Sunday, June 7, 2009

E3 postmortem

E3 came, it went, so now it is back to business. Right?

Overall it was a good experience, as noted earlier the first day was kinda blase' and the second day was a ton of fun and drama. The third day I sat around at home and did some work (because - there's never a shortage of things to deal with!) In hindsight I sort of wish I made it out for day #3, there's so much I never did get to investigate - but to be honest, it's much easier to digest so much of what's going on across the whole convention if one is just relaxing in front of their PC and sucking up all the newsfeeds from the various websites and podcasts. Hell, I have "I-don't-know-how-many" hours of podcast backlog to work my way through, but rest assured I will (there's a fair amount of useful information to glean from them..) That all being the case, I don't feel like I had less than what I'd consider an optimal experience, I suppose. Some things I'd like to touch on-

-Project Natal/Milo - I watched some Youtubes of this. Definitely interesting, and worth keeping an eye on. I have investigated this kind of motion tracking technology recently, not firsthand but I know enough to the point where it looks legit. But it will not be cheap I am sure. I am also goign to side with all the people who worry about products like this "fracturing the market" and therefore only appealing to a niche audience, rather than having a full support (See, Nintendo obviously got that one right with Wii). Honestly, for me the big impressive thing was having teleconferencing righ tin your own living room through your Xbox - calling up your friends and seeing one another on your screen, that's sort of neat (and believable!) As for playing games without holding some kind of device, though, it just doesn't seem like it'd "feel" right..

As for the Milo AI demo, it's tough to say. I think that's probably a "proof of concept" thing matched with a little kerfloozery. I don't think we'll see stuff like this "for real" awhile yet, but down the road..

-Zune HD - Zune always looked and sounded like some weird Microsoft excuse to me. I never, ever even saw one, or heard anyone say they'd want to look at one. What the hell is a "Zoon" anyway! This sounds like they are finally getting their act together though, "we'll just rip off the iPod Touch" pretty much, but supporting with Xbox Live is a marvelously powerful idea. I daresay there's no way they cannot earn some decent market share if they handle this smartly. Xbox 360 has made a believer out of me that "Microsoft has it in them to know what they are doing with this general market"- even in Japan, for crying out loud! I still think "Zune" sounds almost as dumb as "Prius" but I think they will be good.

-PS3 motion control - looks neat and I love the demos on Youtube. Again I think it's a bunch of neat things that will not really get the hardcore backing they'll require to really make a big splash, it'll be expensive and again - niche market. I think they are just trying to say "we know what's up too, just like everybody else, so don't by a Kiddie Wii or an Aging 360 rather than our unit." Come on, they showed impressive Eye Toy gimmickry for years now and no one cares, no one's doing anything to take advantage of that power. That just required a consumer ot shell out for merely the camera device - this entire motion control setup will cost how much more?

-PSP GO - did I rant about this last time? Even if I did, it still deserves some whining. This is a terrible idea. If they stuck a 2nd analog on there it'd be easier ot swallow but still not worth it. If they crank the price down (like one hundred dollars less, for starters) than it's slightly more understandable. I feel bad for whoever is in charge of convicing people to buy this thing! Mind you I don't dislike Sony, never did - I just want to see them get some good footing again to support their powerful partners, and missteps like this are costly and ignorant. At least they are supporting that Sony Ericcson device (even if it's technically sort of competing with themselves in some way)

-Wii MotionPlus, we played EA Tennis and it felt - well, I didn't get down and dirty with it, but I would not say it was noticably much better feeling than good old Wi Sports tennis (still a very fun game, in spite of it's age, if you ask me). I didn't try out any other MotionPlus games, I would LOVE a "table tennis" or "air hockey"game, would shell out in a heartbeat if it honestly felt right.. Anyway I think this will be the one to watch, see if people shell out for this add-on. They really should have pushed this thing out the door from the start - come on. At least it looks much more affordable than the competition noted above..

