The Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is closing today. With the wrecking ball showing up, the sleepy-eyed drunks are being peeled off the slots, the grey shrimp cocktail in the $6.99 buffet is finally getting dumped in the trash, and Charo is quietly shedding a tear while she dreams of past glory in the Congo room. You may wonder what this has to do with E3?

Back in 1994, I stayed at the Sahara when I went to my first and only CES (the first E3 was in 1995). Despite the boom in home console and arcade business, there was no dedicated convention for video game publishers and developers, so the winter and summer CES (in Chicago) were the only outlets for consumers and buyers to get a look at the latest hardware and software.  1994 was an awesome year! It marked the debut of Super Metroid (with the Super Metroid dancers!), the original PlayStation (a CD hardware add-on for the Super Nintendo), and Virtua Fighter (WTF are polygons?!) to name just a few cool things that you would have seen on the floor! Off the floor, the hotel was a who’s who of the old skool gaming industry as well as a surreal collection of porn stars who were in town for the Adult Entertainment Expo which was held at the same time! Nothing quite matches the excellence of having a convention in Las Vegas, so it was a bit of a letdown when the first E3 in 1995 left the glitz and tawdriness of the Vegas Strip for the urban wasteland of downtown Los Angeles. It was even worse when it took a sweaty detour into Atlanta for a couple of years!

SO, what should a game designer do at E3?

  • First, if you’ve never been before, you should definitely go even if I am making it seem like its best days are long behind it. GDC is perhaps a better place to see all your industry friends, but E3 is where the buzz is for new games and hardware! I still remember getting my hands on a PlayStation for the first time and playing Warhawk and Tekken or getting a blinding headache from playing Waterworld on the Nintendo Virtual Boy!
  • If you’re a gainfully employed designer, you should take the opportunity to do some research on the competition. Look at games that are in the same genre as your game and take notes on controls, game mechanics, presentation, character development, combat, level design, etc. In 1996, I was a level designer on a game called Apocalypse that was being published by Activision. We were in for a huge shock when ASC Entertainment’s One was shown next to us in the PlayStation booth. The games were nearly identical!
  • If you have a game on the show floor, never forgo an opportunity to work the booth and demonstrate your game to whoever stops by. Typically, product managers from your publisher will line up various sellers and representatives for all three days, but all sorts of other random people will show up to take a look at your game. When I was working on Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary, I conducted an informal poll of everyone who came by to see if they liked the new sounds in the game or the classic Pac-Man sounds. I was having an argument with my producer over this issue (he wanted all new sounds and I wanted a mix of old and new) and my poll paid off big time when an EGM writer came by and made it an official poll that was printed alongside their preview for the game! Oh, and I won that argument! :)

  • Booth babes are great to look at, but they mostly do a lousy job of demo’ing games. When you go to play a game, look for the game being demo’ed by people like yourself. There’s a good chance that these are some of the developers of the game, so it’s a great opportunity to network and talk to some of the people who worked on some of your favorite games! Also, keep on the lookout for company events, mixers, and parties. These are also great opportunities for networking, free food, and some great music if you’re lucky! If you show up later at big events, you’ll have an easier time getting since most of the distinguished guests (various management, marketers, and retail people) tend to turn in early because they have a lot of meetings the next day!