Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2006

By James Verini

Is there any event as brazenly inattentive to the coolness of Los Angeles as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3) week? Like mayflies, armies of suited video game industry executives and programmers and all other manner of power-geek descend on L.A. to callous their thumbs testing newer and better ways of slaying aliens and fighting the Battle of the Bulge. “Hey, guys,” one wants to yell at them, “we’re trying to run a hipper-than-thou city here! At least put on a trucker hat!”

The techie hordes spent their days this week at the Convention Center downtown. (And if you worry about what all the time spent in front of your computer is doing to your complexion, a quick stroll among the gamers filling its halls, duded up with giant screens and handsets, would have made you feel like a golden god.) By night, they took over L.A.’s hotels and nightclubs. But as much fun as it would be to find another way to ridicule them, the after-hours component of E3 is actually a good reason to let the eggheads keep coming back. Odd as it seems, they throw some big parties. Not necessarily big o7goodf7 parties, but at least big inspired ones.

Tuesday night, Nintendo rented out the Highlands nightclub and hired the Black Eyed Peas, who seem to vying for the mantle of the best bar mitzvah band in Hollywood. (Honestly, when was the last time you went to a party in L.A. and didn’t see Fergie perform the sanitized lyrics to “Let’s Get It Started”?) Not to be outdone, Sony invited a few thousand people to Dodger Stadium to watch the band Incubus play.

Wednesday night, meanwhile, began at the Vanguard on Hollywood Boulevard, where Vivendi Universal Click for Enhanced Coverage Linking Searchesfeted their new game Scarface: The World Is Yours. At their corner of the Convention Center, Vivendi Click for Enhanced Coverage Linking Searcheshad constructed a gaudy two-story enclosed theater, and salivating gamers wound in a line around it, waiting to catch a glimpse of the latest in digital carnage. The Scarface party was supposed to be just as gaudy, with the Vanguard done up to evoke “Tony Montana’s universe,” i.e. decadent 1980s Miami.

Or so the publicists gushed. Partygoers arriving at the Vanguard hoping to see a replica of Tony’s Miami mansion, complete with Italian waiters doing overzealous Cuban accents and hillocks of white baby powder on the tables, or maybe even a homage to the heyday of the Colombian cartels, with a rain forest canopy thing and Uzi-toting guards, were disappointed. (No doubt Universal would pull out these stops for the premiere party if they ever made “Scarface 2.”)

Instead, the nightclub had been made to look like a nightclub, a really seedy one, with a giant glittery white curtain draped behind reserved black half-circle booths and gold-painted statuettes of nymphs lining the wall. Women in hot pants danced on pedestals. Clips from “Scarface,” the movie and the game, played on screens over the stage. (And yes, you buffs, the helicopter-hanging sequence made it in.)

Was Vivendi Click for Enhanced Coverage Linking Searchestrying to replicate the scene in the nightclub where Frank Lopez attempts to have Tony knocked off, only to lose his empire to his protege? And if so, were they making some kind of subtle reference to the video game industry’s eclipsing of the film industry? These questions weighed on the evening but went unanswered.

What the Scarface party lacked in production design it made up for in a novel assortment of music — after a rap act, the band Wolfmother played — and a limitless supply of bachelors. Any gal whose ideal dating demographic includes men who like to spend most of their evenings in front of their Xboxes could have walked out of the Vanguard on Wednesday night with several marriage proposals.

Sadly, Al Pacino did not show up. Nor did Oliver Stone. Steven Bauer might have been there. The good news is that no disgruntled actors busted into the club with dubious tans and grenade launchers yelling, “Say hello to my little friend!”

At the House of Blues, Best Buy and Electronic Arts took over the sprawling club, not to promote any one game in particular but rather, it seemed, the whole loud, lewd spectacle of gaming culture in general. This party also boasted dancers in hot pants (in this case, gold hot pants). The hosts made the questionable — read: brilliant — choice of putting them on pedestals on the club’s porch, facing the street, thus bringing traffic on Sunset to a virtual standstill.

Inside, on the packed main stage, DJ Z-Trip had the crowd jumping and gesticulating along to a hip-hop-cut remix of Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City.”

Somehow the party also managed to attract a sizable female contingent, and girls and boys both packed the House’s many console-outfitted rooms, shooting at each other and knocking one another about with uppercuts.

The fighting was mostly digital, of course, but it made for a nice metaphor for the battle of the sexes.