We were hungry for pizza — terrible pizza. And we weren’t willing to pay any less than fourteen dollars a slice. So we rented a 2011 Nissan Altima and drove six hours to the Los Angeles Convention Center. They just happened to be holding E3 that week. We decided to check it out. Here’s what we saw.
Things you might not know about E3: The bathrooms are horrible. You seriously can’t find a men’s room stall without a broken lock. These people get busted in on a lot. These people drink so many energy drinks they could for serious put out fires. When they need to toilet, they need to toilet bad. Other things you can’t find include a mens room stall toilet seat without pee-sprinkles all over it. If you have to drop a D, just do what we Real Pros do, and do it in your pants. No one will notice, because E3 generally tends to smell more or less like a bunch of dudes walking around with heavy dump in their trousers.
This is why you should breathe through your mouth, should you ever hit the bigtime and be invited to E3 like us. This is not, however, why everyone else at E3 is breathing through their mouths. No, friendly friends, that reason is videogames. They’re everywhere — and they will always find you.
We’re not going to lie — E3 was a month and a couple days ago, and we’ve forgotten nearly everything that happened there because the psychiatrist said that was the only way we could ever be happy. Well, just now we accidentally drank a NOS and remembered the secret location of a flash card full of photos of embarrassing moments. It’s like that movie “The Hangover”, except funny, and not worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
10. Kinect Star Wars
Finally, a game that answers our wish to scratch our hands violently at the air while standing in our living rooms as computer-animated recreations of our least-favorite “Star Wars” film scenes chase their tails inside our large televisions like two dappled mangy dogs the likes of which the Humane Society would offer a man who walked in, slapped five dollars down on the counter, and gruffly intoned “Gimme What You Got”.
Alternate comment: what part of “please make a lightsaber game for the Nintendo Wii Motion Plus or PlayStation Move” do these people not understand?
9. Kinect Disneyland Adventures
The presentation for this at the Microsoft press event was terrifying – it involved small humans who were simultaneously children and dirtbags. Their human-like ferocious fakeness was very nearly breathtaking. Someone had obviously coached them on what to say and how to react; we curse the adult who would make a child into a dirtbag, though we also cannot not curse the children for adapting to the dirtbag lifestyle so seamlessly: they yayed and giggled about as shockingly convincingly as a hooker saying she doesn’t hate you.
All things considered, this is good news: it’s Disneyland, which suffices for a “real-life place”, rendered in a cereal-box-serving-suggestion-(enlarged-to-show-texture) kind of delicious sheen. Instead of “rides”, it has mini-games in which the players jump, dodge, collect coins, or whatever other action a guy who yawns a lot can map to a wicked flap of an arm.
If you have kids, chances are they don’t know where they are ninety percent of the time. You can take them to the supermarket, find a macaroni and cheese box with a picture of a rabbit on it, and tell them it’s Mickey Mouse, and that they’re in Disneyland, and they’ll make a joy-squeal like a deflating balloon. So now here’s Kinect Disneyland Adventures, which looks even better than Disneyland, because it’s a game. Now you can take your children to a Disneyland which is even realer than the supermarket, and without the fear of a jealous non-mother snatching them out of the cart.
Even if you don’t already own an Xbox 360 and a Kinect, this game will cost you literally ten percent of what a decent trip to Disneyland would cost. So that’s cool.
8. Sonic Generations is worthy of an FBI raid
Here is Sonic Generations, a game which is more worthy of an FBI raid than a “best of show” nomination. The news here is not that something is exciting or interesting – it’s that we finally have proof that terrorists are not fake, like vampires or lawyers or Vikings are. They are real, and they are employed in the business of making and selling videogames to tweens of all shapes and ages.
The hook of this game is that you can play as old Sonic the Hedgehog and new Sonic the Hedgehog in the same game. Sonic the Hedgehog as a character design has changed so drastically little in the last twenty years that it’s frankly breathtaking that Sega would contrive a reason for these two characters to meet. It’s like, imagine if Neil Gaiman wrote a BBC pilot about what would happen if future you traveled back in time to inform you that, sometime within the next two weeks, you’d make the switch to boxers. Sega’s done something like that, only worse, because Sonic is supposed to be a bouncy little cartoon character that brings children joy. Within that joy, they have embedded an ice-pick-hard pine needle of dead-serious sheer terror: this bouncy cartoon character is crossing dimensions and battling to stop one world from colliding with another, by helping a barely-changed, darker-blue version of himself. It’s enough that he’s fighting evil – we can cup the balls of our disbelief at the very least so gingerly – when you try to tell us he’s fighting evil alongside a version of himself with slightly longer arms and slightly darker blue body-skin, that’s when you might as well also stick a gun in our mouth.
