I got up bright and early, had a healthy breakfast and enough coffee for four people, and headed over to the convention center for my prearranged nine o'clock appointment, oh-so-proud of myself that I was up and out early, ready to get a jump on the day... and hopefully jump the God of War line.
Unfortunately, the hall doesn't open until 10AM. Depending on who you ask, the expo either changed the hours or they had always been that way. The info desk could have cared less and rudely kicked us over to the media room. I start feeling familiar shades of the "you are media, therefore, you are scum" attitude that exists at so many other shows. When we got to the media office, it's locked. No one is there. Yes, this was starting to all feel very familiar.
But then when the woman working the media room arrived, she actually dealt with the problem. She got a message to my first appointment and he came down to the media room to talk to me, armed with his product.
According to Mark McNabb, VP of marketing for Gunnar Optiks, you've likely never heard of them. If the demo I had of these glasses is any indication, however, you'll start seeing the yellow-tinted lenses around. Using a lens technology called i-AMP, they reduce eye fatigue. The science behind them is pretty common sense, and the price point is reasonable. The aviator style branded by Major League Gaming seems to deliver the most noticeable immediate effects, but there are numerous styles to choose from. Some even have arms designed to be worn comfortably under headphones.
The glasses have a 30-day money back guarantee, but after wearing them for only three rounds of Guitar Hero World Tour, I already noticed that they helped reduce the burning feeling that comes from a reduced blink rate.
First appointment of the day salvaged, I made a beeline for the God of War III demo stations just as the show floor opened. There was already a line forming. If these lines are any indication of future sales, Sony finally has a title that will sell the freshly price-reduced PS3.
This time, however, I finally got to play the frikkin' game!
At first I hated that the action command prompts appeared on the edges of the screen, but I quickly realized that having triangle at the top, X at the bottom, etc, eliminated the confused fumbling that makes action commands more frustrating than they need to be. The new charge attacks are nifty too, and give you an awesome sense of accomplishment when Kratos knocks down dozens of clustered enemies like bowling pins in a matter of seconds, using one of their buddies as a battering ram.
The harpy rides are tiny moments of violent, blood spewing hilarity. Well, at least I found them hilarious. I should probably point out, however, that I found the hydra boss fight in the first game hilarious as well. Hooray for historically accurate nudity and violence!
Objective for the day achieved, I headed over to the Left 4 Dead 2 booth, and took my place in yet another very long line. You'd swear it was the Super Bowl, the way people cheered, mainly when the new Jockey zombie killed a survivor. It's a pretty hilarious character, and the Xbox port has better comparable graphics than its predecessor, but after 25 minutes, I got bored watching people die. After 35 minutes, I started talking to people in line. I chatted up a huge Valve fanboy named Russ, who made a better sales pitch than Valve has thus far for why L4D2 is a sequel instead of DLC. Unfortunately I discovered in my later interview with Valve's Chet Faliszek, most of Russ' information was wrong.
Yeah, I got to interview a guy from Valve, which was pretty cool. And it only happened because after 50 minutes in line, I'd only moved 5 feet. There were about another 50 feet to go -- people were standing in line for four hours to play this game. Fortunately, I saw a sign that said "Press Only," and I asked what was up with that. Much to my surprise, I was told to come back at 4:30PM for immediate gameplay and an interview. I headed off to kill time in a state of pleasant shock. That sort of thing never happens at E3 with a company of Valve's pedigree.
I cruised around, taking pictures of some of the cosplayers, and checked out the Rock Band booth to be once again intimidated by the 3-part harmony component of the Beatles version. Then I came upon this booth full of various people dressed up in historical costumes - an ancient Greek woman, a centurion, a civil war soldier, and a Native American. All these people were working for a booth for a snazzy looking First Person Shooter that I'd never heard of.
What? How was this possible? A game I knew NOTHING about? I headed over, intrigued.
The game is called Darkest of Days, and it's about time travel. The CEO of the company was busy, so I made an appointment to talk to him at 4PM. I had some time to kill, so I prepped my Valve questions, then checked out the PAX 10. My favorite game there was actually for pre-schoolers. What does that say about my maturity?
Seriously, though, the game is called "What's bothering Carl?" Carl is a cyclops with horns. The game is mainly an interactive storybook, with minigames and music videos to up the interactivity for kids. It would be a great new way to teach kids to read... if there was anything remotely resembling distribution for that sort of thing. According to the game's creator, kids' book companies don't distribute games, and game companies don't distribute stuff for kids that young. The guy has a great product with no one to sell it to.
Slightly depressed by the fella's dilemma, I headed over to the 2K booth. The Bioshock 2 sign beckoned. No demo, just a video, but it looks like they've taken pains to fix the tedious parts of the first game, which makes me look forward to it. Across the "hall" in the 2K booth is a sweet antique bar set up for Mafia II, where you could get Italian sodas and free t-shirts... until they ran out of cups. Once that happened, all the game reps got lost, leaving the guy who bought the antiques alone to man the booth. In case you're wondering, no, he knew nothing about the game.
