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E3 2014: Heavy on games and toys, light on hardware

Check out the highlights and big trends at this year's video game industry confab, from Halo to Amiibo to the Destiny demo.

Halo's remaster collection of older games was a highlight of the show. 343 Industries

LOS ANGELES -- Each year, the video game industry converges on downtown LA for the Electronic Entertainment Expo to show off their latest games and hardware, setting the tone for the coming months and beyond.

The 2014 edition of E3 saw a raft of game titles -- many of which relied upon the established goodwill of staid franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Halo and Assassin's Creed . The show also saw validation of interactive figurines as a legitimate trend in the industry.

On the hardware side, virtual reality and alternative video game consoles were poised to draw the industry's attention away from the traditional hardware makers. That didn't happen .

Despite a focus on console products, the 2014 show stands in contrast to last year's E3, which was dominated by the announcements of the prices for Microsoft's and Sony's new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. The excitement and subsequent debate about the two company's upcoming products, and the slate of new games to go with them, carried on well beyond both devices' November launch dates.

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

Virtual reality a no go (yet): The buzz over VR games and system has been steadily building for the past couple of years, but E3 2014 saw few announcements. That's because most companies just aren't ready to discuss everything they're doing. Almost every major game maker has begun research or development of VR games, but the only one who discussed it on stage was Sony.


Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive, said although his company is researching the technology, he's waiting until there are signs of demand and strong sales before moving forward. "There's not a benefit to leading with regard to someone else's peripheral device," he said. "We don't need to be first in line."

That doesn't mean products made by the popular virtual reality company Oculus VR were hard to find. The headsets lurked everywhere on the show floor, including the IndieCade independent game developer showcase.

At Oculus's own booth, the company showed new titles such as Lucky's Tale, an innovative platforming game made by former Words with Friends co-creator, Paul Bettner.

While the world waits for virtual reality games to land on retail store shelves, the Onion, a satirical publication, published a video report about a fake new Sony product called Intraplay. The new "update for the PlayStation 4," asked players to close their eyes and "imagine that they're playing a really fun game." Of course, some people still felt disoriented.

Toys are the new video games: Perhaps the most popular conversation topic was Nintendo's Amiibo figurines which interact with games on its Wii U and GamePad controller.

Activision's Skylanders and Disney's Infinity have seen sharp upticks in sales, something Nintendo believes it can emulate.

Each figurine can interact with different Nintendo video games. Nintendo

"This is a business driver," said Reggie Fils-Aime, head of Nintendo's operations in America. A standout feature, he noted, is that the toys will work with multiple games, increasing appeal and likely use as well.

"That's why this Amiibo business in our view has a potential to be a large and significant part of our revenue and profit," he said.

Sony takes on Apple TV, Roku: Sony showed its PlayStation TV, a set-top streaming device it said will sell for $99, aimed at gamers between the age of six and 12 in families that want to play games together.

"The opportunity is around families playing together that we traditionally haven't been able to crack into that now is a really good opportunity because of the breadth of content," said John Koller, head of hardware marketing at Sony's PlayStation division. One version of the device, he noted, will be bundled with a controller and "The Lego Movie" from Warner Bros. Pictures in a nod to the target market.

Destiny a massive draw: One of the longer queues on the show floor was the line for Bungie's new sci-fi space shooter Destiny, which was a marquee fixture at Sony's booth on the E3 show floor.

Destiny Bungie

The demo lasted for so long, and could only accommodate a dozen or so players at a time, that gamers began actively moving the line markers to widen the space so they could sit down.

Many had their heads down, buried in Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita handhelds to kill time. One gamer lamented that he was told wait times to try the demo could stretch on for hours, despite the line holding only 50 or so attendees. With a week-long alpha trial available only for PS4, which began Thursday, and an open beta that doesn't start until July 17, players seemed content with investing serious energy into trying their hand at this fall's biggest upcoming title.

What's old is new: While E3 saw plenty of new IP, the industry jargon for original games, much of the excitement was built around existing franchises. Arguably the largest applause at the Xbox press conference was the announcement of Halo: The Master Chief Edition, which contains the first four major chapters in the Halo franchise. The newest episode in the series, Halo 5: Guardians, won't be available until 2015.

Likewise, the latest entrants in established franchises such as Batman, Assassin's Creed, and Mass Effect were highlights at media presentations held Monday. Nintendo also generated excitement with teases of a new games in the popular The Legend of Zelda and Star Fox franchises.

Smash a pro for a T-shirt: The four-player matches of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U were among the most heavily trafficked sections of the E3 show floor. Part of the reason was a genius ploy by Nintendo.

The Japanese gaming giant allowed anyone that walked up to play the game a free T-shirt if they could beat the strangers who played with them.

At one point, four friends stepped up, only to be recognized by the booth attendant. All four had apparently been playing Super Smash Bros. the entire convention, and were vying in equal parts for a T-shirt of their own and the opportunity to best each other.

Scott Stein contributed to this story.