E for All – the Good, the Bad and the Empty*

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A troupe of cosplayers marched in to the sounds of the Belmont High marching band – basically the high point of the afternoon.
Click images to inflate.

Updated: new photos & notes

I just got back from previewing E for All, the would-be replacement for the late, lamented orgy of a game convention known as E3, and lemme tell you:

If you shell out 50 bucks expecting the full-on raving E3 debauch, you’ll be sorely pissed. It’s smaller – a lot smaller.

But if you squint a bit and satisfy yourself with playing a few cool new games and trying out some crazy new gaming tools (more photos and text on those later tonight below) you can have a decent time, come away with a little schwag and maybe see some potential for future growth.

Given enough fan support and some buy-in from more indie game companies, and E4 could almost manage to pull itself out of the ashes of E3. That is, of course, a huge IF. Here’s why …

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Word of mouth won’t be so hot:

E3 used to own the Convention Center. Here’s one view of E4, which barely fills out the South Hall. The huge Nintendo booth is at left, a smaller EA booth is at right (nothing like the monster 360-degree theater with a giant boom pad for a floor seen in earlier years) and between, a thicket of smaller gamecos.

Looks pretty good. But it’s a facade: E3 took up all three halls and most of the interstitial hallways, the streets and sidewalks outside and hell, during party hours, half the venues in town up to and including Dodger Stadium.

Last year, it took me two days to cover the damn thing, and 2005 and 2004 were hardly smaller.

E4 takes up barely 2/3 of South Hall. Conspicuously missing: the massive booths once seen for Sony Playstation, Microsoft/XBox/Bungie, Midway, Rockstar, Vivendi/Universal and just about every other top-shelf gameco you could name.

Instead – a smattering of smaller companies shilling for new game controllers, online communities, a couple huge arenas for competion gamecos like MLG and a bunch of odd WTFs.

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If E for All were a game, you’d think the developers ran out of budget for a full environment. Above is the edge of the world, and beyond it, huge swaths of empty cement and carpet.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/simpsons-thumb.jpgThis said, there’s still some fun to be had: There are a bunch of fun new games such as The Simpsons, for 360/Wii/PS3 is a total hoot, with cooperative Homer/Bart gameplay and an army of glass-domed aliens to defeat. And there are a few more fun photos, which I’ll post later tonight. Stay tuned.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/entropia-thumb.jpgEntropia Universe is another promising game – more like what Second Life would be with a better engine, fantasy gameplay and a “real cash economy” that lets the marketplace decide what characters, weapons and attributes are worth.

The game’s an extension of Project Entropia, which claimed more than 600,000 members and a cash turnover of $160 million.

Downloads are free, upgrades and real estate cost real cold cash, and it’s Windows-only, but it’s based in Cry Engine 2 and pretty handsome for an MMPORPG.

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Eh, it’s a living: Shilling for Civilization Revolution, the rebirth of Sid Meier’s wildly popular franchise for consoles.
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Eh, it’s a living: Booth babes were few and chastely dressed, but nonetheless sure of their work, as was this woman, who could quote chapter and verse about Entropia.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/gamerlounge-thumb.jpg(Left):
“Dammit, people, we can’t get enough game companies to participate, they’ve all abandoned L.A. for Leipzig or Tokyo, now that E3’s barfed up a lung, and the hall’s half-empty! What’ll we DO???”

“I know, chief! Let’s put in a 1,800 square foot patch of carpet with some potted plants, smoked-glass dividers and chairs and call it a Gamer Lounge!”

“Shit, Smithers, that’s BRILLIANT!!!”

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/rockband-thumb.jpgA motley crew of showgoers and exhibitors (and a cosplayer on lead axe) demo’d Rock Band by tearing into Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”

Sounded pretty good, too.

I love Guitar Hero, but I’m not sure I can get the cash – or enough game-geek friends – together to justify buying into Rock Band:

A full array of gear (guitar, drums, bass, mike) is supposed to set you back upwards of $300 but hey – you know you want to play.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/greenscreen-thumb.jpgSchwag was abundant – little handpainted figurines from Entropia, stickers, blinky pendants, badges, beads and more t-shirts than any sane person could wear in a year. Intel was running a “Be in your own Intel commercial” booth, where you’d dance against a greenscreen for 60 seconds in front of a multicamera rig, they’d cut the dance into a slick video, and upload it to a 1GB thumb drive and give it to you.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/spartanbots-thumb.jpgI might even have made a fool of myself for a thumb drive if I hadn’t already shelled out for an irresistibly goofy and useful 1GB Mimobot drive (the little skeleton dude at top right on this page).

Mimobot had the full array on display, including these just-released Halo Spartans, which are selling at the show for $10 less than the $49.95 list.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/halo3helmet-thumb.jpgMicrosoft was absent, but it seemed as though Halo 3 was everywhere.

I got to play it while trying out Boomchair – which left me kinda underwhelmed. The game play on Halo was lush, gorgeous, fast. The chair was uncomfortable (no lumbar support), the vibration thin and the sound wimpy.

