E3 2013: Day 3 Walkabout

The experience of being at E3 is completely different than you’d think from the articles rehashing the press conferences and giving out the highlights.  There’s so much going on everywhere you look that it’s easy to forget the show was more than just Sony giving Microsof the redheaded stepchild treatment, while Nintendo hung out off to the side going “Look at me, I’m relevant!” while being little more than a sequel machine.  This is the Day 3 Walkabout, and it’s just as much about the experience of walking the halls as it is the games.

The previous day was the longest one of the show, and it ended with the very loud Wargaming.net party.  Sleep deprivation can take hold on the plane ride home, however, because despite the previous two days’ 13 hours of show, there’s still more things to see.

Today started out with Devolver Digital, which wasn’t technically part of E3 seeing as it was outside the show in a parking lot across the street, split with Crave Entertainment.  Devlover was very kind in letting me in despite the lack of a pre-arranged appointment.  There were two games available to see- Shadow Warrior (full write-up coming soon) and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (embargoed is another way to say “I have time to give this proper coverage”).

Shadow Warrior is a complete reboot of the (now free on Steam) 90s FPS notable for both its advanced use of the Build Engine and its casual racism.  The new version dispenses with the uncomfortable aspects of the original and replaces them with a Lo Wang who’s far less a caricature.  More details when the proper write-up goes live, but the short version is that it feels good, has lots of weapons and powers, and looks fantastic.

Once Shadow Warrior and Hotline Miami 2 were done, it was back across the street to the convention center, snapping pics like a tourist all the way.  SpaceX had their Dragon capsule outside, the one that actually went into space and successfully returned, and there was no way to resist geeking out over honest-to-god space flight.  After grabbing a couple of the mini-posters available, it was time to head inside the convention hall for the final day of the full E3 experience.

You’d think the 13 previous hours spread over two days would be plenty, but the lines for certain demonstrations eat into that pretty heavily.  Case in point- South Park: Stick of Truth, which was a 45 minute wait.  Many demonstrations are appointment-only, but South Park was open to all.  The problem was that the room was tiny, allowing only 20 or so people at a time if some of them sat on the floor, which they did.

South Park: Stick of Truth is a classic RPG in the South Park style.  The kids are LARP-ing, and in the usual fashion it’s been taken too far.  There’s a combination of real-world violence and utter ridiculousness that means you never know which way a gag will go.  At one point the party can use Underpants Gnomes magic to shrink down and get past an obstacle, but in battle the Freeze spell is a fire extinguisher.  The player’s magic is based on farting, which sounds like it would be fairly ineffective until you use a gas throwing skill to launch it at an open flame, resulting in an enemy-clearing explosion.  Not all humor hits the mark, with a lot of it being dependent on your tolerance for fart jokes, but most of it is honestly funny.  Also, this is South Park uncensored, on the level of the movie Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.

E3 started at 10AM, and between Devolver Digital and getting pics to show family at home, South Park: Stick of Truth doesn’t complete until a bit after 1:30.  E3 goes until 5 so the day is ticking away far more quickly than it should.  Fortunately for my schedule it’s a one-appointment day, but I’ve still got a pile of award nominations to hand out.  We’ll be having more details on who got nominated for what categories later, but in the meantime we’ve got a small pile of notices to give to the developers to hang beside their games.  So, more hall wandering is required.

It bugged me that I didn’t have any time to give to Tower of Guns the other day, so I went back to the IndieCade booth to give it some proper time.  I then declined the offer of a press copy because it’s a damn fun game that’s only $5 in its early-alpha state.  Once I get home and am writing on a PC with a bit more power than an over-ambitious calculator I’ll put some real time into it for a proper article, but based on what I’ve played so far I’m feeling good about the recommendation.

Also at IndieCade was one of two places for E3-goers to test the Oculus Rift.  In addition to the previously-mentioned Sound Self (from Walkabout Day 1) there was If a Tree Screams in the Forest and The Recital, with others having been cycled in when I wasn’t there.  The lines were, sadly, too long to wait in, so while I’m sure they were worth checking out I’ve got no opinion to share.  I did get to spend some good time with the Oculus Rift in the CCP booth, though, but that’s another article entirely.  What I can say right now is that the Rift is going to be a major component in the future of gaming, and the wait for the retail version feels like forever.  I was honestly surprised to see as few Rift developer units at E3 as I did, but attendee demand for content was there and very strong.

After IndieCade and a little time at XSEED, I tried to finish up the West Hall but instead ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen for years.  E3 is as much a social event as it is gaming, because what’s the point of all this if you can’t talk about or experience it with friends?  The clock is ticking down towards the end of the show and I’ve still got a small pile of award nominations to hand out, plus one last booth appointment, but they can all wait for a bit.  Some things take precedence.

Finally escaping the West Hall’s gravitational pull, I headed down the concourse looking for the Armikrog crew.  They’ve been at E3 all three days, meeting with fans and publishers, walking the show floor, but my timing has, apparently been terrible.  Today is no better, but every E3 comes with a few missed opportunities.  I didn’t find out until after the show that the Shovel Knight crew were there, and there were probably a couple more I’d have liked to see, too.  What can you do?

At this point there’s 90 minutes left before my last appointment, which will take me to the 5PM closing bell.  Time to start walking at a properly fast pace.  You can get a good amount done in 90 minutes with a bit of focus, though, so once all nominations are passed around I manage to put in a final round of Mercenary Kings, play a bit of Zen Studios’ KickBeat (the E3 demo is only the tutorial, which has a metronome instead of the full game’s music.  There’s not much I can say about a music/rhythm game that doesn’t have music.) and Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails, and then high tail it to the end of the day.

The last appointment of the day was D3, who were showing off Turbo (based on the racing snail Dreamworks movie) and one of my personal favorites, Earth Defense Force 2025.  With only half an hour to the end of the day I felt bad cutting the Turbo demo short, but EDF was going to take all the time left in the day.

Earth Defense Force 2025 is the proper sequel to Earth Defense Force 2017.  After the bugs were defeated they went underground, only to arise again eight years later with newer and more powerful mechs at their side.  Humanity hasn’t been sitting still, however, and the EDF has new tech, new guns, and new classes to throw at the near-infinite insect horde.  While there were only a few missions available for the E3 demo, the character classes allowed them to be played in different ways.  The fast, mobile, and flight-capable Wing Rider plays very differently from the human tank of the Fencer, and each have different weapons to play with.  Some of them even require mulitplayer to use, such as one of the Fencer’s missiles that needed the laser targeting provided by the other player to home in on.  It may be slow and somewhat awkward to coordinate, but the explosive payoff makes it all worthwhile.

And that was the end of E3 2013.  The producers and I played until well past the final bell, but eventually the tv needed to be packed up and the room cleared.  Walking outside and watching the show get disassembled as quickly as possible is part of the experience, with dozens or possibly hundreds of people hanging around and finishing off a few final things before dispersing.

It’s going to be a while before the effects of this year’s E3 are fully known.  Did Sony really hit Microsoft as hard as it looks?  Is the Wii U Nintendo’s 3DO?  Can all the good things Sony has been up to (potential Oculus Rift support, please?) be undercut by who knows what?  Probably not, honestly, but anything is technically possible.  What I can say is that this year’s E3 was great fun, filled with surprises, and packed with content ranging in size from powerhouse blockbusters to less headline-grabbing but equally awesome games.  It’s loud and crowded and packed with flashing lights, but once you’ve got the mental filters in place it’s almost impossible to not be overwhelmed by the sheer creativity on display.