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(This post was originally an e-mail sent to my friends and family.)
I woke up this morning with a pretty bad cough. I hadn’t been feeling sick, but a weekend of some of the most brutal physical activity of my life definitely weakened my immune system. Having been through three airports in the past 24 hours, I’m not surprised I picked up a little something. While I don’t relish falling a little behind on my work on the week before a milestone, it HAS given me ample opportunity to scribble down all of my ruminations about this past weekend’s trip.
I was invited to go along on this bachelor party sometime in mid-January. Ed, one of my best friends from work, is the best man for our friend Scott’s wedding in early April, and was organizing a skiing / snowboarding trip to North Carolina for the bachelor party.
The attendees were:
- Me. Brendan! You know!
- Scott Visavachaipan. Go ahead and try and pronounce it. You can’t do it. No one can. Scott lives in Orlando and works as an cinematographer and video editor. He and his girlfriend Kristine have been living together for many years and are simply making their marriage official this coming April.
- Ed Tchen, Scott’s best friend from high school days and best man for his wedding. Ed and I were leads together on Star Wars Battlefront, the first game that I was a lead designer on. Ed is a worldbuilder – 3D modeler and artist who specializes in environments and playable levels. We’ve worked together on my current game for a while, although he was recently changed to a new start-up project.
- Jerome Terrell. A friend of Ed and Scott’s since college, Jerome went to FIEA in the class after me, Cohort 3, as an artist, and got a job at n-Space shortly after as a worldbuilder. He worked with me on Star Wars Battlefront and James Bond Bloodstone. He currently works at a simulation company across town.
- Jordan Johnson. Another high-school era friend, Jordan worked at a bakery with Ed and Scott soon after emigrating from Great Britain as a teenager. He currently lives in Miami and works as an architect. I’ve met Jordan a few times at Ed’s house at parties before.
- Dennis Heeke, Scott’s half brother who didn’t fit in well with the group at all and took a lot of smoke breaks.
Most of us met up at Orlando International Airport at about 8 in the morning. Jordan had to work on Thursday, and so did not meet up with us until at about midnight that same day. Orlando Int’l Terminal A, incidentally, has a Nathan’s hot dog stand that begins cooking hot dogs at an early hour, and the temptation to get a hot dog as a breakfast item is a difficult urge to suppress.
Our flight took us to Atlanta, where we raced to a different terminal just in time to board our 25 minute flight to Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is in the far west of NC, a short distance away from the Tennessee border. We touched down in Carolina around 12 or 12:30.
It was freezing, and by “freezing,” I mean it was about 50 degrees. It was pretty brisk the entire time we were in North Carolina. The mornings, before it started to get window, were absolutely perfect – unless you’re hoping for snow. I was pretty worried about the lack of snow-creating weather until I discovered that someone had thought of this problem way ahead of me and invented a pretty elaborate artificial-snow generation device, which of course meant that we would be able to go snowboarding no matter what.
None of us had eaten, so once we got our minivan, we descended into Asheville in order to find food. Between my inability to successfully spot the differences between my iPhone’s minimaps and Asheville’s clumsily thrown-together roads, we got pretty lost, eventually going in a gigantic loop until Scott took over the job of navigation and directed us properly. This began a weekend-long spree of seemingly accidental one-up-manship on Scott’s part, where I would do something and then Scott would immediately do it again, way better. Buying steaks, charming clerks with interesting-sounding last names, getting on ski-lifts – you name it!
Our lunch destination was 12 Bones Smokehouse, which had a line of customers reaching out the front door when we pulled up. A small, Asheville-only franchise, it boasted an incredible selection of rib styles and sauces, including the peculiar but delicious Blueberry Chipotle. I opted to get the Hogzilla sandwich – bacon, pulled pork, and bratwurst on a hoagie – instead of ribs in order to break away from the crowd. 12 Bones serves all of their meals on big metal tins, with your sides well-scooped around your entree. I enjoyed some corn pudding and incredible sweat potato mash – but all of this, including my excellent sandwich, was topped by a surprisingly authentic slice of Key Lime pie. I also fell in love with one of the waitresses, but we left before I could buy a house and set up an appropriate stalking routine.
After lunch, we conducted a massive shopping excursion at the Walmart Super-Center. North Carolina has no Publixes, which bewilders me and my narrow view of how the world works. Regardless, we loaded a pair of carts with equal parts alcohol and mealtime components. We expected to cook a great deal, and we bought a huge smattering of items in preparation of such a task.
Once our minivan was loaded with groceries, we headed west. Our cabin was at Boyd Mountain Log Cabins in Maggie Valley, just outside a town called Waynesville. A lot of us on the trip drive small, sporty cars, and the low horsepower of the minivan was wildly frustrating – particularly given the ramps and slopes of Appalachian-area highways. Seriously, people, elevation terrifies me. You’re driving, and then all of a sudden there’s a drop – a drop sharp enough that if you were walking, and you tripped, you might could die. But you’re supposed to drive down it. And there’s houses along that drop. Madness.
We didn’t really believe our cabin when we drove up to it. We thought it had to be a mistake of some kind. It was too nice. The outside was gorgeous. It was huge – four bed and three bath, almost the perfect amount of room for six guys to stay in over the weekend. Full kitchen and incredibly plush living room. Indoor fireplace and outdoor firepit. Huge deck, with rocking chairs and a patio table. High definition TVs, central air and heat. Tons of bath towels. Washer and dryer! It was better than nearly every hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.
Here is the website specifically about the cabin that I stayed in, with excellent pictures: http://boydmountain.com/
As if the surrounding area couldn’t get more picturesque, the cabin was on a mountain which doubled as a Christmas Tree farm. I was so enamored of the surrounding terrain that I resolved to immediately sprint up the closest mountain, which I’m amazed to say that I did just that – although it mutilated my energy levels for the rest of the day.
Once we unloaded our bags and put away all the food, it was getting later in the day – close to 5 or 6. We decided we would head to the ski mountain to try and catch one of the free instructional classes around 7:15. We bundled up in waterproof garb and piled back into the minivan – only to yet again be confounded by tough-to-follow directions and terrifying elevation.
We rolled up to Cataloochee Ski Area (http://www.cataloochee.com/) sometime in the 7:30 area. The mountain was, thankfully, open until 10 – but we were too late for the lesson, which turned out to be irrelevant because all of us wanted to snowboard and the lesson was for skiing anyway. After renting boots and snowboards, we signed up for a private lesson on the bunny slope with one of the instructors – a lesson that wound up being extremely worthwhile, because there’s no way any of us would’ve figured out what we were doing without it.
Catalooche looked a lot more like what I had expected to see up in the mountains – lots of grit and ice with some well-used log building at the bottom of the mountain. The ski mountain itself had an interconnected series of slopes, such that regardless of which difficulty or height you opted to try, everyone always ended at the same place when they got to the bottom of the mountain. The bunny slope / training area that were started off on was pretty gentle as slopes go – steeper than the slant of a parking garage ramp, but not by much and not consistently so. A people-mover ramp on the side of the slope ferried us all to the top.
