From Assets on VHS to Execs Going Mad and Journos in Jail: Eurogamer's E3 Memories

Jaz Rignall, Rich Leadbetter, Chris Donlan and others share their favourite stories.

It's the 18th annual running of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, an excuse to get giddy about forthcoming games and tech as well as an excuse, as Tom put across yesterday, to put aside many fears, doubts and gripes and just revel in the heady thrill of what's to come.

We've covered well over two thirds of the shows in E3's history, and in that time have acquired countless memories, from illicit peeks at future consoles to spells behind bars - and to just simply bathing in the magic of the show. Join us as we run through some of our personal highlights of the last 17 years.

Rich Leadbetter, Digital Foundry's blacksmith of the future

I was at the first E3, held in Los Angeles in 1995, and was also fortunate enough to attend a number of CES shows at both Las Vegas and Chicago from 1992 onwards. Back in the day, attending these events was an absolute must for a games journalist, because there was no internet as we know it today and no way for game developers to quickly disseminate videos, screenshots or artwork.  

Preview game code was rarely sent out to the press, and in an era where most console games were released months or even years before their eventual PAL releases, this was the only way to get hands-on experience of the hottest games before release. The principal attraction of going to these shows was the certain knowledge we were going to be playing brilliant new games we'd never even heard of before.   

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Get caught in a Nintendo conference and you can smell the excitement. Eugh.

Tangible assets were gold dust. The first day of these events would thus become a mad rush to visit every booth and grab as many press packs as possible (before they ran out) and making notes on the games we'd want to get hands-on time with in the remaining days.

Screenshots typically took the form of 35mm slides we'd send off to be scanned in - otherwise shots could be lifted from flyers, or literally shot from the screens on the show floor. TV coverage for gaming was only just starting to take off in this era, so grabbing VHS and Beta-SP tapes was also essential, if only for grabbing additional screenshots for the mag. UK PR reps were thin on the ground and securing stuff like this from sceptical US marketing people was a serious challenge.

I remember the first E3 as a bit of an anti-climax in terms of actual playable games. This was the era of the PlayStation and Saturn, and Sony and Sega dedicated a lot of space to launch games we'd already seen and played on import. There was no playable Virtua Fighter 2 - instead Sega showed VF Remix, which was essentially the original game with texture-mapped fighters. As a journalist focusing primarily on Sega at the time, it was also self-evident that the second generation of titles was clearly favouring the PlayStation and there was a genuine sense that Sega of Japan wasn't taking this event seriously.

I remember the second E3 more fondly - hands-on with the launch line-up for N64, my colleague spending literally days playing Super Mario 64 on the show floor and the wonder of Nintendo's broadcast-quality Beta-SP tape that allowed us to print dozens of superb N64 screenshots once we'd hired in the kit capable of playing it on our return to the UK. At the time I was working on ill-fated multi-console magazine MAXIMUM, and this console, those assets, that E3 - that's the reason our last issue was a good one.

Jaz Rignall, EG contributor and general legend

I'm so old and crumbly, some of my best "E3" memories actually pre-date E3 itself. Before 1995, the games industry didn't have a show of its own. Instead, it was a part of the Consumer Electronics Show, a massive showcase for the entire electronics entertainment industry that was held twice a year - in Las Vegas in the winter, and in Chicago in the summer.

I was a regular attendee as a journalist from '89 onwards, but in 1994 I moved from magazines to software development, working under the auspices of Virgin Entertainment. And being classified as a software developer, that meant I got into CES meetings and events that journalists weren't allowed anywhere near. One of those was the unveiling of the PlayStation hardware, well over a year before it was launched to the public. We were shown specs and a variety of demos, and I remember nearly having a heart attack. I'd heard mere whispers of Sony's new console, but here it was in all its soon-to-be glory.

It was clear that this machine was going to seriously change the industry - it was so far ahead of anything else at the time. I just wanted to immediately tell everyone about it, but I couldn't. I'd pretty much signed my life away to see the machine, and I had to stay silent on what was without doubt the biggest potential gaming news story I'd ever been witness to. Which, for someone who's a journalist at heart, nearly did my head in.

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An early mock of Sony's PlayStation, when its links to Nintendo were a little more explicit.

Matt Martin, GI.biz editor and general playa

My first E3 began behind bars, locked up in a holding cell. I landed at LAX airport, pumped for the big show, giddy with enthusiasm and miniatures. Customs is the usual drawn out shuffle and it's not until I get to the Homeland Security officer and reveal I'm here on assignment there's a problem. Completely unaware, and because I've not done my research properly, I don't have a visa so I'm entering the country illegally. In the UK, being confronted by police is funny - those chaps wear funny hats and carry sticks. In the US, these dudes have biceps the size of my head and carry submachine guns.

