E3Expo Retrospective of 2006 Page 2

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by “Chunx”

 

Overview

It’s hard to believe we got as much done as we did this year. What a great show, and what great experiences we all had. As usual, the show is pretty overwhelming, and everything is over-the-top, all the time: Flashy displays, loud sound tracks, fantastic new technology and titles…the only thing missing this year were the booth babes. One thing that E3 really makes you realize is just how powerful the electronic entertainment industry has become. I think I read somewhere that’s its surpassed the movie industry, and is second only to the porn industry in overall revenues. You sure can see that (no, not the porn) in the time, effort and money invested in the displays sprawled out through the three main convention floors. Most impressive.

 

It’s always a treat to get together with other members of the SimHQ staff to do this gig. Even though I am burning precious vacation time while working my butt off, it’s time well spent. Really good company, really interesting work. And to put the cherry on top (pun), we discovered that 20mm was a Fry’s “virgin.” There’s a store in LA near where we stayed, and we can now say that 20mm is an experienced shopper at that fantastic store. I think his wife may not like us too much now (or when the credit card bill comes), but 20mm was one happy shopper!

Since 20mm and I are now “veterans” of doing E3 the guod way, it was also fun watching Hornit get indoctrinated into the hard-core, take no prisoners, work-till-you-drop concept of SimHQ operations. It wasn’t easy, and although we never heard him cry in his sleep, we did see that lip quiver a bit around midnight as he sat in bed and slogged his way through piles of notes from the interviews. Seriously, Hornit did a great job, and we hope the long hours won’t keep him from coming to next year’s show. He’s a very talented reporter, and besides — we need a guy who’s more interested in flight sims than racing titles!

Like each year, E3 is a frenzy of activity. Trying to capture it all simply isn’t possible. We came to this year’s show better organized than ever before. We all wore our SimHQ polo shirts, and looked the part of a professional news group. But no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot cover it all. You do your best, but you’re always left lamenting “the one that got away.” We hope we covered the right stuff for you, and please excuse us if we didn’t cover it all. But I think what we got this year was some of our best work yet.

Clearing Out The Notepad

We covered everything we could cover at this year’s show in as much detail as possible. Still, at the end I see that I have a few notes left over:

