A few days before the event, I had received an email informing me that I was required to arrive no later than 6:45pm. Unfortunately I had to stay at work a bit longer than expected. This is how I found myself standing on a stifling, cramped tube train worrying about whether I was going to make the deadline. I hopped off the train at Piccadilly Circus and briskly walked the short distance to the event's location at Loading Bar, Soho. Upon arriving, I could see a group of interesting looking people gathered around outside the venue. I greeted my friend and recovered the tickets I had hastily printed out earlier in the day. As it turned out, the 6:45pm deadline wasn't quite as important as I had been led to believe.
We waited outside for a few minutes, discussing the latest gaming news flowing steadily out of E3. Of course the popular topic was the dichotomy between Microsoft and Sony's pre-show press conferences. We also speculated as to what might await us inside the bar -- neither of us knew quite what to expect from this little event. While we were talking, a rather charming, very drunk man approached some of the interesting looking people gathered in front of the bar and asked them "what the fuck they were looking at". Silence and bowed heads were the only answers he received and he promptly retreated. Shortly after this we were let into the bar and I found out exactly what this event really was: It was bloody brilliant, that's what!
For anyone who's unaware of Etoo, it is an event dreamed up by the Guardian's Keith Stuart, and game designer Georg Backer. You can read more about it over on the official website, but the short version is that it's both an accompaniment to, and an antidote for, the all consuming monster known as E3.
This is the event's first year -- it was in fact conceived only a few short weeks before its opening on Monday June 10th. It was for this reason -- not my self-aggrandising pomposity -- I chose to write about my journey to the event as an introduction; my hasty, sweaty trip, the late start, the interesting people outside the venue, the gaming conversations, the slightly insane drunk, these things feel analogous to the event itself. It was cobbled together in an incredibly short amount of time, the organisational side of things seemed like real seat-of-the-pants stuff, it was rammed full of interesting people talking about games, and it had a bit of a mad edge.
If none of that sounds very appealing then let me tell you why it was so great. I've been to a few trade shows in the past; they're great fun, but they are also very loud, pompous affairs that have a tendency to leave you intellectually drained. Hours of wandering the show floor, interspersed with visits to overly crowded panels, is not the ideal way to learn about games and their creators. Etoo was the antithesis of these events, it was intensely personal and intellectually nourishing. While I would leave a large trade show or comicon type event buzzing about the swag I'd received and the big games I'd seen, I left Etoo on a high about gaming and it's bright, creative future.
The format for the show itself was split into two parts. In the daytime the bar was filled with developers demoing their latest wares, and people were free to come in and have a look around. Annoyingly, my silly job prevented me from attending this part of the event. In the evening the bar played host to a live show presented by the aforementioned Keith Stuart and Georg Backer -- they were sporadically joined by Leigh Alexander, who was just as sharp in person as she is on the page. The dynamic between the presenters was great, and they never once talked down to the audience; these were highly articulate, passionate people who really knew their stuff.
The same could be said for all of the developers and various other speakers that were interviewed that night, but, unfortunately, if I were to go through each one we'd be here forever. Instead I want to talk about a couple of presentations that really stood out and, ultimately, defined the experience for me.
Strangely enough, the first pair of speakers I want to discuss didn't talk about videogames at all. They were Quintin Smith and Paul Dean of the website Shut Up & Sit Down, and their stated mission is to show people just how amazing board games can be -- and we're not talking about dusty old boredom inducers like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit here. The growing popularity of board games is something I've been vaguely aware of for some time now, but it wasn't until seeing these guys talk that I really sat up and took notice. Their passionate, engaging and amusing presentation completely sold me on the merits of the current gaming scene, and it led me to their website, where I found I could waste a lot of time watching their excellent videos. I get the feeling that some board game purchases may well be made in the very near future.
The second group that really stood out to me was composed of four MA Games Design & Development students from the National Film and Television School. These men went by the names of Albert, Rich, Bojan and Bagley, and they pretty much blew me away. With backgrounds ranging from bronze caster to undergraduate, it was clear that these guys had won their places through shear creativity and raw talent. The games they showed easily matched the diversity of their backgrounds, running the gamut from an open-world revolution sim to an Oculus Rift developed exploration game. Also, from description alone, I would pay good money to play Rich's theme park sim / romantic comedy. Seriously, I need that in my life right now.
These two groups encapsulated the breadth of experiences that Etoo had to offer. The Shut Up & Sit Down guys gave me a lighthearted, funny, but ultimately informative experience. The NFTS students, on the other hand, were at the other end of the spectrum entirely. Sure, there were some funny moments, but their time on stage was characterised by creative energy and dangerously high levels of inspiration. I don't feel that either of these experiences could have existed outside an event like Etoo. At a larger show these people would have been sequestered in a corner somewhere, not getting the attention they deserved. At Etoo they were given the spotlight, and boy did they ever shine bright, as did every other developer, writer or creator that took the stage.
After experiencing Etoo I must say that we need more events like this in the gaming industry. Don't get me wrong, I still love the pomp and circumstance of huge shows like E3, and I certainly wouldn't want to see them go away, but we need the intimacy and indie spirit of Etoo just as much. I've used the word interesting a lot in this article, believe me when I say that was a conscious decision. Screw the synonyms, Etoo was straight-up gosh darn interesting. I just hope they do it again next year.
About Marcunio One of us since 5:15 PM on 10.31.2012
I'm a time traveler! But I can only go forwards... And only at normal speed... But I'm still traveling through time, damn it!
On a vaguely more serious note, my name's Marcus and Ive been playing video games for more time than I care to admit. By day I work for a popular movie streaming website, which veers between fun and boring on a near constant basis. When that's not happening I can usually be found procrastinating over doing more stimulating things.
As you may be able to tell, I like to write about games, but I also have a background in film, so occasionally I write about that too. If you like what you see here then check out my personal blog for ramblings about things other than games.
Random facts about me:
1. I'm Cornish (and mildly proud of it)
2. I've worked on a number of short films
3. Sometimes I forget how old I am (25... I think)
4. I know quite a lot about very little
5. I once played chess for my county
6. I bloody love the Simpsons
7. I'm a friendly drunk