Counter Attack is a weekly feature here on Goomba Stomp in which John Cal McCormick casts a bemused eye over the gaming news, the niggling issues plaguing the industry, important moments from gaming’s past, or whatever it is that’s annoying him this week. Today we’ll be talking about E3’s ten most embarrassing moments. Buckle up.
E3 is right around the corner. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will take to either the stage or streams to update us on what we can expect in the near future, and the whole thing should be at least marginally entertaining to those with more than a passing interest in the video game industry. Recent years have seen all the major players substantially upping their game when it comes to delivering compelling keynote speeches, with 2015 and 2016 in particular being hailed as featuring the two best E3 conferences of all time – huge announcements, awesome looking games, and very little to complain about.
Of course, to get to the point where E3 became a well oiled machine (mostly, anyway) took many years of practice. If you go back in time to E3 conferences before the current generation you’ll see that it wasn’t always this way. We had pointless celebrity cameos, awkward transitions, dreadful presenters, live demo fails – honestly, E3 back then was car crash television. You kids today don’t know how good you got it, but then, as a big fan of awkward comedy shows, I guess I enjoyed knowing that the wheels could come off the presentations at any time. And they frequently did. So without further ado, let’s revisit the ten most awkward, cringe-inducing, embarrassing moments in E3 history, all for our amusement.
Oh, and if you’re here for the Nintendo puppets you can get in the sea. I loved those guys.
#10 Sony’s Blunderbook (Sony, 2012)
Maybe it’s because I’m a jaded old man, but the thought of plugging a tacky plastic book into my PlayStation so I could wave a stupid Move controller around to make spells appear on my TV doesn’t sound like something that would have ever appealed to me even if the live demonstration hadn’t been a disaster. Of course, it was a disaster, and that’s why we’re talking about it.
On paper, Wonderbook doesn’t sound like it’s going to be the worst thing ever does it? An augmented reality video game set in the world of Harry Potter via an official partnership with JK Rowling, letting players cast spells and see the magic they’ve woven unfold before their very eyes on screen? Yeah, I would never play it, but it’s not really for me is it? I’m never going to play with Labo either – and nor is anybody else if sales figures are to be believed – but I can see the value in it because it’s not for someone like me, it’s for kids and people who like fun.
But whatever the intention was behind Wonderbook, it didn’t really pan out for anybody. During the infamous 2012 live stage demo, Dave Ranyard boldly announced that Wonderbook was the “reinvention of the story book,” a proclamation that never quite came to pass with Wonderbooks presumably now being buried in a landfill somewhere alongside that E.T. game. The live demo went about as badly as a live demo can go without the building collapsing on top of the audience, with hapless stooges desperately trying to perform gestures to make spells appear on screen that rarely worked as they were supposed to, and when they did, they were nowhere near as impressive as they probably should be. It didn’t help that the volume on the televisions playing the demo was so loud that the narration from the game was drowning out what Dave Ranyard was saying about it, although possibly that was a blessing in disguise.
Seconds after poor Dave cracked a joke about the fire spell one of his assistants was performing potentially burning the building down to a silent crowd, he then had to awkwardly explain that things can go wrong during live demos after the aforementioned fire spell had failed to work like six times in a row. It was dreadful, it was embarrassing, and it went on for fifteen fucking minutes. Honestly, I’ve linked to the video here, but I wouldn’t bother watching it. I did while I was writing this, and it’s a small miracle I didn’t strangle myself with my belt.
#9 BAM! There it isn’t! (Microsoft, 2009)
You can basically pinpoint the moment that Microsoft lost the plot and Xbox began suffering as a result. Seeing the success of the Wii with the casual market, Microsoft desperately wanted a piece of that big money pie. Sony did, too, but they gave up after like five minutes so no harm, no foul. Microsoft really wanted it, and so they came up with Kinect – a camera that could, theoretically, read the every move of the user and replicate their actions on screen – as a counterpoint to Nintendo’s waggle controller that was selling like hotcakes. Couple of issues with that, of course. Issue the first is that Nintendo’s success with the Wii was more of a short-lived fad than a sustainable business model, with even the big N finding few practical – or fun – uses for their waggle tech outside of launch title Wii Sports. By the time Kinect hit the market the motion fad was basically over, and while it racked up respectable sales, it never had a killer app to justify the purchase.
