Pavel Barter was at E3 and he wrote this summary on the main hardware and software announcements for

Sony’s biggest announcement at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3, the videogame industry’s annual bash in Los Angeles) was the development of its smallest games platform to date. PSP, Sony’s first hand-held entertainment system, was dubbed “the Walkman of the 21st Century” by Sony Computer Entertainment’s corporate leadership and was an unexpected move by the company which leads interactive entertainment with its PlayStation brand.

“Just as PlayStation revolutionized in-home computer entertainment, we aim to become a new driving force in the portable platform arena,” Ken Kutaragi, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., told a capacity audience at the company’s Center Studio lot in downtown L.A.

Tentatively scheduled for release in late 2004, the PlayStation Portable will feature a 4.5-inch 480×272 pixel backlit screen, a rechargeable battery source and the Universal Media Disc – a 2.4-inch, 1.8GB format disc.

PSP will compete with Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance console, which has sold 950,000 units since its launch in 2002. At their own conference in Hollywood, Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata denied that he was fazed by Sony’s announcement, saying “We are essentially in control of the handheld market… there isn’t anything to worry about.” But the entrance of a third major competitor to the handheld games market suggests that Nintendo may have a fight on their hands.

Nokia has announced October 2003 as international launch date for N-Gage – a mobile deck that allows for online, multiplayer gaming and also features an MP3 player, stereo FM radio, as well as a tri-band GSM mobile phone. Well-known titles such as Tomb Raider and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell were announced for the platform.

Microsoft were eager to reassert their role in the future of digital entertainment. At the Microsoft conference prior to the opening of E3’s doors, Bill Gates’ troops touted Xbox as the cornerstone of “a digital entertainment lifestyle” and called the console’s online abilities “gaming’s next evolution”. All Xbox systems have a built-in Ethernet port and hard drive, allowing owners to plug into a gaming service via broadband providers. By the end of 2003, Ireland along with five other European countries will be able to receive Xbox Live.

This is part of a segmented approach to Live in Europe, according to Michel Cassius, Senior Director of Xbox Marketing. “The level of infrastructure and broadband adoption varies by country, so by phasing the launch we can make absolutely sure that we don’t try to run before we can walk.”

Publishers and Software
The talk of the event was the re-emergence of Atari. Having successfully combined its U.S. acquisitions under one banner, Infogrames has renamed itself after the 1980’s publishing giant (whose name still resonates favourably with gamers). Atari is playing up its comeback with titles such as the multi-platform Enter the Matrix – a EUR20m direct tie-in with the Matrix Reloaded motion picture – and a Terminator spin-off.

Gran Turismo 4, another installment in Sony’s exalted motor racing series, promises upgrades in car physics, a wider variety of vehicles and online play. The game will initially be released for PlayStation2, as will Eidos’ latest Lara Croft adventure, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. With further sequels such as Half-Life 2, Doom III and Deus Ex 2 on prominent display it is evident that the $25-billion global games industry is leaning hard on past successes to create future hits.

Some of the new and improved releases hitting the market include a remake of Konami’s 1998 espionage game, Metal Gear Solid, for GameCube. Xbox is also planning to cash in on its most successful title to date – Halo – with a sequel, updated with online capabilities. Sony is parading PlayStation2 sequels for its family adventures Jak & Daxter and Rachet & Clank.