Best: Gamescom 2012
No, what you really want is to go to Gamescom. Gamescom is like E3 but not completely awful in every way. Sure, you don't get the huge announcements or the LIVE DANCE PARTY FEATURING USHER AND SPECIAL GUEST: MAN FROM NIKE but then you do get to do crazy things like interview Warren Spector for forty-five minutes without sharing your time with a Eurojourno who wants to know how Mickey Mouse can operate a paintbrush when he's a mouse, so it all balances out.
Most of what makes E3 terrible is LA. If your friend phones you at E3 and asks you to meet him on the other side of town, the best you can do is hop in a taxi and see 'em in an hour. In Cologne you can walk across the entire city in minutes, and it's a beautiful city filled with magnificent sights and pubs which serve proper foamy German beer and giant slabs of fried meat way into the night. Best of all, real people can get in. Three of Gamescom's five days are open to the public, making it into one of Europe's best nerd conventions.
Worst: The games industry makes us look like freaks
By the time we got to the second day of E3, we were exhausted by all the violence.
There's a reason why so many games are about guns and killing. When you're distanced from events playing out on screen it takes massive actions to provoke a response. Twitching your finger and seeing someone die is just about the biggest gap possible between the size of the input and the size of the action, so it makes sense to build your videogame around (hopefully righteous) murder.
Motion-controlled games get away with representing the mundane because they involve realistic gestures, but shooters on a controller or a mouse are total abstraction. Cooking Mama on Wii works because you're making a relatively significant action yourself - a chopping motion, for instance - for a small action on screen. Videogames are so often about killing because it's easier to satisfy your brain's need for input and dramatic response when people are dying. Violence in games is okay. Violence makes sense.
But 2012 was the year when the videogames industry took to its grandest stage and chose a fetishised pornographic celebration of murder and suffering as its ambassador to the world. There were gaping open wounds and countless atrocities, point-blank headshots and graphic torture, bloody torture with a knife and power drill, scenes of graphic sexualised violence against women, suicide, horrific suffering and implied sexual assault, sustained ultraviolence and agonising death from multiple wounds, impalement through the face, death by devouring and - my favourite - bludgeoning, immolation and the graphic point-blank murder of a man begging for his life.
Those trailers were all released over two days for god's sakes. And let's not forget EA made a game produced in conjunction with arms manufacturers and championed the "authenticity" of its own brand of mass murder in comparison to its competition.
Violence in games is okay. Violence makes sense. But using your analogue stick to twist a knife stuck in a man's shoulder? Why are we using that moment to represent what videogaming is to the world, especially when that moment doesn't even begin to represent the intricate stealth/action game it's a part of?
Why does everyone think gamers are basement-dwelling would-be mass murderers? Because of this.
Best: Virtual reality is an actual reality
The only things I enjoyed at E3 were the strawberry milkshake I had on the day I landed at LAX and the half-hour I spent with John Carmack on the last day of the show. I understood about two thirds of what he said, which by Carmack standards is pretty good, and the session concluded with him strapping me into his own personal pair of Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles.
From now on Oculus Rift is the only way I want to play any first person shooter. It changes everything. I hope they sell millions and I hope every developer on PC supports it. Just don't look down and rock from side to side or you'll yak up that milkshake in about thirty seconds.
Best: Peter Molyneux's curious cocks
Curiosity: What's Inside The Cube is bubblewrap with a combo system and that should be more than enough to keep you tapping away on your iPad for twenty minutes or so. But it's the collaborative side of the whole thing that gave us so much fun in the office. I don't care what's inside the cube, but I am curious about what everyone else is carving into the cube's faces. It's the world's largest toilet wall and of course everyone is scrawling cocks on it. Curiosity is an actual videogame art project and sometimes, when it's not a cock, the graffiti is fascinating.
Best: Mark of the Ninja knows what stealth is all about
It's been an amazing year for stealth games but Mark of the Ninja was the best. Assassin's Creed 3 is loaded with mystery rules which never seem to work, Hitman Absolution is a better Splinter Cell than a Hitman, Dishonored was good but clumsy and Far Cry 3 is a good hide-'em-up spoiled by a lousy story.
But Mark of the Ninja has everything; the rules are crystal clear, the stealth works exactly as the designers intended, the controls and systems are so precise you never once have to bodge a job, and it all comes together in a campaign filled with tricky little challenges. I love stealth games, and Mark of the Ninja is my favourite stealth game since Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
Worst: Nobody buys games any more
Every Monday we get an email filled with last week's game sales figures and while we can't publish them because we haven't paid for the rights, we spend the day aghast at just how poorly even big games sell and how little a game needs to sell to chart in the top ten so long as it's released in the right week. In fact, almost everything but FIFA, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Halo 4 and a few other AAA games at the year's end vanished without trace.
This is why even the biggest developers are saying terrifying things about the future of the industry. It's too expensive to make AAA games and investment doesn't guarantee success so in the absence of a better idea, the industry's latest plan is to just get out of the AAA single-player game market altogether and that's not such a bad plan when League of Legends on PC has more players than Black Ops does across every platform.
It's hard to say how single-player AAA games are doing over on PC because so much of the market is controlled by Valve and they won't release sales figures, but smaller games at flexible price points do well in PC land. Hotline Miami shifted 130,000 copies in seven weeks, which means it outsold MAJOR AAA GAME FROM JAPANESE PUBLISHER by about 130 times.
PCs are better equipped for the next generation, which is actually the current generation, only console makers didn't notice. An open platform with appropriate price points set by the game's developers (even when that price is free) makes more sense than a Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo closed platform here in 2012 and will make even more sense in 2013.
Games aren't getting any cheaper to make and big blockbuster games are about to become what blockbuster movies have been since Jaws. You'll get five or six blockbusters every year from those privileged developers able to sell single-player action adventures - the Ubisofts, the Irrationals, the Naughty Dogs - and the rest of the release schedule will be filled by indies and smaller studios producing smaller games. And if you think about it for a while, that doesn't sound like such a bad thing.