Over to the Nintendo booth. New Mario game. I don't really care. The new Professor Layton DS game I care about though. And Scribblenauts. Why Nintendo only had one Scribblenauts station is beyond me. It meant each person only got 10 to 15 minutes with the game. Nintendo doesn't seem to care much these days, however. They know they're going to sell a bazillion copies of Mario.
That killed enough time, however, that I could head back to the Darkest of Days booth. You'd be forgiven for not realizing this IP is an indie title. Not only is the game new, but the engine is new, and it's published by a company that made its money on casual games, not huge FPS titles featuring hundreds of civil war soldiers force marching through corn fields.
I immediately fell in love with the company's chutzpah.
The premise of Darkest of Days is pretty complex. In the future, time travel is a reality, and they've discovered that people are dying in the past that aren't supposed to. This is obviously bad. However, if soldiers from the future go back in time, and get killed, then you've got more deaths that can't be explained. The solution for these clever people in the future is to recruit MIAs throughout history, give them nifty futuristic weapons of doom, and let them clean up the mess. The character you play is one of those MIAs, from the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Confused? Yeah, so was I.
Once I got into the game, however, things started to make more sense. Rescuing people is tougher than it looks because of the sheer scope of the battles, but losing a few doesn't mean a traditional failed objective. You keep playing, but history has been changed. It's pretty exciting.
I'm a history buff, and I like challenging shooters, so this game is something I'll definitely be playing, and it comes out this week on Steam! They were handing out 10% discount codes at the booth, which means 90% of money out of my pocket. Well done, Darkest of Days people! You made Liana spend money! On to my appointment with Valve.
According the Chet Faliszek, the boycott lobby against L4D2 was present at PAX. Apparently Valve actually bothered to talk to them, which is probably more than most game companies would do. My chat with Chet was informative and pleasant - in fact all the staffers at the Valve booth were extremely accommodating and nice. Because of all this, I wanted my gameplay demo on L4D2 to convince me that a sequel was warranted.
My findings, however, were inconclusive. It was impossible to properly judge the overhaul of the game's "Director" in two rounds of play in a noisy convention hall with noobs as teammates. The jockey character is indeed hilarious, but I couldn't get a read on the Surivivors, other than that two of them are black, one guy is a hillbilly, the guy who "wasn't supposed to be here" is in a suit, and the token chick is still wearing pink. Why must games put the token girl in pink, to underline that she is a girl? Furthermore, why must she be a token? Furthermore, why are there no Hispanic, Asian or Indian characters in L4D2, seeing as we already had a black guy in the first game?
Apparently the answer to all of this is data collection. Valve knows what you're thinking. It knows what you're feeling. Because it's spying on you through Xbox Live and Steam. I'm not kidding, they openly admit that they data mine all the stats from gameplay. They know how many Molotovs people use. They know where people die. I'm both impressed by this and seriously creeped out. I'd like art to be art, not a family feud style reflection of majority opinion. I have to hand it to Valve, though: playing to the majority is definitely a sound financial strategy.
Oh, by the way, that story about cut scenes being created for the first L4D, but pulled? Crap. The info about the levels changing via a tile pattern? Not exactly true either.
And they are working to find out why people Rage-Quit so often, for such stupid reasons. They know it's a problem. There will also be an "unsupported supported" split-screen multiplayer mod for the PC coming. I have no idea how that will work.
Once I wrapped up at Valve, my brain felt like it was floating in a soup of sensory overload, so I headed back to the hotel to rest up for the parties that night. And I needed the rest, because there's a reason PAX is known as the party con.
I had RSVPed to the Capcom party, but that stuck me in the press preview hour. I didn't want that: I wanted to see the fans getting their freak on. So, through friends, I got into the Bungee Halo ODST party. It was happening in a Coney Island themed bar with pieces of carousels and coin-op classic arcade games making the small space even more cramped. Once again, though, it was an open bar, and last call got a bit... we'll say stretched.
When they finally did kick us out, there was a charge in the air. Hundreds of drunken, horny gamers were flooding the streets of Seattle. So much for the socially awkward stereotypes of the fandom: these guys were assertive and looking to get laid. I was with my friend Alexis, who is a gorgeous brunette, and as we tried to make our way down the street, we were, without exaggeration, hit on every three feet. Some guys were even hunting in packs. No one groped, although one guy did brag that he yanked a woman's souvenir TriCell badge from the Capcom party off her shirt. He had the badge to prove it. There was a lot of near-groping.
It got so bad that I took desperate action. I took the ODST t-shirt I'd been given and stuck it on my head, covering one eye. Then I put my jacket on backwards. After that, I was left alone.
By the time I got back to my hotel room and sat down to write this, it was approaching 5AM. I got halfway through before passing out. Thank god for notes and an audio recorder.
Come day three, I tried to get up and head back over, out of a warped sense of responsibility. I'd accomplished everything I'd set out to do, however, and the idea of more sleep sounded really good. In retrospect, that was probably a smart idea, since I didn't end up with the H1Nerd1 Flu.
I know what you're thinking. I only had one and a half drinks! Honest!
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