Ah, the Tokyo Game Show. TGS. The thing that I remember most vividly about TGS (actually, the thing I remember Japanophile Rob Fahey asserting most repeatedly during his lectures on The Brilliance of TGS, which were something of a constant during our stay) is how well the kids behaved. Surrounded by throbbing pods, throbbing crowds and throbbing twentysomething Japanese ladies in schoolgirl outfits, they didn't squabble, and didn't bitch and whine when mother said move along; they stood in front of the pod, played the game, and got moving when told to. Bless them. Their behaviour is like a distillation of the entire show: busy, but restrained and polite; a vast network of games tapping you on the shoulder to get your attention.
E3, on the other hand, is a bit like a Tim Burton's Noah's Ark of Godzillas drunkenly doing SingStar Ace of Spades in the atmospheric equivalent of a tropical rainforest. Where the Japanese neatly lined up to collect t-shirt bundles dispensed by girls dressed up in Dead or Alive bikinis, E3 is populated by people who will actually punch you in the head for walking across their camera shot when you're in a hurry. They get very indignant, because they are trying to find non-existent open space in a hall of 50,000 people, most of whom haven't heard of deodorant and even more of whom are dehydrated enough not to care that much about whether their huge bag of useless pamphlets is smacking you in the crotch.
Still - it's where business gets fun!
And it's where we're all going to be next week - and where, if you're a gamer, your head's going to be as well.
Ironically, there is a "show" in "shower"
E3 runs from May 10th to May 12th inclusive, and offers us a total of 23 hours to be spent prowling the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Centre stalking developers, playing their games and then telling you if we think they're any good (wherever possible, avoiding the old "has the potential to be" style cop-out - we hate having to do that too). But while the show itself occupies three days, the surrounding excitement is enough to eat up the entire week - with the infamous platform holder press conferences spread over Monday and Tuesday offering us insight into how Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft respectively plan to shape the next 12 months of gaming - and in some cases beyond.
Indeed, E3 is so vast these days that it consumes the weeks around it too - this year, more publishers than ever are running their own off-site events in the surrounding days and weeks, showcasing their products in their own preferred manner, and in some cases this means you'll be reading about what we thought of their games before we've even set foot on the show floor.
Already we've had masses of announcements in the run-up to the show, with some huge games set to be shown on every conceivable format - even mobile phones. For owners of the world's best-selling console, PlayStation 2, there's God of War II and Final Fantasy XII to look forward to, while owners of the UK's fastest-selling console, Xbox 360, and what Sony hopes will be a successful follow-up in PlayStation 3, have the likes of Frontlines: Fuel of War, Army of Two, Mercenaries 2, Virtua Tennis 3 and SEGA Rally to keep an eye on among many others. Meanwhile, we already know Microsoft plans to show off the likes of Gears of War, Too Human, Mass Effect, Viva Piñata, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, and that PlayStation 3 will be supported by exclusives like Full Auto 2: Battlelines and Assassin's Creed. In both cases, that's before the platform holders have had the chance to walk us through their big announcements - likely to include Halo 3 on Microsoft's side, at least in video form, potential news on what Peter Molyneux's up to now that Microsoft's absorbed Lionhead (Fable 2, anyone?), and who-knows-what from Sony, whose previously announced MotorStorm and WarHawk, along with next-generation SingStar, are likely to feature too, along with - according to Phil Harrison, speaking at GDC in March - a launch line-up for the console's mid-November target date.
But while Sony's conference will make fine news-copy, Xbox 360 owners will arguably come off the best, as Microsoft is supporting its E3 festivities with video, news and - brilliantly - playable game demos to be made available through Xbox Live Marketplace, including Lost Planet from Capcom and, we found out yesterday, Chromehounds from SEGA.
Speaking of showers
And that, in turn, is to ignore completely the prospect of full details of Nintendo's Wii (née Revolution) launch plan. Having held Mario back from at least two previous E3s for fear of exposing its gameplay secrets, surely now is the time to talk about it, while Metroid, one of the few games Nintendo's openly shown running on Wii, is a shoo-in, and those other games mentioned on last year's literature - including Donkey Kong and Smash Bros. - are possibilities as well. Then there's the DS, which should mean a chance to see more of and play the latest Zelda title, Phantom Hourglass, along with the surely-soon-to-be-released Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the GameCube's final hurrah.
Even that exhausting list of prospects is to blithely gloss over the contributions of third-party publishers including RedOctane, whose Guitar Hero II is certain to pose a huge attraction; Konami, whose tradition it is to debut extraordinary new Metal Gear Solid trailers at E3 (and whose MGS4 is already one of the most hotly anticipated PS3 titles); Konami again, with its world-first sighting of Pro Evolution Soccer 6, due out on multiformat later this year; Atari, who will have Neverwinter Nights 2 and Alone in the Dark on Xbox 360, among others; and, far more awkward than that, we've also left off a large part of an entire format, the PC, which is set to be hugely well represented this year.
For a start, SiN Episodes: Emergence is actually due out on the first day of the show - and it'll be a toss-up which of us leaves our laptop back at the hotel leeching it from Steam - but even a cursory glance at the list of PC titles due to make an appearance at the show ought to put a money-shaped lump in the back of your throat, and have you browsing hardware websites for the latest graphics cards in semi-desperation. From EA alone there's Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, Will Wright's Spore - which could be the game of the year in a few commentators' Molyneuxean eyes - and Crytek's gloriously detailed FPS Crysis. Meanwhile, THQ has Company of Heroes, Diablo-style hacker Titan Quest, and Supreme Commander - the latter billed as the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation. Then there's Blizzard. World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade is sure to be about - and there's increased murmuring about Diablo III, even if we've heard the same rumours pelted about every show floor we've been on since ECTS was still running in the UK.
