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FIRE! BABES! GUNS! ALL HAIL E3 AT INDUSTRY EVENT, `NEXT-GEN' REALITY DEFIES GAMERS' BLOODIEST DREAMS.

Byline: BRENT HOPKINS Staff Writer

If these games get any more realistic, players may start developing guilty consciences.

With the latest in video-game technology on display this week at the three-day Electronic Entertainment Expo downtown, gangsters don't just walk across the screen, they swagger. A landscape is no longer blotchy, checkered green, but a lush forest of thousands of intricately needled trees. Flames don't flash; they flicker and leap, dancing across wreckage with an eerily lifelike quality.

And when you pull the virtual trigger, your enemies disappear in a hail of bullets, screaming as they crumble and vanish. It's enough to make even the most seasoned electronic attacker feel a little pang as he reloads.

These don't feel like the stunted, cartoonish offerings of even 10 years ago -- they're like movies with the gamer sitting in the director's chair. At the $25 billion industry's yearly exhibition, amazing scenarios played out on little screens.

Whether relying on screaming-fast processors on PCs or the high-definition graphics of the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii -- known as ``next-gen'' consoles -- developers have cooked up some strikingly realistic concoctions.

``We want people to feel like they're really at war,'' said Raphael Van Lierop, associate producer for Relic Entertainment's ``Company of Heroes,'' a PC title published by Agoura Hills-based THQ Inc. ``If a building gets hit by a tank round, there isn't just a little health bar next to it that goes down. Chunks fall off, guys jump out of the windows. When you're done, we want you to feel like you had a real, great experience -- post-traumatic stress comes later.''

The little soldiers on screen invade a virtual Normandy, taking cover behind rocks and walls as if they were actually taking fire from the German Wehrmacht. In THQ's title based on ``The Sopranos,'' an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 game that debuted Wednesday and will be in stores at holiday time, animators managed to convincingly replicate the heft of a mob enforcer's shoulders and the bite of his expletive-heavy curses.

``The next-gen stuff is a dream to work on, said Ernest Zamora, an associate producer on the ``Sopranos'' game. ``You're going to see the (artificial intelligence) react more like humans, get better physics, a more interactive world. It's awesome.''

So awesome that gamers can find themselves overwhelmed. Stuart Scandrett, a 24-year-old programmer from Woodland Hills, wandered into the Nintendo area and left a little numb. Soon, he was playing a fake electric guitar, testing his coordination at ``Guitar Heroes II'' for the PlayStation 2.

Technology has advanced so much, he said, he wanted some escape from his escape.

``We can creep closer and closer to reality, but is that what we really want?'' he said. ``You need a different experience, different controllers, a different way to interface with the game.''

As analysts, journalists and game geeks scrutinized the new lineups, grinning through the machine-gun fusillade of ``Scarface'' and hoping for a peek at the curvy, modern-looking consoles, the show unfolded with its usual craziness. Though a little tamer this year -- the Electronic Software Association sternly warned companies to tone down the provocative outfits of their scantily-clad ``booth babes'' -- there was still more than enough noise, explosions and light shows to keep fans occupied.

Chau Nguyen, a 26-year-old accountant from San Francisco whose friends in the business got him into the nominally industry-only trade show, came for amazement and found it quickly. As a pyrotechnic-heavy metal band performed in front of a massive fight scene projected behind them, Nguyen could only shake his head.

``It's like a carnival,'' he said. ``You come to see what's out, get some free T-shirts and play a bunch of games. It bugs me that you can't play them all, but, oh well ... Hey! Fire breathing! What's that got to do with anything? But it sure looks cool.''

brent.hopkins@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3738

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6 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Video-game fans try out new Xbox 360 titles at the three- day Electronic Entertainment Expo -- or E3, in industry lingo -- downtown Wednesday.

(3) Attendees check out new Electronic Arts titles at E3, the video-game industry's larger-than-life annual trade show downtown.

(4 -- 6) Pedro Nunes, above left, gets the pitch from Ken Strickland on Insomniac Games' new title ``Resistance: Fall of Man'' -- a game exclusively made for PlayStation 3. The PS3, shown at left, has been one of this year's E3 highlights, with Sony unveiling the new $499 console. Much of the E3 action centers on upcoming video games, including skateboarder Tony Hawk's latest, bottom left.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 11, 2006
Words:763
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