Marched off to a second interview room, nervous laughter doesn't hide anything. Fingerprints and mugshots are taken and the handcuffs go on tight. Not a lot is explained to me but I'm marched through the airport in front of everyone by two armed guards and bundled into a prison van. Holy Effing Ess.

Delivered to a communal holding area I'm interviewed again, laces taken out of my shoes so I don't hang myself, and left to stew for a couple of hours next to a dude from Bradford suspected of terrorism. There's every chance I'll be sent back on the next plane, which may not have a free seat for days, but for some reason I'm just given a very, very stern warning and my freedom.

After that I pretty much ran around E3 and LA like I'd just finished a 20-year bid. It was all my own idiotic fault and I get the fear whenever I return to the US, but I can't deny the buzz of the adventure. And I still love E3 for the madness, the noise and the spectacle although it never compares to sharing cell space with a gang-banger high on meth.

Do you want to hear about the time we stayed in a motel on the edge of Compton?

Johnny Minkley, EG contributor, lover of meat.

Apparently GamesIndustry International's Rapper-In-Chief Matt Martin will be relaying to you in unsparing detail the story of his E3 prison sex shame (or something like that), so I won't labour over the details of my first ever abortive trip to E3 as a fresh-faced hack.

Suffice it to say, I didn't make it through immigration as I lacked the necessary visa (thanks, Dennis Publishing). So they cuffed and detained me for 17 hours, a Guantanamo-esque ordeal which included being forced to watch several Adam Sandler films while an officer performed angry press-ups on a chair.

Anyway, E3 was, is and always will be all about the conferences for me. The showfloor itself is a fetid, cacophonous hellhole of body odour and blinding lights. But the pre-event stage shows are magnificent, money-burning nerd-theatre at its best.

And my favourite conference moment of all came during 2004's Nintendo event. Still smarting from the idiotic negative reaction to the gorgeous 'toon visuals of Wind Waker, the company revealed the first clip of Link looking all serious 'n' grown-up in what became Twilight Princess.

As Miyamoto leaped out onto stage moments later with a sword and shield, an adult male American journalist standing in front of me literally fell to his knees, his eyes flooding with emotion. Bless you, video games.

Tom Bramwell, Mr. Eurogamer

One of my favourite memories of E3 is the one and only time Microsoft allowed the UK specialist press to interview Don Mattrick, who was at that stage the newly minted boss of the Xbox business.

This was at E3 2008, the year that Bungie was expected to unveil the game that would later go on to become Halo 3: ODST, and I had been all lined up to speak to Bungie about it. I knew some people there and they were very excited.

Once I landed in LA, however, I got a call saying they couldn't do the interview because Microsoft was no longer unveiling the game at E3. They didn't sound very happy about this.

 Oh well, these things happen at E3. If your interview schedule doesn't need to be ripped up and reworked on the first day of the show then you're probably doing it wrong. Still, I was set to interview Mattrick, who I had never met, and I decided to ask him about it.  

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Don Mattress: 'Yeeeeeeaaaahhhhh! Wooooo!'

I expected him to be quite coy and change the subject, of course, but when I asked him what Harold Ryan (then president of Bungie) thought about the announcement delay, he said: "Harold just laughed and he said, 'Boy, just a sign of growth inside the business, we agree'."   

Now, I don't think you need to be a seasoned journalist (and I was about 12 at the time, incidentally) to notice that nobody in human form would ever utter those words, let alone in reaction to the kind of news Harold Ryan would have been receiving. And of course it turned out Ryan somewhat disagreed with this version of events.   

So much so, in fact, that when I got back to the UK Bungie took the unusual step of issuing an outright denial of Mattrick's version, with Ryan telling me: "Keeping things clean, I certainly didn't agree with the decision to delay our news until sometime after E3."   

It was amazing really. I couldn't believe someone in Don Mattrick's position would announce such complete nonsense to the press about one of his biggest external studio partners and expect not to get called out on it. (I was less surprised when Microsoft initially told Bungie that he didn't say this to me at all, but hey, that's why we keep interview recordings.)   

Funnily enough, though, that wasn't even the most memorable bit of the interview. The most memorable part was when I got the signal to wrap it up by the PR person chaperoning us, so I reached for one more question. I was going to ask about where Mattrick saw the Xbox business in 12 months, so I began: "OK, so, we're going to be sitting here again in 12 months' time..."   

Before I could say anything else though, Mattrick lunged forward in his chair and went, "Yeah, WOOOO! Right?!" like some sort of crazed American football commentator. He may even have flapped his arms. To this day, it was the most peculiar thing I have ever experienced in an exec interview, and it sort of stopped me in my tracks.   

