Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
From a purely logistical, statistical standpoint, I should probably be sick of visiting the EA Headquarters by now… but I’m not. I gotta hand it to ‘em - they make visits a lot more appealing than the standard rushed, cram-through-the-cubicles schedule of some other game publishers I could mention. The setup of the often day-long editorial sojourns to the attractive, modern EA campus are a bit redolent of ‘festival days’ at Japanese high schools—with a series of rooms, far-flung halls and even a full-sized gymnasium, each spiffed up for the day, dedicated to (and distinctively decorated for) presentation of the many featured game titles.
Such editor’s days usually start off with an orientation presentation in the campus theater, followed by a diaspora of the gaming press to the various far-flung demo areas… and there’s usually an entertaining distraction or two as well.
During visits to the EA campus in the past—particularly during the day-long Summer showcases collectively known as ‘Camp EA’—there has usually been one form of spectacle or another taking place in the central, football-field-sized quad that serves as a kind of ‘campus green’. One year, it literally served as a gridiron so that invited football celebs could have a game of street-rules football. Another time, large inclines of earth had been trucked in, so pro dirt-bikers could launch themselves into the air, extreme-sports style.
This year—as an introductory stage-and-screen presentation was just wrapping up in the auditorium known as Milestone—many of us were alarmed to hear the thudding roar of something loud and terribly military-sounding landing just outside on the grass.
After keeping us clear of the LZ until the potentially-decapitating blades had stopped spinning (funny, they usually make you sign a waiver for this kinda stuff) and unwisely letting the visiting geek-presence clamber about on U.S. military property like a pack of over-caffeinated monkeys, we were more or less free to roam and check out our games of choice.
Now that I've broken into the journalism crowd, I found myself calmly wandering along the landscaped pathways at EA Headquarters. I must admit this was my first convention/get-together/event in many ways, as I don't think my experience at Digital Life in New York two years ago really counts. I wasn't really there to play games but to compete in a DDR competition. (I was owned, by the way.)
In any case, getting into a media-only event with GR staff was indeed several notches higher than the everyday casual experience. After signing in, wrapping the media badge around my neck, pinning my nametag on my jacket, and wolfing down a bagged lunch and several EA-labelled spring water bottles (my straight-out-of-college instinct spider-sensed the "Free Food!"), I was ready to take in all the sights.
There were plenty of banners along the walls: Boogie, Madden NFL 08, Boogie (again), and everything else EA can put on its resume. Various memorabilia littered the tech-school-esque atmosphere - a motorcycle, some figurines, modern architecture all around us.
There was also a Starbucks in the cafeteria. Yeah, the world is ending.
First up on the schedule was the press conference in the auditorium. Our group was kind of late getting in, but we were able to snatch a seat in the back row of the dimmed room. I didn't know what to expect seeing the conference live and with other industry luminaries. But honestly, the conference started a bit slow. I crossed my arms every now and then, nudging my head to the side.
Then came Peter Moore, second day on the job as president of EA Sports. And yes, he held a controller for the PS3, his "new favorite console", and the Wii, his "other new favorite console". And yes, he called the PS3 controller cute.
But it seemed that Moore was truly in his element relaying info on various sports titles and chatting with Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers on the ins and outs of all things foosball. Really, I was just glad that he wasn't a humdrum speaker or some representative sent from Britain just for the accent (sorry, it's true) - and that he hadn't tattooed himself with release dates or anything manly-fake.
Despite an audio mix-up during the presentation for Gameshow, it was one of the few games to catch my eye (not long enough for a straight-on preview, but hey, I mentioned it!). As you can tell, I'm a hard guy to thrill – just who I am - and most of what they showed was already at E3 and Leipzig.
Anyway, whenever I'm on JetBlue, I play the trivia game with the rest of the passengers – just a standard quiz game that everyone on the plane (hopefully not the pilot) can play. It's an engrossing yet passive way to mingle with your fellow friendly fliers, and what sets Gameshow apart from just being a knock-off was that it had a live DJ. That means real-time trivia and updated questions - and the potential for a whole heck of addictive online play.
Lighting up the rest of the conference were a pretty entertaining display of Skate by its chill developers, a comical skit with The Engineer in the trailer for Half-Life 2: The Orange Box, and the open-ended world of Burnout Paradise. The whole statement from EA this year seemed to be just sheer open-endedness and realism - putting games in a sandbox environment instead of set paths and goals.