Demo Time ALL the Time.

You know what’s awesome?  Standing on stage giving a presentation to 80 jaded game journalists who are suffering stimuli fatigue from bright flashing lights, loud noises, FPS motion sickness, and greasy PR people and seeing them walk out after the presentation with contented happy smiles on their faces.  As if they suddenly got a nice little break and all is right with the world.  There were a lot of smiles last week.

By now you have surely heard tell of our pretty amazing booth at E3, heck I even gave a video tour (while looking very disheveled).  It was 100x100’ with an exterior façade that looked like Abbey Road Studios complete with crosswalk.   Press and guests would wait out there before being allowed into our inner-sanctum – an 80 person theater with a gigantic stage obscured by a big robotic curtain.  After everyone took their seats a sizzle reel about how awesome Rock Band is would start playing on some huge HD screens hanging from the ceiling.

Meanwhile, behind the curtain, six of us were horsing around, making fun of the sizzle (natural considering we had heard it about 300 times), and prepping to give the greatest demonstration ever seen by man, woman, or occasionally child… ok, well, it was pretty good at any rate.  Once the sizzle reel finished with the Jackson 5’s “ABC” the curtain would start opening revealing six nerdy developers dancing awkwardly to the chorus.  Because that’s how we roll.

The demo itself would start with a short introduction about Who we are, Why we were making the game, and What we would be showing.  Then we would launch into an early Beatles song and show off one of the five historical venues in the game.  When the song ended we would talk about accessibility for new users, and hardware.  Then we would play another venue song.  Lastly we would talk about DLC, how the press could get contact info and set up interviews (of which we did many) and describe the dreamscapes.  Then we would launch into a final song that showed off a dreamscape and usher people out of the theater when it was done. 

Simple, right?  Hardly.  Basically this was a full production show with lighting cues, fog machine, remotely-operated curtains, a union crew running light/sound (who were very cool), and the occasional falling panel vent.  Did I mention each show was scheduled for thirty minutes and we did about two an hour to full and occasionally standing-room houses?  We scheduled in some break times but between getting people in and out those were generally cut pretty short.

Add to that the slow, creeping, all-encompassing exhaustion that E3 brings as well as the throat destruction everyone was feeling by day 3 and you have a recipe for disaster.  Luckily it was The Beatles (whose music covered so much territory I hesitate to call them just one band) and a great couple of demo teams who worked their butts off and were a lot of fun to work with.  What could have been very painful was actually extremely fun for everyone involved.

John Drake wrote the “script” that we used to give the demo.  Ultimately it was a lot closer to a basic outline by the time we got working, which made it far easier to have some room to breathe each show.  We could elaborate more on some subjects, cut others down a little, and basically just kind of have fun with it.  That’s important because when you are giving the same presentation 16 or so times per day (sometimes more) it is much easier to keep it fresh if you’re having a good time.

I do have one really memorable moment from this “gig” - during my last demo of the day I was right in the third act and suddenly the exit door opens and I see Josh Randall (HMX Creative Director) peeking in.  Suddenly from the other side of the door I see another head pop in and I think to myself “that guy looks like Elijah Wood.”  This threw me almost completely off where I was in the script and it took me a second to get back to where I was going.

Turns out it was Elijah Wood who apparently likes Rock Band and really likes The Beatles.  I gave him and another special guest a brief demo after the doors closed and we all chatted about the game for a while.  He knows a lot about music.  I’d hire him in a second but apparently he has other stuff going on. 

Check out more of the 2009 Harmonix E3 recaps!