Of course, we’d be able to forgive all this if the game was any good at all, if it contained even a molecule of evidence that Sega has ever understood why anyone ever liked any of these games at all.
Notice the so-far complete lack of forgiving Sonic Generations.
With Sonic Generations, Sega has not shit the bed – they have somehow managed to shit in the freezer, which is weird, because that’s basically shitting at eye-level. If we were offered a job in project management at Sega today, by tomorrow you can bet your behind we’d have put “Fuck Off And Die In A Fire (FOADIAF)” at the top of Sonic Team’s global Action Item List.
Listen, Sega. People didn’t stop liking Sonic the Hedgehog because you made him a darker shade of blue, made his arms and legs a little longer, and put a little green in his eyes. In fact, he looks kind of cool the new way. No, the reason people started hating Sonic the Hedgehog is because of all the sucking. That you would assume a lighter-blue hedgehog playable in ropy, ugly 2D stages is All It Takes is cold, hard evidence that someone in your office also has a hidden hard drive full of child pornography in their filing cabinet.
Oh, apparently there was a new Super Mario game at E3, too. It was for the Nintendo 3DS, and you had to wait in line for two hours to play it for five minutes. We are Busy People, so we had Stuff To Do. We watched some videos of it, and it looks pretty bad. Mario is frictionless and moves without inertia. The level design is blocky and isn’t necessarily terrible; in fact, it might be great. It probably won’t be, though at least it won’t be as bad as Sonic!
7. Bioshock Infinite: On-Rails Evolved
So fearful of a dissing from Old Man Murray were the makers of the original Half-Life that they made an ammo crate the very first thing the player character sees. So here’s Bioshock Infinite, a spiritual sequel to a game beloved by many people who have never watched an Alfred Hitchcock film all of the way through – people who have never finished reading a Book With Chapters. Here is a game that steps right clear over to the other side of the line and says, “Look, we’re not afraid”: in this game, you literally travel from place to place in the game-world by hanging onto rollercoaster rails. They done gone and put rails right there into the game. It is literally “on rails”. This confession can only lead to good things. (Warning: those good things might not actually have anything to do with Bioshock: Infinite.)
6. Body Count is back
At the Microsoft press event, legendary musician Ice-T came up on stage to play some co-op Gears of War 3 with Clifford “Cliffy ‘Dude Huge’ B” Bleszinski. At the end of the co-op demo, during which we weren’t able to see Ice-T’s perspective, Ice-T announced that his rock band Body Count would be reuniting to record and release a song about the Gears of War universe – about the Horde Mode, in particular. The response from the audience was dead silence of either awe or ignorance. Seeing as the average games media member is a polo-shirted fundamentalist Christian republican (or soccer fan), it was probably the latter.
E3 2011’s press conferences were an even weirder collision of tight-faced nerds with rock-hard walls of reality. Watching the Sony press conference live, in particular, was amazing. Every time they switched from Jack Tretton to someone else, it was like having a bucket of ice dumped over your smoking brain. There’s a guy who couldn’t genuine his way out of a sopping wet rice-paper bag. When they segued from Jack to some 2K Sports guys showing off NBA 2K12’s PlayStation Move controls, it was like, “Whoa”. Then Kobe Bryant came out, played the game a bit, and then was asked what he thought. We looked at the teleprompter. It was frozen on the word: “KOBE”. Then Kobe Bryant went forth and passed judgment. He said he was skeptical about the game and didn’t think it would be any good, though hey, why not? He commented on its realism and startling trueness to the game, and he did this with absolute unwavering genuineness. When they snapped back from Kobe Bryant to Jack Tretton, it was like a knife between the shoulder blades. Then they brought out The Most Realistic Robot Yet Made, Kaz Hirai, and we were all eating the depths of the Uncanny Valley for a pre-dinner snack. This was the “I Know Kung Fu” moment.
The point here is that sports celebrities and famed, multi-platinum musicians are infinitely cooler people by accident than a single person in the games industry is on purpose. These are weird people. Don’t even get us started on Reggie: you can lead a Neanderthal to a suit, though you certainly can’t make him wear it. And who in red fuck was that guy Ubisoft had present the majority of their press conference? That guy needs to be dragged out into the street and kicked in the nuts until he vomits to near-death, then taken to a monastery for the rest of his silence-vowed life.
