E3’s shit. Well, most of it is, anyway. But prefacing a week of swanning around in Santa Monica and Hollywood doing a bit of typing and getting taxis, there are three business presentations that set the tone for the entire coming year in games. Undoubtedly, the E3 press conferences are videogaming’s annual highpoint, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.
You will get up at 3am to watch a man in Los Angeles talk about “penetration” and point at graphs, in the vague hope that this is “the one”. The megaton. The one where Gates shows the next Xbox. The one where Miyamoto shows the Zelda evolution. The first glimpse of the new Metal Gear. The one that makes your hair stand on end.
Of course, there’s a global circus of tradeshows surrounding games now – E3, GDC, Leipzig, etc – and they all have their classic press conferences. But which were the best, the worst, the most memorable? With E3 looming, we thought we’d tell you. Through the link.
10) May, 2000 – Microsoft, J Allard (probably others – it was a long time ago), E3, Los Angeles
Both baffling and extraordinary, Xbox’s first ever E3 press conference was nothing if not memorable. This was the first time Halo was shown from behind closed doors, and was introduced by a Bungie staffer with the immortal lines, “You are a cybernetic warrior. In the future.” The game looked respectable in the big screen (“Great water,” many in the crowd said), but on the showfloor it was running at about ten frames per second: it wasn’t J Allard’s best show.
Other notables in the conference included Microsoft attempting to show a NASCAR multiplayer match on an “Xbox” between LA and HQ in Seattle, which just didn’t work at all and had to be stopped.
This was the year Microsoft got serious about E3 showing a whopping 16 PC games, with Xbox and SideWinder GameVoice given equal billing in the firm’s show PR. Hard to imagine now.
9) May 13, 2003 – Microsoft, J Allard, Robbie Bach, Ed Fries, E3, Los Angeles
The “holy trinity” of Allard, Bach and Fries were on fire this year, showing Halo 2 for the first time. Bach, especially, preached like a preacher. Halo 2 looked amazing and the US crowd lapped it up. This was genuinely the game’s first showing in video, revealing dual weapons and giving a one hundred percent fanboy audience a look at the game’s first level and the ability to assume control of vehicles. The “w00t” was large in the room, and this was the first time Microsoft really got its “shit” together for an E3 conference. It was also the year J Allard played the crowd to their seats with that daft Xbox DJ casual thing that completely failed. Not that the theme’s continued, of course.
8 ) January 7, 2001 – Microsoft, Bill Gates, The Rock, CES, Las Vegas
Bill Gates, on stage, with the Rock. The stuff of fantasy. The real reason for being in Vegas for this CES conference was Bill showing the original black “brick” Xbox casing to the world for the first time. It was leaked a few days before, obviously, but that’s by the by. This was the conference the Rock made a joke about multi-threading and everyone laughed. Malice was also shown as one of the main games on the big screen, the robot doll thing jumping up and down and everyone gasping at the bump mapping. But it was all about the black cuboid on the stage, the polite clapping and people whispering, “What about the games?” Quite a show.
7) May 16, 2005 – Microsoft, Robbie Bach, J Allard, Peter Moore, E3, Los Angeles
This was the Xbox franchise’s lowest ebb. In hindsight, it was more insipid than abominable, but a tragic script and lack of key titles in Microsoft’s 2005 E3 press conference left more questions than answers hanging over Xbox 360’s launch. It was without doubt Microsoft’s worst ever conference script, and the games on show formed a nebulous line-up that relied pretty much on GRAW. Oblivion was seen for the first time here, but no one knew then how that would pan out: on the night it was just AN Other RPG to those outside America.
The transcript’s here. Peter Moore talked about the “zen of gaming” in his section. ‘Nuff said.
Months after the conference, insiders admitted in private that planning had shown this year would be a problem for the firm at E3, as the 360 games simply wouldn’t be ready. The feeling of wasted opportunity and disappointment was packed in hard by a Sony presentation on the same day that would set the PlayStation-maker up for a dramatic fall the following year (see number five below), but that night had the phrase “Killzone 2” and PS3’s outrageous – and ultimately fictitious – specs were on everyone’s lips.
A conference Microsoft will forever want to forget.
6) May 15, 2001 – Nintendo, Shigeru Miyamoto, Peter Main, Satoru Iwata, E3, Los Angeles
This was amazing. Long before the days of “live blogging,” Nintendo held its press conferences in the basement of the Biltmore Hotel at E3, away from nasty mobile phone reception. And down in the pit in 2001, Miyamoto, Main and Iwata showed games running on a GameCube for the very first time.
The atmosphere was insane. These days, fire marshalls stop conferences going ahead if you even sneeze wrong, but this show was packed. There were people hanging from the banisters at the back of the room. The entire presentation was delayed because security couldn’t stop the the CNN and ABC film crews from filming close-ups of the purple console in its box in the middle of the stage, and when things finally got underway, the intro movie to Super Smash Bros. Melee ran on the screens and the crowd flipped. Like, proper “wooting”. There wasn’t even sitting room on the floor at the front.
