E3 2015 Day 3 – An Introvert’s Lament

I slept till 9 today, and I could tell myself that was because I was tired out by yesterday’s work. What it really was though, was my subconscious trying to keep me away from the convention center.

I finally dragged myself there around 2 pm (after going to breakfast in the floral district at Poppy & Rose) loitered in the press room for another hour, and at long last, decided to brave the game-crazed masses. It took me all of an hour to breeze through both exhibit halls. I’ve never enjoyed big crowds, but the last few years E3′s crowded craziness has gotten to be more than I can take.

Partly it’s me getting tired of seeing the same games (more or less) every year. I still get excited on a daily basis about smaller games I find on Steam, but my heart no longer goes pitter-pat at the sight of another hundred million dollar space battle, car chase or monster slaughter. Partly it’s that there’s no way in Hell I’ll stand in a 2 hour line just to see a game demo. And partly it’s my strong dislike of being pressed between sweaty guys dressed like Mario.

Fortunately for me, I had an event to attend in the late afternoon–a screening of an upcoming documentary about ESports called All Work, All Play: The Pursuit of ESports Glory–at an independent theater near my hotel, and that gave me an excuse to leave. Somehow I managed to avoid being sucked into “The Taylor Swift Experience”…

Think it's anything like The Jimi Hendrix Experience?

…on my way to the venue, and I got to check out a good chunk of downtown L.A. Despite the grunge, (the entire area smells like it was boiled in urine) and the constant fwap-fwap-fwap of police helicopters, downtown L.A. is pretty interesting. I found some great-looking restaurants, a fantastic market that’s been there since the early years of the 20th century…

Grand Central Market - since 1917

The coolest oyster bar in the world.

I shouldn't say it but I have to. Holy Mole!

…and this cool mural of Anthony Quinn doing his Zorba dance for a clothing company.

After the documentary (which was well worth seeing, btw) I was pretty peckish, and as luck would have it, two blocks from my hotel I found the Nickel Diner. What an awesome place! I had a great steak salad with homemade mint lemonade and then the waitress talked me into the S’mores cake. She even blow-torched the meringue right at my table.

Kate Goslin expresses shock and awe.

What luck eh? Such a fantastic end to a day that could have been all flashing lights and mob mentality.

E3 2015 Day 2: Live Streams, Celebrities and Skingrafts

Spent the entire day staring at a TV monitor watching press conferences via crappy live stream. Hooray!

Aside from the official information I was asked to impart re: the pressers, here’s a couple of unsolicited observations:

1. Publishers must enjoy torturing us with embarrassing celebrity appearances. Ubisoft once again won the Awkward Silence Award by hiring Jason Derulo to screech out a tune. Please god, make it stop.

Click here to suffer through Derulo’s ear-splitting performance.

Angela Bassett’s appearance during the same press conference was actually kinda cool, but I’m sure she was thinking, “I gotta get a new agent.”

2. Sony was really phoning it in this year. Their presentation was disjointed, informationally imbalanced, and poorly executed. I doubt anyone noticed though, since they were too busy frothing at the mouth over The Last Guardian, the Final Fantasy VII remake and the Shenmue III Kickstarter.

3. Someone needs to kick the crap out of the pre-show commentators. Twitch’s panel was about as engaging as the ladies on The View but less informative.

The work day wasn’t over for me until nearly midnight, but on the way back to my hotel I was reminded that only in L.A. can you see an otherwise normal-looking woman in a strapless sundress standing stunned in the middle of an intersection, a 20-something dude on a bus wearing a 1920′s straw boater….

…and a high-fashion clothing boutique called “Skingraft.” /shudder

E3 2015: Day 1 – United Airlines, official airline of the 9th Circle of Hell

Today’s trip to LA was a total ordeal thanks to United Airlines’ exhaustive crew of apathetic clowns. They, along with a recalcitrant check-in kiosk started my journey to customer service Hell.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. This memorable trip began this morning with my cab driver, who I found crashed out in my driveway. There he was, with the seat reclined all the way back, passed out in a dirty white t-shirt. I woke him up and he graciously popped the trunk, allowing me the pleasure of stowing my own bag. The ride to SFO was lackadaisical, and he yawned hugely at multiple points. Right before the airport, he asked offhandedly if I was going to China Airlines or Singapore Airlines.

