Assistant Games Editor Holly Green is at the E3 videogame trade show in Los Angeles this week, and will be filing daily dispatches from the show floor. You can read the first part here and the second here.
Thursday June 15
It’s the dawn of the final day, and my mosquito bites are swollen and gaining territory across my arm, while more bruises have manifested out of nowhere. I’m gonna look like I got thrown through a wood chipper by the time I get back to Seattle. My pinkie is so big it can barely move.
This is the first morning of E3 that I’ve actually been tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night but today is my last chance to make the most of the show, so I can’t really afford to be tired. I can’t really afford all the money I’ve been spending on Red Bull either but that’s another matter.
After hitting up Starbucks with Paste intern Aiden Strawhun, Paste freelancer Kevin Slackie, and a few other friends, and enjoying a few minutes with an iced mango black tea, I head over to the convention center. Kevin tells me that people have been passing around my article about the overcrowding, and I’m pleased the hustle to get it out was worth it. West Hall seems suspiciously empty. I run up to the concourse level and hoof it over to South Hall, wondering if the pattern will hold.
It does. South Hall looks almost desolate. It actually looks, momentarily, like E3 did last year.
The Hall itself is a similar story. The aisle in front of Activision is clear for what seems like the first time during the show. What’s going on, exactly? Did most of the fans only buy tickets for Tuesday? Why Tuesday, the shortest day of the event? I walk over to IndieCade unimpeded.
I run into an old acquaintance, Johnnemann Nordhagen, one of the designers of Gone Home, standing near an intriguingly beautiful game called Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. Nearby are two sheets of paper listing the writers of the game. Many are critics. I know at least half of them. It feels oddly surreal for a moment to be staring down a roster of former Paste writers. Momentarily jealous that I was not asked to participate, I instead ask Johnnemann to walk me through the game’s premise and sit down to play. Within moments, I am enchanted, almost chilled; goosebumps raised on my arms as the music starts playing. More on this gem later.
I cross paths with an old Disney Infinity dev who remembers me from a media appointment at E3 from a few years ago. I’m impressed with his memory. He speaks fondly of Paste Games editor Garrett Martin, citing his endearing support and love of the game. I myself had my issues with the aggressive merchandising of Disney Infinity, but as I say to him, “Disney gave up on that too quickly.” He agrees. The conversation turns to his latest game, a VR shooter called Raw Data. I promise to come back later and give it a try. I do not tell him I’ll be waiting ‘til late in the day, when it will no longer matter if the headset wrecks my hair.
I head over to a game recommended by my IndieCade contact (and former Paste freelancer) Zack Furniss, entitled Cat in a Hijab. I’d been told the game was about the experience of wearing a hijab, but in my opinion, it’s so much more. The main character is, as the title suggests, a cat wearing a hijab. As she rides the public bus one day she’s accosted by a mouthy bigot and players must navigate the resulting dialogue exchange. Later, she comes to the defense of a transgender woman facing harassment on her way home. What impressed me about both scenarios is that, far from merely teaching the player what it might be like to be verbally assaulted for their looks or beliefs, it also teaches how to safely respond in the event of a confrontation. I’ve read up on the best suggested advice for responding in that situation and Cat in a Hijab follows it to a T—get between the attacker and their target, strike up a friendly conversation while ignoring the instigator, and offer to walk them home to ensure their safety. The developer isn’t at E3, unfortunately, so I have no chance to tell him how much I respect and appreciate the project.
A game called One Way Trip catches my eye and surprise! The dev has actually heard of me. “Oh I just caught your name on your badge, I’ve actually read a lot of your work!” “Oh thank you so much!” I beam with pride, suddenly realizing he didn’t say if he actually liked my work or not. No matter, I’m still grateful anyone’s reading.
One Way Trip is a game with a lot of personality. I say that as someone who probably has too much personality. It depicts the last six hours of life following an accidental mass-poisoning, and players must go through multiple intertwining dialogue arcs to decide how they wish to spend their last day on Earth. Whether you pursue a cure, or simply sit on a couch and wait for death, the resulting path is irreverent, profane, surreal and eccentric as the characters experience panic and hallucinations. The art is delivered as watercolor illustrations that only underline the game’s unique identity, as does the music, a funky, almost impossible to describe soundtrack that sits somewhere between punk rock and hip hop. I dig it. Michael Frauenhofer, the game’s developer, informs me the game is already out on PS4 with other platforms to come, and gives me a free download code. I look forward to this.
After a quick bathroom break, it’s time for A Case of Distrust, a highly stylized interactive mystery game/novel that sits in a category I like to call “era porn”. It evokes its setting of 1924 San Francisco perfectly, a result of developer-turned-renaissance-man Ben Wander’s passion and love for the period. More on this one later.
