It began, as ever, with a leak. With just hours to go until Microsoft's absurdly lavish and conceptually loopy launch event for Project Natal, suddenly the name Kinect was out there, and images of a new, black Xbox 360 unit were proliferating across the net. So close and yet so far: these days, even on a sleepy LA Sunday, you just can't stop E3 jumping the starter's gun.
That might be why most publishers - with the noble exceptions of Nintendo and Ubisoft - didn't even try to surprise in a relatively light year for big news. Still, E3 2010 proved that you don't need surprises for sensation. Knowing 3DS existed hardly prepared us for its impact, while Microsoft unleashed a tsunami of bombastic hype for Kinect, and Activision controversially snubbed the show floor in favour of an unimaginably expensive PR stunt. Not that clever, but most certainly big - just like the E3 of old, then.
Below you'll find our picks of E3 2010. First, Game of the Show: our top 10 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. (Note that this disqualifies the likes of Metal Gear Solid: Rising and Kid Icarus: Uprising, which appeared in trailer form only.) 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. Seriously. Don't sue us.
Game of the Show: Child of Eden
The curtain-raiser at Ubisoft's press conference was, unquestionably, the moment of E3. Needing and receiving no introduction, Rez and Lumines creator Testuya Mizuguchi stood with his back to the Los Angeles Theatre and used Kinect to paint an entire wall with gorgeous high-tech psychedelia, conducting an euphoric crescendo of lush trance with his elegant gestures. "When you play this game, you will be as cool as me," was his wordless promise. It was hair-raising stuff.
It wasn't just that it was a welcome surprise and the unofficial return of a much-loved hardcore classic. It wasn't just that Q Entertainment had taken the hard edges and high pressure of Rez's abstract viral battles and transformed them into something more positive and even more uplifting, through a tonal shift into New Age daydream and the suggestive, cleansing sweeps of the gesture control.
It was, above all, the happy inclusiveness of Child of Eden that won our hearts. Here was a music game and shooter rolled into one. Here was a game willing to bend itself to either Microsoft or Sony's new motion controllers, or to a humble gamepad if that was your preference. Here was the only compelling gamers' game for Kinect at E3, but one whose instant appeal could spread just as far as Microsoft's blatant lunges for the casual market. With a wave of his hand, Mizuguchi made E3 whole again, and we were uplifted.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood: In all honesty, we're in two minds about the single-player campaign of this spin-off (one has horses, Rome and whistling in it; the other, bad sex and turret sections). But the multiplayer is the real draw, showing signs of making things work in the online arena that have no business doing so - open worlds, platforming and stealth, to name three.
Crysis 2: Crytek's sequel emerged victorious from a fierce firefight with Rage, Black Ops and Homefront to win E3 2010's first-person shooter war of shock and awe. It might be in questionable taste, post-9/11, but the persuasive tactics and pulverising spectacle of this uber-shooter left us weak-kneed and powerless to resist.
Dance Central: Easily the best game at Microsoft's countless Kinect showcases, Dance Central is the perfect synthesis of controller, developer and genre. Just Dance got there first, but Harmonix just gets it, effortlessly shifting from rock posture to disco poise and nailing its moves first time. The best music game at E3 2010 - although we love Def Jam Rapstar, too.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Taking cyberpunk out of the trench-coated shadow of The Matrix is just one of the putative achievements of Eidos Montreal's baroque Blade Runner. Taking Deus Ex out of the shadow of Deus Ex could well be another. Best of all, though, is fulfilling videogames' potential - so rarely realised - to do intelligent, original sci-fi as well as any other medium.
Gears of War 3: Microsoft's traditional games offering is on autopilot while the software giant focuses on Kinect, but if that means titles of the stature of Halo: Reach and Fable III, we can hardly complain. It was Epic's no-brainer sequel that stood out at E3, though; the inventive new Beast multiplayer mode was the best hands-on fun we had all week, hands down.
Journey: E3 2010's best-kept secret was the new PSN game from Flower and fl0w creators thatgamecompany. Even Sony didn't seem to know where and when it was being demoed, but we tracked it down and were rewarded with a heart-stoppingly beautiful trek through a Saharan sandscape and mysterious allusions to online multiplayer. How something this pretty wasn't at Sony's conference - it doesn't even have a trailer yet - we just can't understand.
Kirby's Epic Yarn: Zelda: Skyward Sword's debut fell strangely flat - since when is the most interesting thing about a Zelda game its control scheme? - but our sense of anti-climax was soothed away by this delightful morsel. Nintendo's been pumping out its old staple - 2D platformers - with almost casual frequency and genius since Jungle Beat, and here comes another. Epic Yarn's conceptual inventiveness, two-player co-op and charming hand-stitched visuals unravelled us all over the show floor.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit: Last year, Criterion's Alex Ward tweeted that his studio was orchestrating a return to the spirit of the original 3DO Need for Speed. Turns out that was all we needed to know, really - although Hot Pursuit's cops-versus-racers multiplayer, and the strong influence of Burnout on its delicious arcade handling, were two welcome twists in the road. Have leather, will trade for hell.
