WIth E3 2015 landing in LA this week to which I will be covering on Wednesday over on our Twitter feed. I thought it would be fun to start off the week with a look at some of the crazy things that have happened at E3 over the years. Some of them I have experienced and some are very well documented and may be stories that you may not be familiar with. After that I take a look at this years E3 to see what we can look forward to.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day E3 2000
Nintendo 64 was coming to the end of its lifespan and Nintendo was looking to have more mature games on the system to entice more hardcore gamers to the platform and one of their developers Rare who had produced games like Banjo-Kazooie and Diddy Kong Racing had been working on a platform game with one of their creations Conker who had been previously seen in a GameBoy Advance title. The game started its life off as platform game but at some point the game went off in a very different direction. While the platform aspect of the game remained the situations like drinking beer and peeing out fires and the language far exceeded anything Nintendo had done before or since. The Game earned it’s M rating for sure. There was an advisory on the box ADVISORY: THIS GAME IS NOT FOR ANYONE UNDER AGE 17. So at E3 Nintendo had a separate booth for Conker and you had to be 21 years or older to enter. They had guards carding people at the door. One you got in you could not only play the game but they served beer to anyone who wanted one. Yes that’s correct Nintendo served beer at E3. The irony to the game is when Microsoft updated the game for the X-Box as Conker’s Live & Reloaded they actually toned it down and edited it from the N64 version. Talk about irony.
They gave out plastic beer mugs and condoms as swag from the booth. To this day I doubt that anything will ever top this.
Sega Dreamcast E3 2000
The other big thing at E3 2000 was the Sega booth. This was the last E3 that Sega had a system to support and they really pulled out all of the stops and had the must see booth at the show. The Playstation 2 was the talk of the show but Sega was showing off some of their best games that were coming out for the Dreamcast. They had Space Channel 5, Jet Grind Radio, Shenmue and the wacky Seaman. Throughout the day they had Space Channel 5 dancers come out and put on a show. They also had skaters in Jet Grind Radio costumes perform on stage also. People still talk about the strangeness of Seaman to this day and if you have a Dreamcast you really need to find and play this game. Shenmue reportedly cost 47 million dollars to produce and while the game is one of the strongest games ever made for the Dreamcast is was too little too late to save the system. The Sega booth was a spectacle of sight and sound and it’s very obvious that they spent a lot of money on it. Sadly in February 2001 Sega pulled the plug on the Dreamcast and became a software publisher for other platforms. It was a real once in lifetime booth blowout that at least Sega Dreamcast went out in style.
Here is the video of the Space Channel 5 stage show.
Sega Saturn VS Sony Playstation E3 1995
The stage was set for one of the most epic battles that has ever been seen at any E3. Sega had already released the Saturn at four retailers (Toys R Us, Babbages, Software Etc. and Electronics Boutique) and retailing at $399. This of course pissed off all of the other retailers and really hurt the Saturn at launch. Tom Kalinske president of Sega was the first company to have its press conference and he talked about the full retail launch and how powerful the system was. Sony was next up with its press conference. Sony was new to the video game business and people were unsure of what the machine was going to be and because it was Sony it would probably have a high retail price. So Steve Race President of SCEA came on stage with a lot of paperwork and sat them down on the podium and then he said “$299” and then he walked off stage. The crowd went nuts! Sega has squandered a lead of 30,000 units shipped to the four retailers in the spring. Sega was caught flat-footed because it had very little software and the unit was expensive to produce. Sony shipped 100,000 units to retail in September and it sold through in pretty much the first weekend that it was available. The Sega Saturn was off to a bad start and really never quite recovered. And that leads us to E3 1996.
The video below is the press conference at the 8:10 point in the video is when Steve Race came on stage and dropped the bomb.
Sony Playstation destroys Sega Saturn at E3 1996
Sony could barely keep up with demand for the Playstation and going into E3 1996 they were well ahead of everyone at this point. At the press conference Sony Executive Vice President Jim Whims like Steve Race started off the show with a bang. They announced that the Playstation was going to retail for $199 and caught both Sega and Nintendo off guard. Sega had fought against another price drop on the Saturn because the hardware was more expensive and they didn’t have the deep pockets that Sony had to eat cost if necessary on the Playstation. To tell how arrogant leadership at Sony was there is a story from The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent that was:
On the third day of the show, Sega spokeswoman Angela Edwards brought signs saying Saturn now only $299. As she stood outside the show, waiting for help carrying the signs, an employee of Sony approached her, looked at the signs and said “You’re Pathetic!”
