E3: Press-A-Palooza

on Monday, Jun. 6th

Today’s Ubisoft presser was held inside the historic Los Angeles theatre in Downtown LA. The big announcements were FarCry 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Of course, you can get all the facts, figures and videos you want from every other news source out there. What I’m aiming to give you this time out is a sense of what it’s like to be here firsthand.

The first thing that hit me was surprise at just how many people are in the video game press pool these days. It’s one thing to know that this is a multi-billion dollar industry with a wide mainstream appeal, it’s quite another to see a few hundred journalists from around the world speaking nearly as many languages as the G20 summit.

I hesitated to call the crowd nerds until two German journalists managed to smash my foot while stepping past me to get to seats. A lack of basic motor skills. Classic nerd genetics. Scanning the crowd gets the following result– nerd, nerd, nerd, German with two left feet, nerd, nerd, nerd girl, nerd, geek, hot chick who is working for the show, AV nerd who is working for the show, slick looking French guy. It’s the Ubisoft presser, after all.

The disparate teams of game journalists and media personalities spend a lot of time scanning the crowd themselves, looking for their compatriots. Totaly Rad Show’s Alex Albrecht, he of the unmistakable hair, has been standing at his seat for ten minutes now, looking for familiar faces. It feels every bit like opening night for a Star Wars movie, if that movie theatre had been equipped with blinding TV lights and a camera crane that swings out over the crowd.

The booth babes– the models who are hired as one part traffic cop and three parts rational thought disruptors– look more bewildred than uncomfortable. If I had Professor Xavier’s powers surely their inner monologs might sound something like this:

“Why did my agent send me here? Is this the end of the line? If I had any talent I wouldn’t… what? Oh, I’m sorry, sir. This row is reserved for executives. Three more months and then it’s back to Indiana.”

As the theater fills up it begins to take on the musty odor of a comic book convention, mixed with hints of peanut butter and that faint chemical smell that comes from color filters on stage lights that have been on for over an hour. If it weren’t for the mustiness, it would be rather soothing.

Then “Mr. Caffeine”, the Ubisoft MC, showed up and all thoughts of a soothing experience were out the window. It’s a sad day when you spend every second of a press conference hoping that a business executive or a developer with three hours of media training and a thick accent will take the stage so that the hurting stops. Tasteless joke after tasteless joke threatened to undo all the advancements towards respectability gaming has made in the past few years.

Nor did “Mr. Caffeine” win any fans amongst the fans at home, with a parody Twitter account popping up during the middle of the press conference. [Disclosure: no, I didn’t start it.]

What’s best about seeing these press conferences in person is that you can feel the reaction in the room. No matter how technically advanced our civilization becomes, nothing can ever replace the feeling of gathering people together. Okay, maybe one thing- and that was in the demo for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soilder.

What began as a single player demo of the latest entry in the tactical shooter series was turned on it’s head with a theatrical twist. The developer on stage played a special ops soldier who was part of a four-man team assaulting a cadre of bad guys in a Nigerian village. Part way through the demo the rear of the stage opened up to reveal that we were watching a co-op game. Three other high level players were working with the developer on stage. The video we were watching shifted to show us all four feeds at once.

This isn’t a game mode, but as I was trying to assimilate all that information I couldn’t help but think that this kind of perspective might make the basis for a new kind of game. Or a new role for a player not in combat.

Through all the noise and the hype, the future of how we play together is on display this week. And the way we play defines who we are in so many ways.

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