And so it has begun. Turks and I have finally arrived in Los Angeles for E3 2009. But so far it’s been more tragedy than triumph.
Our tribulations began early. My airport shuttle was supposed to arrive at 6 am, but didn’t finally materialize until 6:15. The driver decided to make up for lost time by averaging about 80 mph in a hotel van on one of the busiest interstate highways in my area; after leaving 15 minutes late, I arrived at the airport 15 minutes early.
One other thing that I have learned about air travel since 9/11: if you’ve got a common last name, the government assumes that you’re a terrorist. Because I am a member of the fine and ancient clan Smith, US Airways denied me the opportunity to check in on the Internet or use the airport kiosks to print my boarding pass. A very pleasant and helpful lady at the ticket counter had to enter my driver’s license number in her computer to prove that I am really me.
Meanwhile in Charlotte, Turks was having troubles of his own. Although his flight to Dallas and his connecting flight to LA were considerably more plush than mine (note to self: fly American next year), the final leg of his trip departed an hour late. Once Turks arrived, we discovered that the American Airlines terminal was on the other side of the sprawling LAX complex from the US Airways terminal, and since I had the voucher that provided us with our ride to our hotel, I had to board the airport bus to the other terminal. But on an upbeat note, I did get to ride in a natural gas-fueled vehicle; who says I’m not thinking green?
Anyway, it took several laps around the airport before the SuperShuttle van was filled to capacity, and we were finally on the way to the hotel. By this point we had missed the Electronic Arts press conference, which we both agreed was fine, considering that we have three hours of appointments with EA on Wednesday on the show floor and it wasn’t likely that they’d say anything at the conference that we wouldn’t hear later on. But when we arrived at the hotel, we were told that, despite a room reservation that was made two months in advance, our room would not be available until Tuesday night. All was not lost, however; the hotel set us up at a local competitor for Monday night, telling us that we’d be welcomed with open arms on Tuesday. This, of course, means that we’re going to have to check out Tuesday morning, stash our belongings until the end of the day’s E3 festivities, retrieve our bags and move back to our original digs. Oh, and we have to do all of this in time to catch a cab to the Bethesda cocktail party on Sunset Boulevard Tuesday night.
Despite all of this sturm und drang, we actually did manage to get some work done. A brisk six-block walk though the hispanic heart of downtown LA led us to the Los Angeles Theatre, an ancient art-deco movie palace that was playing host to Ubisoft’s E3 press conference. Hosted by TV comedian Joe McHale (The Soup), the briefing featured two hours of stars, French accents and game trailers. It took McHale, various Ubisoft bigwigs and Titanic director James Cameron 35 minutes to finally show us some game footage, but not before they detailed their cooperative efforts concerning Cameron’s upcoming 3D sci-fi epic Avatar and its companion game (platform not announced). Cameron believes that “games shouldn’t be slaves to the movies, but they should have their own stories.” He backed that up with the Avatar game, which he promises will contain no movie spoilers. Cameron also described Avatar the game as the first “stereoscopic 3D game.” I assume that means that we’ll be playing while wearing 3D glasses, which must make all of gamedom’s geeks uncontrollably wet themselves in anticipation. We’ll know more later on in the week, when we’ll get some hands-on time with an early build.
The first actual game footage on display was for Red Steel 2 for the Nintendo Wii. This Wii Motion Plus-enabled first-person hack-and-slash features a red-cloaked hero with a nasty sword battling legions of black-cloaked baddies with equally nasty swords. After the obligatory trailer, we were shown a live demo in which our crimson-clad hero was dragged from the back of a motorcycle through what seemed to be the famous dry river bed known as the Los Angeles River. This was followed by a look at a boss battle featuring a character only known as “The Heavy,” who is really nothing more than a giant version of the other villains, only wielding a huge cudgel instead of a sword. It was exciting and it was colorful, but it was also strangely bloodless, considering the violent nature of the game.
Without doubt, the most embarrassing part of the evening was when legendary soccer great Pele came on stage to introduce a trailer for Academy of Champions Football, a cartoon-style soccer game featuring star players from the past versus a team of unnamed villains. Pele, whose unfamiliarity with the English language prompted the help of an interpreter, spent his time on stage talking about his work with the world’s children while practically ignoring the game he was there to discuss.
But there were also games that had the packed house all a-twitter. Superspy Sam Fisher returns in Splinter Cell:Conviction (Xbox 360, PC), in which Fisher throws out the rule book in his search for the assassin who killed his daughter. One of the most distinctive things about the demo we were shown is that game objectives are projected onto the backgrounds of the scenes, making it practically impossible for you to get lost. Ubisoft continues it’s successful line of games designed for tween girls with new installments in the Imagine< and Petz series, and adds a new franchise called Style Lab for the Nintendo Dsi. Style Lab allows you to use the DSi camera to take a picture of yourself, then use it in the game. In a jewelry-based Style Lab game, you design a piece of jewelry and upload your design to a website, after which you’ll be able to buy the actual piece that you’ve created. On the somewhat creepy side there’s Your Shape, a fitness game for the Wii that threatens to break the barrier between game and gamer. A camera (sold with the game) scans your body, then the game asks you what part of your physique you’d like to improve. The software then designs a workout regimen to help you fix what you think is broken, and it even keeps an eye on you to make sure you’re following its instructions.
Winding up the show was Rabbids Go Home, in which you help the manic bunnies steal everything that isn’t bolted down and toss it all in a pile that’s supposed to reach to the moon, which the Rabbids believe is their true home. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash Up gives you the chance to play as any of the characters in the now-25-year-old cartoon series in a one-one-one fighting game. And, last but not least, Assassins Creed 2, which moves the series from the desert sands to 15th-century Italy.
And that was just the first day. And the show doors haven’t even opened yet…