E3 was a blast, but I am very tired, though mostly my eyes more than anything. I have a great deal of respect for the media members that attend the conference from early morning until late at night for three days straight. Serious props to you all. I only attended about 6 hours of the conference, but I tried to make the most of it, so here's what I saw/played (in no particular order, other than my memories):
- Batman: Arkham Asylum - This game seems pretty cool. I played through the demo grappling onto roof fixtures and silently taking down random goons inside the Asylum, before the Joker unleashed some sort of mutant giant on me (thus ending the demo). The mechanics seem fun, though there wasn't a lot to do in the demo so I hope the game has a bit more variety or it could end up getting repetitive very quickly.
- Splinter Cell: Conviction - No playable demo, but there was a live stage demonstration. The game definitely seems like a good time, and the execution mechanic seems to add significantly to Sam Fischer's badass-ness. If you saw the demo at the Microsoft Press Conference (or was it Ubisoft's?), it was basically the same thing, with some minor, almost random variations. Seeing the game in action makes me want to go back and play SC: Double Agent which I never got even close to finishing.
- New Super Mario Bros. Wii - I didn't expect to like this nearly as much as I did. I mean, Mario with 4 players? Really? It doesn't seem like an amazing idea, but in the end it's a lot of fun. Mostly I think because of the competitive co-op aspect of it. On the one hand, players are trying to help each other because if everyone dies, everyone loses. On the other hand, you want to be the one to pick up all the coins and power-ups and have the most lives at the end of the level, so you might "accidentally" throw a friend or two into a pit or two. For whatever reason, it works and it's fun. Nintendo clearly knows what they're doing, but I suppose I should know that already :).
- M.A.G. - I actually waited in line about 30 min. to play this demo and I was just wholly underwhelmed. The game seems more like a technical demo than an actual game. While getting a 256-player battle functioning and largely lag-free (which it was) is a significant achievement, the game itself is somewhat wanting. It basically plays like a Battlefield-style game, except without the combined arms of vehicles that make those games so much fun. Also, the map we played seemed designed to keep groups of players working on their own specific objectives, but what that boils down to is a bunch of 16 on 16 skirmishes, which seems to kind of defeat the purpose of a massive battlefield. I personally prefer smaller engagements anyhow, and the core gameplay itself just didn't seem to offer anything original beyond the large player number, which I guess was lost on me.
- God of War III - Didn't play the demo (the line was way too long), but I watched it for a bit. I loved God of War. I loved God of War II. I have every faith that I will love God of War III. Seeing God of War III's slick combo-driven combat and brutal finishing moves in HD was a sight to behold though. Can't wait for this to come out...really, I can't...
- Uncharted 2 - I didn't get a chance to try out this demo but I watched it for a fair bit, and I now have another beta key which I think brings my total to three. The game looks to be in great shape, the visuals look really nice, and it looks like they've refined the half-action, half-exploration gameplay even further. I am really looking forward to this release, and I may even download the Beta! I should probably also buy a copy of Uncharted (I played through Rick's before)...
- Dragon Age: Origins - I got to sit in on a demo session, which didn't really do a whole lot for me one way of another. They showed the main character talking to other characters (well-acted and animated, mind you), including a fortunately abbreviated love scene, and then showed a relatively fast battle with a dragon (which was admittedly cool looking). The HUD was off during the battle, so it wasn't clear exactly what the demonstrator was doing, but it looked cool and ended with a fantastic finish. I was, and still am, excited for this game, and I have complete faith in Bioware's ability to make an RPG, the demo didn't really change that much at all. I am curious about how it will work on consoles (and how it will run), but unfortunately only fancy media people got to play with the hands-on console demo.
- Mass Effect 2 - This demo was sweet. I love Mass Effect. I want to play it again...right now. The demo lasted about 20 min. and looked at dialogue, combat, and how it all relates to the first game (and potentially the next game). Apparently, you will be able to import over your save from the original Mass Effect and the game will use your character and the choices he/she made to define parts of your experience in Mass Effect 2. You can also play without doing this, but it's not clear what impact that will have on the story as a whole. The team seems to be improving the depth of the game's systems overall. The dialogue feels even more integrated and cinematic and the combat seems even more action-oriented than before. It would seem that if you liked Mass Effect, you'll love Mass Effect 2.
- Split Second - I don't really like most racing games, but this game was a real surprise. It seems like what you would get if you combined Burnout, an action movie, and a kart racing game, where the weapons you pick up are actually built into the track. While racing, you build up a special meter by drifting, drafting, and overtaking other cars, and when the meter reaches certain levels it can be used to activate special powers at different points in the map. Usually these powers cause something to explode fantastically and take a number of your competitors with it, but other times you can use a fully loaded bar to alter the layout of the track, which actually changes the race (and also explodes fantastically and make takeout other drivers). The game seems all about over-the-top action, no better represented than the end of my first race where I raced under a flaming 747 as it crashed onto the runway in front of me. It's crazy over-the-top, and crazy fun. The framerate's a little lower than I'd like, but hopefully they can tighten that up before it ships.
- Fat Princess - This game seems deceptively strategic and awesome. It's like a full-blown strategic, class-based, multiplayer CTF-style game, packed into an excessively cute and over-the-top violent package. Both teams are trying to steal the other team's princess while trying to fatten their own to prevent the theft. At the same time, the teams can harvest trees in order to earn resources for their team, which can be used by other players to upgrade their character to the different classes (warrior, archer, priest, etc.). The game seems really straightforward and approachable, while still having the strategic depth and teamwork that more hardcore gamers are looking for. I'll definitely being paying closer attention to this title as it gets closer to launch.
- Battlefield: Bad Company 2 - I actually ended up playing this demo while I was waiting for the next Mass Effect 2 demo to start, and I ended finding myself quite enjoying it. I am a big fan of the Battlefield formula and the original Bad Company was no exception. I looks like they've polished up the engine and gameplay somewhat, while keeping the game true to its predecessor. All I can say is I had a great deal of fun with the demo, and I'll be sure to check it out when it comes out later this year.
- Final Fantasy: Dissidia - I had zero expectations when I played this, I didn't even know what it was. Apparently, it's a clever little fighting game for the PSP that pits classic Final Fantasy characters against one another in mortal combat. I'm not sure if there's any intention for a greater story behind it, but the reason I call it clever is the gameplay. It's the exact kind of fighting game I like: simple. The special attacks are all pulled off by pressing a direction in combination with a button (think Smash Bros.), that's it. The game seems more about picking the right attacks at the right times, and blocking effectively (again a simple, single button press). I do have a concern that a fighting game on a handheld misses out on one of the genre's strongest points - local multiplayer, but we'll see what they do with that. I can't say I am going to pick it up, but I'll certainly keep an eye on it.
Well I know I saw a lot more, but those were the highlights. Attending my first E3 as a professional game developer was definitely a memorable experience. The conference certainly has its share of "oddities" (like models dressed like game characters or a guy walking around in power armor), but in the end it is an epic spectacle of gaming that really shines a light on all of interactive entertainment, and I'm glad it's back. Now, I need to go ice my eyeballs...