Part 2 of Jonny's gigantic E3 special covers the 2000 show, the first one he experienced in person. Learn how he met up with Billy and the Planet, plus MUCH more. Over five times as big as Part 1!
I started to consider actually going to E3 around late 1999. It was a pretty crazy proposition, but there were some factors going for it. Namely, my dad would probably pay for the trip. I don’t know how it is at your high school, but every year at my old school a bunch of students would get together and plan a big senior trip for the week after graduation. Most years they decided to go to Cancun, Mexico, but during my senior year, they actually split up and planned trips to both Cancun and somewhere in Jamaica. Neither interested me very much. The reason most of these folks (not all, but most) want to leave the country is so they can drink a lot and not get arrested. Whee, let’s go spend $1000 or more to get wasted. But anyway, I knew my dad would probably shell out for me to go on a senior trip if I wanted to...problem is, I really didn’t.
So that’s when my brain started juggling around the E3 idea. What if I could plan my own senior trip? I could actually go do something I really want to do, come back with a unique experience that will stay with me forever, and probably spend less money than if I went out of the country. I started researching E3’s website, seeing how plausible it would be for me to even be allowed into the event. At first I was discouraged, because all I found were the Media passes, and those require tons of credentials, a business license, etc. The Nformant had none of that. Eventually though, I discovered the “Exhibits Only” pass, which is available to all members of the “interactive entertainment industry”. Uhh, I guess that includes fansite editors!
I started looking at airfare and hotel rooms. The airfare wasn’t too bad for such a long trip, but all the cheap hotels were booked. $120 per night? OUCH! That's when I realized that I needed a traveling partner. Not just someone to split the costs, but someone to talk to and hang out with in Los Angeles. You must realize that I knew no one out there. The only person I knew online who was going was Carl Johnson from Nintendorks...more on that later. Anyway, I asked around, and unfortunately most of my friends had already committed to one of the major senior trips. I knew better than to think I could take anyone who would be as nuts for it as I was, but I at least wanted someone who played games and could appreciate the event as a chance to play a lot of new stuff. That’s when I looked to a couple friends of mine who were already in college. No conflicts with the senior trips! One of them graciously passed, but the other was actually interested.
David Mize was a moderate PC gamer who also had several N64 games. We’d known each other for probably four years, ever since I got into football/weightlifting and he started going to my church a lot. David said he wasn’t going to be busy once final exams were finished, and besides, it sounded like fun. Yep, this guy had no idea what he was getting into. For what it’s worth, neither did I, heh.
Just as I began finalizing plane and hotel reservations, something came up. It turned out that part of E3 was taking place on the same day that my high school was holding its academic awards ceremony. I was to formally receive several scholarships, and my grandparents were going to be there to gush and all that. I tried to convince my parents (who were highly skeptical of the trip to begin with) that going to E3 was more important to me than dressing up and walking up onstage to get some pieces of paper...I was gonna get the money whether I was present to accept the awards or not. Some people the year before had been absent during the ceremony, and that was no big deal...so please please please can I go to California instead? They said absolutely not, especially because relatives would be coming and such. I got majorly depressed. I mean, my parents were making me miss the trip of a lifetime just so I can go to a bloated, incosequential awards show! I grudgingly told David the bad news.
My only hope was that the awards ceremony would be rescheduled. I talked to the school counselors, who were planning it, and they said it wasn’t likely. They have to contact all the college representatives months in advance to set up this event, and there was nothing likely to happen that might force them to reschedule. Pooh. My last chance came up empty, and I spent the next week or two in a pretty bad slump.
Then one day my counselor stopped me in the hall with incredible news...the softball team and the school choir had conflicting trips that week, and the awards ceremony would have to be postponed several days! I gave her a big hug and ran (er, drove) home to tell my parents and to call David. The ‘rents didn’t sound too thrilled (I think they just didn’t want me going off to California to play videogames in the first place...), but they no longer had a valid excuse to keep me from going. David was still free and willing to go, so I made the trip reservations and we were set. I was going to E3. Impossible, but true.