Nick, our assigned ski instructor, looked and sounded exactly like what you’d expect a North Carolina skater boy to be like. He was a lot of help and went carefully and deliberately through all of the steps with occasional bursts of high-level snowboarding mindset philosophy thrown in.
We began simply by determining our stance – Dennis, awkwardly, though that he was goofy foot when in fact he definitely was not. I rode regular, and so strapped in with my left foot and started getting used to the feeling of this huge slab affixed to my leg. Before we even went down the slope, we practiced shifting our weight from our heels and to our toes in order to curve the board’s path to come to a stop. With just one foot strapped in, I tried some small runs down the slope – and caught myself by my free foot as I came to a stop each time.
Great work! said Nick in italics, Now try for real – with both feet strapped in.
I can do this, I thought. I will shred.
I eagerly tossed my other boot into the strap and inched down the side of the slope – and very quickly lost balance. The entire concept of balance disappeared from my frame of reference. It was like a laser shot my brain and deleted “balance” and any associated concepts. I tumbled and fell – hard.
Ideal snow for skiing and snowboarding is referred to by enthusiasts as “powder.” This was not powder. This was several-day-old slush and ice that had been compacted and compressed by skiers and snowboarders going over it again and again and again before we showed up at 7:30 at night. It had enough give to it to make it inconvenient to stand up in. Oh god, standing up. I got to the point where I dreaded the wipe outs far less than I dreaded having to push myself back up, and in fact I busted my wrist pretty painfully that first Thursday night until I hashed out a better solution the next day (standing up facing up the mountain and then leaping 90 degrees into place once erect.)
That Thursday night was full of trial and error and a lot of bruises and bumps. We came back to the cabin past quitting time full of energy, eager to head back the next day and try it again. Charcoal grilled bratwurst, steak fries, and fair amount of beer helped us round out the end of the day. As we waited for Jordan to show up (he was flying in late, remember), the guys treated me to my first-ever viewing of one of the most confusing action movies I’ve ever seen: Arnold Schwarznegger’s Commando. The trials of boarding and airporting took their toll, though, and I was fighting back sleep by the end of it. In my sleep-walk to bed, I left a completely full beer open and waiting on the table in front of me, which I was forced to finish the next day to support the fanciful creed of No Beer Left Behind.
I rose Friday morning to the sound of breakfast being prepared. A feast of Eggo waffles, coffee, and bacon was made available thanks to Jerome and Ed’s efforts. We each compared where we hurt the most – my arms, oddly enough, had taken the greatest toll. We wrapped up breakfast and hurried to get re-equipped to see what snowboarding during the day would be like.
The most noticeable difference, first of all, was the sheer number of people. A scant following had been in attendance on Thursday night past 7. Now were at the mountain at 1 o’clock on a Friday 40 minutes away from a town with a major university in it. The joint was bumpin’. There were all kinds of people there, too – tons and tons of small children, all of whom seemed to have little fear of careening down a mountainside on a pair of skis. Families, other vacationers, and coy locals were everywhere.
Once we were re-equipped, we took a couple of practice rounds on the bunny slope before deciding we were ready for the real deal.
Cataloochee has, aside from the training slopes, three grades of difficulty to their slopes. These grades are simply relative to one another and don’t conform to any universal ski slope grading scale:
- Green Circle – An easier trail, suitable for beginners and novices.
- Blue Square – For those looking for a more exciting challenge.
- Black Diamond – Holy shit!
The grades in difficulty are based primarily on steepness of slope, and build atop one another. You can take a trail that’s primarily green or blue, or weave in a section graded at green or blue or black difficulty before you get to the last stretch, which is also the first green tier slope.
The website has a good map of the trails that shows what I mean: http://www.cataloochee.com/
Our attempts on Friday – and for most of the rest of the trip, took us down the two green paths on the right side of the map, “Over Easy” and “Rabbit Hill.” Before I tell you about the trails, though, I have to tell you about the ski lift operators.
The ski instructors – like Nick, from Thursday night – seemed to be informed, friendly locals. In fact a lot of the people that we ran into during our time in North Carolina were friendly and eager to help us out. The ski lift operators were different. They were more like the Gringotts goblins. They were like carnival ride operators. They were silent, soulless automatons who existed for a simple, mundane task – hitting the button over and over – and they hated that this was their lot in life. They did not speak, or smile, or assist you in any way when you fell off of the lift because you got on wrong, or fell off when dismounting every time. If you asked them a question about the destination of the lift, or some other mundane feature of the course, you got an answer back that sounded half Portuguese and half cockney. It was in these mens’ hands that we placed our lives each and every time we got on board the ski lift.
Between the two green courses, “Over Easy” was supposed to be the simpler of the two, but it was clearly not the case for several reasons, all of which we discovered through lessons of pain:
- You actually have to take a sharp ramp down from Rabbit Hill to Over Easy in order to even begin that part of the course, which is a fantastic place to crash if you’ve only been snowboarding for about two hours in your entire life.
- It’s narrow and bounded on one side by the pillars of the ski ramp, which means there’s very little room for turning or dodging. This is especially a pain when, like me and Ed, you’re using big slalom turns to try and get the handle of the terrain down.
- It’s bounded on the other side by the goddamn woods, where I’m sure there are wolves.
- It’s also used as the stunt course for particularly sick ‘boarders. As in, grind rails and ramps. Which were being constructed right in the middle of the path as we tried to head down – constructed by men that looked like they were close kin of the inhuman lift operators.
This last point was particularly obnoxious because they would leave their instruments in places where they were obvious hazards. On one particularly epic spill, I tumbled head-over-heels before skidding to a halt with my face literally an inch away from a planted shovel. It was not to be my last close call with terror.
I spent much more of my time on the “Rabbit Hill” side afterwards, which has steeper drops but it longer and much, much wider. One of the biggest problems that I ran into was that I couldn’t keep my balance even after pulling to a full stop, and many times, the board would attempt to slide in some new direction because I’d frozen in one position for too long. The solution presented itself to me when, completely on accident, I came to a stop – and then switched positions and began flying down the mountain in a goofy foot stance. I pulled to a stop in that stance, and then switched back to regular – intentionally, this time. It didn’t stop me from wiping out, but it definitely reduced the number of times that it happened.
We took a couple of breaks at their well-equipped lodge and traded stories about our various misadventures on the slope. As evening began to approach, Scott indicated that he’d prefer to get dinner going soon. We’d had a fair bit of fun on the green slope and wanted to take it up a notch before we took off for the night – we were going to go down the full green path, beginning with the “Upper Turkey Trot” path halfway up the mountain. It was foolhardy, but we were here to shred, dammit.