  • rFactor isn’t a finished product, and ISI has much more in store for us with some upcoming mods and patches. I’ll wait patiently, and in the meantime enjoy the good mods for the game (Megane, PCC, McClaren F1, F3, GP2), but I am very eager to try the new stuff out.
  • WTCC – Diego Sartori of SimBin didn’t want to steal the spotlight off of GTR2, but we did get a chance to talk about the team’s next big project. Having secured the license to replicate the FIA’s World Touring Car Championship, Diego was very excited about recreating this series, as the real series offers some of the closest racing in all of Europe. The cars have less power than the GT cars, which demands more strategy from the drivers and makes for very close racing. I share Diego’s excitement about this project.
  • Colin McRae 2007: Codemasters had nothing to show at E3 for this title. Too early in development, I was told. Expect a release target date to match up with the start of the Rally season in Monte Carlo.
  • GTR2 Copy Protection – I asked this question of the 10Tacle PR folks, and what I got was a “we can’t comment on the status of this right now”, along with a lot of body language that didn’t give me high hopes about the final outcome. Make no mistake: 10Tacle is well aware of the community’s attitude surrounding StarForce, but it’s unclear whether they have the ability to do anything about it. All we can do is hope for the best, expect the worst, probably get something in between.
  • GTR2’s Online Code? We didn’t get an answer worth using. It’s not the current rFactor code, but something else that SimBin is working on, probably a refined version of GTL code. But don’t quote me on that.
  • Logitech’s G25 Wheel: Logitech’s G25 Wheel: This is surely one nice product, and seems at first blush to be well worth the nearly $300 USD it will retail at. That said, the G25 on the VRX cockpit in Kentia was showing signs of age at the end of E3. The right paddle shifter was double shifting on occasion. At first I thought I was just fat-fingering the paddle, but when I saw the same thing happen to 20mm, I knew there was something failing on the G25. Luckily, this extreme abuse was just what Logitech was looking for, to help them assess the durability of the wheel’s components before production begins. Hopefully the abuse the pre-production wheels took at E3 will be analyzed and help ensure we get a durable and reliable product this Fall.When discussing the shortage of buttons on the wheel itself, Chris Pate told me that one thing that Logitech didn’t like about the MOMO Racing’s design was the “fat” look to the wheel hub, necessitated by the placement of 6 buttons. Certainly, the G25 has a much more realistic and trim look, with it’s steel spokes and trim center hub. But an argument can be made that real racing cars (of the modern age) have at least several buttons on them, allowing rapid selection of car features for the driver while keeping his/her hands on the wheel. In addition, there will always be some compensations for a simulation that has us driving a desk rather than in a racing cockpit. Things like view buttons are quite necessary in a PC sim, until NaturalPoint’s TrackIR becomes as ubiquitous as the mouse on a gamer’s rig. I believe the G25’s design mold is already set, but moving two buttons from the (very nice) shifter unit back to the wheel would be a welcome addition — assuming they fit. Regardless, Logitech has a great product in store for us, and I would like to thank them for helping to make our hobby a bit more enjoyable.
  • Microsoft’s Force Feedback Wheel For Xbox 360: It might be the key to allowing hard-core racing sims a path into the console market, but this is all we saw of it: Just a plastic “test shot” with no internals, inside a display case at the Microsoft display. We never did get the time or right person to talk to us about it.
  • Some Stuff in the articles was NKR (Not Kwite Right) – such is the problem with on-the-spot reporting, taken from scribbled notes and churned out at 1 AM after a long day on the show floor. Excuses = tired, loud venues, illegible notes, etc. But overall our efforts were not too bad for the amateurs that we are, and we put the corrections in as we discovered the errors.
  • SimHQ Excuse Matrix: If you’re wondering why we didn’t talk about a game, or feature, it’s because:

    – no comment from dev (not ready to talk, project not “baked” enough)

    – too hungry to think straight

    – got tired and forgot

    – the sun was in our eyes

    – ran out of time to ask

    – spent too much time trying to look for booth babes (couldn’t find any)

    – we did it on purpose to make you miserable (no, not really)

    – we spent too much time driving the VRX sim cockpit (okay, that one sticks)

SimHQ Reporter Lessons Learned

Every year after the show, we put our head’s together and come up with some ideas of what we could do better the next year. Here’s some of those ideas:

  • Bring Bag Lunches! Oh sure, there’s quite a few eateries in the convention center – Gordon Biersch, McDonalds, Starbucks, Hot Pretzels, several cafeterias, a BBQ stand — but when you cram a few thousand reporters and industry reps into the complex, the food service is totally overwhelmed, and you wind up with lines for food longer than those for a fun ride at Disneyland. There could have easily been signs saying “1 hour from this point” on many of the food lines. Add to that a jam-packed interview schedule that frequently included appointments at 11 AM, noon, and/or 1 PM, and you can take your lunch break and “fugghedaboudit”. Next year, we’re making a grocery store run and bringing some munchies with us to the show. I wonder if they’ll let us bring beer in as our lunch beverage!
    Media Feeding Frenzy
  • Bring More Reporters! We discovered that you needed a minimum of 2 reporters per interview — one to do the talking, one to take pictures and copy down notes. On top of that, there’s only so many interviews in a day at E3. On one day we split up 3 ways to cover them all: Ubisoft, Akella, 1C, and ISI. All of the schedules overlapped. In addition, there were a bunch of other titles that we wanted to check out, just for fun: Crysis, Battlefield 2142, Prey, Over-G Fighters (which we never did find), MotoGP ’06, the upcoming Microsoft FF wheel for the Xbox 360, etc. But, there really wasn’t time to do any of that justice. So, it quite often it just didn’t get done. Next year, we hope to add 2 more reporters to the mix, if folks can free up their schedules. That way we can bring you even better coverage of the show. My vote for our next reporter addition: Magnum!
  • Bring Another HTML Formatter: As you know, this year we “broke” guod on Thursday night. As a result, he never made it to the Friday session at E3. Next year, we need someone to help guod format the articles and process all those shots of booth babes that we never saw (because they weren’t there — THERE WERE NO BOOTH BABES). If you know how to format HTML and would like to try out for the SimHQ team (guod is a stickler for good skills), then let us know.
  • Arm The SimHQ-Mobile With Rocket Launchers: E3 reminded me once again just how much traffic sucks in LA, and how rude and oblivious LA drivers can be. It was quite frustrating at times, but at least the traffic jams gave the SimHQ team more time to share experiences, tell stories and enjoy some humor. It’s just a good thing I didn’t bring a gun with me, or we’d have made a whole different kind of headline last week.