The weeks flew by after that, and before I knew it, we were packing suitcases. In my short preparation time, I had set up a cool little E3 section at the Nformant, scanned in my badge (which garnered several jealous emails), and sorted out two appointments during the show. We had an official booth tour with Nintendo on the last day, and I had an interview with Saffire’s CEO, Les Pardew, which was to take place during their party after the show’s first day.
My alarm clock didn’t go off the morning of our plane flight. David called me on his cell phone from our garage...uh-oh! Luckily I was already packed, but I did get showered and dressed in about five minutes. We finally made it onto the plane, and that’s when everything hit me like a sack of petrified elephant crap. Oh my God, we’re on our way to E3! Until then, it had all been like a dream. I’d known academically that it was going to happen, but emotionally it didn’t become real and tangible to me until that plane took off. What an amazing feeling, to look back on how I started my website, to how I’d covered E3 ’99 from home, and then a year later be on a plane headed to Los Angeles to actually be there.
On the plane we met several people who were also going to the show, namely some Sony employees all decked out with Playstation bags and such. That was my first inkling that E3 wasn’t going to just be a few thousand teenage gamers, but a massive gathering of people from many aspects of the industry and of many different ages and backgrounds.
We finally landed in LA, dropped our bags off at the hotel, and went to the Los Angeles Convention Center to get our badge holders. Quite simply, the LACC is the biggest building I’ve ever seen. You could fit a small town in there. It can take ten or fifteen minutes to walk from one end to the other, depending on the crowds. The badge holder pick-up counter was right inside the main entrance, but we decided to go exploring. If nothing else, we’d be more prepared the next day and wouldn’t have to waste time being lost.
The West Hall, home of Nintendo, Sega, and Sony, was locked up tight. All I could see was Mickey’s Speedway USA, which was running very far off. You may not think much of that now, but back then Nintendo hadn’t even released screenshots of that game...I was one of the first people in the world to glimpse it. We eventually made our way down to Kentia Hall, which is often called the “Ghetto of E3”. It’s kind of far off from all the other exhibition halls, and it’s used mainly by very small companies and by media outlets who want to get some office space on the floor. Just being adventurous, we went up to the door and asked the young lady guarding it if we could get in. Now, normally only Exhibitors are allowed into the halls prior to the show’s opening, so they can set up their booths and get stuff ready. I guess this lady looked at our badges and read them wrong, because they clearly said “Exhibits Only”. Heh, well we weren’t going to complain. We walked around in Kentia Hall for probably half an hour, feeling like outlaws but loving every second of it. I was searching for IGN’s offices and famous “War Room”, because I was pretty sure those were located in Kentia. We couldn’t find it though, so we finally left to find a map, which was in the LACC’s lobby. Sure enough, IGN’s booth was way in the back, the only place we didn’t look. D’oh! We went back up to the entrance and asked once more if we could go in. This time there was a different lady there, and she said sure just like the other. We took about five steps into Kentia before she stopped us and took a closer look at our badges, which of course meant that we got thrown out. Oh well, I would end up getting to see IGN’s booth and all its myriad net celebrities anyway the next couple of days. That’s my E3 infiltration story though!
We spent the rest of the day playing Turok: Rage Wars and updating back at the hotel. Nintendo’s pre-show press conference had taken place during our plane ride and LACC adventure, and I was all ready to sort out the new info and stuff. Unfortunately, coverage of the press conference was dismal. Most sites posted one or two news stories, if that many. NOA didn’t really show off a ton of new stuff there, but come on! I knew that if I ever got to attend one of those press conferences, I’d give it the proper treatment. After some pizza and as much updating as I could squeeze out of the press conference, I mainly wanted to get some rest and go to bed early. A wild plan was hatching in my head. The show opened the next day at 10:00 AM; David and I decided that we’d wake up at 6:00 and be waiting in line by 7:00 in the morning. Nuts, I tell you! Sure enough, we arrived at the closest door to Nintendo’s booth three whole hours before E3 opened. For the first hour or so, nobody else showed up to my surprise, and we entertained ourselves by reading the Show Daily (a cool free newspaper published every day of the show). I also played Bionic Commando on my GBC and read some Frank Herbert.
