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The sound and the fury of E3

Game makers generate a lot of noise but not much in the way of fresh ideas at the annual conference.

LOS ANGELES--"So what have you seen that's really hot?"

That's how conversations invariably start at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the game industry confab wrapping up Friday. My answer has been consistent this year: "What? I can't hear you. Something about Trent Lott?"

Basking in newfound business celebrity as the high-tech sector where earnings and sales keep setting high scores, key companies appear to have decided to blow some of those profits on extra loudspeakers and booth babes.

My suspicion is that it's the old Motley Crue strategy: If you can't come up with any new ideas, crank up the volume and maybe nobody will notice.

Most games on display draw from the same limited list of ingredients: guns, monsters, magic spells and sports simulations. There are some particularly well-done examples of the familiar genres, such as the visually stunning shooter "Half Life 2," but one of these years it'd be nice to see a genuine outburst of creativity.

Meanwhile, here are a few "innovations" that will have to do for now:

• Beware when anyone in the entertainment industry uses the phrase "based on." I had high hopes for Japanese developer Sammy's plans to create a game based on the classic Akira Kurosawa film "The Seven Samurai." I envisioned a faithful tribute to the film, complete with black-and-white graphics and opportunities to mimic Toshiro Mifune's bigger-than-life acting style.

After seeing a preview of the actual game, I now know it's just another futuristic hack-and-slash fighting game, with only the thinnest connection to the film's plot. Oh well, there's still time for someone to create a multilayered action/mystery game based on "Rashomon."

• World War II action games are all over the place this year--except at the "Made in Germany" pavilion. The big trend there is swashbuckling pirate adventures. Yaarh!

• The award for oddest game concept goes to "Detonator," a curious little PlayStation 2 title in which the player takes on the role of a demolition contractor, "requiring mastery of some puzzling explosive charges," according to the product literature. Think of it as the anti-"Sim City."

• Honors for best game concept go to the anonymous publishing flak who detailed his idea for a trade show simulator. "Shwag Wars" would have hordes of mom-and-pop retailers, alternative media types and vendor representatives competing to see who can grab the most souvenir T-shirts and media kits before requiring chiropractic attention.

• Sure, the Army is all happy and motivated about its hit recruiting game "America's Army." But in these days of heightened security, is it really a good idea to promote the game by deploying armored vehicles, gun toting soldiers and aerial insertion teams outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center? Heaven knows what the L.A. Lakers fans arriving for Thursday's game at the adjacent Staples Center thought was going on.