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The 40 Year Old E3 Journalist

E3 2012 confirmed something I have been rolling around in my head the past few shows but was afraid to confront.

I am a relic. A relic of E3’s long past. This show has simply passed me by. This struck me at an odd time; I was walking from one end of the Convention Center to the other with Todd, my intrepid colleague and friend, hobbling from one appointment to next on Thursday afternoon as neck pain shot down my arm with every step. In truth I was in no condition to tackle E3. I have an MRI scheduled for Monday and four days of walking was not ideal therapy.

I confided to Todd that there was a good chance that this would be my last E3. Was it the pain meds talking? Was it the incessant sound of Ray Lewis yelling at me from the EA booth or the marketing tool banging on his placard in the food court about how the end was near as he promoted Resident Evil 6? I do not know. But I know this.

This was a rough E3 for me.

This isn’t disillusionment. Hell I have been disillusioned with the direction of E3 since…well since there has been an E3. This was show #12 for me. I started going to E3 when it was held in Atlanta, and it has always been a dog and pony show of controlled messaging, glitzy hype, the tease of juvenile soft core porn, and the battle of who could have the loudest booth. None of that has changed, and some people love that about E3. My first show was like being let loose in an amusement park for gamers. I get it.

But there was a time when I could summarily ignore the Nintendo booth and the Sony booth and every other console driven publisher because I was at E3 to cover PC games. That was my beat from 1996 through 2005. There was an entire sub-section of E3 that allowed me to stay clear of the battle of the annoying E3 booths and focus on what I was there to cover. It was awesome. Today, as a gamer that primarily plays role-playing, strategy and sports games with a sprinkling of a specific style of shooter thrown in for good measure, (Metro, Bioshock, Borderlands, etc.) E3 is one tough gig. I care as much about the E3 press conferences, the Wii U, the Vita, and Lollipop Chainsaw as I do the upcoming season of Hillbilly Handfishin’. This isn’t “PC snobbery”, this is simply a fact. It’s just not my scene, and hell I use my 360 as much as I do the PC these days.

My pain and disdain aside, there were certainly high points: Chatting with Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester at a hotel bar about all manner of things from Crusader Kings II to how much he loves baseball. Wester is a fascinating guy: Personable, funny, and a walking quote machine. I promised I wouldn’t quote anything he said during this informal gathering that consisted of roughly six people. This was just a few people having a drink and talking games. It was a smart move on his part. Oh, the stories.

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The entire THQ lineup of Metro Last Light, Company of Heroes 2, and Darksiders 2 was a throwback to the E3 I once loved. An upstairs appointment away from the noise, a team or PR people who seemed genuinely glad you stopped by, and developers who didn’t have to scream at you to demo their game. The THQ rep who I have known for years said they were unsure how the press would react to such an appointment and it is my sincere hope that every press member who had a THQ meeting showed their gratitude for being able to do their job in relative peace.

I walked into the small Darksiders 2 room, was given a gamepad and was told, “Have fun and let us know if you have questions.” If not for the certain uncomfortable outcome I would have hugged the man. So I played Darksiders 2 for about 30 uninterrupted minutes. We then sat in a small room and watched wonderful demos for Company of Heroes 2 and Metro Last Light and asked questions and at no time felt like cattle being herded out the door. These two games looked great, and Metro made Brandon jump more than once. It was being demoed on an Alienware beast PC and it looked crazy good.

This is how E3 used to be for me.

This is E3 today:

Todd and I walked to the Ubisoft appointment in South hall mid-day on Wednesday. It was loud. An Otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat doctor, and yes I had to look that up) would tell you dangerously loud. I forgot my ear plugs—a silly mistake. I have no idea if Ubisoft was showing stuff upstairs to “more important” press or not but we were down in the South hall pit with a sea of bodies bumping into one another trying to get in line to play a game or get to an appointment or if you are someone from Best Buy…just to get in the damn way. I’m sure from above it looked very much like the New York Stock Exchange in those movies when someone yells, “Sell!” and everyone wants to buy.

First it was Far Cry 3. We receive no presentation, just a pair of headphones and are told we are going to play some multiplayer. Fair enough. I love hands-on time. We spend 15 to 20 minutes shooting the enemy AI on a co-op map without much context to fill in the what’s and the why’s. I wanted to talk about the single player but it was too loud and the next group was clamoring to play. Some fellow in giant Oswald ears, obtained at the Disney booth, took the controller from my hand after I was done. Clearly it was time to move on.

