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The future of gaming

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The annual videogame extravaganza known as E3 featured highly anticipated sequels like Rock Band 3 and cheeky original shoot-’em-ups like Bulletstorm . But the real star of the geektastic convention was some seriously eye-popping new technology, including the 3-D-enabled Nintendo 3DS, the colorful motion controls of the PlayStation Move, and controller-free gaming on Microsoft’s Kinect. Can these newfangled gizmos live up to the hype?

Nintendo 3DS

What’s the big deal?
It’s portable 3-D gaming without 3-D glasses. The handheld device features a three-and-a-half-inch 3-D screen that works with just your plain ol’ peepers. (There’s also a second, 2-D touch screen for controls.) A slider on the side allows you to adjust just how dimensional you want the image to be — you can even make it completely 2-D if you’d like — and the device also sports two external cameras that let you take 3-D photos.

So is it cool?
As long as you keep your eyes locked in a sweet-spot position roughly 9 to 12 inches away from the 3DS, the experience of seeing a multidimensional Mario smiling back at you is truly extraordinary. Demos for 3DS games without a lot of fast motion (like Paper Mario and Nintendogs + Cats) looked especially spectacular, as did trailers for upcoming 3-D movies. Deviate just an inch or two from that sweet spot, however, and the image doubles up and falls out of sync — it’s like looking into a headache. Still, even with no announced price or firm release date, many felt the 3DS simply stole the show. (Release date and price TBA)

Kinect for Xbox 360

What’s the big deal?
Microsoft’s slim rectangular device, which can be added to any Xbox 360 system, contains three components: a sensor that detects your body’s movements, a camera that recognizes your face, and a microphone that picks up verbal commands. The result? Sayonara, remote controls! Need to rewind a movie? Say the words ”Xbox, pause” and slide your hand in the air — like Tom Cruise in Minority Report — until you reach your desired scene. Want to play a racing game? Extend both arms as if you were holding a steering wheel, and you’re off.

So is it cool?
Since our hands are now free, we’ll give it two thumbs up. Unlike Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s new PlayStation Move, both of which track only the movements of your controller, Kinect can follow 48 different points on your body. This lends itself beautifully to simultaneous actions, such as in Kinect Adventures!, where you can maneuver a speeding river raft by leaning with your lower body while using your arms to collect the coins above your head. However, Kinect is glitchy at times — our attempt to add some spin to a bowling ball in Kinect Sports resulted in our ball crashing into another lane — and hardcore gamers will miss their precious buttons. But once you nail that slick dance routine in Dance Central, you’ll be a believer. And exhausted. (Nov. 4, price TBA)

PLAYSTATION MOVE

What’s the big deal?
A snazzier version of Nintendo’s Wii Remote, the Move (when combined with Sony’s PlayStation Eye camera) allows for true 1:1 mapping, thereby transforming the motion-sensing controller into an incredibly accurate assault rifle, magic wand, or golf club.

So is it cool?
Although there’s a definite sense of déjà vu here, the Move managed to make a shooter like SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs a more accessible and immersive experience. Combine the Move with the PS3’s high-def graphics and a pair of 3-D glasses, and you may wind up forgetting it’s only a game. (Sept. 19; $50 for the Move controller, or $100 when bundled with the Eye and a game)

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