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E for Some But Not All

Ryan Smith
The "hustle and bustle" of E for All [Photo by Ryan Smith]

I felt at times like a kid at an amusement park on a rainy, drizzly day where the weather scares most people off, so the lines for the roller coasters are practically nonexistent.

Pity poor E for All.

The inaugural edition of this new video game expo had valiantly attempted to fill the void left by E3 after it changed its format this year to a smaller, more exclusive trade event closed to the public. Unfortunately, E For All, which wrapped up recently at the Los Angeles Convention Center, has been getting press nearly as bad as post-Video Music Awards Britney Spears.

It could be argued, of course, that the show nicknamed E4 has been rightfully panned for a variety of reasons. Many game companies (including top dogs such as Sony, Microsoft, and Square) opted to skip the show entirely. As a result, the South Hall was only about half full with exhibitors. Also, because of the late October date of the conference, many games that were previewed (Guitar Hero III, Rock Band, The Simpsons Game, etc.) will be released in the next few weeks. The announced attendance of 18,000 for Thursday through Sunday was also disappointingly low, especially compared to the days of E3 when 60,000 would show up. Some speculated that the high price of a 4-day pass for the expo ($120) was a big factor in contributing to the low attendance.

On the other hand, the more intimate nature of E4 was somewhat refreshing. At times, E3 felt less like a trade show and more like a gargantuan high-tech carnival -- part Silicon Valley, part Times Square, and part Las Vegas. Once you stepped into the big tent, you were attacked with a sensory overload of bright lights, mind-numbingly loud music and noises, garish set-pieces, leering fanboys, frantic media crews, company suits, and, of course, lots and lots of booth babes.

At E for All, the focus was more on the games themselves and less about the hype, even if there were fewer of them. You could easily walk up to a game and start playing or chat it up with game developers in a casual environment.

Also thanks to the sparse attendance, I felt at times like a kid at an amusement park on a rainy, drizzly day where the weather scares most people off, so the lines for the roller coasters are practically nonexistent. Most people got to play almost any game they wanted and some of the exhibitors at the smaller booths were practically begging people to come visit them. It was a far cry from the days of E3 where you had to wait almost two to three hours just to watch a demo of a PlayStation 3 game.

Regardless of whether E for All was a dramatic flop or secret success, here is a breakdown of the highlights of the show I compiled after spending three bleary-eyed, sore-footed days stumbling around the Convention Center like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas.


Not shown: A blindfolded Sonic, smoking a cigarette
[Photo by Ryan Smith]

The house that Mario built was the runaway winner at E for All. Nintendo's booth actually felt like an old school E3 booth -- and not just because it was manned by a horde of attractive, well-coiffed females dressed in powder blue. Hundreds of people were constantly lined up to play the new Super Smash Brothers and Super Mario Galaxy games for Nintendo's Wii. Smash Brothers in particular, a game whose appeal I have never completely comprehended, was hands down the most popular game of the show. Nintendo groupies huddled in bleachers and screamed and cheered like it was a taping of TRL to watch a Smash Brothers tournament.

Others were excited about trying shooting games with Nintendo's new peripheral, the Zapper. The Zapper certainly looks interesting, but the problem with all gun peripherals since the beginning of video game time is that they never receive much support beyond a handful of games. Nintendo is infamous for dropping support for these gadgets. Time will tell the fate of the Zapper.


Security was high at Konami, so here's a pic of
Old Solid Snake for you to enjoy.

After Nintendo, the second most popular booth belonged to Konami, who chose E for All to unveil the playable demo of the eagerly anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4 for the PlayStation 3. It was a good thing that the 5 Hour Energy Drink booth was nearby because the Metal Gear Solid 4 line was almost a constant hour-to-two-hour wait. The line also looked ominous, by which I mean that people were lining up behind a tall barbed wire fence that bore a sign that read "No pictures, no video." It looked a bit like those in line were on a forced march to some sort of elaborate P.O.W. camp.

After waiting in line for 2 hours, swearing secrecy and being stripped naked (OK, not really), my group of 10 was allowed to play the demo for about 15 minutes. My first impressions? Amazing graphics, familiar gameplay, and Solid Snake is looking more and more like Tom Skeritt. Besides Metal Gear Solid 4, Konami also scored with demos for new Dance Dance Revolution games for all the major consoles, including Hottest Party for the Wii.

Rock 'N Roll

A Guitar Hero rock-out session
[Photo by Ryan Smith]

Just about everywhere you looked at E For All was Guitar Hero, Rock Band, more Guitar Hero, and even more Rock Band. There were two separate Guitar Hero contests in two different areas, a dozen or more Guitar Hero III demo stations, and both a main and side Rock Band stage. Here's a quick, throwaway review of Guitar Hero III: It's still fun, but after playing four very similar versions, it doesn't hold the same kind of thrill. Rock Band looks much more interesting because you can play guitar, bass, or drums, or you can sing.

I wasn't the only one magically drawn to the Rock Band stage at E for All. They had a backstage area where you could fiddle around with each of the instruments, and a main stage where four people could sign up to play one of five preselected songs. The staff then recorded them and put a video clip on a website so you could relive your embarrassment later. The only problem with all of this was that showgoers were bombarded by limp versions of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" and Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun". I wonder if the downside of Rock Band is that it will turn America into one big terrible karaoke bar. If nothing else, the Guitar Hero phenomena has brought a new breed of nerd to gaming trade shows, guys who resemble former Dio roadies, arguing the technical merits of Queensryche's first album.

Competitive Gaming

Fatal1ty whomps Derek Fisher at NBA Live '08
[Photo by Ryan Smith]

The fact that there are several different competitive gaming leagues, and none of them definitive, makes competitive gaming at least as confusing, if not more so, than professional boxing. At E For All, the fractured nature of competitive gaming was on display. Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel's booth, where he took on challengers in scheduled "shoot-outs" for his Quake throne, was often buzzing at E For All. Fatal1ty himself, who has held world titles in five games, is actually in semi-retirement because he is focusing on being a color commentator for competitive gaming broadcasts. He recently received a "lifetime achievement" award for his gaming. He is, by the way, 25 years old.

Across the South Hall at the Major League Gaming booth, where several of the top teams participated in exhibition matches of Halo 2, crowds were often thin. Still, it was interesting to be in a place where a 25-year old who plays Quake all day is more famous than two NBA players. That seemed to be the case at E for All, when Fatal1ty took on and beat the Lakers' Derek Fisher and the Clippers' Corey Maggette in NBA Live '08. It's possible that if one competitive gaming league emerges from the rest, we may all one day be watching Unreal Tournament on TV instead of the World Series.

Then again, we might be too busy playing lead guitar for cyber Bon Jovi to care.

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