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E3 Rankings: 2005 – 2009

By Louis Bedigian

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is and has been the premier gaming event ever since its creation in 1995. Ten years after the inaugural show, I became a proud badge holder and attended the show from 2005 through 2009. Needless to say, the experience was amazing.

The next E3 is just around the corner. But before the innovation (3DS) and excitement (new Natal and PS Move games) begins, join me as I look back on this impeccable event and rank the show’s past five years.

#5: E3 2007

After attending E3 ’05 and ’06 (and after viewing the previous shows from home), E3 ’07 was a huge letdown. It wasn’t a show as much as it was a collection of hotels with game kiosks. You were likely to spend more time on a bus than anything else, since the show was no longer held at the LA Convention Center – instead, publishers were scattered across Santa Monica at several different hotels.

Why it Rocked for Gamers at Home: Lots of promising originals (such as LittleBigPlanet and Mass Effect) and sequels/spin-offs (Halo 3, God of War: Chains of Olympus) ruled the show, but there was one major innovation introduced: Wii Fit and (most notably) the Wii Balance Board. At the same time, teasers for Resident Evil 5 and Mario Kart Wii created a ton of buzz for these highly-anticipated sequels.

Why it Rocked for Attendees: Um… Uhh… Alright, if you put aside the lack of excitement, the hotel nonsense, and the lame press conferences, E3 ’07 did have one thing going for it: quality hands-on time with some incredible games. It was rare that you had to wait in line to play anything – most publishers literally said, “Come on in. What would you like to play?” All the games were right there in one air-conditioned room.

Favorite Moment: E3 ’07 was supposedly designed to condense the show and reduce the workload (for publishers? For journalists? For who, exactly?). But since the publishers were at hotels, they could basically do what they wanted; instead of opening at 9 or 10am (normal E3 hours), some publishers were active as early as 7am. This worked out perfectly for me on the last day, as I was able to visit Ubisoft and play Assassin’s Creed for nearly an hour before my first assigned meeting.

The finished game may not have been perfect, but the demo blew me away – and made me very happy I attended this too-awful-for-words E3.

A look at the skeleton from the Zelda-themed dungeon in 2005. (All photos by Louis Bedigian)

#4: E3 2008

This was the year that the mighty E3 Shrinkers (my nickname for the people responsible for E3’s reduction) tried to justify its actions by moving the boring, excitement-free content of E3 ’07 into the LA Convention Center. The result: everything was under one roof again, but the show itself still sucked.

Why it Rocked for Gamers at Home: The Wii MotionPlus was the only major device brought to this hardware-free E3, which meant the show had to rely on big-name sequels – including RE5, Fallout 3, Gears of War II, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts – to wow the world.

Why it Rocked for Attendees: With everything back under one roof, journalists were able to visit publishers without battling traffic. Hmm, that doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? Sadly, that was the reality of E3 ‘08: the games were memorable but the show wasn’t.

Favorite Moment: E3 ’08 didn’t leave me with any lifelong memories. But it was cool playing with the Wii MotionPlus for the first time, as it gave us a glimpse of the next evolution of motion controllers. I also have had a great time playing the arcade version of Street Fighter IV (a rarity in America), which was used to promote the then-forthcoming console version of the game.

“Play or play not,” Yoda says. “There is no try.”

#3: E3 2009

This year, E3 was finally back on track with large booths, plenty of media attention, and that beautiful, unmistakable sensation that made it feel like the greatest arcade on Earth. It wasn’t perfect – at times, it was even a tad depressing (despite the reports of a sell-out show, there were areas of the LA Convention Center that were completely empty). But it was the closest thing to a real E3 in two years.

Why it Rocked for Gamers at Home: Natal. Natal. And did I mention Natal? The world went crazy for this motion-based, controller-free innovation, which promises an entirely new kind of gaming experience.

Why it Rocked for Attendees: Hands-on with Natal … if you were lucky. Microsoft was pretty picky about who could and who couldn’t play its technological marvel, which was a more extreme version of the hype strategy used by Nintendo to promote the Wii at E3 in 2006.