Nintendo had planned the N64 to release the system for $250 but they had to lower the price to match Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn at $199. Sony dominated E3 with both the price reduction and a strong software lineup that made them the leader in the 32 bit console race.
Phantom Entertainment E3 2004
The Phantom gaming system certainly lived up to its name because it never actually came out. Phantom Entertainment also know as Infinium Labs showed off a “prototype” unit that was debatable if it was actually real or just a shell at the 2004 E3 show. The system was supposed to be future proof. The only reason that people even bothered to go into the booth for the most part was the Phantom t-shirts that they were giving away. They really didn’t show much software off at the both and most people were sceptical at best on the unit. Well the system lived up to its name because it ended up being a phantom product. The company did put out a PC keyboard that didn’t sell very well. The company lost over 62 million dollars on the project and there were many lawsuits that followed. The t-shirts are still a prized possession to this day, for humor value.
Xbox 360 software running on Mac G5 Towers E3 2005
Microsoft at E3 2005 was debuting their new Xbox 360 games at the show. While there was a lot of excitement surrounding the displays there was a little dirty secret that some people caught at the show. Most of the time when companies are showing off new hardware the units in the kiosk displays are sometimes only shells and the units are behind or underneath the display because they are not finished. Well this was apparently the case for Microsoft for the E3 debut of the system. While if you looked below the kiosk it looked to be that the game was running off an actual Xbox 360. But if you looked on the front you actually saw Apple Macintosh G5 towers that were really running the games. Talk about sleeping with the enemy. It’s one thing to have the units off site of the displays but the fact that you could see the Mac G5 was quite odd to say the least.
Nintendo’s lackluster 2003 E3 Press Conference
Nintendo’s Gamecube was not the success that Nintendo had hoped for. While there were a lot of very good games released for the system it lacked strong 3rd party support and the size limitations of the disc size didn’t help either. At Nintendo’s E3 press conference the audience was eager to hear what Nintendo had up its sleeves. Nintendo’s big announcement was the cross connectivity between the Gamecube and the GameBoy Advance and the headline title was Pac-Man VS. People at the press conference said that you could hear the air being sucked out of the room by the audiences disbelief of what was happening. This was their headline game?!?!? They did announce two other cross connectivity games The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Adventures and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles but the damaged had been done. Nintendo was a distant 3rd in the console race well behind Playstation 2 and Microsoft X-Box and it was obvious from this showing that they had no idea what they were doing.
Nintendo steals the show E3 2006 with the introduction of the Wii
While there have been a lot of insane things happen at E3, I have never witnessed anything like the introduction of the Nintendo Wii at the 2006 E3. The videos below show the chaos that was created just to get in line to play and seen the Wii.
As you can see people went bananas. Now I did wait in line to see the Wii but was never part of the track and field event when the doors opened. I was in fact very luck to even get in to the Wii area that day. I was in line and while you’re in line you end up talking to people who are in line with you and there was a girl in front of me and we started to chat about things because we were going to have to wait about 2+ hours just to get in. A representative from Nintendo was asking people in line if they had specific things from Nintendo. Like toys, pins, tattoos etc. If you had the character that he was asking for you got to go to the head of the line. Well she didn’t have the Mario thing but she had a Donkey Kong item and the guy said that was close enough. She was waiting for a friend and he said to flag him down when her friend got there. Her friend finally showed up and I told her to have a good time and she said “oh your going with us” so the Nintendo guy came back and walked the three of us up to the front of the line and we got to see the Wii and only waited about a half an hour total to get in. The moral of the story? It’s good to talk to the people you are in line with at a show or a convention because you never know what you can learn from someone else. She didn’t even know me but was kind enough to take me to the front of the line with her.
E3 2015: The Virtual Reality Nightmare?
With the three consoles finally having time to get games into the pipeline this years E3 should be about the games instead of hardware and those always make for a better E3 show. Unfortunately the Virtual Reality craze is going into full swing this year and will anyone care beyond the manufactures?
This will be the make or break year for Nintendo. The WiiU has been a train wreck with virtually no 3rd party support to speak of and with last years Smash Bros. game taking up nearly all of their booth space there is very little new that Nintendo has left. There are the Starfox and Metroid game in the wings but while Splatoon is an original game and a very good one at that, let’s be honest it’s not a console selling game. With the 3DS also struggling with new games Nintendo is going to have to at the very least talk about a new console or something. With the only bright spot of the Amiibo’s selling well that tapped into the Skylanders and Disney Infinity collector frenzy they are on very thin ice this year. As a longtime Nintendo fan I hope that they pull off a big surprise at the show.