Ed, Jordan and I were the only ones with the energy for the new path. We boarded a different ski lift and were immediately stricken by terror. The other ski lift had travelled maybe 20 to 30 feet off the ground and was well lit. This new ski lift was a carnival ride into a nightmare. No lights, no safety net or anything of any kind, and almost immediately hundreds upon hundreds of feet over the forest floor. It was petrifying how scary the lift ride was. I’d never been so happy to clamber off onto an exit ramp in my life.
The exit ramp, however, presented a confusion scenario. There was a path right in front of us, and lots of criss-crossing areas above us … but no signs to indicate where to go, or helpful “lifeguard” stations of any kind. We strapped in and decided to take a wild guess and pick the first way down.
The first way down was a blue path. It’s marked on the path as “Lower Omigosh.” It was steep. Steep the way stairs on a boat are steep. We were careening.
I did two full 360s using my stance switch approach to slaloming down the mountain before crashing as I rolled to a stop. I flew straight forward and landed chest first, knocking every bit of the wind out of me. For a bleak moment I thought I was pretty much done – that I’d screwed up, I’d sustained some embarrassing, life-cancelling injury, and that I needed to compose myself enough to disappear into the wilderness so that people could at least pretend I’d died in some noble fashion like bear-blasting or something. I started doing the weak, lunatic kind of laugh that you can only do when you think you’re on Death’s doormat.
A few deep breaths later, I slid around and popped myself back up into a stand. The rest of the trip down was less like a snowboarding session and more like a calculated series of prat falls, where even as I stood, I knew that I was going already out of control and headed for the ground, and it was all that I could do to try and travel far enough down the mountain that I would get out of the steep zone in the hopes of one day standing up the way that humans are known to do. After about ten minutes of straight tumbling, I collapsed in a heap at the bottom of the mountain.
We adjourned to the cabin with strong talk, lots of laughs, and a dash of lies. We grilled steaks, made a bonfire, and traded tales and jokes over drinks. Card games and video games helped round out the evening. I think I crashed at about 4:30 AM after an hour and a half straight of Marvel vs Capcom 3.
Saturday was recuperation. I was beat, and even when we went snowboarding at the end of the day, I barely had the energy for a couple of runs. Saturday involved a lot of lounging about our spectacular cabin and admiring the unbelievable scenery.
We drove back into town Sunday morning at breakfast at the Sunny Point Cafe in Asheville before spending some boring hours at the airport. My flight from Atlanta to Orlando took me on a different plane than the rest of the crew, so I bid them a safe journey and headed off on my own. I was moved to four separate seats as I attempted to board the Orlando jet, thanks to a comedy of errors between the flight attendants trying to help non-English-speaking families sit together.
It was a fantastic trip and I’d gladly make a yearly visit out of it. The towns were amazing, the people were great, and the prices were quite reasonable considering how plush the accommodations were and how much fun the journey was.
(This post was originally an e-mail sent to my friends and family.)
A few weeks ago, I went to Los Angeles for E3 – a defining pilgrimage for any video game developer. I was stoked because E3 was set to be the official announcement of GoldenEye 007 for both the Wii and the DS – the DS version being my sole focus for the past tenmonths or so. I’ve never worked on a game this high-profile before, and getting announced at E3 is pretty great – as part of Nintendo’s keynote, no less!
Well, if you remember my last write-up, the DS version of the game wasn’t actually included in the keynote, or really talked about much at all at the conference, due to some marketing rearrangement by Nintendo, apparently – they wanted their message to be “core audience Wii titles, and 3DS 3DS 3DS.” They hit that message pretty well, I’d say, but means great upcoming DS titles like mine (and, amongst others, some cool looking Capcom stuff) sorta got left behind. Sucks, but what can you do?
Well, if you’re Activision, the answer is showing off GoldenEye DS exclusively at a Comic-Con off-site preview event, alongside some other terrific upcoming titles. They asked n-Space if we were interested in participating, and of course, we said yes. Dan O’Leary asked if I was interested in the gig and I signed up right away. We got the tickets squared away and set the plan in motion.
… but “set the plan in motion” is a bit of a misnomer. To better illustrate the scenario – we were in full closing mode for GoldenEye during these weeks, which meant my eyes were on the game and what needed to change about 10 hours a day, seven days a week. All great work and I was happy to do it – especially since I was the one driving most of the changes (stuff like new dynamic camera angles, and a TON of custom music for special scenarios!) but it didn’t leave a lot of time for side projects … like getting prepared for the first press conference of my life.
Understand, I know the game inside and out, and I have no problem chatting with anyone about it. However, I tend to get pretty intimidated by a scenario that I’m entirely unfamiliar with. I rely very heavily on analagous experiences when I’m speaking publicly. I had very little idea of how the Activision scene was actually going to go down. I knew it was going to be at a nightclub (Stingarees, downtown San Diego – http://www.stingsandiego.com/) and that there were going to be some other high-profile games there (I’ll detail those a little later) and that it was going to be swarming with press. I was able to deduce – correctly, I’m happy to say – that it was less of a press conference and more of a party that happened to have games everywhere you looked – which would call for a much more social, one-on-one kind of presentation than prepared remarks or a routine of some kind.
All the same, I had very very little time to do much more than think about what I could do as far as a routine – certainly no time to practice question-and-answer or go over the levels to make sure that I wouldn’t die in the middle of a demonstration. My demo for Dan and Ted Newman the morning before I would fly out was a touch scatterbrained, but they thought I did fine and did their best to instill some confidence in me as I headed for the airport.
I was flying out with Tim Schwalk, producer on Tron Evolution: Battle Grids, built exclusively for the Wii, who had a much more intimidating task than me – he’d be helping man the Tron booth at Comic-Con itself for three or four days, alternately hosting the Tron Wii area at the rebuilt Flynn’s Arcade that had been set up for the convention down the street (The arcade is an actual location from the films.) Tim’s much more experienced than me, having worked at n-Space for many more years and having helmed lots of other projects, so I was eager to get a few tips here and there about what I was in for.
Ultimately, however, we spent more time on the flight resting and saving our energy for our tasks that evening. My schedule called for me to connect (no plane change) in Albuquerque and go from San Diego airport to my hotel and then almost immediately to my venue. I preferred the sense of urgency – it would keep me on my toes.
The flight to San Diego was highlighted by a remarkable vision of southern California, which I’ve flown over a couple of times by now. In all of those times, however, I’ve never managed to see it for what it is – a wasteland. The rocky barrens appear completely lifeless, and the only variation is the occasional sand dune. This shouldn’t be a surprise – I took geography classes in 6th grade just like everybody – but actually seeing it and making the mental connection between the desolation in front of my eyes and “part of America” was very striking. I felt infantile, learning a color or a sensation for the first time.
San Diego, it must be said, is vastly different from my expectations of what it looked and felt like – which of course were generated by watching “Anchorman” fifteen times. IRL San Diego feels like a smaller, friendlier LA, from my extremely limited exposure to it. Elevation changes every ten paces, with massive slopes and drops everywhere you look. Most of the architecture seemed quite old, with even the hippest and trendiest of buildings sporting twenty or thirty-year-old shells.
