I watched each press conference with laser focus and intense anticipation.
I poured over the maps of the Los Angeles Convention Center with the determination of memorizing floor layouts and booth positioning.
I bookmarked every forum post ever made in regards to newcomer tips for navigating the sometimes rugged waters of the show.
I itemized and inventoried and planned my time for the three days that lay ahead. Three days of gaming glory and gorgeously rendered heaven…
I thought myself prepared for my first ever Electronics Entertainment Expo (or E3 to the rest of the non-ridiculously nerdy world). Backpack filled with peanut butter, water, a Nintendo 3DS and a whole bevy of charging cables for various electronics? Check. The inherent knowledge that I would spend the next three days in an almost perpetual line? Check. The giddiness and excitement of a kid on Christmas? You bet.
But nothing could really prepare me for how truly overwhelming the spectacle of E3 can be.
I arrived early on day 1 with a head full of ideas on which games I would play and when I would play them. The dread of lines and wait times grew, however, as I saw the South Hall of the Convention Center nearly packed to the brim a full four hours before the doors to the show floor would even open.
“This is going to be a clusterfuck,” was the only thought my swimming head could conjure up.
Before long the crowd swelled until there were bodies as far as the eye could see. My 3DS was hot to the touch with the multitudes of Street Pass Miis it was being bombarded with. An excited chatter buzzed about the lobby. After four long, arduous hours the floor opened up and everyone rushed the escalators to try to get their hands on whatever big titles would be thrown our way over the next two years.
For me, my “must-see” game resided at the Bethesda display- so I ran there with the enthusiasm that only the first day of E3 can bring. I queued up with a small group of people; the smallest group I would experience over the next three days, around a display that could only be described as painfully intricate. The demo for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was designed around “Papa Joe’s All-American Diner”, a reference to an Inglorious Basterds-esque scene from the game trailer shown during Bethesda’s conference in which an SS officer orders a strawberry milkshake and interrogates a civilian. The attention to detail was so painstaking, there were packets of sugar, salt and pepper shakers and napkin dispensers at the diner booths where we played the game. Actual strawberry milkshakes were being served to anyone who wanted one. The atmosphere around the demo should be noted as well. I casually remarked that I wish there were more games where you kill Nazis, KKK members and White Supremacists; a statement that was met with smiles, nods and jovial laughter. These were my type of people!
The gameplay in the demo itself was reminiscent of the opening scene in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, in that you play as a character just waking up from a coma only to be thrust into intense gun battles. I was killing Nazis from the confines of a wheelchair, and it was wonderfully satisfying. The demo ended on a cliffhanger that left me thirsty for more (and wishing I could take a strawberry milkshake for the road).
It was upon exiting this booth that I entered into what I would come to know as “line hell”. Forget Disneyland, forget an A-list celebrity book signing, hell- forget the last concert you went to; you have NOT been in a line until you have been in an E3 line. There is an absurd amount of lines. They are Kafkaesque in their scope. There are lines to get into other lines. There are lines that lead nowhere. There are lines to play games that one would not even consider playing outside of this setting. Lines for the bathroom, lines for shitty cafeteria food, and lines to receive some of the ugliest swag you have ever seen in your life (more about that later).
I grew lightheaded with the sight of endless queues and wait times so long they were comical. I decided to divert to the indie VR scene…
A white dude with dreadlocks beckoned me over to his station, asking me if I want to get “dosed”. While the offer seemed appealing, my sobriety and inherent knowledge of how psychedelics effect me in large crowds ended up steering me to kindly refuse the offer. He assured me that he was not, in fact, referring to LSD but rather trying out his shitty VR game in which you steer around something that resembles a Windows Media Player visualizer while grating didgeridoo music drones on in the background. It was official- I had entered into the weird part of E3. Sketchy, possibly Russian mafia funded games, mobile games that were mind-numbingly repetitive and every VR gimmick you can think of lined poorly lit aisles as their tenants desperately try to hawk their wares. I took a few photo opportunities and decided to leave before I got stabbed.
