It was nearly two years ago, but I remember it like yesterday

E3 2011, E3There is no doubt in my mind that it is every gamer’s dream to attend the annual event that is known to the world as E3.

Being able to play the future blockbuster games several months, or even years in some cases, before every one of your friends is a dream most gamers hold true.

It is why many gamers get jobs at GameStop, start gaming websites, do reviews on YouTube and scour Craig’s List for ticket sales just days before the event every year. For me, as an aspiring gaming journalist, being able to attend E3 was not only a dream come true, but a glimpse into my future.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, as it is technically referred, is a yearly event open to gaming media and industry-connected personnel that is usually held in early June at the Los Angeles Convention Center and various other venues with the purpose of revealing, discussing, and showing off the newest games and electronic devices for the upcoming holiday season and the years to follow.  The event began in 1995 and has made annual history ever since.

The invitation, plan and long, boring ride

Since E3 is not open to the general public, you are probably wondering how I got into the event. Sony’s PlayStation Blog ran a contest in mid-May where entrants answered a series of questions and followed by a one-hundred word “tie-breaker” response to the question: why would you like to go to E3?  My answer should be obvious if you are familiar with my passion for gaming and journalism, but I must be frank here and say that I never thought I would win.

I am sure you can imagine the reaction I had when I checked my email a few days later and saw, “Attend E3 Contest: You’ve Won.”

I immediately told my wife and after a little planning — well, a LOT of planning — over the next few days, the trip was set and I was ready to go.

The journey begins

HollywoodOn June 6, 2011, after watching Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony’s E3 press conferences live on TV, I rented a car and made other preparations for the next day’s drive to southern California.

I woke up the next morning around 5 a.m. and I was stoked to hop in the car and drive to a new land all by myself. Much to my chagrin, the trip down CA I-5 South to L.A. is a long, boring ride filled with…well, nothing.

Imagine driving by yourself, while drowsy from barely sleeping due to the excitement of knowing that multitudes of gaming goodness was waiting for you, and having to drive four-and-a-half hours on a two-lane freeway with more big-rigs than you can count, alongside dead fields of farmland with nothing but the radio to keep you company.

The only saving grace for me was the fact that the WHOLE ride wasn’t as boring.

Driving through Hollywood was an amazing experience for me. I’ve lived in California my entire life and have never been to Hollywood. My only trip to L.A., in fact, was in the mid-90s when I went to Disneyland with my family, but we didn’t go through Hollywood and even if we had, I wouldn’t have noticed since I was probably too busy playing “Slug Bug” and looking for cool cars.

Seeing Capitol Records and other such landmark buildings was quite the amazing experience and made the mind-numbing drive worth every LA Convention Centersecond. Sadly, I was on the opposite side of the famous Hollywood sign so I’ll have to save seeing that for another trip.

After the six-and-a-half hour drive I was finally arriving at the L.A. Convention Center for E3 2011. There was just one problem. The parking garages were full and I had no cash to pay for parking. How could I forget to bring cash? As Homer Simpson’s voice filled my head with the catchphrase, “Doh!” I was informed by the parking attendant that myself and many others could park on the street nearby and pay with a credit card inside the parking office. Whew!

E3 day one and the sights, sounds…and smells of Hollywood

The first order of business was to go into the south lobby and get my badge. Unknowingly, I went to the wrong desk and when they told me there was no badge for me, my heart sunk. I was then asked who I worked for and when I told them I won entry from a Sony contest they thought I worked for Sony! When I wasn’t in the system, I panicked a little but was quickly ushered to the proper registration booth and got my badge with no problems!

Putting the E3 badge around my neck was an amazing feeling. After years of dreaming, days of planning, and hours of driving, I was finally able to go check out the games!

After this I walked around the building and took in the aesthetics of the amazing lobby. I grabbed a few free magazines, talked to people and took note of the various trailers, posters and game advertisements that were literally everywhere. It was all very overwhelming. If you’ve never been to E3, this feeling isn’t something I can describe. It was like gaming Heaven.

After this, I had one thing on my mind. As Sac City Gamer followers should know, I’m a huge fan of the WWE games (previously published by the now defunct THQ and currently published by 2K Games) and the first thing I wanted to do was play WWE ’12.

Also, being that Sony had invited me, I wanted to visit the Sony booth as well. I walked into the showroom and to my surprise, there were tons of booths, huge displays, and amazing costumes being worn by various people. Thousands of gamers, journalists, representatives, and employees of publishers and developers walked the floors of the hall.

