E3 Journal Day 3: Ain’t No Disco, Ain’t No Foolin’ Around

Beep.

Beep-beep.

Beep-beep-beep.

Beep-beep-beep-beep.

The relationship one has with their morning alarm is at odds with itself. It’s not a welcome interruption, when it violently pulls you from the throes of your natural and much-needed REM cycle. But at least it serves a purpose: waking you up in time in the morning. When you’re already awake, however, it’s no more than an annoying sound; a taunting reminder that you didn’t sleep that night.

Strangely enough, I feel a lot better than I did the morning before. The relief of a clear head, free of pain, is worth a good night’s sleep. Anyone with even mildly chronic migraines knows the feeling that washes over you when the demons depart your skull for that of another. You feel rejuvenated, refreshed, energized — even powerful — and you know the rest of the day is just waiting for you to kick its ass. It’s so easy to forget how fleeting that sense of innervation is; and once it passes, all I’m left with is the lack of sleep and the consequent antonyms of all those aforementioned, good, verbs.

This is the first (and only) day in which I have time to wait in the 3DS line. Sure, it blew my mind at the Nintendo conference, but all we got to see there was a slideshow of Nintendo characters. Imagine the cocktail of joy and frustration I felt when I learned we had to wait in an hour-long line to see actual games. Anyway, an hour-ish-long line and an hour until my first appointment.

Sure, I can make it.

I try not to even look down the road that leads me to think, “yeah, I can be a little late, so what?” You know, because ignoring the issue all-together is so much more professional. When I do make it to the end of the line, I’m down to the wire. I can spend maybe ten minutes there and then I have to go. My priorities are the obvious contenders: MGS, Zelda, Star Fox, Kid Icarus, Resident Evil… I wasn’t expecting the 3DS area to be set up like a game of roulette. Still, I’m here working, and I know I have 10 minutes, max if I’m going to make that meeting.

20 minutes later I’m finishing up the MGS3 demo video when the girl from the DJ Hero area interrupts to ask me why the stylus I was using, which I placed back on top of its designated cleaning cloth, is now missing.

“I have no idea. I swear, I placed it right back on its designate cleaning cloth!”

She rolls her eyes and walks back to confirm (in her mind) that I’m lying. Of course I am, because I can’t possibly resist the thrill of stealing one of Nintendo’s shiny styluses.

Or is it ‘styli’?

As I come to the conclusion that both are probably acceptable (like the plural forms of ‘platypus’), I realized they’ve been keeping me there for 5 minutes after my allotted time while they try to verify my alleged kleptomania. Eventually they find it and release me. Good thing. I shudder to think what horrors might exist in Nintendo E3 jail and thank Satan I won’t be seeing it. As I leave, very late for that meeting, the model at my MGS3 demo asks if I’ll be stealing the headphones.

These Nintendo broads are smartasses. Which makes them even hotter…

No, there’s no time for that now!

When I tell PR Guy #4856739635 that I’m late for my appointment because Nintendo thought I stole a stylus, he doesn’t react with the dismissive laughter and understanding I expected. Instead, I get a queer look and nervous chuckle. Why do all these E3 people expect me to be a thief? What has this show done to them to sap their trust of their fellow man?

Lesson 10: Just be on time and spare everyone the…the…whateverthehell this weirdness was.

I’m a pro in my next meeting. My voice recorder is running the whole time, I’m asking questions — good questions — and scribbling notes like a motherfucker, and taking occasional bits of footage with my Flip video camera. This preview is writing itself; I guess that’s how everyone else seems to get so much more done than I do.

Lesson 11: Preparedness is next to godliness.  Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy.  Fast forwarding a bit, I left my notebook somewhere in LA.  I freaked out.  I called the convention center, I called Denny’s, I called a local coffee shop, all in search of my notebook.  It was never found.  But you know what?  It was fine.  I still had my voice notes; I still had my camera footage.  Sure, it took longer to sift through it all with no written notes to reference for talking points, but all of the information that I needed was there, available.  It takes almost no effort just to hit a ‘record’ button, but it can make all the difference.  Always have a backup.  Always have a backup for your backup.

