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E3
© Harrison Bergeron

Looking back at E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) is like trying to remember a fevered dream. Each year, console companies, software developers, and designers of game peripherals gather together to give vendors (and the press) a peek at their up-and-coming products. Imagine a video arcade roughly the size of a football field or two (or three). Now imagine walking around that arcade for five or six hours at a time. An endless world of blinking, blasting, finger-twitching, button-mashing, pure pixilated joy. Yes, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Just thinking about it is giving me gamer's wrists and computer screen eyes… videogame shellshock flashbacks….

Getting There is Half the Fun

The first thing you notice about E3 is the type of people. I went one year to the International Toy Fair in New York. My girlfriend djinned up some business cards and memos, and I dressed in khaki pants and a collared shirt and carried a leather satchel in an attempt to impersonate a legitimate businessperson. But at E3, no one wears suits, or ties. In fact, not too many people at E3 are over the age of 34. There's an endless parade of (mostly male) twenty-and-thirty-somethings who do their clothes shopping at Suncoast Video, Hot Topic, and the local comic book shop. An entire multi-billion dollar industry staffed mostly by techies, geeks, and fanboys. Or maybe everyone else there, like me, is not a legitimate member of the industry.

This time, I'm pretending to be a creative type working with Sony. With jean shorts and a blue Voltron t-shirt, I blend expertly with the crowd. My contact on the inside looks like a cross between Ming the Merciless and Stone Cold Steve Austin. We'll call him Ming. Ming guides me through the registration process. It's harder to get tickets for E3 than it is for Toy Fair, but security isn't quite as tight.

A little advice for those who want to sneak into E3 or Toy Fair: think ahead and try to find someone you know who is even in some vague way connected to the industry. You can get tickets, you just need to ask around. You can also register for these trade shows, and they'll send you tickets… IF you're creative, and IF you have thought enough ahead about your fake credentials. Maybe your friend's relative who works for company X or retailer Y isn't interested in going E3, but they can still request some tickets for an "employee" like you. Use your real name during the registration process, though, cause they're going to ask for your I.D. before they give you a name badge.

If you're a last-minute gatecrasher, listen up: People exchange their tickets for name badges. Name badges are often the only thing you need. Try standing outside the exit and asking people if you can have their badges, or offering them money. People who are too shy or cheap for these tactics could loiter in hopes of finding a discarded or misplaced badge. Sorry kids, there's no one under 18 allowed at E3 and Toy Fair, and they will card you.

GAMES, GAMES, GAMES

Okay, so what was at this year's show? What is there for you to drool over? Let's start with the big guns.

Nintendo - No more N64. This year it's all about GameCube. There were not many games on display, but what was there was enough to cause some spontaneous salivation. In spite of the fact that it's a multiplayer game, it was nearly impossible to get a chance to do some battling on the new Smash Brothers sequel.
The real annoyance was that GameCube's jaw-dropping Star Wars space battle sim was only playing on one or two screens, while Luigi's Mansion, a strange cross between Mario Brothers and Ghostbusters, took up practically half of Nintendo's game space. Based on the glimpse I got of the Star Wars game, it could easily be the killer app for the GameCube's initial release. Nintendo, however, seemed much more interested in hyping their in-house properties.

On the handheld front, Nintendo's GameBoy Advance is looking nice, with some perfect ports of games from the original Nintendo system, like F-Zero and the Mario games.

Sony - There were a few PS1 games on display, mostly the leftovers from the transition from PS1 to Playstation 2. And most of it is marketed to kids: a Barbie game; a game inspired by the Peanuts comic strip; one for Disney's Monsters, Inc. The Harry Potter game shows just how outdated the PS1 looks next to it's flashier cousin. The only thing to look forward to on this front is a new Spider-Man game. The graphics are so-so, but there's nothing cooler than swinging from building to building across a darkened cityscape.

The biggest Playstation 2 hullabaloo has got to be the new Final Fantasy game. Sony had at least six machines loaded with the game, and developer Squaresoft had probably more than a dozen, but there was always someone waiting to play. The game is just gorgeous, but, with all those elaborate scenes every time someone attacks or casts a spell, I hope that Square will build in the option of allowing you to skip over the fireworks. If not, the game could be one you spend more time watching than playing, like Pokemon: Stadium (yeah, yeah, I played it once, with a friend's kid brother), where it takes one second to choose an attack, and seven seconds to sit still and wait while the computer does the work for you.

