E3 2005: Watoad
TMK at E3 2005

After all of the great info that my colleague Lizard Dude has reported about the expo, it seems either slightly pointless or redundant that I would dare to follow in his shadow and voice a few of my own thoughts. I feel that it's worth doing, however, because I saw the show through different eyes and have at least a few different perspectives than he gave you to think about. For one thing, I played many less games than he did, so perhaps I can attempt to give some observations about the convention as a whole. After I do so, I'll tie this back into the world of Mario with a little game talk.

Despite Console Sales, Nintendo Dominates E3

Outside of E3, Nintendo bashing has become fairly commonplace among many a Sony and Microsoft fan. Whatever their reasoning, these dissenters seem to take joy in being vocally dissatisfied with the world's most established game maker. Upon crossing the threshold of the LA Convention Center—and particularly of Nintendo's booth—however, complaints about Nintendo magically turn into awed silence or words of wonder. With so much incredible hardware and software in plain view at once, suddenly Nintendo returns to being our old friend, and the greatest challenge facing us is how on Earth we're ever going to leave Nintendo's booth.

I cannot claim to have listened to everyone's conversations and to know exactly what they all said, but it wasn't difficult to tell that Nintendo owned the show, and that E3 would have been a much more joyless event had Nintendo not been there. At all times Nintendo's booth was packed with what I'd estimate was a four-digit number of people, and every game station was just about always in use, often with lines of anticipating gamers. That alone is saying quite a bit because there were so many different stations and games. And except for big titles—such as Geist, Super Mario Strikers, and Mario Baseball—that had on average four to six stations, every station had a different game.

Having started my traverse of E3 at Nintendo's booth, I was surprised when I found that this was not the case elsewhere. Pretty much every other booth I went to devoted several stations to each game on display, which meant far fewer games overall. So even aside from attendees' reactions, Nintendo ruled just by giving everyone more to see and play.

Something important I learned about attending E3 (this was my first time going) is that starting the adventure at Nintendo's booth isn't the greatest idea. It had not only the greatest offerings of hardware and software, but it also had the best layout, design, showy structures and electronics, projectors and light displays, sound level, atmosphere, and even lighting. After I had spent an hour or two experiencing all of that, I visited other booths and exhibition halls, and I was a bit taken aback.

Much of the rest of E3 lives off of exploding bullets and explosions. While this aspect is definitely redundant and unoriginal-feeling, it also leads to deafening roars of explosions from unseen speakers all around and keeps you from talking with the person next to you. The lighting is just high enough for you not to trip, the screens constantly flash with images of fire and death, and you're left beaten with the blunt impression that you should be shooting some of the attendees around you. Overall, it is an experience quite unlike anything you normally find in daily life, and it feels somewhat out-of-place—if not bordering on mentally unstable—after the sensical sights and sounds of Nintendo's booth.

My praise of Nintendo's E3 presence has drifted even further in the subjective, so I'll end my observations with a more grounded comment. As far as I could tell, the biggest hype and greatest amount of buzz leading up to the convention was surrounding the next wave of next-generation consoles from the three battling companies. Nintendo bashing became a little easier as it was revealed that the Revolution would receive little-to-no focus at the show, but anticipation still remained high for the Xbox 360 and the more popular PlayStation 3.

What's interesting is that Sony had a line for the PlayStation 3 just as Nintendo did for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess—and they were right next to each other. What's even more interesting is that every time I saw the two lines, the one for Twilight Princess was 1½ to 2 times longer than the one for PS3. When I myself entered the Nintendo line at the four- or five-hour-wait point, where was Sony's? A spec of darkness off in the hazy distance up ahead. Those waiting in front of me were sacrificing double the time required by the Sony line, in essence saying that a Nintendo game is worth twice as much as a Sony console.

Next-Gen Consoles Not Playable

The funny thing about all of the talk of next-gen consoles is that none of them was playable. While waiting for my return flight home, someone in the airport who had spent the last three or more days at E3 told me that a tech demo of Revolution's graphical capabilities was given at a Nintendo press conference. Aside from that, it had no real presence at the show, and I'm quite sure that its controller was never shown to anyone.