Activision was putting me up the Doubletree hotel for my first night in town – I would be crashing with Tim at his hotel later in the week, since n-Space was kind enough to push back my flight home and get me a ticket to Comic-Con so that I could see the sights. The Doubletree, it must be said, is a classy establishment – they give you a warm cookie when you check in! Hot damn! The room was plush and a treat just to walk around in. I took a quick shower and headed straight down to Stingarees with my hardware securely tucked in my pockets – two DSi “panda” kits (with bigger screens than a normal DS Lite, so that players would be able to see the game more clearly) and two builds of the game that I’d set up on my own to allow me to jump around the game quickly and easily, as well as cheat if I absolutely needed to.
The event was split between two floors, which you can track pretty well in the Gamespot coverage of the event which I won’t link here because the jerks skipped our game. The bottom floor was the show floor, with lots of big monitors and socialization areas, as well as some trade demos – quick levels and lots of trailers. I’m not exactly sure what level of press credentials you needed in order to get in, but it seemed pretty well packed the entire evening. The top floor was the press “lounge,” which had much more in-depth demos with the creators of the games. Most were arranged in the same style – big TVs mounted up so you could walk up and start playing. GoldenEye for the Wii, cleverly, was set up with low-rise couches so that you could really capture the living-room multiplayer feel of the game.
GoldenEye DS was in my hands. Originally, I had been a little dismayed that I wasn’t going to have a big projected presentation available, or even just a small TV, like what we use for demos in the worldbuilding room or the South front conference room. However, I saw immediately once I got there that this would’ve been an unbelieveable mistake – the DS graphics presented side-by-side next to the 360 / PS3 quality material in huge screen format would’ve drawn more derision than interest. Instead, I simply walked up to people and had them watch the game on the Panda’s screens – again, bigger than a normal DS Lite, although not as big as the Quasimodo that is the DSi XL. This wound up working really well, not only because it let me walk anywhere I needed to be, but it portrayed the game in its best possible light.
Throughout the night, there were lots of hors d’œuvres (yes, I had to look it up) and free drinks flowing all night long. The club itself was very trendy – all of the table top surfaces and counters very crisp and very clean all night long. The staff was pretty impressed with the stuff that we were setting up. It was also really well-lit – it had the right balance of mood and style without making it impossible to move around or find another part of the club. I was also really happy with the noise level all night – at no point did you have to shout to be heard by the person next to you.
The heavy hitters for the night were:
- GoldenEye 007 Wii. Most of what was shown here was a reiteration of what was demoed at E3, but obviously in a much more accessible venue. Graham Hagmaier, our associate producer on the title, was in charge of showing off parts of the first single player level of the game – the infiltration of the Dam alongside 006, which is strung out in such a way that really does a nice job of showing off core pillars of the game – multiroute gameplay, big “Wow!” Bond-esque moments, a more physical “Daniel Craig” take on Bond, and some clever nostalgic throwbacks. There was also a multiplayer demo set up where anyone could walk up and play with vintage Bond baddies like Jaws and Scaramanga in the Wii’s Archives level.
- Blood Stone 007 for the 360 (also coming out for PS3, and I think maybe PC, and maybe one other platform…) Blood Stone’s first level – the Athens, ending in the explosions on the road to the Acropolis – was being demo’d (no hands on by the press, I don’t think) in its entirety. This game’s had a rough development history but it looks good and shows off well. The DS version of Blood Stone wasn’t mentioned at this event – I’ll get into that more a little further below.
- Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Quite possibly “game of show,” Activision made their announcement of the “Ultimate” symbioted Spidey (as in, the Ultimate Spider-Man universed created and perfected by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar – I happen to be a bit of a fanboy) as the final, fourth world in this new game from Beenox in what could be a runaway hit for a studio that’s mostly done ports so far. I got my hands on the game late in the evening and had a blast both sneaking around the Noir universe and tearing up enemies in the Ultimate universe. These guys seem to have a good handle on what they’re doing.
- Transformers: War for Cybertron DLC. Multiplayer playable with some new content coming out later this year – new levels, new guns, new characters.
- Bakugan something something. Even the event’s MC had trouble remembering how to say the game’s name right. It actually looked fun, but I didn’t give it too much attention.
- GoldenEye 007 on the DS – the ONLY DS representative of the evening!
I met up with the Activision guys – some that I’d met before, some new – and settled in to wait for the press to show up at 6. Plenty of time for me to wait and get more and more nervous. Like I said before, I know the game inside and out, and I can talk to people, but I was entirely uncertain of what to expect from a “press” situation. I had no idea if these guys were just going to be jerks for the sake of being jerks (“DS first person shooters suck. What do you think of that?”), or ask hard-hitters that I can’t really get into, (“So, did you make these design choices because if you’re too close to the original game, you’ll get sued by Nintendo or Rare or something?”)
I’ve told a few people this already but my surprise has not yet abated: The very first two journalists who walked into the event were two friends that I’ve known for roughly ten years, who I had not told at all that I’d be in town. Tim Sheehy, from Japanator.com, and Dale North, News Editor for Destructoid.com, walked right up and started commiserating. I immediately jumped into a “lite” version of my spiel, showing them some of the game and getting into the high points of my routine, figuring out which parts are good to improv with and which parts are good to keep as-is. It was a really welcome way to ease into the fun of the event. Dale’s already posted his preview, by the way, where he speaks pretty well of the title. (http://www.destructoid.com/
The “default” demo consisted of the following:
- Tank! – I almost always opened with this level, with the qualifier that GoldenEye is a remake “of the film, and not of the original game” and that the most iconic scene in the 1995 film was when Bond jumps into a tank and demolishes St Petersburg. The level is a great hook and captures people’s attention immediately not only with its spectacular visuals, but its nostalgic value.
- Archives – Just as the Wii’s Dam level has a great progression of design pillars to show off, I used Archives as the “action” example, showing off environmental kills, Bond’s athleticism, touch screen interaction, and the quick phone call with Tanner about 1/4 of the way in as a spot to mention the full voice cast for the total game.
- Surface – This was my “stealth” example, although I tried to remind myself to use “covert” more often than stealth to try and harken to a little bit more of a military-spy kinda archetype. Surface gets you into the action quickly with distraction events and takedowns, and it’s a great spot to demonstrate how to solve encounters in different ways.
- Dale is a pal, so I showed him some stuff no one else got to see – Bunker, and Lab. Bunker is a terrific “non-combat” level for the first 1/3 of the gameplay, and Lab does a great job of wrapping story elements into shooter gameplay.
