Gaile's E3 Diary: Part One
Day #1: Travel and Meetings
2:40 P.M. - The flight down is uneventful. As it turns out, the "earlier" flight I had booked for half the attending team was delayed a bit, so we end up flying virtually side by side from Seattle to LA. Ok, when I say "uneventful", I must confess I do wonder why we're passing the Inglewood Cemetery twice, and why we're heading up when the airport is down, but hey, maybe the AOA was a bit off the first time. ;) In the end, on the ground, we get team members sorted, vans or SUVs retrieved, and we head to our two different hotels—one in Los Angeles, one in The Valley—in order to check in. We then head out to the LACC to check out on the pre-show arrangements and the booth setup.
6:00 P.M. - We attend a one-hour pre-show meeting where the NCsoft show coordinator introduces the 12 (!) games featured at E3. Six have actual demos, six are represented on signage. It's an amazing use of space, with demo stations, press desk, stage, PvP area, and more. As the meeting winds down, I note that my team seems wisely to have eschewed the warm soda and cold pizza at the meeting. Better to save an appetite for our traditional dinner at a classic (1928) Spanish Café nearby.
7:30 P.M. - We pull up to the restaurant to see a lot of our folks milling around outside. Apparently they didn't know where to put 40+ people waiting so suggested we wait outside. I spot The Last Pride and remembering the Mike's report of the accident on the way to the hotel, rush over to assure myself that they, and our tourney coordinator, are all in one piece. But Mike Gills assures me that the accident was little more than a nudge and everyone is in one piece. The guys look cheerful and unscathed; we head in to dinner. I choose a seat with The Last Pride guild on my left and members of the programming and art teams on my right. We engage in lively conversation on all sides while many photos are snapped, numerous margaritas are consumed, and I convert a few more to the sublime taste treat that is the Green Corn Tamale. I notice that one of EvIL's members is dousing his food with massive amounts of Tabasco sauce. I ask how the sauce compares to Korean hot sauces, which some say make habañeros seem as tame as jelly beans. The Last Master tilts the Tabasco bottle as if to drink it in a gulp, and the others grin and nod in agreement with his response.
Day #2: The Show Begins!
7:00 A.M. - Hop out of bed, quickly breakfasted, we head out the door to the LACC. We're enveloped in a sort of gritty moist air, the typical May/June LA haze. It's not exactly warm, but certainly not cool, and the sun can't seem to muster the strength to crack through the gunk overhead. Welcome to Sunny California!
The LACC is an enormous structure, stretching two full city blocks north to south, at least one block east to west, and standing 3 to 4 stories in places. The walk between the farther points—West Hall and the South Hall—is a bit of a stroll, and because you're under one roof, you find yourself surprised at how long it takes you to get from one place to another, even at a lively clip.
9:00 A.M. - The booth looks marvelous, and there's just something incredibly exciting about seeing our Guild Wars gameplay trailer on the main screen, and splashed across three huge screens!
There's a two-hour press and VIP session from 9 to 11, and a full press room rotation is taking place elsewhere. That doesn't prevent the booth from filling quickly. Team members are soon involved in demoing, oftentimes for two and three at a time. We start to notice an interesting thing as people come into the booth. Everyone seems to know about Guild Wars! We overhear things such as, "Yeah, I'm playing an Assassin right now, gotta love dual daggers." and "I can't decide where to start my next character—Tyria or Cantha." and "My whole guild is getting ready to play Factions; we're still arguing about whether to go Kurzick or Luxon."
11:00 A.M. - Several players stop by, get a demo or talk to the devs, and each receives the two skill pins designed for E3. These are the Aura of the Lich and Crippling Shot—both very attractive in their little clear-faced cases. NCsoft staff starting milling around, asking if they can have pins, too, and we promise to distribute at the end of the show. I put one of each on my name badge, increasing my Fashion Statement attribute by at least 10%.
