Each year, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) brings several new games and products to the forefront of the gaming world. With this annual event comes the pilgrimage of “industry professionals” dying to get their hands on the latest build of Halo 2, catch a glimpse of new playbooks in Madden, and stare at the hundreds of booth babes on hand. This year was no different: The Los Angeles Convention Center sold out of all available passes for the 3-day event. We were there in full force, taking in the spectacle firsthand and returning with the best of the best.

Best of Show
Two sequels seemed to captivate the crowd and draw the most interest in the halls: Half Life 2 and Halo 2. Halo 2 is far and away the most anticipated Microsoft Xbox title ever, and the company finally has a hard release date for the title—November 9, 2004. The Halo 2 multiplayer game was demonstrated, and it didn't disappoint. Tracer rockets, progressive vehicle destruction, and character customization where the highlight of the presentation, and the crowd went crazy when Master Chief picked up two guns and fired each individually—that’s right, dual-wielded weapons with independent triggers.

Halo 2 As much fun as it was to see Halo 2, Half Life 2 left people awestruck at its graphical beauty. Half Life 2 will become the new standard in gaming development. The transition from cut-scene to gameplay was almost nonexistent, and the environments were the most gorgeous we've ever seen. The demonstration was intense, fast-paced, and exciting. The world that Valve has created was truly enveloping. The icing on the cake was the inclusion of a Counter-Strike demonstration with the new Half Life 2 engine. The crowds were mesmerized as they left the demonstration, making this the game of the show and perhaps the most anticipated title ever.

Best Handheld
Handheld gaming is becoming the new frontier, with several companies throwing their hat into the ring. At E3, several new models appeared, including the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), Nintendo Dual Screen (DS), Tapwave Zodiac, N-Gage QD, and the forthcoming Gizmondo. Based on pure beauty and features, the clear winner is the Sony PSP, which is essentially a portable PlayStation 2 that plays proprietary game discs. The major question surrounding the device is battery life, and I’m sure Sony is doing everything in its power to squeeze every possible ounce of juice out of the battery. The most compelling aspect of the Sony PSP is the look of the device. It's a slick-looking machine, and walking through the demo while watching movies play in 16:9 widescreen next to games being rendered in three dimensions was something special. We walked out of the Sony demonstration knowing that we had to own one of these devices.

We can't say the same for the Nintendo DS. Although it's impressive, and the new 3D graphics were well demonstrated with Metroid Prime: Hunters, the new interface left us with more questions than answers: Will the dual screens be adopted by third parties? Will gamers actually change the way they play handhelds? The movement and firing were controlled by a stylus and touchpad—not our ideal gaming environment. The only question we have about the Sony PSP is, “When can we get one?”

Playstation PSP Nintendo DS
Least Surprising Announcement
Electronic Arts and Microsoft have kissed and made up, and EA will invade Xbox Live in full force. The first title to appear on Xbox Live will be NCAA Football, which will be released in July. Fourteen more titles will follow, including Madden NFL Football, the most popular sports game of all time. By Christmas, EA will be all over Xbox Live, and no one will remember the 2-year battle the companies endured.

This announcement was no surprise to anyone who watched as Microsoft cancelled its sports line-up, abandoned its XSN brand, and rolled out the red carpet for an EA invasion. In the end, EA and Microsoft found a mutually beneficial revenue model that made both sides happy—it’s as simple as that. With 25 percent of the video game software sales in the United States, EA had ample power to force Microsoft’s hand, and in a bit of role reversal, Microsoft saw the light and made every effort to complete its Xbox Live library. This development should create an influx of users into Xbox Live in the fall, as the new sports titles hit the shelves.

Best Western-Vampire-Cowboy Movie Set in the Late 1800s
In a crowded first-person shooter market, Sammy Studios has decided to create a completely unique experience based on an original character, Jericho Cross. Jericho is a gunslinger and train robber in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jericho decides to rob a train that contains none other than the Prince of Darkness. An inquisitive train robber, Jericho opens the coffin containing the Evil One and unleashes him into the world. In the process, Jericho takes a couple of fangs in the neck and becomes undead. And that’s how the story begins. Jericho spends the rest of the game hunting vampires with an array of new weaponry. The game looks great, and it really has a chance to stand out in a crowded niche.

Best Celebrity Appearance—Male
Jenny McCarthy Vin Diesel graced the E3 crowd with his presence at the Vivendi Universal booth on Thursday, sending the throngs of onlookers into a frenzy of flash bulbs and screams of “Vin!” Mr. Diesel was on hand to promote The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a game that will coincide with the release of the movie by the same name. The Chronicles of Riddick will be a first-person shooter/adventure game that will thrust gamers into the story surrounding the movie.

Best Celebrity Appearance—Female
The folks at Microsoft decided to bring in some high-profile eye candy for the mostly male crowd that treks to E3 every year. Jenny McCarthy appeared at the Xbox press conference, posed for pictures with gawking game geeks, and helped J Allard demonstrate some of the new features in Xbox Live. Ms. McCarthy also made an appearance at the expo, filming some spots for Microsoft in the Xbox booth