Talking with a couple of friends who were also press guys really took the edge off. Good thing, because the press were buzzing downstairs and about to head up. I was really happy to hear the MC for the event actually mention the DS title in his opening spiel when he talked about what games everyone would have the opportunity to see. I’d prepared and e-mailed him a one-page breakdown of the game and what makes it so cool (repurposed on the n-Space blog and reposted at a jillion websites – http://nspaceinc.wordpress.
I was happy for the prep time, because the next thing I know, a guy from IGN is craning over my shoulder to check out the game. His preview is a little less enthusiastic than when he and I were playing the game, but it’s not especially bad, either. (http://ds.ign.com/articles/
What were people saying about the game?
- A console experience on a handheld platform – This was one of the game’s big goals when we started out and I’m happy to say that it really came across in the demo. People were really impressed with how full-bodied the game was.
- Smooth, crisp performance – The game looked and ran really smoothly and sharply. The worldbuilders have done an incredible job making some great looking levels and the team overall should be commended for working so hard to make sure framerate is consistently superb.
- It’s authentic GoldenEye – Perhaps the biggest challenge that the team faced was recreating what’s almost universally regarded as one of the best shooters ever made in a way that not only makes sense for 2010 on the DS, but looks, moves, and smells like GoldenEye. The game has seen a massive amount of revision and I’m proud to say that I think it’s paid off.
And on and on. Between 6 and 9:30 I showed the game to maybe 15 to 20 people or clusters of people. I had a great chat with the guys from CommanderBond.net, a pretty serious James Bond fan site, and I was delighted with the opportunity to find someone else that loves watching License to Kill. It’s great to actually drop Rory Kinnear’s name and have someone be impressed with it. I bet you don’t know who Rory Kinnear is! Go look it up!
I met a stunning lady named Megan Morgan who was actually there working – she was in charge of the Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions project, and has actually worked with n-Space in the past. We talked a bit and she let me get hands-on with a couple of Spider-Man levels. The game is magical in its execution – same controls per Spider (you play as 4 different versions of Spider-Man in the game) with drastically different mechanics per universe. The “Ultimate” Spidey plays like a terrific brawler in the God of War tradition, whereas the “Noir” wallcrawler is a stealth hero, sneaking and striking a lot like Batman Arkham Asylum or Sam Fisher. I cannot wait.
The night wrapped to a close between 9:30 and 10 and I celebrated with a Bond drink – vodka martini with a twist. I was profoundly relieved that I hadn’t (as far as I could tell) screwed up in any major way. Exhausted and jet lagged, I headed back to the hotel and grabbed a Coke from the lounge, where I spotted Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade (http://www.penny-arcade.com) having dinner.
The pillows are arguably the most important part of a good bed, and the ones provided by the Doubletree were horrible. I’m never travelling without my own pillows ever again. I woke up not at all rested and starving. I actually splurged on some room service breakfast and watched a couple episode of House as I tried to get my bearings. I called O’Leary and checked in, giving a breakdown of the evening’s proceedings. Once I was both conscious and fed, I checked out and headed for the Ramada where I’d be crashing with Tim for the remainder of my stay.
Comic-Con itself was a zoo where the animals have been allowed to run free. There was an incredible press of people everywhere you looked – although, to the credit of the show’s organizers and operational staff, it was very rarely the case that I found myself having to wait before I could move around. All of the areas were flowing steadily onward and you never had to stop and wait for very long. I got checked in and was handed a huge stack of free stuff – convention schedule, huge bag, et cetera. The bag did not go with my look at all – I was wearing a sport coat over a T-shirt and some comfortable jeans – and the bag gave the impression of instead a man who is wearing an ankle-length skirt. I ditched the material and began looking around.
Unfortunately, I had no real sense of where anything was, and so inadvertedly wandered the hallways where the panels and discussions were being held without actually seeing the convention floor for about forty minutes. I was pretty disappointed in the show until I realized I was in the completely incorrect location.
The convention proper was held in one gigantic room – maybe a good two or even three times the size of E3, albeit much more cramped and closely packed together. No individual booths had the real flair of the E3 architecture – these looked much more conventional, although there were some standout locations. About a third of the floor was devoted to video games – mostly repurposed from E3 in a lot of locations. I didn’t see many games that I haven’t already had my hands on in way or another – including Spider-Man, which had a big presence. Neither of the Bond games were at the show.
Tron’s booth was one of the really remarkable booths – a Recognizer (http://tron.wikia.com/wiki/
I didn’t see a whole lot in the way of celebs at the show, mostly because I didn’t go to any of the panels – I really wasn’t interested in waiting in any lines and you have to wait in some massive ones in order to get into the cool events. Tim and I walked past maybe about a thousand people who were all waiting to get into the panel for Dexter, for example.
The show was kinda overwhelming, so I headed outside to take a breather. From a set of stairs where I camped out for a bit, I was witness to an extraordinary protest and counter-protest. There was a family of four across the street with the classic “GOD HATES FAGS” posters and variants, trying to convince the world of their wrongness through the power of shocking but well-printed billboards. Adjacent to them was a massive gathering of less conventional protestors – Comic-Con attendees, many of whom were in costume, with chants, songs, and the power of Internet-inspired mockery. Amongst the better signs and shouts were “GOD NEEDS A STARSHIP” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?
io9.com has some good photos of the action - http://io9.com/5594111/the-
I’m amused by the prospect that either side thinks that they could actually convince the other side of their correctness through the use of these signs. It’s not like the idea that God hates a particular group of people is going to meme itself through the human consciousness and inspire us to act or pray in a different way. Believe it or not, though, the bigots actually packed up their stuff and left while I was watching.
Around 2, Tim finished with his shift at the Tron booth, and he and I and the Tron game director Jaime Toghill went to grab something to eat. As we headed through downtown San Diego, I spotted a Wyland Whaling Wall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
We ate lunch at a spot called Nicky Rotten’s (http://nickyrottens.com/), a terrific little burger joint. I had a bleu cheese burger, which would’ve been noteworthy enough on its own, except that the burger was interrupted by a David Hassellhoff themed party bus that appears on the street. Baywatch swimsuit-clad girls and Knight Rider cosplaying dudes poured into the street, dancing away, as the Hoff himself rode up top, climbing on the railing and singing into a mic. The bus looked like it might’ve been promoting a new reality show, but I prefer to think that this is simply something that David Hassellhoff does with his money and his time every Thursday.
Tim, thank God, shot a video of this happening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
We actually took a bit of a breather for a while at a Border’s, enjoying some coffee and importing DevTrack bugs for Tron Wii. Wooooo, work! We headed back to the convention a little while afterwards, since Tim hadn’t actually had time to wander the show floor. I didn’t have a particular agenda in mind at all, so I tagged along with him, taking in the sights. We spotted some entertaining stuff, such as…
- An Iron Man booth that had every suit from both films, including the massive Iron Monger suit!
