E3 2006: Show Preview
It's time. (Well, nearly.)
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.