Over the last few years I’ve always made time in my day to sit down and watch the big press briefings over the E3 weekend. Both before starting Pixel Bandits as a gamer and after as a (very small time) reporter of sorts, it’s been a staple of my calendar for some time to watch or listen, and make notes. This year was slightly different as rather than watching the briefings, I would miss them, as I headed over to Los Angeles to witness E3 in person as an ambassador for Frontier Developments, and their brand new title Jurassic World Evolution.
I’ve always been a huge fan of building and management titles. Whether we’re looking at the more recent Planet Coaster or Cities Skylines, or back to the old Roller Coaster Tycoon classics. There’s something about the slow, methodical and thoughtful gameplay which has had me hooked. Mixing that up with one of my favourite film franchises, you can likely imagine my excitement when I heard about the game for the first time, and more so when we saw a little more about it at the Frontier Expo in 2017.
On top of that, it was an absolute honour to be invited to Los Angeles for E3 2018 to take part in the convention as an Ambassador for Frontier Developments and Jurassic World Evolution. It was something I had a little experience with last year when invited to be an Ambassador for the first time for Elite: Dangerous at the Frontier Expo in London (which in itself was pretty awesome and you can check out our little catch up in this video just below)
After squeezing the wife and kids goodbye at our local train station, I started my journey up through Birmingham to meet with fellow Ambassador LoopedChris, before getting together with the last of our Brits, Wingardium Levicoaster (what a name) at Heathrow for our 10 hour flight over the Atlantic. A few movies, a lot of excitement and some great conversation later (and maybe a few drinks) we landed at LAX just in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset at what for us was around 4am. Fully hyped we made our way through the bright lights and palm trees of LA to our hotel downtown, and promptly headed off to bed where of course, we got our heads down and caught some sleep.
Though in need of a wander, thanks to a little time zone wizardry a 4am wake up isn’t exactly the best time to go wondering on your own through downtown LA so while most of the team got some sleep (or at least rest) I went on a little explore of our hotel where I found that… the rooftop garden was locked up tight. Headed back to bed, setting up a phone for a time lapse shot and forcing myself to get another couple of hours sleep, I took a morning stroll through the Zen Garden on the Hotel roof, which was absolutely exquisite. A small waterfall (also a pokestop, for those wondering), some small pools and a babbling stream gave the whole area an amazing sense of calm and respite, which was much needed before and after a busy day,. I lay myself down on the grass to soak it all in. We reconvened shortly after to meet up with the Frontier team for breakfast and to get our briefings (and all important E3 passes).
After meeting up with a couple of the hugely awesome folks we’d be working with (you know who you are) we took another tour of the garden, and settled down with a cool drink in the already baking LA sun to talk about this, that, the game, and all things bright and beautiful. We also finally got to meet our handler Ben, grab our passes, and get ourselves out of the door, and with the help of an Uber we wove our way through the city traffic to the LA convention center. After watching E3 for so many years it was an utter dream to ever thing I’d be attending in person, but getting entry to the show floor before it’s even opened to the public was mind boggling. Sadly (though understandably) there was absolutely zero tolerance for any cameras or pictures until the show opened to the public, but we got in, marveled in awe at the different booths scattered about, and finally got to see the Jurassic World Evolution booth itself, which was beyond amazing.
I do not know who it was who came up with the idea, or who designed it, or who built it… however the folks that came up with all this need a huge pat on the back, and a wad of cash as thick as your arm. With a fan created Jeep Wrangler from the wonderful Jurassic Park Motor Pool, a Lost World Raptor (you probably saw one of these if you hit up FX17 in October) and the gargantuan enclosure itself we were surprised to find Jurassic World also available on the Twitch Game Zone. After just taking a moment to bask in everything for a few minutes, we had a tour and talk of what would be happening the next day, and a walkthrough of the enclosure, as well as the opportunity to help where we could (in a very small way) to get things set up a little.
