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!
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:
- 10am - 11:30am — Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon and Sand Land
- 12:30pm - 1:30pm — Mortal Kombat 1
- 2pm - 3pm — Remnant II
- 3pm - 4pm — Eternights
- 4:30pm - 5:30pm — Alan Wake II
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.