E3 Dispatches: How much is that PS3 going to set you back?
Throughout the week, The Times' Kim Peterson reports from the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
Seattle Times technology reporter
POSTED 2:35 PM Wednesday
What's the price? An article in the Mainichi Daily News this week said that Sony executives were aiming to price the PlayStation 3 under $500, according to gaming Web site GameSpot.
The console's graphics chip is so sophisticated, according to GameSpot, that some had expected the PS3 to cost as much as a medium-end personal computer.
The PS3 has widely been expected to be in the $250 to $300 price range. Any more expensive, and Sony will likely lose quite a few buyers.
POSTED 2:30 PM Wednesday
Media outage: The first day of the actual E3 show hasn't gone too smoothly for managers of the Los Angeles Convention Center. One wing of the facility lost power in the early morning, and the center had to purchase and install a new generator that weighed about 15 tons, according to some who worked on the grounds yesterday.
E3 AT A GLANCE
The Electronic Entertainment Expo , better known as E3, has hit Los Angeles. The video game industry converges here every May to network, see the newest games each company has to offer and to hear about what the next year will bring. This year, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all made major announcements.
The plan: Sony hasn't said a lot about the PlayStation 3, its next-generation console. Analysts are expecting the company to launch the console next spring, giving Microsoft a several months' head start on retailer shelves. At its briefing Monday, Sony gave both technical details about its console and a look at some of the games that will be available for the PS3.
The plan: Microsoft already made its news splash last week, when it went on MTV to unveil the Xbox 360 video-game console it plans to launch in November. The company is withholding some key details, however, including the price and date of release. At its media briefing Monday night, Microsoft did end one mystery, though — the Xbox versions of its most popular games will be compatible with the new console.
The plan: Nintendo continues to defy convention in the industry, refusing to jump into the battle of words between Sony and Microsoft. It is expected to release its console, code-named Revolution, sometime next year. On Tuesday, the company showed off a Revolution prototype, a black unit about the size of a hardcover novel, as well as its smaller handheld Game Boy Micro. Nintendo is also showing what may be the most anticipated video game of the conference: the latest title in the popular Zelda series.
The outage frustrated journalists at the conference, because the wing that lost power housed dozens of computer stations reserved for the media.
POSTED 10:45 AM Wednesday
Moving the masses: Two announcements elicited a mass reaction from the crowd at Nintendo's press event yesterday morning. The first was when Reggie Fils-Aime, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo of America, took a prototype of the Game Boy Micro out of his pocket. The Micro, as its name implies, is a super small Game Boy that measures about 4 inches by 2 inches.
The Kotaku video game blog assessed the announcement:
"There was a bit of a genuine shock that ran through the crowd this morning when Reggie Fils-Aime reached his ham-sized mitt into his jacket pocket and plucked out a tiny cellphone looking device.
"The crowd actually made this funny little 'Wha-huh?' noise."
The second reaction came when Nintendo showed a video advertisement for the highly anticipated "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess." The video showed the main character, Link, turn into a wolf. The Web sites Engadget and Joystiq teamed up to provide live coverage of the briefing, and offered this take:
"We're feeling faint. The vid and in-game play is intense, very dark, very unusual for Zelda. Link can transform into a werewolf? Yo, this game looks astounding."
POSTED 10:35 AM Wednesday
Game views, Part 3: Three industry journalists were asked in interviews last week to list the games that were getting the most pre-show buzz. One journalist's picks is being featured every day through today.
Today: the picks of Dan "Shoe" Hsu, editor in chief, Electronic Gaming Monthly
• The biggest game of the show will be the latest game in Nintendo's Zelda series, "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess."
•"Kingdom Hearts 2": This is the sequel to an unusual collaboration between developer Square Enix and Disney Interactive. A PlayStation 2 exclusive.
•"Final Fantasy XII": The latest game in the popular series is headed to the PlayStation 2 in Japan within the next year and in the United States sometime after that. Sony showed a video advertisement for the game at its media briefing on Monday.