Problem the second is that for all of the issue, Wii was fun, and Kinect was shit. Kinect, even the fancy new one that they misguidedly released alongside Xbox One, never really worked. And I know that Microsoft evangelists will swear that it did work, and for them they never had a single problem using the camera and every day was glorious and they still switch television channels using theirs all the time, but in the real world it barely ever did what it was supposed to do. This was never demonstrated quite as succinctly as it was during the Project Natal – that’s the codename for Kinect – demonstration live on stage at E3 2009. In less than thirty seconds the potential pitfalls of Microsoft’s fancy new camera were laid bare before the world, as the presenter asked, “Ever wondered what the bottom of an avatar’s shoe looks like?”
“Bam! There it is!” he said, flicking his foot into the air flamboyantly and foolishly expecting his avatar to do the same. The Kinect, perhaps not being used to dealing with leg motions of such sass, or perhaps just being a piece of garbage tech that didn’t know what the fuck to do, made the avatar on screen contort like something out of Silent Hill, and the crowd went mild.
#8 Konami’s Entire Press Conference (2010)
At Sony HQ there’s perhaps a classroom where a crusty old teacher gives lectures to potential up-and-comers within the company hierarchy on just how to deal with an E3 press conference. They’ve pretty much perfected the formula at this point, largely keeping the suits out of the way and letting the games do the talking. Sometimes the games don’t do the talking, but at least their shows are largely well done now. The professionally handled presentations we see today are built on the backs of a thousand former E3 fuck ups, and it took us many years of many awful, awful conferences to get to this point. In the hypothetical classroom teaching E3 101, there’ll presumably be an entire semester dedicated to what was possibly the worst conference of all time – the Konami 2010 presser.
Everything about this was bad. Everything. There were no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Like, when we had the Wonderbook thing or the Kinect fail, you could, even if you weren’t interested, at least see what they were going for and how it might appeal to somebody. Konami’s 2010 conference was a badly organised, horribly misguided, barely coherent, surrealist nightmare that was more akin to an episode of the second season of Twin Peaks than a corporate event intended to get you excited to buy video games.
This had it all. Presenters that could barely speak a word of English realising that perhaps delivering an entire conference in English was a bad idea only after they’d already started on stage? Check. Some awkward live dancing and then attempting to sell a game while out of breath from said dancing? Check. Three big, burly professional wrestlers turning up and slapping each other’s titties for a while? Check. Some rudimentary magic tricks? Check. Awkward pauses galore after each and every alleged joke is met with the sound of crickets? Check. ONE MILLION TROOOOOOOPS! Er… check. I’m still not sure what that last one means, but okay mate. Fill your boots.
Konami’s 2010 press conference is such a disaster of Shakespearean proportions that it deserves to be studied in a lab by the video game historians of the future, and it was such an unmitigated laughing stock that Konami didn’t even bother turning up to do a proper presser the next year. I’ve embedded it here in lowlight form for your viewing pleasure.
#7 E3 Laser Tag Live (Ubisoft, 2010)
These days at E3, most of the conferences consist of little more than dudes in suits saying thanks for coming before unloading a bunch of exciting game trailers directly into our eyeballs, and while that might make for a better paced and much better show… well… no, actually, that’s it. It’s just better paced and a much better show. We get the information we need, we see the games, and we go on with our lives without inheriting the urge to perforate our own eardrums out of sheer awkwardness.
But back in the day that wasn’t enough. We’d have celebrities turn up for no reason, awkward skits, bands playing… AKA distractions to bring a little more razzle dazzle to otherwise lacklustre shows. Ubisoft decided that their video-game-but-not-video-game Battle Tag – basically a home version of Laser Tag – needed a live demo, and so they hired a bunch of models to run around playing the thing in the auditorium, and it was, well, it was something.
I never really understood the concept of this game. I mean, I know what it is. I get that. But growing up we didn’t have a spare abandoned warehouse out back to play the thing in, so I’m not really sure how much mileage anybody other than the super rich would get out of this. It didn’t help that the presenters did an exceptionally poor job of selling the game during a confusing presentation in which one of them kept shouting, “Attractive people! Fighting each other!” and then the guy who was explaining how it worked was out of breath because he’d just been running around playing fucking Laser Tag.
Battle Tag ultimately amounted to little more than another gimmicky peripheral based game destined to forever only be talked about whenever anyone is compiling a list of the shittest things ever to happen at E3, and the world was better off for it.
