07 June 2011

E3 2011: Day 2

I went to the nearby Carl's Jr. yesterday morning to quietly enjoy a Breakfast Burger, which is one of my favorite things about E3. (The Breakfast Burger is a regular hamburger, but with an egg and some hash browns thrown on top. It's more enjoyable than it sounds. Better still, eating the B. B. is akin to a python eating goat; once you eat one, you don't need to eat again for several days, which is useful while at E3, where food is expensive, terrible, and extremely scarce.)

Unfortunately, Carl's Jr. didn't open until 6:30, so I headed for the nearby Starbucks and ordered one of those taste-free Ciabatta breakfast sandwiches, which I believe contains the following ingredients: sawdust, fur, air, and dreams.

After breakfast, I caught the shuttle bus downstairs in front of my hotel, which whisked me away in pee-smelling ambience to the Microsoft press conference. Things started off OK with an exciting showing of Modern Warfare 3--looks to me like Infinity Ward is doing fine after all the upheaval from earlier this year--but then took a turn when the whole thing devolved into a Kinect fiesta.

I don't love my Kinect. I don't even really know where it is at this moment. My living room is too small to use it. In order to use it, I have to upend my couch, standing it upright and completely out of the way, just so that I can convulse in front of my TV and be informed that the Kinect sensor is not currently registering my convulsions.

Trotting out people like Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot and Lionhead's Peter Molyneux so they could announce nothing less than ringing endorsements of Kinect was really where the train left the tracks for me. Subtext of these endorsement: See everyone? Even these guys just love Kinect!

I'm not buying it. I get the creeping feeling that many developers and publishers have been strong-armed into shoe-horning some kind of awkward, obtuse, superfluous Kinect functionality into their otherwise perfectly fine Kinect-free games. You could practically see the cashiers checks poking from Yves's and Peter's pockets, the gulp motions in their throats, and the the barrel marks on their temples from where the gun was held.

I understand that Microsoft has hitched its wagon to the soaring star known as Kinect. Or, maybe a better metaphor is that Microsoft married a beautiful woman who turned out to be a crack whore. But in order to save face, it now has no choice but to 1. feed her habit, and 2. pretend that everything is perfectly normal.

Well, it's not normal, Microsoft. It's pretty fucking far from normal.

To make matters worse, Microsoft then had to trot out child actors who were pretending to be gamers, so that they could demonstrate how much fun all of their newly announced Kinect games are. No one in the audience thought for one second that those kids were real. In fact, most of us worried that a bus en route to the town where the demon children from Children of the Corn reside had broken down out front, and that these hell-spawn had wandered in looking for souls to eat.

The only true innovation from the Microsoft press conference was something that I am currently calling "Kinect Demo Face." It is a serious condition that all persons who demonstrate a Kinect game on stage at E3 apparently suffer from. Symptoms include glowering, brow furrowing, dramatic exhalations, exaggerated movements, constipation, self-satisfied expressions, and the appearance that you are having far more fun than you actually are. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

The new Tomb Raider game looked interesting, but something about it left me feeling vaguely unsettled and sad. There was something so cruel, and maybe something even a bit misogynist about the demo. If you haven't seen it, Lara Croft has the sh*t completely beaten out of her for three minutes. While sitting in an auditorium predominantly populated by men, something about watching this woman being borderline tortured on a gigantic screen in high definition was disturbing for me.

So thank the gods for Gears of War 3, the sole saving grace of the whole unpleasant debacle. I love how completely cheese-ball and backwoods and out of touch Gears is. Epic doesn't pretend that it's high art, or great storytelling, or furthering the medium, or that Marcus Fenix is a great character, etc. etc. It sets out to deliver a good, mostly sensical time, and that's all Gears 3 appears to be. Dear Cliffy B.: I like you. And in my dreams, you and Ice-T are actually friends in real life...

After Microsoft's Kinect-centric showing, the E3 playing field already seemed to tilt in favor of Sony, who moved their press conference from late Tuesday mornings to late in the afternoon on Monday this year. Our pee-scented shuttle got stuck in late afternoon L.A. traffic, and by the time we finally arrived at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the only seats left were in the nosebleed region.

We were all here for The Great Apology of 2011--sorry for the security breach, sorry PSN was down, sorry all of your credit cards were compromised, etc. Though I believe we were--everyone in the place--was already more than ready to forgive Sony and move on. Jack Tretton delivered the mea culpa with the right amount of sincerity and irreverence. I've hapred on Jack every year since he took over for Phil Harrison. But you know what? He's actually pretty good. And his Ridge Racer zing directed Kaz Hirai was really the only truly spontaneous, funny, and human highlight of the press conference.

I don't know what it is about Sony press conferences, but year in and year out they always feel like grim, grave endeavors, as if we're all on a great, arduous march towards Mount Doom. The place always feels dark, and shadowy. The music is always a little too loud, with a little too much bass, making it feel like we've wandered into the world's largest S & M club. And Sony always tries so damn hard, always feeding us food before, and feeding us food after, and making sure that everyone stays nice and lubricated thanks to their ubiquitous open bars.

