Despite the fact that neither Sony, Microsoft nor Nintendo unveiled plans for a new console at E3 2003, they still managed to steal the show by jockeying for position with an intensity that’s reminiscent of grade school. Sony was the big kahuna this time, announcing its intention to challenge Nintendo’s virtual monopoly of the handheld gaming market with the Sony PSP (PlayStation Portable), tentatively slated to hit shelves in fall 2004.
In peripheral news, Sony plans to introduce a US$39 EyeToy USB Camera add-on this October that uses motion-tracking technology to project gamers on-screen. Users can control the gameplay of 12 titles with their movements and record video messages on memory cards that can be played back during the game.
On the on-line front, software king Electronic Arts has granted Sony exclusive console access rights to its sports games on-line. The move is seen as a snub to Microsoft, which has been vying for a similar deal with EA for the last 18 months.
In an effort to make its console more than just a gaming platform and DVD player, Microsoft will release its US$39.95 Xbox Music Mixer in time for the holiday season. Users can download photos, movies and MP3s from their PC onto their Xbox and then play them back as a musical slideshow. The Mixer will also come with a microphone so folks can sing over their favorite tunes karaoke-style.
Speaking of cool new apps, Konami of America is trying to drive gamers outdoors with its new vampire-hunting action game Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand. Shipping in September, the Game Boy Advance title comes with a solar sensor built into its cartridge. When users play the game outside, the sun will boost their character’s powers and weaken the vampire enemies.
Reflecting the console players’ focus on whole-family gaming (see ‘Gaming’s second childhood cometh as the market shifts back to kids, KidScreen May 2003), kid-skewing titles were a lot more prevalent – and sophisticated – this year. EA lent its finely-honed sports game expertise to the development of Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup (fall, all platforms), which is based on the aerial sport dreamed up by author J.K. Rowling. But despite its fictional foundation, Quidditch World Cup feels as ultra-realistic and robust as the gameco’s latest Madden NFL and Tiger Woods PGA Tour titles.
New kids franchises making the vid game translation this year include on-line virtual pet phenomenon Neopets (Neopets The Darkest Faerie, Sony), Disney’s action toon Kim Possible (Kim Possible: Revenge of the Monkey, Buena Vista Games), mini-doll line Polly Pocket (Polly Pocket! Super Splash Island, Vivendi Universal), recently revamped cartoon icon He-Man (Masters of the Universe, TDK Mediactive) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami).
Original games with kid appeal were also really impressive this year, with beautiful graphics and character design making THQ and Nickelodeon’s Tak and the Power of Juju and Microsoft’s Kameo: Elements of Power (developed by Rareware) stand out from the software crowd.
Stay tuned for more E3 news next month with the launch our brand-new ‘Digital Bytes’ page devoted to the ever-growing realm of new media.