Going to 11: The Greatest Moments in E3 Excess
You could almost hear the screams, drums, machine-gun fire and throbbing techno music.
Tired of the excess and the expense, burned out on popularity, the big guns behind the Electronic Entertainment Expo all but pulled the plug on the annual event last year. Where booth babes once roamed free to trollop about in swimwear, and hunky guys dressed like space marines could cause a frenzy with the promise of a free T-shirt, dour reporters now shuffled quietly from meeting to meeting.
It was supposed to be E3 but it felt like a funeral service -- a downsized, serious shell of its former self. You could argue that the Caligula-inspired E3s of yesterday were a relic. Honestly, did you need attack helicopters and nearly naked women to sell videogames?
Apparently you did. Mourning the loss of the awe-inspiring, marketing dollar-consuming monster of years past, E3's handlers went back into their mad scientist labs to produce a new and improved E3 2009. This spring's event would be the one that would blow away the fans and the press and provide economic value to the show's real customers, the game companies.
But before anyone hauls off and rechristens this E3 2.0, keep in mind: The new kid has a lot of history to live up to. With 14 years of bacchanalia to draw from, new E3 has to compete with some of the greatest moments in the show's history. Hey E3, Jr., you think you can top this?
(Photo: Connie Cappos)
1. Promised Lot. Perhaps nothing underscored just how out of control E3 was getting than the Gathering of Developers' "Promised Lot." Held across the street from the convention, the Lot featured beer, BBQ, strippers, bands and beer. It was an always-packed little slice of twisted Texas weirdness that threatened to derail the coverage plans of every well-intentioned game journalist. After all, who wouldn't rather hang out with a midget dressed like Fidel Castro or talk to a naughty nun than hear about the latest Pok?mon game?
2. Prince's 6 a.m. concert. Early on, E3 threatened to go too far. During the event's second year, an evening party performance by Prince looked like a no-show until the Purple One finally arrived at his gig around 6 a.m. the next morning.
3. The Pok?mon cannon. Nintendo thought to launch its popular children's brand at E3 with a bang. A giant cannon set up in the Nintendo booth would belch out plush Pok?mon every hour. By the second day of the show, the cannon had been shut down. The crowd's mad scramble to score toys spraying out of cannon's muzzle turned the Nintendo booth into a bona-fide war zone.
(Photo: Mark Terrano)
4. NCsoft burns down the house. Flush with success of its Lineage game in Korea and City of Heroes in the U.S., NCsoft brought a little bit of Burning Man to the show floor for a couple of years. Pounding drums and flaming torches infused the convention floor with gas fumes and tribal energy. Rumor held that the fire marshal threatened to shut down the performance until he found out that required permits had been obtained and some of the act's performers were, in fact, part of the L.A. Fire Department.
5. Show zombies. Plenty of show attendees felt like the living dead after days of partying and dragging themselves through booth appointments. But it took a game promotion for the idea to reach its climax. Infected didn't turn into a memorable zombie game. But the staggering horde of gruesome zombies hired to lurch around the convention sticks in the memory like a shard of glass. Ghoulish costumes and dedicated performances elicited endless snapshots, lots of cringing and the priceless looks of startled visitors who would turn to see a silent, shambling corpse staring up at their neck, gathering the energy to strike.
6. Black helicopters. The presence of armored personal vehicles and armed soldiers became a routine part of the show. When the Army showed up to demonstrate the soldier of the future, it became increasingly difficult to separate the real army men from the cosplayers pretending to be someone from a game. But no military presence ever wowed the crowds as much as a Black Hawk helicopter dropping troops right in front the convention center, Ridley Scott-style.
7. Tecmo thumb jocks. In a promotion that has largely been lost to the mists of time, Tecmo promoted its fighting games by handing out the "thumb jock." The knit jock fit neatly over the thumb and fasted around the wrist, thus helping prevent any nasty rubbing or chaffing during extended gaming sessions.
8. Beck, Macy Gray and George Clinton at the Sony party. There have been a lot of parties and there have been a lot a of great parties. But none compares in retrospect to the affair put on by Sony at their Culver City studios. Channeling all the excitement of a backlot tour, with premium bars and loads of good food, Sony mustered Beck, Gray and Clinton to anchor an outrageous and memorable evening of entertainment.
9. Power outage. Maybe it was an omen. But in 2005, the show started with a convention center blackout. Never had the show been as close to riot as when the lights and the AC went out on the waiting throng of press and fans lined up outside the convention floor doors. The electricity was restored before any real harm has done. But the next year was to be the last of the big E3s. In 2007, the show downsized by about 70,000 people and relocated (temporarily) to Santa Monica.
10. E3 wake. With booth babes dressed in black and mourning alongside carnival freaks, circus performers and a ragtag band of journalists, the Gamecock crew led the faithful down the beach from Santa Monica to Venice to commemorate the passing of E3. As police helicopters and bemused beach bums stared on in confusion, the congregation said farewell to their old friend, that big, crazy E3 that everyone knew would one day die at the hands of his own excess.
(Photo: Terry Terrones)
11. It seems appropriate this list would go to 11 with a jaw-dropping concert by The Who last year. While the rest of the industry was navel-gazing and contemplating the future of tough financial times and scatted consumer demand, MTV and EA were throwing down Rock Band-style with a 2-hour concert in a small theater for about 1,500 select attendees. Peter and Roger set aside differences long enough to tear through their greatest hits and make fun of videogame fans. And in that moment, everyone knew that things were gonna be all right.