The PlayStation 3 had much greater visibility, with anyone willing to wait in the aforementioned line able to see it and what it can do. I didn't pay a visit myself, but from what I've heard, the graphics are the expected next notch up, and the controller somehow looks downright scary. It was obvious that Sony was giving at least some focus to its next console, though, because of the "WELCOME CHANG3" slogan on banners all over the place.

Most apparent of all was the presence of the Xbox 360, a prominent logo of which was featured on the front and back of about 85% of the swag bags that attendees toted around the show. With a much sooner release than the other two consoles hailing the Next Generation, Xbox 360 belonged in this year's E3 more than the others, so much so that you'd expect it to have been playable. The odd part is that it wasn't.

In Microsoft's intensely green booth—the closest we'll ever get to really entering the Matrix—there were several Xbox 360 stations, such as this one. The beam of light in the little window at the left of the unit is the Xbox 360. But why is the console sitting inside such a large box? To make the 360 appear smaller than it actually is and allay fears of another Xbulk? No, the answer lies in the grating at the side: A closer look reveals two "dev kits," otherwise known as PowerMac G5s! The lit-up Xbox 360s were little more than display cases, with the games actually running on Apple computers! So in reality the Xbox 360 wasn't actually playable, but instead a bunch of Macs were getting some covert but highly ironic game time. Things surely are strange in the Matrix.

Booth Babe Theory

For some reason, E3, which one might say is largely about nerdy technology and games, caters particularly well to booth babes. Their presence is so strongly felt that a group of rebels have formed AntiBoothBabes.com, an effort that I admire because I similarly don't see how they contribute to the convention. Since my time at E3, however, I have stumbled upon a theory about them. I'm not sure how much bearing in truth it has, but it is still interesting to think about.

Basically, it goes like this: The worse a company's products on display at the show are, the more skin that company's booth babes will be showing. It seems that there might be a correlation between the quality of product and the amount of clothing worn by booth babes, with a balance of crowd draw attempting to be reached by all booths at the convention. This curious relationship may prove false in the end, but at least for now it gives me some feeling of reason for the otherwise random presence of scantily clad women at a trade show that has nothing at all to do with them.

Mario Kart DS

I spent more time playing Mario Kart DS than any other game at the show, maybe in part because I'm such a lover of Mario Kart 64. What stood out to me more than anything is that skill didn't seem to be a very important factor in the game play, at least not in an eight-player game. The control scheme and mechanics were similar enough to those of MK64 that I had a pretty good handle on what was happening—or would have if that had been possible. But it didn't particularly seem to be.

No matter where I started in the race, how well I played, or how far ahead of everyone else I got, it seemed to have very little bearing on the outcome of the race. A single Spiky Blue Shell was all that it took to drop me from first to eighth in an instant. And once in eighth, it was pretty much up to the game (and the items it gave me) as to whether I'd be moving up the ranks again. The problem, it seemed, was that items had a bit too much influence on what happened, and racing ability was given too little importance. But the final version of the game may be different, or the correct methods for playing competitively may just be less similar to MK64 than I assumed.

Animal Crossing DS

The other of two online DS games demoed at the show had less ostensibly to do with Mario, but I noticed Mario's voice saying "Whack! Whack!" every time one of the characters hit me over the head with his bug net. Oh, wait. That's because I was playing with Charles Martinet. Never mind.

NEW Super Mario Bros.

Playing this felt like playing Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Bros. 3 at the same time. It was a weird feeling. Thankfully, though, it was also a very fun one. No human seems to know why Nintendo has taken so long to give us another sidescroller, but it looks like the wait will finally be over with a quality game. Simultaneous multiplayer was fun, the controls were tight and responsive as they should be in any Mario game, and the 3-D graphics didn't seem to be distracting or detractive from the game play experience. Purists may still long for sprites, but in this day and age when bullets per second is the most important figure in gaming, we should all just be thankful that Mario hasn't yet been shot or blown to meaningless bits.

The Mushroom Kingdom \ TMK at E3 2005 \ Watoad