- An “Alien” booth with big stasis pods that visitors could climb into and be treated to the terror associated with the xenomorphs related to that franchise
- Web comic artists who I would’ve loved to have had a conversation with, but couldn’t think of anything to say, so I didn’t, including the Penny Arcade guys, Kris Struab of Chainsaw Suit (http://www.chainsawsuit.com/)
, and Ryan Sohmer of Least I Could Do (http://www.leasticoulddo.com/ ).
- Lots of Gundam toys from a version of the show I haven’t seen yet
- Mark Rosewater, Magic the Gathering’s head designer
- The aformentioned gigantic line for Dexter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
- The Soup Nazi from Seinfeld (We did not speak to this man.)
- A booth where you could get a temporary tattoo of the Expendables logo (http://expendablesthemovie.
The show wrapped around 6 or so. We’d had a late lunch and so didn’t intend to eat a whole lot, but we (Jaime, Tim, and I) wound up meeting up with a bunch of people that work on the next-gen Tron game and they were looking to have a nice dinner, so we wound up getting a table at the Oceanaire (http://www.theoceanaire.com/
Tim and I were pretty exhausted after dinner so we headed to the hotel and crashed.
The next day I flew back, connecting in Chicago and getting stuck on the tarmac for about an hour and a half in the middle of a driving rainstorm. I touched back down in Orlando around midnight, having taken off about about 9 AM. Tiring!
Overall, it was a thrilling trip, but like the E3 event, I’m not sure I have the stamina to go back every year. My only real regret was not making it down to the San Diego Zoo, which I hear is incredible. The whole trip was a terrific opportunity, though, and I’m glad to have had the chance to show off a game that I’ve worked on to the public.
(This blog post was originally an e-mail sent to my friends and family.)
- Dan O’Leary – President of the company, one of the three original founders of n-Space fifteen years ago.
- Ted Newman – Studio creative director. Been with the company a long time – works alongside Dan in a creative capacity, steering the direction of products’ and enforcing quality standards as well as coming up with new ideas for games.
- Tim Schwalk – Producer on Tron for the Wii. A lead designer for many years, Tim is in charge of almost everything creatively on the Wii project.
- Chris Bromby – Art director for Tron. Chris directs the visual standards of quality across the entire game – characters, vehicles, worlds, user interface, heads up display, special FX – everything.
- Brian Parker – Lead designer for Call of Duty: Black Ops DS. Brian’s been at the company only slightly longer than I have and has worked on every Call of Duty product that we’ve put together. He was elevated to a lead position in this latest title, due out in November.
- Brendan McLeod – that’s me!
E3 held different purposes for all of us.
- Dan and Ted would primarily be meeting with publishers and other industry folks in order to develop business relationships and investigate new opportunities for projects.
- Tim and Chris were slated to man the Tron booth the entire week. They’d be stationed next to a TV and a Wii (a pair for each of them) that had a special build of Tron Wii on it that was specifically set up for demo purposes. They’d talk about the game to anyone who walked up and wanted to give it a try.
- Brian and I didn’t have a specific professional agenda and had free roam of the E3 floor. However, we both agreed that the new 3DS hardware (more details below) was probably something we needed to get our hands on.
Parker and I were late additions, and so we were booked on a different flight. We flew out in the middle of Monday, stopping over in San Antonio before landing in LAX. The flights going over were pretty uneventful, highlighted only by the fact that the bag that I’d packed was way too heavy and I had to buy another bag at the station and transfer 30 lbs. worth of luggage so that I could check the bags! I played video games the whole way over.
We landed in the middle of the evening, LA-time, but the time it took to grab my bags, find a shuttle, get checked into the hotel, and get situated meant that the Activision party that we’d been invited to was just about to get under way by the time we got a cab. Getting a cab was a sketchy experience, with the hotel trying to get us to use a shuttle service for a surprisingly pricey amount, and then chopping the price down immediately once I said I wasn’t interested. I was already a little wary of the hotel given that it turned out it hadn’t been prepaid by the company and I wound up having to put up my own cash as collateral in order to get checked in – a bookkeeping mishap that was resolved within the next day. I became a little more accustomed to the front desk’s strategy with the car service as the week wore on – the car service was actually a 3rd party that was actively bargaining with the hotel the same way I would bargain with the front desk – which made the haggling a little less suspect. Suffice to say that for Monday night, we took a cab.
I had gotten the entirely wrong impression, somehow, about this party. Activison is one of our major publishing partners (Call of Duty and Marvel have both been published through them, and the last couple of games I’ve worked on were also ACTV projects.) The invite that I’d received revealed only that it was an exclusive event at the Staples Center. For whatever reason, I got it in my head that this was a classy shindig – suits, cocktails, appetizers, maybe some loud music but more of a socialization kind of thing. This was entirely inaccurate. The thing was a rock concert with as much star power on stage as you’d expect as something like the MTV Movie Awards or the Grammies. When Parker and I walked into the stadium seating, Usher and will.i.am were finishing up their set. We found our friends quickly and settled in to have our senses blown. The entire evening fell into the routine of debuting some game footage and then following it with a big act. Tony Hawk made an appearance with his crew – apparently intending to perform some tricks – but Tony apologized for a technical malfunction with the half-pipe and didn’t stick around long. Jane’s Addiction showed up and did a brief set. Chris Cornell sang Black Hole Sun accompanied by a live orchestra. A Guitar Hero music video and a live choir performed along with Tool doing a terrificly accurate cover of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The show was closed out by a gigantic demonstration of a level from one of Activison’s bread-and-butter titles – Call of Duty: Black Ops. The level featured the player stealing a Hind D helicopter in 1960s Cambodia and promptly using it to demolish the entireity of an enemy encampment right in the middle of a warzone. In addition to the live score provided by the orchestra, this was accompanied by spectacular pyrotechnic displays in the higher stands of the stadium, synchronized to the action on-screen. All in all a mind-blowingly elaborate presentation.
This, unbelieveably, was followed by a five-song set by Eminem, who ruled the stage, throwing out a couple of new songs from his upcoming double album and ending with my personal favorite, “Lose Yourself.” We headed back in the rented minivan, collaborating about our plans for the next day.
Early the next morning was registration for the Nintendo press conference – an even more exclusive event than E3itself, and only Dan O’Leary was going to be able to get in. He took the minivan and headed off, leaving the rest of us to follow along a little later. Since I’d secured transportation the night previous, I offered to see what I could do about getting something for the five of us that remained. The front desk named a price that sounded reasonable and we signed up. Lo and behold, the number of people we needed to transport necessitated that we ride not in a sedan, but a limo! My ability to secure such ghetto-fabulous transportation won the admiration of my coworkers, who put me in charge of transportation for the rest of the week and took to calling me “Boss.” Our one concern was what Dan O’s impressions of our extravagance would be – but this was immediately forgotten when, as we pulled up to E3, there was Dan walking along the sidewalk! We immediately rolled down the window and taunted him from our sweet ride. He charged headfirst into traffic and climbed in, astonished at our nerve but otherwise in good spirits. He took off to the press conference and the rest of us got pre-registered for the conference while we waited for it to open up at noon. Parker and I wandered around the sumptuous opening lobbies for the event – filled to the brim with propaganda for the games already.
