THE GIZMO: Hot news from the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
They call them "briefings." But so much information was shared at the big three (Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony) press previews for the E3 game show that starts today in Los Angeles, the events might have been labeled "maximum strategic planning sessions."
Each company jockeyed to position itself as the one on top of the trends, loaded with star power, with the hippest technology. Here's what sparked headlines.
FIRST AT BAT: In its usual lead-off slot, Microsoft was like a 100-limbed hydra, pushing numerous hot buttons to argue the Xbox 360 system's superiority over its rivals.
Garnering the most hype, though it won't be out until 2010, was Microsoft's Project Natal system, a one-upsmanship retort to the Sony EyeToy camera accessory and Nintendo's motion-activated Wii-mote.
Touted by movie titan Steven Spielberg as "the next step in interactive entertainment," Natal turns the gamer into the controller. The magic is in a sensor bar with integrated camera, depth sensors and microphones that respond to body movement and speech - even shifts in vocal emotion.
MEET THE BEATLES GAME: While "Rock Band: The Beatles" will be available on a bunch of platforms come Sept. 9, the Xbox 360 version will offer an exclusive download of one track, "All You Need Is Love."
And for golly-gee star power Monday, Microsoft brought out the two surviving members of the Fab Four, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, plus the widows of George Harrison (Olivia) and John Lennon (Yoko).
"Who would have thought we'd end up as androids?" joked McCartney.
"The game is good, the graphics are good, and we look great," declared Starr.
X-RATED: Xbox 360's status as a portal to the world was underscored with several announcements, including alliances with social networking giants Facebook and Twitter that will let users post pictures and send messages through an Xbox Live-connected console.
Netflix subscribers will be able to set up synchronized community viewings of movies and TV programs through an Xbox, chatting to each other with on-screen avatars standing in for their personas.
Also promised for the system, instantly viewable 1080p, high-def content from Microsoft's Zune service (movies priced at $4.50-$6), clearly a retort to the PlayStation 3's unmatched Blu-ray HD disc play feature that will have to be seen to be believed.
NINTENDO NEXT: With its leading position in game consoles (50 million Wiis sold, versus 30 million Xbox 360s and 23 million PS3s) and portables (100 million DS), Nintendo has no need to reinvent the wheel this year.
The biggest news in hardware, previewed last year and finally launching next week, is the Wii Motion Plus accessory ($19.99) that wraps around a Wii Remote to fine tune the device's motion and location-detecting skills.
Titles coming soon to support it include "Wii Sports Resort," which kicks off with a killer sky-diving adventure, plus tennis titles from Electronic Arts ("Grand Slam Tennis") and Sega ("Virtua Tennis"), and E.A.'s "Tiger Woods Tour 10."
Nintendo's other big hit, the 15-million-selling Wii Fit accessory controller board, gets a new piece of software this fall, "Wii Fit Plus," that lets players customize a daily workout routine.
Wii MORE: Press conference attendees also were hollering for "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" - the first "Mario" multiplayer for the format - and coming attractions (in 2010) "Super Mario Galaxy 2" and "Metroid: Other M," both looking out of this world.
On the DS front, hot news included user-customized, downloadable games "WarioWare D.I.Y." and (exclusive to the DSi), "Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!"
Oh, and those digital still cameras, image processing and Wi-Fi features built into the DSi will soon be usable for uploading snaps directly to Facebook.
SONY CLEANS UP: Last and longest in duration, Sony's news conference yesterday was pushing the "we're trying harder" message.
Their "worst-kept secret," finally confirmed, was a new version of the PlayStation Portable, PSP Go. Coming Oct. 1 at $249, the device is designed for the digirati who prefer getting all content by download rather than ye old-fashioned physical media. The device is smaller and lighter than the PSP-3000, which will remain in the line for $169.
PSP Go boasts a slider-phone style control panel that hides behind the screen when not in use, with 16 gigabytes of memory to store all those downloadable games, music and movies you'll be acquiring from the Playstation Store. (The ability to download films and TV shows directly to a Wi-Fi-equipped PSP is a brand new option.)
STILL HERE: From now on, new PSP titles will be released both as downloads and on the UMD disc format, which Sony swears is not going away. And neither, apparently is the 9-year-old Playstation 2, to be supported by 100 new titles this year.
What of those other rumors of slimmed-down and possibly lower-priced PS3 systems? Sony exec Jack Tretton was mum on the subject, though analysts believe his forecast for 13 million new PS3 sales this year, up 30 percent, will not happen without a price cut.
For the most part, Sony let its 35 exclusive titles coming to the PS3 do the talking, including the just-out and well-received "Infamous," Naughty Dog's "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves" (available today for online Beta sampling), the multi-multiplayer (think 256) battle game "Mag," and "Final Fantasy 14," coming in 2010.
Reasserting its leadership status in motion-control gaming, Sony showed off the Playstation Motion Controller for PS3, a hand-held device with a glowing sphere cap that works in conjunction with a Sony Eye Toy camera for extra-precise wielding of weapons, swatting of rackets and engagement in the game.
"An experience much closer to real life than you've ever seen," said Tretton. Launch date for that? Spring 2010. *
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