A New Beginning Ends
The last day of E3 was always going to be special, and on so many levels. The first, and most obvious, reason was that it was the end of a new beginning for GamingLives… the point where we had stopped dreaming about covering the expo and not only got ourselves there, but were able to draw a line under it. The impending disappointment of it coming to an end was always peppered with a degree of excitement, partly from being able to say that we’d done it but also because it was to be the day where the long awaited Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim would finally find its way from Bethesda’s studios to my eyes.
With my original 10am appointment cancelled after managing to squeeze it in the day before, my morning was free to roam the West Hall which, until now, really had been mostly untouched. The Bethesda booth didn’t exactly dominate the eyeline of the hall, as Sony and Nintendo had that covered, but the Skyrim dragon certainly had an unmissable presence for anyone daring to look beyond the chrome and glass behemoth of the Sony booth or the solid lump of shiny white plastic that was Nintendo.
I checked myself in with Bethesda’s international press desk, picked up my theatre ticket for the 11am presentation and went for a wander around, rather than wasting any time heading over to the South Hall as the journey there and back again would have easily taken thirty minutes alone.
Prime World had their own bouncy castle, complete with denim short clad girls that not only served to pull the masses towards the booth, successfully… I might add, but were also keen to climb inside the castle and have a bounce around with you. With far too much equipment hanging around my person, I decided that it wasn’t such a good idea to take part myself, and just enjoyed the view from the sidelines.
Every time I wandered past the Sony booth, the temptation to grab some more time with the PS Vita or even the 3D monitor grew stronger but, with 11am fast approaching, I made my way back to the Bethesda camp and took my place at the front of the queue for the next presentation of Skyrim. As has become the trend with these daily diaries, I’m not going to go in to too much detail on the game itself as that’ll follow in a standalone article but, suffice it to say, it was worth the wait. By “wait” I mean the five years since Oblivion first graced my Xbox 360, rather than the time between Bethesda announcing the development and us finally getting to see it in action.
From that point on, every other title at E3 has something of an uphill struggle to compete as far as my own personal tastes were concerned and yet, without warning, there were other titles that immediately caught my interest. RAGE, for example, was one such title. With so many publications and websites taking the obvious position of “it’s just Borderlands”, I was keen to see it for myself and make my own mind up. After having played RAGE, I started to make my way towards the various consoles set up with Prey 2 but a quick glance at my ‘phone showed that I had just over three minutes to get from the West Hall to the South Hall where we had arranged to meet with Graeme from the Xbox newsletters, otherwise known as Acey Bongos, and so I grabbed my gear and did my best Kath & Kim speed-walk through the swelling crowds.
The meeting point was the far end of the Microsoft booth, by the life-sized statue of Marcus Fenix, as recommended by Graeme.. as an homage to my online moniker of Markuz, and so all four of the UK GamingLives crew carved their respective paths through the crowds homing in on the huge Gears area. After a few minutes of standing around, we realised that Graeme was already there but in a slightly different position than we’d expected. As we neared, I immediately thought “woah, this guy looks a bit like Commander Shepard!” and we all spent the next thirty minutes chatting away about highs and lows, expectations and disappointments and how he and I had slightly different views on how XCOM had panned out thus far. Always great to meet another UFO fan, and while it shouldn’t surprise me that so many people hold the original X-Com series in such high regard, it always does. Not because there’s anything wrong with the games, but because tech has advanced so much in the last fifteen years that’s it would be easy to forget games such as UFO: Enemy Unknown and Terror From The Deep. We eventually said our goodbyes and parted company, happy to see that this was yet another industry figure that had the same personality offline as online.
For the next hour or so, we switched the groups up a little with Lorna and Ben heading off to meet with CD Projekt Red for The Witcher 2 while Lee and I decided to film a full tour of both halls. This is where not having a broadcast quality camera really showed, as the enormity of the halls and booths was lost with such a narrow field of vision. Had we a wide angle lens, this particular adventure would have taken on a much more grand perspective and so a mental note was made to ram raid the nearest pro video store on our return to the UK. The thought of either a lavalier mic or, at the very least, a wireless transmitter for our existing mic also crossed my mind as I watched Lee soldier on some two metres ahead of me, trying to make sure nobody clothes-lined themselves on our XLR cable as I followed behind.
