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Going To E3? Here Are Some Tips And Hacks!

Next week is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, more commonly known as E3, the annual game industry trade show held in Los Angeles (and a couple of times in Atlanta) every year. Presented by the Entertainment Software Association, it is where game publishers show off their upcoming games to retailers, the press, and beginning in 2017, the public. I’ve been either exhibiting at or attending E3 almost every year since the event began in 1995 as the most successful trade show debut in American history. However, for some of you it is your first time attending E3, so I thought I’d provide you some tips and hacks to make your experience a successful one.

General Hacks

  • Many of the bigger game companies hold their own press conferences and other events days before the official start of E3. Your E3 pass does not get you into these events, and unless you are a member of the press or in the industry, it can be tough to get an invite, so you’ll have to watch online. Be sure to follow E3 news at least a week before the start of the show to find out when these events are being broadcast so that you won’t miss them.
  • E3 has no dress code so you can wear casual clothes. But if you’re there for networking or business, dress the part. That doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, but avoid looking like a Comic-Con attendee.
  • Parking at the Los Angeles Convention Center can be $20 or more and usually fills up by mid-morning. The off-site parking can also be very expensive, but becomes more affordable the further you are from the Convention Center, although that can mean a long walk. I usually leave my car at work at Hollywood, and take the subway to the Convention Center.
  • There are plenty of games to play at the show, but they aren’t going to be the upcoming big releases. Those are typically demonstrated for you in a carefully rehearsed demonstration in enclosed theaters that you may have to spend hours waiting in line for. Decide ahead whether this is worth spending your time for. Personally, I’m more interested in meeting people; I can always see the game demo online later.
  • Many exhibitors — especially the less-known own — give out swag at their booths. If branded pens and t-shirts are your thing, go for it, but remember you have to carry around that stuff all day. If you can, find an exhibitor who is giving out totebags to carry stuff in.
  • Don’t eat in the cafeterias on the show floor. The food is expensive and poor-quality. Instead, go to one of the food trucks outside, or go to the restaurants and fast-food places across the street at LA Live. I usually also bring a water bottle and some granola bars to keep my energy up.
  • Taxis are rare in Los Angeles, so if you plan on going to different venues throughout the day, you will have to rely either on your feet or on car transportation services such as Uber and Lyft.

Networker Hacks

  • At least a month before E3, search the internet for “E3 Party List” or “E3 Party Guide” for sites that list the parties and other events that are going on at E3. Some events — usually those held at bars and restaurants — do not require reservations, but others (both free and paid) do, and can get “sold out” fast once their announced. If the site has a mailing list or other notifications, sign up for them so you don’t miss out on attending any events.
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to a famous game developer you recognize, but be aware that people are there at the show to work and will probably be too busy for more than a quick hello. Also, the show floor is much too noisy for holding a conversation.
  • Bring business cards with you, with links to your portfolio site if you are looking for work, to give out to the people you meet.
  • A lot of business gets done in the bar and lobby of J.W. Marriott Hotel, across from the Convention enter. Some people I know set up shop at the Marriott for all three days and never even make it to the tradeshow floor, because they have one meeting scheduled after another.

Exhibitor Hacks

  • Wear comfortable shoes, as those concrete floors, even with the carpeting overlays, can be murder on your feet after exhibit all day.

Do you have any more tips? Add them in the comments below!

AAA Publishers Balk While Indie Devs Rock At E3

Last Wednesday I made my annual pilgrimage to the Electronic Entertainment Expo to check out the new video games coming out this year. Okay, it wasn’t much of a pilgrimage; it was just a short subway ride from my work to the Los Angeles Convention Center, which has been the home to E3 almost every year since the trade show debuted in 1995. However, unlike many trips, it’s the destination and not the journey that matters, for E3 is like the video game industry Mecca, where publishers show off their upcoming releases to retailers and the gaming press.

Except that there seemed like a lot more elbow room in Mecca this year. Activision, Electronic Arts, and Wargaming were all no-shows this year, as was Disney, which is (once again) dropping out of video game publishing entirely. Whereas in previous years South Hall was jam-packed with ginormous booths numbing crowds with sensory overload, this year there were a lot of lounge area and recharging stations in the back of the hall. The reason: retail sales are losing their significance in an era of digital downloads, and there are now many more outlets for promoting games that through the gaming press.

For the publishers that did show up for the party, the games that they were promoting indicated that they were living in glory days of the past: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Halo 2, Killer Instinct Season 3, Gears of War 4, Elder Scrolls 5, Civilization 6, Resident Evil 7, and Final Fantasy 15. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loves me some more Civilization and Deus Ex, but I would have liked to have seen something new at the show. The closest the AAA publishers had to anything innovative was in slapping virtual reality onto titles: Batman Arkham VR, Doom VR, Fallout VR Resident Evil VII Biohazard, Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission, and perhaps the best of the bunch, Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR. Now, these are all good indicators that consumer virtual reality will eventually go mainstream, but there was still no killer app that convinced me that I gotta have VR today.

Truth be told, I found the most interesting games not in the multi-million dollar AAA publisher booths, but in the modest IndieCade exhibit. Here are a few of the games that captured my imagination.

 

Beautiful Corner is indeed both beautiful and in a corner:the entire game played out in a small, fantastical bedroom. t has a set, and lights and sounds that react to the player’s progress. Two interactive puzzles are used to convey the narrative,a coming-of-age story that plays out through letters, trinkets and postcards from the player’s imaginary friend.  It’s moving and sweet, while commenting on the realities of growing up (or not).