I also had the “pleasure” of sampling the US version of the Public Toilet (or Restroom as I’ll be forever calling it now). Americans, your toilets are 50 shades of screwed up, I am not even joking. They come in fully realized 3 dimensional terror which I’ll cover here for the uninitiated
- What on earth is up with that half inch gap between the door and the stall. This is not a joke, this is not normal. Please dear lord sort it out because no. Just no.
- How high do you feel you have to have the water in the bowl? Even the most tactile of wipers must be vigilant lest they dunk their whole hand in.
- The flush is like the very arsehole of Satan has opened and is sucking all that is good and holy from this world into its nether realm. This is bad enough when you’re stood away but an unexpected auto flush while you’re still sat down is almost the exact opposite of a “fresh surprise”
Anyway… Once all was complete, and we’d picked up our t-shirts for the day and met the local Brand Ambassadors it was time to head off out the door and get a little time of our own to explore the city (or for some, head back to the hotel to rest and recuperate). Myself, I headed off with Nick and Dylan from the Frontier Animation and Audio teams and fellow Ambassador Chris to check our Amoeba music over on Sunset Boulevard in downtown Hollywood. After searching around this huge store we set off a little way down Sunset to the Guitar Center. I’ve been an almost passable rhythm guitarist for some years now, though growing up in the Shropshire countryside, and flying the nest to relatively small Worcester, I’ve never seen so many guitars in one place. Hundreds, if not thousands lined the walls with some large and slightly smaller price tags, with rooms off each side where you could plug in (or go acoustic) and jam to your hearts content, and it was a pleasure to stop a while and listen to Nick as he gave us a tune in one of these.
Leaving the store I noticed that the floor outside is covered with the Guitar Center’s very own hall of fame, and handprints and signatures from some of my biggest musical heroes were all there on show. Queen (sadly post Freddie) Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Aerosmith, Johnny Cash, ZZ Top (with Billy’s slider still in place), Motorhead, Ronnie James Dio and many more were all out there to be seen and measured against. Some with their own little touches such as Lemmy’s middle finger salute, Eddie’s skeletal hand for Maiden, and Steve Vai’s neatly executed extra finger
With that done, after a baking hot day (still mild by Californian standards, I’m told), we retired to the hotel for some respite and a late siesta. After cramming some food in and meeting some more of the fine folks from Frontier, it was time for some rest, and so a small band of us set back out to the rooftop garden, where we once again lay on the grass, this time to count the few stars which were visible above the light pollution, and generally to chill out after what was in all honesty, quite an overwhelming day for a few of us both physically and emotionally (thanks again, jet lag). But at least none of us did an ugly cry.
The next morning I managed another hour of proper sleep, waking at the slightly later 5am, even after having pushed myself to stay up late with an elongated shower and reading a little more of the Chriton novel Jurassic Park in preparation (having not read it before I can tell you that it’s a bloody good read as well, and no wonder they bought the rights to make the film before the book was even finished!). Another time lapse video of the LA Sunrise, and a quick chat with the wife who was already living in the afternoon, and who sent pictures of the family to make my morning a little happier. Being fine thousand miles away from home isn’t easy and I’ll admit that I spent a good while of the previous night asking myself if all this was worth it. The wife assured me it was worth it (and she was indeed right) and I headed down for breakfast at a time which for me was still somewhere around 3pm.
Back to the booth and I took up my station over on the Twitch stand. Checking over the area to ensure we were good to go, there were a couple of things which needed some attention, and I was very pleased to work with the Twitch team to get a couple of machines up and running with the E3 build of Jurassic World Evolution ready to go. Stocking up on water and drinks for myself and the Brand Ambassador joining me there for the day, and also found time to again be one of the first to get my photo taken with the Twitch folks. Apparently the cameraman thought my pose was my “silly” pose when as you can see below, it was definitely my serious post and I don’t mess about.
