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SXSW 2013 Recap

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South By Southwest is by far the most overwhelming festival/conference out there. But it involves everything I love – tech, games, music, and film over the course of nine crazy days in Austin. Since I went for the Platinum Badge this year, I tried to do everything. Literally.

I quickly realized that wasn’t possible, but I sure gave it my darndest. For posterity’s sake, I tried to jot down every film, panel, and music set that I saw (or caught a part of) over the week. Add on all the parties and meet-ups with friends both new and old and it adds up to an exhausting, but amazing week.

A few notable highlights/awards:

Best Movie – Short Term 12

I don’t have the words to describe this incredible, emotional film, but Film Critc Hulk does.

Funniest Movie – Don Jon’s Addiction

Most Thrilling Movie – The East

Best New Song That I Have Been Playing On Repeat Constantly Since SXSWBastille – Pompeii

Top Three New Bands – Bastille, The 1975, CHVRCHES

I swear I’m not biased towards UK bands, it just turned out this way.

Most Emotional Song Performance – Stevie Nicks/Dave Grohl – Landslide

I have to admit getting a bit teary-eyed and having chills the entire time. Stevie Nicks has an amazing voice.

Coolest Song Performance – Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence

Singing along in unison with a packed crowd to Depeche Mode’s arguably most iconic song in a venue that has less than 900 capacity was pretty damn cool.

Best Panel – Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop

Despite never acting (or having ambitions to act), I laughed and learned more with Jeffrey Tambor about life and career than anywhere else during the week.

Best Food – Rachael Ray’s Feedback Party @ Stubbs

The menu was not only delicious, it was free!

Here’s the master list of events I participated in:


  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Drinking Buddies – Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Joe Swanberg
  • Downloaded – Alex Winter, Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker
  • Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Cretton, Brie Larson, entire cast
  • Don Jon’s Addiction – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brie Larson, Tony Danza
  • euphonia – Danny Madden
  • Some Girl(s)
  • Linsanity – Jeremy Lin’s Agent
  • The East – Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij


  • Andrew WK @ Viceland
  • Talib Kweli @ Samsung Galaxy Soundstage
  • Shakey Graves @ The Parish
  • Atlas Genius @ The Main
  • Tegan & Sara @ The Main
  • Lord Huron @ Clive Bar
  • Family of the Year @ ACL Moody Theatre
  • Lord Huron @ ACL Moody Theatre
  • Bastille @ Club de Ville
  • The Chevin @ Buffalo Billiards
  • Ash @ Buffalo Billiards
  • Bastille @ Cedar Street
  • CHVRCHES @ Hype Hotel
  • Pusha T @ MTV Woodies
  • Trinidad James @ MTV Woodies
  • Joey Bada$$ @ MTV Woodies
  • HAIM @ MTV Woodies
  • Meat Puppets @ Stubbs
  • Sound City Players @ Stubbs – Foo Fighters, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine), Krist Novoselic, Chris Goss, Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age), Lee Ving (Fear)
  • Local Natives @ Mohawk
  • Divine Fits @ Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center
  • Alt-J @ Mohawk
  • Feathers @ Brazos Hall
  • The Neighbourhood @ Brazos Hall
  • Depeche Mode @ Brazos Hall
  • Fitz and the Tantrums @ Lustre Perl
  • Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Blackheart
  • Eagles of Death Metal @ Stubbs
  • The 1975 @ Stubbs
  • Frightened Rabbit @ Stubbs
  • Blue Sky Riders @ Stubbs
  • Kenny Loggins @ Stubbs
  • Talib Kweli @ Lustre Perl
  • Chuck Ragan @ Cedar Street
  • Matt Pryor (Get Up Kids) @ Cedar Street
  • Twin Falls (Chris Carrabba) @ Cedar Street
  • Frank Turner @ Cedar Street


