E3 Journal: Day 1 – Ubisoft Press Conference (or “How rats almost ate my shoes”)

The Ubisoft Press Conference was scheduled to happen two hours after the EA one, and at another beautiful theater just down the block. I didn’t exactly have an invite to the event but I planned to crash it (in the most polite sense possible) anyway. I went there with my buddy Matt, who’s also a freelance journalist, and we took our places at the end of a very long line outside the venue.

Now you’d imagine that the folks running this kind of event would have had their shit together but you’d be wrong. After standing in a line that failed to move at all, I muscled my way to the front and spoke to a guard who obviously felt he’d missed getting into the Secret Service by that much. That encounter marked the first time I heard the “fire marshal” excuse which would become so familiar to me as days went by. As in, “No one can come in–fire marshal’s orders.”

I could see a moderate group milling around in the lobby, but I have no idea how they got in there. We were told that people outside were being let in little by little but in over an hour of waiting, the line never moved once. It was uncomfortably warm and muggy outside and I admit, Matt and I got a little loopy standing out there.

Things nearly got ugly when one half of the impatient, sweaty mob tried to rush the doors. Secret Service man threatened to “shut this whole thing down” if they didn’t move back, but with mere minutes ’til the start of the event, the crowd wasn’t having it. Finally, for no apparent reason, the tide started moving forward and we rode it toward the registration desk, debating the best way to get an uninvited guest like me into the show. We got up there, tried to give our names and a couple of weary-looking PR girls just waved us in without even asking us who we were. It was the goofiest example of event management I may ever have seen.

Joel McHale of E! TV’s “The Soup” was the host of the Ubisoft conference and I was sincerely disappointed in him. He was very obviously reading from a prompter and wasn’t funny at all. Most amusing was watching him pretend to look interested as soccer legend Pele (who was there to promote a new soccer game called “Football: Academy of Champions”) rambled on and on in Portuguese about why soccer is important for kids.

The tedium didn’t stop there. It was a regular parade of verbose celebrities as director James Cameron appeared to talk about the game version of his upcoming movie “Avatar”. After listening to him drone on for what felt like twenty minutes giving the most boring story pitch ever, I was amazed at how successful he is. While I appreciated his passion for the project, rarely have I heard someone so thoroughly bleed an idea of all its interest.

Ubisoft’s releasing a ton of new product this year, the best of which by far will be “Hamsterz Superstarz”. Kidding! What looked most compelling to me is Assassin’s Creed 2, which takes place in Renaissance Venice and makes Leonardo da Vinci your own personal gadget master.

Ubi’s conference got out around 7pm and I broke a promise to myself by resolving to walk back to my hotel in the war zone. After seeing the high grunge level of the streets, I’d sworn I would never walk the area after dark but ended up doing it anyway, to save on cab fare. The walk was uneventful until I hit a stretch of sidewalk near Pershing Square that was lined on both sides by hedges. I was keeping a lookout for muggers and moving quickly when suddenly a humongous rat scuttled across the sidewalk right in front of me. I only just managed to hold in a scream and quickened my pace when it happened again.

I never anticipated I’d react so strongly to such an encounter. I had a friend with pet rats and always thought they were kinda cute. I guess my revised concept of rats now is that they’re cute–as long as they’re clean and tame and not larger than a full-grown Shih Tzu. Looking around, I realized most of the bushes were rustling and there were rats all over the place; in the gutter, crossing the street–I’ve never seen so many wild rats outside the New York subway system. Convinced downtown L.A. was infested with of an army of rival rat gangs, I more or less ran back to my hotel, hardly noting the bitter scent of Raid permeating the hallway outside my room.

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