Theoretically I should loathe E3. It is nothing more than a marketing blitz designed to appeal to shareholders and the broadest audience possible, delivering nothing but safe, vertical slices intended to trick you into believing this is how the game plays. Sure, when it actually releases it will see constant drops in framerate, questionable A.I., tearing, clipping, and repetitive combat arenas scattered from one level to the next.
Let's also not forget each game's disappointing and rushed five-second "conclusion" that messily wraps everything up in a chaotic knot before scrolling you through forty-five minutes of credits.
If anything, E3 is the games industry at its most oblivious. Fingers are firmly plugged into ears as publishers ignore the many complaints of the consumer, all whilst hand-picking a couple of memes to pretend they listen to their fans. "Hey, you guys love zombies? Of course you do! That's how we're justifying a trailer for a new Dead Island on stage, at least."
I should hate E3. Every little thing about it should cause me to cringe, cry and bellow in rage. We line up our plates before the publishers, they distribute gruel, and we smile and call it steak.
But dammit, man, I can't help it. I just love this stupid dog and pony show.
I view E3 in much the same way I view Christmas. It's a time to forget about how crappy real life is, about how terrible human beings are to each other on a daily basis, or how game publishers are plotting which new franchise needs to be annualized this year. For just a few days you drop the cynicism, the constant disappointment, the inevitability of a deeply flawed yet highly hyped product. You just release yourself to the fantasy that these games are going to be exactly what the publisher promises, just as you accept the idea that you always get along with your family as well as you do on Christmas.
Ideally, at least. Just as every Christmas falls into the family bickering and complaining, E3 will gradually crumble into debates about who won, which platform owner had the best line-up, and which key franchise Nintendo has forgotten to mention this time.
Yet despite how bland this E3 has been to me in some ways, it's also been the most enjoyable for me on the whole. I've had very few complaints about most of what I've seen of every press conference, and was, in fact, ready to start putting money aside to finally get a Playstation 4. I thought I was ready to join the next-generation, to be ready to play games like Destiny in full 1080p or snag next-gen exclusives like the newly announced Rainbow Six: Siege.
I had allowed myself to fall into the illusion that these games were exactly as presented. Sunset Overdrive looked so much like the most interesting blend of shooting mechanics and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater-style trickery that I couldn't help but be curious. Fable Legends looks like the four-player fantasy co-op I've been wanting for years. Even if it won't be out for a while, the new Mirror's Edge looks like the perfect idealization of the first game's promise. I cannot explain why, but Battlefield: Hardline had me as giddy as a cat with some nip as I watched the perfectly scripted combat and chaos play out before me.
I was ready for all of this. The dog and pony show was trotting out what it claimed was the best of the best, and I was buying into it wholesale.
Then Tuesday happened. Or, more specifically, Nintendo happened.
This isn't the first year that companies have been streaming gameplay live from the show floor during all of E3, but it's the first year that I've really jumped in and paid attention. I've tried to watch Sony's stream, but for some reason it did little for me. Perhaps it's how "hip" and "cool" the hosts look with their bleached hair and pierced ears, looking fit to host a show for MTV, almost coaxing me to scream "Get off me lawn, ya darn hoodlums!" Or maybe it's the focus away from gameplay, where most of the screen time is shifted away from the actual game and seems to be showcasing the host and developer instead.
Something about Nintendo's stream has just grabbed me, though, and now I'm convinced that I don't need a "proper" next-gen console. My Wii-U and 3DS are providing me games that I cannot get on PS3 and Xbox 360. Even when Nintendo does team-deathmatch, it not only feels new and fresh, but it is cute and family-friendly. Or perhaps that newness and freshness was simply that it felt more like friends gathered together, all playing a game — focusing strictly on the gameplay on screen, giving me a sense of what the game looks, feels, and plays like.
Yet no matter where my preference lies, the face of E3 has changed for me. It's not just about the marketing blitz of the press conferences. It's about sitting down, watching these games being played, getting the minute details, and then discussing them with friends.
E3 is now more like PAX, where it's about experiencing games together instead of being pummeled with a marketing message.
Of course, that doesn't change that it's all marketing, or that I'm not witnessing vertical slices. What's different in 2014 is that everyone is busy talking about all of these games that were announced in greater detail rather than complaining about what wasn't announced. Yes, there's the occasional complaint about Fallout 4 or the next inevitable Metroid not being announced, but, on the GamersWithJobs forum at least, we're all basking in the wonder of possibility.
Which is what E3 is really about. It's about the possibility of new games. A time to be optimistic for the future and see what direction, for the next 364 days at least, each company is planning to go.