• Any game for the Xbox 360. "Everyone's going to be excited about even no-name Xbox 360 games," Hsu said.
POSTED 10:10 AM Wednesday
Early impressions: Well, the pre-E3 dust has settled and Sony's PlayStation 3 seems to be considered the better machine, judging by conversations among reporters and industry insiders. On paper, the PS3 seems more powerful, and the video clips of its games were solid enough to wow some people at Sony's media briefing. Still, consoles are partly sold on the basis of their games, and on that front the competitive field is still wide open.
A few video-game blogs weighed in on the issue this week:
Joystiq.com: "If you compare the best clips that Sony has to offer with the best clips that Microsoft has to offer, you clearly see the PS3's superiority."
The Guardian Unlimited Gamesblog: "If the footage shown today is anything to go by then PS3 is the initial 'winner.' The Xbox conference wasn't bad and certainly felt like an event, despite the cringeworthy bused-in groupies that sat behind the stage, hollering at every announcement. But nothing that was shown matched the look of Killzone and some of the other PS3 titles shown."
GamesIndustry.biz: "The bar which was set by Microsoft last week has not only been met, it has been vaulted over. PlayStation 3 is more powerful, more fully featured, more innovative and better supported than Xbox 360. "
POSTED 12:25 PM Tuesday
Nintendo in the (small) spotlight: Nintendo said today that it will sell this fall a smaller version of its Game Boy handheld, called the Game Boy Micro, that is slightly bigger than Apple Computer's iPod Mini music player and about the weight of 80 paper clips.
The company also said that its next generation console, code-named Revolution, would come out next year and be able to play downloaded versions of popular games Nintendo has released over the last 20 years, including games made for the decades-old Nintendo Entertainment System.
In a series of announcements at its E3 media briefing, the company also said it would launch a wireless service that will allow users of its Nintendo DS handheld to play others online. The service will be free, at least for the games that Nintendo makes in-house, the company said.
"For two decades, our mission has been not to just play the game, but to change the game," said Reggie Fils-Aime, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo of America, which is based in Redmond. "More extraordinary change is on the way."
The company showed of a prototype of Revolution, a black unit about the size of a hard-cover novel. It will be smaller in its final form, about the size of three DVD cases stacked together, said President Satoru Iwata.
"Revolution is by far the smallest console we've ever manufactured," he said. He added that the company is considering several colors for the machine, including red, yellow, white, silver and black, but hasn't settled on a final look yet.
The console will have wireless controllers, two USB ports and built-in wireless capabilities, Nintendo said.
The new wireless service for the DS handheld will debut later this year, Nintendo said, and will not charge a subscription fee. DS users can connect to the service through any Wi-Fi hub, such as their home or a coffee shop.
POSTED 9:32 AM Tuesday
You had to be there: Bill Gates didn't make a public appearance at Microsoft's briefing last night, but he and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer filmed a humorous video for the event.
The video showed Gates and Ballmer playing a game while waiting in line for tickets to "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith."
"So this is our executive retreat," Gates says to Ballmer. Gates is wearing a "Star Wars" baseball hat and a ratty denim jacket, and Ballmer wears a black shirt with "Star Wars" in silver letters on it. The two argue about what features of the Xbox 360 are the best, and Ballmer, in an in-joke that appeared to be lost on briefing attendees, shouts, "That's HD, baby! HD! HD! HD!"
HD, by the way, referrs to the high-definition capabilities of the Xbox 360.
In the end, the game the two are playing is revealed to be computer chess.
After the video ended, Xbox exec J Allard poked a little fun at what could be a unique Xbox demographic.
"Billionaire software moguls attempting to be funny," he said. "It's kind of a niche market but I think we've got it sewn up."
POSTED 9:32 AM Tuesday
It was a muted affair: With or without the video, the Microsoft media briefing was decidedly less glamorous than productions of earlier years.
