LOS ANGELES--It wouldn't be E3 without Electronic Arts, the world's-largest video game publisher, weighing in with the best of its forthcoming lineup.
And that's just what happened Monday afternoon at the Orpheum theater downtown here: a boisterously loud, demo-heavy presentation of the cream of EA's 2008 and some of its 2009 lineup.
Topping the list--from this reporter's perspective, at least--is Spore, which is planned for a September 7 release.
On June 17, EA released the Spore creature creator as a free download. Now, after just three weeks, Will Wright, the designer of The Sims and the head of Maxis, the EA studio that is making Spore, said during the press conference here Monday that users have already made more than 2 million creatures.
Included in those 2 million creations are more than 1.7 million different species, which Wright dryly noted was more species than there are on Earth.
More interestingly, Wright said that in the past three weeks, users of the creature creator have done things--like make series of robot characters--that hadn't been expected and have even made some creatures--such as some skeletons--that the Maxis engineering team can't figure out how they were made and were clearly done with some sort of exploit.
The origins of Spore, of course, is The Sims, which has now become its own division at EA. Currently run by Rod Humble, The Sims team is hard at work on a seemingly never-ending list of new titles and expansions.
During the Monday press conference, Humble announced that The Sims 3, the latest full iteration of the game, would be coming out next year.
He explained that one big innovation in Sims 3 is that it is what he called a "seamless world," meaning that everything that happens in the game affects everything else, in much the same way as things in real life are often determined by what goes on elsewhere.
And Humble also unveiled SimAnimals, an all-new franchise for the Nintendo Wii and DS that will launch in January 2009. The game will feature no buttons, controls, or sliders, and instead will task players with running things simply by touching the various animals on screen with an animated hand. The game features friendly animals and "mischievous" animals, Humble explained, and each will show their affection or dislike depending on their specific bent.
Another innovation expected from EA this year comes from its Sports division, run by former Microsoft Xbox head Peter Moore.
Moore explained that the forthcoming NBA Live '09 will incorporate an all-new system called "Dynamic DNA."
Essentially, this is a system that utilizes real-life NBA player data that is then updated into players' games via the Internet on a daily basis. The idea is that the game will adapt daily to how the real NBA players are doing, what their tendencies are and any major changes to their style of play, and then modify how the video game runs.
This, Moore suggested, should make for a much more real playing experience.
And it's an interesting move since the state of big-time sports video games has gotten to the point where there is little more publishers can do to improve them. Yet, of course, they must come up with new versions each year, and with each new version, they need to offer some major new feature lest consumers not buy.
Shortly after Moore finished his talk--which was aided by highly voluble former NBA star Bill Walton--Nanea Reeves, who runs EA's Online group came on stage to explain her team's new efforts.
Specifically, she talked about a new system called Nucleus, which is something like an Xbox Live gamer tag, or a reputation system of sorts, which attaches to a player and stays with him or her across games on all platforms, including mobile.
The idea, Reeves said, is to incorporate Nucleus into more than 25 games in the near future, making for a cohesive experience for players, regardless of where they're playing or on what platform.
Another EA initiative is to utilize the features of the three different iPhone models--the iPhone, the iPhone 3G and the iPod Touch--in mobile games like Tetris.
According to Travis Boatman, the head of EA Mobile, his team is building games for the iPhone that take advantage of those devices' accelerometer, and its built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to make for more interactive and interesting games.
For example, he said that with a game like Scrabble, players would be able to challenge each other on two iPhones via Wi-Fi. At the same time, they would be able to shake their iPhones to mix up their letters to better see what possible words they can play.
The last major announcement of the day was that id, the game studio that has created such major games as Doom and Quake has joined EA's Partners program, and is in the process of developing a new game called Rage for EA.
Other announcements included the fact that Dead Space, from EA's Redwood Shores studio, is planned for an October 21 release on Xbox, PlayStation 3, and PC.
And EA showed a very energetic and, I must say, good-looking demo of its forthcoming game, Mirror's Edge, one of its most-anticipated titles.
All in all, it was a fairly mundane press conference, and certainly not blessed with all that much real news. But it certainly got the faithful excited, especially during many of the unbelievably loud war game demos. If anything, it showed that EA has a fairly diversified lineup of games, and that it is is concentrating on developing new franchises, both on its own and with partners. And that's something that is crucial for a company that, while it is the industry's publisher leader, has been accused of relying far too much on existing games and their never-ending sequels.