E3 2008: Final Impressions from an E3 Virgin
The end of E3 is a bittersweet moment. Everyone had a fun time getting swept up in the excitement of getting some hands-on time with big games and the announcements of new ones. On the first day of the show, everybody was wide-eyed and eager. By the end of third and final day, everyone had a whole different look about them. At this point, developers had already demonstrated the same level dozens of times while the public relations people have run out of buzzwords. The journalists fared no better. I spotted one guy from IGN looking more and more disheveled with each passing day.
My Hand-Picked E3 Awards Best Game: LittleBigPlanet
Runner-Up: Fallout 3
Overlooked Gem: Rise of Argonauts
Best Handheld Game: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
The best part of the third day was that most of the big outlets were gone. There was hardly a wait for any of the games on the show floor. Games like LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2 and Fable 2 were busy the previous days, but now they were mine for the taking. I played considerably more on Thursday than the previous two combined. A number of games on the floor and in the private booths upstairs attracted my attention, and there were a number of moments from my first E3 I won’t forget.
The game I had the most fun with was LittleBigPlanet. I hardly knew anything about the game except the ridiculous amount of praise it was getting, but after playing a couple stages I can see that it might all be deserved. I played with two other people and had a blast with the blend of co-operation and competition. I predict that the user-made levels will eventually surpass the ones that come with the game. Just imagine if the community is even half as dedicated as the Half-Life community. On a much darker and post-apocalyptic note, Fallout 3 was excellent. I say seemed because only playing half an hour is no way to get a good feel for the game. The game needs to be released already so I can just dive into the world and neglect my real-world duties.
Both of these games receive more press than the upcoming presidential election. Everybody has already heard of them, and that’s why I loved the opportunity to play some interesting games that weren’t exactly household names. Rise of the Argonauts, for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, had wonderfully gory real-time combat. Appendages would fall out with no abandon while screams of agony echoed the arena of the section that was demonstrated to me by a developer. The game is also a sprawling RPG in the vein of BioWare’s excellent work. No matter what level Jason is, he can take out an enemy with one well-placed hit. The blend of action and epic storytelling looks like a perfect union. To top it all off, there is no display on the screen. Damage is shown by injuries on Jason and his opponents. Everything looks extremely promising and yet nobody is talking about this game. Another “unknown” game that looks like it might make some waves is Legendary. Check out my preview here.
Of course, either of those games might end up poor, but at least the developers were genuinely confident and eager in showing off their games. I sat with a number of developers that seemed enthusiastic about what they were showing. When I looked right at them, I could see a dead look in the eyes. They have been showing off their lackluster game for hours on end, hoping somebody would be thrilled with their meager offerings. I always keep my excitement in check, even when I’m playing the big games, so they ratcheted up the mock enthusiasm to embarrassing levels. I pity the media outlets that have the goal of covering every single game come hell or high water.
Speaking of developers, I have an interesting story involving Deputy Editor Matt Wadleigh, who also attended the conference. We were having a game demonstrated for us (I won’t say which one, but it was definitely a known title). The developer was saying how incredibly realistic their game was when we noticed something decidedly unrealistic.
Matt asked him about the discrepancy and the developer was offended. He gave a very curt response and continued on. Relax, guy.
In between all the game demonstrations were a number of press conferences. On stage, there was always a mix of developers, corporate suits and pseudo-celebrities. I wondered how often these suits actually play some of their games. At the my presser, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime seemed to have some difficulties controlling the jet ski minigame in Wii Sports Resort. To be fair, I couldn’t tell if it was because he was inexperienced with the game or that the controls were poor. This was nothing compared to the gaffe Mike Griffin, president of Activision, made at their press conference outside of E3. He repeatedly (and painfully) referred to the upcoming Wolfenstein as Wolf-en-steen. I don’t really blame him or anything. It just emphasized the fact that games are business first and fun second.
Finally, I was able play some handheld games. Nothing on the PSP attracted my attention, though the DS had a strong line-up of RPGs. The port of Chrono Trigger was available. I already completed the game on two different consoles, and while I love it dearly, I’m not too interested in doing it again. The remake of Dragon Warrior IV looked beautiful from my limited time with it. The 3D environments meshed very well with the animated sprites. What really got my attention was Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. Developed by my boys at BioWare, this looks like it might bring back legitimacy to the franchise. Even though the section I played took place in a desert, the graphics were incredibly vibrant. I dare say they were stunning for a DS game. My only hope is that the battles can be sped up a bit.
I can’t compare E3 to the epic carnival it was in past years. Regardless, my first E3 was a great one. Busting out articles was difficult work, but the loyal readers of Thunderbolt kept me going. That, and I wanted to finish the articles so I could move on to a new batch of games to preview. I hope everybody got something out of all the coverage. Assuming I’m not bogged down by such responsibilities as “work” and “being an adult,” I will be back next year. See you then.