A little more free time on the floor (Ghost Trick is si—ck!) and I’m off to my next meeting. One hour and the rest of the day is mine, giving me a good couple hours to explore the South Hall. And now that I’m such a smooth veteran, it’ll be a snap and I’ll impress everyone with my efficient note-taking and insightful questions.

Or not. This appointment is completely different from my others. It’s the dreaded “play a multiplayer game against a bunch of developers” scenario that leaves such an inaccurate impression. Worst of all, there are no slick PR people to subtly guide the topic of conversation.

Demoing something with a developer is a very different experience from demoing with a PR person. PR people have all their talking points down to needle-point precision; here’s the game, here’s how it works, here’s what’s cool, question time, and done. They bring you in and back out with military efficiency, an incredibly friendly and enthusiastic attitude and a mutual understanding that you’re both short on time.

Developers are a different sort of encounter all-together. They’re understandably very enthusiastic about showing you the thing they’ve been working on for months or years. Also understandably, their enthusiasm is almost child-like; they want to show you every little thing, but they especially want to show you every little thing they personally helped make. As you play the game, they’re easily distracted; every time you encounter something new, they jump from whatever it was you were just talking about, to talk about that new thing. Every mechanic, every piece of art, every new mission, every new character is the coolest thing about the game.

I hope that doesn’t come off as some kind of scolding of developers, because it’s not! That enthusiasm, that evidence of how much they love their job, is what makes them such great people! They’re genuinely proud of what they made and they’re genuinely excited for the chance to show it off. I think that’s awesome and I would love to spend a day hanging out with these guys, playing their games and picking their brains.

But I don’t have a day. I have 1/24th of one, in fact, and my hour-long meeting effortlessly transforms into a two-and-a-half hour-long marathon gaming session. I’m sure there’s a way to maximize my time in these sorts of appointments and focus on just the information I need, but this all new to me. In my defense, this meeting was last-minute, so I didn’t have time to do any research.

Lesson 11: Research is very, very important.  It’s always important to come up with new questions and talking points on-the-spot, during an interview, but going into a meeting, knowing nothing, especially when you’re talking to such smart, enthusiastic people, can be crushing.  To be blunt, in regard to this particular interview, I failed.  I failed my site and I failed their demo, because I didn’t know what I was seeing.  Once again, in my defense, this meeting was very last-minute, so it’s not like I had time to do my research.  But I still feel that it’s an important point: If you can, always research the company, and people, you’re talking to.

Good research will make the interview, and your write-up, exponentially better.  But more than that, you demonstrate a certain level of respect if you’re able to match their enthusiasm with your own knowledge and professionalism.  At the end of the day, the developers really appreciate your respect and interest, and you’ll get a better article out of it.  Win-win.

That was that. The day was done. E3 was out for the year and there was so much I didn’t get to see! Hardly anything, in fact, that wasn’t scheduled for me beforehand. It was more my fault than anyone else’s; I was not prepared. So what was the most important lesson?

Lesson 12: You don’t have time to be nervous.

I suffer from some occasionally-crippling social anxieties. Some days are better than others, but unless I have some sort of chemical pumping through my bloodstream, I generally dread encounters with other people. I lack the gene that enables people to just start conversations with strangers. I really thought those anxieties would sink me at E3; that I’d be a stuttering, awkward mess in my appointments; that I wouldn’t be able to come up with questions; that I’d have a panic attack in the middle of the crowd.

By the time the work actually started, nothing could have been further from my mind than my neuroses. It’s amazing how the brain just compensates for priorities. Additionally, I learned so much regular, useful life skills in those 3 days than I did in 5 years of college. Covering E3 is a master class in doing this job.

Best of all, I liked it. It sucked, man it sucked, but I loved every minute of it. Just writing reviews, very few for actual deadlines, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the realities of writing about games as a job. What a relief to know that I do. The best thing that I took away from E3 2010 wasn’t just experience, pleasure, exhaustion, awe, education, exercise, or the thrill of seeing cool stuff before any of my friends. The best thing that I took from E3 was a whole fuck-ton of confidence, worth its weight in slim Xbox 360s.

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