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The Week in Games: July 21, 2008

Real news from the virtual world:

— UNCONVENTIONAL: If you attended the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, along with about 60,000 other people, you were probably blown away by the massive audiovisual bombast.

If you returned for this year's E3 Media & Business Summit, which only 5,000 attended, you might think the entire video-game industry had collapsed.

The Entertainment Software Association's deliberate downsizing of E3 has gotten mixed results.

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On the one hand, it's a lot easier to get work done, since you don't have to fight through scrums of attendees gawking at scantily clad models that companies hired to demonstrate their wares. And you can buy a cup of coffee at the Los Angeles Convention Center food court without waiting in line for an hour.

On the other hand, some of those present this year missed the old spectacle.

"Now it's like a pipe-fitters' show in the basement," Ubisoft North America president Laurent Detoc told The San Francisco Chronicle.

Also, many of the games expected for the holiday season were announced weeks ago, so E3 surprises were rare.

Of the three major console manufacturers, Microsoft probably gave its fans the most to look forward to. Sony was a close second, but Nintendo delivered a lackluster presentation that left a lot of observers scratching their heads.

— ANIMAL ATTRACTION: Nintendo's E3 press conference focused on three new Wii titles.

One, "Animal Crossing: City Folk," was widely expected; it doesn't appear to break much new ground, but fans of the DS and GameCube versions should be happy.

The second was "Wii Sports Resort," which will be packaged with the Wii MotionPlus, an accessory that boosts the accuracy of the console's controller.

The wild card was "Wii Music," the long-brewing project from Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto.

In essence, it's an air-instrument game, in which you mime playing a guitar, a saxophone, drums or 60-some other instruments by waggling the Wii controllers. It's so simple that it's either brilliant or stupid.

Asked if it isn't really a toy rather than a game, Miyamoto responded, "It's more interesting than a game."

None of these titles got the kind of response that greeted the announcement of Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" for the portable DS. And gamers can at least take heart in the knowledge that Nintendo's Mario and Zelda teams are developing new projects.

— BLANK SPACE: The Xbox 360 lineup for the rest of 2008 is much more varied, featuring previously announced titles like "Gears of War 2," "Fable II," "Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts" and "Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise."

Microsoft's E3 event introduced two new party starters: the karaoke game "Lips" and the trivia challenge "Scene It? Box Office Smash!"

Microsoft wrapped up its show with the fairly surprising news that Square Enix's "Final Fantasy XIII" will be published on the 360 (rather than just the PlayStation 3, as everyone had assumed).

But once the spotlight faded, buzz began to build around a product Microsoft didn't announce: a new "Halo" adventure from Bungie.

The day after the press conference, a message on the Bungie Web site revealed that the developer had planned to announce a new game during E3.

"However, those plans were just changed by our publisher," Bungie president Harold Ryan wrote.

Why would Microsoft bury news about the Xbox's biggest franchise?

"We had an embarrassment of riches," Don Mattrick, head of Microsoft's Xbox division, told The Los Angeles Times.

— 3-RING CIRCUS: The PlayStation 3 seems to have found a groove since its bumpy launch, and Sony had plenty of new games to show off.

Beyond previously announced titles like "Resistance 2," "inFamous" and "Motorstorm: Pacific Rift," Sony had a few fresh items up its sleeve: "God of War III" and "MAG" (for "Massive Action Game"), which promises 256-player online combat.

Sony also debuted some intriguing PlayStation Network downloads, including "Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty," the hypnotic "Flower" and the comical strategy game "Fat Princess." And the PlayStation Portable got some love too, with "Resistance: Retribution," "LocoRoco 2" and "Patapon 2."

All in all, a solid showing for the once struggling PlayStation family.

— NEW IN STORES: Square Enix retools another role-playing classic, "Final Fantasy IV," for the DS. ... Also new to the DS are Atlus' "Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns," Konami's "New International Track & Field" and Majesco's "Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society." ... This week's movie tie-in is Sierra's "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (for the Wii, PlayStation 2 and DS).