E3 event sets more records

LOS ANGELES — The computer and television console videogame industry’s largest annual trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Exhibition (E3), attracted a record number of exhibitors and over 65,000 attendees.

Exhibition floor space was dominated by Sony Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Nintendo

of America Inc. with each of the three gaming hardware giants outlining ambitious plans to grow the industry and increase market shares.

Playstation maker Sony revealed its long-anticipated plans to develop the PSP, a portable console meant to challenge Nintendo’s Gameboy handheld gaming device, whichhas a near monopoly of the handheld market.

The PSP was described as an all-in-one portable entertainment platform, capable of playing large capacity optical discs that will deliver games with robust 3D graphics as well as a broad range of non-videogame/multimedia content including video and music.

“”Just as PlayStation and PlayStation2 revolutionized in-home computer entertainment, we aim to become a new driving force in the portable entertainment platform arena,”” said Ken Kutaragi, president and CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.

“”This is the Walkman of the 21st century.””

No models of the PSP, targeted for release in the fourth quarter of 2004, were on display at the show.

Sony also announced that its 40 GB external hard drive will be available in North America in Q1 2004. It will be launched simultaneously with the first PlayStation2 game to require on-board memory,

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XI Online, a multiplayer game already available in Japan.

Sony’s online initiative was further strengthened by the announcement of a deal with third-party developer Electronic Arts to make nine of their best-selling sports titles online exclusive for PlayStation2.

To the surprise of many, Nintendo revealed no significant online plans of its own. Nintendo remains profitable due to the success of its handheld consoles GameBoy Advance and GameBoy Advance SP, but the GameCube is struggling to keep abreast of Microsoft’s Xbox for a distant second place in the current generation of videogame console wars.

With no first party online games announced, Nintendo appears to be relying on its unique forms of connectivity and several agreements with third-party publishers to develop GameCube exclusive titles.

“”Thanks to our tremendous contributions from our third-party partners and increasing library of connectivity titles, we’re delivering more entertainment and diversity to Nintendo fans than any time since we launched our first home console 20 years ago,”” said Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Co. Ltd.

Nintendo also announced the June release of the Game Boy Player, a device that attaches to the bottom of GameCubes and allows players to play Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games on television screens.

Microsoft’s booth was arguably the busiest of the three console manufacturers, playing host to one of the biggest attractions of E3: a large theatre showing a live demo of Halo 2. The follow-up to Bungie’s critically acclaimed and highly successful Xbox launch title, Halo 2’s polished graphics, new gameplay, and strong narrative is set for release in the first quarter of 2004.

Microsoft also unveiled XSN, an online network launching in August that will be dedicated to Xbox sports games. XSN will allow players to create their own leagues and tournaments, design play schedules and provide players with nearly instantaneous updates of rank changes through a variety of mediums, including cell phones and e-mail.

In an attempt to make the Xbox a more versatile entertainment system, Microsoft announced the holiday launch of a multimedia management system called Music Mixer which will give Xbox owners the ability to transfer digital music and photos from their PCs to their Xbox systems to create a centralized digital library. Music Mixer also has the ability to turn Xbox into a virtual karaoke machine, allowing the user to erase the vocal track of a song stored on the Xbox hard drive and record his or her own voice in its place.

“”Music Mixer unlocks the digital entertainment capability of Xbox,”” said J Allard, vice-president of the Xbox platform.

“”Music Mixer demonstrates how we can use the Xbox to connect gamers to other favourite activities of the Digital Entertainment Lifestyle, enabling players to access DVD playback, CD playback, photo viewing, gaming, music storage, online gameplay, enhanced party visualizers and even karaoke.””

While console manufacturers may have had a dominating presence, Half Life 2 — the most talked about game on display at the show — will be released exclusively for the PC gaming community this fall, with a later, as-yet undetermined release date for Xbox.

Valve Software’s Half Life 2 is the sequel to one of the most successful first-person shooter games ever published for PC.

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