If we can’t get rocket launchers, I have an idea for our first SimHQ “corporate car”. I’ll be happy to do ALL the driving, Doug.

The new company car.
  • Don’t Wear Out guod: Poor old sleep-deprived guy. I felt bad that we lost him for the entire last day of the show [yeah, but I did keep working back at the FBO once I woke-up! guod]. I think he’d liked to meet Gjon and Diego. But let me tell you, ole Doug can be one mean badger when he’s tired! Watch out! I am glad he caught up on his sleep before the big SimHQ dinner, or we might all be wearing his entrée!

Name Dropping, 2006

Once again, E3 2006 turned out to be a great place to meet the devoted, passionate folks that enjoy simulations as much as all of us, but with one key difference: They have the immense talent needed to turn dreams into reality. These folks are not only fun to talk to, after awhile you get a sense of just how talented they are, and in a short time I found my respect for them growing immensely. Here’s my short list of the fantastic folks I met this year, who are working hard for YOU to make our hobby more enjoyable:

Gjon Camaj, VP of ISI (rFactor): Frankly, you should be impressed at how concise I was able to make that page-long interview. Getting Gjon and I together was like putting two hyper kids together and giving them a basket of candy and a Red Bull. At first, we’d hear a key word and then go “tangential” on the interview questions. It was hard for either of us to stay on topic, as our enthusiasm and love of racing sims kept our conversation ping-ponging around various topics at a frenetic pace. Gjon’s vision and creativity really impressed me, but I was also highly impressed with his leadership style – like a good military commander, Gjon spoke in terms that told me he really cares about the well-being of his employees. That was great to hear, and I made sure to capture that in the article. We may all want the latest patch “yesterday” but you should always take a moment to reflect on what that means to the developer team before allowing yourself to vent about it. Gjon’s got a quality product in rFactor that’s still growing, and I really respect him for the measured way he’s going about getting us there.

Diego Sartori, QA Officer of SimBin: Diego did the driving of GTR2 and added technical comments while 10Tacle PR rep Marcel Jung did the talking. That is, until the demonstration ended, and Diego, 20mm and I stepped aside to discuss a few things about GTR2, GTR Xbox 360, and WTCC. At first, the conversation was quite animated and enthusiastic, as we shared ideas and found we had much in common about our visions and desires for racing sim features. But after 30 minutes of standing and discussing race sims, the conversation became… well, even MORE animated and enthusiastic. I kept thinking “man I’ll bet Diego must be getting tired of talking to us.” I kept looking for some body language that said it was time to stop – looking at watch, backing up slowly, turning and running. But none of that happened. Diego was just as excited to share ideas with us as we were with him. And as it turned out, we were of a common mind on a lot of things. Best of all, after the show, I got some e-mails from Diego, that continued our discussion. Diego, you’re a fascinating person, and I really enjoyed the discussion. Hopefully we’ll stay in touch with SimBin over the year, and learn more about their upcoming projects.