The player assumes the identity of a specific character, and is given costuming and props. The player enters the set and explores both puzzles to see how the puzzles relates to the character they are playing. As the player plays through the two puzzles, the set reacts to their progress by lighting and music changes. The experience ends with the player being asked to make a narrative choice on the outcome of the story. After choosing, the player experiences one of two possible endings

Lead designer and artist Martzi Campos created the game as her Master’s thesis in the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media and Design track. Her goal was to create an emotional tone in an interactive space of something besides fear or panic. By creating a single player experience, Campos’ hope was to bring about a higher degree of roleplaying opportunities for the player, bridging the emotional tones of interactive theater with the gameplay of escape rooms and creating a hybrid that sets players up as the main character in their own interactive play.

 

Speaking of escape rooms, I was once hired to write an escape room scenario, and ever since then, I’ve toyed with the idea of creating an escape room in a box that could be sold in retailed stores, like those murder mystery party games. Well, as they say in this business, ideas are a dime a dozen but implementation is everything, and two women beat me to making the idea into a reality.

Ariel Rubin and Juliana Patel are the co-creators of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment,  a tabletop gaming experience that crams together all the fun and social interaction of a party game, the event nature of a consumable game and the cooperative spirit and dramatic timed challenges of an escape room. You have 19 puzzles, 3 locks, and 1 hour to save your life! Doc Gnaw has sent you a mysterious box. When you open it, you release a poisonous vapor and need to solve her devious puzzles to unlock the antidote, or you will be forced to join her werewolf army.  Unlike boxed “murder mystery” games, Escape Room In A Box consists us to try to capture the physical nature of escape rooms and not have our game consists not of not just pen and paper puzzles but also diverse materials and hidden objects to capture the physical experience of real-life escape rooms.

This game grew out of the duo’s deep passion for escape rooms and at home game nights and their desire to bring them together in a completely new way.  Their initial plan is to sell their game at a real-life escape room locations, so that players have an opportunity to bring their experience home with them to play with their friends.  I just hope some smart retailers who appreciate the growing escape room craze will offer to carry this product on their shelves, because I would be just one of the first to buy one.

You can learn more here: http://www.escaperoominabox.com/.

 

A tabletop game can be a lot of fun, but how about a thousand?  PlayTable is a tabletop console system designed to let you play any number of board and card games without fiddling with rulebook and hour-long set-ups.  The system consists of a full-HD 1920x1080p monitor that’s impact-resistant and waterproof, software compatible with any Windows-based laptop (future compatibility with Mac and iOS), and a set of standard pieces, cards and stickers.  The system also comes with a recommendation engine allowing you out new games and find the perfect one for game night.  It even includes a construction kit allowing you to make your own games using your existing game and toy pieces such as Infinity, Skylanders, and Amiibo figurines.  However, at $599, the price of admission is steep.

You can find out more at http://playtable.xyz/.

 

Magic Dance Mirror is an interactive visual music and dance experience created by game developer Kinetic Magic, a seven-person team assembled by Game Director Kyle Ruddick. It uses a Kinect motion sensor to track player’s movement and create a stylized mirror image of those using it onto a giant screen filled with neon starbursts that reacted to their dancing.

The concept was inspired by Burning Man and the immersive art there.The goal is to primarily explore and let players’ own movements and sounds entertain them and spectators. The Magic Dance Mirror is designed to be fun for all ages and promote exercise and healthy self-expression.  Not a typical game in tat there is no way to “win” or “lose”, Magic Dance Mirror was built for clubs or large parties, but thankfully not to the home living room, where my spastic attempts at dancing would result in all my furniture being trashed.

You can learn more here: http://www.magicdancemirror.com/.

 

From time to time I get on my soap box and talk about the need for more female game developers, and so I was really pleased to come across an exhibit for the book #Feminism: A Nano Game Anthology.  Written by feminists from eleven different countries, #Feminism offers bite-sized takes on contemporary feminist issues. Each of the 34 analog nano-games (games that can be played in less than an hour, explained exhibitor Whitney “Strix” Beltrán) in this collection requires between three and five participants, and simple (if any) props.

The games range from silly to serious, including scenarios about selfies and rom-coms as well as reproductive rights and domestic violence. And of course, enjoyment has no ideological boundaries–there are games here for participants new to feminism as well as those experienced in making gender arguments on the internet.  The book is available for sale via Indie Press Revolution.

You can learn more at https://feministnanogames.wordpress.com/.

 

Virtual reality was as popular among the indie games as they were with the AAA games, but the experience that most captured my imagination was not a game at all. The Zeiss booth featured a pair of their VR One Plus virtual reality headsets controlling and receiving camera images from drone suspended from above. The headset could only control the camera (you would need a second person to control the drone’s flight), but with the very lightweight headset (essentially a pair of lenses on which you mount a smartphone running the virtual reality software) and heads-up display, I felt like Iron Man flying above the South Hall exhibits.

You can find out more at http://vrone.us/flyfpv.

 

Maybe the reason I didn’t describe too many video games is that it’s a sign the E3 organizers need to rethink what their show is all about.  Fun is fun no matter how you get it, and in a year when doing the same ole, same ole just isn’t cutting it, I’m tipping my hat to the innovators who are thinking outside the console box.