Around 8:30, two things happened. First, some exhibitors started coming in, and of course they were allowed to enter that magical place with no problems. Grrrr. I can’t imagine what famous people walked right by me that morning; I did my best to read their badges, but I didn’t know any faces to speak of. I did get to shake hands with Dan Owsen though, who I knew from the Nintendo.com BBS and several emails. He has cool hair. The second thing that happened was that more people started coming in behind us. The second group in line behind Dave and me were Electronics Boutique employees who got into the show on EB’s name and were there to just play the games. One guy in particular named Frank admitted to being a massive Nintendo junkie, and we talked a lot about the games inside the next room and stuff. There was also a guy nearby with an IGN.com badge on...so I just had to ask which part he worked for. His name was Ben Kosmina, and he said that it was actually a mistake, and that he really worked for the affiliate Euro-Asia Game Boy. He’d come all the way from Australia by himself, and didn’t know a soul at the show, just like David and me. We quickly hit it off with the guy, and ended up making great friends with him. All the people nearby were pretty amazed that we had gotten there at 7:00 AM...we were literally first in line, and we intended to be first through the doors too.
Slowly slowly slowly, 10:00 rolled around. The anticipation was murderous. By this time there were hundreds of people lined up behind us, and it was very weird being at the front of a crowd like that. I had decided that I would go to Dinosaur Planet first, and then Majora’s Mask. The last five minutes in line were pure torture, as I stared at the door (inches from my face) and could only wait for it to move. It finally did, and David and I broke into a full sprint towards Nintendo. I almost had to stop just to look at everything; their setup was huge and definitely eye-catching. But I resisted temptation and continued my beeline to Dinosaur Planet, which had been announced only days before. Oddly enough, every DP station was already occupied...I guess exhibitors from other companies just couldn’t resist. I only had to wait a few seconds for one of them to give up his spot though, and there I was, playing a game that almost no one else in the world had even seen, much less experienced like this. As it turns out, I was also playing one of several games in Nintendo’s booth that would never be released on the N64...
The biggest surprise at Nintendo’s booth was Mario Tennis. It had been announced the previous week, but no one had ever seen or played it until that day. Regardless of what you think of Mario Tennis now, it is really the perfect kind of game to demo at E3. Even non-gamers could walk up to it and look like they knew what they were doing...it’s such a fun, simple game that can be enjoyed in brief plays. Plus, the four-player support was a huge factor. Ben and I even had an ongoing rivalry with two of the Nintendo “booth babes”. (I hesitate to call them that, because the ladies at Nintendo’s booth are so informed about the games and interested in talking to you, unlike the bimbos at many other companies’ booths.)
Meeting people is a much bigger part of E3 than you probably think, and we certainly met some interesting people that day. I distinctly remember seeing two fellows standing with several Rare employees...and of course, they were RareNet Dan and Trevor. I had to gather up some courage before introducing myself to them, but they were very nice and actually remembered my name from their message boards and stuff! I also got to shake hands with Matt Casamassina, who was in line behind me to play Mario Tennis at one point. Still, the person I really wanted to meet was Carl Johnson, and he was nowhere to be found. Oh yeah, and David and I spotted Shigeru Miyamoto hanging out in one of Nintendo’s private interview booths. I’m sure it was sound-proof, but we got his attention anyway by standing near the window and doing the Wayne’s World “worship” motion...he laughed and pointed us out to his translator. Holy crap, Shiggy was looking at us! I tell you, I could have flown home right then and there and been set for life.
The first day of E3 slowly wound down, and we headed back to the hotel. I wrote game impressions and news, and we both got dressed up for the Saffire party. This was to be my first-ever major interview, and it showed. I had nothing prepared, and ended up making questions on a notepad in the taxi on the way to Hollywood. We got there, and I realized that I’d never even seen a picture of Les Pardew...no clue what he looked like. At least we found Frank from that morning at the party...he and some other people were making fun of Tekken Tag Tournament on PS2, which was at the party just for people to have fun with. (Saffire wasn’t at all involved in TTT, but the PS2 had just come out in Japan and a lot of people were curious about it.) David and I sat down with some hors d’oeuvres, and I started scanning the crowd for Les. Luckily, most people (including us, I believe) were still wearing their E3 badges, just for easier identification.
