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Handhelds, hype, Halo 2 and more at E3

With dueling handhelds, popular sequels and rumors of price cuts, this week's E3 promises enough promotional exuberance to make even Tony Robbins blush.  By Tom Loftus, MSNBC.
Mike Micros works on "The Incredibles" display in the Buena Vista Games booth, getting ready for the start of the Electronic Entertainment Expo.Kevork Djansezian / AP

This week's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles promises enough promotional exuberance to make even Tony Robbins blush. 

Sony and Nintendo will unveil their dueling handheld gaming platforms in a game of who has the bigger portable. Microsoft may tease a couple more details about the Xbox 2, aka Xenon.

But with the next generation of consoles not yet ready for prime time, the theme for this year's video game industry gathering might as well be "It's all about the content, baby!" Displays showing off GameCube's "Paper Mario 2," Xbox's "Doom 3' and PlayStation 2's "Gran Turismo 4" are all guaranteed to draw crowds.

While any event combining fun with unadulterated capitalism -- imagine Vegas but with Sid Meier, not Meyer Lansky -- is bound to hold its share of surprise, it's still possible to note some of the major news items we'll see during gaming's biggest week.

Is that a portable in your pocket or ...
Both Sony and Nintendo will show off their respective handheld two-screen gaming platforms.  The Nintendo DS, or "Nitro," can apparently play movies, games and music and offers wireless functionality. Sony's Playstation Portable, or PSP, boasts the same features. In E3's battle of the electronic Swiss Army Knives it's too early to predict a winner. But count on a couple pundits to announce that either way, it's "sayonara" for the iPod.

Xbox rides high
Microsoft's money-losing venture in gaming has been on a tear of late. Sales are up and there's speculation that the Xbox is on the verge of breaking the Playstation 2's reign as monthly sales leader. That's huge. Beyond highlighting Xbox exclusive titles like "Halo 2" and "Doom 3," Microsoft will keep the hype rolling with more information on the Xbox 2. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Nintendo says don't forget about us
The past year has been tough for the godfather of modern gaming. Sales of its GameCube plummeted over the summer before rising again during the holidays. Besides hyping the Nintendo DS handheld, the company will use E3 to remind attendees why it remains almost unrivaled in game design with sneak peeks at "Paper Mario 2" and possibly "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker 2."

Sony price cut?
Sony, too, will have its own handheld to promote. But unlike Nintendo, Sony is not used to being anywhere but number one in terms of console sales. Will it use E3 to announce a Playstation 2 price cut? Perhaps. Less likely in any word on the Playstation 3. But never count this consumer electronics giant out. PS2 titles for the EyeToy as well as crowd favorites "Gran Turismo 4," and "Killzone" will bring them in.

Bring on the sequels
Sequels to successful titles are guaranteed in today’s take-no-risk business climate. Apparently the only decision left for game publishers is whether to use Roman or Arabic numerals. Case in point, some of the titles to be shown at E3: "EverQuest II," "Metroid Prime 2," "Gran Turismo 4," "Doom 3," "Kingdom Hearts II," "Onimusha 3," "MechAssault 2." 

Return of the shooters (again)
The shooters "Half-Life 2" and "Halo 2" will be back on the show floor as will "Doom 3," making what seems like the hundredth appearance of the "always a bridesmaid" game. All three shooters are scheduled for launch later this year (fingers crossed) and if sneak peaks can be the judge, the wait will be worth it.

It Came from Hollywood (part XXXXVI)
E3 2004 also will write the latest chapter in the story of how rising development costs transformed a previously independent industry into the right hand of the Hollywood behemoth.  Among the titles: "Spider-Man 2," "Catwoman," "Van Helsing" and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Madden Live
Electronic Arts and Microsoft may use E3 to finalize an agreement that allows EA titles like "Madden NFL" to be played on Xbox Live, the Xbox's online service.

'Grand Theft Auto' jacked
TakeTwo Interactive's decision not to exhibit at E3 means that attendees will be denied any trailers of 2005's most anticipated title: "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." And at least one attendee will miss TakeTwo's special booth. Their private area on the show floor last year had all the attitude of a Paris Hilton hangout and just as much substance. Still, it was cool.

MSNBC's Tom Loftus will be roaming the floor at E3.