It was a vintage year. The videogame industry shrugged off recession and put two years of directionless caution behind it last week, staging a confident showcase in Los Angeles that showed the rest of the entertainment world who was boss without overdoing the tacky excess. A ton of news (some of which hadn't even leaked), a little controversy, a lot of showmanship, some scarily futuristic new technology - and, best of all, plenty of first looks at exciting games that are actually coming out in the next six months.
Below you'll find our picks of E3 2009. First, Game of the Show: our top ten with an overall winner, not segregated by genre or platform. To be eligible, games had to be present at E3 in the form of actual working code, whether it was playable on the show floor or a live demo behind closed doors. Game of the Show is a measure of quality, of course, but it's about raw excitement too, so you'll find more recently announced games than known quantities in the shortlist.
There are four more major categories. Best Technology is open to both software and hardware, and intended to be a showcase of the most exciting prospects for the future. Best Publisher could be a platform holder or a third-party - whoever brought the broadest, strongest and most innovative line-up to LA. Best Game Announcement highlights the headlines that hit the hardest, and the games we can't wait to find out more about. And because E3 is all about the media, Best Video showcases the official movie releases - whether CGI trailers or in-game footage - that really got our bits streaming.
Finally, you'll find a few more categories as a footnote, just for fun. Best trade show of recent years? Without a doubt.
Game of the Show
There were far prettier and more ambitious games at E3 2009 than New Super Mario Bros Wii; there were bigger surprises, more hotly-anticipated sequels and more attention-grabbing showboats. But Nintendo's multiplayer reworking of the game that created an industry rocked our show for three important reasons.
First, it came out of nowhere, fully-fledged and playable by everybody in a huge ten-level demo on the show floor. While its rivals spun hard, Nintendo quietly put its money where its mouth was, letting the mobs descend on an apparently feature-complete and totally robust game and have their way with it. Only Forza Motorsport 3 could match those guts, and even its showing was slender by comparison.
Second, it was simply the most fun we had playing games all week. New Super Mario Bros Wii had us giggling with glee as soon as the show opened: perfect multiplayer dynamics that blend co-op and competition, seated in a platform-game template that hasn't been bettered in 20 years. Bliss.
And finally, if there was a bum note at E3 2009, it was the yawning divide in most publisher's line-ups between "casual" and "core" "products", the sense that videogaming is being torn in two. That's a divide Nintendo helped to create - but New Super Mario Bros Wii can heal it. Classic and modern, simple and social, nostalgic and friendly, this really is "everyone's game". It takes us back to a time when demographics meant nothing, and all of this was just fields of fun. It's uplifting.
DJ Hero: Music games are stagnating almost as fast as they grew, and even a lavish tribute to the best band ever isn't going to stop that. But DJ Hero just might. Just as turntablists reinvented our relationship with pop in the hip-hop and dance revolutions of the eighties and nineties, DJ Hero changes the music game: more creative freedom, more input from the artists, closer to the real thing.
Forza Motorsport 3: We knew it was coming, but Forza 3 is still a pretty sizeable rabbit for Microsoft to pull out of its hat, and it's out as soon as October. A full-service racing experience for the man who has everything (except Gran Turismo 5, still), it's also one of the best prospects for community gaming on a console.
God of War III: The PS2's swansong is the last major series to arrive on this generation too, and it met fever-pitch expectations with a spectacularly confident playable demo that caused the longest queues on the show floor. Not subtle, but Sony doesn't need subtlety to sell PS3s. It needs Kratos.
Left 4 Dead 2: One of the more controversial games of the show, and not because it's set in a disaster-struck New Orleans. Should Valve have released this as an expansion pack to avoid splitting its audience? Maybe, but that doesn't dim the immediate appeal of another huge slice of the definitive co-op shooter.
Modern Warfare 2: It must suck to be a shooter developer that's not Infinity Ward. This year's biggest sequel even humbled a new Halo, and Epic's Mark Rein could only call it "insanely good". Raw shock and awe at an incredible-looking 60fps, and the definition of a developer hot streak. It will sell by the megaton.
ModNation Racers: Ugly duckling of the show was this unheralded create-your-own karting game from Sony; here's hoping it will grow into a beautiful, user-generated swan. It might lack charm, but gets plenty of points for realising what LittleBigPlanet did wrong, not just copying what it did right.
Splinter Cell: Conviction: Ubisoft's revamped spy thriller out-guns Bourne and New Bond in the seedy brutality stakes - what is it about violence in toilets? - as well as employing some stunning, daring cinematic presentation. But it's the apparent ease, flexibility and empowerment of the infiltration that really impressed. Stealth can be fun!
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Everyone saw, and cheered, the lavish new cinematic. Not everyone saw the behind-closed doors demonstration of the MMO running on live servers and looking astonishingly slick and dynamic, with fast-paced action-RPG combat packed with wish-fulfilment possibilities.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: You can't argue with an honest-to-goodness gasp from a press-conference audience. When that's not generated by a new announcement or CGI trailer, but by a game running live, you really can't argue with it. One mountain vista was enough to wow E3 and make Uncharted 2 look like the next step for action games.
The clamour to call Milo a fake when no-one ever claimed he was real - Molyneux himself admitting to "tricks" - proves just how hair-raising, how unsettling Microsoft and Lionhead's achievement is. It has the smell of witchcraft about it, and even the unflappable Ellie was spooked when she saw it in person.