Stephen Viljoen, Chief Operating Officer, Blimey! Games: I met Stephen last year at the conclusion of E3 ’05. We didn’t get much of a chance to talk. Flash forward to 2006. It’s day one, and the SimHQ team is wading through the masses of console media types as we make our way to the Logitech display in South Hall. Suddenly, we get approached by a man in a leather GTL jacket. It’s Stephen. He recognized us from afar, and made a bee-line to come talk to us. We chatted about the show, and GTR2. He told us where to meet him later on. Over the course of the show, we bumped into him several times, and each time the conversation was a real treat. The highlight for me came on Friday, as things were winding down in the Intel suite. Stephen and I had a quiet, relaxed conversation about GTR2’s development, the formation of Blimey! Games, and what the future holds for them. I won’t be able to share most of that conversation with you, but I can say that this relaxed discussion, and Stephen’s eargerness to share points of view with the SimHQ team was one of the highlights of the event for me. Looking forward to seeing you next year, Stephen.

Ruben Mookerjee, Director of Marketing, Logitech: When the PR folks at Logitech couldn’t answer four of the questions I had on the G25 wheel, they had to go in for reinforcements. They brought out Ruben, and it was exactly the right choice to deal this determined SimHQ reporter. Ruben isn’t just a marketing guy — he’s an amateur racer, and race sim junkie, just like me. Ruben was able to answer all my questions and more, and on top of it all we had a good discussion of the entire genre, and the business of making gaming peripherals. Good stuff.

Colin Plint, VRX Sim Racing Cockpit: Airline pilot and racing fan, Colin is one of the key people who make the VRX cockpits a quality product. Because Colin speaks “pilot”, we had a great time talking to him, and best of all it gave Hornit something to do while myself, 20mm and guod tore up the track in GTR2. Seriously, we all had a great time talking to the VRX team (Pete, Colin & Ken), and we hope to keep seeing them at future racing events and at E3’s to come. They have a great product, and we wish them all the best.

Bubba Wolford, PR Section Manager, AMD: Good old Bubba, former owner of SimHQ and E3 2002 partner. Bubba is really in his element at AMD, and I really enjoy his mix of humanity, friendliness and knowledge. Our animated discussion with the AMD team (mostly due to my lack of knowledge about dual core processors) was a true education for me, and I appreciate Bubba and friends’ patience as they got me squared away on the technology. I’ll tell you this — the AMD team at E3 are good people. Period.

The SimHQ Team: I work with some pretty cool equipment in my military “day job.” If you’re a military flight sim fan, you’ve got a good sense of just how cool this gear is. But if you’ve ever served, you’ll know that what really makes an organization a success and forms your fondest memories isn’t the latest radar, or the best missiles — it’s the people you work with that make it all so special. Going to E3 gives us insider access to the latest developments in our hobby. But what makes the job a pleasure is getting to work with the great folks at SimHQ. Over the years I’ve met some really great people that share my interests, and all through the Internet: Ken Cook, Dan Crenshaw, Andy Bush, Bubba Wolford. But I have to comment on the group we assembled to cover this year’s show: 20mm, Hornit, guod, Beer Camel and I are so similar in personality, values, motivations and interests that even though we see each other only once a year, it’s as if we’ve known and worked with each other all our lives. The dinner discussions, solving all the world’s problems, talking family, or jobs, or our hobbies — we’re all so similar, it’s scary. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with this year, and I think that shows in the product we produced. I really enjoyed all the hard work, and it was an honor to work with these great people.

Conclusion

I guess you could say it was a pretty successful and exciting E3 for the SimHQ team. Oh sure, PC sims are dead, there was nothing to see except arcade console titles, and nary a booth babe in sight.

But somehow we managed to keep busy, and enjoy each other’s company. I hope that E3 2007 is even more “boring” and “hopeless” than this year.

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