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Another opening,another show

Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo kick off E3 with gaming announcements. By Tom Loftus, MSNBC.

During the closing minutes of yesterday’s Nintendo media event, the assembled game developers, press and those die-hard geeks crafty enough to score a ticket were treated to one last game trailer. The trailer was for the next "Legend of Zelda" game. When the audience realized what they were watching it became pure pandemonium. By the time game creator Shigeru Miyamoto hopped onto the stage, it might as well have been the second coming.

Get them screaming. That’s the goal of what has become an E3 tradition: the media briefings hosted by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Ply the assembled guests with food, show off some new titles and give ‘em something to write about.

This week’s events had their usual share of news-making items. But aside from showing the latest gear, the presentations also revealed how the big three of gaming see themselves -- or at least, how they want their audiences to see them.

Xbox: Wooing the hardcore gamers
"Before going further I know there’s one game on everyone’s minds," said Xbox marketing vice president Peter Moore at Microsoft's Monday night media event. Moore then rolled up the sleeve of his black bowling shirt to reveal a tattoo reading: "H2: November 9."

Peter Moore, corporate vice president, Worldwide Marketing and Content, Home & Entertainment Division announces the date for the rollout of the game Halo 2, which will be on November 9, 2004 as 'tattooed' on his arm, during a press preview of Microsoft Xbox gaming system in Los Angeles, May 10, 2004. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, a trade show for the video game industry, opens in Los Angeles May 12, 2004. Many companies will be introducing new hardware and software titles for fans of video games. REUTERS/Fred ProuserFred Prouser / X00224

"That’s 2004," he joked. The assembled attendees bayed at the realization that "Halo 2," one of the most anticipated blood-drenched shooters, was only months away.

Somewhere over the last two years, the Xbox image has shifted from Bill Gates’s pet project to the preferred platform of the hardcore gamer. Or at least that was the impression gained from their media event-slash-"Braveheart" reunion.

The Xbox hosts, platform leader J. Allard, senior vice president Robbie Bach and Moore swaggered across the stage like rock stars. They wore the de riguer black clothing and if they looked a little silly or a little too old to pull of the look of the hard-core gamer, the crowd didn’t notice or care. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

In fact, the crowd had already been treated to a slew of loud and often violent game trailers -- each generating full-throated cheers loud enough to be heard over the deafening explosions and techno music.

The testosterone was heavy. Xbox brought out Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy model, to tout its upcoming video conferencing feature on Xbox Live. They insulted the competition. When announcing Xbox Live’s partnership with Electronic Arts, they brought out Muhammed Ali.

And then came the event's most surreal moment, a video clip based on "The Apprentice" and starring Donald Trump himself. "The next frontier is online games," said Trump. "The winning team wins a contract to make an MMORPG based on my colorful life."

Trump saying "MMORPG"? That’s hardcore.

Sony: Break out the charts
Blame it on the early 9 a.m. start or the lack of free beer, but Sony’s event Tuesday morning was a tad more subdued. Gone were the digitized exploding body parts and deafening music. In were bar charts and the measured cadence of Sony president Kaz Hirai delivering his company’s financials.

Kaz Hirai, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America displays the new Sony Playstation Portable gaming device during a press preview of Sony Playstation hardware and titles in Los Angeles, May 11, 2004. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, a trade show for the video game industry, opens in Los Angeles May 12, 2004. Many companies will be introducing new hardware and software titles for fans of video games. REUTERS/Fred ProuserFred Prouser / X00224

Sony did have its own share of flashy trailers. And its PlayStation 2 price cut announcement as well as its demonstration of the PlayStation Portable were landmark events.

But where the audience of the night before greeted each trailer with lusty cheers, the Sony audience merely clapped.

"Every year Sony breaks out the charts, it’s so boring," one attendee grumbled.

What many really wanted was more of the "show" and less of the "business."

Nintendo: The third way
Nintendo came out swinging later Tuesday.

"We know this is your third stop on the press tour," announced a pumped-up Nintendo executive before ridiculing his competition.

"One competitor wants to capture all your entertainment dollars," he said in a not-so veiled swipe at Sony. "Another company doesn’t care what you do as long as it’s on their operating system."

The crowd ate it up.

When one video screen displayed the Nintendo DS, the upcoming duel-screen handheld, playing Metroid Prime, the crowd went bonkers. One screen featured what appeared to be a 3-D first person perspective, the other screen held a schematic of the level. "There’s a map, I see a map," shouted one attendee.

Owing to its history and its own library of quirky titles, Nintendo has always maintained a very loyal following. And their press event, a mixture of Xbox’s spirit and Sony’s confident delivery of sales numbers, tapped into the energy.

Speaking to after the event, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had an answer for the attendees fervent responses. "I have an engineering background so I understand that technology can be interesting. But we are in the entertainment business," he said. "It’s time for games."