Sony has a lot riding on E3 and while worldwide they are currently in first place they really need to make a great showing at E3 this year. They need to have a playable demo of Uncharted 4 on display because this game will be a system seller. While the whole virtual reality with Project Morpheus this is not the future of gaming. While its neat for a short period of time Nintendo learned with the Virtual Boy that nobody wants to play games with a headset on your face.
The biggest surprise of the show could be the long developed The Last Guardian for the PS4. The long rumored game that was originally developed by Team ICO of ICO and Last Colossus were two of the best PS2 games that ever grace that console. If in fact Sony announces The Last Guardian it would be the biggest games of E3 this year. Sony really needs to bring some big hitters to convince more people to buy a PS4 because at this point most people have not been sold on this generation of consoles yet.
Microsoft is in a very interesting position. While the sale on the Xbox One have improved greatly once they dropped the price of the console by dumping the Kinect that was very much last generations novelty toy they have improved the consoles sales and reputation. While Halo 5 will be a big seller will it convince people to buy the console. They are in the same boat as Sony in that they need to convince last generation of console buyers to invest in a new system and honestly the games have not swayed a lot of buyers yet. Microsoft is also betting on the virtual reality bandwagon with the announcement of the partnership of the Oculus Rift VR headset developed by Facebook that will include an Xbox One controller. But I think that Microsoft needs to have a real plan for the system. While they have rebounded well from the disastrous launch they need to have some killer games beyond sequels and reboots of franchises.
The Skylander Effect.
The other big thing that has happened in games over the last few years has been the combining toys with games that Activision started with Skylanders. They had huge success with the game but now with Disney’s Infinity 3.0 adding the Star Wars franchise and WB Interactive jumping in with the Lego Dimensions that will have not only the Lego originals in the game they are going to have the DC Comics Universe, Jurassic World, Back to the Future, Portal 2, Lord of the Rings, Simpsons, Wizard of Oz, Doctor Who, and Scooby-Doo that we know of. These games have been big cash cows for Disney and Activision and now WB Interactive is set to possibly be a real game changer with such a diverse line up across different franchises that are not owned by WB. There could be even more sets announced at E3.
Can there still be any originality found at E3? Well yes and no. As far as the big console games the gaming industry has the same problem as Hollywood. With always escalating budgets the gamble on original IP games are very risky and we have seen in the past that it has put some developers out of business. There is a bright side in that of the big three at least Sony seems to be courting the independent game developers for games for the Playstation Network. Last years E3 they had an area for smaller developers to show off their games and while they may have not got the biggest press they were some of the funnier games that I played at the show. Microsoft hopefully will also embrace smaller developer games for the Xbox Live and they showed off a few last year hopefully they will have a better showing this year. Nintendo can develop great original games and has done so recently with Splatoon for the WiiU and Code Name Steam for the 3DS but with the troubling sales of their hardware has them doing more franchise titles for the near future.
VR Future Imperfect
While the virtual reality craze seems to be in full force this year, gaming companies need to realize two things. No peripheral for any console has ever sold a strong percentage of installed console units. Here is a few add-on peripherals that were dismal failures. Power Glove, Menacer, SEGA 32X, N64 Disc Drive, Sony Pocket Station, Xbox 360 faceplate, Gameboy camera and printer, and who could forget R.O.B. The Robot that only had two games that worked with him. Secondly there have already been attempts at them for gaming. While the 1995 Nintendo Virtual Boy had limitations for its time due to the red LED only screens that burnt your retinas in your eyes out faster than staring at the sun. The system was Nintendo’s first real failure and proved that nobody wanted virtual reality. Even Atari had a VR helmet for the Jaguar that never came to the light of day after the demise of the company in 1996. It was shown off at trade shows. but the biggest issue is going to be the cost. While the Samsung Gear VR is only $199 it uses a smart phone for the display and the Oculus does the same using a smart phone it’s doubtful that the Sony Project Morpheus will be more expensive because it will have a built-in monitor. At the minimum of $200 bucks who is going to buy these things. One of my co-workers has the Samsung VR Gear and I got to test it with the Circus de Soleil Zarkana movie and while it was very impressive it was a pre-filmed video not a game. A game running at least 60 frames per second is going to be very uncomfortable for long periods. In the end VR helmets are just shiny version of a View Master that is fake 3-D and just a simple novelty in the end.
So I will be at E3 on Wednesday so there will not be an update that day but follow me on Twitter and I will try to post some quick things at the show and have a full post after the show. Fingers crossed this year will be a good one for E3.