A realization dawned over me; if I wanted to enjoy this experience and wring every drop of pleasure from it as I possibly could, I was going to have to let go. If I was able to experience two games in one day, that would be a victory- and I was going to have to be okay with that. I developed a game plan for day 2…
I went into Wednesday armed with the knowledge that I was most likely not going to get to play jack shit, and that I had to be choosey as far as what those scant games would be. I went into day 2 armed with another thing; a friend. My sister’s boyfriend, to be exact. We’ll call him D. D makes me laugh, is easy going and carefree and enjoys the same type of games that I do. I HIGHLY recommend this technique for anyone looking to experience the madness in LA themselves.
We decided to make a day of Ubisoft- namely, The Fractured But Whole and Far Cry 5 demos. Knowing the layout of the show, it was easier to plot our course and steam strategically forward to Ubisoftville. We were able to secure a spot in line at the Far Cry 5 demo that afforded us almost instant access to the game.
The game itself is your pretty standard Far Cry experience with a new mechanic called “Guns for Hire” (similar to Far Cry 2’s “Buddy System”) which allows you to choose between three different NPCs with three distinct tactics to aide you in your quest to rid the world of some creepy, backwoods Montana militia cult. There is a dog that can attack and distract foes, a drunk guy who flies a plane with the ability to bomb people and a lady named Grace who loves sniping rednecks. The setting and gameplay are endlessly fascinating. It will be a must-own upon it’s release.
The most prescient thing I learned during the Far Cry 5 demo had nothing to do with hillbilly death cults, however, but everything to do with Ubisoft itself. The French are major weirdos and sure do know how to ruin a good demo. You see, when you demo a Ubisoft game at E3, the first thing you notice is that you do not get to be alone with the game. No, that would be too good. There is a weird French guy next to every demo station that slips on a pair of headphones right next to you as you do the same, and begins whispering in your ear. They speak in emotionless tones and INCESSANTLY. They do not shut the fuck up. Ever. They do not let you just PLAY THE GAME. Ever.
Despite this lesson learned, D and I immediately jumped over to the South Park: The Fractured But Whole. We wanted to liven up the experience with some humor, and we would eventually do so- after three hours and 45 minutes of waiting. I did not mistype that. Three hours and 45 minutes. During that time we sat on the show floor, ate from my handy jar of peanut butter I had so expertly packed, watched the Just Dance demo on the Ubisoft stage four times (each of which featured a tomato with a soul-patch we named Brian), came to believe that every game developed by these French weirdos was actually either explicitly or implicitly about sex, witnessed a guy with what could only be referred to as a “Columbine stare” participate multiple times in the aforementioned Just Dance demo and observed the faces of many a stiff executive as they looked onward in horror and bemusement at the South Park demo. With good reason…
The demo for the Fractured But Whole could only be described as the single must lewd and insane thing I have ever played in a public place. In the demo, you play as a little eight year old sidekick to another juvenile superhero named Captain Diabetes. The search for a missing cat leads you and Captain Diabetes to a strip club where you, as a child, get approached by two drunken businessman to get a lapdance in the VIP room. You grind on the drunken men in a lapdance mini game until you are able to coerce information from them- namely that the cat may have been taken by a stripper with a penis tattoo named Classi. In attempt to distract the DJ long enough to call her out from backstage, you gather some pretty putrid ingredients to make a cocktail for him- some of which include cum from a used condom and rat turds. This was a REAL demo from an ACTUAL game made by VERITABLE French perverts.
After blowing hours at the Ubisoft booth our day was shot. D and I wandered aimlessly about the indie games and college project games sections. I ended up playing a game about Iranian revolution told through the perspective of a cat. I had a notion that what I was playing was ideologically pretty heavy, but was so bewildered by the terrible mechanics and strange art style that I could not comprehend it.
Day 2 was drawing to a close, and the lactic acid was starting to build up in my legs. My time to play all the games that I could was running out.
