03 Jun

It’s been one hell of a week. What began as a series of annoyances taken on the chin as personal challenges became a series of brutal inconveniences that could only be meant as a torture method to strip me of every last possible refuge of sanity. The hotel’s coffee was able to keep me awake though, despite the one hour 45 minutes of sleep.

I had booked my hotel room with the help and support of my infinitely supportive and understanding aunt, whose word I took as gold when I traveled. Her cross-country work with the California Teacher’s Association nets her several rewards member benefits and discount costs, all of which I used to obtain the room at a reasonable rate I have no problem paying her back for. It was a hit against my confidence in her, then, when the cab rides from the hotel to the convention center, a promised $12 charge at maximum, quickly began to average $30. Not a problem for a person with a decent job, or a job in general…but I found myself draining funds quicker than a Hilton bank account when both Paris and a coke party were in town.

Shaking of these monetary woes, I checked in to receive my all access media badge (which merely wearing aided my self esteem) and chilled at the media hospitality lounge in the hour between my arrival and the opening of the show floor. There I met one of the many fellow press members that would inadvertently guide me through the day. Names have been changed to protect the presumably innocent, so for the purposes of this little spiel, we’ll call him Joe the Press Man. Joe the Press Man was a courteous and well-spoken fellow, and as such he immediately appeared to me as someone who knew what the hell was going on. Since I had received naught a single email in regards to the conference layout or schedule, I grasped Joe the Press Man’s coattails and followed him to the Nokia Theater for E3’s second of the big 3 press conferences: Nintendo.

P1030512.jpg picture by ElderGeekDotCom

Without a single hitch and little waiting in line I had received a wristband and a point in the direction of the conference, and within minutes I nabbed myself a coke from the complementary (I hope) refreshments and took a seat. The first thing immediately noticeable about this conference was the odd choice in background music. While people were being seated before the show began, various techno remixes and alternative rock music graced the speakers of the theater, genres most would find too mature, or at least not kid-friendly enough, for Nintendo’s taste. As if Blue Man Group and Blumchen weren’t enough to perk my eyebrows, what should come through the speakers next but the world’s oddest mash-up: a mixture of “Love Shack” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” I barely had time to ponder this insult to my musical taste when the lights began to dim.

The stage at Nintendo’s press conference could have been described easiest as a tribute to LEDs, with paneled towers of fluxuating blue LED lights adorned each side of the Nokia Theater auditorium, for as much use as they were. The show began for us at the theater with two suits from the company coming onstage to announce that we were the secondary location for this conference, and not to worry because everything we saw here was happening in real time at Club Nokia. Before questions we able to be asked, the lights dimmed again, and the giant screen in the middle of the stage lit up.

Turns out Joe the Press Man had lead me to a glorified screening of an HD feed of the Nintendo press conference, rather than the conference itself. Disappointing is a word that leaps to mind. Nevertheless Nintendo managed to still deliver an impressive show, especially when compared to their hideous attempt at “developer fun” at last year’s E3. The stage was modern and adorned with many screens of varying sizes, all of which came into play in the various speeches from the Nintendo suits…and what speeches they were.

If fault is to be found in the Nintendo conference, it is in the fact those that came onstage hardly shut up enough to show the gameplay and trailers that came with them. So tedious was this system of developer talk, followed by footage showing exactly what the developer was talking about, repeat; that the conference could have been improved with a mere film reel with text inter-titles displaying launch and sales information. Dismissing that irritant, Nintendo managed to pull out the most pleasantly surprising conference of the show.

The expected masturbating of Wii MotionPlus and Wii Sports Resort were present and in force, as well as further plugging of another casual “gaming” device expansion, Wii Fit Plus providing 15 new ways to feel like your exercising, but a much more noticeable dedication to those that play games for more than 11 minutes a week was given by the Nintendo staff, and appreciated by the audience. A simple listening of the audience track to the announcement of Golden Sun DS would exemplify this relationship. Many Mario titles were announced, most of which I was supposed to know about but apparently missed out on, like Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! (what?). I suppose New Super Mario Brothers Wii was supposed to be a crowd pleaser, what with Nintendo opening their show with on-stage gameplay of it, but I couldn’t see past the thin parody of LittleBigPlanet’s cooperation/competition gameplay in the “give your friends the mushrooms or don’t” aesthetic. Not to mention that even the iconic first level of the original Super Mario Brothers has gotten old with us seeing it re-envisioned for the fiftieth time.

Once we began to move to Nintendo’s blatantly advertised bread-and-butter, the non-gamers, I began to realize that I was sitting behind two of the best audience members ever. With the announcement of the interactive murder-mystery novel Crimes of Passion and the girl-centric Style Savvy (because all girls…like…like to play dress-up…right?), these happy fun-seekers giggled and snorted at the appropriately cheesy intervals of the trailers, often softly commenting in an MST3K riff of what we were seeing. Made the repetitive talk-show-aren’t-we-great motif of the show all that easier to swallow.

Nintendo rounded out their show with what would surely be a compliment sandwich, had it been in pure text form. A three-piece showing of peripherals and games, with a horrible add-on idea bookended by two games that garnered heavy applause and will most likely be remembered as some of the best reveals of the show. First came Super Mario Galaxy 2, a surprise break in Nintendo’s usual one-per-franchise-per-console rule, but it still looked enjoyable, especially with the inclusion of a ride-able Yoshi which, any gamer knows, makes any game better (Halo + Yoshis = God). Nearly all hope for the company that announcement garnered was rudely stripped away with President Iwata’s announcement of a blood-testing devic….ahem….”Wii Vitality Sensor,” meant to test stress and emotional levels during gameplay, and hopefully lead to calming and relaxing game design. At this point I was remiss I was not at Club Nokia, for I would have stood and asked Iwata-san if he had ever played Flower.

But, remiss to leave the biggest convention of the year for the hardcore gamer without some equally hardcore placation, Nintendo rounded out the show with the hands-down best announcement of their conference, and surefire runner for best surprise of the show: Metroid Project M, a 2.5D installment into Samus’ blast-fest series released through a collaboration with Nintendo and Team Ninja. Personally I can’t wait to see the result of handing one of gaming’s strongest female heroines to the industry’s most misogynistic developer.

All in all, Nintendo’s showing was a mixed bag. On the scale of games presented, it was quite exceptional, again being reminded of last year’s Wii Music abortion, but as a show it was bogged down with needless yammering from developers that were just going to show us their point in-game anyway. For the best example of how Nintendo both improved and stagnated this year, look no further than the handsome Mrs. Dunaway. E3 2008 had her elaborating in gratuitous detail about an irrelevant family ski trip and showing off a pair of feet so hideous Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t want to film them, but ’09 saw her respectably clothed and shutting up enough to remain unharmed by the millions around the world that groaned at the announcement of her name at the show’s beginning. It’s obvious that this is the best we will get out of Nintendo until this non-gamer formula proves no longer profitable, but for what it’s worth…it’s not bad.

I left the conference with little hope of reaching Sony’s within the half-hour remaining before their start time. Luckily as I walked the distance between the Nokia Theater and the convention center and heard rumors of buses heading to the location of the briefing, my hopes grew. When I arrived back at the center and saw the line of commuting transits, I launched myself into a run and managed a seat on one of the last ones to leave for the Shrine Auditorium. One down, one to go.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gavin Greene.