Field Report: E310

The last time I went to E3, it was one of the most annoying experiences of my life. I remember feeling assaulted by sound in a convention hall that was so crowded, I couldn't take more than two steps without stopping. It was miserable.

Yesterday, I went back to E3 for the first time in two or three years, and it seems to have been vastly improved; it's not nearly as loud, not nearly as crowded, and the games and booths I saw seemed to put substance over style, which is the inverse of my memory.

I went downtown to have lunch with a guy I know from EA, so after we ate (with everyone else in the world) he took me over to the Electronic Arts booth, where I got to see a demo of Deadspace 2 that blew my mind. It was everything I loved about Deadspace: scary, gory, and scary. The game takes place on a colony, instead of a single ship, so there are all these different environments and sets to explore. The demo they showed us took place inside a church, so the room we all sat in looked like a gothic cathedral, complete with LED candles, stained glass windows, and pews. One of the designers talked about the game while a guy played through this particular level, and I will admit that I was one of about 4 people (out of 12 or so) who jumped out of his seat when one particularly terrifying monster showed up … there was even a moment that could be compared to the infamous Cat Scare from Alien where I may have, uh, been startled just a little bit.

The game looks really fun, and when the demo was over, they gave us literature about it, that was designed to look and feel exactly like a frakkin' Chick Tract! I thought it was super clever.

I looked at a bunch of other stuff in the EA booth: FIFA 11, NHL 11, and Madden 11 all look as great as you'd expect. I don't play NBA games, but they're doing this thing with NBA 11 where players will use both analog sticks to control the ball in a way that the people playing it seemed to agree was both challenging and satisfying.

He had to go back to work, so I figured I'd take a lap around the hall and go home. I wandered over to Xbox as I began my walk out, where I confirmed that the new 360 really is as beautiful in person as I thought. They're really pushing Kinect, which I just don't get at all. I realize I'm way out of the demographic, but using my entire body to control a video game holds as much appeal for me as doing exercise when I really want to be relaxing on the couch. It looked cool for what it was, but it's totally not my thing. Fable III, though, totally is my thing, and while I didn't get to play it, I watched a little bit and saw enough to upgrade myself from "looking forward to playing it soon" to "excited to play it why isn't it ready yet."

None of my friends who work for Xbox were at the booth, so I stared out of the booth, and passed a couple of guys who said, "Hey, Wil Wheaton!" I turned around to smile and wave, and realized that I had almost run into Peter Ha, who is my editor at Techland, and Evan Narcisse, who is another contributor. I ended up tagging along with them to the Lucasarts room, where I finally got to meet Sam Witwer in person.

I haven't talked about this much, because it's a little overwhelming for me, but Sam told me a few years ago that I am the reason he became an actor. He and his brother came to the set of Next Generation when he was 10, and I ended up talking with them for a long time about acting, storytelling, geek stuff, and the things you talk about when you're a couple of kids surrounded by adults and you're so glad to have someone your own age to talk to. 

Sam has said in interviews and at cons that meeting me on that day inspired him to pursue a life as an actor and musician. When I found out about this, I was loving his work on BSG, so hearing that I played a part in actually inspiring a child to do something I loved as an adult was the sort of thing that somehow blows stuff into both of my eyes.

I'd never communicated directly with Sam until I met him yesterday at the Lucasarts booth. We ended up talking for about thirty minutes about nerd stuff; mostly gaming and D&D, and how to prevent 4E from becoming a tabletop minis game with little actual roleplaying (PRO TIP: it's pretty much on the DM to keep the RP in RPG). I watched the trailer for and a demo of The Force Unleashed II with him, and I can tell you that it was as weird to sit next to him while he ran around and used The Force to seriously fuck shit up on the screen as you'd think. And the game? The game looks awesome. You can dismember Stormtroopers.

Sam had to go do interviews, so I went with Peter to watch a demo of The Old Republic that looked beautiful, but since I really don't care for MMORPGs, I can't say with any comparison to personal experience if it was awesome or not. The people who were into MMORPGs seemed to be pretty excited about it, though. If you can see the trailer online, it's worth watching.

The next thing I saw was a demo for the next Mortal Kombat game. I loved MK2, and my friends and I used to get together back in the Genesis days to play that and NHL 93 (one of my favorite thing about the movie Swingers was seeing them play games the same way my friends and I did) but I hated MK3 and have since lost interest completely in fighting games. The next Mortal Kombat, though, may change that. The fatalities, models, animations and environments have improved and evolved exactly the way you'd expect, and it was suprisingly fun to play. It was fun to try to translate the muscle memory of Scorpion's special moves from six buttons and a D-pad to four buttons, two thumbsticks, and four triggers.

