Summer Game Fest - What's It Like to Attend? Feature 1
Image: Push Square

The month of June 2023 has contained a lot of firsts for me. It now marks the first time I set foot in an airport. It marks the first time I flew on an aeroplane. And most importantly, it marks the first time I visited the USA — Los Angeles to be particular about it. I was in town to attend Summer Game Fest, an event so many of you will have followed online — and E3 before it — just like me in years past. I had always dreamt of going to such a significant event in the gaming calendar, so I wanted to document what it's like to attend Geoff Keighley's expo so you can get a taste of it from home.

I spent one week in LA, from 7th June 2023 to 14th June 2023, attending a variety of events and conferences as well as taking in the country and what it might be like to live there — for better and worse. Below you'll find my experiences as I was accompanied by Nintendo Life staff writer Ollie Reynolds and senior video producer Zion Grassl. It was a trip I shall likely never forget.

Day 0 - Hopping on a Plane to Super Nintendo World

Despite having never flown before, I most definitely threw myself in at the deep end with a 10-hour flight from London Heathrow Airport to LAX, all on maybe one hour of sleep. This was a constant theme through the first few days: I was knackered. Having met Ollie at the Virgin Atlantic entrance and checked in and grabbed some breakfast, it was time to board our 10:40am flight. Since this was my first time on an aeroplane, everything for the first two or so hours was a novelty and quite exciting. Free food! Free drink! Films to watch that are still in the cinema!

Summer Game Fest - What's It Like to Attend? Feature 2
Image: Liam Croft, Push Square

It was great, so I settled down and passed most of the time with some movies. I watched Scream VI (fun film), 65 (meh, it was okay), and Don't Worry Darling (fairly interesting). 10 hours and a few unsuccessful attempts to doze off later, we had made it to the USA. Passing through customs was long and chaotic, and that reflected my first impression of LA: a city that never, ever stops. It's complete chaos all of the time, so much so I could see it becoming exhausting.

That wasn't going to stop us from seeing everything the city had to offer, though. Case in point: after dropping our bags off at the hotel and taking a second to refresh, myself, Ollie, and Zion immediately headed to Universal Studios. Super Nintendo World was obviously the main attraction for us, but as someone with no nostalgia for the big N whatsoever, I was equally excited to check out the Harry Potter and The Simpsons-themed areas.

Despite being fairly small, Super Nintendo World packs a lot in and gives you so much to see and do. This is something that really struck me compared to UK theme parks: Universal Studios is a lot more about the experience and simply being in that place rather than thrill rides. While we did queue for roughly 90 minutes (ouch) to ride Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge, it was also about the feel of being on a track alongside the famous mascot and his pals rather than g-forces and going upside down.

It was a good job then that the experience Super Nintendo World does offer is excellent. We did not buy the wristbands you can get — although Zion did bring his, acquired during a previous visit — but it was clear just how many little secrets and easter eggs were tucked away in little corners of the park. You can (lightly) punch question blocks yourself, and there are also devices tucked away in the walls that'll make a Mario character appear NES-style. The Toadstool Cafe was all booked up for the day so we didn't bother with that, leaving us to wander the gift shops, take in the scenery, and eventually make our way to other parts of the park.

We had a look around The Simpsons area — where I proudly met Homer — before making our way to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was pretty special getting to walk through Hogsmeade and go inside some of the shops to browse the overpriced merchandise, and then you round the corner and have the chance to really take in Hogwarts castle. It's spectacular — a real highlight having grown up reading the books and watching the movies.

As darkness began to fall, we retreated to our hotel with burgers and chips in hand for a few hours of rest. The morning after, Summer Game Fest would properly get underway.

Day 1 - Geoff Keighley Is a Real Person

We were up bright and early to get over to the YouTube Theatre to attend the Summer Game Fest showcase live, which raised a weird realisation for me: watching a press conference in the morning. After more than a decade of viewing gaming livestreams in the dead of night thanks to the time difference between the UK and USA, I'd have a full day ahead of me once the show was over. Strange!

