I know, I know, the last thing you want to see is yet more analysis on the crap ton of gaming news from this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the Internet have already expressed their excitement or discontent over what they've seen.
So I'm going to do something a little different: focus on the awards.
But not just any awards! While the mainstream press outlets will continue to scan the show floor this week to award their prestigious “Best in Show” ribbons, I've devised a very special set of criteria just for Monday's press conferences. Whether you thought they were good, bad, or just laughably awkward, I think we can all agree that each conference had its own unique moments worth talking about.
Microsoft's press conference
Theme: “Games!? Pfft. Here, let me show you what this Kinect can do.”
Microsoft was the first to come out swinging with its early Monday-morning conference, wasting no time showing off the latest interstellar adventures of Master Chief in Halo 4. Unfortunately, they were unable to keep this momentum going: The presentation quickly nose-dived when MS staff started talking about the non-gaming aspects of their console — mainly its SmartGlass technology, Xbox Music, and fitness collaboration with Nike. Games returned to the forefront towards the last third of their presentation, but by then, the damage had already been done.
Best off-prompter commentary: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (for South Park: The Stick of Truth)
The creators of the critically acclaimed South Park TV show were a breath of fresh air: Instead of sticking to some premeditated script, they chose to go off-the-cuff with their comments. Their most brilliant moment: making fun of the SmartGlass features that MS had been heavily touting just minutes before. Bravo, guys.
Best use of wub wub: Forza Horizon
While Borderlands 2 helped kickstart the trend of dubsteb soundtracks in game trailers, Forza was the first game at E3 to throw down the wub-wub gauntlet. How many more game trailers will follow in its footsteps? Probable answer: Lots.
Best use of a bow and arrow: Tomb Raider
“Bows are very sexy right now,” said Karl Stewart, Crystal Dynamic's global brand director, when speaking with GameTrailer TV's Geoff Keighley in an interview. And boy is he right: Assassin's Creed 3, Far Cry 3, and Crysis 3 (notice another pattern?) also featured bows and arrows in their shiny sizzle trailers. But I have to give it up to the reimagined Lara Croft, who seems like she can hold her own despite facing enemies with automatic weapons.
Best celebrity appearance: Usher (for Dance Central 3)
Poor Usher. Despite his best efforts to get the crowd going, it doesn't seem like they were feeling his music at all. Also, I don't know who Microsoft was trying to fool when Usher's onstage performance was made to look like he was playing DC3. C'mon guys — the Kinect isn't that good.
Electronic Arts' press conference
Theme: “Gunz 'n' Sportz. 'Nuff said.”
EA chief executive John Riccitiello greeted everyone in his best Emperor Palpatine cosplay — those were some serious bags under his eyes — while showing off EA's key tent-pole franchises: Crysis, Dead Space, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, FIFA, Madden, etc. Except for maybe the debut of SimCity, nothing shown was particularly new or developed as a brand new game; it appears EA is just content at maintaining it's image as an iterative triple-A publisher and developer.
Best use of music from Explosions in the Sky: SimCity
Apparently, Maxis (the studio behind the city-simulation franchise) didn't get the dubstep memo.
Best use of a virtual in-game Twitter feed: Madden NFL 13
In addition to utilizing the brand new Infinity Engine to generate dynamic animations on the field, EA is revamping Madden's single-player component with the Connected Career mode. In order to further immerse the player within his own personalized story, a special fake Twitter feed has also been implemented; real-world journalists, or at least their names, will craft Tweets based on the impact of your career. Because nothing quite says "you suck" more than an A.I. bot creating fake Tweets reminding you why you're bad every week.
Most likely to become free-to-play in a year: Star Wars: The Old Republic
While BioWare chief executive Ray Muzyka promised on stage that more compelling content is on its way to their Star Wars MMO, there was also one interesing little tidbit: Starting in July, SWTOR will be free-to-play for everyone up to level 15, much like how Blizzard's World of Warcraft allows players to play until level 20 without spending a dime. While it's a step in the right direction, I don't think they'll be able to last much longer under the standard subscription model, especially after facing a steadily declining player base and the ubiquity of F2P MMOs out in the market right now.
