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Video games' largest confab: Early bird specials, virtual reality and nostalgia

Check out the highlights and big trends at this year's E3, from Fallout 4 to Halo 5, as well as Star Fox and a surprise Jim Henson muppet.

E3 2015 was the usual mix of old and new. Josh Miller/CNET

LOS ANGELES -- Each year, the video game industry gathers for the Electronic Entertainment Expo to show off their latest games and devices -- a tease for the coming holiday season and beyond.

The 2015 edition of E3 saw a raft of game titles -- many of which relied upon the established franchises such as the spaceship dogfighting game Star Fox, the sci-fi war simulation title Halo and the post-apocalyptic adventure game Fallout. Another popular trend: real-life toys that, when you put them on a pad or touch them to a controller, magically appear in a video game.

On the hardware side, new ways to view games were some of the most-talked about items at the show. Virtual reality makers like Facebook's Oculus VR, Sony's Project Morpheus and Razer's OSVR were there. So was Microsoft with another demonstration of its HoloLens, using a briefing room for a fictional space-age military operation as the backdrop.

Despite a focus on console and VR products, the 2015 show felt like a perpetual rerun. Better looking versions of games we'd all heard of before dominated the headlines. One of the biggest headlines out of Sony's press announcement was a remake of the 1997 classic adventure Final Fantasy VII. For Microsoft, it was Halo 5: Guardians. For Nintendo, Star Fox Zero.

The following is a reporter's notebook summarizing the highlights and hot trends at the confab.

Nostalgia all over again

There's so many storied franchises in video games, it's hard to fault game companies for mining proven hits to keep their business stable. Halo and Call of Duty are multibillion dollar franchises.

The nostalgia hit a new high this year though. Nintendo kicked off its presentation with muppets of its top executives and characters, created by the Jim Henson Company, and displayed them at its booth on the show floor.

This isn't the first time Nintendo has made references to pop culture hits in its presentations either. Last year, it used action figures inspired by the hit TV show "Robot Chicken," whose producers act out comedic scenes using popular toys from the 1980s.

The parade of celebrities continues

There's always at least one or two big names at a large conference such as E3. In the past couple of years, music stars like Usher and Flo Rida have taken the stage at press events, for example. This year, Electronic Arts brought soccer legend Pele to the stage to talk about its latest FIFA game.

And then there was Kanye. The controversial rapper made the Internet atwitter when he showed up at Microsoft's Xbox booth to try out its HoloLens computerized headset. Everyone wants to see magic worlds at E3.

CNET's Scott Stein was there when it happened, coming within a mere feet of Kanye. He didn't know he was until someone from Microsoft told him, "We're running about ten minutes late; Kanye's in there." Ultimately, all he saw was a rush of people, Kanye's vast entourage, slipping down the hall. When Stein tried out the technology, he wondered whether he wore the same helmet Kanye did.

When he was done, Microsoft said his high score beat Kanye's. "I left satisfied," Stein said.

Earlier and earlier

Big trade shows have had this habit lately of starting earlier each year. The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the largest trade show of its kind, has slowly crept into its preceding weekend, with excited tech companies scheduling meetings and press events earlier and earlier in hopes of grabbing initial buzz from the show.

This year, the E3 show took a giant leap earlier. Oculus VR, the Facebook-owned virtual reality headset maker, held a press event the Thursday before the show's typical Monday start. Then, Bethesda Softworks, makers of the popular Fallout and hellish shooting game Doom, held its first big press event ever on Sunday evening.

This frustrated game makers who typically have low-key dinner and drink events with journalists ahead of the show's start. Others took it in stride. One game maker joked about all the "Fallout" that had been happening as a result of Bethesda's announcements. "I guess you could say our plans were Doomed."

CNET's Scott Stein contributed to this report.

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