The press conferences that precede E3 set the tone for the event, they determine the conversations and questions that follow. With no single unifying organisation to set up such an event, it's one of those rare occasions when the open nature of the PC can prove a detriment. The consoles have had their say, now we can't help but wonder what a similar a show for the PC would look like. Who would take the stage? What would they show? What song-and-dance numbers would we get?
Take your seat, make yourself comfortable and put those Doritos away as we welcome you to this year's purely hypothetical show, the E3 2013 conference that PC gamers deserve.
Introducing - our host! A lone spotlight picks out a trundling figure on a wide, dark stage. It grinds noisily to a halt to rapturous applause and spreads its tiny plastic arms wide. "GREETINGS. I am Medianbot," it drones, bionic monotone dripping with the collective charisma of a platoon of Microsoft presenters. "I have been selected by a vast conglomerate of PC developers as a completely impartial neutral representative for this event. My collective masters to remind you that not one of them owns the platform. We are multitude. We make things we think you might like, and we'd like to show some of those to you this evening. Enjoy."
The auditorium goes dark. A Roman appears on a huge main screen, charging up a beach as flaming rocks soar overhead. XBox One conference attendees sigh, for a moment they think it's the new Roman hack-'em-up, Ryse.
It isn't. The camera's pulling out. There are dozens of Romans. Hundreds. Thousands charging battlements under a a storm of arrows. A mouse cursor appears and it's controlling every last one of them. It's Rome 2. The Creative Assembly are on stage. They talk about diplomacy, subterfuge, politics and war on a huge scale. They talk about players crafting their own stories on the stage of history. They explain that there's no grunting and quick time events. This is a game for grown-ups.
It's Blizzard's turn. Dustin Browder takes to the stage and introduces a trailer for Legacy for the Void, but when the lights come back up, two booths have appeared on stage. In one, Flash, in the other, Life - veteran StarCraft and StarCraft 2 esports players. Browder explains talks about the PC not just as a platform for space adventure, but as a field for sport. He introduces top shoutcasters Tasteless and Artosis as our commentators, and the contestants go to war. There's no awkward, staged banter, only two athletes, laser focused on their screens.
In the coming ten minutes both players demonstrate the agility and quick-thinking that makes them masters of their game. The retiring "GG" is met by a resounding cheer.
A tough act to follow? Perhaps not, when you have a huge open world RPG to show off. CD Projekt RED take the mic. They talk about Geralt's final adventure, they show us the cities and forests we'll be able to explore in The Witcher 3. We've had competition, we've had huge strategy, now we're getting a huge explorable RPG. The showing of their debut trailer sends a ripple of excitement through the crowd.
But CD Projekt RED change tack. New zones, monsters and characters start appearing on the conference screens. They're not officially part of The Witcher 2, or The Witcher 3, it's a modding showcase. It's not about picking out individual examples, it's a catalogue of creations only possible on PC - whole new free campaigns, weapons and options, and the power to reshape entire worlds. Another video plays. Geralt walks into the swampy town of Flotsam - familiar to players of The Witcher 2 - only instead the tyranny of a malicious local thug, the Witcher finds that the town is under attack from a twenty foot tall fire-breathing horse. Modding at its finest.
Medianbot rolls back onstage to thunderous applause. "Greetings and thank you revellers. The soundwaves generated by your slapping meat-paws sustains me. I hope you enjoyed the pictures of the angry man with two swords doing things, but not less or much more than any prior or following presentation, for this is about mathematically identical representation for all aspects of the platform. Farewell."
ANGRY MACHINE NOISE. STROBE LIGHTING. It's DICE. It's Battlefield 4. It's running on PC live. It's big. It's loud. It's full of guns. Now, a while tundra - the THUMP of an AT-AT's boot crunching into the snow. It's Star Wars: Battlefront. Then it's Respawn's mech-blasty game, Titanfall. It's loud and angry, polished and beautiful, because the PC can do all of that too, but faster, and prettier.
Another changeover. A video. A montage, devoted to the low-budget, innovative games that wouldn't normally get their time in the limelight. We see interactive fiction games, Dwarf Fortress, Princess Maker, Kentucky Route Zero, Receiver. As if in a frenzied music video, bouncing between everything from Transistor to Minecraft to Project Zomboid to Frozen Synapse in quick but stunningly done style and backed by anything except bloody dubstep. Anything but that.
The lights come up again, and the stage is full of figures playing games on big screens. It looks like the indie showcase that the PS4 put on, but it's vast. Dozens and dozens of developers are playing their games on tiers and tiers of screens. Look - three tiers up on the left - Koakim "Konjak" Sandberg is playing the latest build of Iconoclasts. Hey, down there on the right - Introversion are quelling a riot in Prison Architect. Over there, Mitu Khandaker is climbing a starship's social ladder in Redshirt. Here, in the front row, the Fullbright developers are showing Gone Home. The message here is simple. Yes, you can play some fun games on console. On PC though, you get a whole world of gaming that no one company controls. And it's brimming with honest-to-god new ideas.
But it's not just about the games. The Oculus Rift developers take to the stage arm and arm with the Omni Treadmill creators. They talk about how hardware is advancing all the time, how static systems will inevitably fade in the face of new hardware from the big PC manufacturers. They mention that the consoles are still talking in familiar terms, about streaming via Twitch, about a camera that watches and listens to you, as though such concepts haven't existed on the PC for years already. The PC is a tool, they say, not a living room lifestyle choice. It does what you tell it, and it can show you the future.
Then up on stage, we get the Oculus Rift team to show off their latest prototype, along with the Omni Treadmill and the Epoc mind-reading headset. In front of a gasping audience, we see - live - someone step into Skyrim and kill a mud crab with his mind.
A cheerful Belarusian fellow walks out now. Who is he? It's hard to tell, but it's clear before he's even said anything that he loves tanks, because he's wearing a T-shirt that says "I
It's been a few hours. But who walks out now, at the end of it all? Is it Newell, talking about Dota 2, Team Fortress 2, how Valve think player-created content that adds value to their games should be rewarded monetarily? Is it CCP CEO Hilmar, talking about player run economies, betrayal and intrigue in Eve Online? Is it Bioware, talking about how they plan to tell stories on the PC we've never seen before? Is it SOE, talking about how they managed to get hundreds of players to fight a galactic war on a single battlefield in Planetside 2? Is it Arenanet, talking about dynamic MMO battlegrounds in Guild Wars 2? The question is posed to Medianbot. Its chrome head explodes.
It should be all of them. Perhaps PC gaming is just too big for one conference. Too varied, too niche, too wonderfully weird to play the same PR game as the platform holders.
Oh, what the hell. Let's go with Gabe.
Microsoft has demoed the Xbox One. Sony has shown off the Playstation 4. Then, in an equally big hall, the lights go down, Gabe Newell steps onto the stage. He says nothing. He just coughs. He points at the screen. A Half-Life 3 logo appears. The crowd goes wild. He walks off, still silent.
Then a minute later, he casually pokes his head back round the curtain. "Wait, did I forget to mention it's free and available on Steam right now?" he asks. "Sorry it took so long. Also, you can trade Steam games now. Don't mind that noise, it's just a pig taking off. Ah, one second. Someone needs to Heimlich Steve Ballmer's tongue out of his throat."
But before he can leave, a single voice cries from the audience. "Why, oh Gaben? Why?"
And the man pauses, the sound of choking from somewhere off stage echoing slightly. Slowly, he pulls on a pair of sunglasses. Half-turns. Smiles. Replies, quite simply, "Because we can."