Milo was the hands-down sensation of E3, but that's not the only reason it takes the Best Technology award. It was the synthesis of Lionhead's AI experiments with Microsoft's technically amazing and surprisingly functional Project Natal hands-free interface to create something genuinely new - not just a demo resembling a flavour-of-the-mass-market Wii game - that attracted our attention, not to mention Steven Spielberg's. Usually the conservative follower of trends, it was Microsoft who took the boldest step into the future this E3.
Sony's motion controller was less radical than Microsoft's, had only the sketchiest demos, and wasn't available for anyone to try - but it did look great fun to use, and arguably had much more realistic gaming applications than Natal.
Conversely, PSPgo was there and wasn't all that thrilling in the flesh, but it's a major conceptual leap - by ditching UMD and creating a dedicated gaming console for which no software is sold in the shops, Sony ought to stir the market up if nothing else.
Sony Computer Entertainment
No other publisher - first- or third-party - could begin to match the sheer breadth and depth of Sony's E3 offering this year. Blockbuster sequels with gob-smacking production values (God of War III, Uncharted 2); innovative online games (MAG, The Agency); stylistically bold experiments in new IP (Heavy Rain, The Last Guardian); great, exclusive downloadable games (PixelJunk Shooter, Fat Princess); new forms of entertainment for new markets (EyePet, ModNation Racers). Sony had it all, and its vast stand was further studded with unexpected gems like the lovely LittleBigPlanet PSP, or more Ratchet & Clank. Quantity and quality in abundance, but it was the sheer variety that amazed.
In big-picture terms, Electronic Arts was the only publisher who could hold a candle to Sony's line-up. Peter Moore continues to take EA Sports in interesting new directions, EA Partners made some hot signings (Crysis 2, APB) and the likes of Mass Effect 2, Need for Speed Shift and Brutal Legend all looked quite tidy. But EA was lacking standout games with sex appeal.
That's not something you could say of Activision, which won 2009 at a stroke with Modern Warfare 2 and DJ Hero. Everyone else might as well go home - including the rest of Activision's own mediocre line-up, apart perhaps from the likeable Blur.
Best Game Announcement
It might not have been as exclusive as Sony wanted us to believe, but Square Enix's next MMO still caused the biggest splash of any announcement of the show. Revealing it - complete with an unbelievable 2010 release date - before FFXIII has even seen the light of day in Japan was a bold move and a half. Could this be the first MMO sequel to beat its predecessor's success? With the Final Fantasy brand, we wouldn't bet against it.
Team Ico's gorgeous The Last Guardian would have stolen the show if it hadn't stolen its own thunder with a pre-show leak. The Agent was exciting because it's an all-new Rockstar North game, Crackdown 2 was exciting because it's more Crackdown, and Miyamoto gets nonchalance points for slipping a new Wii Zelda under the radar in that unassuming way of his.
It was literally the first moment of E3 - opening Microsoft's Monday-morning conference before anyone stepped on the stage - and visually, it remains the best. An evocative animated summary of a great band, maybe it doesn't have much to do with gaming - but then again, gaming has something to do with everything these days, and gaming aesthetics and presentation are no longer a poor cousin.
You could say all the same things of BioWare's stunning cinematic promoting Star Wars: The Old Republic - the most talked-about trailer at the show, and some of the best Star Wars entertainment of any kind in years. Once again, The Last Guardian might have won if it hadn't been spoiled, while Splinter Cell: Conviction released the most compelling live gameplay footage, and Modern Warfare 2 did in-engine cinematics to profoundly exciting effect.
Best Quote: "Yeah, you want to get information, but maybe you don't want to get raped!" David Cage pushes sexual politics in videogames to the limit with a queasy Heavy Rain demonstration. Did he have to breathe so heavily into the mic?
Best Party: Activision's bash for DJ Hero, featuring live performances from Jay-Z (phenomenal) and Eminem (weak), as well as the legendary Warren G and DJ AM. Kelly Osbourne was spotted, as well as some actually famous people, including Leo DiCaprio.
Most Half-Hearted Celebrity Appearance: The Beatles, for their disgraceful, embarrassed and embarrassing mugging at the Microsoft conference. "The game is great. The graphics are great. We were great," said Ringo like he was reading a shopping list. If you hate videogames so much, why did you make one then?
The "Let's Chill Here on the Deck" Kaz Hirai Memorial Award for excellence in strained banter: After a long run at the top of excruciatingly scripted press-conference shame, Sony slipped up this year and let Nintendo steal its crown with a masterpiece of false, unfunny bonhomie: Reggie and Bill Trinen's horrible basketball interlude. "I hope you shoot baskets better than you shoot arrows!" I hope you shoot yourself.
Best Special Move: In the new Dead to Rights, you can assume control of your faithful police dog Shadow and employ a special finishing move that ends the life of miscreants by biting their balls off. "We call this the Testikill."
The Stuck in a Golden Rut Award for being shackled to a successful franchise: Tie! After years of ever saying never, Hideo Kojima just gave up pretending and announced three - count them! one, two, three - new Metal Gear Solid games. But we couldn't let Bungie go without a mention too. So Halo 3 is the end of a trilogy then? Is it? Is it really?
Compiled from conversations with Ellie, Tom, and the rest of the Eurogamer staff. Special thanks to Christian Donlan for his contribution to this article, and to all of Eurogamer's E3 coverage.