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Los Angeles - In most years, letting gamers loose at the annual E3 trade show is remarkably similar to letting a bunch of excited teenage girls into Justin Bieber's dressing room.
But the excitement at the videogame confab taking place this week in Los Angeles was far more muted than usual - it's as though the girls got into the dressing room but discovered that Bieber was on tour in another continent.
Across the blogosphere the ennui was so intense, that normally colourful writers expressed their boredom in the most straightforward of terms. “I didn't see anything particularly exciting,” was the disappointed conclusion of Joshua Topolsky, the editor of the tech news site The Verge.
Maybe he's a little jaded, because the 25-billion-dollar videogame industry may actually be on the cusp of one of the most profound changes since arcade games were shunted aside by home consoles connected to TVs over 20 years ago.
Nintendo is the only one of the big three manufacturers to have a new console in the wings. Its last debut, the Wii, reshaped the video game market when it came it out in 2006, by appealing to casual gamers with its motion control system while eschewing the race between Microsoft's Xbox line and Sony's Playstation for ever-more powerful graphics.
This time around Nintendo's innovation is the Wii U - a tablet-like controller that will create new game playing modes. But few expect it to be as big a hit as its predecessor.
Microsoft also had something to crow about. Its SmartGlass technology is designed to bring all its devices into the same ecosystem, allowing gamers to switch from tablet to phone to Xbox or to use them in conjunction with each other. Sony displayed a similar concept with its Crossplay.
That prompted tech columnist Dan Ackerman to ask a once-inconceivable question. “Have we arrived at the point at which new game consoles are not required?” he asked on the tech site Cnet.com.
His thinking was not merely that the explosion of casual gaming on mobile devices has drained essential customers from the console pool. Instead he argued that “the current generation of HD game consoles - the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation 3 - is still good enough for most gamers, and these consoles are even continuing to find new audiences.”
More importantly, by adding new software capabilities to their existing platforms, Microsoft and Sony are fast approaching the holy grail of their sector - turning their consoles into the entertainment hubs of the home.
This might represent a profound change in the industry, but it will not come at the expense of innovative gaming experiences, however.
Traditionally the industry has innovated in long cycles, and the next big wave is likely to include convincing 3D and virtual reality experiences.
John Carmack, a guru developer responsible for such groundbreaking titles as Doom and Wolfenstein, was displaying a prototype head- mounted device at the show, that reportedly allowed total immersion into a 360-degree 3D-gaming environment.
“I felt like I was literally standing in the game, with full 360-degree vision and interactivity throughout the scenario,” said a CNN reporter who called it “the most amazing experience” of the massive trade show. “I only had a few minutes inside the game, but the potential and payoff for this virtual reality head mount was truly astounding.” - Sapa-dpa
Links: The Verge report: http://wapo.st/L6w2Cn
http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/07/tech/gaming-gadgets/e3-highlights/inde x .html
http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-21539_7-57442753-10391702/e3-2012-the-e n d-of-hardware/