E3: Day One Proves Conference Is Still Full Of Surprises

Even top developers and old pros are struggling to keep up.

LOS ANGELES — Despite the familiarity of the sights, sounds and smells emanating from the tens of thousands of gaming professionals crammed into the L.A. Convention Center for yet another big show, the opening day of E3 showed that the conference is still full of surprises.

(Take a look inside the E3 madness with these pics — including ones you won't see anywhere else.)

The action-packed day ended with an after-hours event for about 200 insiders to announce that Super Mario, Link (from "Zelda") and Solid Snake (from "Metal Gear") will appear in a video game together for the first time — the 2007 Wii version of the all-star and traditionally all-Nintendo fighting series "Super Smash Brothers."

With two major new consoles playable at E3, many showgoers faced a daunting enough task getting their heads around — not to mention their hands on — two new systems. It wasn't just lowly GameStop employees and reporters from fan sites who came to this E3 in search of enlightenment — even top developers and old pros (including those actually working on the systems) were trying to figure it all out.

In the Activision booth, Neversoft producer Brian Bright was showing off the first "Tony Hawk" game built primarily for next-gen systems, "Tony Hawk's Project 8." After demonstrating graphics that make the stitching on a sneaker visible and a manual camera function that lets gamers trigger some blurred, zoomed-in, specially lit views that make the action look even more stylish, he acknowledged that the team hasn't even attempted to incorporate the motion sensor embedded in the PlayStation 3 controller — which was announced on Monday (see "PlayStation 3 Unveils Big Price Tag, Surprise Controller"). "We found out about it probably when you did," he admitted.

A programmer on the graphically stunning PS3 game "Heavenly Sword" echoed the sentiment about Sony's controller, while Wii made a similar comment about the Tuesday-announced speaker that is embedded in the Nintendo system's remote controller (see "Nintendo On Unique Wii Controller: 'Playing Is Believing' "). Developers like Vicarious Vision's Karthik Bala, whose team is developing the Wii version of Activision's "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance" superhero role-playing game, was game enough to agree that maybe the controller should emit a "snikt!" when the player is unleashing blades from the hands of X-Man Wolverine, but nearly every Wii controller not playing "Zelda," when held to the ear, was silent.

Less novel experiences at E3 still got a 2006 twist. Hours-long lines at the Nintendo booth are common every year, but not the bitterness among those who found a contradiction regarding the inaccessibility of a console Nintendo has claimed so desperately it wants to have accessible. E3's infamous booth babes still populated the show — flouting the spirit, if not the rules, of a much-publicized E3 ban against lower bodies adorned only with bikini briefs — with the shortest skirts and tallest boots possible.

Genre redundancy was still as common as gamers walking around with inflatable swords and other goofy swag, but for every "GTA"-inspired crime game or space-marine battle against the alien forces of evil, there were the novel oddities — like a high school dating game from Konami called "Brooktown: Senior Year" that includes not a punch or kick command but an "ultra-coolness" button that a helpful company rep said triggers a Matrix-style, slow-motion "bullet-time for dating." Massively multiplayer games were again a common sight. But a new angle was provided by upstart Korean publisher Webzen, which took its place beside the likes of Capcom and Konami with a blaring booth that featured "Huxley," which can best be described as a massively multiplayer first-person shooter.

And another novelty: Yes, the "Scarface" game is designed to be a rethinking of the "GTA" approach to open-world crime games, but we've never seen a game programmed to identify an enemy's shot body parts so specifically that it has separate call-outs for "left nut" and "right nut."

At 6 p.m., when loudspeakers began exhorting showgoers to leave — and a gamer in the lobby was cracking two million in the Xbox 360's "Geometry Wars" on a 20-plus-feet giant screen in front of a cheering crowd — it might have been fair to assume that the show had given up its full slate of surprises for the day.

But "Mario"-maker Shigeru Miyamoto had other things in mind as he played featured guest at a Nintendo-run demo session for approximately 200 specially invited professionals. Miyamoto introduced a video for next year's Wi-Fi-enabled "Super Smash Brothers Brawl," a sequel to the Nintendo 64 and GameCube games that will feature not just the usual fighting roster of Nintendo characters, but an expanded roster that a teaser implied would include a Nintendog as well as the first non-Nintendo character, Solid Snake. Asking the room for suggestions of more new characters ("Lara Croft" "Master Chief!" "[Nintendo president] Mr. Iwata!"), Miyamoto said "there are possibilities for other third-party characters as well" — odds that he said may improve now that the Snake news is public. Unprompted, he acknowledged that fans had been asking for Sonic the Hedgehog to appear many times.

Returning "Smash Brothers" project leader Masahiro Sakurai revealed that "Brawl" would likely be the first major Wii game not to use the motion-sensitivity of the controller. And Miyamoto said that he hopes the marquee "Super Mario Galaxy" will be multiplayer, but revealed that it likely won't come out during the Wii's launch this year, but will arrive within six months of the system.

Miyamoto also answered critics of Nintendo's reticence to make a truly high-definition-TV-compatible gaming system like the mightier Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 by saying, "Five years from now, it would be pretty much a given that Nintendo would create an HD system."

And with that, the only surprise left on the show floor — on day one, anyway — was the ingredients of the fried finger-foods back at Nintendo's booth where, at last, there was elbow room to swing the Wii controller and to glance across the aisle at Sony's PS3 section, which was free to access. Too bad the systems had been shut down hours earlier.