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The big three at E3

First-party predictions

There are hundreds of game companies out there, but only three real movers and shakers: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. E3 marks the only time in the year that the three console manufacturers vie for supremacy by way of exciting announcements and surprise unveils. 2010 is sure to be no exception with hardware reveals planned and games, games, games.

Microsoft

Project Natal is top priority for the house that Bill Gates built. Microsoft has made it clear that they're placing all bets on the motion-sensing peripheral, going so far as to claim that it will extend the life cycle of Xbox 360. E3 2010 will be the big coming out party for Project Natal with an official name to be bestowed on the device, a price unveiled, the release date revealed, and a swathe of launch games announced.

There's much buzz around what Project Natal means for Microsoft and more generally gaming, but it can't be the only trick in Microsoft's bag. Putting all of their eggs in the Project Natal basket is a risky move and the company has to have more to show for Xbox 360 than just the peripheral. After all, not every Xbox 360 gamer is interested in Project Natal and the demand for classic hardcore games is an opportunity for Microsoft to deliver.

Fortunately, that's where heavy-hitters Halo: Reach and Gears of War 3 come in. The latter comes out this September, so expect a big showing from Bungie. Gears of War 3 will likewise have a significant presence at E3, although it's scheduled for spring 2011. Joining the shooter crowd will be role-playing game Fable III (which incidentally incorporates Project Natal in purportedly creative ways).

Of course, Microsoft is sure to have some surprises and they're bound to come from unlikely places. If there's anything the company has proved in previous years, it's their ability to shock with unexpected partnerships. Expect famed Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi to take the stage and debut a new role-playing game, most likely Lost Odyssey 2. Speaking of Final Fantasy, would anyone be surprised if massively multiplayer online instalment Final Fantasy XIV was announced for Xbox 360? Rare has been quiet since the high-definition Xbox Live Arcade release of Perfect Dark, which means they're undoubtedly working on something. Either a new Perfect Dark game is in the works or an updated iteration of brawler Killer Instinct.

Sony

Now that some of the darkest days are behind PlayStation 3, things are looking mighty fine for Sony. The console has hits its stride in the last few months and the line up for the remainder of 2010 into 2011 is looking strong. E3 should give us a good look at what's ahead, including a few titles that have only been rumours up to this point.

MotorStorm 3, Resistance 3, and Gran Turismo 5 assuredly will be announced for holiday release at the company's press briefing. Killzone 2 and Infamous 2, both of which have already been revealed, should get some attention, though their unlikely to make it out before next year. Instead, expect much of the focus to be on Resistance 3 and Gran Turismo 5 as the big PS3 title for holiday 2010.

Other big games to watch for include Sony Online Entertainment's The Agency (remember that one from a couple years back?) and DC Universe Online. Final Fantasy XIV may also be a focus, though if Square Enix strips the game's exclusivity and announces an Xbox 360 version then it might not be a spotlight title. SOCOM US Navy SEALs 4 will also be in attendance, but given its so-so showing during GDC earlier this year in concert with PlayStation Move, don't expect it to steal the show.

Of course, much of the company's attention is on PlayStation Move. Unlike Microsoft with Project Natal, though, Sony isn't putting the spotlight entirely on its new peripheral. While PlayStation Move is a focus for Sony, there will be a more balanced approach to their E3 showing. If you're not into PlayStation Move, then there's plenty of other games sure to suit your taste. Sony seems to understand that PlayStation Move can't supplant hardcore games and their balanced line up could be the show's overall winner.

Sony's only problem is PSP. With the handheld flailing in every part of the world except Japan, the company needs to make a move. A new PSP is unlikely to be announced at E3; instead, anticipate a price drop for PSPgo, a handful of game announcements, and a lowering of the price of games. Resident Evil Portable is sure to be highlighted, along with the recently released Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and upcoming God of War: Ghost of Sparta. A new instalment in the beloved Sly Cooper series is rumoured for PSP, as is a offshoot of Naughty Dog's phenomenal Uncharted epic.

Nintendo

Of the three companies, Nintendo has the most to prove at E3. With its biggest announcement already known - Nintendo 3DS - the challenge for the Japanese game maker is to demonstrate that it can replicate the magic that has made Wii and Nintendo DS wildly successful.

The debate that has swirled around Nintendo 3DS illustrates scepticism in the company's decision to bet on a 3D handheld and it's up to Nintendo to prove naysayers wrong. An impressive debut for the handheld is in order and a blockbuster line up of games should do the trick. A new Super Mario Bros. game, Mario Kart, perhaps shifting Golden Sun DS over to 3DS - these could be enough to pique interest in the hardware. Additionally, a serious effort to provide compelling downloadable games is a must if it's to compete with the bevy of entertaining titles that have been hitting iPhone and iPod touch.

Nintendo can't just show cool hardware. Nintendo DS was cool, but it's lost some steam as a hardcore gaming machine because of the flood of casual and kiddie titles. Showcasing a diverse game line up and widespread support is the challenge.

Nintendo 3DS is only the half of it. Wii is increasingly becoming a problem for Nintendo. As sales decline from previous record numbers and interest in new games wanes, Nintendo has an opportunity to energise the console with big new titles. Metroid: Other M is coming before summer's end, but there are other games in the work. A new instalment of The Legend of Zelda series is in development and Shigeru Miyamoto has promised to show the title. Retro Studios, the Texas-based developer that did a bang up job on the Metroid Prime trilogy, is working on a Wii-exclusive game that could well be announced at E3. Kid Icarus, perchance? F-Zero is overdue for a new instalment, so that's likely on the docket.

Don't hold your breath for Wii HD or any other new console hardware. Even though Wii sales are slowing down, the machine is going strong. Much of Nintendo's E3 effort is surely going to be focused on its new handheld, which is designed to cement its leadership in the portable market in light of Apple's surprise advances with iPhone and iPod touch.

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