What the idiots are after
It's going to be a ludicrously busy week - and the websites you follow are going to be ludicrously busy covering it. So, in a nod to subjectivity and a glance in the direction of the word-count, here's a quick run-through of what the Eurogamer team is keen to clap eyes and, where possible, thumbs upon in the next week. Starting with Kristan.
"Apart from the things that I can't talk about because of our beloved embargoes, I'll be mainly focusing on the next-gen stuff and any quirky Live Arcade stuff hidden away. Obviously I'll be seeing what the PS3 really has to offer, and whether the Wii does anything out of the ordinary, but I suspect there'll be way too much to take in," said our esteemed editor.
"The fanboy in me will be checking out Virtua Tennis 3 on the basis that it's the only game I stand a chance of humiliating Tom on," he said. "I need to maintain my crown for all time. Of course it'll be largely the same game, we know this, but it's more of the same utter majestic brilliance. A bit like why Tom always harps on about PES every year."
On that coffin-nailing bombshell, let's see what new boy Johnny Minkley's keen on. "I'm as keen as the next hack to see what the new systems are able to conjure," he says, keenly, with a look of keenness, "but I'm genuinely more excited about wielding the mighty plastic axe of Guitar Hero II than anything else, which should atone for the only serious problem with its predecessor: a patchy track-listing." Which, going on today's news, suggests he's a fan of Butthole Surfers. Moving swiftly on. "A lazy choice on the surface, perhaps, but the original is of incalculable significance as a breakthrough product, that elicits utter delight wherever it is cranked up. And I doubt there'll be much else on the show floor that's as purely and outrageously entertaining to watch or play." Johnny, incidentally, will be one of the people punching you in the head if you walk across his shot this year, representing, as he is, Eurogamer TV's inaugural E3 ground team.
Attack of the clowns
Ellie, meanwhile, isn't actually going to E3 - she'll be holding together the nebulous force known only, and copyright-infringingly, as Ground Force UK, and making sure you're kept abreast of what's going on at all times. Still, we made her contribute to this because we like to rub in the fact that she can't come. "Being a girl," she begins, "I am only interested in games of a particular genre obviously, so I cannot wait to see Bejeweled 2007. Also, is the new Tomb Raider out yet? Anyway, apart from that, it will be interesting to see what all this Army of Two nonsense from EA is all about - I like the sound of the two-man strategic co-operative gameplay system, and the really big guns. I'm also intrigued by LocoRoco, if only because Tom is so excited by it that every time it's mentioned he makes a face like a bit of wee is coming out," she adds, indirectly adding to her already heavy workload. "But all in all, I have already decided that Lego Star Wars II is the game of the show - unless of course those Babylon 5 MMO rumours turn out to be true."
Ellie will be supported by Ground Force UK's second or possibly third in command, Rob Purchese. "I bought an Xbox 360 so that I could fill up my screen with brains. Monster Madness has brains, and a girl with big boobs," he says, providing further evidence of why he isn't allowed to write things. "I'm actually really looking forward to hearing about BioWare's stuff in the making, if you really want to know, nosey!" he adds.
Moving onto people who are actually going to E3, Rob Fahey's managed to think of something too and, surprise surprise, he wants to make jokes about me as well. You all think you're all so bloody clever. "It's a tough E3 to choose from," he says, metaphysically, "because lots of the stuff we're going to see won't be announced until next week." Incredible insight there from the editor of the Internet's foremost industry resource. "My Square Enix fanboy gene means I'm desperately excited about whatever they do on next-gen, and I'm more excited by Wii than a golden shower fetishist at a urologists convention, but in terms of things we already know about, there's plenty of interest as well. Top of my list is probably Assassin's Creed, the new game from the Prince of Persia team - we don't know a lot about it, but the pedigree is impeccable and the art style looks really impressive - and I'm also pretty 'pumped', as our pals across the pond might say, about Bizarre Creations' new game, The Club, and just to wind Tom up by including a sequel in the list, Resident Evil 5 is also something I'm really hoping to see more of."
Which brings us, brilliantly, back to me. So what are you looking forward to, me? "Well, me, I'm pretty sure that everyone's going to spend the entire show trying to ram themselves into the minus-50-square-feet around PlayStation 3s, Xbox 360s and Nintendo Wiis (I'm saving the 'puddle of interest' jokes for next week, incidentally), so I'm adopting a different strategy. I know I'll be able to see crucial things during private meetings and the two press-only hours on Wednesday morning, not to mention when I go back to TGS - oh my beloved TGS - this September. So, during the spells I'm not doing prescribed sessions, I'm on a pure personal interest tip. I want to see The Ship - a Half-Life 2 mod that became a game, about hunting down and murdering people on boats using improvised weapons; I want to see HOT PXL, Atari's silly-sounding Warioware clone for PSP; I want to play Lumines 2, because I'm meeting Tetsuya Mizuguchi on Friday and I want to tell him my high score; and, this one's a bit of a pipe dream, but I'd very much like to play a new Chrono Trigger game. So if Square could just make one while I'm not looking, or just pretend they are, that'd be great." Good work, me!
Leaving on a jet plane
Which, random bunchings of self-referential thought, brings us to the point of embarkation. Tomorrow morning, we're hopping on a plane and setting off across the Atlantic to begin a journey of high stakes, huge steaks and high blood-sugar levels. Here at Eurogamer, we'll have live text commentary of each conference, all our expected preview, interview and video coverage of the show, and all the rubbish jokes we can possibly get away with before Rupert stomps up the hall and asks why "duck" is our most popular search string. We very much hope you'll join us.