Squaresoft's area was also filled with people waiting in line to see an extended sneak peak at Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Their legion numbers were surpassed only by the amount of people who were pissed because they couldn't get into the preview.

Sega's Dreamcast area was closed off except to those who had a special badge, which seems like a bad way build support for their already flagging game system.
The Xbox, by the way, made an appearance, but there seemed to be nothing to be excited about. A few games, including a nifty animation-style car battler called Cel Damage, an Oddworld sequel, and an animal racing game (why?). Also, next to the elegant and compact GameCube, the Xbox system looked downright clunky.

On to the software developers' area for other games of interest. A new Batman game in the style of the animated series. An updated Spy Hunter, Silent Hill 2, an Aliens: Colonial Marines game, and sequels to Aliens vs. Predator, Tribes, and the latest installments of old standbys like Crash Bandicoot, Warcraft, Resident Evil and Spyro.

WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS

There are more than just the usual games and game systems at E3. There's also an entire Aladdin's Castle of wonders and treasures: peripherals, misbegotten experiments, gaming magazines, displays, hucksters, promotions, freebies. Several companies were promoting virtual reality goggles as peripherals for racing and snowboarding games, while, elsewhere at E3, MIT was using the same technology to help people get over the fear of heights.

There were virtual batting cages, and a game where you hook a peripheral to your belt so it can sense you ducking down or dodging to the left or right so your hands are free to fire a light-gun at the bad guys. Also, a computer mouse that you strap on to your forehead (!!!???). Forget that; there's a full size half-pipe to promote the latest skateboarding game. Take a moment to shake hands with that life-size Goku from Dragonball Z. And, hey, did Lorenzo Lamas just walk by?

The third section of the trade show is mostly for foreign developers, what my friend Ming calls the slums of E3. The booths there are less visited than the ones in the more flashy rooms, and, consequently, people there are bored and restless and hungry (in the psychological sense). If you make eye contact, or linger for a moment at someone's booth, I can guarantee they'll be more than happy to explain their wonderful products. Some will hold onto you like a drowning man clutches a life raft. The sad part is, they might think you're a professional, a potential contact, or a prospective buyer, some vendor or storeowner who might place an order for a couple dozen boxes of their product. They don't know that you have less influence in the gaming industry than the guy with the apron who makes change at the local arcade.

Nonetheless, this area is worth a look, for games you'd probably never get to play otherwise, and for the occasional odd gem, like the arcade fighting game where the player punches six large padded squares instead of using a joystick and buttons. And the booth babes there are quite impressive.

Oh, that's right, I forgot to talk about the booth babes. What is the one thing that will stop gamers in their tracks faster than a flashing video monitor? Busty girls in tight clothing. At your booth, you can have loud music, huge posters, flashing lights, vivid 3-D polystyrene sculptures of your videogame character, contest entry forms, and giveaways galore. But the really savvy marketing types have booth babes. Leather, plastic, latex, denim, low-cut blouses, mini-skirts, daisy dukes, halter tops, little black dresses, you name it.

There is no more convincing argument for the mindless, animalistic nature of the male of the species than booth babes. Have your picture taken with the elf chick from Everquest, or pose with some warrior hoochie mamas sporting brown skirts and shiny shields. Over here, you can get a free promotional t-shirt if you take your shirt off for the booth babes. In another room, booth babes promise you free stuff if you participate in karaoke and dance contests. And, maybe I was imagining things, but I thought I just saw a girl with more cleavage than an episode of Dynasty strapping some guy into what looked like an electric chair and attaching electrodes to his body so he can play a Street Fighter clone with some other guy also strapped into an electric chair. Looks like someone's been taking their design ideas from the "world domination" sequence in Never Say Never Again.

In any case, it turns out that booth babes are not unique to E3 or comic cons. In my alter ego as a gainfully employed Clark Kent type, I went to a trade show for people in the leisure travel business. Travel agents and cruise companies also have their Trade Show expos, and as I was walking around, shaking hands, and gathering pamphlets and business cards, I noticed that my associate, William, kept gravitating toward the booths staffed by women. I was chatting with a lovely lady from Switzerland about her tour company, and I suddenly realized that, for an industry populated mostly by graying men with George Hamilton tans and women who found a second career after their kids went off to college, the room had way more than its share of hourglass figures.

If aliens ever want to take over the planet, all they'll have to do is put on supermodel skins and Barbarella costumes, and then say, "Teach me more about this Earth thing you call love."


RevSF contributor Harrison Bergeron is using an assumed name, because he fears the wrath of the trade show police.

 
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