I finally found him, but he was talking to someone else. David and I just kinda stood around, waiting for him to be free for a few seconds so I could introduce myself. During this time, I saw a couple guys standing around whose badges said “PlanetN2000”. I’d heard of that site before, so I went up to them to say hello. Their names were Steven Thomas and Billy Berghammer. They seemed like nice fellows, and we chatted for a few minutes until Les stood up and walked over towards us. I excused myself and approached Les about the interview. Now, in my mind I had pictured a nice, quiet interview while sitting down at a table. I can’t remember exactly how, but our interview ended up being more like a roundtable, with Les, myself, David, Dave Rushton (programmer at Saffire), the PlanetN2000 guys, and a few other people all standing in a circle and talking about Saffire and gaming in general. It was actually really cool...I still got to ask all my interview questions, and everyone got to contribute to the discussion. Moreover, that “roundtable” interview ended up changing my life beyond anything I could have imagined, as it turns out that Billy and Steven were impressed with my questions or something like that. It was also the first time I ever saw a Game Boy flashROM, because Dave Rushton pulled out the GBC game he was working on. It was called “Saffire”, based on what we now know as the Young Olympians franchise, but unfortunately was never released.
The conversation eventually winded down, so David and I made our exit and headed back for our hotel. We were both just abuzz with excitement over that evening, but I had no way of knowing that it would end up being one of the major turning points in my life. Two editors who I’d just met, from a website that I’d visited maybe once, had noticed me and were already talking about me...
The next morning we weren’t in such a hurry to get to E3 early. Not long after arriving, we ran into Ben from Australia again, and he agreed to show us the IGN “War Room” and the affiliates’ little office back in Kentia Hall. I was hoping we could somehow get invited to IGN’s famous affiliate party, which was scheduled for that evening. Ben led us to the War Room, which wasn’t really all that busy...probably because it was so early in the day. Peer Schneider was there handing out promotional stuff to passers-by, but I didn’t recognize anyone else, so we moved on to the nearby affiliate office. I didn’t recognize anyone else there either, but Ben did ask some dude there if he could bring friends to the party...”Sure.”
I spent the rest of the day playing games and keeping an eye out for familiar names, especially Carl. Ben and I played the mess out of Mario Tennis, and eventually I made my way over to Eternal Darkness. I’d played it the day before and talked with a guy walking people through the demo...he was unusually talkative about the game, and answered every question I asked him. I played through the demo again, and then decided to find out more about it...but that dude was busy with someone else. So I turned around, and there were two other guys with the distinctive Silicon Knights/Eternal Darkness t-shirts on, so I just went to them. According to their badges, they were James O’Reilly and Denis Dyack, which meant nothing to me at the time. I started asking them about the game, and found them to be strikingly generous with their answers. At most E3 game demos, the nearby company reps are either clueless PR people or 20-year-old programmers who don’t feel like talking to you. These Silicon Knights guys were busting at the seams to talk to me, a nobody who ran this little Geocities site with less than fifty hits per day. I probably stood there discussing the game for almost an hour with the people who were making it...quite an amazing experience.
Without a doubt, the most memorable part of that second day was getting to meet Shigeru Miyamoto. Even now, the whole event exists in my mind more like a movie clip than an actual memory. I guess that’s because I have so much trouble accepting that it ever really happened...even though I know academically that it did. David and I were walking towards Perfect Dark to try out the co-op mode, when all of a sudden he taps me on the shoulder and directs my attention towards the Conker bar’s entrance. “Hey, isn’t that the guy?” David didn’t even know who Shigsy was until a couple days before, but here he was picking him out of a crowd and saying we should go talk to him. Hell yes we should go talk to him!!! Miyamoto was walking out of the bar area when I walked up to him and clumsily tried to get his attention. He didn’t hear me though, and walked right past! Fearing that I would miss the chance of a lifetime, I shouted a little louder: “Miyamoto-san!” He turned around looking slightly confused, but when I bowed and extended a hand to him, he smiled and shook it earnestly. I thought I was going to pass out, or just start crying. Instead I tried to say something, but the only thing that came out was “Thank you.” I guess if I had to pick just two words to say to him, those would be the best ones anyway. He nodded, smiled, and headed off. I don’t remember much of the next few minutes, but David somehow dragged me into the Conker bar. I guess he thought it would be loud and crazy enough to jerk me back into reality, and eventually it worked. One thing I can definitely say about Miyamoto though...he gives off some kind of aura. I can’t explain it, but even knowing that he’s nearby makes you incredibly excited, and as soon as he steps into view, you can’t take your eyes off him. This man isn’t just a game designer...he’s a living legend, and if you ever get the chance to see him in person, you’ll say the exact same thing.