  • Machinima & Rooster Teeth Present “Blood, Sweat, and Online Videos: How to Achieve the Digital Dream”
  • Virtual Reality: The Holy Grail of Gaming – Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War), Paul Bettner (Words With Friends), Chris Roberts (Wing Commander), Nate Mitchell (Oculus Rift), Palmer Luckey (Oculus Rift)
  • A Conversation With Danny Boyle – Danny Boyle, Rick Smith (Underworld)
  • Much Ado About Much Ado – Joss Whedon, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion
  • Innovation & Leadership in the Agile Age – Scott Cook (Intuit)
  • Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop
  • The Signal & the Noise – Nate Silver
  • The New Serendipity? – Joichi Ito (MIT Media Lab), Kevin Rose (Digg, Google Ventures), John Perry Barlow, Colin Raney (IDEO)
  • The Future of Google Search in a Mobile World – Guy Kawasaki, Amit Singhal
  • A Conversation With Steve Case
  • Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) Keynote
  • You Are Not A Lottery Ticket – Peter Thiel
  • Deadmau5 & Richie Hawtin – Talk. Techno. Technology
  • The Anatomy of Amanda Fucking Palmer: An Inside Look
  • SXSW Keynote – Dave Grohl
  • Music Curation in 2013 – Ryan Scheiber (Pitchfork), Steve Blatter (Sirius XM)
  • SXSW Interview: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

9 movies, 17 panels, and 37 shows in 9 days? I think I can do better next year.


E3 2010 Recap And Big Picture Musings

After making it alive out of downtown Los Angeles last week, I thought I’d start the week off by posting my big picture E3 2010 recap first and then work on putting up individual title previews as the week progresses, Memento-style. I’ve got a ton of good stuff from E3 and I’m just one dude, so bear with me this week while the sausage is made.

Contrary to what some sensationalists will say, the gaming industry is not crumbling before our very eyes. E3 2010 was not a complete disaster, nor was it an undeniable success. It was, for lack of a better term, average. Generally, the most memorable E3 years tend to be those where new console generations are announced or a blockbuster game franchise debuts on said new consoles. Unfortunately, we just happen to be in the current generation’s mid-life point. A new Halo title for Xbox 360 just doesn’t have that “wow” factor of being the first Halo title on the Xbox 360. In spite of this, it was still exciting to try out new ways of playing games in the form of motion and 3D gaming. Whether or not this actually panned out…well that’s an issue we’ll get to.

The Press Conferences

I want to address the “Big 3” press conferences first. Video game pundits and fanboys alike take part in the yearly ritual of declaring “Who won E3?” as if  the show was a competition. I’m not going to pretend I’m above this sort of thing, so here’s my ranking of the press events:

1. Nintendo

2. (tie) Sony and Microsoft

Nintendo’s event was far and away the most compelling of the show. It was tightly presented, contained minimal gaffes (only miyamoto’s controller issues), and had the most “surprises” in terms of great games we didn’t know about prior to the show (Goldeneye, Kirby, Donkey Kong Country, Epic Mickey). To top it off, Nintendo announced a new piece of hardware that we had heard only rumors of before, the 3DS. With a robust roster of developers and franchises (e.g. Metal Gear, Resident Evil, Kingdom Hearts), the 3DS looks like it’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year.

Sony’s event wasn’t as embarrassing as Microsoft’s, presentation-wise, but didn’t provide much in the “wow” department. A new David Jaffe-helmed Twisted Metal game is pretty cool, but it doesn’t quite carry the weight of a Donkey Kong Country or Goldeneye remake. An appearance and endorsement by Valve’s Gabe Newell as “best” platform for Portal 2 was a huge coup for Sony’s credibility. Playstation Move wasn’t as cringe-inducing as Kinect’s demos the day before, but didn’t do much to sell the platform as anything more than a glorified Wiimote.

I had already written about Microsoft’s presentation last week. It had some really cool moments (ESPN and New Xbox 360s for everyone!) balanced by some facepalmy ones too (every word uttered by an executive, Kinectimals). Overall, I felt it evened out to around Sony’s level once I took into account the peaks and valleys of the presentation.

As a short aside, I really feel that Apple has raised the bar for geek press events since the iPhone announcement in January, 2007. Steve Jobs’ and crew are incredibly well rehearsed keynote machines. Say what you want about the guy, but he doesn’t give ho-hum or embarrassing (wifi issues withstanding) presentations. Every time you hear him talk, you can’t help but feel the urge to buy whatever he’s selling to you. Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft? Not so much.

