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Reporter's Notebook: E3 Show in L.A.

At the Electronic Entertainment Exposition, it's all about the coming of the consoles.

Staff Reporter Troy Wolverton is in Los Angeles to attend theElectronic Entertainment Exposition -- better known as E3 -- which isthe video-game industry's giant annual gathering. He'll fileoccasional dispatches on news, rumors,sights and thoughts from the show.

Tuesday

LOS ANGELES --

Nintendo's

press conference this morning was the last by thethree big console makers. And in terms of details on next-generationdevices, it certainly had the least of the three.

Nintendo said little about the Revolution, its upcomingreplacement for the company's current GameCube console. Nintendo will releasethe device, which will include a main processor from

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

and agraphics chip from

ATI Technologies

(ATYT)

next year. The game machine will havebuilt-in Wi-Fi networking, and its controllers will connect wirelesslyto it. As the company said earlier this year, the machine will be ableto play GameCube games.

Additionally, Nintendo executives said the Revolution will be ableto play games designed for previous Nintendo consoles, going back tothe original Nintendo Entertainment System. However, gamers shouldn'tstart uncrating their old games from the attic. In terms of previous-generation games, the Revolution will be able to play only GameCubeones directly; instead of being able to plug in NES cartridges, gamerswill have to download versions of NES and other system games from theInternet.

Beyond that, Nintendo said -- and showed -- little. While

Sony

(SNE) - Get Report

and

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

have been touting 3.2GHz processors and the memorycapacity and graphics power of their new machines, Nintendo gave no details about the Revolution's processor or any other technical specifications of the device.

Similarly, Nintendo showed only a couple of still images of gamesapparently designed for the Revolution. In contrast, at the heart of bothMicrosoft's and Sony's press events on Monday were moving scenes fromgames designed for their new devices.

Beyond saying that it will launch the Revolution next year, Nintendogave no date or even season for the device's debut. Like itscompetitors, the company also kept mum on a price for the new machine.

That's not to say that Nintendo didn't have some surprises for theaudience. The company showed off a new version of its popular Game Boyhandheld system. This one, called the Game Boy Micro, will go on salethis fall and is about the same size as one of

Apple's

(AAPL) - Get Report

iPod mini music players. The Micro will be able to play all games made for the GameBoy Advance. Nintendo did not say how much it will cost.

Nintendo is also making a big push on wireless gaming,particularly using its DS handheld. The company plans to release two ofits popular games,

Animal Crossing

and

Mario Kart

, inwireless-enabled versions for the DS. Using the wireless networkconnection, DS users can link up to the Internet and play against othergame players online.

At its own press conference Monday night, Microsoft gave a few moredetails on its upcoming Xbox 360, including answering one bigoutstanding question in the affirmative: The new game machine will be able to play games designed for the original Xbox.

The company expects to have 25 to 40 Xbox 360 titles available whenthe new machine debuts later this year. And some 160 titles arein development, Microsoft executives said.

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But the backward compatibility could prove crucial. Both Sony'sPlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Revolution will be able to play gamesdesigned for previous iterations of those companies' consoles. And whilethe number of launch titles for the 360 is significant, Microsoft isexpecting 200 new titles for the original Xbox to be releasedjust this year, on top of the hundreds of games already available. AndMicrosoft has yet to say anything about an Xbox 360 version of

Halo

, which has been the most popular franchise on the originalXbox.

Microsoft's press event on Monday immediately followed Sony's, and the two offered parallel universes. Each company showed off technical details of their machines, new games for them and displayed how users will be able to do more with them than play games, including watching movies or chatting with friends.

Interestingly, both events also included appearances fromrepresentatives of two key software publishers:

Electronic Arts

(ERTS)

and

Square Enix

. But the differences in what thoserepresentatives had to say -- and who they were -- may be telling.

At Sony's event, for instance, EA chief Larry Probst spokeon behalf of his company. Probst generally shies away frommedia attention, but there he was out front saying his companyplanned to make a "big bet" on the PlayStation 3, as it had with thePlayStation 2.

As part of EA's Sony presentation, the company showed off a versionof its new

Fight Night

game for the PlayStation 3 that amazed in the amount of detail and realism it depicted.

In contrast, at Microsoft's event, EA was represented by DonMattrick, president of the company's worldwide studios. He's a bigwig atthe company but not someone with the same cachet asProbst. Mattrick touted the new version of

Madden

NFL footballfor the Xbox 360, bringing on stage with him Oakland Raider offensivetackle Robert Gallery. But Madden will likely be available for a widerange of consoles, and the graphics on Madden were not as eye-poppinglyimpressive as those on Fight Night.

Square Enix President Yoichi Wada represented his company at boththe Sony and Microsoft press events. At Microsoft's he showed off aversion of the company's current

Final Fantasy XI

game for theXbox 360. But for Sony, Wada showed clips from Square Enix'sforthcoming

Final Fantasy XII

as well as a rendering of how aprevious version of the game --

Final Fantasy VII

-- might lookon the PlayStation 3.

The distinctions may mean little or nothing at all. Representatives of EAand Square Enix did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Butthe differences could be an indication of publishers' expectations forthe coming console cycle, with the best stuff -- and most respect --still being reserved for Sony.

Monday

I met with

Activision

(ATVI) - Get Report

CEO Robert "Bobby" Kotick. Next week, I'll put together a question-and-answer article based on my interview, but here are some tidbits:

During the last console transition, Activision and othercompanies were surprised by the staying power of the outgoing consoles.Two to three years after Sony introduced the PlayStation 2, it wasstill selling significant quantities of the original PlayStation.Kotick said that Activision, EA and others left sales on the table bybeing too quick to abandon development for the older console.

Kotick is determined to not make the same mistake this timearound. Activision is in a much stronger place financially than it wasfive years ago, Kotick noted, and the company believes that it can pursuedevelopment on both old- and new-generation platforms at the same time,with little trade-off costs.

Kotick has been at the forefront of talking up the potentialof advertising in video games. In that vein, Activision has worked withNielsen Interactive to research the potential advertising market. Buteven Kotick doesn't expect advertising to be a meaningful part ofActivision's or the industry's revenue anytime soon. Indeed, it couldbe five years or more before advertising becomes significant to theindustry, he said.