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Jess Lebow's MMO Story Hour: E3, All Grown Up

A look behind the curtain at some stories from the biggest gaming event of them all: E3. The expo returns hopes to return to its former glory next week.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, is happening next week at the L.A. Convention Center. Over the past several years, this show has gone through more than its fair share of ups and downs. When I first learned about it, seven or eight years ago, E3 was the end-all, be-all behemoth of all shows. Everybody who was anybody was there. For three days it was the wild west meets Las Vegas in a “how much money can you spend on your booth” showdown. The noise was outrageous. The exhibition area overflowed onto other floors and into a full second building. Lights flashed. Booth babes posed for pictures, dressed as everyone’s favorite impossibly proportioned game characters. Cars were crashed. Guns were fired. Movies were made, and a good time was had by all.

The first time I went to the show, we were in the early stages for Guild Wars. There was very little game play, really only the basics for three of the classes. We did have good art, and the characters looked fantastic. But the game design was still being iterated and the sound design had only just begun.

We spent two straight weeks working 16+ hours a day, getting the demo ready for the show. Now, it wasn’t just the people on the show floor who were going to see and play the game for the first time. The founders at ArenaNet had too big of balls to do something so small. So instead of doing a controlled demo to a limited number of press and game industry professionals, we instead planned to release the game to the world for a weekend preview.

The idea was called E3 for Everyone, and basically we let anyone download the client, log on during show hours, and play the game—whether they were at the show or not. One part marketing ploy, another part stress test (and I stress the stress in stress test), we were either going to make a big splash, or we were going to die trying.

We’d set up several hours worth of game play and a little arena where players could compete head to head. Every one of us, every last soul in the studio, spent every waking hour (and some not so awake hours) polishing that piece of the game. It was hard, grueling work. We brought in people who had never played the game and asked them to simply play. We watched, diligently noting where they had trouble, running back into another room to make changes for the next batch of testers. Then we did it over again, and again.

I remember one night, I was severely sleep deprived, and we had a new group of testers in from one of the nearby colleges. The new attack animations and accompanying sounds had just been put in for the first creature that would actually make it into the game. The monster looked kind of like a very tall, web-footed gargoyle. None of the polish or fine tuning had taken place yet, so if someone encountered more than one of these creatures, all of their animations would be in sync with each other—which of course happened.

Collectively, six or eight of these little guys would run up to a player and begin their synchronized fireball routine, in which they raised their hands over their head, stood up nice and tall, and heaved an orb of fiery magical energy at an enemy. Each time they did this they would make a noise that sounded roughly like someone violently puking—though only for one second. BLEH.

They would pause then sound like they were puking twice. BLEH. BLEH.

The first time I witnessed this I was so punchy from the long nights, I couldn’t help myself. I just started repeating the sound.

BLEH . . . BLEH. BLEH.

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Jess Lebow's MMO Story Hour
Jess Lebow is a veteran story teller, game writer, and novelist. He’s been in the game industry for over 10 years, working on titles ranging from Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons to Guild Wars and Pirates of the Burning Sea. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
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