The Year In Review

The Year In Review
The Year of the Turtle

Dave Thomas | 27 Dec 2005 11:04
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Now, just because I can't recognize a celebrity when I run into one doesn't mean that my basic reporter's curiosity suffers the same lameness. So, while pretending to listen to the Godfather spiel, I tried to hear what Mr. Hollywood was saying. Sadly, even though I was close enough to pick the wax out of his ears, I couldn't hear a word. I could only watch the smiling, adoring faces of the EA crowd soaking up whatever marvelous things he was offering. In the end, I have no idea if the Godfather game will be any good because I wasn't paying attention; one of the EA executives was waving his hands while exclaiming, "Steven, why don't you make a game for us?"

Of course, months later, EA announced that Spielberg would be working on games. And who is surprised?

Upon reflection, the whole scene was ironic enough to make it into a Saturday Night Live sketch. How else does one describe two reporters who muscle past the biggest name in Hollywood for a chance to see a demo of a game made about an Academy Award-winning piece of cinematic history?

I Walk the Line
People like to talk about the "console wars" as if the videogame industry was some sort of giant strategic simulation produced by Avalon-Hill. You can almost envision the game box, with Mario decked out like Rommel, peering over an embankment with a pair of field goggles. Sony would have the black pieces, Microsoft the green and Nintendo the red. The game would play out on map of the world, and domination would be determined by a roll of the dice.

In reality, the Nintendo booth at E3 sits next to Sony's. Microsoft holds court in an entirely different hall in the convention center. If there is a front in this war, it's a carpeted aisle filled with milling fans. This year, it was also filled huge lines.

People like to imagine the mythical length of Disneyland lines in the summer. But these E3 lines were longer. These were the kind of lines you see on the news when Wal-Mart gives out free hams; when American Idol auditions come to town; when you promise fans a glimpse of the next generation of games and hardware.

This year, I noticed a line of what must have been four or five hundred people queued up on the side of the Nintendo booth. I asked a fellow in a black Zelda t-shirt what he was waiting to do. "Zelda trailer," he offered flatly. He was there to sit through a few minutes of videogame footage and a taste of game play. His fellow-line waiters shared a glazed look and plastic bags filled with the promotional flotsam and jetsam you accumulate during a visit to E3 - T-shirts, magazines, posters and the occasional thing with a blinking LED. The line looked like a cross between political refugees at a boarder crossing and Rolling Stones fans camping out for tickets.

My curiosity, or maybe just morbid fascination, led me to the back of the line. A cherry group of fans anchored the tail of the line - so far from the Nintendo compound, you couldn't even see it.

"How long will it take you to get to the front?" I asked I guy who, I swear, was also wearing a Zelda shirt.

"Oh, about three and a half hours," he chirped.

"Just to see a three minute clip of a new game?"

"Well, that's what we came here to see. So, we're not going to leave until we've seen it."

The fans around them murmured in agreement. And I wandered off wondering if the game business deserved fans that loyal. I considered, for a moment, whether the industry was a little too dependent on a core group of people that absolutely, and fundamentally, believe games matter; that games were more than frivolous bits and plastic boxes.

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