Things got off to a terrific start with Uncharted 3. Jesus, was that ever fun to watch. Seeing Nathan Drake navigate a sinking, abandoned ocean liner was genuinely thrilling. Honestly, at this point, Naughty Dog just seems to be showing off. Their grasp of the PS3 hardware is absolutely unrivaled.

But was that ever a tough act to follow. Poor Insomniac had to try with Resistance 3. It did not succeed. It seemed so muted, and small, and so completely unsurprising and expected. Honestly, haven't I played this game, where guys run at me and I shoot them, countless times before over the last 10 years?

While Microsoft has its crack-whore wife in the form of Kinect, Sony has its crack-whore wife in the form of 3D. Why Sony is so bloody certain that this is The Future, at a time when the box office returns for 3D movies are already on the decline, is a mystery for the ages. Wherever Sony has buried "Home"--probably in a New Jersey marshland next to Jimmy Hoffa--they should also bury their borderline obsessive endorsement of 3D. Sony: It is never going to work.

The big news was the NGP, or rather Vita announcement. The hardware looks interesting, but so did the original PSP when it first shipped, complete with the now-absurd-seeming UMD format. If anything, the Vita seems too busy--it does THIS! and THIS! and THIS TOO!--and features too many bells, whistles, and more bells. There's something inherently insecure in this approach, when you just throw tech at a problem. The PS3 is also guilty of doing that--I have no idea what a fraction of the abilities are on the PS3, nor do I have any use for them.

But Sony's greatest sin, as it is every year, is that it never, ever quits while it is ahead. Instead, what they deliver is two hours worth of news--talking, not showing--which could have been delivered in a far more exciting, teasing fashion in one short, compact, and efficient hour. You could literally feel the wind go out of the sails of the whole thing. At one point, during an especially long pause, someone kicked over an empty Corona bottle, which clanged and echoed through out the Coliseum. The whole place went silent, and suddenly, it felt less like a jazzy, cutting edge press conference from one of the world's strongest hardware makers and game publishers, and more like a tedious school assembly on fire safety.

Oh, and one more thing: Please, Capcom, for the love of god, take Cole Macgrath out of the Street Fighter-Tekken Vita game. That shit is fine for other games and series, but there's always been a purity about the Street Fighter games that should be maintained at all costs. I'm telling you, you open the door for this kind of thing, next thing you know Murray the Hippo and Ronald McDonald will be the final bosses in Street Fighter 6.

Last but not least: It was painful to see 2K's Ken Levine trotted out to deliver the de rigueur apology for not being completely on board with every piece of Sony tech. (Gabe Newell played the part at last year's E3.) Like Peter and Yves at Microsoft, Levine, check in his pocket, lump in throat, and fresh barrel-marks on his right temple, apologized for being skeptical about the PS3 Move, and that BioShock: Infinite will--surprise, everyone--suddenly, and inexplicably, feature Move functionality.

I understand these people have companies to run, and mouths to feed, and wives who need their crack, but will the last person who is not for sale in this industry please stand up?

[Insert sound of toe tapping HERE.]


  1. Good write-up, Scott. One thing, though...you sure dump on 3D, but don't really mention how lame Move was. Seems like Sony wants to shoehorn both 3D AND Move into their games. Do we really NEED Move support for Bioshock: Infinite? Does anybody actually play NBA2K11 with Move? Probably not.

  2. Since Apple has not yet created a "Smell-o-Vision", or "Scratch and Sniff" app for my i-Phone(although I can keep hoping), your descriptive descriptions of pee-smelling buses and Carl Jr. Breakfast Burgers help me imagine, with one strong inhalation of breath, that I am at E3 alongside you. Watching on TV does not quite relay the desperate sound of an empty beer bottle being kicked over. I agree with you about the new Tomb Raider. Something about the preview left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. BTW "The Murray" would be an awesome final boss! Thunder flop!!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences so far.

  3. I just seriously love your writing.

    You're one of only a handful of writers who can actually elicit guffaws.


    Appreciative New Reader

  4. ANR. there's plenty of cynical and melancholy writers. A whole generation of them. Of course the bus stunk, the sandwich had no taste, and everyone else is a sell out. meh.

  5. Alls I got to say is I hate motion gaming.

    My Brain-->to my thumbs-->to my ps3 is quicker and more accurate than... mybrain-->to my legs arms head-->ps3

    a great thing about being human is our thumbs. let's use them.

  6. at least if my hands get cut off I can still play me3 and bioshock

  7. Scott, I'm sorry that Vic didn't spring for better transport.

    Did you not attend the EA or Ubisoft pressers? Of course, Ubisoft is certainly skip-able, but EA trotted out some of E3's best titles.