The Show Floor

If you’ve never been to E3 before, the best way to describe it is an indoor Times Square. There is an overwhelming rush of sensory overload the moment you walk into either of the large halls. Gigantic 100+ inch HD screens pepper the showfloor. Disneyland-like booth constructions, like a haunted house or a post-apocalyptic shelter, are the norm. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve seen indoors.

There’s no way I could see everything at the show, even over the course of three days, so I tried to sample the titles I’ve been anticipating prior to the show along with the new hardware that was announced. I also kept my eyes and ears open for stuff people were buzzing about and caught a couple of interesting titles I would’t have thought of otherwise.

All three console manufacturers (Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft) and virtually all of the major games software publishers had a presence at the show. Countless other small games publishers and accessories manufacturers had booths as well. There was even a company called “Gamer Grub” that sells “performance snack foods.” Yeah. Really.

Other than Blizzard (who are so big they have their own yearly expo, Blizzcon), the only major games publisher that was conspicuously absent from the show floor this year was parent company Activision. However, the big A-B’s presence was still felt during the week as Uncle Bobby Kotick put on an absolutely ridiculous $6 million concert/party on Monday. We’re talking indoor fireworks and a private concert that would put many music festivals to shame. (some artists: Eminem, Rihanna, Chris Cornell, deadmau5, David Guetta, Usher, Maynard James Keenan, Jane’s Addiction) I mean, why spend the money on an E3 booth when you can just throw the most insane party ever. Fuck Cirque du Soleil’s Kinect premiere, why didn’t MTV broadcast this event?

The Takeaway Themes

I came away from E3 2010 taking away 3 prevalent themes: Motion Gaming, 3D Gaming, and Sequels Galore. I had originally intended to elaborate on these themes in this recap, but ended up with a 3000 word monstrosity, so I split this up into another article. You can read that here.

Here is the TL;DR version:

  1. 3D Gaming – They work as advertised. The effect isn’t annoying and is actually kind of cool. Not significant enough to warrant replacing your home theater or current Nintendo DS, though.
  2. Sequels Galore – We’re getting too many sequels too frequently. They’re becoming too predictable and unexciting. It’d be great if we increased the time between major franchise entries at the very least. Ideally, the interim years would see the release of more original titles.
  3. Motion Gaming – Mixed bag here. The first party Kinect and Playstation Move titles were generally uninspiring, but there were a couple of standout third-party games that make convincing arguments for buying a motion gaming controller. Dance Central by Harmonix and Child of Eden by Ubisoft are titles that couldn’t have been done with current consoles and provide truly fun experiences. If I had to pick between the Kinect or Move, I would go with the Kinect. Simpler, cheaper, and true hands-free motion gaming is hard to argue with.

Three Major Themes From E3 2010

3D Gaming

My two biggest concerns with 3D gaming going into the conference were: “Does it work without being a hassle?” and “Do I really need 3D in my games?” After some hands on experience with 3D, I came away from E3 2010 with an answer to at least one of those questions.

I had some hands on time with both the Nintendo 3DS and Killzone 3 on the PS3. Microsoft was conspicuously mum on the 3D front, deciding to focus all its energies on the Kinect. (I believe Crysis 2 is the only 3D enabled title on the 360, but didn’t have a chance to demo it) On both the PS3 and 3DS, I could say that the 3D definitely added a sense of depth that wasn’t there before.

Nintendo’s 3DS worked as advertised in bringing a 3D display to the venerable DS platform. Although most of the demo content was not playable, they served to show off the 3D display fairly well. Watching the Resident Evil and Metal Gear 3D tech demos, I could definitely see distinct people and environments in the foreground and background.

Sony was wise to feature a snowy level to show off Killzone 3 in 3D. Falling snowflakes clearly popped out without becoming distractions. HUD elements and updates were made salient by the added depth. As for the 3D glasses themselves, I can attest that I didn’t even notice them once they were on. In fact, they fit comfortably over my existing glasses without much issue. All in all, I was fairly impressed by the fact that going 3D on the PS3 didn’t detract from the experience at all.

