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Scant Details On Next-Gen Games During E3 Show

While Sony cut the price of PlayStation2 to $149 to match Microsoft’s Xbox, the biggest surprise to come out of this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was a lack of details on the next-generation gaming consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

The expected announcements of PlayStation3 and Xbox2 as well as Nintendo’s follow-up to their also-ran GameCube simply didn’t happen. The big news came in the form of small packages, namely handheld devices and add-ons to existing systems that will surely redefine the gaming space in the home and on the go.

Microsoft focused on the new additions that users can expect in the coming months with the Xbox Live! service, which will include a new three-month option with the refined subscription kit.

This will no doubt be welcome news to sports fans, especially with the announcement that this year’s EA Sports lineup, including the top-selling Madden franchise, would finally support Xbox Live! A total of 150 games should be available for Live by the holidays.

Microsoft is further reaffirming its commitment to casual gamers with the introduction of the Xbox Live! Arcade, a new online service that will include voice chat, video mail, real-time video chat over IP and downloadable on-demand content including classic retro gaming titles.

This software upgrade of the Live service will be introduced later this year, while the company still has yet to announce what additional hardware add-ons will accompany these improvements. A new video-streaming camera was demonstrated but no specifications were unveiled.

Although rumors have thus far circulated about a possible hardware replacement for Xbox by next year’s holiday season, Microsoft injected new life into their console with the XNA software development system. It is being introduced to allow for eased development on the Xbox as well as the Windows operating systems for cross-platform titles.

There was no formal announcement of high-definition content however with the upcoming lineup for this year. A Microsoft spokesperson did suggest that XNA would make it easier for development of HD content going forward. Currently there are just over two dozen titles that support 720p or higher resolution but that number should likely increase as the XNA software kit will make developing content easier.

It was 10 years ago at the first E3 when Sony entered the world of video games with the unveiling of the original PlayStation and this year the leading hardware manufacturer announced a new price for the current top dog console PlayStation2 at $149. Sony also confirmed that they’re carefully watching the online arena very carefully and will likely also provide downloadable content via mini-transactions that mirror current changes in the music industry.

This year will further see the introduction of more mainstream titles, as opposed to novelty games, for the EyeToy camera controller. Sony will also be rolling out more software content for their own online network, including the first action-platform game, Rachet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, which will be released this fall.

Sony provided an official working demonstration of the PlayStation Portable, which will be a multi-function device utilizing an optical disc based system for playback of music and video as well as games.

Announced specs include a 480-by-272 resolution, 4.3-inch, 16:9 ratio TFT LCD screen, 32MB RAM, built-in stereo speakers and inputs including USB 2.0. IrDA IR and Memory Stick Pro Duo ports will be included along with Wi-Fi (802.11b) connectivity for wireless gaming with other PSP systems as well as the PS2.

The system will use a 1.8GB Universal Media Disc that will support region coding and parental support, while accessory options will include a USB camera, GPS and even a keypad. No price has been announced but the system is currently scheduled for release in Japan by the end of the year and early 2005 in North America and Europe.

Nintendo once again reiterated its position to create the best dedicated gaming machine and presented the previously announced Nintendo DS, a new handheld system built around two displays. The PDA-sized device is designed so that one game will run on both of the three-inch screens at once with the lower display serving as a touch-screen that serves as controller with both a software keyboard and stylus as well as by touching areas to control the in-game action.

Both screens will be backlit and will be able to render graphics in both 2D and 3D environments, and in addition the system will feature two media bays; the first being for original DS content while the second will support Game Boy Advance titles. A built-in microphone will be included for voice recognition and possible communication with other players.

The system will support Nintendo’s proprietary communication protocol for connectivity with other DS systems as well as the Nintendo GameCube, and additionally will feature Wi-Fi 802.11 support for wireless broadband connections. The DS will also support 16-channel sound and include a headphone adapter and a low-energy consumption design to save battery life. Nintendo has yet to announce a price for the DS but confirmed rumors that the system will see a worldwide release by this holiday season.

Meanwhile, Samsung used E3 to announce its sponsorship of the World Cyber Games Grand Final Oct. 4-10 in San Francisco. The tournament will allow 700 of the world’s best gamers from 60 countries to compete for the top position at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Samsung is also helping the WCG award gamers $400,000 in prizes via the Internet. Beginning May 15, WCG online qualifier events will be held in the U.S. and Canada each month through August.