The last thing I saw was Tron Evolution, and it blew me away. It isn't Tron the way I remember Tron, but that's totally okay, because that isn't the point. Check this out: the game I played yesterday is actually a sequel to the original movie, and a prequel to the new movie. I talked with one of the developers, and he told me that they worked in concert with the film makers to actually tie the game and the movie together, which I don't think has ever been done before. I think I heard Jeff Bridges in the game, too, which I couldn't get anyone to confirm or deny.

Oh, it was also a lot of fun. I played a lightcycle level where recognizers are dropping bombs all around you, and you have to race around the damage, use jumps to go past stuff, and prevent other lightcycles from boxing you in with their light beam things. I really don't like racing games, but this version of a standard racing game was a lot of fun. I also did a level that was all about your little Tron guy running around doing parkour moves up and around walls and stuff, and then using your disc to battle a bunch of bad guys. The levels look as Tron-like as I think we could expect, with that iconic neon on everything, and one of the levels was being eaten away by a virus that was derezzing the walls and floors. It looked really cool, and presented a dynamic obstacle that had to be avoided, lest I become infected and then dead.

I finished the demo just as the hall was closing up and they were kicking us out. Peter ended up acting as a photographer for a bunch of people who wanted to take pictures with me, which was a little weird since I work for him and everything, but he didn't seem to mind.

Overall, E3 wasn't as communal as PAX, but I think that's by design. The whole show seemed more subdued and useful than it was the last several times I went, and I left feeling pretty excited to play a lot of new games, which doesn't usually happen for me.

I walked out of the convention center with thousands of nerds, and waited at a red light while I was walking back to my car. Some asshole driving like an asshole either ran the light or went too fast or something, and ended up clipping another car. It was ob
vious that nobody was hurt, and it was amusing when several hundred nerds sarcastically applauded for the driver.

I headed back to my car, pausing briefly at the corner of Figueroa and Chick Hearn Court to think to myself, "I'm right where the riot is going to start in about 30 hours. That's weird."

The drive home was one of the most painless rush hour experiences of my life. It was a good day.

End of line.

36 thoughts on “Field Report: E310”

  1. Going to PAX completely ruined E3 for me. I went to E3 from 2001-2005 or so, and PAX is just so much more about the gamer. At E3 if you were an “Exhibits Only” they had no interest…it is after all a trade show at it’s core.
    I’m 2 blocks away in an office building and a bit jealous of all the gamer nerdage happening while I’m working (or posting comments on blogs) but I’m resting comfortably knowing I’ll be getting to play all these games when they’re farther along come PAX time.

  2. You don’t get Kinect?! Come on, man! You were in TNG for crying out loud. Kinect is like a hop, skip and a jump away from a holodeck, a frickin HOLODECK!! Stewie would be so disappointed in you. A FRICKIN HOLODECK!!

  3. E3? Gencon? PAXs?
    You live the life on a Uni-pega-Kitten firing lazers…
    I have to say that Cons are fun. This was been my second year at KublaCon, and it’s been a blast. When you go to Gencon, are you going to check out any of the independent RPGs and Tabletop games? Looking forward to that report.

  4. “I talked with one of the developers, and he told me that they worked in concert with the film makers to actually tie the game and the movie together, which I don’t think has ever been done before.”
    Didn’t Enter the Matrix do something similar? Sounds awesome, though.
    As for Kinect, I loved what Tycho said about it: “I know where it fits in my home, though, and I suspect that ultimately it may; but they’ve made a product for every person in the house but me.”

  5. Thank you for solving a mystery for me.
    I’ve never been able to figure out why the main character of The Force Unleashed looked so familiar. Now I know why; he’s Crashdown!

  6. I’m happy you got to try TRON! The guys over there have been working really hard on it, and they are pretty proud of themselves. I work on one of the other Disney games that was displayed and am sad I missed getting to meet you.

  7. Wil-
    I was never a fan of fighting games either, but Super Smash Bros changed that. If you don’t have a Wii or GC, find someone who does and play it with friends. It is awesome.
    I also don’t particularly find the Kinect that appealing, but my teen stepson and his friends are over the top with excitement for it coming out. Like you said, we’re not the target demographic.
    Thanks for the report!

  8. I’m facing some unbelievable aversion to even typing these words, the memory of the game being that horrible to me..
    Tron won’t be the first completely tied-in-with-the-movie game out there. I’m not sure if any others preceed it but the “The Matrix” cross-platform game was completely integrated in the films, acting as both a companion & bridge to the last two films. Covers a lot of the story around Niobe and Ghost, and some of the plot points that were never really explained in the film (bad idea IMO).
    The main actors were involved in the game production for motion capture, voice over stuff along with a few “filmed for the game” segments.

