(First published on Blogcritics.org)
This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was bigger and more virtual than ever. In recent years, the event was confined to the Los Angeles Convention Center and the sidewalks outside. This year it expanded to the street between Staples Center (home of the LA Lakers) and beyond into the popular eating and entertainment district, LA Live. The expansion made elements of the show available to not only attendees, but also casual passersby. And this year, there were dancing Doritos chips.
Traditionally, E3 was an industry show for conducting the business side of gaming. This is changing. Publishers eager to get their games in front of consumers are creating events outside the convention center.
At LA Live, Doritos created an environment combining old school gaming and the latest in interactivity. The six-story Doritos pavilion, the #MixArcade, included an arcade with classic games inside and a stage for live events outside. There were also all the Doritos you could eat. (I confess. I had a bag of Doritos for breakfast one day.) The outside events allowed performers, including Steve Aoki, Wiz Khalifa, Big Boi and Empire of the Sun, to get live feedback through wristbands worn by audience members and adjust their performance accordingly.
Behind the stage, Doritos built a 30 foot high LED gaming screen. This was used for games during the day and for concert visuals at night. When I went up to check this out, a reality/game show was being recorded involving live actors dressed as Doritos corn chips playing the roles of Space Invaders from the arcade game. A participant sat in a command module, shaped like a giant block of cheese, which moved back and forth firing tennis balls at the approaching space invaders. Balls shot at the player almost hit me twice.
No, I do not do drugs, this really happened. Space Invaders chips are part of the highlight video at the end of this article.
The Dark Side of VR
Virtual reality was everywhere at E3. I really enjoyed a virtual reality driving experience which I wrote about here. I had great fun watching people ride a virtual roller coaster. You can see how the virtual wind was created for the riders in the video below. Very high-tech. Many older games are creating virtual versions, which make you look silly from the outside, but are an awesome experience.
I wonder just how addictive this may become. I recently reviewed a film, Virtual Revolution, in which half of humanity decides to stay in a virtual world, rather than the real one.
The porn industry, of course, is investing in this. At E3, an adult VR company was discreetly tucked in a corner, but with long lines for demos, none-the-less. A few aisles away, a company with absolutely no connection to adult entertainment, Contact was demonstrating the beta of a glove which allowed you to reach out and feel objects in virtual environments and ultimately, in peer to peer environments, “shake someone’s hand”.
Contact has all kinds of admirable, non-kinky applications in mind for their product, but you can imagine where this could go.
The Light Side of Everything Else
On the safe side of VR, French company 3DRudder has developed a foot controller for moving in VR which you can use while seated. Good. No more running into a real wall. I did run into HTC Vive in several locations around E3. Vive is one of a series of headsets competing with the market leader Oculus , trying to make the VR experience more affordable. The most affordable way to try VR and see if you like it is with Google Cardboard.
A start-up that impressed me was Pop Up Gaming. Their goal is to bring virtual reality gaming to special events, in a similar way that bounce houses can come to community events or birthday parties. Turning VR on its head, they want to make it social, rather than isolating.
For us old time gamers, new versions of many perennially popular titles such as Sid Meier’s Civilization, Capcon’s Street Fighter and Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL were demonstrated. Do current gamers know who John Madden is?
One of the most impressive aspects of E3 were the company pavilions themselves. Game publishers literally built houses and office buildings on the floor of the convention center. It’s worth attending the event just to see these. However, it is still difficult for the public to get into E3. Non-industry attendance was limited to the last day this year and only with passes from game companies. I think this will change in the future and E3 will morph into Comic-Con for gamers. If nothing else, maybe you’ll be able to attend virtually.