Games of futures past
E3 (opens in new tab) . The focal point of the year for All Of Games. The lunatic party-festival that shapes the climate and the excitement for all of us, wherever we are, for years to come. It gets bigger every year, it gets better every year, and with this new generation really starting to hit its stride, surely this years has the potential to be the best yet, right?
Well of course it does. But there are some things it almost certainly wont have. Some things that, when youve been through enough E3s whether present or not you start to miss. Things E3 used to do, and used to represent, that either dont exist now, or have been moulded into rather different, modern formulations. Were not just talking about the fact that we were younger and more springy back then, because thats just stupid nostalgia. And were certainly not talking about the higher ratio of booth-babes in the old days, either, because thats just stupid. No, these are the things, silly and important, concrete and abstract, that used to really define old E3s. 2015 will be a great show, but we cant help wishing that theyd just bring back
Actual Nintendo press conferences
Okay, this one is probably partly informed by us just plain missing the pre-Wii Nintendo that was, but goddamnit if Nintys real, on-stage E3 appearances didnt feed directly into the companys greatness back then. As brilliantly endearing as Iwatas performances are in the modern Direct broadcasts (and seriously, they are; anyone whos never felt the compulsion to do one of his little hand gestures while saying the d-word in everyday conversation categorically has no soul), the videos edited, contained nature just cant compete with a bona fide Nintendo press conference.
Nintendo fans, for better or worse, are rabid like no other. When you cram a thousand of them into one room, for an audience with the Great Ones, you get a giddy, deliriously goofy atmosphere you just will not find in any other conference. And Nintendo knew exactly how to play up to that. Reggies comic, on-screen persona these days is great, but the loveably meatheaded, natural badassery that led to the caricature was even better. And lets not forget that whatever games were announced, the highlight was always the perfectly-teased appearance of a live Miyamoto, just as giddily goofy himself, and entirely unafraid to brandish a Hylian Shield without a hint of irony. A crowning moment of awesome each and every year.
The insane spectacle of Activision's parties
Last days of Rome. Thats the best way to sum up Activisions brief run of ludicrous Just because we can parties at E3. Ludicrously decadent, immensely more lavish and star-studded than they ever had any need or justification to be, those gigantic nightclub-cum-concert-cum-circus affairs would have been offensively grandiose if they hadnt been so grandiose as to be delightfully stupid.
The peak arguably came in 2010, when Activisions conference hosted the likes of Eminem, Usher, Rhianna, Deadmaus, Pharrel Williams and Soundgarden. The epoch-making line-up of games that warranted such a show? Tony Hawk: Shred, Guitar Hero: Megadeth, and True Crime: Hong Kong. The last of which you might remember was eventually released by Square-Enix, as Sleeping Dogs. A party worth every nonsensical penny, then.
E3's more casual 'Attitude Era'
E3 is a fantastic spectacle these days, and a great reason to be smug about being into games. For a week, the entire press, mainstream and otherwise, has its eyes on us. We are championed. We are reported on feverishly. We are exciting and we are massive. But that global, blanket attention has a flip-side. In having to cater for such a huge spread of reporters with such eclectic audiences and angles, the big companies have got a bit safer about things.
There was a time back in the day when console reveal stage-demos were performed not by developers, or well-choreographed party-bots, or pre-canned footage, but by chilled-out kids in baseball caps (opens in new tab), their feet dangling off the stage as they sat on their big chilled-out arses. There was a time, a few years later, when Nintendo opened up a free beer stand (opens in new tab) on its booth, and handed out beer mugs and condoms, because why the hell not? There was time when the biggest party in the games industry felt more like a big-budget nerd-fest than a slick, business tentpole run by polished, perfectly coiffed men in suits. Obviously E3 is better now, in many ways. And obviously its current set-up is better for the industry. But damn, it was fun when it was a bit scruffier, too.
Madly eclectic, genuinely surprising line-ups
These days, you tend to go in knowing the rough shape of the big three's announcements. Nintendo will play around with an old franchise or two, to varying degrees of effectiveness, announce a few cool-but-nebulous things that are ages off release, and then talk about cool-but-obscure Japanese games and 3DS faceplates. Sony will showcase a mixture of visually stunning AAA, emotive narrative, and indie invention. Microsoft will bring the explosions, the Call of Duty demos, a couple of token attempts at eclecticism, and otherwise perform a slick iteration on its 360 glory days, with additional garnish. Thats great. Everyone has their identity locked in, and the big three are catering to very specific audiences who love their stuff.
But check out Ashleys highly completist, highly eclectic run-down (opens in new tab) of the games of E3 95. Nintendo brought gory fighting games, platformers, the Virtual Boy, Earthbound, and goddamn Doom. Sega dropped the Saturn, and showed it off with Panzer Dragoon, of all things. Sony had Wipeout and Tekken sitting right next to the original Legacy of Kain. Yeah, the 2D one. Old E3 was fricking nuts, and you never knew what you were going to get. Hell, lets not forget that the Saturn was announced as available to buy that day during Segas conference in 95. Okay, it turned out to be a terrible idea, but still. Surprises! And speaking of which
The lack of internet
This might be rose-tinted bullshit talking (hey, its fertile ground, theyd grow well), but old E3 used to feel more surprising even beyond the eclectic weirdness on show. You see there was also the delightful way that the internet used to not go out of its way to try to spoil every announcement weeks in advance, like a big excitable puppy who is also a gobshite.
I remember back in the solely print and page days, the E3 issue of any good games mag was like opening up a paper Christmas from a mad sci-fi future. Even with access to faster reporting later on, the conferences maintained their status as megaton surprise-bombs for quite the while. Until, that is, the internet decided that nebulous insider sources and slow, dribbling leaks were more fun than having several solid hours of unexpected amazement thrown in its face. Even when leaks turn out not to be true, they deflate things. Even the most clearly deceitful extravagance adds a special kind of mad hope, making the ultimate truth of a conference disappointing, however great it is. Street Fighter 5 (opens in new tab) is brilliant (opens in new tab), but if Alex isnt announced at E3, thats all anyones going to be talking about.
This is the big one. In fact, in spirit, it probably encompasses pretty much all of the prebious. The source of old-school E3, if you will. The natural spring, blurting forth that particular kind of fun in its raw, unsullied form. Im talking about pure, unrefined, 90s rad. You know instinctively what Im talking about. Its appearing in your mind right now, not as cogent, specific thoughts, but as an electrifying blur of colours, sounds and feelings.
Most of those colours are variants on neon pink and green. Most of those sounds are triumphant yells of Awesome! while things explode, blue electricity crackle, and all manner of vibrant goop squelches around in the background. And the feeling? Nothing but the most strident, exciting, summertime 'Hell yeah'. Games were all about that stuff (opens in new tab) back in the day. And games marketing really was. And so E3 really, really was. Screw it, if were getting back The X-Files, and Twin Peaks, and Power Rangers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Doom, Im starting the campaign to Bring Back Rad right here and right now. If anyone needs me, Ill be digging out my old Hypercolor t-shirts with an immense sense of righteous vindication.
And speaking of t-shirts, that raddest of rad dinosaurs (by Joao Lauro Fonte) is on one, at TShirtVortex (opens in new tab).