been startled just a little bit.
The game looks really fun, and when the demo was over, they gave us literature about it, that was designed to look and feel exactly like a frakkin' Chick Tract! I thought it was super clever.
I looked at a bunch of other stuff in the EA booth: FIFA 11, NHL 11, and Madden 11 all look as great as you'd expect. I don't play NBA games, but they're doing this thing with NBA 11 where players will use both analog sticks to control the ball in a way that the people playing it seemed to agree was both challenging and satisfying.
He had to go back to work, so I figured I'd take a lap around the hall and go home. I wandered over to Xbox as I began my walk out, where I confirmed that the new 360 really is as beautiful in person as I thought. They're really pushing Kinect, which I just don't get at all. I realize I'm way out of the demographic, but using my entire body to control a video game holds as much appeal for me as doing exercise when I really want to be relaxing on the couch. It looked cool for what it was, but it's totally not my thing. Fable III, though, totally is my thing, and while I didn't get to play it, I watched a little bit and saw enough to upgrade myself from "looking forward to playing it soon" to "excited to play it why isn't it ready yet."
None of my friends who work for Xbox were at the booth, so I stared out of the booth, and passed a couple of guys who said, "Hey, Wil Wheaton!" I turned around to smile and wave, and realized that I had almost run into Peter Ha, who is my editor at Techland, and Evan Narcisse, who is another contributor. I ended up tagging along with them to the Lucasarts room, where I finally got to meet Sam Witwer in person.
I haven't talked about this much, because it's a little overwhelming for me, but Sam told me a few years ago that I am the reason he became an actor. He and his brother came to the set of Next Generation when he was 10, and I ended up talking with them for a long time about acting, storytelling, geek stuff, and the things you talk about when you're a couple of kids surrounded by adults and you're so glad to have someone your own age to talk to.
Sam has said in interviews and at cons that meeting me on that day inspired him to pursue a life as an actor and musician. When I found out about this, I was loving his work on BSG, so hearing that I played a part in actually inspiring a child to do something I loved as an adult was the sort of thing that somehow blows stuff into both of my eyes.
I'd never communicated directly with Sam until I met him yesterday at the Lucasarts booth. We ended up talking for about thirty minutes about nerd stuff; mostly gaming and D&D, and how to prevent 4E from becoming a tabletop minis game with little actual roleplaying (PRO TIP: it's pretty much on the DM to keep the RP in RPG). I watched the trailer for and a demo of The Force Unleashed II with him, and I can tell you that it was as weird to sit next to him while he ran around and used The Force to seriously fuck shit up on the screen as you'd think. And the game? The game looks awesome. You can dismember Stormtroopers.
Sam had to go do interviews, so I went with Peter to watch a demo of The Old Republic that looked beautiful, but since I really don't care for MMORPGs, I can't say with any comparison to personal experience if it was awesome or not. The people who were into MMORPGs seemed to be pretty excited about it, though. If you can see the trailer online, it's worth watching.
The next thing I saw was a demo for the next Mortal Kombat game. I loved MK2, and my friends and I used to get together back in the Genesis days to play that and NHL 93 (one of my favorite thing about the movie Swingers was seeing them play games the same way my friends and I did) but I hated MK3 and have since lost interest completely in fighting games. The next Mortal Kombat, though, may change that. The fatalities, models, animations and environments have improved and evolved exactly the way you'd expect, and it was suprisingly fun to play. It was fun to try to translate the muscle memory of Scorpion's special moves from six buttons and a D-pad to four buttons, two thumbsticks, and four triggers.
The last thing I saw was Tron Evolution, and it blew me away. It isn't Tron the way I remember Tron, but that's totally okay, because that isn't the point. Check this out: the game I played yesterday is actually a sequel to the original movie, and a prequel to the new movie. I talked with one of the developers, and he told me that they worked in concert with the film makers to actually tie the game and the movie together, which I don't think has ever been done before. I think I heard Jeff Bridges in the game, too, which I couldn't get anyone to confirm or deny.
Oh, it was also a lot of fun. I played a lightcycle level where recognizers are dropping bombs all around you, and you have to race around the damage, use jumps to go past stuff, and prevent other lightcycles from boxing you in with their light beam things. I really don't like racing games, but this version of a standard racing game was a lot of fun. I also did a level that was all about your little Tron guy running around doing parkour moves up and around walls and stuff, and then using your disc to battle a bunch of bad guys. The levels look as Tron-like as I think we could expect, with that iconic neon on everything, and one of the levels was being eaten away by a virus that was derezzing the walls and floors. It looked really cool, and presented a dynamic obstacle that had to be avoided, lest I become infected and then dead.
I finished the demo just as the hall was closing up and they were kicking us out. Peter ended up acting as a photographer for a bunch of people who wanted to take pictures with me, which was a little weird since I work for him and everything, but he didn't seem to mind.
Overall, E3 wasn't as communal as PAX, but I think that's by design. The whole show seemed more subdued and useful than it was the last several times I went, and I left feeling pretty excited to play a lot of new games, which doesn't usually happen for me.
I walked out of the convention center with thousands of nerds, and waited at a red light while I was walking back to my car. Some asshole driving like an asshole either ran the light or went too fast or something, and ended up clipping another car. It was obvious that nobody was hurt, and it was amusing when several hundred nerds sarcastically applauded for the driver.
I headed back to my car, pausing briefly at the corner of Figueroa and Chick Hearn Court to think to myself, "I'm right where the riot is going to start in about 30 hours. That's weird."
The drive home was one of the most painless rush hour experiences of my life. It was a good day.
End of line.