With new hardware and kept promises, the big three game companies - Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft - turned this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo into proof that companies must evolve to survive. Sony revealed a softer side with an onstage apology for the recent service outage, plus they gave their upcoming handheld an aggressive price point. Microsoft verified the worst kept secret in gaming, "Halo 4," and found new ways to leverage the motion-happy Kinect in a wide variety of games. And current champ Nintendo, still riding high on sales of the Wii and the DS, introduced the Wii U -- a high-def sequel that combines the trademark Nintendo charm with a tablet touchscreen in the controller.
Every year the trio outlines their upcoming releases in separate-but-usually-equal tour de forces of pomp and pageantry. Fed to in-house audiences of media outlets, tech reporters and gaming publications, these three press conferences always arrive packed with hype and hot air, but they also reveal the directives and releases that will define gaming for the next twelve months.
"Mass Effect 3" will use Kinect not for motion control but for voice activation, allowing players to shout orders to computer-controlled partner characters. During conversation scenes where, previously, players would have to select a dialogue choice from a list, now you can simply read the onscreen text, almost as if you are acting alongside the game.
A new installment in the Tom Clancy series, "Ghost Recon: Future Soldier" lets players go hands-on with building new weapons. Using Kinect-based hand gestures and voice commands, the game's Gunsmith mode lets you customize guns for use in the game, just by waving your hand in the air to select components.
Of course, there are new releases that prove Kinect still has plenty of field to seed for families. "Disneyland Kinect Adventures", "Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster" and "Star Wars Kinect" will let players become physical in three very familiar virtual worlds. One new Kinect-centric offering, "Kinect Fun Labs," is already available for 360 owners to download for free.
Microsoft showed there is still life to be squeezed out of their venerable "Halo" franchise. "Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary" is a remake of the first "Halo," due this fall. The series will continue with "Halo 4" in 2012.
Sony, still staggering over a series of data breaches that have injured the company's pride and made PlayStation owners uneasy, came out swinging with their new handheld, the PlayStation Vita. Priced at $249.99, the device will stand in direct competition with Nintendo's 3DS when the Vita finally debuts.
The PS Vita features a touchscreen much like what you find on an iPhone. The Vita also has a touchpad on the back of the device, which lets users control games by touching either face of the Vita. The Vita has two analog sticks, a motion sensor, and will eventually host special touch-based editions of popular D. I. Y. games "LittleBigPlanet" and "ModNation Racers."
One of Sony's key PS3 franchises, "Uncharted," will appear on Vita with optional touchscreen control schemes aimed at making the action-adventure series accessible to new gamers. Back on the PS3, Sony is ramping up the third in the "Uncharted" line, "Drake's Deception."
Long a supporter of 3-D television sets (for obvious reasons, since Sony manufactures them), the company surprised the audience with a bargain bundle consisting of a 24-inch 3-D television, one set of 3-D glasses, the new game "Resistance 3," and the full menu of PlayStation Move hardware. The set is priced at $499, illustrating Sony's urgent wish to get more 3-D sets in people's homes.
Nintendo, the market leader in gaming with the Wii and the DS, unveiled the next Wii system, currently booked for 2012. Dubbed the Wii U, this new console puts a six-inch touchscreen inside the system's primary controller. Although the Wii U is far enough away that finished games are still a dream, Nintendo showed off some theoretical uses for the new controller that threaten to upset the gaming industry in the same way that the original Wii did with motion controls.
One example in the vein of the classic "Wii Sports" showed a player holding the touchscreen controller in the air to catch a pop fly as if it was a baseball glove. A "Legend of Zelda" mockup turned the screen into a live inventory system, making weapon selection as easy as tapping.
The new controller screen allows players to keep playing even after losing control of the TV to a new episode of "Glee." The Wii U can send its video signal to the controller just as easily as to your television, and it will do so without skipping a beat. The reverse is also possible: Nintendo showed a Wii U controller sending pictures to the TV screen with the flick of a finger.
But the E3 audience had a even bigger surprise when Nintendo revealed the lineup of games from third-party developers. The Wii U will have games like "Assassin's Creed," "Batman: Arkham City," "Tekken" and "Darksiders II," all pulled from serious, high-definition franchises that skipped the low fidelity Wii in the previous generation.
Nintendo stopped well short of naming a price for the Wii U. The company also did not offer much detail on the system's online features; socialized online play has been a weak spot in Nintendo products.
Nintendo's handheld tech darling from last year, the 3DS, is relying on familiar names to make it through 2011: "Mario Kart," "Starfox" and others are in the lineup. The House of Mario added a new name to the roster: "Luigi's Mansion 2." Gaming in 3-D without 3-D glasses remains the system's strongest talking point, but a just-added online storefront and web browser will add to the utility of the 3DS.
Nintendo has an HD system on the way with a fantastical new controller. Sony is humble and suddenly a price undercutter. And Microsoft has a lot of eggs in the Kinect basket. The new name of the game is change, and that's what makes the video game industry so interestingly volatile.
The Big Three of E3: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft
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