Games

E3 2012: Notes from Day 1

Our Moving Pixels crew explores day one at the famed E3, checking out a host of new independent games, as well as some new PlayStation and Xbox titles. Even more of the flavor of day one is available in the podcast for the event.

It's my first E3, so seeing the massive spectacle itself was strange. Almost everything about the show is loud: the colors, the music, the people. Being on the show floor, surrounded by thousands of people who are there to celebrate and profit off of the medium creates a strange manic energy. While everyone says they are there to have a great time, there is a lot of business being done.

What made the day even stranger was my relatively open schedule. Jorge and I booked most of our appointments for Wednesday and Thursday, which left us with a strange amount of unstructured time. A fair amount of this time was spent waiting in various lines, but the lack of structure also let us stumble on a few less-trafficked parts of the show and also get a sense of some of E3's less tangible qualities. Here are some highlights as well as a podcast covering the day's events

Indies at E3

Nestled between two of the major display halls was the IndieCade expo. In the middle of the corporate maelstrom, the organization was highlighting a few upcoming and recently released independent games.

Scale: A first-person game in which you can grow and shrink objects in the environment, Alice in Wonderland style. Shrinking and enlarging blocks allows you to depress hard to reach switches, or enlarge platforms in order to make jumps. Enlarging items requires fuel that is mined from shrinking items, creating see-saw dynamic of shrinking and blowing up in order to traverse environments. Very entertaining, even at this early stage.

A Valley Without Wind: A very hard game to describe, but one built for folks who like a challenge. It's a 2D, sidescrolling roguelike with attacks and spells reminiscent to Diablo-style hack and slashers. It's worlds are procedurally generated and your world becomes inhabited by the ghosts of your former characters (who then set out to attack you). It has been out for a couple months now and the developers are constantly rolling out new changes based on veteran and new community member experiences.

Coalesce: An iPad game that combines the speed of Flight Control with the aesthetic of Osmos. You guide different colored orbs along paths to connect them with like colors. Accidental different-color collisions cause the orbs to burst, thereby causing more work for you. It also supported multitouch, which was a good way to test your dexterity or play with a friend.

Motion on the floor

I've never been fully sold on the move towards non-tradition console controls. I had a chance to revisit the PlayStation Move and Xbox 360 connect with Datura and NBA Baller Beats, respectively.

Datura is a first-person exploration game that struck me as what Myst would have been like if you could move around freely. When it comes to gestures, the usual suspects made an appearance: smashing pieces of the environment, lifting things and brushing away obstacles. The game's ambiance was mysterious, even amid the bustling expo floor, but the motion controls left me wanting an analog stick for simple maneuvers like turning around or running.

I wanted to see NBA Baller Beats for the 360 it claimed to use a real basketball as part of the game. This interested me because it contradicted Microsoft's soft rule against props for Kinect games. It's a rhythm game built around dribbling a basketball to the beat of pop songs. Similar to dance central, the game gives you prompts to execute certain tricks like dribbling between your legs and faking a pass. It's not the most apartment or carpet-friendly game, but it reinforces the notion that motion games are best suited to the party and exercise game genres.

Finally, I had a brief demo of Pikmin 3 for the WiiU. I had been waiting to touch the new controller since last year's E3, and was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable is was to hold. Neither heavy nor flimsy, it also felt quite ergonomic. It looks boxy, but its molding felt akin to the GameCube controller. The touch screen sensitivity was another point of worry and I'm still not completely sold. It felt more responsive than the DS screen, but less so than an iPhone or even some Android phones. I'm not sure if it's a reactive or capacitive screen, but I'm a bit worried that it won't be responsive enough to accommodate fast inputs or action games to alleviate lag issues.

As for Pikmin itself: it looks great, but there were some key changes from the previous games that will take some getting used to. The ability to maneuver your group of Pikmin with the anlog stick was gone, so throwing them was the only option. Aiming was accomplished solely with the motion sensors in the Wii and was disappointingly jittery. The Nintendo employee attending the booth reminded me that the game wasn't finished, but acknowledged that he had also noticed the changes from the last games. A fleeting look of worry, the kind that only a fan could get, flashed across his fans. I nodded in agreement, as the game is due out in the fall.

I imagine I'll be spending more time at Nintendo's booth, but not tomorrow: Day 2 is far more structured and is largely dedicated to big publishers whose presentations leave no wiggle room for employees to break message. I'll sleep tonight and prepare to transition from wandering the wilderness to running a gauntlet.

Please visit PopMatters' Facebook page to check out a larger, high res gallery of images from E3 Day 1 from Daniel Boczarski.

Please visit PopMatters' Facebook page to check out a larger, high res gallery of images from E3 Day 2 from Daniel Boczarski.

Please visit PopMatters’ Facebook page to check out a larger, high res gallery of images from E3 Day 3 from Daniel Boczarski.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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