5. Sony still rules the free food
The Gourmet Food Cart is an art form in which California excels with superlative grace. Sony, with all the care you’d assume a multinational corporate conglomerate would exude even in their mistakes, clearly employs – and trusts – a person who knows how to play Yelp.com like a violin. If you’re invited to one of their things and it’s in Los Angeles or San Francisco, wear your tight drawers, because you don’t want to bust out a food boner. To be perfectly honest, we would have to go to a special culinary academy to even begin telling you what half of the free food Sony serves even is. After the press conference and before the part where they play near-illegally loud music while begging you to wait in too-long lines to play their games, this year Sony offered cupcakes with stupid-awesome toppings such as Fruity Pebbles or Cocoa Krispies (or bacon, for you pig-murderers). There was this rice-thing that was pretty good, with lots of pine nuts, and they had some avocado salad in precious little Chinese take-out containers. That avocado salad contained avocado, basil, and probably crack cocaine. It didn’t taste as good after six Red Bulls, so we’ll have to dock them a point – next time, have Sugar Free Red Bull, Sony.
Or, hey! Try partnering with NOS! Those dudes will give away free stuff anywhere, and they’ll even bring large-breasted women and Lamborghinis (“Do not touch the car, kid“) to help them give it away. (When the journo returns home and finds no Free-NOS Truck on his lawn he must now commence purchasing The Precious.)
“Oh God my heart”
“Water . . . water! Please”
It used to be that you couldn’t walk around Electronic Three without you be acquiring ten pounds per minute of useless T-shirts, super bouncy balls, or other tacky paraphernalia. Well, times have changed, and now the swag of choice is a moment in which you get to know a woman’s touch. Hope you brought your own camera! (Of course you did.) By E3 2022 they’ll be jerking dudes off.
Neither NOS’s wonderfully veiny-boobied ladies nor Duke Nukem’s bad schoolgirls take our “Babe Of The Show” prize, however. No, that honor goes to . . .
4. They still don’t know what to do with motion controls
Peter Molyneux, speaking, as always, like he just stepped out of a wind tunnel full of cocaine, asked us, the collective press-conference-viewing people, how he could make Fable more immersive, and we weren’t tricked: We immediately knew it was a rhetorical question. This is part of the problem. Peter Molyneux does not realize that we know what a rhetorical question is. The other part of the problem is that he doesn’t even know how to answer his own rhetorical questions: his response to “how do we make Fable more immersive?” was “by making it into a theme park ride that’s trapped inside your television”. It was with taken breath that we watched a beautiful-biceped man undulate his arms in a horse-whipping motion for ten minutes. Minutes later, we were watching an Ubisoft guy reload a gun in Ghost Recon by doing the thing you do while riding shotgun in your buddy’s car when you want a truck driver to honk his horn (and possibly rape you at the next rest stop). These men look less like videogamers and more like The World’s Most Abstract Masturbators.
In case you’re still not sure what a Kinect is, or how “To Kinect” is different from the verb “To connect”, we’ve recruited our bro Chad (probably his real name) to give a demonstration.
The “Move” part of Sony’s press conference covered how Move controls will make games more accessible. The NBA 2K12 portion, in particular, was interesting: You point and click on a player, then click another player to make the first player pass or defend. Click the second player again to try to steal the ball. Click the basket to take a shot. It all seems easy and intuitive.
Heckfire, though, if the people at the Sony booth weren’t asking a billion questions of the booth staff while playing. The booth staff knelt on rugs, flapping their arms in gestures more exaggerated than any even in their PlayStation Move games. We stared at this for a good hour and a half over the three days of the show — Game Designer Research, it’s called. How is this simplifying things at all? What is this helping?
Then Sony gets Ken Levine to come up on stage and say something along the lines of “Yeah, when we heard about PlayStation Move we all lolled and thought it was shit; then we looked at it and were like ‘whoa’.” Maybe they should have, when paying him whatever sum of money they paid him, asked him to be a little more gentle.
We have a PlayStation Move – and a Microsoft Kinect – and have played both of them extensively, racking our brains for game design concepts that don’t suck. It’s like squeezing water from a stone. Though hey! You know what — for how difficult the games industry is making it look, it’s most likely not impossible.
3. Uncharted 3! Resistance 3! Far Cry 3! Modern Warfare 3! Battlefield 3! InFamous 2! Dark Souls! Final Fantasy Thirteen TWO Sequels are the new “New Game Plus”.
And don’t forget Gears of War 3!
When the Far Cry 3 trailer started at the Ubisoft press conference, we were like, “Hmm”, and made our Eyebrow Faces. Here was an “interesting”, “psychological”, “deep”, “compelling” game. It’s like “LOST”, on an island – and it’s a video game! It has a weird little supernaturality to it. This could be neat! Hmm. We don’t like “neat”. We want “familiar”!