  9. I have to ask what the faux Chick Tract was called. Did they go for the obvious (“Dead Space”) or was it more along the lines of The Death Cookie?

  10. Glad you had a good time. Always good to have a positive return to a previously negative situation. And way bitchin’ to hear about Tron! I’m almost as excited about the game and movie as I am about the Transformers game.
    And I just wiki’d Chick Tracts to find a strange Eureka coincidence. One of the recurring characters is a guy named Deacon Carter. See? Eureka… Deacon… Carter… :)

  11. Heh… I like your last comment.
    “I’m right where the riot is going to start in about 30 hours. That’s weird.”
    I’m actually headed over to the Nokia Center to watch Video Games Live. Hopefully we won’t be dead and stuff from riots misspent jubilations. 😉

  12. Re: Roleplaying in 4th Edition. I was just talking about this in another web forum. The difficulty lies in the dissociated mechanics:
    While all mechanics are, at some level, abstracted or metagamed, RPGs have traditionally featured associated mechanics: Your 10th-level wizard may not know what “10th level” means; or what a “d6″ is; or the fact that you roll 10d6 to determine the damage a fireball inflicts. But the mechanic of rolling 10d6 for a fireball is associated with the game world because the wizard can tell you that (a) he can cast a spell that creates a fireball; and (b) that fireball will cause more damage when cast by a more experienced or talented wizard.
    The decision by the player to cast a fireball is there directly associated with the character’s decision to cast a fireball.
    Dissociated mechanics, on the other hand, are disconnected from the game world (and, thus, the characters). Since the characters have no functional explanation for a dissociated mechanic, it follows that a decision made regarding a dissociated mechanic cannot be a decision made as if the player were the character.
    Which means that when you’re using dissociated mechanics you are not roleplaying.
    Which is not to say that you can’t roleplay while playing a game featuring dissociated mechanics, but simply to say that in the moment you are using those mechanics you are not roleplaying.
    This is provocative statement, but it’s really just common sense: If you are manipulating mechanics which are dissociated from your character — which have no meaning to your character — then you are not engaged in the process of playing a role. In that moment, you are doing something else. (It’s practically tautological.)
    So, basically, that’s the problem 4th Edition has. Previous editions certainly had their own moments of dissociation (although the only significant one to survive into 3rd Edition’s core rulebooks were cure spells which became less effective as characters became better at avoiding damage). But 4th Edition embraced dissociated mechanics whole-heartedly. (Including the core mechanic of skill challenges, which are inherently dissociated in their current design.)
    Which is not to say that 4th Edition isn’t a roleplaying game. Large swaths of the game’s mechanics are still clearly associative. But every time you use a dissociated mechanic in the game, the roleplaying stops until the mechanical resolution is finished.
    Whereas the act of using an associated mechanic is the act of playing a role. No one’s going to give you a Tony Award for it, but the fundamental nature of that act — despite its mechanical basis — is roleplaying.
    Which is, ultimately, the distinction between a roleplaying game and Arkham Horror.
    One solution for this is to attempt to re-focus the game by re-associating some of the dissociated mechanics with the game world. Because the game is so enamored with dissociated mechanics, this can’t be universally accomplished. But there are places it can be done.
    For example, take the Trick Strike daily power for the rogue. It’s described as a “series of feints and lures”, but this is dissociated: There’s no reason why the rogue can’t continue using feints and lures after using them once per day.
    But what if “trick” means “magic trick”? The rogue has learned a little practical magic and can inscribe a small rune on his blade or perhaps the palm of his hand, and by expending that rune he gains the Trick Strike advantage.
    Perhaps you don’t think that fits your image of a “rogue” (although it’s very Grey Mouser-esque), but it associates the mechanic so that the player doesn’t have to stop roleplaying in order to use the ability.

  13. Last I heard, D3 is being released after SC2’s release next month, but before SC2’s first expansion…but I don’t think there’s been a date set for that yet. I haven’t heard an exact date from Blizzard yet, but I also haven’t checked in the past couple days.

  14. @ The Tron game being tied in with the new movie:
    It’s been done before. -> Enter the Matrix tied in with Reloaded and Revolutions.
    “I haven’t seen Sheldon this confused since he tried to figure out the third Matrix movie.” -Leonard, BBT
    Sorry, I had to throw in my two cents.

