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Last Updated: Friday, 16 May, 2003, 00:26 GMT 01:26 UK
Gaming nirvana sparkles
The world's gaming glitterati are in Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, where the titans of the games industry crow about their coming attractions, as the BBC Northern Ireland's Neil McGreevey found out.

The E3 show in Los Angeles
The Atari logo greeted gamers in Los Angeles
The most startling sight as you reach the venue is the dominating logo emblazoned on its facade.

Five years ago you would have thought it impossible that those three white stripes could ever become such a big deal again, but Atari, console king of the early 80s, is back with a vengeance.

Thanks to Infogrames re-branding itself as the seminal US company, Atari has been saved from being a mere T-shirt-friendly symbol of retro cool and is a name to be reckoned with once again.

Atari's booth was a cloak-and-dagger affair, thanks to footage from the upcoming Terminator 3 movie being included in demos of their official game tie-in.

A new gaming platform was born in the form of Nokia's N-Gage, which integrates a mobile phone and digital music player with proper games hardware.

It certainly looks the business, but as Nintendo has proven year after year, the GameBoy family rules the handheld market with an iron fist.

Sony challenge

Nokia N-Gage gaming mobile
Fun in the hand: Nokia N-Gage set for October debut
Nokia, however, regards Nintendo's seminal handheld as "indirect competition", as their online N-Gage opens up brave new worlds of wireless interactivity.

With admirable support from such gaming giants as Sega, Activision and Eidos, the company is pumped-up to claim the market as their own when the machine launches worldwide on 7 October.

The N-Gage will not be the only contender to the GameBoy throne. Sony stunned the conference with the announcement of the PSP, a handheld console slated for release late in 2004.

Using digital optical disks and hi-tech chipsets, the PSP is set to be, in Sony president Ken Kuturagi's words, "the Walkman of the 21st century".

Sony rival Microsoft put the emphasis on software, rather than hardware.

New and old games

It paraded what is destined for game-of-the-year status, Doom III, followed up by a slice of the massive online RPG, Star Wars: Republic Commando.

Halo 2
Master Chief is back in action in Halo 2
The real star, however, was the Master Chief - back in the sequel to the incredible Halo. It offers up more of the same first-person blasting action but has been polished to a high shine.

It was the further versatility of Bill's box that perhaps pointed to the Xbox's strength as a multimedia device. The upcoming karaoke device complete with microphone allows you to croon at home.

For those already immersed in Xbox Live, online players will soon be able to have gaming info sent to their mobile via text message.

Nintendo's conference was like a retirement home for classic game developers as Toru Iwatani, the brains behind Pac-Man, played on-stage against Mario wunderkind, Shigeru Miyamoto, who is currently working on an all-new Pac-Man title.

Refreshingly self-critical, the assembled masses were told of the mistakes the big N made with marketing the GameCube, and the difficulty the traditionally family-orientated company was having in appealing to modern, gore-obsessed players.

But their president, Satoru Iwata, in a nod to the Grand Theft Auto series, assured Nintendo-philes: "You won't see Mario shoot a hooker".

And while we were assured the GameCube had a rosy future, its successor is already officially in development.

Back to the future

It was not just Atari and Pac-Man that gave the event the nostalgic touch.

Gamer at E3
Keen gamers could get their hands on all the latest titles
Universal are resurrecting hoary old 80s series Battlestar Galactica for the games world, while He-Man and the Masters of the Universe have also been given the cyber-treatment.

The most creative use of GameBoy technology also harked to decades past. The Carrera Virtual Racing system is basically an update of those old Scalextric tracks that we used to torture the cat with.

Not only is the GameBoy used as a controller for cars on the track, but the action is mirrored by on-screen rubber-burnin'.

While E3 is typically loaded with gaming oddities, one stood out. An entrepreneur was trying to find a distributor for his patented product - a deodorant powder you sprinkle on your thumbs to prevent slippage during extended gameplay sessions.

Star-struck

Aside from the games was the glitter. Denizens of the big screen, who have finally embraced the industry that has financially trumped Hollywood, were in at E3 en masse.

Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan and Steven Lisberger, stars of the original Tron film, were busy promoting the upcoming movie and game sequel.

The E3 hall
The Enter the Matrix game was on show at E3
They drew quizzical looks from younger attendees, unlike Jada Pinkett-Smith, star of the Matrix Reloaded and Atari game, Enter the Matrix.

Comic-book maestro and creator of Spawn, Todd McFarlane, was busy promoting his new game, Evil Prophecy. This is just one of the gaming feathers to his bow, as he also was a character designer on the upcoming Soul Calibur 2.

For gung-ho appeal, however, nothing topped the displays by the US army, who dropped from choppers, re-enacted rescues and generally strutted their machismo.

And then there are the parties. The golden goose for revellers is the infamous Sony bash at their Hollywood studios. Unfortunately, it is closed to the media this year.

Back at the hotel, my bed looks like some PR grenade exploded above it, with T-shirts, pens, mugs and other assorted swag from the show.

As a jaded, mid-20s gamer, the conference has once again rejuvenated my love for the industry. Or maybe that's just the margaritas.




SEE ALSO:
Sony to launch portable console
14 May 03  |  Technology
Gaming comes of age
17 Dec 02  |  Technology
Gamers play for a living
29 Apr 03  |  Technology
Gaming 'is good for you'
12 Feb 03  |  Technology
Fun, frags and frolics online
30 Dec 02  |  Technology
Melting pot of online gaming
19 Mar 03  |  Technology
Xbox aims for wider appeal
13 May 03  |  Technology
Xbox drops in price
15 May 03  |  Technology
Los Angeles set for gaming heaven
12 May 03  |  Technology


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