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E-3 2006 - Elonka's Report


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E-3 2006 - Elonka's Report
Topic: Video Games 4:41 pm EDT, May 14, 2006

So to save myself from typing in the same messages to all the IMs that are lighting up my screen with the same question: "How was E-3???", here's the blogged report. :)

E-3 2006 ended on Friday. It's Sunday as I write this, but my ears are still ringing. ;) Yesterday I had a booksigning at an art gallery in Santa Monica, and I could always tell the people who walked in who had just been at E-3, because we all share this kind of glassy-eyed shell-shocked look. ;) There is just *so* much going on, so much sensory overload, so many different things to see, but no matter how much I see, I'm also still aware of all the things I'm *not* seeing, and when the show ends, I have this mixture of emotions of relief that it's over, and yet disappointment at everything I may have missed.

There was the usual amount of hype and promotion and "spin-meisters", mixed in with flashing lights and 5-story tall posters and the booms of videogame explosions all around, but mixed in with all the chaos, a few things stand out in my memory.

The #1 thing I remember, is the beautiful 3-D sidewalk art that was being created by artist Kurt Wenner, in the middle of the floor at South Hall. Look at it from one angle and you see strange elongated shapes. But look at it from the correct angle, and it looks 3-D, like there's a huge hole in the floor and monsters are crawling out of it. Wenner sat on the floor actually creating the drawing during much of E-3, and there was also a camera taking time-lapse pictures of the process. It was fun to watch it play back in high-speed mode, both to watch the art take shape, and to see the crowds of E-3 flow around it, as well as watching the shadows move past the drawing, since sunlight was streaming in through the skylight above, so there was a sundial effect as the shadows of the girders moved past -- really beautiful, on a lot of different levels.

In terms of actual electronic game stuff, the top buzz was definitely about the new Nintendo console, with the unfortunate name "Wii". I hate the name, but the two-handed controller looks really interesting. I didn't get a chance to play with it myself (the Nintendo booth again had lines that were four hours long), but the demos that I saw from a distance looked intriguing.

I also enjoyed seeing the "retro" games making a comeback. For example, this year is evidently the 25-year anniversary of the game "Frogger". And another of the handhelds was showing off an updated version of "Lemmings". Plus there was another retro-looking game that got a lot of attention, called "Geometry Wars". It had a multi-story screen, and at one point as I passed by there was actually a big crowd of E-3ers who had gathered around to watch someone playing, and rooting for them to beat the high score (they didn't make it, but the entire crowd applauded them for trying). It was a nice moment for everyone though.

On the downside of E-3 this year, there was a lot of unhappiness about the new PS3 pricepoint ($499 for the cheap version), and very different opinions about the "Blu-Ray" technology, with some people saying the jury's still out, and other people hating it right out the gate and saying it's going to fail.

Another disappointment was the computer game version of "The Da Vinci Code", which, from the few minutes I spent playing it, looked *really* awful. :/ The art's fine, but the gameplay was overly linear, the controls were non-intuitive, and I have a personal loathing for any game where you suddenly die in combat and get a big message of "You have failed" displayed on the screen, or where there's a "puzzle" to solve, but the only thing you can click on is the one item you need to solve the puzzle, and everything else is greyed out until it's needed.

Another negative this year involved the "G4 TV" broadcasts. I found their coverage to be clueless, mis-leading, and just plain rude, ranging from the way that they would belittle lesser-known game developers (they made fun of some of the smaller booths down in Kentia Hall), to the way that they had obviously pre-arranged shills in their "behind the camera" audience, fashionable young models who were supposed to smile and cheer on cue and pretend to be part of the E3 attendees. I mean c'mon, is it that hard to find a crowd of people at E-3? Or was it just that the typical attendees weren't photogenic enough for the G4 producers? I also heard complaints from other game developers about how they'd be interviewed by the G4 hosts, but then the only sound bytes that were chosen would be something that could be used for shock value. G4 was making enemies left and right, I never heard a single game developer (or anyone in the tech scene) say anything positive about G4's presence, and if it were up to me, I'd say that G4 should not be allowed back in future years.

Getting back to the positive side, I enjoyed catching up with the still in-development "Odami" game on PlayStation. It was about 20% complete when shown last year, and this year was at the 80% mark. The art is charming, with stylized Japanese calligraphy for the creatures. For example, when the wolf leaps over something, when it lands, instead of generating a cloud of dust, beautiful calligraphy-style pen & ink flowers rise up out of the ground. When an obstacle (like a giant vat) needs to be destroyed, instead of it exploding, the screen changes back into a simple paper drawing, and then a giant ink brush emerges from the sky to gracefully draw a line across the vat, causing it to open. I'm looking forward to playing the game, just to ooh and ah at the art.

Another game I enjoyed learning about was "Viva Pinata". Targeted towards children, it's a whimsical colorful world with pinata animals wandering around. The player can encourage the pinatas to move into different areas, and if the right pinatas get close to each other, they can fall in love (little hearts buzz around their heads), and they engage in a mating dance which is unique for each of the dozens of different types of pinata animals. The game is scheduled for a holiday release, and already has tie-ins with an upcoming Saturday morning cartoon show, as well as a line of merchandise. Just based on what I saw at E-3, I'm ready to buy a copy now, for my 6-year-old niece.

And of course there was lots more going on... Lots of different versions of Final Fantasy games, plus other MMORPGs to see (the game that my company was demo-ing, Hero's Journey, won the "Most Original" award from And of course there was also the networking with many other game developers and organizations. I'd try to list them here, but it would just be dozens and dozens of names, and I'm trying to get this report out while I'm still in L.A., before flying back to St. Louis! So, signing off for now . . .

Elonka :)

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