Tuesday, June 14, 2016, 12:00 PM
I’m standing in line with the throngs of games press congregating outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center’s South Hall. The first day of E3 doesn’t start until noon, which is good, because after last night’s barrage of press conferences and industry afterparties, everyone is either hungover or drunk. Dozens of smartphones hover in the air, capturing the crowd as they herd towards the stairs.
A giant inflatable bag of Doritos overlooks us to the right.
The lines have been there for hours but I slip in through the side, unnoticed. A man behind me begins to shout. “WHO HERE IS EXCITED FOR E3? SAY YEAH!!” The response is tepid. Everyone is poised, ready to spring the minute the doors open. It’s the running of the interns, but with more lanyards and GoPros. E3 has begun.
Only twenty minutes into the show and the floor seems sparse. I take advantage of the extra room in the aisles to get unobstructed shots of the booths. The Mafia III display, a moody and meticulous recreation of a New Orleans style bar, begs special attention.
With the diminished foot traffic in South Hall, I’m able to circle it in less than a half hour and get clear photos of all the booths. At conventions I typically reserve a few hours each day to get all the pictures I need but this year it won’t be necessary. I’m relieved, but concerned.
Time for the Square Enix booth. Today I’m tasked with checking out the episodic Hitman game and speaking with IO Interactive’s online director, Torben Ellert. As I enter the common area outside their cubicle meeting rooms, as is the style of many booths on the floor, I’m flooded with nostalgia. My mind wanders back to a 2012 Holly Green on her first real interview assignment. I wasn’t told I was interviewing the creative director on the Tomb Raider reboot. I hadn’t eaten in days and the panic suddenly combined with calorie deprivation threatened to send me straight to the floor. I remember nervously grabbing a Coke hoping that the sugar would bring me to my senses. Instead I spent the entire session sweating, stumbling over words, and shaking.
Fast forward four years and a more poised, prepared and experienced Holly Green is staring at an identical bowl of iced soda cans. I shake off the deja vu and enter a small conference room to begin the interview. Torben and I discuss episodic game releases and how that has affected the course of Hitman’s development. In the course of the conversation he passionately describes the ways they’ve been able to adapt Hitman thanks to the tools built for the current game, and how they allow for timed community challenges and increasingly difficult challenges within them. I record the conversation for later, then head over to the Deus Ex demo stations to test out Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Deus Ex GO.
As I watch Mankind Divided’s opening cut-scene, I brace myself for the humiliation to come. Of the many negatives to professional games reporting, this is one of the most difficult parts of the job. Adapting to new controls and user interfaces is hard; most gamers in their lifetime will do it dozens if not hundreds of times. But having to do it several times a day, on the spot, and under severe time constraints is a challenge. Add to that the fact that at E3 you’re often being watched by a crowd, including people who made the game, and it’s a recipe for public embarrassment. See, for example, the ten minutes I spend chucking boxes into a ventilation chute during the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided demo.
Despite the rough start during the first mission objective, I pull myself together and begin to get the hang it. Somehow I even fake my way through the hacking system. Combat proves more of a challenge, and I die unable to remember the “throw grenade” button.
As a first impression the demo is a decent one, but a small taste is not enough to decide how I feel about the game. I will require more.
Deus Ex GO, meanwhile, is surprisingly good. As with its predecessor Hitman GO, this mobile game is a smart use of the series’ core themes, delivering a game that is appropriate for touchscreen sensibilities without robbing the source material of its identity. It’s puzzle-driven, and the player moves along a segmented path to dodge enemies in the correct number of moves. It’s hard, but entertainingly so. I am impressed, even as I rage-quit level three and head out early for my next appointment.
Having made the rounds at South Hall, I decide to head over to the IndieCade booth early, as it’s one of my favorite spaces during games conventions. The staff is always warm and friendly and the devs give off a super positive energy. Plus there’s usually at least one nice couch to take a nap on and I have a good thirty minutes to burn.
3: 00 PM
I sit down to play Overland as the game’s development team looks on. Instantly I’m enchanted. The simple indie game combines a little of everything I love: a post-apocalyptic scenario, an emphasis on survival and strategy, turn based gameplay, and a warm but appealingly unique art style that reminds me a bit of Kentucky Route Zero. As I play, coder Adam Saltsman and I chat about the emerging survival game genre currently facilitated by the indie gaming scene, promising to follow-up on the topic after the show.
Minutes later, the demo ends when my entire party dies of injuries. I shake hands with Heather Penn, Overland’s art director, and Rebekah Saltsman, its writer and designer, disappointed that I played so poorly in front of the game’s creators, and head out to take some more photos.
I head towards the parking lot to find an isolated place to smoke. On the way I pass Hideo Kojima who is walking with a companion.
I pause briefly to wonder if he is wearing his American flag boxer shorts, then move on.
I sit on a nearby concrete ledge as a man approaches the west parking lot. Before he even reaches the awning, he is already unzipping. A few seconds later I hear the dreadful sound of liquid hitting the pavement.
He’s peeing in the corner. Behind me. On an abandoned shopping cart.
This dude straight up just peed in parking lot next to me pic.twitter.com/1mCJqc0ZNS— Holly Green (@winnersusedrugs) June 14, 2016He leaves as quickly and mysteriously as he came.
I pass by CliffyB outside the private Lawbreakers demo area. “Still got those alpha codes?” Of course! He chirps brightly, perhaps not remembering that I am Holly Green, his “third favorite person on Twitter”. Maybe I slipped to 5th. My Guy Fieri jokes have been weak lately. “Thank you dear,” I reply, because I am eighty seven years old.
I wait for an Uber in the taxi cab zone outside of Hotel Figueroa. Scaffolding and drop clothes now completely obscure the building. Of all the missing faces at E3 2016, the Fig's absence is felt the most. After a long day on the show floor it was the perfect place to run into all the friends you couldn't make time for, relaxing over drinks and making deals with God every time you passed the pool. The show is a lot lonelier without it.