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Assassin’s Creed 3 was next. I love this series even though I couldn’t get into the last one. This was a hands-off demo that was driven by a developer, which is fine. I was seeing new stuff at least. We all had on headphones but this time they were networked so that when the dev spoke we heard it through the speakers. Again no problem. But it was so loud that when the Just Dance 4 booth kicked into gear all we heard was “Never Gonna Give You Up”. The developer even shook his head and said, “I never imagined I’d demo Assassin’s Creed while being Rick Rolled.”

You and me both brother.

This is not to say that the people giving the demos at the Ubi booth and Eddie our very patient and overworked PR rep didn’t do a great job—they did. Given the circumstances it was as good as could be expected but it’s simply not an ideal place for discussion. It’s like a Friday night meat market dance hall and I didn’t like that scene when I was 20…let alone 40. By the time the tour was over I just wanted some Advil. Then I watched Sam Fisher torture people for 20 minutes in the Splinter Cell: Blacklist demo.

I do have more good memories from this E3 though such as playing Borderlands 2 with Brandon for nearly 40 minutes, even though it’s hard to play a game like that under a time limit. I play Borderlands at a snail’s pace, examining every item I pick up and talking to my teammates. Here we just blasted shit for 40 minutes and tested out some powers and guns. Still, I left happy. I’m not going to complain about 40 minutes of Borderlands 2 hands-on time.

The XCOM demo was reassuring. Still, I wish I had some hands on time with it. In all, the game looks like what you’d expect from a modern take on XCOM. It’s highly cinematic, but I still see XCOM at its root. I could have done without the Sid Meier cameo.

Playing Dishonored for a half hour was also a joy—checking out the powers and taking in the wonderful art direction. I had a nasty neck pain flare up during my playtime which cut everything short. I didn’t finish the demo, but Brandon did.

Talking to Josh Looman at the EA booth about the INSANE new Madden franchise mode changes. We were in a quiet room in South hall so the noise was under control and we just talked football for a 30 minutes. I really like Josh and the radical shift in how Madden treats franchise play is his baby and I hope it works out. We always want EA to take risks and this is a big one. I love this mad scientist stuff though so I’m on board. If only NCAA 13 were doing the same.

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Beating Todd 1-0 in both NHL and FIFA 13. All is right with the world.

Seeing Dark Souls on the PC and seeing firsthand how it looks better than the console version. I don’t care what anyone says about it being a port. I looked fantastic. I’ve seen the forest near Darkroot Garden enough to know that this was not the 360 edition. Unless other people saw a different area than I did I have no idea what there was to bitch about aside from the choice to use GFWL and the fact that the developer said porting to the PC wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be. SO what? It LOOKED wonderful. I saw zero framerate issues in the E3 demo. In fact I wanted to stay and watch more of it.

Leaving my Dark Souls time, I wandered over to Namco’s other game on display, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, the RPG from Level 5. I was amazed at how lovely and charming this game looked. It certainly has a kid-like JRPG tone to it, which I usually dislike, but it looks like the cutscenes from Professor Layton. It’s like playing inside a cartoon. I absolutely want to see more of this. While it was great to look at I never could find someone to talk to about the game. It was on an 8-minute timed demo in South hall with anxious people waiting in line to play it.

Finally, my final E3 appointment, at 4:00 on Thursday was with Vladimir Tortsov of Snowbird Games. I was in terrible pain at this point, I was tired, and really just wanted to leave and go eat dinner with the gang. But I promised Vladimir I’d see his game. The meeting took place in a hallway outside of the media room. Todd and I huddled around Vladimir’s laptop. People were leaving the show; young, still energetic show goers bounced down the hallway wearing Borderlands 2 t-shirts and wearing the Oswald ears, carrying tote bags filled with all manner of crazy swag. (Full disclosure: the Metro guys gave us a functioning gas mask. Seriously. It’s kind of awesome.) It was clearly closing time for E3.

Vladimir fired up the demo for Eador: Masters of the Broken World. As he spoke about the game, dropping names like Civ, Master of Magic, Europa Universalis, tabletop miniature gaming, and Heroes of Might and Magic, I sat there in an uncomfortable seat, laser beam pain shooting down my arm, hunched over a laptop in the bowels of the Convention Center with a goofy grin on my face.