Since I was caught up in the fact I'd be in the audience for the showcase, I hadn't really formulated any expectations or hopes from the event, so I just went in with an open mind. The Final Fantasy VII Rebirth trailer was cool, but I was a bit annoyed when Geoff Keighley said we would be getting a Honkai: Star Rail PS5 release date, only to reveal just a launch window instead. Still, it was fun to see such a prominent member of the gaming industry live on stage alongside the likes of Sam Lake and Nicolas Cage. I would meet him a few days later and snap a picture.

I did get some severe whiplash from the people sat around me in the audience, though. Directly sat in front of me was a set of developers who were having their game shown on stage, and I could see them uploading their press assets and trailers from a laptop as the reveal was made. It was really neat to see, but then sat next to me was possibly the most obnoxious, loud-mouthed lunatic I've ever had the displeasure of being near. Filming the entire show with his phone, he screamed for pretty much every announcement. I couldn't wait to get away.

After the showcase was over, we essentially had a free day to ourselves. For lunch, we went somewhere this area of the USA is apparently famous for: In-N-Out Burger. It's... fine? I likened it to a Five Guys in the UK, except not ridiculously overpriced. I certainly enjoyed the meal, but I don't think it lives up to the hype. I'll take the cheaper prices, though.

For the rest of the day, we drove around LA and picked up our Summer Game Fest badges at the venue, which would grant us instant entry for the coming days. It was here we learned exactly where the Play Days portion of the event would take place, and it wasn't in a swanky part of Los Angeles — as you might expect. Instead, SGF Play Days is made up of a collection of buildings down a long alleyway in the Fashion District of Downtown LA. Don't let those fancy words fool you, though: this isn't the nicest part of the city.

While the venue was only a 5 to 10-minute walk away from our hotel, it was this short trek that highlighted some of the struggles in LA: rubbish and poverty. I knew Los Angeles had a homeless problem, but I wasn't quite prepared for the scale of it. It's horrendous and really sad to see, with tents and whatever else people can fashion into a home lining some of the quieter streets. It was impossible to ignore; the issue smacks you in the face everywhere you go. LA can go from absurdly rich to extreme poverty in the space of maybe 15 seconds — an unfortunate thing I witnessed every day during the trip.

Nevertheless, we pressed on with plans to attend an indie-focused event named The Mix. That's until it was cancelled just beforehand as the venue didn't have the correct licenses in place. With our plans scuppered, we headed to a few different bars — why is cider not really a thing in the USA? — where I ended up playing Demonschool on a laptop with the developer sitting next to me. A cool novelty! Eventually, we headed back to the hotel, where I needed as much rest as possible before the first SGF Play Days.

Day 2 - Watching Armored Core VI in a Dark Basement

Once again I awoke having had little sleep, but nonsense like that falls by the wayside when you've got unreleased video games to play. We arrived at the Play Days venue a little early in order to get a feel for the area and where everything was, and my schedule for the day looked like this:

I purposefully went a little bit light on the first day as we weren't entirely certain what sort of set-up the Play Days venue would have, and so I wanted just a bit of time in between certain appointments. It turned out these bookings were pretty much the only way you could play games at the show, so I'm glad I filled the following day up with meetings. While there was a show floor per say, friendly PR reps were only accepting bookings rather than letting you walk up and play.

As such, I checked in for my appointment with Bandai Namco, which had its own building to itself. When the clock struck 10am, I was taken down in an elevator to a dark basement filled with those little machines that shoot sparks out the top. No, I'm not kidding. I then took my seat for an Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon presentation before going hands on with Sand Land — back on ground level for the latter, that is. In between these meetings, I'd wander the venue and spot various media people from other outlets, including a few I've been following myself online for years now. Greg Miller and Tim Gettys of Kinda Funny, Mike Minotti of Games Beat, and Jeff Grubb of Giant Bomb to name just a few. My chance encounter with Jeff Grubb actually led to me being invited to go to the Giant Bomb at Nite live show that same day, which was pretty incredible for me as a huge fan of the site who watches their videos daily.

Back to the games, though, and Mortal Kombat 1 very much proved to be a fighting game — I'm not at all into the genre — while Remnant II looks to be a vast improvement on the original. I was also impressed by Eternights, and the Alan Wake II presentation was spectacular. I can't wait to play that for myself in October. With all these bookings on my hands, I had little time to eat. All attendees had a free meal token to use at either a food truck or a pizza place on the other side of the Play Days complex, and I, of course, opted for the latter. The line and following wait were so long, though, that I had to leave my spot in the queue and abandon those six slices of dough, cheese, and tomato to make my Remnant II appointment. An extremely disappointing moment.