Best licensing swoop: EA prying the UFC license from THQ
Now here's a genuine surprise: EA cutting a multiyear and multi-title deal with the premier mixed martial arts league in the market. Previously, UFC was in bed with THQ, who produced three rather successful games under the branding of UFC Undisputed. UFC president Dana White seemed ecstatic on stage, despite talking trash about EA in years prior. Perhaps THQ's financial woes and EA's giant stack of money has finally convinced him to reconsider his position.
Ubisoft's press conference
Theme: “Rayman! Assassin's Creed! Boobs!”
Ubisoft's conference was a bit of a mixed bag for me: Every time something good happened, two other horrible things would quickly take its place. Rayman Legends reveal? Awesome! Tobascus commentary? Yuck. Just who the hell was that guy supposed to be, anyway? A clever parody on video game fanboyism? And let us not forget the awkward-looking Shootmania battles they had on stage. For something touted as the future of e-sports, it didn't look very enticing.
Second best celebrity appearance: Flo Rida
Microsoft may have had Usher performing at its conference to promote Harmonix's Dance Central 3, but Ubisoft fired back with Flo Rida and a few backup dancers to promote Just Dance 4. However, not only is Usher the better performer out of the two, but Dance Central is by far the superior dance game. Don't fret, Ubi: You know as well as I do that millions of people will still eat up JD4 no matter what critics say about it.
Best use of digital boobs: Far Cry 3
Well, that was quite the opening trailer, eh? Now the question is if Ubisoft will put "first-person sex mechanics" on the back of the box.
Best presenter: Aisha Taylor
For whatever reason, Ubisoft has always chosen some special spokesperson for their conferences — the horrible "Mr. Caffeine" and Jamie Kennedy come to mind — but Aisha Taylor is hands-down their best pick ever. Perhaps best known for her role as Lanaaaaaa on the animated TV show, Archer, Aisha genuinely enjoys games, and it shows in her delivery. And now thanks to her, "girl wood" has become the most quotable line at this year's E3.
Most likely to be a next-gen title: Watch Dogs
If you haven't seen the footage yet, stop what you're doing right now and watch it! I had no idea what the hell was going on for a good five minutes into the demo, but it looked pretty freakin' cool. Open-world conspiracy saga where you can (presumably) hack any electronics in your environment? It might just be too good to be true since there's no way that any current-gen platforms could be responsible for the sheer beauty seen in that demo [editor's note: Ubisoft comfirmed that the demo was shown on a high-end PC].
Sony's press conference
Theme: "We love our gamers!"
There's really not much to say about Sony's showcase of all things PlayStation: Although the number of games on stage was lower than in previous years, the few titles they did focus on was enough to provide a solid conference. They also finally removed the most boring part of past Sony pressers, stats and numbers, that would usually take up a good chunk of time. But the no-show PS3 exclusives continued to be conspicuously absent: Fumito Ueda's Last Guardian and Rockstar's Agent.
Best use of Ellen Page: Beyond
When The Last of Us was first shown late last year at the Spike TV Video Game Awards, many thought its young female protagonist, Ellie, looked suspiciously similar to actress Ellen Page. Since then, however, Naughty Dog has revealed the real woman behind her, actress Ashley Johnson of Growing Pains fame, and appears to have slightly tweaked Ellie's appearance in the game. Now we know why! Quantic Dream's latest title has Ellen Page performing as the central character, who appears to have access to a set of supernatural powers.
Best new title on a struggling platform: Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation for the PlayStation Vita
The Vita hasn't been doing so well in either Japan or the U.S., and some fear that it might now face the same fate as the original PlayStation Portable. However, the two Vita games Sony revealed on stage have the potential to reignite interest in the system, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified and Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation. Female creole assassin exploring an open-world New Orleans in the 1700's? Shut up and take my money!
Best new thing I never knew I wanted: Augmented-reality-enhanced reading with Wonderbook
Ok, so Wonderbook took a lot of flak from gaming journalists and fans alike when Sony unveiled it, but I honestly don't get why. Augmented reality has mostly been a gimmick at best (both with the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita), but I think this Wonderbook "platform" has the potential to be so much more. The J.K. Rowling collaboration with Book of Spells, in particular, looks kind of cool, and that's coming from someone who's only a casual Harry Potter fan.
Best ending to a gameplay demonstration: The Last of Us