That movie was the first ever GameCube game footage seen in public, but the box had already been seen in Japan, along with tech demos. After it, Miyamoto showed Luigi’s Mansion for the first time (“Where’s Mario?”) and GBA – to launch that year – was seen. Not one anyone’s ever likely to forget.
5) May 8, 2006 – Sony, Kaz Hirai, Phil Harrison, Ken Kutaragi, E3, Los Angeles
If Microsoft’s “transition conference” was embarrassing, Sony’s was a flame-grilled, drip-dried, ocean-going fuck-up. The aftermath was incredible, and Sony’s 2006 E3 performance must surely go down in games trade-stage history as the worst, both in execution and content.
There’s nothing you don’t already know. The whole thing was broadcast live on the web – for the first time? – and featured the now legendary giant enemy crab, the “Riiiiiidge Racer!” quote from Hirai, the 599 US dollars shocker, the unveiling of PS3 motion-sensing control, Phil Harrison playing Warhawk with a borked Sixaxis, the full nine yards. Absolutely, bewilderingly bad.
To make matters worse, Microsoft delivered a stunning, platitude-free demo the following night which headlined with a vastly-improved Gears of War, saw Gates himself show off Live Anywhere and was wall-to-wall games from open to close. Sony’s press conference left the entire PlayStation project reeling on a global level, a disastrous effort from which the brand has only really now recovered.
A classic, for all the wrong reasons. Watch the movie below to see why.
4) May 11, 2004 – Nintendo, Reggie Fils-Aime, Satoru Iwata, Shigeru Miyamoto, E3, Los Angeles
For many reasons, this was one to remember. For a start it was Reggie’s first performance in a press conference. For another start, it was the first ever public showing of DS. It didn’t stop. Nintendo showed Twilight Princess for the first time, and Miyamoto came onto the stage at the end carrying a Link sword and shield. Again, the crowd went berserk. All we remember of this is Reggie booming, flashing his big, clunky DS and trying to get a decent photo of Miyamoto at the end. Bonkers.
3) December, 1995 – Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, Shoshinkai, Tokyo
Then Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi showed N64 for the first time at Shoshinkai in 1995, along with Mario 64 and 64DD. To say the least, the new Mario was showstopping. When the press were allowed access to the console for photos in a side-room to the showfloor, the Nintendo staff presenting it were dressed in white coats. Like scientists.
Pokemon also made its first appearance, and was just a “thing” at the event, no one having the remotest clue how big the franchise would become. The translator described it in English as a “chicken” game. Yamauchi bragged in his speech how Dragon Quest was exclusive to Nintendo platforms: the following year Square announced Final Fantasy for PlayStation. Surely one of the most “important” conferences in this list.
2) March 7, 2007 – Sony, Phil “The Man” Harrison, GDC, San Francisco
No one expected this. Harrison delivered a knock-out performance in front of a highly knowledgeable crowd at GDC in 2007, leaving both developers and press starry-eyed and PS3 firmly on the road to recovery in the industry’s hive mind.
This was the slickest pitch in games, bar none. Harrison was completely in control and the content was brilliant. Home and LittleBigPlanet were absolute stars of GDC last year, and Harrison was untouchable throughout all the interviews he gave afterwards. Sony will miss him a great deal. The LittleBigPlanet reveal was a true “had to be there” moment.
Compounding the quality of the presentation was a struggling Miyamoto the following day, who announced nothing, overran massively and talked about his dog. Seriously. Harrison was sitting in the front row looking at his watch and rolling his eyes.
1) March 10, 2000 – Microsoft, Bill Gates, GDC, San Jose
Good though Harrison’s performance was in San Francisco last year, it doesn’t come close to the Bill Gates Xbox tech demos reveal at GDC in 2000 for sheer weight and stun-power. We have goosebumps just thinking about it. This has to be the most memorable games tradeshow keynote of all time.
Firstly, there was the fact that this was Bill Gates. No one saw Bill Gates. Bill Gates was the great American hero, so to have him at a games conference was practically unthinkable. GDC back then was a different show to the juggernaut held in San Francisco today, a quiet, personal event in a small town in So-Cal. The hall was packed to the rafters, and until Gates walked out there was honest disbelief that he would even appear.
When Gates stepped onto the stage, the entire crowd, for want of a better phrase, lost it. The entire place stood up and clapped and cheered in sheer joy. That’s cheered. It’s hard to imagine now quite why it was so incredible to see Bill on stage like that, but for myriad reasons, the audience saw a turning point. It was as if Gates was here to save American games to that audience, and they literally screamed for it.
Gates did a lengthy presentation on PC titles Microsoft was working on at the time – including a demo of DirectX 8 features – then stopped the clock with the first ever Xbox tech demos. Remember the ping pong balls and the Japanese garden? At one point they zoomed in on a flower and the crowd squealed. Photo-realism, right there. It was the games presentation that changed the world, or at it least it changed the world of the people watching it.
To top it all, Gates put on a leather jacket to show how “cool” he was. Cheesy now, mind-blowing then. The king of games tradeshow press conferences.