In the middle of waiting 45 minutes at a Starbucks in one of the lobbies, Ted ran into someone that he knew and had worked with previously. This was just the first of a surprisingly high number of “Oh, hey! I know you!” moments that I was privy to this week. I have always been amazed at the small size of our industry and one of my big take aways from the conference was that my perception was an accurate one. I saw far more people that I personally knew than I did game industry celebs. I did see Gabe Newell in the breezeway before the show started, though!
So how is E3 set up, anyway?
- Two wings of the massive Los Angeles Convention Center devoted entirely to the show, each with dozens of booths both small and enormous rented out by video game companies looking to demonstrate their wares. Booths serve several different purposes which I’ll chronicle in the next area.
- A number of reserved meeting rooms divvied up equally – reserved by companies looking to have meetings on the premises.
- Press conferences – held either in the convention center proper or one of the satellite buildings surrounding the area. Press conferences are usually where brand new hardware is unveiled and new games get their very first announcement.
- Parties – usually held further away from the event but in some cases quite adjacent – less interaction and more demonstration on a wide scale, particularly for already-announced software.
- Hands-on demonstration – Some booths simply have rows of consoles and TVs sitting right there for anyone at all to walk up and start playing. Time limits are usually on an honor system here, and there’s someone who knows a little something about the game standing there to tell you about it. This is what we had for Tron Wii!
- Wait to play – A number of booths had things that anyone could play but had considerable lines before you could get in.
- Wait to watch – Others still had screenings and other demonstrations that you couldn’t actually get your hands on, but still had to wait.
- Huge screens – Even if you’re not looking to play the game, there’s usually some big screens showing off trailers and sometimes gameplay of the company’s products
- Booth babes – Almost every noteworthy booth had hot girls in franchise-appropriate costumes waiting to say hello and get your attention. These can be as simple as soccer uniforms or military-themed miniskirts or as complicated as Catwoman latex. From time to time there’s also costumed characters from the games themselves – one booth right as you walked in the South hall had a caged zombie under secure guard.
- Absurdly expensive architecture – Finally, when I say “booth”, it’s a little unfair – a number of these are really just small buildings built for this year’s show. Each company has their own art style and their own presentation goals that they’re aiming for with their booth’s walls, colors, and decorations.
So what were some of the key things people would be looking at this year?
- 3DS – A new piece of Nintendo hardware that continues the gameplay found in the current-edition handheld, with considerable technical updates – think about the leap between N64 and PS2 and you’ll get a good idea of how much of a bump up this is. Most notably, the top screen also delivers a 3D display without the aid of 3D glasses, which I’ll get more into later.
- Motion control – The Wii did it years ago, but Microsoft and Sony don’t seem to care much. Sony is delivering Playstation Move – in essence a Wiimote for the Playtstation 3. Microsoft’s new peripheral is known as Kinect and allows full body motion control of a game – rather than using a control, the player actually stands in front of the device and moves their body in order to control the on-screen actions.
The first thing I did was beeline for the GoldenEye 007 demo inside the Nintendo booth. My new game is GoldenEye 007 for the DS, and while it wasn’t featured at the show, the Wii version of the game was there to play. The Nintendo booth was enormous – easily the size of a small school house, with three-story high walls and countless things to play – and enormous lines for almost all of then. With a little dodging and weaving, I got my hands on GoldenEye Wii’s multiplayer deathmatch and immediately pulverized the other players under the guise of anonymity – having played the Wii builds for the past eight months, I probably had something of an advantage. I then met my producer, Graham Hagmaier, for the first time – conveniently, he was manning the booth! I didn’t want to distract him too much from his duties so I left him with my card – the first person ever to get a Brendan McLeod business card handout!
From there I started really taking in the size of the show, which, frankly, was astonishing. Not only in terms of the gigantic triple-A booths that the really well known companies had, but the sheer number of small developers there to show off whatever they had. The second thing I got my hands on, for example, was a Man vs Wild 360 game. It had a tragic combination of noble intentions and fundamental flaws that really stops it from being noteworthy beyond the fact that I played it, but the guys that worked on it were quite nice, and, like me, excited as hell to be at E3.
After wandering the alleys of the West hall without really approaching another booth, I decided to head to the South hall to see what they had available. My first stop was the Tron booth, one of the showcases of the Disney pavilion. The Tron booth featured a small hallway built to look like a piece of architecture from inside the Tron world, complete with interactive floors that lit up as you stepped on them. Right alongside it was a lifesize replica of a lightcycle and rider!
A great video from Tim showing the whole Tron area:
The floor lights up!
Tim and Bromby were hip-deep in demonstrations, so I left them to it and decided to see a man about a creed and any associated assassins. The wait to player multiplayer AC: Brotherhood was about another 45 minutes but one that was easily tolerable given the great location of the line – I had a clear line of sight to Ubisoft’s movie-theater sized screen where they demonstrated trailers for all of their upcoming products. Assassin’s Creed aside, Child of Eden and Burnout: San Francisco definitely bear investigation. You could also watch the people ahead of you in line playing the multiplayer already as production team members milled about in Abstergo Industries lab coats. Once I managed to sit down, I got a tutorial plus gametime in two maps with the other five people sitting next to me. The game mode we played worked like a hunter map, where you have a single target that you must assassinate in the most terrific way possible (bonus points awarded for silence, speed, and beauty of the kill – flying through the air, from an unsuspecting location, etc.) If your own hunter comes after you, you can’t fight back – your recourse is to run and hide assassin style – freerunning and taking cover as quickly as you can. I thought it worked really well, but it’s clearly easy to break the dynamic if the players want to “break” the game world – by running around exclusively on rooftops, for example. It’ll be interesting to see what other game modes become available.
The Square booth was close at hand so I beelined for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and got my hands on it for a full boss encounter – all the same ridiculous fighting from Kingdom Hearts 2 on crack! Might actually have to lease a PSP sometime soon.
I met up with Parker for lunch and regretted my purchase – a dry hamburger with cardboardesque French fries. Blllleck! We headed back to the East wing to get in line for Marvel vs Capcom 3 together. The line had stretched for more than an hour’s wait earlier and was much more tolerable now. If you got five wins in a row, you won a T-shirt. Neither Parker or I managed to win but playing MVC3 was some of the most fun I had at the show. The game has an art style all its own, making it look like a comic book has sprung to life in front of you. The controls are simpler than I would’ve first imagined, but I think it holds a lot of potential. Play as Dante if you get your hands on it – his range, speed, and power are nearly unbeatable.