Portal 2: Sony's one coup de grāce in a lacklustre showing was rolling out sometime detractor Gabe Newell to announce Portal 2 (and, interestingly, SteamWorks) for PS3. By Valve's standards it's just a laundry list of new toys and old jokes; by anyone else's, it's a list of ideas they'll never be clever enough to have, but will be lucky enough to enjoy.
Best Technology: Nintendo 3DS
While the Kinect hype train thundered on in the press and Sony hawked high-end 3D hardware with all its might, the fact is that around the show itself there was only one thing on everyone's lips: Nintendo's stunning new handheld. Had you seen it? Could you believe it? Without so much as a proper game to show, 3DS nonchalantly picked E3 2010 up and sauntered away with it, whistling the Mario Bros. theme tune.
Gimmickry it might be, but that's 3D for you, and Nintendo's new hardware had a beautiful simplicity and immediacy - no glasses, no lag worries, just fun - that left everyone else's new gaming experiences looking clumsy and expensive. Add some neat surprises - 3D depth control, camera and movie playback - and the better DS you always wanted underneath it all, and you had a simply irresistible device that will take the mainstream for Nintendo all over again.
While OnLive celebrated its launch with a frankly fanciful booth, Dave Perry's Gaikai was taking discreet meetings round the back and winning over the likes of our tech editor Richard Leadbetter with a down-to-earth "sampling service" pitch. It's simple, it works, it makes no lofty claims, it has EA's backing and it puts World of Warcraft on an iPad. Uh oh.
Rage just missed our top ten games of the show, but id Tech 5 was the true star of its demonstrations anyway. Refusing to choose between 60fps and cutting-edge visual fidelity on consoles, John Carmack has delivered both and made it look easy. Crytek and Epic had better suit up for a fight.
Best Publisher: Ubisoft
From Child of Eden to Michael Jackson, via Laser Quest for your house, a game that teaches you how to breathe, something strange by Eric Chahi, a 2D Rayman made by five people, Nadeo's Maniaplanet content-creation suite and Your Shape's mashup of Wii Fit and asbtract art: Ubisoft's E3 press conference was a barrage of the completely unexpected. Even the standard genres weren't safe, as Shaun White skateboarded through the sky in the name of social justice and Driver allowed you to teleport between cars and possess them with your spirit, or something.
In the face of prevalent conservatism and bandwagon-jumping at E3 2010, Ubisoft simply threw caution to the wind and tossed new game announcements and ideas around with wild abandon. It made a mockery of John Riccitiello's claim that EA's showcase was the "Sundance" to everyone else's "Oscars". Ubi was the place to find the spirit of independence and innovation, and it was so thrilling that we don't really care how much of it sticks. Brave and gloriously Gallic: Vive Ubisoft!
Nintendo makes a habit of turning up at E3 with a ton of entirely new, totally polished games and plonking them right there on the show floor. But even by their standards this was an embarrassment of playable riches: new Zelda, Kirby and Donkey Kong were all wonderfully solid and fun. The lack of anything substantial for 3DS was the only bum note.
EA played it safe with guns, guns, guns, cars, monsters and guns, and we'd seen almost all of it before. But from Dead Space 2 to Bulletstorm, you couldn't argue with the quality on display, or the businesslike way the company slapped firm release dates on almost everything through to early 2011. Robust.
Best Game Announcement: Michael Jackson
Just when you thought he'd lost the plot completely, Ubisoft's diminutive boss Yves Guillemot delivered the shock of E3: the company had signed no less than the recently deceased and subsequently sainted King of Pop. Guillemot had to talk around what the game might be, but the troupe of dancers on stage busting out Jacko's iconic Beat It routine was a pretty heavy hint, and the timing - with dance games and motion controllers sweeping the industry - is perfect. The Beatles landed in gaming in the right place at the wrong time: no such worries here, and an incredible hat-trick for Ubisoft in Eurogamer's Best of E3.
We've no idea what it is, but Crytek's Project Kingdoms coming exclusively to 360 was a big surprise and a big coup for Microsoft. Kid Icarus: Uprising for 3DS cannily gave Nintendo's next mass-market hardware a hardcore headline while Donkey Kong Country Returns stole GoldenEye's revivalist thunder, and Star Wars for Kinect was made of pure wish-fulfilment. Here's hoping it's not just wishful thinking.
Best Video: Star Wars: The Old Republic
They did the same thing last year, but that didn't make it any less spectacular: BioWare and LucasArts' promotional CG shorts for their joint MMO are simply some of the best Star Wars entertainment of any sort in years. As Tom put it, "I hope they never release this game so we can just watch new, amazing Star Wars shorts once a year forever." Quite, and with the scale of this project and MMO launches being what they are, that wish might just be granted.
