I went to E3 and all I got were these eight lousy T-shirts

Like blossoming tulips for flower fans and cold lemonade for porch sitters, every May marks a faithful tradition for the video-game industry.

For three days, designers, advertisers, promoters, media and sneaky fans gather at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, E3, to see the newest and greatest innovations the industry has to offer.

In a sea of whiz and bang (and the latest fashion trends in pocket protectors), several things stuck in my nerdy brain.

Considering the 2005 convention was supposed to be the “most important E3 ever,” I arrived with high hopes. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo were all slated to unveil their new consoles-hardware which will shape the direction of the industry for at least half a decade.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the grand entrance that most had expected. Microsoft’s X-Box 360 was the only playable system, and even those games were being run off of a PC, not the actual console. The good news is that the new X-Box has solved the controller problems (big, clunky, ergonomically uncomfortable) of the previous model.

Due to a hardware lawsuit, Sony’s Playstation 3 has been pushed back, and except for a small demo film and a bunch of cheesy “Embrace Chang3” banners, there was nothing to see.

Not to be underdone, Nintendo did its best to continue the trademarked ball dropping. Code-named “Revolution,” all the video game pioneer had to show was a prototype, which “may or may not be the final version.” The news got worse for Nintendo die-hards, when the company said they would not be competing hardware-wise with Sony or Microsoft. Sure, casual gamers are important, but it’s not 1988 anymore. The PS3 and the 360 will be perfectly capable of giving any gamer a good experience, and outdated system specs will only make matters worse for Mario and the gang.

But it could be worse for Nintendo reps. At least they aren’t Nokia. The funniest part of the convention (or most heartbreaking, if you are a stockholder) was straying into the tumbleweed-empty N-Gage area. Seriously, there was no one there except clueless Nokia reps and some silly DJs playing music to no one in particular. The N-Gage has been the industry disaster for several years now, and it appears that tradition is not about to change.

It would help if they actually made games that didn’t make the original NES-version of Contra look like cutting-edge technology.

Speaking of disasters, I came across a piece of gaming equipment that was so bad the blushing exhibitor had to apologize to everyone who tried it out. Buried deep in Kentia Hall (the section of the Convention Center where they stick all the weird stuff), was a small kiosk from QMotion.

QMotion makes a simulator that has users swing a bat over a sensor, allowing “realistic” play for baseball games. Hypothetically, that is a great idea. In practice, I wanted to start sobbing. To actually hit the ball, one must swing the bat (weighed down by a big battery pack) before the pitcher throws it. Fun for the pre-cogs from “Minority Report,” not fun for Joe.

New hardware is fun to check out, but games are the main draw of the event. The best one I had the pleasure of playing was not so coincidentally for the upcoming 360.

Named “Full Auto,” the Sega published game really showed off what the new system can do. Graphics have plateaued a bit as of late, so advances in gameplay are where the console battles will be won. In “Full Auto,” the gameplay experience is mind-blowing. The combat-racing game zips by, rendered flawlessly with very little fog.

More impressive is the fact that the entire environment is completely destroyable. Launch a missile at a building and you’ll get a smoldering pile of bricks. Ditto for every bus stop, lamppost or manhole.

At a media briefing, the developer said that the physics engine was originally supposed to be 100 percent realistic, but test cars were turned into flapjacks so easily that it would have been game over in about 20 seconds for even the most seasoned wheelmen. Thanks for scaling it down, guys.

There were many familiar names to be found. Titles such as “Quake 4,” “Unreal Tournament 2007” and “Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” were all packed with curious fans, but the most interesting game was in a far less crowded area.

After playing “Finny the Fish and the Seven Waters,” I can safely say that Finny will be the champion of the coveted “Carnivorous Bass” action and puzzle game genre. Just make sure you don’t get hooked by the evil angler.

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