“United,” I said.

“I was joking with ya,” he responded like I was totally thick.

Hrm. Cabbie humor.

While his “joke” didn’t grab me, what was amusing was the way he pressured me to ask for him on my return trip. Twice he said emphatically—“Ask for Marty. Or number 206,” in a tone that said my safety depended on it. Right dude. Because you and your t-shirt provided such stellar service the first time?

The Universe was in a funny mood today I guess, because this narcoleptic cab driver gave me the best service I’d have all day. I got to SFO 2 hours early, expecting to check in and have time for coffee, breakfast and a little unwinding before my flight. United had other plans.

The kiosk refused to check me in, so I was directed to a line. I waited there for half an hour only to be told by the goon behind the counter that he couldn’t help me and I had to go to another line. Another agent pointed me to the line reserved for people with serious problems – totally canceled flights, missed connections, people carrying enough baggage to take the entire population of Micronesia on vacation – the kinds of issues that take ages to resolve. I tried to explain that I didn’t have that kind of problem, and this is how the agent (and every agent subsequently) looked at me.

I gave up trying to explain, stood there 40 more minutes, my flight time ticking closer and close. FINALLY, an agent who moved and talked so slow it was like she was underwater, checked me in and pointed me – what a surprise – to a really long security line. /cry

With fifteen minutes to get to my flight, I tried to get them to fast-track me, but no dice. I got stuck behind two families with babies in strollers and I was freaking out about how long they were going to take, when an agent branched the line off and sent me in a different direction. Halleluiah! (I thought.)

It seemed as if she’d sent me to a shorter line, but then she changed her mind and combined the lines, thus putting me not only behind the two stroller families, but behind ten other people as well! I swear to god I was being punk’d.

I dashed to the plane, got there just in time, and then the gate agent told me there was no room for my bag. I felt my face morph into Clint Eastwood’s…

…but handed it over. They put it next to a couple of strollers so I thought I’d at least be able to pick it up at the gate upon arrival in LA. We landed, and surprise! The strollers were there but my bag wasn’t, and yet another Satan spawn–er, United agent told me I had to pick it up at baggage claim.

So yeah. What should have been a super-simple hour-long trip was a huge headache – the kind that can’t be gotten over without something good to eat, at least one beer, and maybe a voodoo curse.

Conveniently located right near my hotel.

World of Warships Trip: Day 4 – There is such a thing as too much borscht

Most of our last day consisted of a visit to the offices of Lesta Studio, Wargaming’s development partners, most of which I’ll write about in my professional pieces. I can though, make non-work comments about (what else?) today’s food.

First…lunch. We had lunch at Lesta Studio’s canteen and once again our starter was borscht. That was my third bowl in as many days, and although it wasn’t bad, when I was done with it, I was pretty much borscht-ed out. Of course what came after the borscht kinda made me want more borscht.

Lunch’s main course closely resembled something freshly squeezed, and I don’t mean juice.

It wasn't easy to dig into that, believe you me.

So, anyway, I haven’t been impressed with lunches here, but dinners, I’m happy to report, seem to fare much better. After the Lesta office visit was done, we went for dinner to Russkaya Ryumochnaya No. 1 where we sampled a range of interesting starters, such as meat-flavored jello:

Pineapple's for amateurs.

Pickled ears–er…mushrooms:

The onions kill the eariness.


Soooo salty.

And veal cooked to the consistency of shoe-leather. (Admittedly flavorful shoe leather, especially with the fatty brown gravy that came with it.) To wash it all down I had Russian Kvas, some kind of lingonberry-like juice and a range of different vodkas, starting with one made locally:

In Russia, vodka drinks you.

…as well as a cherry flavored vodka, a vodka made the “old way” (sounded from the waiter’s description like the vodka equivalent of moonshine) and best of all – a horseradish vodka. The last was seriously good although the smell could set your nose hair on fire.

Alas, after today my visit is nearly done. I’m going to do my best to get up early tomorrow and walk around for a couple hours before the bus comes to whisk me away to the airport.

