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Huge video game convention ends -- what lies ahead?

CNN's Daniel Sieberg
CNN's Daniel Sieberg  

By Daniel Sieberg
CNN Sci-Tech

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- It was loud, colorful and full of fanatics peering over one another's shoulders to get a glimpse of the latest in console and computer video games.

Here at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, which winds down Friday, tens of thousands of industry-only members and exhibitors touted the latest games, gadgets and goodies they hope will be hot sellers, especially during the lucrative holiday season.

More than 2,000 video games were demonstrated throughout the 720,000 square feet of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

It was impossible to escape the loudest buzz at E3, which centered on the three-way console rivalry between Microsoft Corp. (Xbox), Sony Corp. (PlayStation 2) and Nintendo Co. Ltd. (GameCube).

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Each company offered a peek at its competitive strategy early in the week, complete with flashy demonstrations of games and free product giveaways to entice attendees. With financial stakes in the millions of dollars, not much is over the line.

But summarizing E3 is not as simple as putting together a list of video game titles. Not every game is available for every system, and only a few offer aspects like online capabilities.

Microsoft announced plans for its online network with the Xbox, which is expected to roll out in early fall.

According to Microsoft executives, the service will sell for $49 per year, a price that will include an Xbox game and an Xbox Communicator. The Communicator will allow users to disguise their voices like Darth Vader while playing multiplayer games online.

Sony was the most brash of the bunch, claiming victory in the console war just six months after it began.

Its PlayStation 2 console has outsold both competitors by a wide margin, though it had a head start of more than a year. Sony hasn't centralized its online plans as has Microsoft, choosing instead to make its network available for free, at least initially, to anyone over any Internet service provider.

Nintendo's approach to online gaming will be decidedly more cautious. The company says it is not fully convinced that networking represents the future of gaming.

During its E3 presentation, Nintendo hyped the idea of "connectivity" between its GameBoy Advance handheld device and the GameCube. Nintendo is the only console-maker to offer a portable unit.

Both Nintendo and Sony will leave it up to software developers to design the online networks, and owners of the GameCube and PlayStation 2 will need to buy an adapter to access it.

All three companies say they will go live with their networks and games sometime in the fall.

Visual stimulation

Not all industry observers are convinced that gamers will plug into the online offerings.

"It's ambitious to think that it [online gaming] will take off as quickly as Microsoft and Sony think it will take off, especially Microsoft," said Marc Saltzman, video game journalist and author.

Saltzman added that part of the problem is access to high-speed Internet connections, which are still only available in a small percentage of homes. And there is the added camaraderie of being in the same room.

"Part of the console experience is playing with someone beside you and trash-talking," said Saltzman. "But in time I think it will be very important."

Aside from gaming exhibits, E3 offered plenty of visual stimulation.

Perhaps the most obvious were the spokes-models standing outside some of the booths. Hired by the gaming companies, these lightly clad women offered everything from free T-shirts to stickers to photo opportunities.

Although some may consider their presence sexist, their appearances did not seem to bother most of the mostly male gamers in attendance.

Lighting displays more commonly found in nightclubs were everywhere, accompanied by heart-pounding music and dancing game characters. Not to mention the parading celebrities who are increasingly featured in sports and entertainment games.

Undoubtedly, E3 is the Mardi Gras of the video game industry.

Cut to the chase

So what about all the games?

Despite the prominent battle of the consoles, games were still front and center, said Daniel Hsu, editor in chief at Electronic Gaming Monthly.

"The hardware makers are spending a lot of energy on the games because last year the platforms hadn't really launched yet, so now they're talking about what they're going to do with the platform, the hardware specs and the pricing plans," said Hsu.

"This year the consumers have the hardware in their hands, so they can focus on the games."

Upcoming titles getting a lot of attention include "Star Wars Galaxies," which will feature online play for multiple players to tap into The Force. It will also be available on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 sometime after next year's release for PCs.

In the action-adventure category, "The Getaway" for the PlayStation 2 has been in production for years and is comparable to a first-person shooter version of the British movie "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels."

In this case, however, it involves police chases with hours of virtual driving time through an expansive city and intricate film sequences.

The pioneering "Tron" movie will be updated in video game form next year for the PC when Disney Interactive releases "Tron 2.0."

The memorable light cycles will be included, though the storyline will take new twists and turns since it will be a sequel to the original.

Other notable games at E3 include the upcoming "Doom III" for PCs, new titles in the popular "Sims" series called "The Sims Online" and "SimCity 4" and the return of a familiar favorite to Nintendo's GameCube with "The Legend of Zelda."

So while E3 will soon be over, the games will continue.


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