E3 Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center, June 15, 2010.

Story by Kathleen Gasperini
Photos by Tom Wallace

E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is like walking into a massive theme park of a variety of fantasy worlds all vying to grab your attention. From the Disney Interactive Studios wall boards featuring a much tougher Mickey Mouse (Disney Epic Mickey), to the old-school, but new version TRON, to the sequels that keep spawning such as Final Fantasy XIV, or the anime-inspired Bandai Games, it gives you some idea of the massive nature of this side of entertainment -and that’s just on your way into the West Hall.

E3 is one of those shows were all entrance space is used, right up to the street lights. This time it was Virgin Gaming and their massive introduction into the realm of games featuring a multi-layered white and red themed booth, stacks of fake 100-dollar bills in a glass container in a million-dollar give-away, and a red and black Virgin Hummer.

Why shouldn%uFFFDt Richard get into gaming? This Virgin booth was enormous.

Inside are fans and paid performers dressed as key video gaming characters, plus jumbotrons showcasing the latest new graphics and video montages from new releases like LucasArts Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. And for some reason, a larger than usual number of automotive sponsors (Honda, Toyota, Prius for Sims 3), corporate sponsors such as Target and their connection with the art show Into the Pixel, NOS energy drinks, and Virgin Games as mentioned previously.

The night previous was a Who’s-Who of entertainers performing at the Activision party at the Staple’s Center featuring NERD, Jane’s Addiction, Maynard from Tool, Chris Cornell, Usher, and Eminem with Travis Barker in the final set. With such pomp, it’s hard to believe that the gaming industry is suffering as much as it is, but the reality is that predictions made some 5 to 10 years ago, that most everyone would be jumping onto new platforms and thus various compatible games would simply explode, especially among youth culture, has been far slower than expected. You can see from our data where things are headed in that regard.

Inside the West Hall entrance of E3.

With all of this being said, gaming has crossed boundaries with mainstream entertainment whereby movies, TV, cartoons, sports, art, and fashion continue to pick-up trends from the publishers, designers, and technology studios that come from the gaming industry. As we described in our recent story on China and the Creative Crossover, gaming also crosses what were once international borders as more people relate to the interactive experience of MMO’s for example, and various gameplay that speaks to many cultures.

Microsoft set the stage for E3 this year with their press conference introducing the Kinect (formerly Project Natal), the motion-control add-on feature for Xbox 360. To fully illustrate how it uses the players’ entire body, a group of Cirque du Soleil performers were on hand doing stunts and integrating beautiful motion as well as the audience to showcase the Kinect experience. Of course later, Sony-types ribbed the Kinect launch by claiming their Move was more precise thus launching the “who’s got a better motion-control” talk around the show. Things have risen to ad-nauseum viral levels on Twitter with everyone writing “connect” as “Kinect.” Since it’s a Microsoft thing, maybe Apple should come out with an iKinect mobile phone MMO gaming app.

Life-size Halo characters.

Kinect may either be one more step in interactive gaming, or somewhat revolutionary because it has given a facelift to many old gaming themes. For example, while the foyer of E3 was simply packed with people watching the new Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II by LucasArts, it was announced that there will soon be a Kinect-enabled Star Wars version in the future. In addition, hints of a connection with Disney Interactive Studios were also dropped, with Tinkerbell showing up in the presentation. Expect Microsoft’s Kinect to drop November 4th.

Electronic Arts (EA) debuted the Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for Sony Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC which will come out November 16th. It features an “autolog network” meaning an online system that connects you with other players. EA will also have a Kinect title EA Sports Active 2, with versions for Wii, plus iPhone and iPod Touch dropping November 16. EA also announced an MMA title for later this year, and their World Cup gaming area was packed with people demo-ing.

World Cup Video Game by EA.

At the Sony press conference, it was all about 3D and PS3. Jack Tretton from Sony Playstation discussed Killzone, how it’s coming out in February, then moved right into Gran Turismo 5 which will also be in 3D and released November 2. Perhaps the biggest story out of this conference was about Move and that because it has buttons, unlike Microsoft’s Kinect, this motion controller provides greater specific functionality. Details about Move are that it will be in North America on September 19th for $49, with a navigation controller for $29.

News from Playstation 3 came with their car combat series Twisted Metal -a 16-player online game featuring cool aspects such as cars flying like helicopters. Release is 2011, but we were lucky enough to test it on the show floor, and yes, car combat is really fun. But maybe that’s because we live in LA and dream of such fantasies. Finally, with PlayStation Plus members can subscribe to and get early access to games, maps, downloads. It’s also an excellent way for PlayStation to test betas on core gamers who subscribe.

Target was one of many corporate sponsors this year. This was near the Into the Pixel art show which displays the best in video graphics/art. We don%uFFFDt know what was inside the Target tent. Maybe Shaun White.

Nintendo released the 3DS handheld which includes a “slider” that allows you to slide the angle or degree with which you may want to experience 3D versions. For example, you can watch it from the side, rather than straight in front. The big news from Nintendo is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which will be on Nintendo Wii next year (a little later than many were hoping for). It features cool Wii Motion Plus aspects such as improvements in wielding a sword (special powers when shooting skyward) and different moves with the shield. There’s also a Wii “B” button bowling feature where you can knock out enemies like bowling pins.

Ubisoft may have a huge hit on their hands with the announcement of their new Michael Jackson dance game. Question: Will it be Kinect and Move compatible? Just when we got to asking this, Ubisoft said it would be for Kinect, Move, and Wii this holiday season. Basically, Ubisoft said that the dance game teaches you to dance as good (or better) than the pop star, plus you can sing along to tracks. As indicated by our data in our Spring Study -North America, many dance titles tend to do well with specific youth demographics, which is why we think that Dance Central, a new title by MTV Games and Harmonix may also be a hit. The game features dance skills and performances, plus a large assortment of licensed music.

Badass Mickey was everywhere. In Disney%uFFFDs Epic Mickey game, the Mouse blasts everything with different colored paint, thus trouncing on evil, etc. with different prisms. Or something like that.

Another developer that caught our interest was Bluehole Studio from Korea and their TERA for massively multiplayer online markets (MMO’s). The emphasis is based on skills rather that racking up points or stats. Published by En Masse Entertainment, TERA has a limited user interface and puts the emphasis of strategy skills and working with other players. For example, there are classes whereby Warriors can position themselves in front of less physical classes such as Priests thereby protecting them. In addition, it has a PVE (players vs. environment) set-up where players can explore, quest, trade, or craft, and PVP (player vs. player) set-up whereby players can strike each other in various battlegrounds and duels. There’s also a “political system” for both guilds to campaign and elect various officials to regulate the guild, pay taxes, and so on. This subscription-based game is expected in North America in 2011.

Stay tuned for more from E3 throughout the week. We’ve also been tweeting live from the show if you’d like to follow: labelnetworks.

Star Wars: The Force Unleased II by LucasArts held attendees captive as the jumbotron displayed the latest moves by someone who doesn%uFFFDt look at all like the Mark Hamil’s Luke Skywalker, but he can do some amazing martial arts tricks and Jedi-like flying stunts.

All Points Bulletin team.

Lots of automotive sponsors at E3 this year, including Honda.

Typical E3 Expo character walking around.

Prius for Sims 3. We don%uFFFDt really understand the connection but there they were.