Even the outfits were different. No one wore black this time. More often than not, J Allard and other Xbox executives would show up onstage in the past wearing black, or leather, or black leather. This time, the execs passed up leather and black altogether in favor of suit jackets and casual pants.
Last year's briefing attendees were greeted by smiling models and martini glasses filled with a glowing green concoction. This time, there were no models and no pre-briefing refreshments. Instead, Microsoft staged a party after the briefing with beer and cocktails and an unusual array of food, including a cereal bar, snow cones and a donut stand with choose-your-own-sprinkles.
Unlike last year, there were no celebrity appearances by Jenny McCarthy or Muhammad Ali. A player from the Oakland Raiders made a brief appearance, but that was it.
There were still some theatrical stunts, however. Instead of counting on celebrities to get people's attention, Microsoft surrounded the stage with dozens of twentysomethings who didn't have a role in the briefing other than to clap wildly at every announcement, no matter how small.
POSTED 9:32 AM Tuesday
Words over video: Microsoft and Sony also toned down the gifts for briefing attendees. In the past, Sony would regale reporters with messenger bags, glow-in-the-dark pens and other gadgets. This year, it offered up only a packet of press releases, ones with scant details and no photographs of its next-generation console, the PlayStation 3.
Microsoft didn't even give out nametags at its briefing. Instead, reporters received a flimsy button to wear, with several phrases scattered on them, including "Supreme Being," "Barbarian," "Byzantine" and "Keyser Soze.".
Microsoft continued the theme inside the briefing hall, running slideshows of different words on the walls before the event began. One phrase was the Web site Every10Minutes.com. It shows a promotion between Mountain Dew and Xbox that awards a winner every 10 minutes.
POSTED 9:32 AM Tuesday
The game of love: Sony and Microsoft had a lot of love for Electronic Arts at their briefings, showing off titles the world's largest video game maker has in the works for their next-generation systems.
But EA chief executive Larry Probst made an onstage appearance only at Sony's briefing, and Microsoft had to be content with hosting Don Matrick, the president of EA's worldwide studios.
Either this was a dis of king-size proportions or there were politics at play here. Or maybe Probst got stuck in Los Angeles traffic on his way over.
At any rate, Square Enix President Yoichi Wada was a guest at both briefings, adding to the considerable momentum his company is seeing this year.
POSTED 9:32 AM Tuesday
Game views, Part 2: Three industry journalists were asked in interviews last week to list the games that were getting the most pre-show buzz. One journalist's picks will be featured every day through tomorrow.
Today, the picks of Peer Schneider, senior publisher, IGN Entertainment:
• "The Legend of Zelda":- That's the tentative title for a game that is receiving the lion's share of the buzz in the industry, Schneider said. The game, from Nintendo, is the latest installment in the popular Zelda series.
• "Perfect Dark Zero":- Microsoft bought the rights to the "Perfect Dark" shooter series when it acquired Rare. The previous title, "Perfect Dark," was one of the biggest hits on Nintendo's N64 console.
• "Battlefield 2": One of the rare PC games getting some buzz at a show that's all about console titles. This game is the sequel to the online war game "Battlefield," and is published by Electronic Arts.
• "Age of Empires III": Another PC game. Microsoft's Game Studios unit and Ensemble Studios are partnering to produce this strategy game, which is expected to ship in the second half of this year.
• "Shadow of the Colossus": This PlayStation 2 game is from the Japanese development team that introduced "Ico," a critically acclaimed but poor selling adventure title that debuted in 2001. The game was previously known as "Wanda and the Colossus," but Sony recently renamed it.
POSTED 8:33 PM Monday
Xbox and compatibility: Microsoft said today that the Xbox 360 will be able to play certain games made for the original Xbox system - the backward compatibility that Xbox users have been clamoring for.
The company plans to start by making its most popular games, "Halo" and "Halo 2," compatible with the Xbox 360. It will then work down the list of its best-sellers, with a goal to eventually connect them all.