World of Warships Trip: Day 3 – MORE Fun With Fortresses

So. Upon learning I’d be traveling to Russia, I was a little concerned about the food. I’ve since learned that the stereotypical bad food is not all-pervasive, but our lunch (sorry Wargaming! No offense!) totally met expectations.

During the tour, we stopped at a restaurant with a festive nautical theme (that part was really cool).

On the tables were “salads,” (a small, dry and unseasoned piles of raw veg), and we were brought something akin to borscht with some kind of meat in it. For our main we were offered “fish or meat;” for some reason I took meat, not knowing what that even meant. “Meat” was two little disks with the texture of cottage cheesey tofu accompanied by a handful of extremely salty potatoes.

Spongy, but then again, mealy.

Dessert consisted of dry, unadorned crepes with a stingy lump of jam(?) and our beverage (which came at the end of the meal) was a vaguely berry-flavored pink liquid with a grainy finish.

So yeah. Let’s just pretend lunch didn’t happen.

Post-lunch, we got in the bus and headed for Kronstadt Fortress.

Once the center of Russia's proud naval defense.

Now this was a pretty cool adventure, and I do mean cool. We took a boat to the island fortress and were greeted at the dock by a salty old seadog. No really, a sea…dog.

Aside from the dog, the best thing about this picture is the brick wallpaper.

Afterward, a guide took us around the fortress ruins and waited for us to turn into icicles. Ok, not really. What he actually did was tell a a group of steadily freezing and progressively less attentive game journalists as much as he could about the fortress’ place in history. The building itself was very cool in a crumbly, unsafe, “bricks could fall on your head at any time” kind of way. Currently, it seems to serve mostly as a place for Russian teens to hang out and drink Miller Lite.

Whooo! I can't feel my face!

We were supposed to go to a second fortress, but because of the cold (or perhaps because we were driving the guide nuts by dragging our heels everywhere) we instead got on the bus and headed back to the heart of the city. Unbeknownst to us, rush hour in St. Petersburg makes rush hour in L.A. look like a cakewalk.

It took roughly 2 hours to get back to where we were having dinner, and most of us gave up the consciousness fight on the way. It was worth the gridlock though, since we were treated to a nice dinner on a boat – sort of a dinner cruisey kind of thing – with beautiful views of the city and some excellently prepared food that more than made up for our lunch debacle.

10:20 p.m. This is as dark as it gets.

Well, that’s one seriously full day. Tomorrow we visit Lesta studio and see some World of Warships. Wheee!

World of Warships Trip: Day 3 – Fun With Fortresses

Today began at 3:45 a.m. with my calf muscle bunching itself into an extremely painful ball. Nothing like a wee hours Charlie horse (or in this case, a “Чарльз horse”) to get that jet lag going full steam.

Even with 4.5 hours of sleep, I was jazzed for our city tour however, so after a stop at the hotel breakfast buffet – which was pretty extensive and featured miniature blinis:


…and baked beans, I hopped on a bus with the Wargaming group. It was definitely colder than the forecast had predicted, so despite the disappointment of passing by so many interesting sights, we were fortunate to have the bus. (Little did we know how fortunate. More on that later.)

One of our first stops was this bakery/ice cream shop/seller of all things meat/cheese/alcohol. It was inside an art nouveau building and was really just an incredible fantasyland of delicious treats, including this fantastic white chocolate bust of Lenin.


After the sweet shop, we went on to the Fortress of Peter and Paul, which is in the middle of the city and features a hare for a mascot.

So THAT'S what the guide meant when she said 'hare piles.'

It also featured one of the most bizarre sculptures I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s of Peter the Great, known among his detractors as “The Tsar with the Tiniest Head.”

He looks like David Byrne in his big suit.

The tsars are buried at the cathedral inside the Fortress, but my main takeaway was the souvenir stand’s generous display of macho Putin T-shirts.

Hat, fur coat, aviators? Take your pick.

Amazing stuff. And all before lunch!

