Nintendo Offers a Peek at System

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

LOS ANGELES, May 9 -- Nintendo Co. offered a rare glimpse of its upcoming Wii gaming system yesterday, vying with rival Microsoft Corp. for attention as the video game industry's biggest trade show prepares to open.

Nintendo emphasized its strategy of giving players a new way to interact with video games in a demonstration leading into this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo. The company featured players waving their arms around with its new controller, used variously as a sword, golf club, tennis racket, steering wheel and drumsticks. The company's famous game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, opened the news conference to an orchestral score by waving the controller like a conductor's baton.

Microsoft, which released its Xbox 360 system last year, followed Nintendo with announcements about new games -- including a new version of top-seller Grand Theft Auto that will make its debut on the device in October. That was a coup for Microsoft; previous versions of game have debuted on Sony equipment.

For its part, industry leader Sony unveiled new details Monday night about the upcoming PlayStation 3.

Yesterday, Nintendo did not specify a release date for its Wii (pronounced "we") system but said it will be available in the fourth quarter. The company also did not set a price for the device, but many analysts say they expect it to cost under $300 -- less than the Xbox 360 ($300 to $400) and the PlayStation 3 ($500 to $600).

While Nintendo is in third place in the North America console market, behind Sony and Microsoft, many analysts have suggested that Nintendo may have an advantage this time if it undercuts its rivals' prices and manages to give game fans a new, fun experience with the unusual controller.

"The graveyard of any industry is filled with companies that decided to do things the same old way," said Reggie Fils-Aime, an executive vice president at Nintendo's North America division. In a jab at Sony's and Microsoft's penchant for talking about details such as the number of processors in their systems, Fils-Aime said the future of games is about "the heat of emotion, not the chill of technology."

Nintendo also made a few jokes about the Wii system name, which has been roundly mocked by game fans. Fils-Aime thanked the people who had written nice things about the name -- "both of them" -- and defended the choice as representing "the sound of inclusion" in an industry that ought to reach harder for new players outside its usual base of young men.

Nintendo's unusual name is also the sound of confusion. When company executive George Harrison was speaking, for example, did he say, "Wii will make things better" or "We will make things better"?

Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, made his first appearance at the company's pre-E3 event, mainly to talk about technology the company is working on that will connect Xbox 360 to cellphones and to computers running its next operating system. With "friends list" technology, game fans will be able to tell what their friends are doing on any device plugged into that family of devices -- whether they are working, listening to music or playing Geometry Wars.

Gates also played up the advantage Microsoft may have from getting to the console market a year ahead of Sony this time around -- with the past generation of devices, Microsoft entered the market a year behind Sony. "Before our competition even enters the marketplace we will have a 10 million [unit] head start," he said, a goal Gates said had been a secret ambition for Microsoft ahead of the system's launch last year.

Microsoft also showed off a brief trailer for its next Halo game -- a series that was the star of the Xbox 360's predecessor -- indicating that he new installment will be released in 2007.

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