The meatier question is if 3D enhanced the gameplay experience at all, and based on what I experienced, I’d have to lean towards no. Talking with Killzone developers at the Sony booth made it crystal clear that the actual game itself was identical with the 3D version. Apparently, you’re not missing anything crucial by not going 3D, just some visual eye candy. I came to the same conclusion after the 3DS hands on as well. Of the playable games there (Nintendogs and a novel face-mapping picture shooter), none showcased any mechanics that couldn’t be done with current hardware.

Perhaps I’m being too idealistic about my expectations for 3D. After all, visual eye candy can be a big draw in playing new video games. My issue with 3D currently is that developers aren’t building titles from the ground up as 3D titles. They’re adding it in their games almost as an afterthought. It’s just another bullet point for hardware manufacturers to sell new devices. The reason Avatar was such a big draw for me in 3D was because James Cameron intended for viewers to watch the film in 3D. Most films use 3D as a gimmick, a way to charge more for tickets. When compelling, high quality games start coming out using 3D in an integral way, that’s when I’ll start to take a real hard look at it.

If someone handed me a free 3D enable TV, sure I’d play the 3D version of Killzone 3 on it. It was kinda cool and didn’t cause me discomfort or anything. Would I redo my entire home theater for the experience? No, it’s just not worth it yet. The same goes for the 3DS, albeit on a much smaller scale. I might end up picking one up simply because I’m a gadget junkie, but I’d actually be more excited about the games now possible with the added analog stick rather than the 3D display.

Sequels and Remakes Galore

I’m worried the games industry is falling into the same trap that Hollywood and the music industry did by depending too much on the “guaranteed” money of a blockbuster sequel. Take a look at some of the more ballyhooed titles from this year’s E3: Halo Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Gears of War 3, Twisted Metal, Gran Turismo 5, Portal 2, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and the list goes on and on. What do you notice? That’s right, they’re all sequels or franchise “reboots”.

Part of the reason why E3 gets less exciting each year is that most of the new titles announced are predictable sequels. We know they’re coming and we know roughly what to expect from all of these. Publishers sometimes use this sense of familiarity to sell us on franchises we’d given up on. During my hands on demo with the new Castlevania: Lord of Shadows at the Konami booth, I was asked if I was a fan of old school Castlevania. Naturally I answered,”Of course.” The Konami rep then proceeded to reassure me that I would “love” this new title because it was a return to the series’ roots. Only I couldn’t really tell from the two demo levels I played since I felt like I just played God of War with holy water and throwing daggers. It definitely was a return to a series’ roots, just not Castlevania’s. Later, he explained that the E3 demo was a taste of pure action levels. He reassured me that the famous Castlevania level structure would be present in the full game. I’ll take his word for it.

The point I’m getting to is that sequels are not necessarily a “bad thing.” It’s just that they narrow the possibilities of what developers can create and what consumers can play. With an established franchise, there’s only so much developers can innovate and experiment with there before they run the risk of alienating potential sales. On the flip side, consumers only have so much time and money to devote to video games. Given the choice between say, Call of Duty 7 or Vanquish, most people browsing in the store are going to go with the established franchise. This in turn encourages publishers to devote more and more resources in repeating that “hit” and tighten the leash up on developing brand new properties.

I’m not advocating that the games industry stop producing sequels. Every industry needs its cornerstone products. Hell, I’m personally excited to play each and every one of the titles I mentioned earlier. What I’m suggesting is perhaps a toning down of the frequency of sequel production. Give us a few years to breathe between installments. Make each successive franchise entry a truly monumental event. (Yes, I realize that it’s been a few years since Gran Turismo or Donkey Kong Country entries, but isn’t that why they got the ovations they did in their respective presentations?) Challenge developers and gamers in the meantime. Give us more titles like Portal or Braid or Rez. Who knows, maybe these new titles can be the foundation for a new generation of money printing machines.