Meanwhile, this special-edition XBox 360 looked pretty fetishy, though you have to wonder how you’d breathe while playing with that damn fool helmet on.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/novint-thumb.jpgThis is one of the more innovative and potentially powerful and cool peripherals at the show:

The Novint Falcon is a 3-D forced-feedback mouse/controller – already at use in the medical world and just adapted for gaming. It basically lets you “feel” and interact with 3-D game shapes.

I tried it out and found myself grinning like a fool barely 30 seconds into the demo. You could feel texture, shape, mass and movement of things like a lumpy sphere, a sticky ball or a pitched baseball.

The real trick they’ll have to pull off is convincing game developers to program for the thing, because it a) won’t be for everybody and b) felt like your average 15-year-old Red-Bull-amped gamer would thrash it to pieces within a few months. But definitely worth checking out the demo if you go to the show. Retail: $239.00.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/jacket-thumb.jpgThe TN Games 3D Gaming Vest was another entertaining peripheral: Plugged into the right PC game (“Quake,” “Doom” and their own, “Incursion” are three of the handful wired up for the gadget via their open SDK and API) the vest’s little air bladders puff up suddenly to simulate bullet hits, body blows and – once they develop it – jet flight.

Again, the success of this thing will depend on two things – a) gamers’ willingness to shell out for weird, specialized physical-enhancement gear (it retails for $169); and b) developers’ willingness to spend time and sweat adding it into the dizzying array of code they have to shoehorn into any game mechanic.

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Hmm. Empty. The Major League Gaming arena awaits dozens of gamers. To be fair, this was shot during VIP hours, when the average gamers hadn’t been allowed in yet.
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No such excuse for WWF Smackdown! vs. RAW 2008, which stood unplayed for several minutes while people lined up for other games after the doors opened.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/metalgearsolid-thumb.jpgGamers lined up big time for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, behind chainlink fence and laughable signs forbidding photography or video. Follow the link for reviews on this title – I’m not much for stealth games.

I did enjoy playing Battlefield 2142, one of the games on display in EA’s disappointingly underpowered booth.

Very slick graphics and realistic run-and-gun action for a squad-based, real-time strategy game. The environments were crisp, the weapons interesting (and frustratingly 21st-century realistic like the assault rifle, where reloading is a frantic ballet of four or five seconds during which you pull your magazine, put it down, pick up another one, slap it into the gun, cock it and hope to take aim before getting fragged). I’d like to have spent more time with it.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/deblob-thumb.jpgI also loved the hell out of De Blob – a game cooked up by a bunch of Dutch students, and snapped up by THQ and Nintendo for the Wii. You’re a squishy blob of paint racing around a black-and-white cityscape, splattering the walls with color.

It’s a ruder, more visceral form of Katamari Damacy in a way, and really lets you tap into your inner fingerpainter or graffiti bomber. Thoroughly addictive.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/10/marchingband-thumb.jpgAt 3 p.m., the Belmont High School Marching Band swept through in a tornado of brass, with a couple dozen expertly turned-out cosplayers in their wake. Play spot-your-favorite here.

And hey, if I haven’t talked you out of it yet – the hours and ticket prices for the show are at the bottom. If nothing else, the lines are hella shorter than E3, which means little to no waiting to play some top titles.

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General & On-Site Registration – Beginning September 2, 2007

* Thursday/Friday Pass – $50
* Saturday/Sunday Pass – $75
* 4-day Pass – $90

*A registered adult must accompany children under 14 years of age. Due to safety regulations, baby strollers are not permitted on the exhibit floor.

General Admission Hours
(For guests registering after September 1, 2007)
Thursday, October 18 3:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Friday, October 19 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Saturday, October 20 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sunday, October 21 11:00 am – 4:00 pm

6 Replies to “E for All – the Good, the Bad and the Empty*”

  1. Nice. Just what I need another simpson game to wind up the kids. Did I ever tell you I am on a quest to find out why Xbox and similar turns little boys into jerks? Until I have the answer 1 hour day, non-school days is it.

  2. Meh. I let mine (6 and 8) play up to half an hour of games a day on XBox or computer, or watch half an hour of TV. Usually they’d rather read or surf, and even after gaming for a full 30, they know enough to turn it off and leave the aggro behind. Blaming gaming for turning boys into jerks is like blaming whiskey for turning high school kids into alcoholics. It’s all in the parenting.

  3. I was tempted to go this, but maybe I’ll wait until a phoenix rises from the ashes, as opposed to a canary..

  4. Nice write up, Mack. I went, I saw, I concur. Fun but a complete lack of excess. The day’s most exciting moment was…a power failure. The whole place went dark around 7 tonight except for the eerie glow of laptops throughout. I didn’t stick around for the looting.

  5. Heh. Now that would have made for an exciting show.

    Still, I hope it manages to succeed and somehow grow- at least to the point where it’s not charging poor gamers 50 bones to get in.

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