Day 1, E3 2011: short beds, sweaty crowds and Star Wars: The Old Republic

In past posts I’d forgotten to mention one of the most unique features of my shabby hotel room–the unusually short bed. I’m only 5 foot 6 but in order not to have my feet hang off the bottom, I have to angle myself diagonally. Who are these beds made for exactly? Dwarven tourists?

Anyway, I woke up this morning early and was immediately barraged with assignments. I worked for hours without eating or taking a shower, sorely tempted to make some horrible instant hotel coffee. Day three and my room’s already taking on a cluttered, cave-like aspect, full of snack food wrappers, empty coffee cups and dirty clothes. It’s kinda like my own grungy little hideout, especially since I never allow entrance to the cleaning crew.

[Random occurrence: On my way out to the convention center today I passed a barefoot girl in the hall wearing a short, silky polyester robe. She was on the phone and as I rounded the corner to the elevator I heard her say to whoever she was talking to, "So, you gonna be my bitch or what?"]

First day the exhibit floor was open and the lines to get in were ridiculous. Once inside, the place was a sauna and I was hard pressed to ignore the sweat as it rolled repeatedly between back and butt crack. I was waiting to see Star Wars: The Old Republic when outside the demo room I ran into an ex-coworker and friend who assumed I wanted to use him to get me in to see the game (the very idea! I had a legitimate appointment.) :)

Although I’d meant to avoid including in-depth game commentary on this blog rather than my soon-to-be games-only blog, after a couple of things I saw today, I feel compelled to discuss them. Warning: game geekery to follow.

After today’s demo of Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s obvious the game is shaping up to be what every Star Wars fan has dreamed of playing. Bioware’s graphics are spectacular and the new fully-voiced dialog and morality system promises to add an entirely new element to MMO gameplay. There are even multiplayer dialog trees which allow groups to talk to NPCs by performing a kind of loot roll that automatically selects the response of the winner.

Bioware claims that every choice you make has consequences and that they have planned literally hundreds of hours of unique gameplay for each class in the game, with zero content duplication. I guess we’ll see how true that is when the game launches. At this point however, it looks rad.

Post SWTOR, I sat through a Battlefield 3 demo, which with DICE’s new Frostbyte 2 engine, was looking really good. Although the build we were allowed to play was pre-alpha, it had some incredibly beautiful dynamic light and shadow. The hands-on was a close combat urban mission set in Paris called “Operation Metro” and our job was to push an occupying Russian force out of the city. It was obviously difficult for anyone to stay focused as evidenced by the way they ran here and there testing the game’s claim to increased destructibility by RPG-ing trash cans and decorative sculptures.

Few things are as surreal as fighting through sunlit Parisian parks within view of the Eiffel Tower but once we’d destroyed a couple of communications stations, we traded the sunny streets for the underground, fighting through train cars in a dark, rubble-filled subway. We didn’t have all that much time to play but we were told that the four classes will have handy new extras like flashlights, suppressing fire (which reduces enemy effectiveness) and the ability to set machine guns up on bipods anywhere you like. If the full game plays as well as the small snippet we had access to, it should become many competitive shooter fans’ new favorite game.

Lastly, I checked out the new Nintendo console, the Wii U. While the console has some new bells and whistles, it looks much the same, albeit with rounded edges. What’s really exciting is the new Wii U controller. The thing features a motion-sensor, rumble feature, accelerometer, gyroscope, camera, mic, speakers, stylus and sensor strip. Nintendo had a few prototype games set up to demonstrate the power of this new gizmo and it was definitely impressive.

Most interesting was a feature used in a rhythm game called Shield Pose that enabled you to swing the controller all around you, changing your camera view w/out changing what was pictured on the television screen. If you kept your eyes fixed on the controller screen, it was as if you were in a 360 degree digital environment. Other games showed the controller used as a pad and stylus (in a game called Measure Up) and as a unique multiplayer accessory that allows gamers competing against one another (in arena game Battle Mii) to enjoy completely different on-screen images. Seriously, skeptical as I’ve always been of Wii motion technology, I’m pretty excited about this new console and controller.

After three great demos, it was time for a break so I took some time to augment my mascot-photo collection. Augment is the right word too, b/c when I posed with these lovely ladies from World of Tanks, I felt alot like a cheap paperback clamped between two over-insistent bookends.

Later, I traded in my Conan slave girls for a couple of Duke Nukem babes…

…and was baffled by this woman. I’m not sure what she’s doing – taking an evil nap?

Now I’m back and once again it’s night, the hotel wifi’s spotty and I finally caved and made the awful instant coffee, hoping to stay awake long enough to finish my work. The odds are not good, especially since the A/C croaked, leaving it unpleasantly hot in here. Hrm…sitting in a shabby hotel room in a sketchy LA neighborhood, drinking bad black coffee and sweating? I feel even more like Raymond Chandler.

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