-Team Ninja picks up Metroid - people are noticably mixed on their feelings regarding this game, I can't argue. Maybe if NG2 had come out differently. Watching that video of Samus tossing aliens just looked.. stupid. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they have some decent potential, but really this is just gonna feel like Metroid Gaiden (for a few reasons!) I think it will be forgettable. Leave Metroid to Retro/Armature/whoever's actually the Mother Brain of that thing (Gumpei!)

-Modern Warfare, Uncharted 2, Red Steel, Ratchet and Clank - the train keeps rolling. Assassin's Creed, well the trailer was pretty, I haven't paid enough attention to see where the actual gameplay was (more of the same right?)

-Disappointed to see no major iPhone presence. Come on.

Overall I would say E3 did a nice return to form, after the hibernation of the last couple of years. As I predicted, it was an industry of playing it safe, not pulling any crazy plans out from left field, and a sign that things are actually getting more conservative. Nintendo seemed strangely too relaxed, Rockstar seemed a little lazy/butthurt, I didn't pay any attention to Sega or Capcom (conservative, conservative). I bet next year will be interesting once more, but for now just sit back and play with your minigames, everybody.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

E3 2009 - Day Two

Whew! Well, here's what got done yesterday, then.

Tuesday was my "walk around and examine things with a critical eye" day. Wednesday was "hang out with all my buddies from various companies at the bar and talk trash and drink all day"-day. And of course try to take pictures of some booth babes occasionally. So then, I had a much better time than the previous day - it was more about relaxing and having fun than worrying about business..

Exhausted from the night before (following the first day of traipsing all over the show, "I'd hit the local tavern" for some drinking and dancing and had little more than 4 hrs of sleep!) I hopped outta bed, dusted myself off, grabbed a schwaerma at Al Wazir and hopped onto the Red Line straight to Downtown. 20 minutes in, met my buddies at the bar. Still a little hazy from the night before, chilled out and caught up and did the txt-message thing "Are you guys here? Well where are you?? meet at Gordon Biersch bar!" My buddies from Obsidian had already left by the time I showed up (lame!) but a lot of the ex-Neversoft fellows were hangin' around.. My buddy, his girl and I hit the halls and played a little EA Tennis on Wii (looks nice, more fun than the older Wii Sports version) and teased the girls at the Natsume booth, we grabbed the Ghostbusters promo guys and asked them to shoot the Afrika stuffed animals while I punched the giraffe and pretend-fed vodka to the zebra, it was sort of a full day. Take that Sony. You should have released Afrika YEARS ago. That's what you get. To be honest, I am wondering what a display to promote Home would look like... wouldn't that be a paradox?

Honestly we just fooled around a little, mostly just hanging out and having fun. Back at the bar, the crew was growing large and we got word of something going down at the Fig hotel and the pack of us moved on over there. One of the best things about E3 is the weird promo parties all over the place, some are big and some are quite small, but if you can find them and skeez your way in then you feel like a VIP for 15 minutes and can kinda hobnob with people who know what they are talking about, which is actually pretty fun! (Got to be careful not to be a jerk to people, especially when the free booze is flowing, don't wanna step on any feelings "how come your studio always makes such crappy games!" Oh,it happens...) Anyway we walked into this place like we thought we were actually supposed to be there, showed some guy with a list my E3 badge ad his face lights up "oh here's a wristband for the open bar!" WELL THANK YOU, SIR! One second it's empty and the next BAM 30 or 40 people crammed into a small tiny room eating deviled eggs and downing margeritas and talking about Play Control balance programming and iPhone app ideas..