I didn’t get a lot done over the rest of the day. I watched a pretty good Harry Potter Years 1-4 demo and got my hands on Magic the Gathering: Tactics (initially fun but ultimately a little too slow, lacking in modern day graphical excellence, and with unintuitive rules – at least, for a seasoned Magic player,) Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (a year with two reasons for me to buy a PSP?,) Tron Evolution (the 360 / PS3 big brother to our Wii SKU, which as far as I can tell is what you get if you decide to make a platformer but forget to make it good.) I spotted Peter Moore walking past at one of the cafes.
All in all a great day, but as I sat in my hotel at the end of the day, I realized how little I’d actually done. I chalked it up to inexperience and resolved to correct that the next day.
That night, Tim, Parker, Bromby and I went to the Santa Monica Pier to take in a little of the local flavor. We rode the rickety roller coaster a couple of times, and then adjourned to an Old English Pub where I had some delicious fish and chips while we reflected on the day’s events.
The next day, we decided to show up early so that Parker and I could get to the front of the line for the 3DS, which had 4-hour waits associated with it on Tuesday. We got inside right as the doors opened and headed straight for the Nintendo booth – only to discover that the people with Exhibitor passes (to show off games themselves, like Tim and Bromby were going) had the same idea and had it an hour ago, so the line was already 200 people deep. We decided to split up and try again later.
I fooled around at the Capcom booth for a bit, playing Dead Rising 2 (fun, but really just more of the same, as best as I could tell) and a charming title called Ghost Trick, made by the Phoenix Wright people.
Following this, I figured the agony of waiting in line would be nothing compared to my shame at not getting my hands on a 3DS at the show. To elaborate on this a little – the DS is the platform I work on. It has been since I started at the company. I love it and I have a great time on it – and it looks like the 3DS is what’s coming next. To have my hands on the hardware before my fellow designers, to be able to tell them what I thought and what new doors it opens up – this is the real reason to go to a show like this. Considering I had no real other obligations and was there on the company dime, it would be pretty stupid NOT to get to play one.
The line took approximately two hours. I spent the first half of the line looking through every text message I’ve sent or received over the past year and deleting them individually. Take that, smartphones! Flip phones still have … entertainment! Yeah! The second half of the line, thankfully, actually wove through the Nintendo booth, so I could watch footage of some other titles getting played. Things I wish I had gotten a chance to play but did not: New Kirby, new Donkey Kong Country. Things I’m not really all that choked up about not having played: Metroid Other M. Looks neat but nothing revolutionary, I guess!
Okay. 3DS. Once you get to the front of the line, you’re led up a floor to a platform where there are 100 girls in suits each stationed at a 3DS with a built-in demo ready for you to look at. You got about 20 minutes to go wherever you wanted and play whatever was available at that moment. MOST of these demos are just videos and not interactable beyond just moving the camera around the scene. Star Fox was the only demo I got my hands on that was legitimately playable. The 3d is not “projected” like you’ll see at Universal Studios rides – it’s more akin to IMAX movies where the depth goes into the screen. A slider on the side of the machine controls the 3D effect’s range, and actually allows you to turn it completely off! Some demos had made great use of it – Kid Icarus, Star Fox, Metal Gear, Paper Mario, Pilotwings. Others were clearly trying but struggling – Kingdom Hearts and especially Resident Evil never fully focused for me and caused a headache as I tried to get it to look right.
After I was shuffled out of the 3DS area, I immediately got right back in line for the new Wii Zelda, which I had already seen plenty of, but wanted a T-shirt. A word about swag. I had been under the impression that I was going to get bucketloads of swag at this thing. Pens, keychains, whatever trinkets. There was very little of this! Some booths had huge bags but that was about it. The real prize to be had, I guess, was T-shirts – and I didn’t get any on Tuesday at all! Parker got 7! He had simply gone to more booths with games we’d never heard of and gotten whatever they had available. I managed to get a pity Tron Evolution T-shirt but I was determined to get a couple of my own – and only from cool games! Sure enough, I got my own Zelda: Skyward Sword shirt after another 45 minutes of waiting – this time talking to a reporter in line from an Italian news outlet who was ahead of me. The game, as a matter of fact, wasn’t as cool as I would’ve figured – very reminiscent of the N64 Zeldas with Wii Motion Plus controls. It will probably sell millions of units.
I hit up a few titles afterwards. I played some Sonic Colors DS and watched the Wii one for a while, and tried and failed to get hands-on with the new Warhammer 40K Space Marine shooter. I did manage to play a solid chunk of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which rocked my proverbial socks – can’t wait for that one to come out. I was surprised at how many things I’d expected to get my hands on that weren’t really there. Metal Gear Solid: Rising stayed hidden from me, and there was no Mass Effect 3 material to be seen whatsoever. The only Deus Ex material was a gigantic poster. No LucasArts booth, so no playable Force Unleashed II – but they had a gigantic trailer presentation in one of the lobbies outside the show.
I went back over to the Disney booth for a presentation of Epic Mickey by Warren Spector himself, who talks a good game. I had been on my feet for a while so I decided to hit up the lounge and grab a beer, and wound up sitting a couple of seats away from Tomonobu Itagaki while I quaffed my beverage.
I ran into Tim “Kaijin” Sheehy shortly after that, who I’ve known since 1999 online but never met in person. Tim and I know each other through the online game music scene. It was bizarre to have the different spheres of my life interact with one another in such a simple way.
I waited for a short bit to play Playstation Move, which did not impress me – it’s Wii on the Playstation. I believe you can do the tech already, Sony! Give me some good games to play! The only one that holds my interest is that Child of Eden thing I saw at Ubisoft, but I’m not even sure how you play that one. I contemplated getting my hands on Kinect, but the ratio of my interest to the size of the lines simply didn’t work in Microsoft’s favor. Instead, I waited for about 40 minutes for a private press screening of Lord of the Rings: War in the North, a new Diablo-esque title set in Middle-earth that looks like it’s got some real potential for fun. Plus, I got a shirt of it! Rockin’!
The last thing on my to-do for the event after LOTR was a Star Wars: The Old Republic presentation in the EA area. It turned out to be mostly cinematic, which was a shame – but I immediately ran into none other than Matt Read from Cohort 1 at FIEA, who was there demonstrating Madden for the Wii. We chatted for quite a while about the show and our experiences, and I spotted and said Hi as well to Greg Heddlesten, who was in my own class at FIEA, also there working for EA Tiburon! There are eight total people in our industry, and you already know half of them.
I met up with the folks at the Tron booth as they were closing down for the day. Dan and Ted had dinner commitments already, but the rest of us went with Jamie – Tim’s primary point of contact while working on Tron – to a Japanese restaraunt that I can’t find the name of at all. The interior was terrific and the service was fast. Perry Ferrell was at the table next to us!
After the meal, Jamie took off and the rest of us went to watch The A-Team, which is amazing. You all should see it.
The last day was a blur. Pack, get to the airport, get on the plane, lots of Sudoku, layover in Austin, fly in at the end of the day, get home.
All in all, a spectacular ride.