In line for Nintendo's booth, Terence Polk checked his smartphone and chitchatted about what he'd come to review. "Super Mario 3D Land," he said, because he was sceptical -- not because he was thrilled by what he'd seen in Nintendo's presentation. It was the second day of E3. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Polk, 30, is not an industry analyst, a retail buyer, or a games writer. He works for Wake Forest University, and bolted right at 5 p.m. for the local Best Buy to see "The Nintendo Experience," a coast-to-coast showcase of unreleased games taken directly to the masses, rather than filtered through the opinions, to say nothing of the packed schedules, fatigue or personal pique of guys like me. It opened after work hours today. It returns on Saturday afternoon. (This link has all the details.)
"When Nintendo announced it, we said right there we were going to go," said Justin Daley, 23, who made a one-hour trek down the mountain from Boone with his pal Minori Ohashi, also 23. The two have known each other since third grade. Daley got his shift covered so he could be here; Ohashi, who is looking for work, told an interviewer he would be unavailable today.
"It's sad, because I'll probably need a job if I want to get these games," laughed Ohashi, a recent double-major in computer science and computer engineering from N.C. State.
No one I spoke to in a crawling line of about 50 people to had been to E3, of course. A few had been to industry expositions in their lines of work, so they had concepts of what it would be like in L.A. right now. They didn't think a Best Buy showfloor was anything like it.
But there was still a long wait to see next year's games. There were people walking around wearing branded lanyards and carrying baggies of swag. There was even a Nintendo representative slightly terrorized by my unannounced presence. Except for the smog and the fog of second-day B.O. it felt like E3 to me.
That's because the people I talked to weren't here for the novelty of playing an unreleased game, or simply to tell friends they did. They were here to evaluate them, ostensibly the purpose of thousands walking through South and West Halls of the L.A. Convention centre by invitation only. Here in North Carolina, people don't get the games for free on the day of release for their review. They'll pay for them. That tends to focus one's opinion.
Polk, a longtime Kotaku reader I'd befriended on Twitter and came here to meet, relished the shot at forming impressions of a game without taking someone else's word for it. "With a Nintendo system, you know you're buying potential," said Polk, who has a functioning specimen of every piece of Nintendo hardware stretching back to the NES -- Virtual Boy included. "You know you will get Smash; you know you will get Zelda, Kart, whatever. You also figure that what you get from Super Mario. will be awesome. But what I saw yesterday, this is not what I bought a Wii U for."
Still, the length of the line posed a quandary for Polk. Once it was your turn, you (and a friend, if accompanied,) could go through a single race of Mario Kart 8, or a level of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. For Polk, that meant either testing something that may be a disappointment, or playing something that had really appealed to him -- in this case, Mario Kart 8. As we approached the head of the line he stole glances at Super Mario 3D World. "I hope the people in front of us play it," he said.
Ohashi and Daley (above, L-R) were here for Donkey Kong Country. Neither own a Wii U, though Daley says he'll have one by the time Wind Waker's HD remake comes out. Both were disappointed that Super Smash Bros., due for release next year, wasn't playable here. Its availability in Los Angeles sharply punctured the illusion we might otherwise be participating in Nintendo's E3 rollout. "I saw a video of people playing it on the floor yesterday," Ohashi said, "and that was painful. That game looks like a lot of fun."
Josh Allen, 21, a dealership mechanic working in Greensboro, followed E3's keynotes on his laptop during a break at a certification class on Monday. "I'd love to be at E3 when they reveal something like Smash Bros.," he said, fired up by Mega Man's inclusion in the coming Wii U edition. "I imagine there are demos everywhere, that it's crazy hectic. I'd just love to be there."
After about a 45 minute wait Polk and I reached the front of the line. The folks in front of us had played Super Mario 3D Land, so I asked him what he was going to play in his one shot. He picked Mario Kart 8. "The graphics just looked amazing yesterday," Polk said. "Running at 60 frames per second, the hovercars, driving on the walls and upside down." He selected Daisy and the Nintendo rep queued up a race.
In the end, he was here to play the game that looked the coolest to him. Speaking as a guy who's been to E3, that's what I do when I'm there, too.