E For Some But Not All: A Diary of Gaming Madness
Guitar Hero was in full-effect at E-For-All
I must admit that after three bleary-eyed, sore-footed days stumbling around the Los Angeles Convention Center like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas -- to objectively write about the E For All experience is difficult.
On one hand, the inaugural show has been rightfully panned by most mainstream media outlets for a variety of reasons. Many big gaming companies, Sony, Microsoft, Activision, and Square to name a few, skipped the show entirely and as a result the South Hall was only about half full with exhibitors. And because of the late date of the conference, many games that were previewed will be released in the next couple of weeks. The announced 18,000 attendance for Thursday through Sunday was also low, especially compared to the days of E3 when 60,000 would show up.
On the other hand, the more intimate nature of E4 was somewhat refreshing. At times, E3 felt less a trade show and more a gargantuan high-tech carnival - part Silicon Valley, part Times Square, and part Las Vegas. Once you stepped into the big tent, you were attacked with a sensory overload of bright lights, mind-numbingly loud music and noises, garish set-pieces, leering fanboys, frantic media crews, company suits and of course, lots and lots of booth babes.
At E for All, the focus was more about the games themselves and less about the hype, even if there were fewer of them.
Here’s a diary of my time there:
Thursday, 11:10 a.m.
With parking surprisingly easy (I parked at a $5 lot on Flower Street, a 5-minute walk to the Convention Center), I stroll right in and head immediately for the Guitar Hero III main stage. Already, there are a couple of long-haired stoner-types jamming away to Iron Maiden. If nothing else, the Guitar Hero phenomena has brought us a new breed of nerd to gaming trade shows, guys who resemble former Dio roadies that argue the technical merits of Queensryche’s first album.
The MC of the Guitar Hero competition is none other than sub D-lister Chip Chinery, one of those actors whose face you recognize but whose name you don’t know. His most recent work, according to IMDB, includes Eddie the Milkman on “That 70’s Show” and Another Scientist on “Friends.” Poor Chinery had trouble masking his boredom while listlessly announcing the names of the next contestants. I found myself wondering if Britney Spears would be hosting the Guitar Hero IV competition for E for All 2009.
Chip Chinery, one of the "celebrities" working E For All
I get asked to play by one of the exhibitors, who kicks out a regular attendee and hands me the guitar. I quickly pick “My Name is Jonas” by Weezer, a band seemingly destined to be on Guitar Hero at some point although I do wonder if Rivers Cuomo feels a deep self-loathing about this.
A quick, throwaway review of Guitar Hero III: It’s still fun, but after four very similar versions - it doesn’t hold the same kind of thrill. I’m much more interested in Rock Band at this point because you can play guitar, bass, play drums or sing.
Speaking of which, here I am magically drawn to the Rock Band stage. They have a backstage area where you could fiddle around with each of the instruments, and a main stage where four people sign up to play one of five preselected songs. The staff then records them and puts a video clip on a website so you can relive your embarrassment later. I hear several limp versions of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden and wonder if the downside of Rock Band is turning America into one big terrible karaoke bar.
I hadn't planned on performing on the main stage because I was rolling solo, but I got asked to be in a band with a couple guys from Gameriot.com and Gus Mastrapa, who doubles as a video game reviewer for The Onion’s AV Club. Gus comes up with an awesome name for our band “To Catch a Predator”, which partially makes up for the fact that a band made up of four members of the media probably will not rock very hard.
We don’t rock very hard. We play “Epic” by Faith No More, and I try to up the ante by wildly gesticulating and pointing to the crowd and by crowd I mean, the 10 random people waiting their turn to play.
Twice, someone presses the start button on accident and the game pauses, completely screwing up our rhythm. I bet this never happened to U2.
I joke that I will pull a Mike Patton on Saturday Night Live and go nuts and kick over the drumset after the song.
The electronic drums aren't very rock'n'roll, but they do the job for Rock Band.
Gus and I are asked to be in another band with two scruffy Hispanic teens. I feel guilty about leaving “To Catch a Predator” but perhaps this might be a worthy side project. As I get on stage to play the drums, the MC heckles the last band for failing “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
He introduces me as “a guy who really rocks” and calls me “the next Dave Groehl” for playing drums and singing. “I’m more like Phil Collins,” I quipped back. Our version of “Black Hole Sun” is dismal enough to make me pull a Chris Cornell and leave the band.