  15. New games, new games, new games. All stuff I cannot play : (
    I wish there were more “old school” simple games (IE: 2D)
    Like, I love Little Big Planet, and that new Mario game for the Wii (not the Galaxy one).
    I get it, the 3-D and 360 degrees of motion may be awesome for lots of people. For me? Motion sickness within 15-20 minutes. Every time. I can’t play them. I can’t watch them. It’s a sad realm of area that I don’t get to experience, and probably never will.
    I can get away with playing the old-school Resident Evil 2 on Playstation, or Zelda on my SNES and if that fails I still have my Nintendo…
    Damn kids these days and their newfangled gadgets.

  16. LOL…I hear you MiMi…the new 3-D games mostly give me vertigo but I’d still like to attend E3 someday, it sounds like a lot of fun. Not all new games are quite so bad…Street Fighter IV mixed both new and old graphics well and is a blast to play…well if you’re into beat ’em up games. 😉
    The real question is…does playing more old school games make you more of less of a geek? I must confess I act like a grumpy old man about the new systems (I’m only 35)…but I am rapidly building a huge collection of old consoles and games.
    There are a few new 2-D games for the Wii…Castlevania the Adventure Rebirth for the VC was pretty fun…but give me some SOTN anyday, lol. ^_^

  17. “I headed back to my car, pausing briefly at the corner of Figueroa and Chick Hearn Court to think to myself, “I’m right where the riot is going to start in about 30 hours. That’s weird.””
    Thankfully, this didn’t quite happen, but let me tell you, it was verrrrrry interesting to try to attend the LAFF opening night gala with quite that many drunk Lakers fans right next door.

  18. Hi. I’m a first-time poster, and I just wanted to say thanks for blogging and podcasting. I don’t want to get all creepy-fanboy on you, but seeing how open you are about your love of things that a lot of people would think are “geeky” (sic) has really helped give me the confidence to stand up and say, “Dammit! I read comic books and have a working knowledge of HP Lovecraft and Doctor Who, and I am unashamed!” So thanks for that.
    …and thanks for your work on Star Trek. Sometimes the writing wasn’t always there, as you’ve pointed out…but you managed to breathe life into it. Plus, your read of Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle was great in the Batman thing. Also, great to see you on “Big Bang Theory” twice this year. Hope you’ll be back again!
    Okay. This is getting close to creepy fanboy. I’ll stop. Just thanks, is all. I know it’s hard work, and I’m glad you’ve done it.

  19. Yeah it’s been done before.
    The issue with co-produced games is the vastly different production times on a game vs a movie. Movies are generally quicker to developer, at least in terms of the main production.
    I know one of the games companies I used to work for, who mainly focused on licensed titles had a hollywood agent that would scout out titles even before they entered into preproduction as to give the games studio enough time to develop the game for release.
    For example Enter the Matrix sucked because it felt rushed and I suspect the lack of consideration of the different production times was a major contributor.
    I know from experience having worked on a few licensed products you still have heavy involvement with the producers. i.e. quite a few of our senior designers went over and spent a week with Michael Bay about 2 years ago which they all came back with a sense of “gee very hollywood cereal experience”
    As a programmer I miss out on all the glitzy stuff though :)

  20. “(PRO TIP: it’s pretty much on the DM to keep the RP in RPG).”
    Disagree. The onus for role-playing is on the PLAYERS. The DM can provide opportunities, but only the players can actually, you know, Play the Roles of their characters. If they won’t RP, then there is nothing the DM can do.
    Some of the best RP in my games has happened during dungeon crawls, where there are no NPCs for the players to interact with.
    That being said, this issue is true of EVERY RPG. The game does not make or break RP. The group makes the RP.
    The ironic thing is that for all people complain that 4E seems like a minis game, and that it needs to “get back to it’s roots”… it’s roots ARE as a minis game.
    It’s also fun to note that 99% of the tactical map and minis usage can be directly traced back to 2nd Edition (Player’s Option: Combat and Tactics) and all the same stuff is present in the “can do no wrong” 3rd Edition and/or Pathfinder. The front of the 3rd Ed PHB says “This game is designed for use with miniatures, though you can make do without them”.
    The biggest issue so many people seem to have with 4E boils down to the presentation… it looks different and that’s bad. Ultimately it plays the same. There’s some more pizzaz and splashy flavour, but in the end, you roll a d20 to hit, and your longsword does 1d8 damage, and kobolds are sneaky little gits.

  21. Two shows that are kind of the same in some ways:
    1) NAMM and E3 – Both of those shows have areas you can NOT go into unless you are a big retailer (Sony or Gibson anyone)?
    2) Like another poster mentioned they are primarily business events so unless you know somebody or a buyer you are SOL.
    NAMM however lets you line up for autographs. I never have tried it but Weird Al had a huge line waiting for him.
    Went to E3 on Thursday and left about two hours before Laker time. Parking prices were out of control.

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