Microsoft did not disclose the price or the specific release date for the Xbox 360, but the system is widely expected to go on sale in November.
Backward compatibility became a difficult technical challenge when Microsoft overhauled the engine powering the Xbox 360 from that used in the original Xbox. The company switched to IBM from Intel for its processing chip and to ATI from Nvidia for its graphics processor.
The new setup means that Microsoft can't flip a switch in the Xbox 360 and make all of the Xbox games compatible. Instead, it needs to work on each game individually, which takes time and money. The company has licensed some technology from Nvidia in order to make the backwards compatibility feasible.
POSTED 8:33 PM Monday
Finally, "Final Fantasy": Among the other things Microsoft discussed today was its first-ever partnership with Square Enix, developer of the popular "Final Fantasy" video game series. Square will release "Final Fantasy XI" for the Xbox 360, and give the game a vast presence on Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming service.
"Final Fantasy XI" is not a new game and a curious choice for Microsoft to place so much emphasis on at E3. The PlayStation 2 version of the game came out more than a year ago, and was so advanced that it came with its own 40 gigabyte hard drive. A PC version went on sale the year before that.
Microsoft said the Xbox 360 version will have the same storyline as its predecessors, but will be optimized for high-definition viewing and for the Xbox Live service. It will be able to run on the console's 20-gigabyte hard drive.
POSTED 8:33 PM Monday
Emerging lineup: More than 160 games are in development for the Xbox 360, and anywhere from 25 to 40 of them will likely be released this calendar year. Peter Moore, a corporate vice president with the Xbox division, has said that the optimum launch portfolio would be 15 titles. That leaves from 10 to 25 new games for the holidays.
The titles currently in development include "Blue Dragon," a role-playing game from Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the "Final Fantasy" series; and "Call of Duty 2," a sequel to a war game from Activision. Electronic Arts is working on sports games for the Xbox 360, including "Madden NFL 06" and "FIFA 06."
Microsoft also unveiled two games being developed by Rare, a studio in the United Kingdom that Microsoft purchased in 2002. Those include "Perfect Dark Zero," the prequel to the Nintendo N64 game "Perfect Dark," and "Kameo: Elements of Power," a new role-playing game.
The company also said that its Xbox Live service will have 2 million paid subscribers by the end of June.
POSTED 7:12 PM Monday
The big PS3 moment: Sony roared back into the spotlight today with news that its next-generation video-game console, the PlayStation 3, will be available next spring.
The console will be able to play games made for the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, Sony said.
Sony unveiled the PlayStation 3 at the end of a two-hour briefing that covered the technical details of the machine and disclosed some of the games that will run on the system.
Microsoft's Xbox 360 console is expected to go on sale in November, several months before Sony's PS3 makes it to stores. Microsoft gains some advantage by hitting stores first, but the additional time gives Sony a chance to leapfrog the Xbox 360's technology and other features.
Sony said its console will be more impressive than the Xbox 360, and its processor will be twice as fast. It will be able to support up to seven controllers, connected wirelessly through Bluetooth technology, compared with four wireless controllers for the Xbox 360.
Sony showed numerous videos demonstrating the processing and graphics power of its machine, including reproduced scenes from the movie "Spider-Man 2."
Electronic Arts President Larry Probst showed a boxing game, called "EA Sports Fight Night," that his company is developing for the PS3.
POSTED 7:12 PM Monday
Top of the Sony specs: The PS3 system features a 3.2 gigahertz processor called Cell, which Sony jointly developed with IBM and Toshiba, and a 550 megahertz graphics processor called RSX that it created with Nvidia.
It has 512 megabytes of system memory, six USB ports for accessories and can wirelessly access devices such as Sony's PSP handheld over a Wi-Fi connection.
Like Microsoft, Sony lightened the color of its new console and smoothed the design, giving the system a slightly rounded shape.
