I'm no industry insider. All I have for credentials is a box of old game magazines and the slight tell-tale indentations on my thumbs. Still, even though the door is closed to me and thousands like me, each year's E3 brings a level of anticipation and joy (and sorrow) that's hard to find elsewhere. Since everyone and their momma is looking ahead to next week's really big shoe, I want to look back and remember some moments that, for a Nintendo loyalist, stick in my mind for one reason or another. Be sure to share your own highlights and lowlights in the comments.
In no particular order….
- Gamecube Conquers All
In the year 2001, the heavy hitters were throwing their weight behind a new generation of consoles. Microsoft showed off its XBox, Sony had their Playstation2, and Nintendo brought out their little purple cube. After the show, many sources seemed to agree that it was the Big N, with Smash Bros. Melee, Luigi's Mansion, a smokin' hot Rogue Squadron sequel and the promise of a new 1st-person Metroid, that stole the show. Cut to a few years later: Nintendo's typical problems with 3rd parties and a slow trickle of software doomed the Cube, even with some of the era's best exclusive games. The mighty Microsoft had made its presence known, and Sony's behemoth only gained momentum.
For me, this was something like a last push of enthusiasm as my interest gently waned. It was the end of my sophomore year in college. Other types of bits stole my attention away, even as friends around me dug into another round of Madden or Melee. I'd soon leave the country, graduate, and leave the country again. Only with the Wii in 2006 did my earlier passions flare up again. But for some reason I still remember that one morning in May, nine years ago, reading a transcript of Nintendo's conference then downloading video clips from their demo reel: Luigi has his own game??, and it looks like the old Donkey Kong Country renders… and what in g-d's name is happening with Metroid!?… and this Raven Blade looks mighty fine, too… Ah, the promise of the unknown.
- A Tradition Begins… and Ends
The first E3 was held in 1995. And oh, 'twas a big year for gaming.
Or at least, it was supposed to be (for this Nintendo fan, at least). Project Reality had been christened Ultra 64, Killer Instinct was blowing minds in arcades as fast as Fulgore's machine gun could pop out of his head, and the veil was about to be lifted. Or not. Nintendo's big showcase for this first Expo turned out to be the Virtual Boy. Word came out eventually that the soon-to-be-renamed Nintendo 64 was to be delayed until the following spring, and then fall. Other 16-bit notables that showed were Starfox 2 (R.I.P.) and Comanche, another FX2 chip game over from the PC. Suffice to say, this was a bitter, but memorable, beginning.
I was entering high school. Hype came through the newest EGM in the mail; our household was just learning about this dial-up internet fiasco, so the mystery revolving around the games industry had yet to be destroyed by 24/7 access and leaked footage. When the Ultra 64 failed to show, I luckily had geometry tests and the next baseball season to keep my mind busy. Had I been less stable, Teddy, our adorable golden retriever, might have suffered an unfair lack of stick-throwing, 'cause this guy was not in the mood.
- Two Giants Combine to Create…
…a 4-player Pac-Man?
When Shigeru Miyamoto appears from backstage with an announcement to make, people pay attention. When two huge Japanese titans of the industry unite to make a game together, CEOs pay attention. At E3 2003, both of these things happened. And the product? Namco and Nintendo's Pac-Man Vs.
To be honest, I never played it. All I know is that I was living in a dusty attic in northern France, somewhat depressed, miles from anyone I cared about, and the one lifeline that kept me afloat was news from home. Checking in on E3 the morning after and seeing that Shiggy's big reveal involved a 25-year-old yellow pizza, I went about my day, numb and smelling of fresh baguettes. At least the warm, crusty breadloaf didn't let me down.
- After the Laughter Subsided…
… at E3 2006, the phenomenon called Wii was on everybody's lips. And in their hands. Cue more jokes. Then cue four years of marketplace dominance.
Half a decade after my own personal swan song, this strange new white box the size of three DVDs and its bizarre remote controller incited in me a new level of intrigue and expectation. And I wasn't alone. I remember reading accounts of lines snaking throughout the conference center, just to try Nintendo's newest toy. I watched short interviews from the show floor with editors: "It works," they said. "It really works."
Whether you believe that four years later or not is debatable. Our views may differ; for me, this was the catalyst that made me pay attention again to that deep, throbbing ache way down in the Pitfall of my stomach, the one that had me playing Mike Tyson's Punch-Out while the family went out water-skiing, that made me yell my first obscenity while beating the final boss in Life Force.
You swing the controller…. and your little person (who looks like you!) swings his racquet??
I was in grad school, but I might as well have been in 3rd grade. The idea made me giddy. And now we wait again for the next reveal, the next big thing or dramatic disappointment. Let's hope something shown at E3 2010 makes us feel, at the very least, something like that youthful joy responsible for catching our attention in the first place.