The bathroom was strangely a mystery, asking a bouncer ended up with me and some random DICE guy (Mirror's Edge team) lost in the bowels of the hotel trying to find a W.C., finally we found one downstairs but there was a big IGN party raging down there and they weren't letting other people in. Somehow, some random Gamespy guy says "hey buddy I'll get you in," nice enough chap, we breeze past the bouncer and it's more similar madness as the upstairs Activision party only with WAY more booze and many many more people.. Scouting around, I ran into a fella with a Kaos Studios shirt on and struck up a conversation, about 30 seconds in it hit me "hey I remember you, job interview two years ago!" Kaos flew me out and we hit it off quite well, but I was way more tempted to stay in LA and work on the Aliens RPG at Obsidian (for an environment artist, that's pretty much a dream gig!) and though I've always wanted to live in NYC, there's a very tiny game-job scene compared to out here.. Anyway it was good to catch up with that dude, we went over stuff for a good 30 minutes. I ducked into the john and came back out, and WHOOSH the party done dried up. Seriously - all the booze was gone, all the people were gone. Retreated back upstairs to find my crew, that party'd wrapped up as well (and it was barely 10pm!) and so they all were chilling out back by the pool bar. I am there for one minute wen my buddy's girl starts swimming in the pool. Security was not a big fan of that, so they kindly asked us to split..

We were with a bigshot in our crew, he owns one of the companies I'd worked for previously - and he has a little crash pad downtown (separate from his house by the beach), was nice enough to invite us upstairs for more drinks and foosball. Seriously, this place was amazing - it's pretty much the dream of any dev who becomes successful that he can get a little satellite "home-away-from-home" place, load it up with art and booze and just go to chill to get away from the stresses of work and life, and just party..

My friend's wife lost her E3 pass, too bad she was borrowing it from his friend! He was not happy about this, rang us up and said "I'm coming over to get my pass, you had better find it (he hadn't been to the show yet, and with one day left wanted to at least get in once!) Anyway, the guy shows up and I gave him mine, I had enough E3 after two days personally. Situation defused, everyone's happy again, so we headed across the street to the bar to meet up with some other folks. Looks like the night can wind down peacefully..

..or can it? We walked in, nice little place, kinda posh, crowd was very mellow. A few of us walk upstairs and sit down - the bouncer rushes up and starts yelling "no one is supposed to be up here!" I guess he forgot to rope off the stairway. We apologized, we had no idea it was off-limits - I sat down to talk with some random artists who worked at Naughty Dog, and excited to get some contacts over there when my friend walks up "yeah, we've got to go now!" I guess the bouncer was not getting along so well with some folks in our gang, apparently still fairly rustled by the upstairs debacle. And so we split up and called it a night! My friend and I got a cab back to Silverlake, then I walked 4 miles back to Hollywood - hit my pillow and crashed O-U-T.

So, I had to leave some of the juicier bits out of this entry, I'll have to get to them someday. It was a crazy night! But that's what E3 is all about. Sure, it is a lot about business and the future of the marketplace, the tech - but it's also about the extravagance, the indulgence. I make no bones about it, working in games is a very demanding job that takes a LOT of time, energy, dedication, and just plain stubbornness. It winds you up pretty good, especially after you've done it for several years. As you go through this industry, you work very intimately with lots of people across various different disciplines, and you all really bond as you do this. It's quite fraternal, and it's my favorite part of the job. When E3 rolls around, this is when it feels like a celebration of this aspect, the gathering of lots of us folks - the low-end guys, the mid-level grunts, the rich-ass power players, we all get slammed together for a few days and it's our opportunity to just let our hair down for a minute and revel in our love of what we do and our camaraderie - while some of the people who we've helped make EXTREMELY RICH foot the bill and let us experience a little taste of the luxury for just a bit.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

E3 2009, Day 1 report

9PM, sitting at home for a couple of hours now, here's the wrap-up.

It's been 2 years since I've attended E3 (since many have!) so I was kinda looking forward to the Return of the Spectacle. Well, long story short - it was really meh, is all I have to tell you. Yeah, there were some interesting announcements, take your pick (Team Ninja doing a new Metroid, all the fancy new Xbox 360 and PS3 peripherals, Mario Galaxy 2 announcement, etc). But overall, just kind of a feeling that "man this would have been a lot more exhilarating a couple of years earlier!" I am sure there's a few things to it (not to get all into it, but yeah like I said it's not the same mood when you are job-hunting at E3 as opposed to just taking it in and relaxing, catching up with friends, and so forth) - really I was surprised that the attendance was much smaller than I had expected, you could actually get through the halls fairly easily and there weren't insane lines all over the place to see things from my POV. I guess it's sort of what I'd called in my previous post - things are pulled back these days, you're not really seeing a lot of impressive innovation, everyone's just trying to put out tried-and-true product that will ensure money coming in. But damn, so dull. Hey look ANOTHER Need for Speed! Sure it looks nice but who cares? PGR looked amazing 4 years ago! Another Shaun White. More cooking games. Yawny McYawnerstein.