And then, almost before we knew it, the press access started, and again before long the general public were admitted. It was a busy day for us over on the Twitch Game Zone and I can only imagine it was the same (if not worse) for the Ambassadors and Brand Ambassadors over on the main Jurassic World booth as well (not forgetting of course the Frontier employees working with the Press and those behind the scenes as well who just absolutely did not stop throughout the day, as well as making sure that we were all ok as well). Time sped by as we helped newcomers get into the game, and explained the premise behind the build, which folks on the Twitch stand missed as they didn’t go through the fab dark ride experience which Frontier had prepared.
Soon enough the clock rolled around to my break, which was spent half touring around the show floor. Finally allowed to stream and get pictures out for those excited to see the stands and products which were out there. Grabbing some food as well for lunch around noon, I managed to take some time to grab a video call with the family back home who were snuggling into bed for the night back home. After a brief conversation with them and wiping away a small tear or two, I headed back to the booth to eat food, restock on water and get back to my post for the next shift. More of the same there, meeting a lot of people very excited to get hands on with the game. Some who knew what they were doing, some who needed a little guidance, but all of them without exception were hyped to be at E3, and most of them, I’m happy to say, loved what they saw from JWE.
Again time rolled around for my next break and I took some time to rest my feet as unlike the other Ambassadors, my day wasn’t finishing at 7pm. I had the huge privilege of being one of those in attendance at the Frontier booth outside the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the US premier of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. With out little tent, and three televisions set up to display the game, we took some time to send a valiant member of the team out for a cheeky Subway while we watched the stars begin their walk through the Red carpet, past the VIP guests. One thing which was quite unexpected, was that while we were eating we would be rudely interrupted by none other than Mr Stephen Spielberg himself, who went out of his way to come and say hello and see how we were enjoying things as we waited for the crowds to appear.
With absolute full credit to the Frontier Audio Designer Dylan, while the others and I were sat there slack jawed he was up and greeting and taking this legend of cinema over to our stand to check out the game, which he had a great time with (even taking time to film it himself). The chap is hands down an absolute delight and took time out of his day when he didn’t need to, to come and say hello to us in our little tent. After he was escorted away we continued to chow down, before the main audience came out and then it was more of the same explaining, and chatting about the game with people who love the Jurassic franchise (including Mr B. D. Wong who also stopped by, though less of a game fan than mr Spielberg). A late night was had and I finally got my selfie with David Braben, and finished with us securing the equipment and crashing back to the hotel just in time to fall flat on my face in bed.
After a well deserved (I’d say anyway) lie in while the other ambassadors took up their posts within the convention center, I woke a little later and headed down to grab breakfast before taking some time to take a walk up 1st street and back to the Walt Disney Concert hall for the slightly more open JW Fallen Kingdom Fan Fest. Much like the previous night we spent our time with fans of the franchise, content creators and streamers to explain what was going on in the game, and help them enjoy the demo, explaining a little about the title for folks who haven’t been following the news (you can see a clip below from MsTeamKK over on Twitch who stopped by the booth for a while and chatted to Dylan and Myself). We also took a moment before the fan fest opened to try out an awesome Jurassic World VR experience with a pretty freaky drop into a mosasaur’s mouth, as well as some hair raising time spend running with the Rex’s
Once the Fan Fest had ended, we got the kit back down to the hotel via an Uber (and that whole fiasco is a story for another time) and had a little us time for a moment before some food and drink just down the road at Tom’s Urban, where you serve your own drinks from the tap in the wall, with an LCD screen above to tell you exactly what you’re pouring (and how much you’re spending). Another great night chatting with the team and ambassadors (including the legendary Mr Braben) about everything, nothing, and all above before some of us headed down the road to the local Karaoke bar. Well what a story to tell, and this is where it gets really interesting. When we got there [We have edited the night’s depiction and redacted a fair portion for the sake of public decency, and to save Pendragon some embarassment – Ed] and all in all, had a fabulous night with terrific intellectual conversation and song.
