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Console war to take center stage at E3

When video gaming's annual event opens in Los Angeles on Wednesday, only dogs and dedicated video game fan-boys will be able to distinguish the high-pitched hype. By Tom Loftus.
A member of the cleaning crew drags mops past a stairway featuring a Nintendo game character as preparations for the Electronic Entertainment Exposition continue at the Los Angeles Convention Center Monday.Reed Saxon / AP

When video gaming's annual event opens in Los Angeles on Wednesday, only dogs and dedicated video game fan-boys will be able to distinguish the high-pitched hype.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as the game gathering is called, is no stranger to aggrandizement. Every year hundreds of game publishers announce thousands of new games and gadgets through ever-larger exhibits and after-hours bacchanalia.

This year the news matches the noise. Sony and Microsoft plan to make major announcements concerning their next generation consoles. Nintendo will show off the next "Legend of Zelda." And with no single game dominating the E3 expo floor as in years past, it's a total guess as to which title or titles are worthy of praise.

Seeking to preempt the inevitable cacophony, Microsoft actually unveiled its next-generation console, the Xbox 360, last week on MTV. (Of course, the Xbox 360 had already turned into the ivory-billed woodpecker of digital entertainment with supposed sightings and photos weighing down various gaming Web sites even before the official "unveiling.")

More details from Microsoft will be forthcoming during its E3 press briefing on Monday night. Last year Microsoft wowed attendees with news concerning "Halo 2."  This year, it will most likely rely on demonstrations of upcoming Xbox 360 titles and online gaming community capabilities.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

And then there's Sony, a company that's been mighty quiet considering its status as video game console market leader.

Sony, like Microsoft, recognizes that the company that wins the next round of console wars essentially wins the living room and as such has sunk hundreds of millions into developing the cell processor — in conjunction with IBM Corp. and Toshiba Corp. — as well as its Blu-ray optical disc. Sony’s next console will be built around both technologies.

With the Xbox 360 launching this year Sony knows that it needs to kick it up a notch at its own E3 briefing scheduled for Monday. Attendees can count on several announcements concerning Sony's own next generation console, tentatively named the PlayStation 3, after Sony runs down its list of upcoming games for the PSP and PlayStation 2.

Will Sony finally just take the wraps off the PS3 and introduce the actual physical device?  Or will the company hope that a video presentation of the PS3's graphics capabilities satisfies the fickle E3 press' demands for shiny things that spin. It's hard to believe that Sony won't take the Microsoft challenge and do something big.

Last year, Nintendo had some members of the press crying (yes, crying) when game design king Shigeru Miyamoto jumped on stage to introduce the still yet-to-be released continuation of the "Legend of Zelda" saga.  For a company that enjoys side-stepping the Sony-Microsoft battle for the living room with their "hey, we just do games" schtick, the event was about as aggressive as they come.

Nintendo's Tuesday E3 briefing should include a release date for "Legend of Zelda: as well as a slew of titles that highlight the technology behind Nintendo's handheld, the DS.

Nintendo of America's senior director of public relations Beth Llewelyn confirmed that Nintendo would talk about its next generation console --  humbly code-named "Revolution" -- although she would not comment on how much information would be released.

One thing's for sure, the Revolution will have to wait. Nintendo announced Monday that the console will miss the key 2005 holiday shopping season, and will show up sometime in 2006.

Almost lost in the console wars ... games
Sure to draw big crowds are any games built for the next generation consoles. The Xbox 360 will most likely be represented by several including "Perfect Dark Zero" from Rare; "Alan Wake" from Remedy, the Finnish creators of the "Max Payne" series; "The Godfather," Electronic Arts' interactive take on the mob opera and the role-playing game "The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion" from Bethesda Softworks.

Other must-sees concern games built for the current consoles. Games like Nintendo's new "Legend of Zelda," the PlayStation 2 game "Shadow of the Colossus" from the makers of the emotionally evocative "ICO," and "Final Fantasy XII" from Squaresoft.

Fans of twitch games can take heart. "Quake 4" from Id Software is coming this holiday season and it will certainly be represented on the show floor.

Movie-based games remain a staple in the business, but from the looks of things, game publishers have been watching an awful lot of the AMC channel.

First up, "Mr. Hulot’s Holiday" the French film from 1953 will ... kidding.  But movie-based games include "King Kong," based on the Peter Jackson remake, from Ubisoft, "Jaws" from Majesco, and EA's "The Godfather."

The Tamagotchi-like "Nintendogs" for the Nintendo DS is cute and therefore big in Japan.  We'll see if the virtual pet game that uses the DS's built-in microphone to issue doggie commands translates to a Western audience.

And speaking of sim-like games, "Sims" creator Will Wright will be at E3 showing off his latest creation, "Spore," a simulation that debuted at the Game Developers Conference back in March. The "God" game of "god games," "Spore" apparently gives players a digital toolbox from which to create and guide life starting at the cellular level and evolving into complex civilizations.  Whoa!!!  This cell to civilization simulation is destined for late night college sessions — except maybe in Kansas.

Of course determining whether any of the games mentioned above are actually good will have to wait until E3 is long over.

Studying a game at E3 is like trying to pick up the conversation two rows back during a G.W.A.R concert; between the lights, the music and various happenings that would make half of America cringe, there is simply too much to take in.

E3 is all about noise and the noise this year is deafening.'s Tom Loftus is getting his Sonic costume dry-cleaned for E3 2005.