E3 2011: Ubisoft Press Conference, Live

IF THERE’S EVER a leading candidate for awkward press conferences, it’s Ubisoft. Every year, they seem to roll out a stream of marketing folks talking in thick French accents who know little of brevity or captivating presentations. And then they occasionally go off the deep end, like the epic James Cameron presentation a few years ago where we were initially amazed he was there, but then he droned on forever talking about the world of Avatar, months before the movie released and the game went completely ignored.

This year, they’ll surely be talking about the latest with Assassin’s Creed, more on Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, probably a bit on their new plug-in-any-real-guitar Rocksmith, and then … who knows? Ubisoft press conferences are like like Tracy Morgan on talk shows: you never know what insanity may occur.

2:31: CEO Yves Guillemot takes the stage. I gauge the success of this introduction on how fast he gets to the games.

2:33: Michel Ancel, creator of Rayman, comes out and makes an awful Shakespeare pun. “Ubi, or not Ubi!” He also asks rhetorically, “who says games aren’t ‘cooltural’” in his thick accent. We are off to a flying start.

2:35: Did I mention that Ubisoft is starting off the press conference with a Rayman demo? I know the franchise has done well over the years, but is this really what people want to see?

2:36: The Rayman demo is co-op, and there’s a cute riff on Tetris in one of the segments, complete with that game’s theme music. It’s a cute looking game, but I wonder how long the audience can stay interested.

2:41: This audience is WAY too excited about the Rayman demo. I wonder if they’re clapping because it’s over.

2:42: Ubisoft’s Aaron Priceman, whoever that is, takes the stage. He is apparently callled “Mr. Caffiene,” and it’s easy to see why. He is WAY too amped for this presentation. And now he’s doing an awful stand-up routine about gaming-related pickup lines. “Gaming… is life.” MAKE IT STOP.

2:44: Finally, now that we’ve wasted two minutes on Mr. Caffiene, we’re getting to an actual game: Driver: San Francisco. If this Ubisoft dude is any way related to the game’s development, I’m already worried.

2:46: A new Driver game in San Francisco should be a slam dunk. Next-gen graphics and open-world driving? If you can’t get this right, you shouldn’t be making games.

2:48: From Ubi Montreal, Dan Hay informs me that I am Jason Brody. And my girlfriend’s been kidnapped on a remote island. Wait, when did all this happen? It would be cool if this was a trailer for Far Cry 3.

2:51: They still haven’t said what game this is, but it’s not a trailer any more – it’s live gameplay. The player models look kind of janky, but the environments look cool. If it’s Far Cry 3, people will be happy.

2:55: It IS Far Cry 3, and there is much applause.

2:56: Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford is here, announcing a new Brothers in Arms game.

2:57: Oh, I’m getting a bad feeling about this. We’re about to meet the “furious four,” part of a special team of WWII soldiers who love kicking Nazi ass. This has Inglorious Basterds written all over it. Indeed, it’s called Brothers in Arms, Furious 4. It seems like the total opposite of the previous games.

2:59: Via prerecorded video clip, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, talking about Tintin.

3:03: I want to murder this Mr. Caffiene guy, introducing every new game. I guess annoying, gregarious people are better than awkward people in French accents? Are those our only choices?

3:04: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, live gameplay. I’m actually interested in this if there’s a PC version.

3:10: This is a long demo, but I’m digging it. And it’s got four people playing co-op.

3:12: Ghost Recon Online, a “free PC online experience.” Is it a game? A service? An MMO? Does this mean Future Soldier won’t be on PC? The trailer says “Free To Play,” so it sounds like a free MMO-type deal, which is interesting, if nothing else.

3:15: “Gaming is Sharing.” I really, really hate this guy.

3:16: Trackmania 2, for PC. A PC-only racing game in an E3 demo? That’s something different, for sure.

3:18: My question is, when will we get graphics that actually look as good as the one in this trailer? Because I know that’s not what this game looks like. Also, WTF? The trailer calls it “Canyon,” while the presenters call it “2.” Can you guys get on the same page?

3:20: This guy just said something about rabbits pooping on my toothbrush. Seriously, make it stop.

3:21: Raving Rabbits: Alive and Kicking, coming to Kinect. This guy is kicking virtual rabbits, and then follows up by saying “now you get an idea of what we do at work each day.”

3:24: Of course, here comes the dancing portion of the show. Just Dance 3 will do exactly what the previous games did, on all three platforms, Wii, Kinect and Move.

3:28: Now I’m interested: RockSmith. This is Ubisoft’s entry into the rhythm game genre, except you plug in a real guitar and not a plastic controller. My hope is that they’ll actually show gameplay and not testimonials.

3:30: Lots of testimonials for Rocksmith. It’s really going to boil down to two things: (a) does the UI make any sense, and (b) will the tech that interprets what you’re playing and relays that info to the console work? Will latency and accuracy ruin it? If they can solve those two problems, they’ll have a hit.

3:32: Trailer for YourShape 2012.

3:33: OK, time to get serious. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations coming up, after this retro style trailer. You know, I’d actually play that older-looking version.

3:34: I played two hours of the first Assassin’s Creed and got bored, so while they’re showing this trailer, I’m thinking of how this Ubisoft presentation is already longer than EA’s.

3:39: Now we’re watching a live demo of AC: Revelations. Somewhere, people are excited about this. I am not one of them.

3:43: This dude is making a hair-raising escape jumping from one burning ship to another. It’s all pretty cinematic.

3:45: That’s the show, clocking in at 75 minutes.

Overall, it wasn’t the train wreck that previous Ubi conferences have been, but still filled with a lot of awkwardness and bad jokes. But if you put the presentation aside, they’ve got a lot of important and interesting games: Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry 3, Future Soldier, Rocksmith, and others. B-