Of course we were all up bright and breezy and with a spring in our step on the Thursday morning, our last day of E3. The time had gone so unbelievably fast here and it was our last day to savour the experience. I was happy to be back on the show floor in the convention center for the last day, and to get some time back on the JWE booth itself as well on those awesome surroundings (as a completely unimportant side note, also in the JWE enclosure was the most handsome man I have ever met, who looked just like a young Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson). More of the same when it came to our mission on the stands, however today I did take a little more time, on aching feet, to throw myself around the two exhibition halls to take in as much as I could before finally we were leaving for the last time.
Back to the Hotel and with many of the folks already jetting home (most likely to get straight back to work, diligent devs that they are) it was a quiet night in for us Ambassadors, as we grabbed ourselves a table in the darkened restaurant (where coincidentally prices seemed to have doubled since the previous nights we’d eaten). I wouldn’t be seeing the others for a little while as our plans took us to different locations the following day, so I said an emotional goodbye to Ambassador Joel, who I’d not be seeing again at all, at least until the next time 😉
Friday, awakening after restful slumber and now fully incorporated into LA time (on the day we fly home) I woke to the sun creeping over the hills to the east for the last time. Cleared out my room (leaving a little gift or two for the hotel staff, who I’m sure found use for a 4 pack of red bull and an oversize Final Fantasy bag) and got myself a town car headed out to LAX. Arriving at the airport at around 9 or 10 am, 10 hours before my flight. I was looking for a place to store my baggage so I could set off to explore on my lonesome, while Chris, Elizabeth and Joel headed out to Universal Studios and lands of amazingness. Unfortunately they have no baggage storage any more, however they DID let me check my baggage onto my flight 10 hours before take off, which was pretty nice.
I had previously (from the UK) purchased a Venice Beach T-shirt. This particular Venice Beach T-shirt had a set of Coordinates on there so I set out West in the hopes of finding those coordinates and planting my feet firmly on the spot which my t-shirt was proudly declaring. Well, I tell you Bandits. I found that spot. I found it, I stood there and I took pictures and video. I stood there proudly on that spot, the exact coordinates proudly displayed on my Venice Beach Tshirt, and I thought to myself. “Pendragon. what the hell are you doing in a car park 3 minutes walk from the actual beach”.
But my Venice Beach t-shirt was in Venice (and nearly on the beach) and I was sure as hellfire going to dip my toes into the Pacific, and so I did. Spending some time to take in the sights and sounds, street theater and basketball games being played in more blazing sunshine out there on the west coast, it was quite lovely. I did however want to take some things back for the wife and kids so we all had a little taste, so I set out to the trinket shops to buy some random tat.
I found random tat, and walked past it to get to the wonderful chap you can see below and get a present for the wife, as well as a hat for myself (and yes I am rocking the “Double Venice”). I would describe Venice beach to you a little but to be entirely honest, if you’ve played GTA V You’re pretty much seen it yourself as the resemblance between the two is absolutely spot on, even down to the buildings themselves (and muscle beach of course, a short walk up the sand).
After all this, it was time to head back to the airport, where I spent the time waiting for Chris and Elizabeth (and a very welcome almost surprise visit from our very own Captain Haggis of the PBSF!) curled in a corner just up some stairs with my laptop out and playing Jurassic world Evolution (and I’ve hardly managed to put it down since!). A rather uneventful flight back took me back to the UK and happily back to my family after a long week out on the west coast, where time difference is a killer, where the toilets flush like the very gates of hell, and where I had a very exciting, and very humbling, and all around awesome week at E3 2018.
As a note before we end I must of course say a huge thank you to the folks at Frontier Developments. Not just for inviting me as an Ambassador but for all their staff who literally could not have been more supportive while we were over with them. Everybody without fail was always there if you just needed a chat or if you needed something in particular, but with special commendation to Zac, Ed, Will, Dylan, Ben, Nick, Chad, Robyn, Kit and Ali who were all so supportive of us Ambassadors over in a strange country and with such an exciting new experience. You are all utterly awesome, words do not do you justice, and thank you again from a wet and rainy Pixel Bandits UK office, now that I’ve calmed down a little (and almost got over the jet lag)