Anyway, I don't remember much else about that day, but I do know he's never spoken to us since.

Chris Donlan, EG contributor and lovely man

For years, I've loved E3 as a fan of games, staying up late to check the latest news, arguing with friends about the prototype designs for the Nintendo DS (2004), say, or whether Nokia was having a laugh with that price point (2003). E3's expensive, wasteful, and probably kind of stupid, but it gave us that jet engine roar of sheer excitement when Twilight Princess was unveiled, and it gave us our only real glimpse of Milo and Kate, back in the very early days of Kinect, too.

I've been to the show twice, and my very favourite E3 moment came in 2009 on my first trip. I was at the Galen Center in LA, and Microsoft was dawdling through one of its expensive, wasteful, and probably kind of stupid press conferences. We'd had The Beatles and Kojima already, I think, which meant that Steven Spielberg and Cliffy B were still to come. The lights went dark, a hush fell, a new video started to roll and - suddenly - I heard it.

PING. We all heard it. And we all understood what it meant. PING. The Crackdown sound. PING. Another orb collected. PING. A pool of bright green light in a city of rooftops, skyscrapers, and alleyways.

Sure, maybe Crackdown 2 didn't live up to the original as much as we all hoped, but right there, for those thirty seconds of promo video, we were all joined together in the thrill of recognition. E3 helps remind you that those video games of yours, which seem so personal when you're playing them at two in the morning on your own sofa, are also personal to hundreds of thousands of other people all around the world, all playing late into the night, all sat on their own sofas.

That's the power of games right there. Cue jet engine roar of sheer excitement.

Oli Welsh, EG reviews editor and wearer of hats.

Of the last four E3s - the ones I've attended as a journalist - my fondest memories will always be of camaraderie with colleagues: recording the E3 podcasts with the brilliant John Teti last year, or driving our rental car down Wilshire while conspiring with Ellie to force everyone to listen to UK garage (Craig David & DJ Spoony Present Rewind Old Skool Classics - a must buy), or the bit where trade-show delirium kicks in like a drug and find yourself crying helplessly with laughter at Matt's impression of that senior industry executive. But that's not really what you asked, I know.

E3 was on the road to recovery after a couple of fallow years when I started going in 2008, and that year it didn't even have a show floor. So nothing could really prepare me for the explosive pomp of 2009 - when I saw The Beatles, Steven Speilberg, James Cameron, Pele, Pete Sampras, Jay Z and Eminem take to various stages to promote video games in the space of a single day. E3 was back!

And no sooner was it back than it was going too far, because in 2010 we witnessed two money bonfires that defied reason: Microsoft's beyond-pompous Kinect "experience" by Cirque du Soleil, and an Actvision "party" in a giant, half-full arena, at which a simply impossible cavalcade of bought celebrity - Rihanna! Jane's Addiction! The world's best pole dancer! - paraded sadly in front of hundreds of people who didn't give a damn.

That year was bookended by two moments of dreamlike surrealism of the sort you only ever get in LA. The first was a glimpse, at the Kinect event, of gaming's foremost badass Tomonobu Itagaki looking like a confused and scornful visitor from space in his Microsoft-supplied white space poncho with light-up shoulder pads. Then, after the last day of the show, we were brought crashing back to a reality of sorts when the TV screen in the hotel bar showed rioters burning cars because the LA Lakers had won their playoff in the arena next door to the show (the same one we'd seen a tiny spec that purported to be Usher moonwalking across two days before).

It felt like end-of-days stuff, Kotick fiddling while Rome burns. But that's LA for you, and that's E3, which can't help but mirror the febrile mood swings and dangerous living of the city it calls home - both forever teetering on the brink of meaningless chaos and excess for the sake of it. Waste, violence and gaudy glory.

But I digress - at length. My best memory of E3 as a journalist is of last year, when I shared a room with our then-new features editor Martin Robinson. On the morning of the Nintendo conference at which Wii U would be revealed, his tousled ginger Shoreditch hair peeked out of the bedclothes, he looked blearily across the room at me and he said: "Happy Nintendo day!"

Happy Nintendo day. E3 is all about the press conferences, and for me, Nintendo is always best - partly because I've still got a bit of fanboy left in me, partly because they always have some bit of hardware or other to show, partly because they actually manage to keep their new games secret, unlike everyone else.

And Martin's boyish enthusiasm took me back 10 years to my favourite memory of E3 as a punter: 2001, when GameCube and Xbox were in the air, and I spent days hammering refresh on forums and game sites, or trying to coax a video stream out of a dial-up connection so that I might catch a glimpse of these weird new consoles or their games. And I'd maybe feel confused, but never disappointed, because I knew that everything was about to change. Again.

Here's to more moments like that. Happy E3 day!

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