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For a few thousand lucky videogamers (i.e., the pudgy and gentle legions who call themselves the “gaming press”), Christmas comes twice a year: once during December, and five months later, at an event known in the biz as E3. Held each May in Los Angeles, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is an opportunity for game companies to showcase their wares (both hard- and soft-). To walk the convention floor is a sensory-overwhelming experience: It can puncture your eardrums, cause your eyes to bleed, and make you wonder how you got through life without a shotgun in your hand. But as the show starts on Wednesday, today’s post is not about E3. Instead, it is about the press briefings offered by industry giants Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft on Monday and Tuesday. Here’s what we learned:

Sony At a Monday afternoon briefing held in a cavernoussoundstage at their Culver City studio, Sony announced some detailsabout their highly-anticipated PS3. Their next-gen console will hitstore shelves in the U.S. on Nov. 11 and will be available at two pricepoints: $499 for the model featuring a 20GB hard drive and $599 for themodel with an additional 40GB of storage. The pricing, which willcertainly put the console out of the reach of casual gamers, and thelaunch date came as no big surprise. (Those take-out-a-second-mortgageprices are, in fact, a bargain since both models also function as ahigh-def Blu-Ray DVD player currently selling for upwards of $1,000.)What was shocking was Sony’s revealing that the PS3 controllers wouldincorporate motion-tracking sensors that let onscreen action correspond toyour real-life movements. It’s a neat and potentially groundbreakingtechology — and one that Sony seemingly borrowed from a company best knowfor a certain ape-obsessed plumber…

Nintendo On Tuesday morning, we took our place in a middle row ofOscar’s very own Kodak Theatre and idly wondered if Nicole Kidmanperhaps once occupied this very same seat… ahem, where were we?Oh, right, the Nintendo show. Shigeru Miyamoto, the genial geniusbehind all of those Mario games, opened the press conference wielding aslender widget that is the centerpiece to the Wii, Nintendo’s entry inthe Next-Gen Console Sweepstakes. Until very recently known as theRevolution (and given a new name that can only be the result of intensefocus-group testing or a weekend-long bender), the Wii — pronounced”wee” — also uses a motion-detecting controller. (Though they announcedtheirs many months before Sony.) Their wand-like device was given afull workout on stage — depending on the game, it was used to strike atennis ball, steer a car, hook a fish, and shoot an arrow. But the BigN wasn’t willing to show all of their cards: While it is widelyexpected to cost significantly less than the PS3 and Xbox 360, acompany spokeman would only allow that the Wii would offer “more funfor less money.” They also declined to provide a launch date. Still,if you’re a fan of Zelda (and who isn’t?), you might want to startsaving your allowance.

Microsoft Of course, one person who doesn’t need an allowance isBill Gates. Later that morning, the Microsoft gazillionaire made hisfirst-ever E3 appearance by speaking to the throngs assembled inGrauman’s Chinese Theater. He quickly won over the boisterous crowd bygiving each attendee a crisp $100 bill. Yes, we kid. In truth, he gaveattendees a soothing 15-minute talk on the gaming capabilities ofVista, Microsoft’s loooong-awaited operating system due sometime nextyear. Or the year after that. As the Xbox 360, their next-gen console,has been on shelves for the past half year, the company presentedscenes from some of their upcoming titles as well as mockups of some peripherals (like a wireless headset and an HD-DVD player) expected tohit shelves at the end of the year. And, Bill, thanks for the greatpost-event party: We won’t soon forget the cascading chocolate fountain.

So that’s our quick wrap-up of the big press shows. Tomorrow: Day 1 of E3 2006. Stay tuned.

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