The show closed entirely too soon for my taste, but we headed back to the hotel to get ready for IGN’s party. It was then that I pulled out all the business cards I’d collected from that day and realized that one of those Silicon Knights guys was the president of the company. Imagine casually talking to some Japanese dude from Nintendo and then finding out later that it was Hiroshi Yamauchi...that’s how I felt. I updated the website while David got ready, and then I changed and we headed out for the party, which was taking place at the incredible Ritz-Carlton hotel in Marina Del Ray. The cab ride out there cost me almost fifty bucks, but it was well worth it.
David and I walked into one of the most prestigious hotels in the world wearing shorts and t-shirts. I immediately regretted it and thought for sure they’d throw us out, but the lady at the desk simply pointed us towards the party. When we got there, most everyone was dressed like us...thank goodness. The bad news was that Ben hadn’t arrived yet, and we didn’t know anyone else there. So, we once again just ate the food and waited for something to happen. Finally Ben showed up, but he didn’t know anyone either, so we ended up just sitting there for a while and talking. I swear, that party had the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life. Then I saw Steven Thomas from the Planet walk in, so I went over to say hello...at least here was someone I was slightly acquainted with. We walked outside onto the deck, and found Matt Casamassina there chatting it up with some people. Steven told me that he’d heard Matt had a Gekko chip from Nintendo, and then he proceeded to ask Matt about it. Sure enough, IGN64’s editor-in-chief pulled the tiny, bare, golden microchip out of his pocket and showed it to us. Weird! Steven continued talking to Matt about a lot of Project Dolphin rumors and stuff, and David, Ben, and I joined in. I guess it was around that time that I realized something...Steven and Billy were there trying to cover a system that didn’t even have a real name yet. What a couple of nutcases! We talked with Matt for quite a while, and the whole conversation was pretty surreal for me. At that time in my career, Casamassina was one of my major idols, someone I’d spent countless hours reading. To see him right there in person, and to actually be talking with him, was truly weird.
Eventually someone announced that the bar was closing, and that everyone would have to move up to the hotel’s main lobby. I asked Matt if he’d gotten Perfect Dark from Nintendo (we’d heard that some media received advance review copies during E3), and he said he did, just a few floors up in his hotel room. He invited us to go play it, but then someone reminded him that his N64 was still at the convention center, so it didn’t work out. To think though, we came this close to playing Perfect Dark against a guy whose face is in the game!
We just moved up to the lobby, and for some reason there seemed to be even more people hanging out there. Matt introduced us to the Nintendorks, who were very cool; unfortunately, Carl had stayed at the hotel to play their copy of Perfect Dark. Argh! I managed to convince their handheld editor, Justin Whirledge, to give Carl a message for me though: meet me Saturday at noon, right by the Dinosaur Planet display. From there, we were introduced to all sorts of affiliate and IGN people, including some Nintendojo writers, a couple guys from N64Shooters (now known as Ngenres), Aaron Boulding, etc. I got to speak with Peer a little more, and it turns out that he is a really cool guy. We also met Craig Harris, who showed us the business card he got from Miyamoto and the WideBoy 64 that they finally got from Nintendo, after months of requests. Ben was especially interested in talking with Craig, since he worked at a Game Boy site.
The party slowly faded out, and the three of us bid our farewells to all the people we’d met. I was practically in shock during the cab ride back to LA. For me, Jonathan Metts, to have spent a night talking to all those famous people who did the same kind of thing I did with the Nformant...it blew me away, and it still does.