Then they started showing gameplay, and boy did we breathe a sigh of relief! Don’t worry folks – it’s a first-person shooter! Show’s over – move along.
Dark Souls, in particular, is new-game-plussy, and especially sequelly because of the developers’ insistence that it’s not a sequel. Dark Souls was one of the games we actually beelined to and played, hoping that someone out there heard our suggestion that Demon’s Souls would have been better with combat as frictive as God Hand’s. It’s the same old tomato-soup texture of Demon’s Souls, and more or less the exact same game, play-wise. It’s a bit of a shame, because we thought Demon’s Souls could have really set the world on fire with a little bit of mechanical tuning-up. Oh, well: they have to choose to spend that bigger budget on either game development or marketing, and marketing is the safer choice. Nice job choosing Namco – if nothing else, they’ll ensure that you’re still making the same game thirty fucking years from now. In many industries, they call that “job security”.
For Final Fantasy Thirteen Two — the most ridiculous game title maybe to ever exist — Square-Enix’s inversely dedicated staff of software engineers and Dreamstompers (that’s the polar opposite of an “Imagineer”, for y’all keeping score at home) listened to — no, heard — the fans who wished Final Fantasy XIII had contained people you can talk to. Chief Dream Stomper Yoichi Wada no doubt rubbed his hands together, licked his lips, and intoned “We’ll give them people to talk to — and we’ll make sure they have nothing to say!”
Oh! We almost forgot to mention that E3 2011 wasn’t just about rehashes, retreads, remakes, re-turns “to form” and retards — it was also about ripoffs!
A quip we couldn’t fit anywhere else: at the Street Fighter X Tekken display at the Capcom booth, we stood and watched for a half an hour. We didn’t see a single player choose a character other than Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, or Guile. Street Fighter X Tekken is a chocolate cupcake with a half-dozen cigarettes put out on top of it. The slogan of the game, regarding the fusion of Street Fighter and Tekken characters, is “Will you cross the line?” Apparently, if “you” = the players, the answer = “Nope”.
Oh, there were some Facebook games, too! The best thing about Facebook games at E3 is you can ask a guy to show you the game he is demonstrating and then let him get about thirty seconds into his spiel before asking, point-blank, straight-faced: “Is this Farmville?”
2. The Nintendo Wii U
Shattering speculation that the Kyoto-based giant videogame software publisher and hardware manufacturer Nintendo would follow up their Wii – a stylized rendering of “We” as in “Us”, indicating an emphasis on togetherness – with the “Duu”, a stylized rendering of “Do”, indicating an emphasis on action and teamwork – the Kyoto-based giant videogame software publisher and hardware manufacturer unveiled the Nintendo Wii U. The Wii U is Nintendo’s successor to the Wii, which was an upgraded Nintendo Gamecube modified to include support for a candy-bar-shaped controller that players can hold and flail their arms to make their characters perform simple actions that previously required the press of a button. The Wii U is a console for people like your dad, who once asked you “What’s the difference between an iPad and an iPhone?” only he wasn’t trying to be funny. If you look at any other websites (why you’d want to do that is beyond us) it’ll take you an hour of fine-toothed combing to reveal the following information: you might have seen photos of a big white plastic thing with a screen in it; that’s just the controller – the Wii U itself is a video game console box you set under your TV. With the Wii U, you can play DS games in ultra-high-definition, using your television as the top screen and the low-resolution screen inside your controller as the bottom (touch) screen. In short, if the Microsoft Kinect = “You are the controller”, the Nintendo Wii U = “Your living room is the Nintendo DS”. Journalists and analysts crawling out of every crack and cranny of the wooden parts of the internet are wondering aloud what developers are going to do with the Nintendo Wii U. Here it is, dummy: they’re going to make high-definition DS games.
What worries us most about the Nintendo Wii U is that the controller lacks a wrist strap. At the E3 convention, all controllers were tethered to booth ladies wearing battery-pack belts. One of them let us touch the battery on the small of her back, to feel how hot it was. This is confusing: if a man puts his hand on the small of a lady’s back, it invariably means he wants to have sex with her. What does it mean if the lady asks the man to put his hand on the small of her back? That’s The Nintendo Mystery, right there.