Anyway, what did I actually look at?

-GI JOE - as was evident from the screens released months ago, this looked like a poor (very) last-gen game. The action and such didn't look so bad, but not noteworthy and the visuals were just very blase. Come on, we have Unreal Tech, why show us this?

-Need for Speed - see above.

-TMNT Smash - I didn't really look at it or play it but it looks like they are trying to follow the Smash Bros blueprint. Is that license still viable though? Stuff gets old.

-New Super Mario Bros. Wii - This sounded interesting to me. I could still sit down and play through a round of good old SMB. Unfortunately, the game was not exactly captivating. I never played New Super Mario Bros. (on DS) but I imagine it felt like this. This was not what I want Mario to feel like, to play like! It's all floaty now with the LBP-3D feeling, but not in a good way. Honestly I would much rather stick with the fanmade levels on LBP at this point. I am not a naysayer against new Mario (Galaxy etc) but something about this just didn't feel like I could wrap myself around it. I ran out of caring after beating a round. I don't like how it handles the 2P simultaneous mode, feels like an afterthought/frustrating.

-Zombie Apocalypse (PSN) - played excatly how I thought it would. Yawn.

-Pixeljunk Shooter - I knew this would be fun. These guys have that certain something that makes weird little titles fun. I would download this. Maybe just demo, but ya know.

-Wii Sports Resort - I wanted to try the new MotionPlus, but got bored watching the guy in front of me shoot hoops. I think the fencing might be alright. It's hard to get psyced about Mii stuff at a scene like E3.

-Transformers - they showed vids of it on the big Activision screen. I can't say much for the gameplay but they really nailed the visuals - it looks like what you'd want a Michael Bay Transformers game to look like. Hopefully they can put the pieces back together following the previous rushjob installment.

-Tony Hawk Ride - I was pretty tempted to try this out, with the new skatboard peripheral. I actually got pretty far in the (admittedly short) line but got bored waiting for the guy ahead of me to practice the simple maneuvers - also the screens they were showing didn't look very appealing at all, graphically. I will say this though, I can see why they decided to make a new board rather than use the Wii Fit board - skaters can grab the deck in their hands and get more of a "skater feeling" if that makes sense.

-DJ Hero - this is so tough to tell. They had a big demo where they really broke it all down and showed the nuts and bolts of the game - the thing is, with these types of games it's really hard to tell how it feels just by watching someone play it. It could be really fun or just very complicated and confusing. I applaud them for going out on a limb and at least, trying something a little unorthodox (such as it is). I will reserve judgement, it's definitely going to be a harder sell than Guitar Hero in some ways..

-Lego Rock band - saw this there, it was exactly as you'd expect. Rock band, with Legos, yawn. I make fun of it, but I think we'll probably pick this up cause Rock Band doesn't seem to age that badly. I don't like looking at the Lego avatars though, I wish they had a reskin with the current Rock Band? Or just release all the same tracks for us, same price? Please?

-Rock Band Unplugged (PSP) - this reviewed fairly well on IGN recently. I don't think there's anyway to say it's good or not after playing it at E3, it's reduced down to it's simplest formula (watching bars and hitting buttons) - and you can't hear the audio at all! So, don't ask me.

-Motorstorm PSP - looked alright, a little crunchier like PS1. I just donnnn't like PSP, what can I say.

What else did I see? Um.. Steve Wiebe was there playing Donkey Kong (OG) to try and recapture the world record, that was funny. People would cheer as he cleared rounds - it was odd. A little hypnotic to watch for awhile, but ti was getting late and we had to move on. I wish Billy Mitchell was there!!

