It began, as ever, with a leak. With just hours to go until Microsoft's absurdly lavish... Wait a second, this is last year's intro. Oh well, it turns out it still works: where last year we heard about Kinect before we'd even donned our space ponchos, this year we knew about Halo 4 and several new Kinect sequels before Don Mattrick even had a chance to start educating us about "growth and innovation".
Last year's show ended up being light for big news, as we put it, and you could level the same complaint at this year's E3: with less than a handful of noteworthy exceptions, every game that we saw, played and talked about at E3 2011 had been trailed before anyone made it to the LA Convention Center. Nintendo made a decent fist of stirring things up with another disruptive console announcement - once we'd all figured out it actually was a console announcement, anyway - but the show proved to be more about first looks and hands-on previews than revelations.
That has led some to label E3 2011 a bit of a bore, but despite the long haul of this console generation this is an industry in genuine transition. Thanks in no small part to the rise of Metacritic, publishers hatched plans a few years ago to focus their businesses on quality in boxed games and to cut away the chaff. If E3 2011 was boring, it was because nobody rocked up with anything less than a thoroughbred to paint across its massive stand. It's easy to counter that point by moaning that all we saw were sequels, but if we will keep buying them...
Anyway, below you will find our picks of E3 2011. Rules are much the same as ever. Game of the Show is our top 10, effectively, with an overall winner, not segregated by platform or genre. Games had to be present at E3 in the form of actual working code. We award Game of the Show based on a mixture of quality and raw excitement, which is why games announced closer to or indeed at the show sometimes make a stronger impact than others.
The other four categories are Best Technology, which is open to both software and hardware, Best Publisher, which can go to a platform holder or third-party, Best Game Announcement, to recognise the headlines that hit hardest, and Best Video, because if nothing else E3 is a show-and-tell, and trailers and gameplay videos are the best way for publishers to stand out both in person and online.
Game of the Show: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Much as we loved Oblivion and Fallout 3, they were not only united in depth and diversity - they were also united in crimes against animation. Indeed, while Bethesda Game Studios' output is often cause for great celebration, it is just as often rough around the edges that matter most to those who need a little help willingly suspending their disbelief.
All hail Skyrim, then, because the massive presentation of the game at Bethesda's BFG event in Salt Lake City earlier this year, tweaked and tightened for its behind-closed-doors outing at E3 2011, is finally a heavyweight in attention to detail. Every aspect of the world tempts you to stop and simply observe, whether it's salmon leaping upstream, a woodcutter at the chopping block, a disinterested ogre rumbling down a mountain path, or candles flickering in the darkness.
The multiple systems of attack, magic and dragon shouts interlock and overlap in ways that drive you to experiment, while the texture and verisimilitude of the world and its inhabitants drive you to explore. Rather than simply add and expand, Bethesda hasn't been shy about reducing and refining, either, putting creativity and ambition ahead of convention and potential fan frustration.
It's still a few months away, and there are still many unanswered questions, but we almost don't want to know the answers: we just want to get conveniently sick around about 11/11/11 and find out for ourselves.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Bastion: Simply some of the best fun you could have playing a game on the show floor, this XBLA Summer of Arcade treat from Supergiant Games delighted with its punchy isometric action, colourful quasi-anime looks and gravel-voiced, hard-boiled narration. With a tone unlike anything you've ever played (or seen), this is not your average action RPG.
Batman: Arkham City: As so often with sequels to breakout successes, it's a game which everyone wants but which the perfectly-formed predecessor doesn't really seem to need. Credit to Rocksteady Games, then, for opening its claustrophobic adventure out into something quite different and more free-wheeling, while keeping that same brooding tone.
Battlefield 3: Raw technical horsepower, brilliant multiplayer - which we got to try ourselves - and a more sober style than the increasingly pantomimic Call of Duty series are the hallmarks of this uber-shooter. EA is betting everything on Battlefield 3 this year, and there's every indication that Swedish developers DICE are more than up to the task. An absolute monster.
BioShock Infinite: Infinite still lies somewhere in the distance, but should have no trouble looking fantastic when it does finally emerge. If it's not the best-written game released next year as well, we'll be very surprised. "We've always been successful about immersing people in a space," Ken Levine said recently, explaining Infinite's storytelling. "Now we want to immerse them in a relationship."
Dark Souls: We've seen it a couple of times before, but we still get chills every time this electrifying sequel to the brutal, bitter and brilliant Demon's Souls rears its head. Most games at E3 2011 were desperate to please; Mass Effect 3 basically dropped its trousers in the middle of LACC and shouted that it was anyone's. But Dark Souls stood there, arms crossed, and dared us to even try licking its boots. We grovel before it.
Luigi's Mansion 2: After years of tutting at cheering fanboys during Nintendo's E3 conferences, this year we almost joined them when Luigi's Mansion 2 was unveiled for 3DS. It seems to overcome the control disparity between GameCube and 3DS, overflows with charm and makes great use of 3D. Alongside Super Mario and Mario Kart, Nintendo's having a second swing at a launch line-up.
Tomb Raider: This list is in no particular order, but if it had been then Tomb Raider would have been nearer the top than the bottom. Some found Lara's transformation from queen of the underground into frightened and harassed castaway slightly uncomfortable, but the survival slant gives Tomb Raider new energy and a degree of pathos it has rarely sought, let alone found before. As one rival product manager remarked to us after seeing it in action, "I wouldn't want to be releasing against Tomb Raider in 2012."
Prey 2: There's Rage, but we've known about that for years, so Prey 2 is the closest thing Bethesda has to new IP just now. Speaking of rage, that was the initial reaction when most of the original game's fans heard that Human Head Studios had hit the reset switch and abandoned Tommy in favour of a puzzle-free, non-linear bounty hunter adventure on a distant planet in the future. After half an hour in its company, however, it's hard to argue with the change of direction.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception: Naughty Dog doesn't just do game levels, it does massive, sprawling set-pieces that unfold over minutes rather than seconds, and no one owns the word "cinematic" in gaming quite like Nathan Drake. E3's capsizing ship level, which saw Drake's world turned upside down by a hole in the hull, was a great example, but judging by the snapshots in the accompanying teaser trailer it will struggle to make the top ten in the final game.