Los Angeles - I'm at the E3 Exposition, the largest video gaming convention in the world, getting my ear drums pounded and my retinas burned out.
It's 547,000 square feet of pulsing strobe lights, throbbing bass and 70,000 of the industry's movers and shakers, more than half of whom look like pimply-faced nerdlingers whose moms are down the street biding their time before they have to come pick their sons up. Good idea; parking lots are charging an exorbitant $60 U.S.
I step into the main convention hall and immediately crumple to the floor with my first seizure of the day. Like the Food Building at the CNE, there's absolutely no logic to the way everything's set up. People bump heads because they're looking one way while walking another. Drooling nerd virgins throw elbows at my face to get a good picture of Tomb Raider's Lara Croft. Not the real thing, mind you, but a friggin' 20-foot poster of her.
It's a strange mixture of a trendy downtown club, video arcade and Star Wars convention. It's Vegas with the faint smell of Clearasil permeating the air.
Unlike ordinary cubicle-like convention booths, the set-ups at E3 are massive, $100,000 displays of high-concept interior design crammed with low-rent booth girls. The Big Three - Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox - take up entire corners of the hall. Each company announces its highly anticipated console in drawn-out presentations, first listing techie definitions and mission plans that no one cares about and then dazzling us with highly impressive graphics that look more like movie trailers than video games.
Though Nintendo's presence is huge, I'm disappointed by the lack of details about its new console, the Revolution. A few features are announced - the best being that it'll be backwards-compatible with every Nintendo system every created - but a mere prototype is on display. Without a working unit, even I could go up onstage and promise the exact same thing.
It also looks like PlayStation 3 fucked up its controller. "How the hell do I hold this boomerang-lookin' thing?" is the general consensus among attendees.
I ask some of them which console they're most likely to buy, and they all respond with two of the three: Nintendo and PlayStation, PlayStation and Xbox, or Xbox and Nintendo. In my day, I had a choice: Nintendo or Sega. Only Rosedale kids had both. Looks like it'll be another giant year for the already monstrous $8-billion industry.
But buyers beware: if you're in the market for one of these next-generation consoles, you'll need to invest in a high-definition TV to take advantage of the graphic chips. Otherwise, it's like going to a monkey whorehouse without a bag of bananas: a waste of a potentially thrilling experience.
No pricing information is available yet, but since each console promises to be a complex "entertainment hub," you'd better start saving now.
As far as the Xbox 360 goes, Microsoft made sure its 3.2GHz console is optimized for online game-playing, since its MSN Network is pushed on us at every opportunity. It'll be backwards-compatible with the first-gen Xbox and come with interchangeable colour face plates.
Of the three, it'll be the first to launch this holiday season.
PlayStation 3 will be backwards-compatible with both the first and second generation PS. It's the only console with support for Blu-Ray DVDs (13 times more space than standard DVDs), which isn't surprising, since Sony invented them. The processor power is supposedly twice that of the Xbox, but to gamers it's the playability that matters, and the new controllers aren't getting any love. They're aiming for a spring 2006 launch.
The Nintendo Revolution will be backwards-compatible with the GameCube, NES, SNES and N64, giving it the largest video game library of any console. Rumour is it'll be the least powerful system, but Nintendo's always a winner because gamers can't get enough of Maria and Zelda. Sources say they'll have a launch date ready by the next E3. Jigga what?
Roughly the size and weight of the iPod Mini, Game Boy Micro plays all Game Boy Advance games. It's not an upgrade of the Advance, just another option. Nintendo will soon have three portable gaming systems available (Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS are the other two), further cementing its kingship in the portable gaming market and fuelling debates about whether it should drop regular consoles altogether.
Look for it this fall.