Despite that, it was a fun day all around. The evening was spent with more travelling all over LA, drinking a bit, eating a fair amount, and for me: the first signs of a cold developing.

Day 3 - Now I Really Do Have a Cold

I woke up early on the Saturday, and it was immediately confirmed to me: I really did have a cold. I soldiered on, though, as I had many more appointments to get to. After consuming breakfast as quickly as possible, I had a packed day to look forward to:

The second day at SGF Play Days was much like the first for me, except a fair bit busier in terms of appointments. Since the entire venue was spread over a few buildings linked by a main alleyway, it was really easy to get about the place once you knew where everything was, relieving a lot of stress that would usually come with an E3 show floor. You knew everyone was there to do their job, and since everything was based around pre-made bookings, there were never any lines to play games. The best thing about my second day at the show, though, was I finally managed to secure a meal! I ordered chips with chilli and cheese on top with a salad on the side. It was great, thank you very much.

One other highlight of the day was Foamstars, and the Square Enix booth in general. The company had turned a bar area into its own Final Fantasy and Foamstars party, with the latter playable alongside Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis on tablets as well as the SpongeBob Squarepants DLC for PowerWash Simulator. It was a neat little part of the show with stations set up around an open bar and lovely artwork and photo opportunities.

At the end of SGF Play Days I was left pretty exhausted and my cold was beating me up a little bit more than I'd like, so I skipped the night's entertainment and focused on getting some previews written up for the site. That is while I drank Dr Pepper Strawberies & Cream and began working my way through a huge bag of M&Ms. Meanwhile, Ollie and Zion were roaming the LA convention centre, wishing E3 would somehow come back.

Day 4 - A Final Fantasy-Themed Break

It doesn't really feel like "work" when you've been handed the chance to fly over to the USA and play some games, but the Sunday of my trip was an official day off. Unfortunately, Ollie left us on this day to fly back to the UK after we'd watched the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase, so it was just me and Zion for the rest of the trip. Zion was incredibly accommodating and helped me in exploring LA, and on this day we spent a few hours in Hollywood, where we walked along the Hall of Fame and saw the Chinese Theatre.

Unbeknownst to us, though, we just so happened to visit Hollywood on the very same day an incredible Pride Parade was marching through the middle of it. If I'm being honest, my opinion of LA hadn't been particularly great up until that point. With the homeless problem thrown in your face pretty much all the time, I was struggling to come away with positives. However, seeing the Pride Parade gave me something to smile about. It was a really special moment, and I'm glad I was there to witness it. The famous names etched into the floor kind of took a backseat as I watched the Pride Parade pass, but I did spot the likes of Harrison Ford, Quentin Tarantino, Carrie Fisher, Snoop Dogg, and Mark Hamill.

After grabbing some lunch at Wendy's, we took a Lyft over to the day's main event: the Final Fantasy XVI pre-launch celebration event. We arrived in perfect time, making our way to the main stage just as the opener with Yoshi-P was about to begin. With the crowd being predominantly fans of the series, it was a fun and exciting atmosphere as Square Enix announced the PS5 demo would be available a day later. Once the first keynote was over, me and Zion got a picture with Ifrit, wrote on the Final Fantasy XVI message board, and had some food and drink.

Afterwards, we hit up another tourist hotspot as night fell: the Santa Monica pier. While the place is cool and all, the only reason I really wanted to go here was to ride the roller coaster featured in Grand Theft Auto IV. And I did! It's a completely bang-average coaster that doesn't go upside down, but now I can say I've ridden the GTA IV roller coaster. Success! Other than that, we played a few fairground games, browsed the arcade, and then headed back to the hotel.

Day 5 - Back to Work for Ubisoft

The Monday signalled my final "work" day in LA, where me and Zion would be attending the Ubisoft Forward conference and then playing some of the publisher's games afterwards. Google Maps told me the venue was a four-minute walk from our hotel, which actually turned out to be much closer to 20. This was the only properly hot day we had in the country — a heatwave in the UK meant it was actually warmer back home than the USA — so I arrived with a sweat upon my brow and not too much of a spring in my step. The games showcase opening with a new Just Dance game cheered me right up, though.