With the sparse attendance, I’m beginning to feel like a kid at an amusement park on a crappy rainy, drizzly day where the weather scares most people off, so the lines for the roller coasters are practically nonexistent. I’m playing almost any game I want and some of the exhibitors at the smaller booths are practically begging people to come play their game. It’s a far cry from the days of E3 where you had to wait almost two to three hours to watch a demo of a Playstation 3 game.
Often, the convention center was shockingly empty.
The so-called VIP-only access hours are over (for the media and those who pre-registered before September) and the rest of the attendees march in behind a parade led by a high school marching band and a cast of characters that includes Spider-Man, Link from Zelda, Kirby, and a horde of Final Fantasy swordsmen. It’s worth noting that most of the people in the room are over the age of 25.
A local high school marching band welcomes Spider-Man, Link from Zelda, hundreds of game geeks to E-For-All.
There are two runaway winners at E For All - Nintendo and Konami. Nintendo’s booth actually feels like an old E3 booth - hundreds of people are lined up to play the new Super Smash Brothers, Super Mario Galaxy and a handful of other titles. Plus the booth is manned by a uniformed horde of attractive, well-coifed females. I stand in line for 15 minutes to play Smash Brothers, a game whose appeal I have never completely comprehended. I get beat by a 10 year old who uses Kirby, a character who can be summed up as marshmallow-like. Somehow, I am OK with this.
Super Smash Brothers for Wii dominated E-For-All
I play a shooting game with Nintendo’s new peripheral the Zapper. The game is marginally fun, but the problem with all light guns since the beginning of video game time is that they never receive much support beyond a handful of games. Nintendo is infamous for dropping support for these gadgets.
Quick, name a game that supported the original Light Gun on the NES other than Duck Hunt and Hogan’s Alley. Exactly.
Friday, 10 a.m.
Damn it, I thought the conference opened at 10 a.m. on Friday. Nope, not until Saturday it turns out. To make matters worse, I have to vacate my parking spot at 6 p.m. tonight because, I am told, J-Lo is hitting the Staples Center. I wonder if she’s timing this so she can go to E for All. I think J-Lo would make an excellent character in Super Smash Brothers. Meanwhile I head to the media hospitality lounge AKA small room with a few tables and complimentary coffee.
I try to hit the Konami booth as soon as humanly possible so I can be among the first to play the Metal Gear Solid 4 demo. But apparently lots of other people have the same idea. The wait to play from here is an hour and a half. I better hit the 5 Hour Energy Drink booth first for a pick-me-up.
And of course, what is a video game conference without a token Lara Croft model?
The line for the MGS4 demo looks ominous. And by this I mean that people are lining up behind a tall barbed wire fence that bears a sign that reads “No pictures, no video.” It looks like we’re on a forced march to some sort of elaborate P.O.W. camp.
I’m in. After swearing secrecy and being stripped naked (kidding!) my group of 10 are allowed to play the demo for about 15 minutes.
My first impressions?
-Amazing graphics, familiar gameplay, Solid Snake is looking more and more like Tom Skeritt.
I have an appointment to interview Jonathan Wendel, the better known by his handle of Fatal1ty. Fatal1ty, who has held world titles on five games, is in semi-retirement because he is focusing on being a color commentator for competitive gaming broadcasts. He recently received a “lifetime achievement” award for gaming achievements. He is, by the way, 25 years old.
I speak with Fatal1ty in his own bus, which is sort of like a gaming version of the Madden Cruiser.
I can’t really say I know Fatal1ty well after spending 30 minutes with him, but I will say that he’s polite, rehearsed and cocky in an off-handed sort of way. So basically, he is like half of professional athletes which is to say, maybe competitive gaming is making progress as a “sport.”
Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel has a jolly good time kicking everyone's ass in Quake.
Speaking of which, hey! It’s the Lakers’ Derek Fisher and the Clippers’ Corey Maggette here to play each other in NBA Live '08! If it sounds boring to watch two NBA players play video games against each other, well...it is. Though its interesting to see art imitate life as Fisher hits a last second shot using Allen Iverson to beat Maggette.
It's also interesting to be in a place where a 25-year old who plays Quake all day is more famous than two NBA players. Few people outside of the media is watching the competition, most are still waiting to play Super Smash Brothers and get a free Wii-mote keychain.
Derek Fisher is even more clutch than Corey Maggette in a video game.