POSTED 10:48 AM Monday
Game views, Part 1: While much of the pre-E3 talk has been about next-generation game consoles, there will be plenty of video game news as well. The number of current-generation consoles in people's homes is extremely high, making this year a lucrative one for game publishers looking to get some blockbuster games on store shelves.
Three industry journalists were asked in interviews last week to list the games that were getting the most pre-show buzz. One journalist's picks will be featured every day through Wednesday.
First up, the picks from Jane Pinckard, assistant editor, GamePro Magazine.
• "King Kong": The tie-in to Peter Jackson's upcoming film is expected to get huge play by publisher Ubisoft at its E3 booth. It is scheduled to be released in December on the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube in conjunction with the movie's theatrical release.
• "Infected": This shooter title from Majesco is scheduled to come out this fall on the PSP, Sony's new handheld game system.
• "Nintendogs": This game is such a hit in Japan that it boosted sales of Nintendo's DS handheld fivefold in the week after its April 21 release. The game is a puppy simulator. Yes, you read that right. Its release date will likely be announced by Nintendo tomorrow.
• "The Matrix: Path of Neo": The upcoming game in the Matrix series has been under wraps for years, and will reportedly feature a new ending to the "Matrix " story.
• "Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure": This game, by fashion designer Mark Ecko, features a graffiti artist as a main character and is scheduled for release this fall.
POSTED 10:48 AM Monday
How they play the game: Wired has a profile on Xbox visionary J Allard in its June issue. A snippet:
"In January, Allard and the rest of the Xbox senior executives gathered to write brief statements on what motivates them to come to work every morning. The mission: to inspire the group's rank and file. 'Most people put down flowery, make-the-world-a-better-place, Miss America types of things,' Allard says. 'I wrote: "What gets me out of bed and into the office every day is the thought of Ken Kutaragi's resignation letter, framed, hanging next to my desk." ' "
(A few months later, Kutaragi would be demoted as head of Sony's Game Business Group.)
POSTED 10:20 AM Monday
War of words: The dueling press briefings from Microsoft and Sony take place today, kicking off the news from E3. Microsoft traditionally has held the first press briefing of the convention, leaving Sony and Nintendo to battle for attention the following day. But this year, Sony said it would hold its briefing a few hours before Microsoft's, taking some of the fizzle out of the latter's announcements.
Undaunted, Microsoft rushed its marketing team in and decided to unveil its next-generation console, the Xbox 360, the week before E3 on MTV.
Today, Sony is set to open its picture studios in Culver City to journalists at noon, three hours before its briefing begins. From there, reporters will have to scramble in Los Angeles rush-hour traffic to get to Microsoft's Xbox briefing at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Microsoft is providing shuttle buses to get everyone to its event, which is expected to last well into the night.
POSTED 10:20 AM Monday
Can you spare a change? Sony dropped a vague hint that that change is coming — or at least Chang3.
What is Chang3? Video game Web site GameSpot reports that Sony has posted advertising near the Los Angeles Convention Center that shows the PlayStation logo, buttons and the phrase "Welcome Chang3."
One guess is that Chang3 is a variation of the word "change," with the number three added, of course, because of Sony's PlayStation 3. Photos of the advertising can be seen here at www.gamespot.com.
POSTED 10:20 AM Monday
Meanwhile, back at Mario's ranch: Nintendo leaked some news about its next-generation console, code-named Revolution, Friday on its Web site.
The company, which has based its North American headquarters in Redmond, said Revolution will be about as thick as three DVD cases and only slightly longer. In an interview last week, Nintendo spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan described the machine as about as thick as a Tom Clancy novel.
Nintendo also confirmed that the Revolution will debut next year and be backwards compatible — in other words, it will be able to play games made for the GameCube system as well.
The system, Nintendo said, will also be wireless Internet ready out of the box. But such a statement is vague and possibly misleading. Will Revolution have a Web browser or allow players to check their e-mail? Probably not. Nintendo has always said that its products are solely focused on the gaming experience. Look for more details after the company's media briefing tomorrow morning.
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