Noon - The first of the Fansite Hours begins, and I head to our meeting rooms to sit in. It's standing room only for each of the 20-minute sessions. Mike O'Brien provides an overview of Factions and catches people up to date on the sales figures. Although it can't come as to great a surprise, the announcement is a proud moment, nonetheless: Factions is the topselling PC game in the U.S. and North America, and is the Number 1 Game in all categories/consoles across Europe. I restrain myself from a loud "Woot!" the first time Mike announces that.
Mike discusses several concepts of the Guild Wars saga, from the six-month release schedule to the desire of the development team to provide a new and different featured gameplay mechanic with each release. If Factions offered the aspects of alliances and a focus on "building a community," then Campaign 3 will have a new gameplay mechanic designed both to appeal to the existing player base and to embrace even more gamers. Mike's cryptic comments provide no grist for speculation, though, other than that the team is excited about the next campaign and that it has been under development for many months already, meaning that delivery seems assured for "later this year."
The best part of the demo is the "Sneak Peek" of Campaign 3. Few even on the Guild Wars Team have seen the film, and I notice a ripple of intensity in the room as the guests hear the first strains of the distinctive score, and get their initial view of the world as relayed in the film. In each demo, I notice you could hear a pin drop as the beautiful images are displayed, from landscapes to creatures to the mysterious new professions.
Afternoon - I have a few people stop by whom I have met in game, and it's great to talk to them! Two long-time Alpha Testers come to the booth, and I really enjoy putting faces with the names and talking about the whole alpha process. Our testers feel great investment in Guild Wars, and indeed they should, for they helped us make Prophecies and Factions the exceptional games that they are!
1:40 P.M. - I pop into the game for a second, but then three people are behind me with questions, and I have to leave. (I make a promise to myself to visit again tomorrow, as it's cool to give players the "From the Floor" word.)
3:30 P.M. - One player whom I'd spoken with in the morning returns with three friends. Now, speaking with him in the morning, I'd had this "I know this guy from somewhere" feeling, but he confirmed we had not met. When he and his friends come in the booth this afternoon, I'm more than ever convinced we were acquainted. Soon, the reason for that is revealed: Three of the party were contest winners from last Halloween! (See them here) No wonder they look so familiar!
We enjoy chatting about the game, and they've brought other friends along, too, so it's like a happy reunion. Their enthusiasm and their obvious happiness to be at E3 and share the GW goodness with others—sporting their Factions tees and their skill pins, of course!—makes me look forward even more to the fan Meet and Greet on Saturday. (I can't wait! I have skill pins as a surprise gift for the Guild Wars guests; reports are that the largest number of registrants for the event came from the Guild Wars community!)
6:00 P.M. - I'm pretty tuckered out, so after the ever-lengthening walk to the hotel—I swear it moves a few additional blocks north with every day of the show—I decide to have a quiet dinner in the hotel. Dining with Rebecca Coffman is a pleasure. I've worked with her for a few years, now, but it is interesting to learn new things about her work (she is the lead of our animation team) and to find out how she got started in the industry. I would call the meal a success, even if the sauce on the overpriced "scampi" tastes suspiciously like chicken gravy.
11:20 P.M. - I've started a diary, but with a few phone calls and a couple of fires to put out—in a figurative, show coordinator sense—I find my eyelids drooping, and I shut down the laptop and head to bed.
8:40 A.M. - Heading over to the show I decide to stop off in the press area, and it's bustling, as always. Juggling the Asian, European, and North American press, fitting in the late arrivers, working around the no-shows, and trying kindly to oblige those who somehow forgot to make an appointment at all keeps the good folks of the press arrangements team very busy.
10:10 A.M. - Looking around, I get the impression that the overall show floor—the walking aisles between the booths—is a bit less packed than in years past where you have been at risk of life and limb to venture down the aisles during the peak of the day. Perhaps people are simply pacing themselves and coming in smaller bunches. Maybe the booths are better designed to reduce the overflow into the walkways, but the greater ease of mobility is a relief, as you don't have to plan a 20-minute dodge and shuffle just to get to the restroom!
10:20 A.M. - I nab the chance to get online and visit with the players in Kaineng Center. They are filled with questions about the show and of course wonder about the news that they've read of the Campaign 3 Sneak Peek. I can only confirm or deny a few things, but it's great to be talking about that, even in an future view of "more information later."
