July 17, 2008

Big 3 Announce Similar Plans For Gaming Consoles At E3

At this year's E3 gaming industry conference, the Big Three gaming companies "“ Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony - all shared a forecast of more games, more sequels and more connectivity. Each of the companies also shared very similar predictions for future development.

All three also presented their plans to transform the notion of gaming systems into a broader entertainment portal for families.

At the Los Angeles Convention Center, Microsoft began the ceremonies by pitching the Xbox 360 as family-friendly. The console will also undergo a swift redesign which will follow Nintendo's Wii in allowing gamers to create avatars that can interact with each other online. Wii's have had that feature, called Miis, since its 2006 debut.

Microsoft flaunted "Lips," a new sing-along game similar to Sony's popular "SingStar" franchise, but this karaoke game developed by iNiS enables wannabe singers to croon their preexisting tunes from MP3 players and to bust moves with a microphone that's motion sensitive, a feature that's been a hallmark of the Wii.

On Tuesday, Nintendo announced its plans to bring voice chat features to the Wii console. Both Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's Playstation 3 already offer players voice chat capabilities with their own headset microphones. The so-called WiiSpeak "community microphone" accessory will be available later this year at the price of $29.99.

Nintendo also acknowledged that developments in the "Mario Bros." and "Zelda" franchises were currently underway. Also, in a brand new development Nintendo said it plans to bring the "Animal Crossing" series to the Wii with "Animal Crossing: City Folk" later this year. The cutesy open-world game will boast a bigger playing field and an online auction house selling virtual items.

"You're able to just do all the things you love to do in 'Animal Crossing' but even more," said Cammie Dunaway, vice president at Nintendo.

"And particularly with the new WiiSpeak peripheral, it just opens up the experience, so that you can be playing in a roomful of people, talking to people somewhere across the world."

Nintendo closed their press conference on Tuesday by showcasing "Wii Music," another game fashioned along the same lines as "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" However, Wii gamers will use the Wii's handheld controls rather than instrument-shaped ones. What's more, Nintendo's game will give makeshift musicians the ability to conduct an orchestra as well as simulate playing 40 instruments. That's 36 more than "Rock Band."

Later on Tuesday, Sony took to the stage at the Shrine Auditorium, where it announced its new video download service for the PlayStation 3. Standard and high definition videos from such studios as MGM, Fox, Lionsgate and Disney can be downloaded and watched on the console and transferred to Sony's PlayStation Portable handheld system. Rentals cost $2.99 to $5.99 while purchases range from $9.99 to $14.99.

Just one day before Sony's announcement, Microsoft announced a similar deal with popular DVD rental company Netflix that will allow Xbox 360 users to stream videos from Netflix to their TV. Microsoft launched its own video download service two years ago with programming from providers such as Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks and Warner Bros. Lionsgate and Disney since used the service to dispense their content, too.

Sony also announced that it would be moving its 80-gigabyte Playstation 3 to be offered at the price of $399 "“ previously held by the 40-gigabyte version.

In similar form, before E3 began, Microsoft revealed it would cut the price of 20-gigabyte Xbox 360 by $50 to $299. The company will also begin selling a 60-gigabyte version for $349.

Microsoft and Sony used part of their press conferences to showcase a crop of upcoming sequels. Microsoft will unleash role-playing game "Fable 2" and third-person shooter "Gears of War" 2 later this year. Sony sequels due in time for the holidays include follow-ups to "Resistance" and "Motor Storm." The first next-generation "God of War" game will be released next year.

"Franchises like 'Resistance' and 'MotorStorm' that did so many key things for us at launch are going to be very key for us this holiday season, with 'Resistance 2' and 'MotorStorm Pacific Rift,'" said Jack Tretton, chief executive at Sony Computer Entertainment America, following the Sony press conference Tuesday.

In one of the biggest announcements from E3 this week, Nintendo said that Rockstar Games was developing a "Grand Theft Auto" title for the portable Nintendo DS system that would be released in winter. Titled "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars," the game will be set in Liberty City and focus on the Triad crime syndicate.


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