#6 Yes, It’s Kinect Again (Microsoft, 2011)
Alright, if you thought I was finished talking about Kinect then you done fucked up. I ain’t finished by a long shot. As one of the shittest peripherals to ever, somehow, convince millions of people to part with their hard earned cash, Kinect only has to be mentioned in passing and I can feel myself getting irritated out of general principle. While the initial reveal had promise but quickly exposed flaws within the fledgling technology, 2011’s on stage demo featuring kids playing Kinect games is far more in tune with what we traditionally think of when we consider embarrassing moments at E3s past. It was just a good old fashioned, incredibly awkward demonstration, featuring children pretending to have fun, and an audience pretending that they were somewhere else.
Children, generally, are annoying I think it’s fair to say. I know most people like their own kids, and some people out there like all kids, and a few people out there like kids a little too much, but as a general rule of thumb, kids and entertainment don’t mix. I can’t be the only person who would enjoy Jurassic Park a lot more if they just got thirty year olds to play the kids and we just had to pretend we hadn’t noticed. We know the dinosaurs aren’t real, so why can’t we just do the same with the annoying little brats? So what if that ten year old has a beard and enough DUIs under his belt to send Mel Gibson back to rehab? Movies are all about using our imaginations. No? Okay.
But I’ll tell you where kids definitely don’t belong: on stage at E3 pretending that a stupid Kinect game about Peter Pan isn’t the biggest crock of shit they’ve ever played. As they hold their arms out like bored little aeroplanes, swaying from side to side in mock enjoyment of a game that looks less fun than reading through the terms and conditions in the manual residing in the box that the game came in, you can practically hear the guy backstage saying, “Oh Jesus, we’ve got ten more minutes of this.”
#5 No Internet? Don’t buy it then, peasants (Microsoft, 2013)
Microsoft, generally, had a decent conference at E3 2013, but nobody remembers that because of all the hullabaloo surrounding the Xbox One requiring an Internet connection to work and not allowing people to play used games on it. Regardless of the fact that they’d shown off an array of semi-impressive looking games including then hot property Titanfall, most people were only really interested in talking about the controversial decisions made by Microsoft while designing their always online console.
Interviews with Microsoft reps from the E3 floor nearly all went the same way. The interviewer would want to talk about how much the vision for the new Xbox sucked the big one and the Microsoft rep would have to fake a smile and desperately try to sell the console despite the Xbox One in 2013 being about as popular as the neighbourhood sex offender. Major Nelson appeared in interviews trying to big the console up based on little more than how impressive Titanfall looked, before countering the assertion that Microsoft could change course on the Xbox One’s DRM by saying that it was impossible, as they “couldn’t just flip the switch” and turn it off. Of course they did just flip the switch a few weeks later, but you can read more about that right here.
Don Mattrick stole the show when it came to Microsoft employees who couldn’t even manage to hide their contempt for the general public for long enough to finish a four minute interview, as he told Geoff Keighly that if people didn’t have any form of Internet connection for the Xbox One then they could just play an Xbox 360 instead. Sure, or a PS4 you fucking turnip. Honestly, E3 has thrown up many pioneering moves in the years I’ve been watching it, but actively telling your own consumer base not to buy the product that you’re attempting to sell them is possibly the most maverick marketing technique I’ve ever seen. And here we are, five years later, and the Xbox One has sold less than half the number of units that the PS4 has. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.
#4 Domo Arigato, Mr. Miyamoto (Nintendo, 2008)
Nintendo’s 2008 E3 conference – back before they gave up and decided to just stream pre-recorded Directs – was a spectacularly dull affair. The Wii had kinda peaked and they didn’t have much of anything to announce, but somehow, they still managed to do it badly. Chief among the poor decisions on display from the House of Mario was the idea that Wii Music should be given an extensive live demo that lasted for approximately a billion hours and achieved absolutely nothing other than making sure that every single person who watched it wouldn’t buy Wii Music.
Now, before we go any further here, let’s get one thing straight: Wii Music is a fucking brilliant concept. The idea of an affordable recording suite with simple controls for people who just can’t be arsed to learn how to make music properly but fancy themselves as the next Susan Boyle, that’s an idea that should be applauded. But once we’ve finished applauding this great idea, let’s remember that the Wii Remote is a shit controller even amongst motion controllers, rub the idea off the white board, and go back to making some fucking games, shall we, Shigeru?
