Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Monday, 14 July 2008 12:26 UK

Memories of E3 past and present

By Margaret Robertson
Game consultant

LA skyline, AP
Los Angeles - the regular host for the E3 trade show

For more than a decade E3 was a joke begging for a punchline.

What do you get if you lock 60,000 gamers in a box for three days? As a journalist attending the event to hoover up a year's worth of snap judgements and pledged exclusives, you had a lot of different answers.

Exhausted, was the main one.

The old E3 was the ultimate Krypton Factor challenge. 72 hours trapped in a gigantic labyrinth of flashing lights and competing sound systems.

An endless sprint between the North and West halls along a walkway that seemed to telescope longer every day, all the while running streams of mental arithmetic as you juggled page counts, appointment schedules, time differences and contact numbers.

And all with the added handicap of the migraine-inducing dehydration brought on by an unwillingness to assuage the blazing Californian sunshine with $5 bottles of water you knew you'd never be able to claim back on expenses.

Glass of champagne, BBC
Robertson: It's important to stay well hydrated at E3

Drunk was another answer.

As each day wore on, conversation would turn from who had appointments to see which games to who had invites to attend which parties.

Notes would be swapped on the best strategies for blagging your way in (one enterprising colleague once presented me to a bouncer as 'Mrs Molyneux' with immediate success) and bets would be taken on which B list musician and C list actor would be the faintly baffled guest of honour.

Once in, you'd be confronted by a Hollywood parody of a Hollywood party. Ice sculptures, bikini'd lovelies, hopelessly impractical finger food and a ring of pasty middle-aged, middle-managers gazing at the pool with a mixture of distrust and longing.

In time of course, the free beer would work its woozy magic.

Then all sorts of indiscretions - talking too much shop with a competitor, being far too frank with your boss, or doing something you shouldn't with someone else's wife - would provide a year's worth of gossip for any journo who had the nous to stay one drink behind everyone else and keep their ears and eyes open.

Dinonsaurs alive

The top answer though, was probably embarrassed.

Embarrassed by the unbelievable crassness of the stands, by the desperate, grubby greed of an industry that lays claim to being an art form but treats its creations like a commodity.

Embarrassed by the weary, jaded booth babes, wearing their spandex and stilettos and insincere smiles the way a traffic warden wears their uniform.

Embarrassed by the armies of under-age, over-excited gamers who'd sneak in with fake IDs to pillage the place for free keyrings and pour premature scorn on every other title.

Embarrassed by your own willingness to pursue games industry luminaries into the Gents to secure that bonus interview that everyone else had given up on (sorry, Warren).

E3 games show, AP
The show is held in the huge LA convention centre

Everyone you met said the same thing. E3 was bloated, impractical, annoying, exhausting - too hot, too loud, too busy, too commercial, too expensive.

The games industry can never agree on anything, but it could agree on this: E3 was a nightmare. In response to the complaints, the event's organisers, the ESA, decided to reinvent it in a leaner, meaner form, but in a heartbeat the industry changed its tune. The new E3 was also a nightmare, but now because it was boring, deserted, too far out of town. There was no buzz, no decent parties, no opportunities to do unexpected deals in the queue for your third burrito of the day.

It sounds like hypocrisy, but it wasn't - or at least, it wasn't just hypocrisy.

Everyone still agreed - and everyone was still right to agree - that the old E3 was a dinosaur.

But what everyone had failed to take into account was that fact that dinosaurs are awesome. They're huge, noisy, dangerous and spectacular, and that was the wonder of the old event.

You'd see 19 games a day that were generic, over-hyped sequels but the 20th would be a behind-closed-doors black box revelation that made your palms prickle with excitement.

You'd play taxi-tag for three hours chasing the rumours of the best party in town but then end up lounging on a pool-side divan with your childhood hero while a harem of attendants plied you with champagne.

You'd spend all day slogging back and forth in the stinking heat, and all night wringing copy out of your jet-lagged, dehydrated, hung-over brain but wake up three hours later excited about doing it all again.

What did you get when you locked 60,000 gamers in a box for three days? Magic, that's what. Pure, preposterous magic.


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