Japan. While the U.S. and the Russkies were busy expending their resources on an arms race, the tiny island nation was free to expand its economy.
Who won the console wars among Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft?
Apple. While the Big Three console makers were busy fighting each other, the tech giant came along and inadvertently changed the paradigm: from expensive games that play on a system you hook up to your television, to cheap mobile games.
|The big ones:|
|» "Darksiders II" (360, PS3, PC, Wii U) Aug. 14|
|» "Far Cry 3" (PS3, 360, PC) Sept. 4|
|» "Dishonored" (360, PS3, PC) Oct. 9|
|» "Assassin's Creed III" (360, PS3, PC, Wii U) Oct. 30|
|» "Halo 4" (360) Nov. 6|
|» "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" (360, PS3) Nov. 13|
|» "Nike+ Kinect Training" (360) Holiday|
|» "Wonderbook: Book of Magic" (PS3) Holiday|
|» "Pikmin 3" (Wii U) Holiday|
|» "NintendoLand" (WiiU) Holiday|
|» "New Super Mario Bros. U" (Wii U) Holiday|
|» "Scribblenauts Unlimited" (WiiU, 3DS) Holiday|
|» "LEGO City Undercover" (WiiU) Holiday|
|» "Dead Space 3" (360, PS3, PC) February|
|» "Tomb Raider" (360, PS3, PC) March 5|
|» "God of War: Ascension" (PS3) March 12|
|» "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist" (360, PS3, PC) Spring|
|» "Beyond: Two Souls" (PS3) Spring|
|» "Crysis 3" (360, PS3, PC) Spring|
|» "The Last of Us" (PS3) TBA|
The old guard struck back last week in Los Angeles, using the biggest event in gaming, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, to prove they're still relevant in the age of "Angry Birds."
Nintendo goes tablet with the Wii U
Nintendo remade the gaming landscape six years ago with the launch of the Wii, whose motion controls attracted enough casual consumers to make it the best-selling system on the market.
The Big N hopes to redefine gaming again with the Wii U, a home system centered around something called the GamePad, a cross between a tablet and a game controller. The GamePad, like a tablet, has a touchscreen in the middle, but it's ringed by the standard arrangement of buttons and joysticks that define the modern controller.
The GamePad lets you transfer games from the TV entirely to the controller, in case somebody in your house needs the TV to watch the big game. It also opens up new possibilities in multiplayer gaming. In "New Super Mario Bros. U," for instance, one person could control Mario while looking at the TV, while a second player, looking at a GamePad, uses the touchscreen to insert helpful items into the game world.
For the Wii U, Nintendo will develop in-house updates to series from "Wii Fit" and "Pikmin." Even more importantly, the Wii U will arrive in stores this holiday season with lots of support from outside companies. From TT Fusion comes "LEGO City Undercover," which looks like a "Grand Theft Auto" for the whole family, believe it or not. And then Nintendo made the most exciting game announcement of E3, a Wii U version of "Scribblenauts," the sandbox-style game that fires the imagination like no other.
Three questions about the Wii U remain, speaking to potential pitfalls for the upcoming system:
1. We know the GamePad will be compatible with Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video and YouTube, but will it enable traditional apps? That is, can we play "Angry Birds"?
2. How much will it cost?
3. Will it be powerful enough to not be rendered obsolete when the successors to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 come out, likely in 2013?
Xbox 360 gets smart
Microsoft, maker of the Xbox 360, is also looking to get a piece of the tablet action, but is taking a very different route from Nintendo. Instead of making its own tablet, Microsoft unveiled Xbox SmartGlass, a piece of software that allows your Xbox 360 to connect to any tablet or smartphone. Sure, your iPad may not have joysticks a la the Wii U's GamePad, but SmartGlass can still turn it into a second gaming screen. Using SmartGlass, you could use your tablet to draw football plays in a "Madden" game. Or, your tablet could be a watching companion for "Game of Thrones": As your TV displays an episode of the HBO series, your tablet shows where each scene is taking place on the fantasy world's confusing map.
Microsoft also used its E3 press conference to show off "Halo 4," which looked admirably story-driven but, worringly, seems to speed up the action to match the frenetic pace of uberpopular shooters like "Call of Duty."
And let's not forget Kinect, the thing next to your TV that looks like WALL-E's head but is in fact an array of cameras and microphones that enable you to control your Xbox 360 with your voice and your body. At the top of the Kinect lineup is "Nike+ Kinect Training," set to go head to head with "Wii Fit U."
SmartGlass, out this holiday season, could be the bridge between tablets and TVs that every nerd's been waiting for, and Kinect, available right now, remains as impressive as ever. But, looking at Microsoft's offerings at this year's E3, one had to notice: A lot of the best stuff required Kinect, or SmartGlass, or both. Are Bill Gates and Co. asking too much investment of the average consumer?
Sony wields magic
This year's E3 was the setting of an announcement nobody would expect from Sony, or to be made at a video game conference at all: There's new writing in the Harry Potter universe, penned by series author J.K. Rowling. It's delivered in the form of a new device called the Wonderbook. The Wonderbook, to the naked eye, looks like any regular rectangle -- don't say "tablet" -- but, seen on your TV screen with the PlayStation Eye camera, it appears as a holographic pop-up book, conveying Rowling's new story, "Book of Magic," and transforming your motion-sensing PlayStation Move controller into a wand, which you wave around to perform the spells mentioned in the book.
From a technology standpoint, Sony, like Microsoft, seems to be asking a lot of the everyday living-room dweller, but if there's anything that could convince the masses to give the Wonderbook a shot, it's a new adventure at Hogwarts.
Continuing the storytelling theme, Sony used E3 to unveil the PlayStation 3 title "Beyond: Two Souls." The "Choose Your Own Adventure"-style game tells a story that takes place over 15 years in the life of a character played by Ellen Page, of "Juno" fame, via the facial-capture technology used in movies like "The Adventures of Tintin."
Equally impressive was an "Assassin's Creed III" spinoff subtitled "Liberation." "Liberation," for Sony's hand-held Vita, stars a female assassin, a series first, and takes place in 18th-century New Orleans during the French and Indian War (which, of course, was won by the British).