The live demo of Wii Music is one of the greatest E3 slow-motion train crashes of all time. It begins with a dude who’s apparently an actual drummer doing a drum solo using Wii Remotes but there’s only like four MIDI files for drum samples so it wasn’t so much a drum solo as it was just lots of drums happening over and over again, in some sort of configuration that seemed purpose built to be as aurally displeasing as possible. Later, the legend that is Shigeru Miyamoto was stood on stage playing his Wii Remote like a saxophone, before a whole troupe got together to perform the worst rendition of the Super Mario Bros. theme tune ever heard by human ears.
Apparently, nearly three million people bought Wii Music. What the fuck?
#3 Sony’s Entire Conference (2006)
The fact that I’m largely positive about how Sony roll these days shouldn’t be misconstrued – they’re just generally doing this stuff better than everybody else right now. But historically? Historically, Sony could fuck the job up better than anybody else in the business when given the opportunity. How else can you possibly explain E3 2006, in which Sony, on the back of the best selling video game console of all time – like, ever – revealed their successor to the PlayStation 2 in one of the shittest E3 conferences of all time.
Obviously, there’s only so much they could do with the PS3 being what it was – like the Xbox One, just a badly designed piece of hardware created under the misguided belief that people would just pony up the dough despite the shortcomings of the system – but they could have still done a better job of selling it. Instead, we were treated to moments so laughable, so embarrassing, that there’s still memes about them twelve years later. Giant enemy crab? That started here. Riiiiiiiidge Raceeeeeer! That started here. Xbox becoming a serious force in video games? That started here.
There were numerous shocking moments during the presser, including the revelation that PS3 would cost the princely sum of $600, and Kaz Harai pretending to be excited about Ridge Racer, awkwardly shouting, “Riiiiiiiidge Raceeeeeeeeeeer!” in the same tone of voice that a child uses when thanking his gran for the nose hair tweezers she bought him for Christmas. But the real humdinger here was the live stage demo for “historically accurate” samurai ’em up, Genji: Days of the Blade. While demoing a game that looked like a massively shit rip off of Dynasty Warriors, poor Bill Ritch, controller in hand, started talking about how the game was based on real battles that took place in Japan. Mere seconds later, an enormous crab monster leapt into the battle, and Bill, with nary a whiff of hesitation in his voice, proclaimed “Here is the giant enemy crab,” as though historically, giant crab monsters were a staple of Japanese warfare, and it was us who were silly to question it.
It’s perhaps fitting that, twelve years later, I had to Google what the name of the game was that the giant enemy crab meme spawned from, as the mockery of the game is now more famous than the game itself ever was.
Here’s an edited version of Sony’s dreadful 2006 conference so you can remember the bad days.
#2 I’ll have a decaf, please (Ubisoft, 2011)
I don’t know how Aaron Priceman AKA Mr. Caffeine ever got his job presenting Ubisoft’s 2011 conference, but presumably it involved a brown envelope filled with incriminating photographs. Surely, somebody must have known this was a bad idea within five minutes of meeting the guy. He can’t even pronounce Tom Clancy. He oddly enunciates it Tom Ker-Lan-Cee. If you can’t even get Tom Clancy’s name right then you probably shouldn’t be on stage talking about Tom Clancy games over and over again, but as it turns out, that was the least of Mr. Caffeine’s on stage crimes.
It’s apparent as soon as he turns up on stage that there’s something rotten in Denmark, as each gag he delivers is met with stony faced silence from the attendees, but that didn’t stop Mr. Caffeine. God loves a trier, and so rather than give up, Caffeine kept going. He threw in a couple of awkward dick jokes because why not, right? He also explained to the silent, embarrassed crowd that he wasn’t above making dick jokes as though there were any doubt given the sophistication of his comedy routine so far. It was all a bit weird.
What Mr. Caffeine is mostly known for, however, is the phrase “doodily doodily doop,” which might read like lines of dialogue for The Muppets’ Swedish Chef, but is actually, apparently, the noise of time travel. Not long into his anti-comedy show, Mr. Caffeine would mention the past, and then he said, “doodily doodily doop” and waved his fingers about to imitate the screen blurring like on an old school TV show when characters reminisce, and the audience reacted with absolute, deafening silence. You’d think given how well it went down the first time, Mr. Caffeine would cut his losses, but instead he repeated the shtick the next time he mentioned the past. And then the next time. And then the next.