Day 3: I stood exhausted in a line where security guards who were taking their jobs WAY too seriously meandered about asking people for their IDs to see if they coincided with their badge. Regardless of the fascistic presence of the guards 65,000+ people converged for the final day in what many veterans have coined “a disappointing E3”. My shins were throbbing, my voice was shot and my head was pounding. I had one thing on my mind- a piece of unfinished business to resolve at all costs. I had still not seen Super Mario Odyssey.
Much like 2016, Nintendo had gone all out in both grandiose decor and almost singular devotion to one game. Occupying an incredible 60 stations, the demo to Super Mario Odyssey boasted the shortest line for the most anticipated game of the show. Surrounding the demo stations was an entire New Donk City that Nintendo had built inside the convention center. Lighting and sound effects simulated different kinds of weather, from sunshine to rain- all to the accompaniment of a catchy jazz song about Mario jumping in the air, or something to that effect. There was even a giant statue of Mario as a tank. Mario. As a TANK. A TANK WITH A FUCKING MUSTACHE! I was sold. I’d never been more sold.
The game itself is a return to form for the 3D open world Mario lovers. Notes of Super Mario Sunshine, Galaxy and 64 are all present. The controls and physics feel great- as they should in any Mario game. You play as Mario, but the twist is, he has a ghostly hat named Cappy (really original, I know) that allows Mario to take possession of any creature that has the misfortune of having the hat thrown on them. Including, you guessed it, HUMANS. I asked the kind lady showing me the game what happened to people’s consciousness when Mario takes control of their body. Thus began a philosophical discussion spiral into the nature of being and whether or not these unfortunate souls were somehow being tortured by Hellraiser’s Cenobites while Mario uses their body to save Princess Peach.
The demo was easily the best of the entire show and, save for a Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite demo with D in which I whooped wholesale ass, it would be my final demo of the show. No, I did not get to see Sea of Thieves or anything Microsoft will be putting out on their incredibly bloated and expensive Xbox One X. No, I did not get to see Miyamoto or Kojima walking the show floor. No, I did not waste an entire day to play Call of Duty WWII. Yes, I got a stomach full of food so bad, you’d swear you were back in your elementary school cafeteria.
It was around the time we were picking up some of the ugliest visors I have ever seen as a reward for playing a totally awesome Mario demo that a pretty fat, pretty stoned looking man told D and I that we could actually make money off of the hideous merchandise I had no intention of keeping.
It was a revelation that changed EVERYTHING. D and I had a few hours left at the world’s biggest gaming convention, and we became reinvigorated. We became determined…to get as much ugly free shit that we could in the hopes we could recoup some of our expenses and have a good laugh at whatever chump on eBay who would buy a plastic cow figurine from a Harvest Moon 20th anniversary celebration.
The convention was winding down and we wanted plushies.
I did not envision E3 like this, but that is part of what makes E3 special; the unexpected.
Despite long lines, underwhelming demos, an abundant population of guys in suits that don’t know their Dark Souls from their Nioh, overpriced food and a sweaty smell that is strong enough to burn nose hairs- I felt a twinge of sadness as I walked out of the doors of the West Hall of the Convention Center for the last time.
For better or worse, it is a time we can get together as fans, developers and lovers of games to speak passionately and excitedly about the future of the industry we have devoted our hearts to. Was it what I had read about and expected? Yes and no. I like that there is no succinct walkthrough to guide me through an event like E3. I enjoy the fact that the battles ahead remain somewhat unforeseen. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Now excuse me, I have to sell this plastic cow on eBay so I can make it to E3 2018. I’ll see you all there…
(For another take on E3 check out Megalodon’s piece at http://abadpassword.com//2017/06/19/a-casual-look-at-e3/ )
is a contributing writer for A Bad Password. In his free time he enjoys listening to strange music, reading horribly redundant comics about superheroes, and watching all manner of candy colored ponies make friends on TV.