If not for the certain uncomfortable outcome I would have hugged the man.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

25 thoughts to “The 40 Year Old E3 Journalist”

  1. I’m ready to call it quits after three years of going to my own field’s overblown and overcommercialized annual conference, so I admire that you’ve made it this far. There’s just diminishing returns with these sort of things, I think.

  2. Sorry to hear it was a disappointing time overall, the environment really sounds awful. It also seems like a ridiculous waste of money by these companies. Why even spend the money to get Usher to come on stage? No-one cares. Are the games good? That’s what I want to see.

    On that note, seeing as you got some hands on time with NHL 13, I gotta ask, is the new skating system as cool as they make it sound?

    1. Why do companies spend so much money on E3? Some of these booths looked absolutely insane. Are they earning that money back because of the show or should they just pay an extra bonus to some hard working mid-level workers with families instead?

      1. Even if you keep that money towards marketing, game companies could market in different areas, rather than throwing piles of money unnecessarily at an already captive audience. People who are attending E3 are going to write about what you say no matter what it is; it doesn’t matter if Usher is saying it, or the game designer in question. In fact, it would probably be more interesting and credible if the game designer was talking.

        But hey, it’s spectacle, seemingly for the sake of spectacle. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it seems like people are increasingly asking what’s the point of E3 this year, perhaps if this continues we’ll see a more subdued and useful event in future years.

    2. PK, It’s like having to re-learn how to skate in the game – in a good way. Trying to go top speed up the wings and just cut into the middle without skating into the boards behind the net is nigh impossible.

      1. Very good news, the change sounds pretty significant; I’ll be looking forward to the demo. Seeing as NHL 14 will probably come out on one of the theoretical future consoles, and they’re unlikely to go back to PC (that would be awesome…), it might be my last NHL for a while.

        I hated that cutting to the middle, and it also sounds like playing the man rather than the puck on D will be a more useful strategy. Exciting!

  3. Do not let the young whipper snappers turn E3 into some grotesque monstrosity of it’s former self. You old guys need to keep going, show the flag, remind people of where gaming came from.
    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light

  4. Bill…remember that 2000 E3? Sorry about the snoring. At least we finally got our own rooms. Ah the memories… where did the time go? I didn’t even have a kid then. Now he’s 11!

  5. Solid recap article bill. Might not get a true E3 wrap up show for another week due to technical problems, but this definitely gives a nice overview.

    And I hope the MRI goes well Monday.

  6. I remember when the show was originally ‘cancelled’ and being pretty pissed off about that.

    Then 2 or 3 years later when they announced it’s return, there was joy.

    Until the show finally started. I don’t know if it’s my age group has just moved on or if the show itself has stopped being relevant, I just know that e3 doesn’t matter to me anymore.

  7. Buddy of mine told me to check this blog out last week. Ive never heard of it. If this article is any indication, you have earned a fan today.

    That was great.

    Will you do a full preview for Eador?

  8. My first and only E3s were the 2 in ATL in the 90s. Those were great. Have to admit that I watched some of this year’s coverage on Spike and G4, but except for a handful of games show was not that exciting.

    Enjoyed the article, and except for the pain thing, I think E3 has passed me by …

  9. More info about the insane changes in Madden please!!!!! EA’s page doesn’t do well explaining what’s going on so I’d love to hear it first-hand from you Bill.

  10. As a fellow 40-year old, thank you for putting in the time to get us all some perspective. As you consider future events, I hope you’ll have access to younger reporters who are/will be willing to go out and get the info for you… you know, young minds you can mold and mentor. I’m sure there are many younglings lurking about that would gladly jump at the opportunity.

  11. I’ve never been to an E3, but I’ve read about a fair number of them….

    Once upon a time, E3 was a trade show struggling mightily to become a convention. Then E3 decided to reverse course, toss out all the ‘extra’ people who were getting in, and return to being a smaller, calmer trade show.

    But the main floor hasn’t gotten the news. This sounds like the worst excesses of the San Diego Comic Con dealer’s floor (which occasionally get trimmed back by rules against booths being too tall or too loud). Comic Con of course is there purely for the consumer, so I don’t really get why this is going on at E3 (to this degree). (Comic Con has also been taken over by Hollywood, so it isn’t much of a Comic Con anymore, but that’s a different subject.)

  12. Heya i am for the primary time here. I found this board and I to find It really helpful & it helped me out a lot.

    I hope to give something back and help others
    like you helped me.

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