We woke up the next morning with four hours of sleep and just a single day left of E3. It’s a weird feeling...so much was packed into the first two days, more than I’d ever imagined, and yet the concept of E3 being almost over was mind-blowing. At the same time, our bodies were very much ready to go home...I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this, but E3 likes to take your physical health and beat it over the head with a frying pan several hundred times. If you’ve ever been to Disney World, it’s like that, but much worse.
After stopping by the IGN War Room one last time to say hello to our new friends and get some weirdo vacuum-packed t-shirts, we headed back to Nintendo’s booth to cram in everything we could while it was still there. David had spent much of the show wandering around on his own, collecting free stuff, getting pictures made with the babes, and playing the occasional game that interested him. However, I seem to remember that he stuck with me a lot for the last day to see Nintendo’s games.
At 11:00 AM, we showed up at the media desk for our official NOA booth tour...whoo! Actually, it wasn’t as cool as I had expected. This very nice PR lady took us around Nintendo’s booth, which of course I knew like the back of my hand by now, and briefly went over all the games. She said a couple interesting things about Mickey Speedway USA and got us some neat free stuff at the Conker’s BFD bar, but otherwise it was a waste of time. If we’d wanted, she could have skipped us to the front of any lines, but Nintendo’s booth was never really that packed to begin with.
At noon, I eagerly headed over to the Dinosaur Planet display area. I had no way of knowing if Justin had actually given Carl my message, but I figured I’d hang around at least for five or ten minutes, and I could play DP for the umpteenth time if I got bored. I only vaguely knew what Carl looked like, and it turns out that he’s quite the photo-chameleon...never looks the same twice in pictures. After a couple minutes of scrutinous badge-searching, a tall black-haired fellow finally walked up with the same sort of “searching” expression on his face, and his badge read: Carl Johnson.
In light of all the other famous people I’d already met at E3, this little encounter may not seem like a big deal to you. It was a very big deal to me. Carl wasn’t just a famous online journalist...he was an online friend. He was the only person I knew and talked to frequently online that was also gonna be at E3. In other words, this was my first real encounter with an online friend...whoa. To say the following conversation was awkward would be a tragic understatement. I had no idea what to say, he had no idea what to say, so we ended up small-talking about E3 appointments (he had too many, I had too few) and my accent, which was a good bit stronger back then than it is now. And...that was it. We shook hands and parted ways, and I was left feeling somewhat in awe and somewhat disappointed that I didn’t use the opportunity any better. Oh well. On a weird sidenote, the odd meeting actually earned me a whole chapter in Carl’s massive The E3 2000 Experience article later that summer.
Ben and I had a rematch against the two Nintendo booth ladies that had beaten us the previous day at Mario Tennis. I’m proud to say that after a long deuce/advantage sequence and a tie-breaker round that went down to the wire, the Aussie and the Redneck won back their title. God, that game is so perfect for E3.
The final day of E3 2000 gradually wound down. I think that when everyone realizes they have five minutes left, they run to the nearest game and just play the crap out of it until somebody drags them away from the controller. For me, the game was Pokemon Puzzle League (on N64). I figured I could play two or three quick rounds and have at least that small sense of closure to walk away with...that I wasn’t halfway through killing a boss or anything.
There is an intense sadness in the air when you see PR people start to rope off the booth areas and shoo people away. When you’re at the show, it feels like infinity. You have always been at E3, and you will always be at E3. Something about the excitement and grandeur forces you entirely into the present. When the last day starts shutting down, you can look at people’s faces and just see the horror they’re experiencing; they can’t believe this gaming paradise isn’t eternal.
For me, there was an additional tragedy: saying goodbye to Ben. He was the only guy I met at the show who felt like a true, true friend by the end, but after three short days, we had to bid our farewells. We met up with Dave (who had been checking out more booth babes, probably) and all three walked out into the incredibly bright sun. Maybe that was a sign...I have to admit that the sunshine made me feel a bit better. I got one last picture with Ben, and we climbed aboard our separate hotel shuttles. And that was the end of E3.
Part 3 coming soon!