E3 2011, EA boothI walked over to the EA booth, picked up a controller and began playing Need For Speed: The Run. It was awesome to experience a game that wouldn’t be released for months. To get to play something that many gamers could only imagine playing was a feeling that is nearly indescribable.

I was interrupted half way through when the Star Wars theme began to play loudly. In a moment of nerd-gasm, I had to drop the controller and walk to an area nearby to see what was going on. Several actors were dressed as Star Wars characters, one even holding a Yoda puppet! All of this was to promote the PC game, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I then headed back to the halls of the showroom floor figuring I’d come back to play The Run again later. I found the THQ booth and was overly excited to play WWE ’12. I ended up playing against a random E3’er and beat him. I played as Randy Orton and he was Alberto Del Rio. Aside from some funny glitches, which we were assured would be gone by the game’s release (see: they weren’t), the game was enjoyable and a noticeable difference over the previous title.

When I was done, I walked around some more just taking in the sights and sounds and still scratching my head as to where Sony’s booth was located. As I walked around wondering where it could be, I saw several interesting sights including the G4 set-up where they air live E3 coverage every year. Normally this is how I get my E3 coverage at home so it was exciting to see it being broadcast in person. I was star-struck seeing Morgan Webb and Adam Sessler, the hosts of the show at the time.

After all of that walking around, I was getting a bit hungry. Now, I’ve seen mention in journalistic E3 coverage of the overpriced food at the convention center, but I decided to go get a snack in the food services area of the building anyway. Bad idea. I bought a Vitamin Water and some white chocolate pretzels and the total came up to $6.25! Luckily for me, their cash register froze and I ended up getting it for free!

As I sat on the floor nearby, it occurred to me that I had picked up the “Day One” catalog. Upon looking at the map of the show floors, I realized that Sony’s booth wasn’t even in this building. I quickly headed to the West Hall of the convention center, passing by tons of media members who were headed to a private Activision event.  Most notably, I passed up Greg Miller IGN PlayStation Executive Editor, who at the time was the reviewer of the WWE games. Unfortunately, he was in a rush and I didn’t get to speak to him.

When I arrived, I quickly headed to Sony’s booth, but was amazed at the huge amounts of people in the Nintendo booth. The line for their newly announced console, the Wii U, had a three-hour wait time! I walked to Sony’s booth and played Starhawk, Twisted Metal, Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One (in 3D, gasp!), Carnival Island and several other titles. It was like a gaming goodness overload.

WWE 12, E3 2011I then decided to head back to the WWE ’12 booth and play again before heading to my motel for the night. I also wanted to meet WWE superstar Alberto Del Rio and WWE diva Kelly Kelly. I ended up playing against one of the THQ representatives and he beat me pretty easily since I wasn’t as used to the new control scheme and well, he was. He informed me that I had missed Del Rio and Kelly though, which was disappointing to say the least.

I did, however, get to speak to Cory Ledesma, WWE Games Creative Director for THQ. We spoke for a good 10 minutes and it was an experience I’ll never forget. It made me feel like my future as a gaming journalist is a strong one considering that I wasn’t nervous at all and that I enjoyed the conversation so much. Ledesma gave me his full attention and answered my questions. He’s a real cool dude.

After I got done WWE nerding it up, though the show wasn’t over for the day, I decided to head to the motel for the night because I was exhausted.

I got lost driving from downtown L.A. to Hollywood and almost didn’t find my motel. I kind of wish I hadn’t. The motel was pretty crappy. The whole building had a disgusting smell, but the view of the city and the cool evening breeze was nice. After calling my wife, seeing a glimpse of myself on the local news, and eating a scrumptious McDonald’s dinner, I went to bed.

The next morning, I got cleaned up and dressed, checked out of the motel, bought some Starbucks coffee and walked to my car. The atmosphere in Hollywood wasn’t at all what I expected. Despite having a portion of the Hollywood Walk of Fame under my feet, the city was run down, the cement was cracked in several places and there were more homeless people than I see in my hometown. I got a feeling that the city isn’t well kept. For being one of America’s most famous cities, it was a pretty big disappointment. Oh, and that smell in my motel room…it came from outside.

E3 day two, meeting an idol and making the long trek home

Vita Line, E3 2011After hopping back in my rented car and making the trip back to downtown L.A., I started out day two in the West Hall. My plan was to be first in line so I could check out the PlayStation Vita. Despite being one of the first people to line up outside the door of the showroom, I some how ended up being at the end of a line of approximately 200 people. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with that idea. I gave up on the Vita.

