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E3: Sony's Conference

New PSPs, new partnerships and high hopes for the PS3 price cut.

It's not hard to imagine that nerves were on edge in the Sony Computer Entertainment camp this morning. Memories of last year's E3 conference and the reaction to it must have been fresh in their minds - and the evidence would suggest so, judging by Jack Tretton's "Riiiiiidge Racer" reference.

The SCEA boss was first in the limelight at this year's event - appearing in the form of his Home avatar, which was shown in his virtual apartment on the big screens above the stage.

Tretton said everyone at Sony is "extremely proud" of Home, but although it was referred to and even used as a presenting device throughout the conference, he continually reiterated the importance of "games, games and more games".

"Once you've seen the scope... You'll understand why we feel we're in a very strong position," said Tretton. "We're confident we'll continue our industry-leading role in this generation and beyond."

There was much talk of the recently announced 80GB PS3 and US price cut - but no mention of whether a similar move was planned for Europe. There was also trumpeting of the PS2, which now has an installed base of over 118 million units.

According to Tretton, that makes it "the most popular console of all time, worldwide". This followed, of course, Microsoft's claim last night that Xbox 360 is winning the next-gen battle, and Nintendo's declaration that DS is "unquestionably" in the lead.

DS is certainly doing better than PSP, but Sony seems keener than ever to push its handheld forward. It's also committed to the UMD format, with Tretton stating that sales are up 35 per cent from 2006.

PSP games shown at the conference included SOCOM, Syphon Filter, WipEout Pulse, Sims 2 Castaway and more. But the big announcement came from Kaz Hirai (who was another in Tretton's Home apartment, where the current SCEA boss asked him, "Are you playing Riiiiiidge Racer?").

Hirai then appeared in person to pull a new iteration of the PSP out of his pocket. It doesn't look remarkably different to the current model, but according to Hirai, "When you have it in your hand the difference is clear."

Specifically, the new PSP is 33 per cent lighter and 19 per cent slimmer. It's got a longer battery life and is faster at loading games - due for a worldwide release in September.

But what Tretton described as one of the best new features was still to come - the option to hook it up to your TV ("Sony Bravia", of course) and view games, movies and photos on the big screen.

He also revealed it will be available in three colours: piano black, ice silver and white with a Darth Vader logo on the back. The latter will come bundled in a Star Wars Battlefront entertainment pack, as Tretton announced with the help of special guest star Chewbacca.

With the PSP out of the way, Phil Harrison appeared to talk more about PlayStation Network and the new downloadable games on the way. These included Echochrome - described as having "the least graphics and most gameplay of any game on show" - plus WarHawk, WipEout HD and Pain.

For Harrison's next trick, he took a photo of the audience on his mobile phone and sent it to his PS3 - where it appeared in a frame on the wall in his Home apartment.

After a sequence about SingStar PS3, during which nothing much new was revealed, Harrison confirmed you'll be able to launch games from within Home and set up multiplayer matches there. To demonstrate he played a Motorstorm race with 11 other players on a new track called Eagle's Nest that will be available for download next month.

Tretton then returned to the stage to talk once again about the PS3 price cut, stating that sales of the 60GB model have doubled at Sony's top five retailers since the cut was announced on Monday.

Then it was time to move on to third party games for PS3. Tretton began by revealing that NCsoft will be creating games for the PlayStation Network that "will be found nowhere else", based on both current properties and new IP.

A flurry of game demos followed - Haze, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare, to name but a few. Unreal Tournament 3 was declared as a PS3 exclusive "this year". The same trailer for Resident Evil 5 shown at Microsoft's conference made a reappearance, and there was footage of The Simpsons Game, Guitar Hero III, Medal of Honor Airborne and Rock Band.

Many of those have been seen before, but the excitement level rose a notch with the appearance of the next guest on the stage - Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima. He reconfirmed that the next instalment in the series will be exclusive to the PS3, without directly dismissing recent rumblings from Konami that options may be reconsidered. He also said MGS4 would be "the finale" for the series.

A long and impressive trailer followed, and Kojima told the audience, "This is real-time footage and you'll be able to play in this quality." More will be revealed in a demo in Tokyo next week.

More game demos followed - Ratchet and Clank PS3, Heavenly Sword, Drake's Fortune, LittleBigPlanet, Gran Turismo. Again, all titles seen before, but then came Infamous - the new title from Sly Cooper developer Sucker Punch.

To finish up, Harrison showed a trailer of Killzone 2. It was also shown off at a special press event last night, and the general consensus seemed to be that Killzone 2 is looking more impressive than might have been presumed. The trailer was also well received by the audience today.

Tretton concluded the event by summing up all that had been discussed - the new PS3 price, the new PSP model and colours, the emphasis on games and the importance for Sony of driving innovation.

And then it was over. Attendees might have been hoping for more surprises, and less of an emphasis on games that have already been announced and shown to the world. The same could also be said of Nintendo and Microsoft's conferences, arguably. The question, however, is whether Sony needed to do more than its rivals this year - and the answer remains to be seen.

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