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The good, the bad and the funny at E3

By Marc Saltzman
Special to CNN

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"Spore" is an ingenious and ambitious life simulation for the PC.

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Naturally, I'm referring to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or "E3" -- the world's largest video gaming convention held each May in Los Angeles -- that is equally as exhilarating as it is exhausting.

More than 60,000 industry-only attendees from 80 countries crammed into the L.A. Convention Center last week to peek into the future of the multibillion dollar interactive entertainment industry.

But with thousands of playable games on the show floor and behind closed doors, three days just isn't enough time.

OK, so a professional video game critic such as yours truly isn't going to hear any tiny violins playing from sympathetic readers, but I can safely say my thumbs will likely never recover from the marathon sessions.

That said, the following is a look at some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the show, and a few other interesting and humorous tidbits worth sharing:

Most ingenious game (again)

While Nintendo garnered a ton of buzz over its unique controller (see below), the most original game once again goes to Electronic Arts' "Spore," designed by legendary game maker Will Wright (The Sims, SimCity).

"Spore" is an ingenious and ambitious life simulation for the PC that lets gamers custom-build a creature who must hunt for food, mate with a partner and evolve into a more sophisticated being. Once your tribe advances to the city stage, you can use vehicles to visit other civilizations, and in due time, create a spaceship to travel to other planets and galaxies for research, diplomacy or war.

Too bad this unique time waster won't be out until mid-to-late 2007.

Best surprise

Nintendo didn't have a lot of momentum coming into E3: the third-place console manufacturer has let down GameCube owners with sparsely released titles, not to mention the near-unanimous disappointment over Nintendo's chosen name for its next-generation console, Wii (pronounced "we").

Miraculously, Nintendo had the last laugh once show attendees laid their hands on the fresh Wii controller, which looks and feels like a DVD remote and features a built-in motion sensor. Playing tennis, for example, is as easy as swinging at an imaginary ball in the air with the controller, and the effect is seen onscreen.

Similarly, the mustachioed protagonist in "Super Mario Galaxy" can interact with items by simply waving the controller in a given direction. The Nintendo Wii will be out by year-end, though no price has been confirmed.

Biggest disappointment

In a word: Sony. From its long and boring conference to its so-so game lineup to its steep price ($499 to $599, depending on the configuration), the PlayStation 3, due out November 17, failed to impress at the show.

No, this isn't the end of the No. 1 console maker by a long shot, but many attendees were left scratching their heads on what happened with this Japanese giant. Regarding the price, gamers are forced to pay for the ability to watch high-definition movies on Blu-ray discs -- even if they're not a film fan. And what if Blu-ray isn't the winner of the format war against the HD-DVD?

Expect Sony to bounce back at E3 2007 (especially after game designers have had enough time with the high-end hardware) but the PS3 was without a doubt the most disappointing of the three consoles at this year's expo.

Funniest moment

On May 11, hotel heiress and socialite Paris Hilton not only showed up late to endorse her upcoming cell phone game, but she also called it by the wrong name. "Sorry I'm late. I'm really excited to have my new videogame, Diamond Quest," she announced proudly to the gawking crowds.

Problem is, the name of the Gameloft game -- which appeared in large letters behind the celebrity -- is "Paris Hilton's Jewel Jam." Ouch! Night-vision goggles are not required to play this handheld puzzle diversion. Ahem.

Prettiest game

Electronic Arts' new Montreal-based studio finally unveiled its secret project: "Army of Two."

As its name suggests, this game is a two-person cooperative tactical action game that drops players in some of the world's most dangerous hotspots. You play as a solider hired by a private military corporation who must work alongside a fellow fighter (controlled by the game's A.I. or a friend) as you perform deadly missions to keep the world safe.

The game is so photorealistic you'll feel like you could reach into the screen and grab a fistful of dirt from the Middle East. The game is due out sometime in 2007 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Runners-up for prettiest game: Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed" and Microsoft Game Studios' "Gears of War" and "Mass Effect."

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