I forget how many times he actually did it, but it doesn’t matter. Once, twice, thrice, a billion times. What wasn’t funny the first time didn’t get funnier by repetition, and by the time Mr. Caffeine had finished his impossibly embarrassing on stage performance, he’d been declared by all and sundry the worst E3 presenter of all time. Well, perhaps barring #1.
#1 Jamie Kennedy is about as funny as Jamie Kennedy (Activision, 2007)
Do you remember that episode of The Office – the original, not the American one – where David Brent has to give a speech to some new employees and he decides it’s the perfect opportunity to showcase his non-existent stand up comedy chops? If not, here it is, a perfect piece of cringe comedy from Ricky Gervais. Now just imagine this, but dragged out for what felt like four hours, and in real life, and you’re somewhere close to just how bad Jamie Kennedy’s guest hosting spot was for Activision’s E3 2007 conference. Honestly, it’s so bad. I just had to watch it again so I could remember how bad it was so I could write about it here, and I started getting embarrassed even though I was watching it with headphones on and I was in a room on my own.
I’m not sure whether Jamie Kennedy had gone to town on the free bar, or perhaps he just hadn’t done the necessary preparation for the gig, but whatever the reason, the result is undisputed – a massive fucking train-wreck. As he arrived on stage an on screen graphic read, ‘Jamie Kennedy – “Comedian”‘ as though the inverted commas were doubting his credentials before he’d even started. Mr. Kennedy bumbled his way through a couple of jokes that were met with a smattering of polite chuckles, before ultimately settling into a routine of calling everyone in the crowd virgins – “There are so many virgins in here that Richard Branson is doing this event” – and at one point inexplicably stopping mid-sentence and exasperatedly asking, “Where are my jokes?” in either a rare moment of self-awareness or when his autocue mercifully stopped working.
Things took a turn for the worse when Tony Hawk arrived on stage to talk about his new skateboarding game, Proving Grounds, and Jamie Kennedy kept interrupting him trying to make an appalling joke in which I think he’s using the word “trick” to mean “penis”, but honestly, that’s meeting him more than half way. Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk looked visibly annoyed by Jamie Kennedy’s shenanigans, and it all got a bit weird. Finally, justice was served when Kennedy brought an English developer on stage and he asked him if he could conduct the remainder of the interview in the style of Ozzy Osbourne – The Osbournes hadn’t been on TV for two years at this point, by the way. Our English friend dryly replied, “Aren’t you doing that already?” and for the first time that evening the entire crowd erupted into laughter. While Jamie Kennedy stalled, apparently phased by a strange guffawing sound that he’d never heard before at one of his gigs, an audience member heckled the hapless comedian, shouting, “He’s funnier than you!”
I’ve often thought that the mark of a good stand up comedian is in how comfortably they deal with hecklers. Kennedy, after being heckled, shouted into the crowd, “Who said that?” before mumbling, “You never get out of the house, I bet,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that E3 wasn’t taking place in the heckler’s house, and he was in fact out of his house at that very second. Alas, they can’t all be zingers.
Four years later, video game analyst and professional prognosticator Michael Pachter declared the aforementioned Mr. Caffeine the worst presenter of all time at E3, before former video games journalist and now writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Gary Whitta, replied mentioning Jamie Kennedy. Kennedy, apparently dealing with the whole thing maturely after nearly half a decade, replied “wow u dorks can’t let that go, You have no idea what really happened, because ur not in the biz, ur a spectator”. After an amused bystander suggested Jamie Kennedy sit and sort out his problems with Whitta, the comedian retorted, “would love too, I can After this movie wraps, those guys can do I guess after jerkin off to Zelda.” Then, after a few observers joined in thinking it was good banter, Mr. Kennedy threatened to kill one of them.
And that brings our showcase of embarrassing events at E3 to a close. We’ve had some laughs, we’ve had some tears, and we even managed to sneak a cheeky death threat in there at the end. Let’s hope there’s no colossal E3 blunders again this year, although, as long as they’re good laugh, one or two can’t hurt.
Feel free to leave a comment about this week’s Counter Attack in the comments section below. Or check out last week’s Counter Attack #1: Remembering The Xbox One Reveal.