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Console makers brace for war -- again

By Marc Saltzman
Special to

The PS3 looks a lot like the PS2 but with more futuristic-looking controllers.
Gallery: E3 kicks off

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Gaming behemoths Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo took the wraps off their respective next-generation gaming machines on the eve of the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3.

Each company touted superior hardware that can deliver photorealistic graphics, enveloping surround sound, more immersive gaming worlds to roam in, and online community features designed to further the interactive experience.

Here is a sneak peek at what to expect:

PlayStation 3

Industry leader Sony unveiled its PlayStation 3, or PS3, in one of three colors: white, black and silver.

This "super computer for computer entertainment," in the words of Ken Kutaragi, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, runs on a new processor technology called Cell, which is capable of displaying movie-like graphics that are completely interactive.

The PS3 -- which looks a lot like the PS2 but with more futuristic-looking controllers -- will be backward compatible to play all existing PlayStation and PS2 titles. (Full story)

After hearing a lengthy discussion of the PS3's mathematical capabilities, the audience was wowed with several in-game demonstrations.

From developers Epic Games, we saw a fiery battle between a robot and a weathered soldier reminiscent of the climactic battle in Terminator 2.

To prove it wasn't a movie, programmer Tim Sweeney paused the action and moved the camera around the characters and the environment.

Another impressive demo was EA Sports' "Fight Night: Round 3," a brutally realistic round between two heavyweights. Each boxer's faces showed varied emotions, sweat and blood sprayed onto the mat, and muscle and bone seemed to move under the skin with each body blow.

Xbox 360

Not unlike a pre-emptive mortar strike in a round of "Halo 2," Microsoft told the world about its next-generation Xbox 360 machine a few days before the E3 Expo. Microsoft maintained its buzz with a flashy press conference and with a few aces up its sleeve.

For one, Microsoft's Robbie Bach, senior vice president and chief Xbox officer (yes, that's his real title), announced what many gamers had hoped for -- the Xbox 360 will be backward compatible.

But Bach would only confirm that the console will be "backward compatible with top-selling Xbox games," an ambiguously worded promise that could mean only select Xbox titles will work on the Xbox 360.

Microsoft said the console will have 25 to 40 titles at launch and that game developers around the world are working on more than 160 titles for 2006. (Full story)

The Xbox 360 delivers high-resolution gaming, multi-channel surround sound and wireless technologies such as cable-free controllers and a slot for a Wi-Fi card to hop onto an existing wireless network.

Bach talked about the Xbox Live experience, such as the ability to receive an invitation from a friend to play a round of "Project Gotham Racing 3" while watching a football game.

Other features include the ability to purchase content in the Xbox Live Marketplace, a Spectator gaming mode for those who would rather watch and learn than compete, video chat, the ability to share photos and listen to music from an MP3 player, and the capability to download episodic content, game demos and trailers.

Nintendo Revolution

"You say you want a revolution?" asked Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo, at the company's pre-E3 press conference, who then lifted up its next-gen console in the air.

The crowd roared with applause at the small black and shiny unit that is roughly the size of three DVD cases stacked on top of one another.

Code-named the Nintendo Revolution, this machine is two to three times more powerful than the Nintendo GameCube and will include wireless controllers.

The unit will also be backward compatible with GameCube titles and can wirelessly go online for multi-player matches and downloadable games.

The latter may be Nintendo's "killer app," since it includes virtually any past Nintendo console game in the company's 20-year history. (Full story)

Nintendo, which is running in third place behind the PS2 and Xbox, says the tag line for its new machine is "All Access Games."

"We will attract hardcore gamers, but we will also attract casual gamers and even new gamers," said the charismatic Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Nintendo showed off a new type of Nintendo DS game called "Electroplankton," a title that combines music and gaming by playing around with organic-like creatures and guiding their behavior.

Nintendo also unveiled the Game Boy Micro at E3.

Nintendo's legendary game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, made an appearance to demonstrate his latest pet project -- a Nintendo DS game called "Nintendogs" that is all the rage in Japan, with more than 400,000 units sold in just one month.

In this life simulation, gamers can play, train and raise a virtual dog by using the bundled stylus pen, voice commands and wireless connectivity with other Nintendo DS systems.

Nintendo also held up the Game Boy Micro, a tiny portable gaming system that plays Nintendo Game Boy Advance titles with a much brighter screen than its predecessors and offers the ability to customize its appearances by changing its faceplates. (Full story)

Finally, attendees were treated to a trailer to the next chapter in the popular Zelda fantasy role-playing game series. "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," for the Nintendo GameCube, revealed an older and more detailed Link who must battle evil to save a kingdom.

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