Remembering E3… 21 Years Ago.

With June upon us the eyes of the video game community will once again be fixed on the LA Convention Center for this year’s E3. So far it’s shaping up to be a pretty interesting event. The biggest news we’ve been able to confirm is that Nintendo will be presenting the next iteration of The Legend of Zelda for the Wii U in playable form on the show floor. And nothing else! That’s a bold move with the knowledge that the “NX”, Nintendo’s yet-to-be named successor to the Wii U, will not be taking advantage of E3’s spectacle to unveil it.

Other highly anticipated announcements include Sony’s VR add-on for the PS4 as well as the expected announcement and details for their mid-system update: the PS4 “Neo”. The “Neo” has been rumored to have been developed to ensure that the VR experience on PS4 will be as fluid and seamless as possible, while potentially allowing for it to achieve higher resolutions above 1080p if developers so desire. This remains to be seen. And then there is Microsoft who has been rumored to also be developing their own refresh of the Xbox One console as well as their augmented reality peripheral the Hololens.  These are all very exciting developments indeed, but when I look back on my personal experiences with E3 I’m reminded of how far we’ve come and how even though we may be more technologically advanced now, those early shows may have foretold a future we are fast approaching.

So many of you must be wondering who I am and what I mean by personal experiences with E3. Well I live in the heart of Silicon Valley here in California and have been into video games since their inception, growing up in the late-1970’s and 1980’s. As for my connection to E3, well, in much of life timing is key. Honestly I am just a lucky video game enthusiast who happened to have Mike, a friend of mine, who worked for a game retailer during the early 90’s. News about this huge video game expo called E3 began to circulate and before I knew it we were able to get our hands on a pair of tickets!

Mike and his older brother Andy were “confidants” of mine in terms of our shared addiction in video games, staying up countless nights marathoning through game after game. You learn a lot spending this kind of time with your friends, not only about them but yourself. Like how much more satisfying it is experiencing amazing games with someone like-minded who finds the same gratification in seeing those end credits roll.

Naturally when the opportunity presented itself I knew that if I was going to E3 I had to experience it with my friends. That first year in ’95 my buddy Mike and I attended and we geeked-out completely like kids in a candy store. It was an utter blast. What an amazing time that was to be involved in the video game movement. In that inaugural year of E3 Sega blew the doors off of the convention center with the stunning announcement that their new system called the Sega Saturn was being released the first day of the show! This really stole much of the spotlight from Sony with their new PlayStation system being a huge draw. That is until Sony announced a price drop  as their response to the Saturn’s release. Sadly Nintendo was caught unaware in the middle of developing their “Ultra 64” system, really only having the Super Nintendo on hand to try and compete. But no worries: they were ready to “wow” the world with their “amazing” new “virtual reality system”: the Virtual Boy. It was an incredibly uncomfortable attempt at 3D VR gaming utilizing what looked like NES graphics represented in a monotone red. Possibly one of Nintendo’s worst creations.

All of this was spectacular to experience first hand… except maybe for Nintendo’s “VR” fumble. Every major player in the game business was on hand. For the first time we were able to actually meet some of the very people that brought us our favorite games. I remember catching a glimpse of Nintendo of America’s Chairman Howard Lincoln walking the show floor and actually shaking hands with Atari’s CEO Sam Tramiel, who was attempting to extol the virtues of his stillborn Jaguar VR.

Sharing my gaming interest with my friends meant more then just sharing in the excitement, however. We nearly lived gaming. It was almost a part of who we were. So the following year I traveled once again to LA for E3, this time with my buddy Andy. Both of our minds were focused on one thing: the Nintendo 64!  Luckily we were far from disappointed. Nintendo’s dull presence the previous year was replaced by an electrifying experience this time. Spread throughout their pavilion were N64 gaming stations with every major release title on display from Blast Corps to Pilotwings. But everyone was clamoring around the most amazing experience we were privileged to witness at this show: Super Mario 64 blew everyone’s minds! It was such an unexpected marvel of 3D graphics and gameplay that nothing at this event even came close to matching it! As a matter of fact I was so gobsmacked by it that I imported the Japanese N64 two months later just to have it early!  As it turns out, Super Mario 64 and Nintendo’s intuitive control interface for it truly helped to reshape the video game landscape from that day forward.

One of the most memorable aspects of attending both E3’s, however, involved a bit of petty larceny and a practical joke. On this second outing to E3, while Andy and I walked through this electronic jungle, an idea came to us: how cool it would be if one of the developers had held a contest and somehow we were able to win and bring a new system home to completely blow Mike’s mind. The seeds of a devious plan were planted. As that day’s E3 event was drawing to a close we decided to “procure” one of the N64 mock-up system packaging boxes that Nintendo had around the perimeter of their pavilion. Once we returned home, I carefully stuffed my Sega Saturn inside of the N64 box and brought it to Andy’s house the following morning to show his brother Mike.

Andy and I then proceeded to spin our tail to Mike indicating that Nintendo had held a drawing, and that miraculously we had won the first N64 in America!  Remember: this was a time before streaming media updates and daily show coverage existed. Now many of you may be familiar with the “Nintendo Kid” YouTube video and his reaction to unwrapping his N64 on Christmas. Well my buddy Mike transformed before our very eyes from the rational 21 year old man into a feverish 10 year old boy, scrambling around the house in sheer joy when we pulled out the N64 box. In that instant it became real and he absolutely believed it had happened. Andy and I were beside ourselves with laughter. But when my buddy Mike pulled out a Saturn where the N64 should have been, let’s just say that death threats were leveled and a mad chase ensued. It was priceless.

Though it did take my friend Mike years to truly forgive me for that cruel deception, it still didn’t tarnish the memories we had of taking part in such a unique opportunity, nor did it diminish our friendship. Attending those first two E3’s was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I have had the pleasure to take part in. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. And looking back now I am surprised at just how prophetic those first E3’s really were.

This brings up quite the interesting parallel. In 1995 the video game industry was working hard to bring Virtual Reality into everyone’s homes in a big way. With the aforementioned Atari Jaguar VR and Nintendo’s lackluster Virtual Boy, major players were dipping their toes into the vast VR ocean. However, it became painfully clear that neither company was anywhere near the levels of hardware sophistication and performance required to pull off this impossible feat for that time.

This year, in 2016 the industry has truly come full circle. Though Oculus Rift has been around for the past couple of years, at least in beta form, this E3 represents the culmination of the video game industry’s longstanding desire to bring Virtual Reality into our homes. Sony’s VR is expected be officially on hand and hopefully it will be able to make good on a promise made to us some 21 years ago. Microsoft will also be showcasing their own ingenious approach to VR with their augmented reality or AR Hololens which allows players to see computer generated characters and a virtual television screen interacting with their physical environment. Will either of these be very different and unique approaches that represent the next step in gaming’s evolution?  This remains to be seen, and honestly I’m not necessarily convinced yet. I am however very interested to see how these new concepts work and how well received they are by both consumers and the video game industry at large. One thing is certain: all eyes will be watching as Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft lay out their plans for the future.

Though I am unable to attend E3 this year I will be eagerly watching as the events unfold. I also plan on bringing you all my synopsis of the days proceedings and hope that you will join me as we witness what developments this year’s E3 has in store for us.

Game on users!

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