World of Warships Trip: St. Petersburg Days 1&2 – Mansatlantic Crossing

Days one and two of such trips tend to consist almost entirely of traveling, and as such, are thin on anecdotes. In fact, the highlight of my transatlantic flight was sitting next to a guy with a terminal case of Manspread.

There should be a law.

Wtf is wrong with people? How can they think it’s OK to invade someone else’s tiny, cramped airline space like this? This dude’s knee was a third of the way into my space the entire 11 hour journey to Frankfurt, and just in case that wasn’t irritating enough, he’d periodically punctuate his rudeness by kicking my bag, which was under the seat in front of me. Oh well. At least he didn’t spend the entire trip staring disapprovingly at me like the Russian grandma did on my last ocean-crossing.

She didn't trust me. No sir, not one little bit.

After surviving the Manspreader, the transfer from Frankfurt to St. Petersburg was hiccup-free (aside from the hour it takes getting from one gate to another in Frankfurt airport) and we landed in Peter the Great’s swamp-turned-city around 5 o’clock. It was cold enough to see our breath, and the overall atmosphere was worthy of a Russian novel – grim, gray and drizzling.

From the plane the countryside was lush and pretty: the man-made stuff, not so much. Buildings are blocky and drab, ad signage is simple and void of design. Fortunately, we by-passed the more industrial areas and arrived at our hotel which is in a more historic area.

Hotel Angleterre lobby

St. Isaac's Cathedral

And hey, when I got to my room, there was a cute little boat floating in my sink, courtesy of Wargaming. :)


Before retiring, I enjoyed a hot shower–or I was enjoying a hot shower until the steam made one of the lights in my bathroom start strobing. All of a sudden it was Studio 54 in there, and I shut off the water in a hurry. All I needed was an alarm to bring an angry Russian housekeeper to my door.

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part V – Beer Festival!

This is mean, but I just couldn’t resist texting my husband (who’s a craft beer fanatic) and telling him, “Guess where I’m going today? I’m such an ass.

The festival was (as mentioned before) at Legia Stadium, and I was early so I stood outside for an hour with four other guys who were as anxious as I to sample Poland’s offerings. I asked a question of one particular portly man, and he was a little stand-offish at first. He warmed up to me though. He was secondarily a Czech Hewlett-Packard employee—primarily, he was an avid beer label collector. He told me he had more than 300,000!

He was a nice guy actually, and even bought me a ticket to the festival. (Don’t get too excited – they were only $2.50 each.)

I got the Golden Ticket.

Once inside, (it was held in kind of the concession area at the top of the stadium) there seemed to be 20-30 stands, some with multiple brewers, and a good selection of Polish craft beer. Craft beer is still pretty new in Poland it seems, and they haven’t yet figured out how beer festivals are meant to work.

Why, Poland? WHY?

Poland's idea of a sample.

Rather than giving out samples, they wanted to pour you a full glass of beer. It was cheap – maybe one or two dollars—but there’s no way you can drink multiple glasses of craft beer and still remember your name. I ended up sipping a sample for a little, then sneaking to the downstairs ladies room to dump the rest of it out. That process didn’t allow me to try more than a handful (the highlight was one called “Smoky Joe” – a smoky stout by Hop Head Browar) so in a way, the experience was disappointing. I think there were many, many good beers there, and it was sad not to have my way with all of them.

In the end, I did have enough to put me in the kind of reckless mood that makes me think things like, “Let’s order an extra large pizza at midnight!” so on the way back to the hotel, I bought a little treat from a small bakery.

I don’t know what it was called. In fact, I only know four things about it:

1. It cost around $.70.
2. It had an unexpected cookie-like texture
3. It was stuffed with Nutella.
4. It was friggin’ delicious.

Back at the hotel, I attended a Wargaming “welcome” dinner and cocktail hour at the baroque bar on the 40th floor. Sadly, my photos of the bar came out like crap, so instead, enjoy Poland’s loud-and-proud support of Heinz catsup.

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part IV – Americans Are Funny

Up at 4 am with my head pounding like a male silverback gorilla. Carrying my 90 lb messenger bag the day before resulted in the tension headache to rule all tension headaches and the only solution for that was three ibuprofen and some impromptu Sun Salutations.