With lunchtime approaching, I sit down for just one more game at IndieCade. This one is called Disco Bear, and it’s a simple 10 minute narrative game that was actually made as an assignment by the devs while in the USC games development program. It’s mostly a set of cut and paste images set to a few lines of dialogue, with disco dancing, and even disco rollerskating, thrown into the mix. It’s short, but somewhat sweet, telling the story of a bear who loves, and loses, in the crazy game of disco. It’s a fun note on which to end my session.
South Hall feels almost deserted. Yesterday, the Club Room was packed promptly at noon. I’m one of the only people here now. It’s a nice quiet place to catch up on work. I plug away for a few hours while eating pizza, and then decide to head out to Nintendo. Just as I exit, I run into one of my Twitter followers, who congratulates me on my recent wedding and tells me how much he enjoyed my Through the Woods piece. Hey, I think to myself, maybe it’s not so bad that there are fans at this event. After all, I have fans.
The Nintendo booth, as always, is a delight to visit. It feels like a reunion of all my favorite games industry people. First up is Splatoon 2, the original of which I’ve watched my niece and daughter play a lot but have never played myself. The co-op multiplayer mode we play is called Salmon Run, where the objective is to collect golden eggs from the enemies on the field and deposit them in a basket before expiring. It takes only seconds into the round before the adrenaline starts pumping and the entire team is hootin’ and hollerin’ while trying to stay alive.
Next is Super Mario Odyssey. One of my favorite things about the enduring legacy of the Super Mario games is that with every new iteration in the 3D era, the control scheme first introduced on the N64 only continues to be added on to, allowing the player to pick up many moves where they left off. Super Mario Odyssey is no exception, the old blending into the new and bringing another generation of Mario tricks gently into the fold. I play both demo areas and get a hang of Mario’s new (literal) hat tricks, tossing it like a frisbee to trigger devices and kill enemies. It’s fun, and easy to pick up. As I say to a Nintendo employee later, the environments are a bit of a let down from the legacy of Super Mario Galaxy, but I’m told to “just wait and see” with regards to that, so I resolve to withhold judgment.
Lastly comes Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, a game I’m not necessarily anticipating but still enjoyed playing. It’s weird to see tactical role-playing, of all things, in a Mario game, but it kinda works. At least, it definitely works better than I thought it would. I can see this being something of an introduction to strategy game for kids.
After finishing up the demos I move on to my interview with Nintendo head of marketing Doug Bowser, where I badger him about the future of Nintendo handheld. More on that later.
With a little time left to go before the show closes, I decide to hoof it back to South Hall and hit up at least one more IndieCade game. There’s a game there about the Underground Railroad called Somewhere In The South, the sole work of a developer that goes by Wonderneer. The premise is very simple: the player is an escaped slave trying to navigate the woods and avoid the bloodhounds to reach the North. Conceptualized as a grim, thought provoking take on the survival horror genre, the narrative text is delivered both in modern standardized English, and the dialect of the era.
Wonderneer tells me some elements of the game were cut for being too controversial. In one earlier version, the player, as the escaped slave, would be able to pray while on the run. At that point the demo derails as I have a load of questions about how to bring those features back. I also implore him to talk shop with Gonzalo Alvarez, the Borders developer as I feel they would have some creative interests in common.
As I walk out of the South Hall I realize I didn’t have enough time for Raw Data, gah. I’ll have to catch up with them later.
Finishing out a very long and grueling week, Kevin and I meet up with Aiden at Rock n Fish to have a meal before everyone starts heading home. Dinner talk turns to marry, fuck, kill: first Pokémon starters, then the current generation of consoles. On the latter, the correct answer is kill Xbox One, marry PlayStation 4, and fuck Nintendo Switch.
After getting a little lost in downtown Los Angeles, I finally get back to the loft, and get a glass of water from the faucet. For the first time all week, I notice it’s cloudy. I wonder if I should be worried. Minutes later, the Airbnb host comes back with another surprise: an additional guest who will be staying in the next room over. The minute she leaves, he confesses he had no idea I’d be there and that he’d invited a “lady friend” over. We compare notes and realize the listing is a bait and switch. He then invites me out for a drink, an offer that because of looming deadlines (and the whole “I don’t know you” thing), I decline.
That long walk back from the convention center gave me a lot of time to think about E3, about the overcrowding situation, the future of the show, and how the disaster of Tuesday can be channeled into success for E3. The huge crowds on the first day of the event, followed by the ever-diminishing numbers the following two, suggests that a separate day for the fans might be enough to keep the general admission side of E3 alive, and over the course of the week that was a suggestion I heard from many corners of the industry. If ESA can internalize that and adjust for next year, I think we can save this thing yet.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.