Motion Gaming

Microsoft and Sony made their motion gaming intentions known at last year’s E3 with their respective announcements of the Kinect (Project Natal) and Playstation Move. This year, both devices were actually available for everyone to play. I had a chance to try both of them out and couldn’t help but wonder one thing:

What the hell were the first party developers doing for the last year?

The derivative gameplay offered by Sony and Microsoft’s titles left me decidedly dismayed. Kinect Sports (developed by the once proud Rare) was essentially a Wii Sports clone. Kinect Adventures was a glorified Wii Play mini-game collection. And Kinectimals? Sorry, Microsoft, I’m not 9 years old and I don’t need to pay $60 to play with virtual tigers on screen. Sony didn’t fare much better with its lineup either. Beyond your obligatory minigame collections in titles such as Sports Champions and Start the Party, Sony showed some glimmers of hope with Echochrome and Sorcery. Echochrome incorporates the move controller as a light source puzzle game, while Sorcery evokes images of Harry Potter spell-casting. At least these two titles looked like games one would want to play for more than one session. None of the above mentioned games would sell me on a new device, though.

Where was the truly novel and amazing stuff like last year’s Milo demonstration for Kinect? Was it all just smoke and mirrors? Why are we stuck with clones of pre-existing Wii titles? I imagine it must be a low-risk way of cashing in the casual market by showing the general public, “Hay! We can do intuitive casual games just like Nintendo!” I’m not sure if shoving the same gameplay experiences down even casual consumers’ throats will work so well, no matter how much more accurate than the Wii your motion controller is.

That’s not to say all is doom and gloom for these motion inputs, though. Harmonix and Ubisoft both showed great titles that have pretty much sold me on fun experiences that couldn’t have been done on a normal controller. Harmonix’s Dance Central made dancing with yourself (sup Billy Idol) look cool. Full body dance tracking is something that has never been done on a game console before and I’m not sure it could have been done without the Kinect powering it. Not only that, the game is actually pretty fun even if you are a dance club wallflower. Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s (Rez, Lumines) new psychadelic music shooter Child of Eden impressed the shit out of me at Ubisoft’s press event. It’s a bit hard to explain so I’ll let this video demonstration do the talking. Since it’s published by a third party, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one on both Move and Kinect.

Interestingly enough, I think a compelling solution may be to combine both movement input systems as one. I could imagine wanting to hold a controller for a swordplay game, while I wouldn’t want to be holding anything if I was learning a dance routine. Ostensibly Microsoft has more room to work with in this scenario, as Kinect’s camera is much more precise than Sony’s Playstation Eye. It’d be easier to add a control peripheral than to sell users on an expensive new tracking device.

All of this leads us to the million dollar question: Is all this stuff worth it?

For me, Dance Central and Child of Eden have sold me on the Kinect. Hell, the novelty of being able to act out Minority Report almost sells me by itself, shitty minigames be damned. If I had to go with one motion controller solution, it’d have to be the Kinect if just for the simplicity factor. Coupled

With Move, there’s three separate peripherals to keep track of: the Playstation Eye Camera, the Move “motion” controller, and the Move “navigation” controller.


I just had to look up all that stuff and will probably get the “motion and “navigation” controllers messed up for the rest of eternity. I guarantee you that the average consumer will get confused by all of this come Christmas shopping time too. Sony will have you believe that their motion gaming is “only” $49.99, but you’ll have to buy a $40 Playstation Eye camera and a $29.99 “navigation” controller in order to get the full experience. You won’t need a new camera for each additional player, but you’ll have to get another set of Move controllers per person. It’ll end up being $200 for a “full” 2-player Move experience, while the Kinect is simply $150 for all you will need.

Pricing issues aside, the Kinect has the added benefit of being truly hands-free. During my Move hands-on at the Sony booth, I had to recalibrate the controller by holding the controllers in several positions like a traffic cop. Each time someone new wants to play, you’ll have to do this. It’s no small annoyance if you have a big group of people wanting to play. Kinect requires recalibration too, but there’s no wristband tethered controllers to take off and pass around.