12:10 P.M. - The Last Pride has another victory under their collective belts; it seems highly likely that they will take the gold. I notice when watching the matches that Eun Joon has the most peculiar skill belt I've seen: It reveals just two icons. I had never even realized that one could reduce his belt to minimize to such a small number. When I ask about it, it turns out this is a competitive move to try to reduce the ease with which opposing players can discern what skills he is using, or in what way he is engaging them. As good as he and his teammates are, I don't think the security measure is exactly needed.
4:20 P.M. - More players, more demos, and more music from Mutaytor every hour on the hour. The latter makes the former somewhat difficult, from a volume standpoint, but it does draw in the crowds, so that's a good thing. I head out the door to the Fansite Meet the Devs session.
6:30 P.M. - The Meet the Devs party was fun and informative. The fansite operators enjoy food and beverages as members of the dev teams of several key NCsoft games—including Tabular Rasa, Auto Assault, City of Heroes/City of Villains, and of course Guild Wars—rotate from table to table to answer 10 minutes' worth of questions from each group. It's a great chance to get feedback from the fansite operators, and several of them ask us about the processes and give us great ideas for better support in the future.
7:10 P.M. - The pool area is crowded, and those who walk beside the pool take their lives in their hands, as last year's "dunking" of Jeff Strain is in everyone's mind. Fortunately, all party goers—guests and dev team members alike—manage to avoid an unexpected swim.
I sit with Paul Younger, a long-time friend and owner of GWOnline, as well as a few of his fansite associates. I hear the plea for "more games for MAC" and promise that I will take back that message to our team. I don't know what the future holds in that regard, but I certainly understand the passions with which the plea is made.
We are joined by a game music composer, Gerard Marino and he and I enjoy a long chat about composing for games. He's a nice guy, and having spent some time yesterday talking to another composer, Ron Fish, I'm impressed with how hard these creative individuals must work just to get work, and am impress with how much they care about their contribution to games. I mention Jeremy Soule, and both are very complimentary about his work.
9:30 P.M. - The party is winding down, the air is chilly from the nighttime fog, and it's time to head back to the hotel. I glance up to see the edge of a fog-shrouded building about a block away. It's as evocative as the surreal sets from Tim Burton's Batman, but as much as I try, the camera just cannot do it justice. As I walk back to the hotel, I consider dinner, and then decide instead of read the E3 show reviews and take a peek at the fan forums, both of which are more interesting than another round of hotel food.
Day #4: Wrapping up the Show
Mornings at E3 are interesting. Day One has people lined up hours before the doors open. Fans are eager to get in and check out their favorite games; journalists are champing at the bit to get the early lead on a cool new story. When Day Two rolls around, you see a number of late arrivals, some slightly rumpled and more than a few the worse for wear, no doubt the result of a bit too much E3 partying. And on Friday, because so many of the thousands of journalists who attend the show have wrap-ups to write, and many prefer to do so from their offices, the whole show starts out as a bit less crowded.
We demo, we talk, we answer questions, we hand out skill pins (notably one of the coolest bits of E3 swag) and enjoy another competitive match.
Noon - Another Fansite Hour, and this one with James Phinney at the helm. The room fills, and the demo begins. James is an interesting presenter, as was Mike, and I'm glad that I get to sit in on both. I make a mental note to be sure to attend the in-office interviews; there is no doubt that I can glean all sorts of interesting things from those.
Again the intense interest in Campaign 3, and more of those early hints. These guests are very interested in the twice yearly release model, and James explains the two-team system and how each game actually consumes a full year of development time, as did Factions.
4:00 P.M. - The show is over, the lights are raised. Another victory has been won by The Last Pride. We're now busily uncabling and stuffing things into boxes to ship back to various vendors or to the office. A quick drive to the airport to drop off Mark and Curtis, and I'm on the road again to a new hotel to stay over for tomorrow's Meet and Greet in Mission Viejo.
All in all, it was a great show and a wonderful opportunity to meet existing Guild Wars and Guild Wars Factions fans, and, no doubt, to make many more.