It would be folly to presume that Nintendo will release the Wii U without a wrist strap for the controller: here is a controller easily twice as heavy as the original Xbox controller – which was heavier than a Welsh Corgi – and with an LCD screen inside it, and the manufacturer is beaming with pride at the prospect of customers waving the thing around like a foam rubber novelty finger at a football game. People are going to be putting this thing through necks, windows, televisions, and foreheads. So Nintendo, facing a class-action suit, will add a strap, and an unskippable five-second start-up screen instructing players to fasten the strap. Players will strap the controller to their right hands, and then flail so wildly as to release the controller from their sweat-slippery left hands. Now the controller, anchored to the player’s right wrist, will spin around, rug-burning wrist skin, pulling ligaments into a strain, sending the controller swooshing around with such velocity into the player’s forehead as to probably shear the top of their head clean off.
So will come the second unskippable five-second warning screen, and the second wrist strap. Only here comes a problem. The Wii U controller is girthy – the screen plus the handles for control inputs on either side makes the whole thing roughly the size of an iPad. With one strap tightened around one wrist, it’s going to be hard to do any more than slide your hand into that other strap. You won’t be able to tighten the strap without bending the controller to the snapping point.
Have you ever wondered how a person in the suicide frame of mind manages to slit both wrists? Slitting the first one causes an immense shock of pain, to be sure. And then there’s the blood: even the most deathwanting of sad people will wince and think things over when they get an eyeful of that spray. That much blood and that deep and sudden a wound bless a mind with two passing night freight trains of fear. One fear is of death, and the other is of continuing to live at the bottom of this blood-soaked moonlit hill of self-terrorism. The second wrist is slit out of a pact one makes with one’s self and with the universe: The decision to Do It Motherfucker involves a talent for on-a-dime-turning decision-making the majority of human animals will never consider, much less experience. It involves a decision to destroy both something and absolutely everything. This is not a joke. This, however, is: you’d need roughly that level of determination to tighten the second strap on a Wii U controller. The chief difference to note here is that people committing suicide don’t care about the price of an electronics device they just purchased. You’re not going to bend and break that controller what you just durn paid for.
So that strap will mean primarily jack and secondarily malarkey. Thinking that your car is insured – so to speak – you resume to play with an escalated violence, and off that strap comes from the left hand, and again with the tetherball effect on the right wrist, now with a frightful new velocity. It’s going to take the top of your cranium right clean off. So the next class-action suit begins.
The third unskippable five-second warning screen approaches. It tells you to never game alone – have a friend in the room at all times. Ask the friend to tighten that second strap for you. On the one hand, this will fulfill many gamers’ (the type who screamed as though their hair were on fire when Nintendo hinted a new Smash Bros. game was in the works) dream of being bound to – and thus part of — a Nintendo game console. On the other hand, what’s going to happen is, your friend is going to stand there crossing his arms in his Ed Hardy shirt, flexing his broceps, squinting at the television screen as you play Wii U Maraca Periscope Pirates for all of thirty seconds before he looks at his Rolex and says, “Welp, it’s two PM on Sunday – I’m going to go get tattered in front of the liquor store.” Five minutes after he’s gone, you realize that going pee-pee is something people want to do sometimes and need to do other times, and you’ll be durned if you can’t get that controller off of yourself. So you trek up the stairs, breathing through your mouth, neither hand on the bannister. You’re either going to slip and break your skull, starting with your chin, or you’re going to collapse into the toilet while trying to free your wiener.
So the fourth unskippable five-second warning screen: for the love of all that anyone considers holy, tell that friend to stick around, so he can undo the strap when the time comes. What happens next is he doesn’t like you anymore, and the people are suing Nintendo for psychological damages.
Bottom line: The Nintendo Wii U is an iPad for people whose favorite method of watching movies involves checking out VHS tapes from the public library.
1. PlayStation Vita
For those of you who would say “these two hundred and forty-nine US dollars aren’t going to spend themselves” – we beg to differ, and know many dudes on Wall Street who vehemently beg to differ.
Having said that: okay, let’s buy one of these. It’s only a matter of times before we can enjoy ROMs on it — get Ranger X on there, and you’ve got something better than a PSP.
(If you want to see Action Button Entertainment co-founders tim “t-bone” rogers and brent “porterhouse” porter sitting around for three hours talking insanely about e3, check out the show we did with the help of our bros [longtime insert credit friends aaron novak and dirk neely] at stickam.com, available for viewing right here. If you choose to brave the task of watching these videos, you will hear me and us say all of the things I have said here, plus about six thousand more things, including a thrice-repeated anecdote about a little-known terror encountered while running marathons. Also, lots of hot country guitar shredding. It’s a thing you don’t want to miss! Unless you are a normal person — a “normie”, as we call them over here. Special appearance by the girl I hope to marry someday.)
-Tim Rogers has slightly longer arms