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E3 2009

This E3 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on June 5, 2009. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent A. Thale, the copyright holder.

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The spectacular Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3, returned to sunny Los Angeles, California in June 2009 after a two-year demotion to a low-key invitation-only event. It was a lot of fun, pretty much exactly as I remembered it from my last trip in 2005: noisy, crowded, with all the latest video games, and of course the E3 trademark of dozens of attractive models known as "booth babes" whose job it is to direct attention to companies' presentations.

The big trends I noticed this year were the rise of the Nintendo Wii, exercise games, and music games. There were plenty of classic hardcore gamer-type games as well, but what I noticed the most were alternative-controller type games that allow for some neat new ideas like exercise, dancing, music, cheerleading, and even DJ disc spinning!

Electronic Arts had a very strong showing, with their usual giant booth right at the front of the big South Hall. EA also had many prime advertising spots, including placing "Brütal Legend" on the front of the convention center which I'm sure must have cost a fortune. Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age, and Battlefield 1943 all had giant posters on display as well, with promos for many other EA games running on a huge video screen just inside the entrance.

EA featured a brand-new exercise game called "EA Sports Active" that seems to be doing really well, it uses the Wii controllers plus a custom resistance band to allow a wide range of exercises, it looked really fun. Demonstrating the product was an intrepid model with seemingly boundless endurance, she was tirelessly doing exercises every time I passed by her kiosk, and she worked up a vigorous but not unattractive sweat.

Nintendo also had an impressive mega-booth. Their innovative Wii platform brought their company back from near irrelevance five years ago to a dominant position today. They were showing new versions of Wii Fit, many many DS games, and new versions of the Mario sidescrollers.

E3 often attracts celebrities who are either fans of games or promoting games. I personally saw fitness guru Daisy Fuentes and boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard which was kind of neat. Sugar Ray actually played a game of Fight Night Round 4, and then his "Ring Girls" dispensed Pizza Hut pizza to the cheering crowd!

The lighting conditions inside the convention center are really tough, it's mostly very dark with harsh overhead lighting and lots of colored spotlights, which makes a photographer's life pretty difficult. To combat that problem I was trying out the new Nikon D700 digital SLR camera, it is incredibly sensitive to light and can shoot decent quality images even at ISO 6400, which is amazing since only a few years ago ISO 1600 was barely acceptable quality. Also new for this year was my LitePanels MicroPro light, which is actually a continuous video light but it works quite well for this type of close-in shooting in dark conditions, I was very pleased with its performance. The wide shots were taken with my old Canon 20D.

My former employer TimeGate Studios had a nice showing of their upcoming "Section 8" game. They had 12 playable terminals and 20 bots playing a 32-player Xbox 360 networked game which was pretty cool. They also had a great male soldier model wearing a futuristic suit of armor and an appropriately earnest military expression.

Music games have leveraged the classic karaoke experience into something really new using custom instrument-like peripherals. MTV/Harmonix and Activision had big ongoing demos of Rock Band and Guitar Hero that drew lots of attention. MTV had a booth right at the front of the convention center that challenged people to top their house band's high score. Activision showed their new DJ Hero and expansions to Guitar Hero that have Rock Band-like complete band sets.

Some noticeable absences from this year's show were Blizzard with their World of Warcraft megahit and the PC hardware makers like ATI and NVidia. Blizzard has a devoted core audience that gives them enough momentum to have their own Blizzcon convention so I guess they skip E3 entirely now. The PC graphics guys seem to be hurting financially so I assume they skipped the show to control costs, although Alienware and Intel were there showing off powerful new gaming PC's. There were also quite a few peripheral device makers and companies that made accessories for PC's, consoles, and handhelds.

Since I was primarily looking for interesting photos it's hard for me to say what the "Game of the Show" was. There were many strong games on display, and a lot of upcoming games had very cool trailers (like Star Wars: The Old Republic, Assassin's Creed 2, and Dante's Inferno). Sony's God of War III had playable demos and it looked good as well.

In the weeks preceding the show there was some press about Japanese companies avoiding E3 because of the economy and also fear of catching "swine flu" in the crowded convention hall. Although I was often close enough to people to detect their favorite flavor of breath mint, I seem to have survived and there were many major Japanese companies in attendance, like Square Enix, Namco, Koei, and Nintendo. I did see a few people wearing surgical masks to avoid infection but that seemed like ridiculous overkill to me.

For a photographer, the pretty models at the show are like an all-you-can-eat completely free candy store. So many beautiful girls who can smile on cue and are more than happy to have their picture taken. I'm pleased to say all the girls were very professional and patient, and I didn't get snapped at once in quite a few photo requests.

The larger companies like Microsoft, EA, and Activision tend to avoid using models to promote their products, but other notable companies like Ubisoft and THQ had quite a few girls demoing games and roping passersby. Even Nintendo had many conservatively dressed clean-cut female presenters, and while very attractive I would not consider them "booth babes" since they were really well-trained demoers who were actively involved in presenting products.

Some people seem offended by this somewhat overtly sexual "exploitation" of women at the show, but it seems all in good fun to me and I hope they aren't forced to discontinue having models at the show for the sake of political correctness. According to the girls they make good money appearing at conventions like E3 and the work really isn't that hard, why take that away from them?

Overall it was a neat show, very old-school E3 which is a good thing, I think. Some people say it was a little smaller and quieter than in past years (I'm told there were 41,000 attendees and 216 exhibitors), but it was great fun and there were tons of good games that appealed to wide audiences and broad ranges of people. There were hardcore games, games for women, casual games, music games, exercise games, handheld games, online games... something for everyone. This classic E3 format better serves the game community and gets lots of coverage in mainstream media which is good for everyone in the games business. I'm eagerly anticipating next year's show already!


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