Power Up | 'Entertainment' is gone from E3 event

With not a couch in sight, Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (left) introduces the pressure-sensitive balance board for the new exercise game, Wii Fit. The idea is to combine workouts with video play.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. - The video-game industry's big dance is a lot smaller.

For the last decade, I've attended the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, as it is known. As the video-game industry grew, each show became more ear-splitting and more jam-packed than the one preceding, until last year 60,000 sweaty gaming types herded themselves into the Los Angeles Convention Center.

While E3 was originally conceived as a venue for buyers to select products for the holiday shopping season and for media types to get a look at coming games and systems, over time the show morphed, taking on an entirely different, and much larger, cachet. E3 became the "it" place for gamers.

Every 19-year-old PlayStation owner with a blog somehow climbed onto the accredited media list. Assistant-to-the-assistant managers from video-game shops were admitted as retail reps. Bogged down by the throng of showgoers, it became difficult to see anything in depth and impossible to do business.

So the video-game publishers killed E3, reinvented it this year as an invitation-only affair of 3,000 attendees, and renamed it the E3 Media & Business Summit. It began Wednesday and ends today.

While hard-core gamers - who track every development at E3 in the same obsessive way NFL junkies follow the college draft - overwhelmingly say they miss the glitz and the hype surrounding the old show, the new version shows great promise. While the old E3 was shoehorned into L.A.'s cavernous convention center, this year's model was spread around the meeting rooms of a variety of upscale hotels in nearby Santa Monica. Additional exhibits were on view at an old aircraft hangar outside of town, giving the new E3 a quirky and somewhat disjointed feel. Will E3 be different next year? Will it even exist? Only time will tell, but the massive spectacle, the exercise in wretched excess that was the old E3, is gone forever.

While the new E3 is low-key, there is no shortage of important game news this week.

Most notably, Sony kicked the week off by announcing a $100 drop on the price of its flagship console, the PlayStation 3, which will now sell for $499.

It was an obvious attempt to win back market share from Microsoft's Xbox 360 ($299 to $399), which has been plagued by massive hardware failures of late. While many observers expected Microsoft to follow suit with a price cut of its own, none was forthcoming as of this writing. The Xbox 360 manufacturer, however, did unveil a special Halo 3 limited-edition console in military green to coincide with the release of that highly anticipated shooter later this year.

Sony also announced a newer, slimmer version of its PlayStation Portable handheld, $169. In addition to its current black case, the PSP will come in silver and a white Star Wars edition. Sony execs touted new online features, including PlayStation Home, a 3-D user interface for the PS3's online features.

Nintendo announced a new, gun-shaped controller, the Wii Zapper, $19.99, and a new steering wheel controller. The Wii Wheel will come bundled with racing game Mario Kart Wii, which will feature online play.

Nintendo also announced that highly anticipated titles Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy would be available for the holiday shopping season. If you're spending too much time on the couch, check out Wii Fit, an exercise game that will utilize a special controller to sense movement and calculate body mass index while allowing players to work out in a variety of mini-games.

On the software front, Electronic Arts showed off a strong lineup, including Rock Band, a new game from Harmonix, developer of the popular Guitar Hero series. Using add-on peripherals, up to four players control guitar, bass, drums and vocals. The game is scheduled for holiday release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For Nintendo fans, EA is prepping Boogie, a karaoke and dancing game based around the Wii's innovative motion-control system. EA also announced a new sports franchise, NFL Tour, an arcade-oriented take on the pro football experience. And one of the most exciting announcements of E3 2007 was word that Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg was teaming with EA to create a pair of new video-game franchises for next-gen consoles. No word on ship dates, but, hey, for Spielberg, we're willing to wait.

Other great-looking action games included first-person shooter BioShock (Xbox 360, PC) from 2K Games and Killzone 2 (PS3) from Sony. Also impressive was Mass Effect (Xbox 360), a new RPG from BioWare, creators of the great Knights of the Old Republic series.

Sega was showing off Space Siege (PC), the latest action-RPG from ace designer Chris Taylor. Think Dungeon Siege in space. Capcom's Resident Evil 5 will move the famed zombie series to an African setting.

The Entertainment Software Association, the trade group that organizes the show, still wants to appeal to gaming consumers this fall. ESA will offer "E for All 2007," open to the public Oct. 18 to 21 at where else but the L.A. Convention Center.

Power Up |

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Contact Dennis McCauley at dmccauley@phillynews.com. This column contains information from Inquirer wire services.