It was an early morning. The first conference, dubbed the Xbox E3 2013 Media Briefing was to begin at 9am, which meant people would start queueing much earlier. We set off at 6:50 or so from our house in West Hollywood. That sounds pretty glamorous, but the neighborhood we’re in is just a typical middle class suburban one and it’s quite a long way from the glamour of Hollywood. We’re a short walk from a bus stop on a big boulevard, so that’s where we headed first.
The boulevards in Los Angeles go on forever. The ride from our apartment to Downtown is half an hour, and we’re just west of “Central LA.” A short walk to another stop and we’re on our way to the Galen Center, part of the University of Southern California campus. While queuing we saw the awesome P1 McClaren car arrive, drawing attention from everyone. At 8am the doors opened and a few thousand of us were shuffled in. To get in to these conferences you have to get an invite beforehand, register yourself and bring a barcode along. We were armed with barcodes, two cameras, two video cameras, two netbooks, two wireless dongles, a couple of energy bars, bottles of water, a Windows 8 tablet and a smartphone and a half (the half being a Blackberry, of course). We should have also packed earplugs.
The wireless in these venues is usually free. It also almost never works. We spent the hour waiting in our seats in what seemed like a concert venue auditorium taking photos of bright green screens and getting connected to the internet so we could liveblog and tweet. At 9am the noise began. The Phantom Pain, a great start to the show. What followed was a barrage of sound and fury. They swiftly moved from game to game, with trailer after trailer. No gameplay demos, just cinematics. No bullet points, and not very much talking. Which was a good thing because all the talking sounded like marketing-speak; things like “nobody has been more committed to indie games than Xbox,” or “you can feel the texture,” or “a new type of storytelling,” or, multiple times, “the power of the Xbox One.” In a quick hour it was all over and we were left feeling impressed but still a little manipulated. Microsoft’s strange indirect approach to issues in their previous conference and this one makes it feel like they have things to hide. The information provided was almost mumbled and followed by a loud trailer for another game. I get that they wanted to give games the centre stage, but we also want information and explanation, surely. I felt like I was spinning whenever Don Mattrick spoke.
They finished with Titanfall, one of the best games we’ve seen so far, so we left feeling that the Xbox One, for all it’s consumer issues, was probably going to provide amazing game experiences, which is what we pay for anyway. But the audience reaction was fairly mute overall – a kind of “been there, done that” response.
Microsoft (or was it EA) kindly provided a signposted path to the next conference in the Shrine Auditorium, a theatre-styled room that was to contain 4000 people according to Peter Moore. We had some time to kill so we considered waiting in a queue for bad take away food, but thought better of it. We had pre-registered at the LA Convention Center the day before, and I still had my orange armband on, which meant we could join the queue to go in. Oliver had rebelliously torn his off: who puts an armband on you a day before you’re going to need it? Peter Moore popped up a few minutes before the show to say something about journalists. I’m not sure what he was getting at. Then it started. More loud noises. In summary, the EA conference was lots of movie trailers for games (a rather sad trend in my opinion), a brief interlude for sports games promoted by sportsmen, and then more movie trailers. The one that caused the most sadness inside was Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. Who thought it was a good idea to make CG versions of the colourful Plants vs Zombies characters? It reminded me of that “mature” Mario image: terrible. Even the title is such a cynical dig at Activision. Really, EA, where is your soul? Why do games have to be so…ugly to be cool? And why do they have to take themselves so seriously? EA was redeemed by a teaser of Mirror’s Edge 2, which may or may not ever get released, and Titanfall, which looks really, really good.
We were whisked away to Ubisoft’s conference in shuttle buses, and made it into the conference by the skin of our teeth. I loved Ubisoft’s venue, an old-school cinema theatre in a historic district in downtown LA. We were in our seats about a minute before it started, but fortunately this time the Wi-Fi gods smiled on us and I could join in our liveblog with ease on a real keyboard. Ubisoft’s presentation was mostly good in that they have a great line-up of games but suffered immensely from being too cinematic. They breezed through known franchises like Rayman and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, expectedly, but only spent barely more time on new stuff like The Crew and The Division while spending an oddly long amount of time on “The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot.” They opened with Jerry Cantrell playing some Rocksmith and endorsing its claim that it’s the quickest way to learn guitar. Ubisoft is the only one who hires a compere for conference, and Aisha Tyler did a good job of keeping things light and moving swiftly without awkward pauses (or at least without unintentional awkward pauses).
While the infected money from The Division was still falling from the ceiling we exited and looked for the hoped-for shuttle bus to the Sony conference, the last stop of the day. I didn’t have an invite so I made my way back to our abode to recharge my phone and get set up to watch the Sony conference. I wasn’t there in person to be impacted by the soundwaves, but it was the most exhilarating of the conferences, mainly because they managed to truly surprise with the two big announcements: $399 and support for the continuance of a used game market. The cheers given for both those announcements were the loudest and longest of the day. In the end it wasn’t a particular game, which is only right since games take time to play to really appreciate, but it was a bit of sanity: a focus on value, a focus on what gamers want in terms of rights, and the sense of being valued rather than being a target market to be fed spin.