I didn’t think I’d get to sleep again right away afterwards, so I turned on the tube to maybe catch a Polish info-mercial. Polish rap music echoed off the walls, performed in front of a rapt audience by a group of young guys with a lot of attitude.

I quickly changed channels, but found nothing better: Seinfeld dubbed in Polish so the voices were totally incongruous with the actors, a horrible 3D cartoon featuring hat-wearing bears riding a boat and singing a song about Jesus, and a home improvement show that looked like it was filmed on some guy’s cell phone.

I fell asleep around oh, I’m guessing 5 :15, and the next time I opened my eyes I was shocked to see the clock glowing 12:03. Overall, I’d slept for 13 hours. I haven’t slept for 13 hours since high school. Luckily, we’d been given Friday as a free day, so no one was going to reprimand me for my sloth. While trying to ignore my throbbing head at 4 am, I’d discovered a craft beer festival going on at Legia Stadium. Talk about good timing!

Figuring by the time I got over there, it would have been on for a while, I hurried around getting ready and dashed to the lobby to exchange some cash. The guy at the window got a smirky smile on his face when I told him I wanted to exchange for some Polish currency. I asked why, and he said, “Oh, because it’s such a nice day outside.” Turns out, the smirk had to do with me not telling him what currency I wanted to exchange FOR. Ha ha, hee hee! Americans are funny!

I agreed with him on the weather, and just to be a jerk, said, “Yes, and you’re working, and I’m going to a beer festival!” No, he didn’t club me for saying that—he actually got a lot friendlier and somewhat apologetic for being a douche. Still, I felt like responding with a famous Peter Falk line from the movie Murder by Death.

“You pit your wits with me, little man, and you won’t have your wits to pit with, know what I mean?” — Sam Diamond

I get $50 a day plus expenses.

I cabbed it to the stadium (cabs here are very cheap, just like the food), scarfing a Starbucks latte and a sandwich made of some undefined (but delicious) meat. The place looked decidedly empty. I found some garage attendant type guy, who told me the festival didn’t start for three more hours. Doh!

I actually recognized the stadium area; I’d walked there during my first trip to Warsaw. There’s a large, pretty park nearby, so I headed into it. It was 68 degrees, sunny—the perfect day to hang out on a duck raft.

They should be wearing little yachting hats.

I spent the time trying to get more acquainted with my new-ish camera. It has so many settings on it I don’t understand, I still can’t make it produce more than mediocrity. At least the subject matter was interesting, like this graffiti decorating the pylons supporting the rail line…

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part III – Pork Knuckle and Prostration

Finally made it to Warsaw, don’t ask me how. The flight from Frankfurt was a blur since I was only half-conscious during it. All I remember was an endless ride to the plane, packed like match sticks in a shuttle bus with a hundred other people. It went on so long, I was convinced they were driving us to Poland.

I managed to stay vertical until I checked into the Marriott Warsaw, but then the minute I stepped into my room, I heard the sound of running water. A previous occupant had thoughtfully left the toilet running for me, and since its workings were wall-mounted, there was nothing I could do about it. So even though all I wanted to do was go to sleep, I had to call the front desk and wait for a plumber.

He looked like this guy, but with a big mustache.

The good news is, while I was waiting, I was invited by Wargaming, to tag along on a dinner jaunt with a group of journalists from Asia. We went to a place on the Royal Route called Specjaly Regionaline, which as you might have guessed, specializes in traditional Polish food.

The traditional Polish waffle tower. No, not really.

The wooden fairytale book in which they bring the bill.

There, we partook of an obscene number of savory Polish dishes (like duck, goose, pork knuckle and blood sausage) as well as many tasty Polish drinks, including honey beer, which is my new (and potent) favorite.

I was worried about not fitting in, but the minute I took out my phone and started obsessively photographing my food, Wargaming’s PR Director informed me I was “so Asian.” :)

After dinner, I was fading fast and happy to walk back to the hotel. Along the way we spotted a HUGE Wargaming logo on the side of the train station:

…and this guy.

I immediately thought of my husband. If you knew him, you'd understand.

– By the time we got back, it was all I could do to press the elevator button, open my room door, and fall on my face.