There was a little "indie area," actually I wished this section was bigger. It was fairly anemic, but kudos to them for representing. Not much to really yell home about, but a couple of the games were actually pretty impressive! They mentioned there's some indie game fest due up in... October, I believe, I wanna say it was gonna be in Culver City. I'll check back on that, definitely would like to check that out.

It's hard to judge E3 by the same standard I usually would. It's one of those strange things that really seems to pop up in the more unusual times of my life, and now is not really any different. I can't say it's really the ideal time for me to be indulging in that madness, so I can't expect to have such a great time as I often do (and sometimes it's just been REALLY GOOD DAMNED TIMES!) I blame that on circumstances of life more than just some convention however (and not like my life is even bad, at all, it's just not as... innocent and rambunctious as it'd been in the past). There's obviously something to attending the show when you are a bigshot dev on a cool project vs when you are just a scrub lookin' for work.. hahaha. Ah well, time to hit the bar...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Kick me out of E3!! AGAIN!!

What's up Mouseketeers. It's about 6:30 Monday evening, I just got back from downtown. Yeah, E3 isn't open to the masses until tomorrow, but I wanted to beat the madness and get a badge holder one day early - as opposed to waiting in line with 20,000 smelly nerds for a piece of plastic. I mean, I will wait with those same nerds all day long for other things I am sure..

It was funny walking in there. I was able to breeze Downtown from Hollywood in a flash (surprised!), parked for free (surprised - ALSO!), walked around the entire building the wrong way 'cause I am a moron, found my way to the South Hall Entrance where they were still setting up the most ginormous Rock Band Presented by Pepsi display I have ever seen, strolled up to the front of the line with my bade and presto. Actually, it felt like the end of E3s' past, since it was generally quite mellow with the occasional straggler here and there, and most folks seemed bored and sleepy. Soon, soon. Tomorrow will be a different story.

I am reminded of the last time that I was attending E3 without a job - that was back in 2001, I was freshly out of work from the collapse of 3DO (and my division, New World Computing). Working frantically to get my portfolio into some presentable state, and hurrying to get business cards printed until the last-last minute, I had been out of work long enough that I didn't have proper credentials for my own badge and so my programmer buddy from Neversoft lent me his ('cause he didn't care anyway!) For some reason, Matt put "Matty" on his badge - and I got randomly screened, after one hour, while entering an exhibit hall. "Is your name really 'Matty?' Let me see your ID!" I tried to call their bluff, but of course my Driver's License don't lie, so they stripped me of the badge and kicked me out, with my biz cards, portfolio samples and resumes - all I wanted to do was a find a job! Sob, sob. I didn't have a driver's license at the time so I sat outside and waited for the rest of my friends to finish up so we could go home. Pathetic, I know! I'd been 4 years in the game industry already - and now, a convention full of fat smelly nerds was rejecting me. Ah, the irony.

Well, that was (ulp) eight years ago. Sadly, I guess I may not have come so far, here we are at another E3 and I am still scrounging for work, same old story. In fact after I wrap up this entry, I need to bring my new business card template down to Kinkos/FedEx/whatever the hell they call it now and print up a bunch for my partner's and my new iPhone game venture. At least this time if I get kicked out of the show, it's cause I was doing something particularly unruly, not just crappy luck!

News-wise - lots of info already spilling out from the pre-show, Microsoft had their conference already earlier today. To tell the truth I've not done more than give a cursory glance to all the goings-on, what with running around and sending out bill payments and cashing checks and then all the admin setup for my new website, figuring out how to do MIDI capture and editing (I am 30 years too late, I know), and trying to give my girlfriend a moment of attention here and there... Anyway something about "Microsoft full-body movement control sensor," PSP GO (PSP GO AWAY!) .. they just don't understand... More Halo's (what's an ODSF?) Trailers for everything, I was proud to see a giant spectacular ALPHA PROTOCOL wall display inside of South Hall Section K.

The next couple of days will be a migrain, hopefully I can shmooze my way into some E3 party or other (yeah, yeah...) Good luck troops..