With that out of the way, my Ubisoft schedule looked like this:

Half of these appointments were actually just presentations where the developers provided a deep dive into previously shown footage, so there was hardly much to report on for the site. I did play The Crew Motorfest and Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, though, and both had a touch of class to them. I enjoyed the former's Playlists structure while the latter was a solid 2D experience.

Following my appointments, it was at this point that Zion also had to leave me and conclude his LA trip. After a big hug, I was left on my own in the City of Angels. That was fairly daunting, but I survived. This was a pretty low-key day in LA, concluded by a food order off DoorDash (burger, chips, and a salad) and more writing in my hotel room.

Day 6 - Viewpoints

This was my last full day in Los Angeles, so I wanted to use it to tick off the last few landmarks in the city I hadn't been to yet. The Hollywood sign had been looming large off in the horizon — I spotted it a few different times during my stay from afar — but now it was time to see it up close. I headed to the Griffith Observatory, where you can get some pretty incredible views of both the Hollywood sign and the city itself.

Summer Game Fest - What's It Like to Attend? Feature 52
Image: Liam Croft, Push Square

I had a quick look around the museum inside the Griffith Observatory, and then I wanted to do some shopping. I needed to get my dad a Father's Day gift, and since he likes the LA Rams, I was in the perfect place to purchase some merch. Or rather, I thought I was. I don't know if it's just LA, but are shopping centres just not a thing in the USA? I went to the Beverly Center, which according to some Google searches was the biggest mall in the city, and it was completely dead. The shopping centre in my home city is busier on pretty much any given day. I found it really strange.

After finding an LA Rams baseball cap for him, I walked over to Rodeo Drive to have a laugh at all the stupidly expensive shops there. I obviously didn't buy anything there, but I did spot a cool yellow Rolls Royce. The detour was where my LA trip effectively concluded, though, as I headed back to the hotel and prepared to return home the following day.

Day 7 - Home Time

By this point, I was looking forward to going home. My flight out of LA left at 17:55, leaving me with plenty of time to pack my suitcase, rummage through the free SGF merch I actually wanted to keep, and slowly make my way to the airport. It was during this time that I realised something a bit odd about LA: for as gigantic as it is, I'd argue there isn't a whole lot to actually do for tourists there. If I'd had another free day in the city, I genuinely don't know what I would have done with it.

I didn't have too much time to research that, though, because after eating a poor-quality KFC at LAX and boarding my flight, the journey back home absolutely flew by. I watched Fall (really good movie) and two episodes of a UK crime TV show, and that was enough to cover the 10-hour flight. I somehow managed to spend the rest of the journey asleep, which I was absolutely chuffed with. The London Underground saw me back to London St. Pancras train station, where I enjoyed a Mcdonald's while waiting for my train home. Roughly two hours later, I'd gone from Los Angeles to Derby in the blink of an eye. From the mighty to the comparatively minute.

Summer Game Fest - What's It Like to Attend?

I feel like this is an impossible question to answer without placing the event into the context of my own experiences in LA. Attending Summer Game Fest was a lot like various press events I've done in the past, except they're much shorter and come one after another in rapid fashion. The venue itself was fine — despite not being in the best part of town — and it was easy to navigate and get to where you needed to without the added traffic of the general public. It felt like a press event put on by members of the press.

Summer Game Fest - What's It Like to Attend? Feature 53
Image: Liam Croft, Push Square

However, I effectively approached this trip as the opportunity of a lifetime, with ambitions of taking in LA as a whole alongside working. I think I achieved that, and it allowed me to see the good and bad sides of the city. I won't forget the wonderful Pride Parade me and Zion bumped into, but just as much, I won't forget the poverty I encountered on a daily basis.

Would I go again? Absolutely. It's an incredible privilege to write about video games as a full-time job, and even more so to visit Los Angeles in order to do it. We're all human, though, and I feel what will stick with me the most are the things I saw outside of Summer Game Fest.

Thank you for visiting Push Square. Without you, absolutely none of this would have been possible.