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TMO at E3 - Reporter's Journal Day Two: Into the Fray

by , 12:15 PM EDT, May 19th, 2005

LOS ANGELES -- The 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) opened today with both a bang and a thud.

The bang came from a record attendance that industry veterans claim they haven't seen the likes of since the show's inception. Gamers eagerly lined up to wait for their registration badges with hopes of seeing what lay beyond the front doors.

The thud came from a Los Angeles Convention Center power blow-out that left half the show on emergency lighting while staff worked on sending as much juice to the exhibits as possible while getting the downed transmitter back online. Running to the opening keynote speech to be delivered by Rob Lowenstein of the Entertainment Software Association, I wondered whose idea it was to replace the electrical equipment with a sloth on a treadmill.

A Shortcut to ADD

Surreal, hectic and loud enough to practically guarantee that you'll be both deaf and sterile by the fall, the main show floor equates to a complete assault on the senses, especially when entered for the first time. Flashing lights, smoke machines, PR employees trying to shove press kits into your hands, lasers, LEDs, the occasional odd turret or giant UFO grabbing your attention -- this is probably the quickest path to attention deficit disorder on the planet.

Still, there are some great things to be found here. While E3 has always been over the top -- the video game industry's orchestrated song and dance -- wander around long enough and you will find something that resonates with you.

It may not be the most sophisticated thing in the world, but I look forward to the day when I see Jaws: Unleashed for sale at a discounted price at my local Best Buy. Long story short, you are the shark and your goal is to pretty much eat everything that stands in your way, coast guard cruisers, helicopters, schools of fish, other sharks and hapless teenagers included. No, this isn't the deepest thing in the world, but it is fun. When that's combined with beautiful graphics, an impressive physics engine and force feedback, there's a sense of down and dirty gaming to be had here, with nothing to stand in the way of the enjoyment at hand.

And, of course, there are downsides. A friend sent me a link to this next one about six weeks back and my brain froze. It continues to do so at the mention of it.

Fact: They didn't need to make a video game about 50 Cent. They didn't need to invest millions of dollars in the project. And yet they did. So here it is, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, a third person action shooter that highlights, captures and memorializes the rapper and his biceps at a nigh-worshipful level. Granted, 50 Cent is relevant in his own context, having earned his street cred after being shot nine times and now becoming a seminal artist. But the truth of the matter is that this isn't worth centering a video game around, no matter how good the marketing, demographics an return on investment numbers look.

Even from the argument of a simple, visceral, enjoyable game, this is centering on a cultural icon who may or may not be relevant in 18 months and seems like a poor way to make a video game on all levels. For the money invested in the project, something better and completely original could be dreamt up than a digital 50 Cent, seemingly possessed of advanced martial arts moves, entering a building shooting, everything with a pulse, cleverly using an unarmed opponent as a human shield and hurling another person through from a building ledge. There has to be something better out there and I'd like to find it.

Party Hearty

Parties are a strange but crucial element to the E3 experience, almost forces of nature that occur when geeks, technology and money mix. I wound up at Saitek's wine reception, kind of an employee party sort of event with dozens of wines to choose from. Hunkered down over snacks, cheeses and beverages, the geek chat among press and industry ran its course until the fiesta dismissed itself at eight for other entertainments.

I ran into Tom and Michelle of EclipseMagazine.com, also hailing from the D.C. area, and eventually wound up at the head of the IGN/Variety magazine party line trying to talk my way in sans the all-important red wrist band required for entry. With my application to sit at the cool kids' lunch table still pending, I completely expected to be turned away. Through what might be considered an odd minor miracle, they strapped one to my wrist and let me into Cicada, an eternally hip night spot that has long since mastered both looking like it was taken straight out of a John Woo movie or rap video of your choice and keeps enough people on the street waiting to get in that it can always generate enough interest to keep the place filled.

Dark lighting, flashing red LED-filled plastic ice cubes, semi-Victorian decor and a glass chandelier greet the eye as you first walk in. Most of the attention seemed centered around hired models and walk-in celebrities that had been hired to help promote the event. I'll never know if the blond girl -- surrounded by an assortment of friends that seemed to represent all the positive things a Punnett table is capable of -- was Paris Hilton or just an incredibly close replica and didn't want to ask. Still, a part of me craved a standardized test to place in front of her; whether or not her skull exploded would best determine her identity.

Around 11:00, a five-person band took the stage, a short Asian singer and her all-male accompaniment of three guitarists and a drummer tearing through a list of power chord-driven pop and club songs. The lead singer decked out her small frame in steel toe Doc Martens, Japanese loose socks, a black and white polka dot skirt, torn sweater that seemed to have been transported in from the 80's, dozens of bracelets and a lip piercing that thrust out almost defiantly at the audience. Battling her drummer, who seemed determined to either drown her out entirely or make her sound like Minnie Mouse on the first day of her career as a drill sergeant, she finally tore through with "99 Red Balloons" and added all the energy necessary to make the party roar.

Favorite pieces of E3 swag (free stuff) so far:

A vibrating foam grenade from the girls handing out Company of Heroes merchandise. Because everybody needs a vibrating foam grenade.

Gamespy t-shirt. Good quality, nice mix of colors and a cool door item at the IGN party last night.

Blinking red plastic ice cubes. How can you possibly argue against this?

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