I went and played some Sony games again, checked out some stuff I missed the day before and headed to the Nintendo booth. It was jam-packed already so I just took some pictures, watched some videos and took in the environment. It was hard to be impressed by the 3DS or the Wii U because I simply couldn’t get in close enough to check it out for myself. In fact, I spent the most time at the Sony booth because it was the least populated. Well, aside from the Vita area. I also skipped playing a round of online Uncharted 3 because the crowd was huge.

I think had I not been alone, I would have waited in line, but being myself, it was pretty boring just standing around. A lot of the people there brought along PSPs and Nintendo DSs. Good idea.

I headed back to the South Hall and went straight back to the WWE booth to play WWE 12 again. By the way, that walk is not a short one. It’s a pretty long bridge between the two buildings. It’s no wonder I didn’t rush to go see Hulk Hogan at the live X-Play booth for his segment on the show, being that I was in the West Hall at the time I saw him on a monitor. At the WWE booth, I heard a rep say that WWE superstar, The Miz would be at the booth soon. I went and checked out some other games like Saints Row: The Third and some downloadable games. I also stopped by the Xbox booth to get my hands on Forza Motorsport 4.

After walking around for a while, I went back to the WWE booth and got in line to wait for The Miz. I was worried about not having anything for

The Miz, Daniel J. Wilson, Sac City Gamer
Daniel J. Wilson and WWE Superstar The Miz at E3 2011.

him to sign. Luckily a “Booth Babe” handed me (and everyone else in line) an 8X10 photo of The Miz to have signed. Awesome. While waiting in line, everyone was talking about what games they had played and were planning to go play. One guy said he waited in line for six hours to see the Vita. His friend asked him what he thought of it and he replied, “It’s alright.” I had to smile at that one.

The Miz eventually was introduced by Cory Ledesma and the two had some playful banter. The best part about waiting in line, from this point on, was getting to hear The Miz give witty remarks to each person he saw. At one point his entrance music was playing and it cut out (leave it to THQ), but The Miz made the best of it by saying, “How dare they cut off The Miz’s music!?” One guy even had the nerve to tell Miz he was more awesome than him. The Miz replied by telling the guy to cut a promo on him. The fan gave an impressive promo and The Miz gave him his props.

It was finally my turn. I handed my camera to a guy nearby who had been taking pictures for people and posed with The Miz. I told him I was a huge fan of his work and he thanked me for stopping by. I’ve met celebrities and wrestlers before, but The Miz was a class act and definitely gave me an experience to remember.

After I was done meeting an idol of mine, I headed to the Ubisoft booth to go check out Driver: San Francisco. Now, I had planned to do this, but my plan wasn’t all that great. See, I had this autographed 8X10 photo with me now and the last thing I wanted to do was damage it or set it down and have someone walk off with it. I really wanted to play Driver but it was getting late and I had a long drive (a real one) ahead of me. I was home-sick, tired and my feet were killing me so I made the, albeit reluctant, decision to go ahead and begin my adventure on the path back to Sacramento.

The journey home

Nos girl, Lambo, E3 2011After stopping by the NOS energy drink booth outside to grab a couple free cans of the disgusting drink, I headed back to the car and started to drive home. Despite NOS not tasting very good, I was happy to have the energy boost. I had a boring drive ahead of me and I felt like I hadn’t slept in a month. I hit the freeway and began driving up I-5 North on the way home. The cruise control on the Toyota Prius I had rented was a nice feature on the way back, but I had to switch between blasting the air conditioner in my face, rolling down the window, listening to music and letting the radio scan random channels to keep myself awake.

After about 5 hours, I was getting close to home and of course, I had to hit a traffic jam. This kept me on the road for about a half hour longer than I wanted to be. But I digress.

You know, it’s a wonderful feeling walking into your home after being gone for a while. You really notice all the things you normally take for granted. Just being back in my own bed was awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed the experience, but it was good to be home.

The next day, I spent a few hours with my DVR watching through the footage from X-Play. It was cool seeing it from home after having been there. Even better, it was awesome to listen to the them talk about the games, many of which I had played. It was definitely a different experience than usual.

In the end, the adventure was worth the journey and it definitely brought out a passion for gaming journalism that was there before but was cemented as my career goal after experiencing the year’s biggest, most important gaming conference. I thought gaming journalism was what I wanted to do with my life, but after E3, now I know.

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More photos from Daniel Wilson’s E3 2011 experience:

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