Mountain climbers have Mt. Everest. Fans of America's pastime can journey to Cooperstown to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. For the hard-core video-gamer, there is only one holy place: E3.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3), the world's biggest "interactive entertainment trade show," took over the Los Angeles Convention Center last week, with 70,000 industry professionals, 5,000 products on display and more than 400 exhibitors at what sounded like 400 decibels.

With an environment that seemed more like a futuristic carnival than a trade show, no one stumbling into the facility would have mistaken the gathering for a dental convention. (Indeed, the fire-baton twirling was just one of many stunts that distinguished E3 from other trade shows.)

Imagine a set of giant video screens showcasing new commando adventures with the audio turned all the way up to 11; then imagine almost every exhibitor using similar tactics, and you've got a sense of what it was like. Many of the displays included elaborate ways to preview games. One title, the hotly anticipated "Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," granted attendees a preview in a little room on the side of the Nintendo booth that was more of a haunted house ride than anything else. A path through a dimly lighted faux forest and across a virtual projected stream led to a creepy dungeon, complete with a skeleton-like character reaching at gamers. There was a long line to enter the forest, with a two-hour wait.

And although this year's conference seemed a little flat (we'll have to wait until next year to get our hands on the next generation of game consoles, which were announced at press conferences before the convention), there still was plenty of the usual mayhem to go around.

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Console wars

When the Microsoft Xbox was released in late 2001, the standing of Sony PlayStation 2 took a small hit. After all, the games on the Xbox looked better, and Xbox Live feature would make playing games against others on the Internet an easy reality.

Both companies unveiled the "next generation" of consoles at E3, and it was Microsoft's turn to take a hit (or was it more like a giant beating?)

The PlayStation 3 showed gamers what the next generation of games will look like. Period. With breathtaking graphics that border on photo-realism (such as the off-road racer "Motor Storm" and the futuristic fighter "KillZone") as well as the ability to play almost anything that can be made into a disc (CD, MP3, DVD, Blu-ray, you name it), the PS3 announced its presence like the 800-pound gorilla it is. Its features are big, beautiful and destined to be a huge smash, assuming it doesn't cost too much (more than, say, $500) when it's released in spring 2006.

When we got a chance to view the Xbox 360, that old Peggy Lee song came to mind: "Is that all there is?"

Most of the Xbox games that were demonstrated looked like things you can play now. Only one, the auto racer "Project Gotham Racing 3," felt like a must have. Everything else, including "Dead or Alive 4," didn't feel advanced enough in comparison with the PS3 offerings.

Sure, the 360 is expanding on the already great Xbox Live service, offering many ways for gamers to connect to the online community, but that wasn't nearly enough to capture most people's attention. One of the features that the Xbox folks touted was the customizable faceplate you can stick on the outside of the unit to make it match your living room or personality. But it seemed to impress no one.

Nintendo released very little information about its next-generation console, the Revolution. The best thing mentioned was the ultimate backward compatibility: a way to download and play every Nintendo game of the past (yes, even Super Mario 64).

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Game time

In addition to the console demonstrations, this year's E3 featured teasers of some terrific games on the horizon. Some highlights:

•  "Black," for PS2 , from game giant Electronic Arts, is a first person shooter that's like an action flick come to life, with lots of shooting and fiery explosions.

•  "Star Wars Battlefront II" (for both PS2 and Xbox) picks up where last year's hit game left off, and offers playable Jedi and epic space battles, as well as a PlayStation Portable version.