Saturday, June 23, 2007

E3 Exposed

The other day I realized that May was long past, but I hadn't gone to E3, a convention in LA also known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The reason for this, of course, is that E3 was officially canceled after the 2006 convention, saving me the cost of a cheap flight to LA, but also denying me the opportunity to wallow in the sheer ridiculousness that is E3.

E3 is (or rather, was) a yearly convention for video games. Yes, even video games have their own convention. Like many "trade-show" oriented conventions, the main event was the expo floor, where companies could peddle their wares. Except in this case, the wares were whatever video game titles were coming out soon, and the games weren't really sold at all, but rather, hyped with the marketing power of a thousand suns.

I had been going to E3 since 2002 or thereabouts, but I wasn't going to learn about new games. Being something of a video game connoisseur (or addict, take your pick) there was almost never anything revealed at the show that I didn't already know about. Rather, I went because I wanted to laugh out loud at the sheer over-the-top atmosphere that was E3.

E3 was always: 1) Incredibly loud (every booth was trying to drown out the sound from their neighbors), 2) Incredibly flashy (30+-foot high light shows, wrap-around projection TVs bigger than my apartment complex, random celebrities, fog machines for no good reason) and 3) Filled to capacity with slack-jawed nerds. Think of the main strip in Vegas, but instead of bright lights, gambling and strippers, you have bright lights, video game demonstrations and "booth babes" (who were often strippers making some extra cash on the side). Here's some example pictures I took of Nintendo's booth from two separate E3s:

In addition, there was always a special section of the LA convention center (Kentia Hall) reserved for smaller companies trying to get people interested in bizarre games and accessories that no one had ever heard of.

My personal favorite E3 was when I went as a member of the self-aggrandized gaming press. I was writing for a gaming website at the time, and thus was told to make appointments to talk to game producers and find out what they were doing. I waltzed to the front of a long line at one booth and was ushered inside an "invite-only" room where I was served drinks and snacks, sat on a comfy couch, and had a company representative walk me through their in-development games. At another booth, a company rep walked me around the booth, and abruptly kicked "regular nerds" out of the booth when they were in the way of something she was trying to show me. Ah, the halcyon days.

The problem, however, was that most companies really had very little to actually reveal, but tried very hard to over-hype what little they had. This was the real reason behind the eventual demise of the convention itself. In 2006, the committee behind the convention decided that the overall signal-to-noise ratio of the show was so skewed, that it would benefit mankind as a whole if E3 was just canceled. The committee has since announced a new show to be held in Santa Monica, but this is a "press-only" event of a much smaller scale. Likewise, other organizers have announced wanna-be E3 replacement shows, but for me at least, the party is over.

Which is a pity. Most conventions, even trade-show-based ones, cater to some sort of professional. E3 catered to nerds, plain and simple. 16-year-old backpack-wearing nerds who worked for minimum wage at Gamestop rubbed shoulders with people who worked on games for a living. Rarely have I seen the true nerd spirit celebrated so profoundly, and in spite of how pointless the show really was, I will miss it, just a little.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I, Roomba

Several years ago, my sister's family bought my parents a Roomba. My Dad is something of a clean freak, so a little round robot made to clean the floor seemed like an appropriate gift.

The model my parents received was (at the time) one of the more high-end models. Unlike lower-end models, this Roomba had the ability to locate and return to a docking-station if it detected that it was running out of power. That's right folks, it had learned how to feed itself.

I think my parents were somewhat skeptical about the robot vacuum, but they gave it a chance, and it did do an effective job at removing daily dirt and dust around the house. Some time later, however, my father noticed an odd behavior in the little round automaton, and notified my mother about it.

"I think Oscar is getting lazy," my father said. They had named the Roomba 'Oscar' for some reason I still don't understand.
"Why do you say that?" my mother asked.
"I set him up in the bedroom room and close the door. 10 minutes later, I don't hear any noise from inside the room. I go back in and Oscar is sitting there in his little recharging station."

'Oscar', apparently, had learned an important lesson from us humans. The lesson of 'how to be a slacker'.

As it turns out, the roomba was actually having some sort of problem with its power connections, causing the battery to drain too quickly. An emergency "battery-transplant" was attempted, but this did not fix the problem, so my parents acquired a new Roomba instead, and 'Oscar' was retired. With extreme prejudice.

Well, not quite. 'Oscar' is now sitting in a box under my desk. Roombas have a "Serial Control Interface" (basically a serial port) that lets you reprogram it to work with different sensors, or program a new path-finding algorithm, etc. More info on this can be found here (pdf). At some point when I get some free time, I'm going to see what I can get the Roomba to do. Clearly, it will need to be something that demonstrates it has lost its slacker tendencies. Perhaps I'll start with having it do my taxes.