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Plugged In

Tokyo event showcases fledgling 3-D gaming

Plugged In

Associated Press

CHIBA, Japan (AP) -- The Tokyo Game Show has a lot
of people wearing dark glasses this year, with the buzz turning 3-D at
the annual event that brings together the latest offerings from
game-machine and software makers.

But despite the fanfare and razzle-dazzle footage, people checking
out 3-D games for the PlayStation 3 at Sony Corp.'s sprawling booth
were warned to take the special glasses off immediately, should they
feel sick or giddy.

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Tokyo Game Show

And Nintendo Co., also hoping for a boost from 3-D technology with
its planned 3DS handheld that's set to go on sale before April, was
conspicuously absent.

The event previewed to reporters and guests Thursday ahead of its
opening to the public this weekend. It is expected to draw more than
180,000 people.

Kyoto-based Nintendo, the manufacturer of the Wii console and Super
Mario games, is skipping the show and planning a separate Sept. 29
event, also at Makuhari Messe hall in this Tokyo suburb, where the 3DS
is expected to take centerstage.

"It's like the elephant in the room," said gaming expert Mark
MacDonald, executive director at Tokyo-based 8-4 Ltd., which brings
Japanese games to the U.S.

MacDonald said visitors like him were watching for what he called
"peripherals" for machines already on sale such as the Move
motion-controller from Sony and Kinect from Microsoft Corp., billed as
controller-free because it detects a player's movements.

The show's focus was obviously on 3-D but the full potential of 3-D
for games has yet to be explored, he told The Associated Press.

"It's a young technology in terms of games. People don't know yet
how much is too much," MacDonald said. "You might start feeling sick,
or you just want to see the game and feel I can't see what's going on."

Tokyo-based Sony announced that its PlayStation 3 game console will
work as a Blu-ray disc player for 3-D movies and music videos, not just
3-D games, with a software update download starting Sept. 21.

The free-of-charge update for movies and other content had been
promised for later this year. But the date was moved up to ride on the
momentum of 3-D popularity, Sony executive Hiroshi Kawano said.

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Tokyo Game Show

"The appeal and impact of games will be definitely enhanced with 3-D
technology," he said during a two-hour presentation at the Sony booth.
"The industry has gained a new engine for growth in 3-D."

Kawano said the portion of 3-D TVs will likely move up from 5
percent of all TV sets sold this year to 20 percent next year. Sony
aims to sell 2.5 million 3-D TVs next year, he said.

The PlayStation 3 already plays 3-D games with an upgrade that could be done over the Internet earlier this year.

Some of the 3-D games shown at the event, such as a clip of the
planned "Metal Gear Solid," were as impressive as 3-D movies in
providing visceral computer graphics and illusion of depth. But others,
such as 3-D versions of racing games, looked disappointingly similar to
their 2-D predecessors.

The reason more time is needed for 3-D gaming to take off for home
consoles is that it requires a 3-D TV set, which cost about $2,000 or
more. Software makers are waiting for sales of the TVs to increase
before investing in developing 3-D games, says Yusuke Tsunoda, analyst
at Tokai Tokyo Securities Co. in Tokyo.

"It still remains to be seen whether 3-D gaming is going to provide
a genuinely new experience," he said. "But it is a big opportunity like
a gift that's dropped from the sky."

Among other news at the game show was Sony's Move motion-controller, going on sale Sept. 19 in the U.S. and Oct. 21 in Japan.

A 5,980 yen ($70) "starter kit" for the Move comes with software
called "Beat Sketch!" which allows people to make computer-graphic
paintings on the TV screen using the motion-controller stick.

A similar kit for the U.S., with a different game, costs $99.99, and
the wand by itself costs $49.99, underpricing Microsoft's Kinect at
$150 in the U.S. and 14,800 yen in Japan.

Move and Kinect are both answers to the enormously successful Wii wand-controller from Nintendo.

Separately, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft's games division,
announced five new partnerships with Japanese studios and declared the
country's creativity as key to its Xbox 360 console's future.

He said Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, plans to help
Japanese game makers - recently seen as insular and lagging overseas
competitors - to aggressively pursue a bigger share of the global
market.

"Japanese games are the games that the world loves to play," Spencer said in a keynote speech.

Jay Defibaugh, analyst with MF Global FXA Securities, believes 3-D
gaming is the perfect way for Sony to differentiate itself from
Microsoft, which does not offer 3-D, as well as from Samsung
Electronics Co. of South Korea, which makes 3-D TVs but doesn't have
movies or games businesses.

Pushing 3-D gaming may, in the long run, boost Sony's movies and
music businesses, as well as its TV and Blu-ray recorder operations, he
said.

"Obviously, Sony as a whole looks at 3-D very strategically," Defibaugh said.

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