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PS3 and Wii at E3

Last Updated May 11, 2006

Nintendo brass Reggie Fils-Aime, left, Satoru Iwata, centre, and Shigeru Miyamoto, right, use the firm's motion-sensing controller to play tennis on the new Wii gaming system during the company's presentation for the 2006 E3 electronics expo in Los Angeles, May 9, 2006. (Lucas Jackson/Associated Press)

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For video-game fans, there's nothing bigger than E3.

The Electronic Entertainment Exposition, touted as the world's biggest video and computer gaming convention, opened Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Taking up more than 50,000 square metres at the L.A. Convention Center, this year's E3 features the first look at the next home gaming consoles from two of the industry's biggest players: Nintendo and Sony.

And as rebuttal to anyone who might dismiss a trade show about video games as trivial, the Entertainment Software Association, which runs E3, released a study it funded that found the video-game industry had an $18-billion impact on the American economy in 2004.

Also well-timed was an Associated Press-AOL Games poll that found 40 per cent of Americans play games on computers or video-game consoles.

'Wii' puns exhausted, tech writer finds

Nintendo introduced its newest console at a news conference leading up to E3. It was code-named Revolution until a few weeks ago, when Nintendo announced its true name: Wii.

(Nintendo marketing director Reggie Fils-Aime defended the name, saying people laughed at "Lexus," "Ikea" and "Google" at first, too.)

With Wii, Nintendo is clearly targeting casual gamers and even non-gamers. "Our goal is to expand the total number of people playing games," said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. "To do this, we needed to target gamers who played and had lost interest, as well as those who have never played."

One of the innovations Wii offers is its controller. Unlike a traditional video-game controller - held in two hands and operated with the thumbs - the new wireless Wii controller looks more like a TV remote. It has the classic Nintendo cross and buttons on top, and a trigger button underneath, but the Wii remote can even be used without pushing any buttons at all.

The remote is motion sensitive so that actions in the game can be controlled by swinging the remote through the air.

At the first demonstration of Nintendo Wii at the Kodak Theatre, four people - Iwata, Fils-Aime, game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and a contest winner - played doubles tennis by swinging the remotes around like rackets. Miyamoto said the remote could be swung for forehand or backhand shots, or twisted as you swing to put a spin on the ball.

The game is part of Wiisports, one of the first games to be available for Wii. It also includes golf and baseball, all taking advantage of the unique remote control.

Nintendo also showed off 27 new games for the Wii, including new versions of familiar titles like Super Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Tony Hawk, Madden, Final Fantasy and even Duck Hunt. These titles will likely take advantage of the other half of Wii's controller, called the Nunchuk, which has a thumb joystick, another trigger button and is also motion sensitive.

Nintendo revealed nearly everything about Wii except two things: when exactly people can buy it and how much it will cost.

Nintendo says Wii will be available for "Holiday 2006," but didn't announce a firm date.

The company didn't announce a price for the console, but Iwata told a Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said it will be "affordable," and not just affordable compared to Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3.

"Compared with $600 [US], anything is affordable, so it's absurd to even compare our price," Iwata told Bishop.

A market analyst predicted that Wii could sell for less than $200 US, placing it far below the Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, and within reach of casual gamers.

Pricey PS3

Kaz Hirai, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, opened his pre-E3 news conference by taking a swipe at the Xbox 360, which was launched last November and styles itself as the first of the next-generation consoles.

"The next generation doesn't start until we say it does," said Hirai.

And Sony says it will start Nov. 17, when the PlayStation 3 goes on sale in North America.

The PS3 will cost $549 Cdn for a model with a 20 GB hard drive, and $659 Cdn for one with a 60 GB hard drive. That's the highest price ever for a major gaming console launch, more than $300 higher than the PlayStation 2 at its launch and $160 higher than the Xbox 360.

Some analysts have pointed out, though, that the low-end PS3 comes with a hard drive, while the low-end Xbox 360 does not. And the PS3 will come with a built-in Blu-ray high-definition DVD player and will be cheaper than stand-alone Blu-ray players when they come out.

However, the low-end PS3 also lacks some key features of the high-end model, including Wi-Fi capabilities, slots for memory sticks and an HDMI port for high-definition televisions.

Sony also introduced the new controller for the PS3, which looks very much like the controller for the PlayStation 2, much to the relief of some fans who panned the boomerang-shaped prototype controller Sony revealed earlier.

The new controller will come with every PS3. It uses Bluetooth technology for wireless control, but can be plugged in using a USB cord. The controller also includes a tilt control, meaning that, for example, the fighter jet in the upcoming Warhawk can be moved around by tilting the controller left and right, forward and backward. But it's not a total motion sensor like the Nintendo Wii remote.

Sony demonstrated a new high-definition version of its popular Gran Turismo auto-racing game franchise, a ninja fighting game called Heavenly Sword and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, due in 2007.

Xbox, Windows network together

Microsoft has a unique challenge at this year's E3. The company released its Xbox 360 last November, giving that console a one-year head start on Sony and Nintendo. Microsoft predicts there will be 10 million Xbox 360 owners and 160 games for it by the time PS3 and Wii come out.

But without a new console to launch, Microsoft had to do something to get some attention.

Bill Gates hosted the company's news conference in Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and showcased two new games for the Xbox 360: Halo 3, the third and reportedly last instalment of the console's most popular series, and Gears of War, a futuristic shooter that pits the player against nasty creatures from the centre of the Earth called the Locust Horde.

The latter features some intense and realistic combat (Locust Horde notwithstanding). A firefight during the game's demonstration actually severed the hand of one of the characters, eliciting enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Gears of War is predicted to be released as the same time as the PS3 and Wii, to steal a bit of their thunder, while Halo 3 will be available in 2007.

Gates also announced a new gaming network called Live Anywhere, which will allow gamers on different systems to interact and play together. While Microsoft's current service, Xbox Live, allows users of the Xbox 360 to play against each other over a network for $9 a month, Live Anywhere will also include players using cellphones and Microsoft's upcoming PC operating system, Windows Vista.

Microsoft also announced some new hardware for the 360, including a wireless driving wheel with a headset (presumably so you can tell off the guy who just cut you off in Need for Speed) and an add-on HD DVD player for playing movies using the new high-def format.

Microsoft's adoption of HD DVD puts it, again, in the opposite camp from Sony, which is embracing Blu-ray for high-def movies on the PS3 and on its upcoming stand-alone DVD players.

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