Doing the E3 Shuffle

“Only Jesus can save your soul!”

Or so the energetic fundamentalist standing on the street corner outside of the LA Convention Center boomed, hectoring the crowd of journalists, buyers, and industry luminaries leaving E3 on a sunny Southern California afternoon. Given the seeming lack of soul in the games shown off by Microsoft, EA, and Sony in the early press conferences, maybe he’s on to something.

Part of the writer’s journey at E3 are the big press conferences, but it’s the smaller meetings and the chance encounters that really make the show worth seeing. If all I wanted was press events and too-long demos, I’d just watch it all stream on the web from the comfort of my home office.

After the Nintendo Wii U hoopla relatively early on Tuesday morning, Alex Wawro and I ducked into the press room just off the West Hall. Alex tried in vain to find a viable Wi-Fi connection. He couldn’t even connect to the LTE hotspot I’d created on the iPad, which was working perfectly for me. The press lounge was packed with people trying to score free lunches or just a cup of coffee. When the floor was ready to open, we wandered out, appalled at the huge lines waiting to enter.

The press room crowd.

Eventually, we made it to our first meeting with Bethesda, who talked up Elder Scrolls Online, which certainly has some intriguing features. Good graphics, however, is not one of them. Having become used to how earlier Bethesda RPGs pushed graphics pretty hard, the graphics in the MMO version seemed anemic. Zenimax Online is clearly taking a least common denominator approach to its graphics.

Far more interesting was Dishonored, the new IP… er, I mean, game, from Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda. Harvey Smith of Deus Ex fame ran the show, and demonstrated potential multiple paths through the game. Given pedigree of the team and their past releases, you could see bits of Bioshock and Half-Life 2 in some of the design elements, but more as inspirations than copies. This is clearly one title that might be worth playing, and it’s shipping before year’s end.

The corridor between the Nintendo and Sony booth.

After the meeting, my Nikon DSLR and I wandered the show floors in a kind of drunkard’s walk, shooting photos of anything that looked interesting. It was startling to see Halo’s Master Chief staring at me from a bathroom mirror, but hey, it’s E3. While shooting photos, I wandered by the Video Game History Museum, which was being sponsored by Borderlands developer Gearbox. I ran into an old convention buddy, Brian Kemp, now with Spark PR. Brian’s a gamer as much as a PR person, and it’s always great to catch up.

Later, we swung by the Razer booth. Razer almost always has something really cool to talk about, but this year, all they wanted to point to was a new ergonomic mouse usable by both left and right handed folk and a Battlefield 3 branded headset that vaguely resembled a chopper pilot’s headset, only smaller. That did have one cool feature: when you disconnect it from its PC cable adapter, what remains is a short cable with a dual-purpose microphone / headphone jack, which you can use with your cell phone. I confess to being somewhat skeptical of people using a very large headset and mic combo with their cell phones, but you never know…

The coolest thing at the Razer booth was actually under glass. When I first saw it, I thought it was some kind of weird flight controller for the iPad. It turns out that it’s going to be a custom controller for Mechwarrior Online, complete with small LCD screen to display the minimap, battlemech status, or for other uses, so you don’t have to switch screens on your main display. The joystick twists to mimic the rudder pedals needed to turn the mech’s torso. I bumped into Stephanie Schopp, who handles PR for Mechwarrior Online, who confirmed that it was going to be a real product. My credit card can only sigh.

After Razer, I ducked back into the press room, compiled the photos for the slideshow, and wrote up captions. Then it was off to a meeting with the game-streaming company Gaikai. Along the way, I bumped into former Computer Gaming World editor George Jones, who recently joined Wikia to try to figure out how to actually make money with their gaming content.

Gaikai, as it turns out, is announcing a deal with Samsung to handle the back end servers for Samsung’s online gaming service, which would be embedded in high end Samsung LCD TVs. It’s really Samsung’s service, but Gaikai is doing the server and Internet infrastructure heavy lifting.

A Samsung TV running Bulletstorm streamed to it via Gaikai.

I’ve been skeptical about streaming gaming services, but after hearing Dave Perry talk up Gaikai, I’m almost convinced. Gaikai isn’t just about streaming the games, but will also deliver games to your system, if you want to have it local. In fact, Gaikai also provides the back end services for EA’s Origin digital delivery service, which is all about providing downloads to your system. Perry noted that Gaikai was investing hugely in building up a worldwide server infrastructure, with the goal of keeping latencies low for most users in more densely populated areas. And with backing from Intel and Qualcomm, they’ve got some deep pockets backing them.

Alex and I had to rush out the door afterwards; Alex was off to check out the Hawken 16-player LAN party, while I went off to the Showstoppers event. I ran into former PC World alumnus Darren Gladstone, who was showing off some HP gear. Kingston was also present. David Leong of Kingston and I discussed the merits of SSDs, 1,000x compact flash cards and other nifty storage topics. I also encountered yet another maker of high end gaming peripherals, Mionix. What really got my attention was when marketing manager Richard Guilfoyle slammed his palm down forcefully on the keyboard, and nothing happened. Apparently, the keyboard is built into a steel frame, and is nearly indestructible. At $150, it had better be.

Afterwards, I grabbed some quick take out, then sat down to write this as the sun set in the west, turning the LA sky pink and dark blue. Another E3 day has waned. Tomorrow holds the promise of more meetings and potentially more coolness. I think I’ll be able to get out with my soul intact, however.

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