THE GIZMO: Hot flashes from this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
UPPING THE ANTE: Smartphone and tablet-based video game titles are taking an increasing chunk of the casual gaming market. At E3, video game giants Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo (and their third-party allies) are fighting back with serious new additions to their hardware and software portfolios to keep hardcore and occasional gamers in their corner.
MICROSOFT TO BAT: While the brand has nothing new in the hardware department, Microsoft will put lots more heat behind the new Kinect motion-sensor peripheral for gaming and other entertainment uses.
Last year's first Kinect games were targeted mostly to the casual/exercise/dance-party crowds. But at its press conference Monday, Microsoft brought up third-party game makers to preview longer-in-development hardcore games with Kinect control like "Mass Effects 3" from EA/BioWare, Crytek's "Ryse" and Ubisoft's "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier" where you'll be pulling stunts such as assembling, loading, aiming and firing invisible guns with your bare hands. Or shout audibles to start the next play in 2012 EA sports titles like "Madden Football."
More family-friendly are "Kinect Disneyland Adventures" from Disney that set you soaring in theme park rides (like "Peter Pan's Neverland") and LucasArts' "Star Wars Kinect" where you wield (what else?) an invisible lightsaber. Also cute for all and newly available is Kinect Fun Labs, an Xbox Live destination using the peripheral's camera to create game avatars that truly look like the player (among other tricks).
A next-gen "Halo" for 2012 was hinted at, but devoid of details.
Forty percent of all Xbox activity is now "nongame," said vice president of corporate communications Frank Shaw, and that number is likely to grow with a new dashboard update in the fall. Mashing the Kinect peripheral with Microsoft's Bing search engine, the promise is fast and hands-free (voice) summoning of entertainment from the likes of Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, YouTube and Xbox Live.
SONY SHINES: After apologizing profusely (again) for the recent security breaches and downtime of its PlayStation Network, Sony execs aimed to make amends at their press conference with news of a next-generation portable game system - officially named PS Vita - plus developments on the home gaming front, especially with 3-D.
Coming at year's end at $249.99 in Wi-Fi version and $299.99 with 3G (AT&T) connectivity, the Vita looks like a slightly larger PSP but ups the ante with a spiffier display and unique multi-touch pad on the rear side that offer new game play options where you "touch, grab, trace, push and pull." And with games all loaded or purchased on solid-state flash memory cards, Vita should travel farther between charges.
More serious PS3 games using PlayStation's Move controller and playable in 3-D also loomed large on Sony's agenda. Title announcements included "Resistance 3," "Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time" and the biggie "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception," out Nov. 3.
To encourage 3-D game/Blu-ray movie adoption, Sony will offer a PlayStation-branded 3D Display boasting a 24-inch LCD screen bundled with a pair of 3-D glasses, HDMI cable and "Resistance 3" for $499.99.
NINTENDO BATS THIRD: In the "clean up" press conference slot yesterday, Nintendo hit hard and well with more polished enticements for its glasses-free 3DS portable game system and a sneak peek of the next-gen, 2012 Wii U console that should keep developers and game players extra busy. The latter is targeted to the family game crowd and to hardcore gamers who turn their noses up at Nintendo products.
The 3DS hasn't yet set the world on fire, but the addition of fan-faves like "Mario Kart," "Luigi's Mansion 2" and a just-launching 3-D remastering of "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" could help.
While no price tag was attached, the Wii U (an addition to the Nintendo line, not a replacement) has so much going on, it's got to be a serious investment.
Most of the magic evolves around a 6.2-inch color display-based controller, resembling a touch pad computer, that gamers will deploy wirelessly in conjunction with the Wii U console, a TV screen, Nintendo's online service and maybe a 3DS portable.
Users will hold the U-controller in front of the TV display to gain a close-up perspective or tap and fire away at objects; hold it off to the side to expand the playfield; hold it low or close to execute a secret attack or exit strategy. And when someone else wants to watch TV, you'll be able to continue game play or interact with a Wii Fit board with the portable screen. But this tablet controller won't operate as a stand-alone game system.
Besides customized new titles from Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA and THQ, loaded on a custom, high-density 12 cm disc format, the Wii U also will play conventional Wii titles. And display them with improved resolution, as Wii U will feature a more powerful chip set and HDMI output (a Nintendo first) for connection to your HDTV.
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