The scale of the South Hall became very apparent when, after spending around twenty minutes on a quick walk around, pointing out who was at each booth and what they had on show, we were able to do the same in the West Hall in around five minutes. It was a fun departure from the norm and certainly broke up the strict regime of going from one meeting to the next. Our next port of call was one of the many food halls where I tried my first Flaming Hot Cheetos, assuming that they’d be similar to Flamin’ Hot Monster Munch whereas they were, in fact, forged in Hades from the hottest hell-spawned jalapenos. Tasty, for sure, but not the best idea when you’re about to go in to a very important meeting and your breath smells like it could melt lead.
The next meeting was with Kalypso and, after switching teams back to normal, Lorna and I headed in to experience Tropico 4 and Jagged Alliance: Back In Action. I fell in love with both games immediately, and for two very different… yet similar… reasons. The humour in Tropico 4 really struck a chord and its tongue in cheek approach to building a dictatorship really appealled to me, along with the intense management style. It took me back to the original Theme Park games, when Bullfrog was in its hey day, and literally had me sold within the first few minutes of gameplay. I’d heard that the Tropico games were good, but didn’t know anything about them and now I’m really looking forward to catching up on the back catalogue.
Jagged Alliance was the same – a meshing of two great genres where you’re given the opportunity to play out in a real time strategy mode or switch to turn based tactics where infiltration is controlled by a series of direct commands to your individual troops and, ultimately, executed. With elements of UFO: Enemy Unknown and the Command And Conquer series, I left this particular meeting with a sense of accomplishment and a yearning to get stuck into these two titles. One shone through more than the other, albeit marginally, and so I had one more contender for my “Bastion Award”… giving me a total of two thus far.
With time passing so quickly, it came as no surprise that 4pm was now upon and and, with only one hour left until the entire E3 experience was over, I had to decide what to do with the rest of my time to make the most of what I had available. With my EA and Microsoft VIP passes mostly under-utilised, I made my way to the Microsoft booth to see that they were about to start the penultimate presentation of Fable: The Journey and so I took my place in the Fast Track queue just as the theatre doors opened. It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected to see, which is both good and bad as Fable 3 hadn’t impressed me enough to play it… the first time for a Fable game… but it certainly intrigued me enough to pay more attention than I’d first expected.
The EA booths were only a few steps from Microsoft and so, with only thirty minutes remaining, I flashed the VIP pass yet again and was ushered in to the very last presentation of Mass Effect 3. I’ll be honest with you; I played the first Mass Effect for around an hour and got bored with it, because the people that had recommended it to me did so by saying that it was an open world RPG and that’s not what I experienced. Having watched a lot of gameplay since, as well as footage of the second and third in the series, I’m more open to giving them another shot and so I thought that this would be a fitting end to E3.
Being a press-only presentation, with only thirty minutes until the end of the expo, it was no surprise to find that the theatre was already crammed full with people sitting on the floor and others lined up around the back and side walls. I then noticed Lorna at the back, who clearly had the same idea of ending the expo with a bang, and so began the end.
By the time the presentation started, as they were squeezing in as many journos as possible, it was almost ten minutes later before the room darkened and the opening screen smacked the back of our retinas. For the next thirty minutes we were treated to an emotional rollercoaster, with exclusive footage that had neither been shown prior to E3 nor would be again until the release of the game. It was impressive. Very impressive. Facial animations have reached yet another level of realism, giving Shepard and his crew a deeper sense of emotion. As the presentation reached a climax, so too did the emotion of those bearing witness, with a mixture of excitement at what they had just saw and the knowledge that, according to the clock on the theatre wall, E3 was now officially over.
The theatre doors opened as light filtered in, causing most to wince at the sudden brightness like feral creatures scrambling into the daylight for the first time. As we filed out it was almost as though we had slept through an apocalypse. Gone were the 46,800 people who, up until only minutes before, had been perpetually slithering around booths like an anaconda on the hunt for prey. Gone was the cacophony of thumping basslines from one booth to the next, each fighting to be heard over the other. In their place was a ghost town of scattered leaflets and DLC codes, discarded wrappers and G4 bags as exhausted PRs and developers heaved sighs of relief while techs began the arduous task of dismantling their respective booths and packing them away into boxes that’d make IKEA green with envy.
A sense of achievement swept through my body as Lorna and I left through the huge glass doors and once again came together with Adam, Ben and Lee below the Battlefield 3 banner, knowing that we had managed to cover as much as we possibly could and that we DID, in fact, make the right decision to not only take GamingLives to the next level by covering E3 but also take three additional writers along. This pride and accomplishment was dampened only by the overwhelming sense of mourning that, for all of us and everyone else involved, the E3 2011 expo had now come to an end and, in its place, was left only a void. A void that would take another twelve months to fill.
*plink* Achievement Unlocked: Took The Next Step – 50G
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