Talking of epic developments, the trailer for Gran Turismo 5 was so cool it could still make you excited about E3's most-delayed game, while Frontier's Kinectimals was so cute it melted even our icy hardcore hearts. Metal Gear Solid: Rising was the usual potent Kojima Productions mix of cinematic action and deadpan comic timing, but with exciting gameplay revelations to boot for once; and Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online's excellent in-game trailer just about made up for the fact that Vigil and THQ would say absolutely nothing at all about their new MMO.
Best Quote: "We believe fun is a universal magnet that binds us together." Xbox boss Don Mattrick delivers the crowning glory of a whole week of fabulously meaningless Kinect rhetoric at the Microsoft conference.
Most Incongruous Quote: "I was just f***ing with the n***er about his socks." Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons kicks off Konami's press conference with an improbable hip-hop diss of (white, English) 4mm Games boss Jamie King.
Best Party: Ubisoft's shindig at a posh West Hollywood hotel had it all: terrific DJ, amazing LA rooftop setting, transparent dancefloor over a swimming pool, go-go dancers in tutus and Hiro from Heroes wandering around smashed out of his brain.
Biggest Money Bonfire: In the corporate hubris stakes, it's hard to choose between Microsoft's Kinect unveiling and Activision's cheerless, drafty and dry mega-gig in a half-empty Staples Center ("basically like being at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party except not as good because no PJ and Duncan and it went on for four days" - Ellie). Activision pips it for spending so much - a reported $6m - on Usher, Eminem, Rihanna, Jane's Addiciton et al that it couldn't afford an actual E3 booth to show its mediocre line-up on. Kotick fiddles while his dollars burn.
Most Uncomfortable Religious Overtones: At Microsoft's preposterous Cirque du Soleil event, funky primitive tribespeople worshipped a giant Xbox logo while a voiceover claimed Kinect would "re-write history" and, in Rich's words, "a young lad ascended Mount Microsoft to receive the One Commandment - buy Kinect". The massed guests in their identical white space-ponchos were left speechless, but it wasn't with awe.
Best Celebrity Spot: Paris Hilton at the Activision showcase, shamelessly Twitpicced by Eurogamer's paparazzo-in-chief Johnny Minkley. ("She's actually really f***ing hot." - VG247's Patrick Garratt.)
Best Celebrity Developer Spot: Tomonobu Itagaki at Microsoft's Kinect event - categorically the only person in the room who could style out the white space poncho. He looked like the man who fell to earth. Minkley strikes again.
The "Let's Chill Here on the Deck" Kaz Hirai Memorial Award for excellence in strained banter: The unfortunate young woman demonstrating Kinect's video chat with her sister during the Microsoft conference delivered the most eye-wateringly scripted, halting and false exchange of the year. Maybe the future of humanity... is Don Mattress turning us all into lobotomised family entertainment nodes.
Maddest Press Conference: Despite Ubisoft's strong showing in this category, Konami clinched it with the most surreal 90 minutes of E3. As well as Russell Simmons dropping the n-bomb, we were treated to an actual high school show choir giving it all Glee, Mexican wrestlers having a slapping match, stand-up comedy getting lost in translation from the creators of DDR and Ninety-Nine Nights 2 ("One million troooooops!") and a man pretending that his head had fallen off. Pure vaudeville.
The Kind of a Big Deal Award: Reggie Fils-Aime, whose impending arrival at a third-party publisher's booth caused a TV shoot to be shut down and the film crew turfed out, only for Reggie to arrive 10 minutes late, accompanied by an entourage the likes of which has not been seen since In Bed With Madonna.
The Synergy Award: Horstachio may have had his own TV series - until it was brutally cancelled in its first run, anyway - but E3 2010 saw publishers really getting to grips with cross-media properties. The one to beat is probably Ubisoft's Scott Pilgrim, a faux 8-bit brawler based on a movie that's based on a comic book that gets its title from a song. Oh, and the comic was also heavily influenced by videogames.
The Rechargeable Cover Award for everyone's new favourite feature: E3 2010 was all about out-of-body experiences, with Ubisoft's new Driver allowing you to possess cars, Square Enix's Mindjack allowing you to exit your corpse and leap into NPCs when you die, and Capcom's Ghost Trick, in which you solve crimes by inhabiting the likes of guitars, wrecking balls, and road-side crossing barriers.
The On Golden Pond Award for elderly franchises: With third instalments of Fable and Gears of War and a fifth outing for Halo, and all new IP saved for Kinect, Microsoft Game Studios left core gamers with a line-up that has breakfast at five in the morning and dinner around four. Press A to complain about the new Archers theme music.
Compiled from conversations with Tom Bramwell, Ellie Gibson, Richard Leadbetter, Johnny Minkley and the rest of the Eurogamer staff. Special thanks to Christian Donlan whose contribution to this article and rest of Eurogamer's E3 coverage was immense. Further shout-outs to GamesIndustry.biz's Matt Martin, VG247's Patrick Garratt and the incomparable John Teti. We raised the bar and pushed the envelope. Roll on E3 2011!