Why it was Disappointing: Having suffered through two awful E3s, publishers were less-than-eager to pour millions of dollars into their booths at E3 ’09. Consequently, attendees weren’t treated to breathtaking sights and unforgettable attractions – just a bunch of giant screens, bright lights, and pretty colors.

Favorite Moment: At the end of the console kiosks for Tekken 6, Namco had two cabinets for the arcade version, both of which created a near-continuous line of gamers waiting to play. It was great to see that level of excitement again, now that arcades are virtually extinct.

Prior to visiting E3, I had no idea what “tears of joy” meant. I was all, “You’re crying but you’re happy? That’s crazy.” Now I totally get it.

#2: E3 2005

You never forget your first time. No, really – you don’t. If you ever get to visit E3, you’ll know what I mean. E3 ’05 had a lot of great games, but they seem inconsequential now. What stood out the most is the experience I had going through South and West Hall (the two largest halls at the LA Convention Center) for the first time; in a weird way, it almost felt like I was coming home to a place I had never been before. I had spent so many years dreaming of the show, and viewed so many pictures and videos that by the time I finally saw it in person, it all felt strangely (and wonderfully) familiar.

Why it rocked for gamers at home: While Sony and Nintendo were fairly quiet about their forthcoming systems, Microsoft eagerly showed off the Xbox 360 – which was fully playable – for the first time. In other words, trailers and screenshots were everywhere, the games were proven to be more than tech demos, and they were on their way to store shelves.

Why it rocked for attendees: Without question, this is one of the all-time greats. Whether searching for Shadow of the Colossus, fighting for the Mario Kart DS or NEW Super Mario Bros. kiosk, staring wide-eyed at Gears of War, or waiting in line for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, E3 ’05 had several great (mostly playable) games for every system.

Favorite Moment: This one’s a three-way tie between the More Friends: Music From Final Fantasy concert, the amazing Zelda attractions, and the invite-only Sony party.

The concert was, as any Final Fantasy fan can imagine, one of the most breathtaking musical performances of all time. Square Enix combined live music from the games (including several of our favorite tracks from FFVII and FFX) with some of the series’ most memorable movie clips. The resulting event was unlike any other.

To promote The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Nintendo crafted a fake dungeon, complete with animatronics (a wolf and a jailed skeleton) and some of the best architecture ever seen at E3. I was in awe.

Finally, on the second night of the show I got to attend Sony’s (formerly annual) E3 party. Without knowing a thing about it – other than the promise of delicious food and live music – I was insanely excited. Little did I know that one of my favorite bands, Jimmy Eat World, would end up headlining the event. Again, I was in awe. Two stellar concerts at one E3 – what more could I ask for?

3D may be all the rage now, but it has been on Sony’s mind for a long time. (Note the glasses for Sly 3.)

#1: E3 2006

You’d think that nothing could top an E3 with two amazing concerts, right? Wrong. As much as we all love the distractions, when it comes down to it, E3 is all about the games. In 2006, the show proved to be everything I wanted and more.

Why it rocked for gamers at home: Though Metal Gear Solid 4 may have produced the most talked about trailer at the show, this game – along with every other – was all but overshadowed by the full unveiling of two new consoles: Wii and PlayStation 3.

Why it rocked for attendees: Aside from being the first chance to see and play nearly two-dozen brand-new Wii games, E3 ’06 also gave us the first significant showing of PlayStation 3 launch titles, along with new demos for several highly-anticipated Xbox 360 games.

Favorite Moment: On the last day, I got into the show a few minutes before it officially opened, ran to the walled-off Nintendo booth and grabbed the Mario Galaxy kiosk before anyone else had arrived. By the time the demo was over, the show was open and I was surrounded by people. I spent the next several hours playing every Wii game I could – Metroid Prime 3, Wii Sports, Wii Music (which was a cool tech demo at the time, not the lame product that made it to retail), and nearly a dozen others – and wrote my previews while waiting in line for each.

For a gamer like myself – one who couldn’t wait to see and play every new system that arrives – it was a magical, unforgettable day. Even the plane ride home was strangely joyous; my flight was delayed three hours, but I didn’t care. I was exhausted but had this unexplainable, almost serene feeling that kept me from thinking about anything else but the show. This was the E3 I had been waiting my whole life for. This was the E3 I will never forget.

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Louis Bedigian
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