Editor's Note: Senior writer Troy Wolverton is in Los Angeles to attend the Electronic Entertainment Exposition -- better known as E3 -- which is the video-game industry's giant annual gathering. He's filing occasional dispatches on the sights and sounds of the show.LOS ANGELES -- After all the excitement of last year's event -- when Sony ( SNE), Microsoft ( MSFT) and Nintendo each gave gamers a peek at their next-generation machines -- you had to expect a letdown this year. I should have sensed trouble when Kaz Hirai, president of Sony's PlayStation division in the U.S., waited nearly two hours into the company's Monday night presentation to give the details that everyone wanted to know -- when the PlayStation 3 will be launched, how much it will cost and how many Sony will ship. Let me tell you, two hours has rarely passed so slowly in my life. It wasn't just that Hirai waited until the end to get to the point of the press event. It was that everything in between wasn't terribly compelling. Most of the game footage Sony showed was from demos at best. Few of the games generated much excitement. And the company had little to show off in the way of certain blockbuster titles. Instead of real, playable games, the company mainly showed a succession of videos of footage from various games, each one seeming more mind-numbingly violent than the next. Hey, I'm all for blowing stuff up from time to time -- in the game world, of course -- but when something like 80% of the games being shown involve some kind of extreme violence and mayhem, it gets a little monotonous. To be fair, the company did show off a couple of innovations that seemed to stir the gathered crowd a bit. One was the promise of being able to link the company's PlayStation Portable to the PlayStation 3 to supplement games on the new console as a second display for it. For instance, the company showed how gamers could use the PSP with its upcoming Formula One racing game as a side mirror to see what's going on behind them while the action in front unfolds on their main television screens.
Speaking of Nintendo, the company's presentation on Tuesday was a disappointment in a more straightforward way than Sony's: It announced almost nothing of substance. Unlike Sony's Hirai, Reggie Fils-Aime, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo's American division, warned early on at his company's event that he wouldn't be giving any similar details on the Wii's launch. I think many of us stuck around, figuring that he'd have to announce something noteworthy. Unfortunately, he really didn't. Oh, sure, Nintendo announced there will be a new Zelda game that will be available at the launch of its Wii console. And unlike Sony, Nintendo showed off several real, playable games and promised that visitors to its booth at E3 would find 27 different games available to play on the Wii. But as with Sony, even those highlights weren't all that bright. Nintendo's been promising -- and failing to deliver -- a new Zelda for several years now, so gamers will likely believe it only when they see it. And Fils-Aime declined to say how many of the games playable at E3 will actually be available on store shelves when the Wii launches sometime this fall.
With Microsoft having launched its own next-generation game system last fall, little in the way of news was expected out of the company's press event on Tuesday. But it made a big splash by announcing a partnership with Take-Two Interactive ( TTWO) that will bring the next iteration of Take-Two's flagship Grand Theft Auto franchise to the Xbox 360 on the day the game launches. Take-Two has released previous iterations of Grand Theft Auto for the Xbox months or years after it released them for Sony's PlayStation 2.
You'd think that each company would want to play to its strengths. But one more aspect of the disappointing nature of the events so far was that each company in its own way showed off the shortcomings of its game system. Sony's PlayStation 3 is all about amazing graphics and speed, thanks to its cell processor and top-of-the line video card from Nvidia ( NVDA). The system allows for near photorealistic graphics and the display of thousands of intelligent objects on a screen at any one time. Last year, the company in its presentations showed off the machine's power to dramatic effect with scenes from under the ocean with thousands of fish or the ability to show thousands of video feeds on the screen at once. This year Sony gave special place in its presentation to ... SingStar, a karaoke game that's seen modest success in Europe. Needless to say, the game did little to show off the PlayStation 3's high-end graphics. Nor is the game likely to appeal much to the hard-core gamers who will have to shell out $500 or $600 to get a PlayStation 3 when it launches this fall. But Sony wasn't the only company playing to its weaknesses. Nintendo has made a big point of trying to distinguish the Wii from the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 by emphasizing that there's more to games than just graphics. The point, it says, is not how the games look, but how fun they are to play.