If you’re a gamer, or if you follow the world of video games at all, then chances are you’ve already heard about many of the splendid developments in gaming recently like Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Doom 3 and the new Legend of Zelda set to come out this year. For a gamer, this is exciting news; for me, it was an experience.

On May 12, 13 and 14, the Los Angeles Convention Center hosted the Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3. It is owned and operated by the Entertainment Software Association and is the event where software and hardware companies showcase a wide array of new games and technologies; it is the Super Bowl of the gaming world. This is where companies bring out the big guns and try to impress each other. I say “each other” because this is a 10-year-old trade event that is not open to the public. Generally, only industry professionals and the press are allowed into this event.

I was lucky enough to attend E3 for a full day May 13.

Aside from driving mishaps and almost completely missing the entire event, the day began rather smoothly. My friends James, Claire and I passed swiftly through the registration process and waited for the doors to open at 9 a.m. We rushed to the only thing that had been recommended to us: the video preview of Square Enix’s new products.

Square Enix, formerly Squaresoft, is most famous for putting out the best role playing games (RPGs) around, including Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts and the Final Fantasy series of games. This year, Square Enix presented a wide range of games for varying systems, plus a movie.

The Square Enix people led us through some doors to a large cylindrical room to show us their new concepts. We sat down and watched the movie being projected on the walls surrounding us.

About this time the room suddenly began spinning. Well, actually, it was us spinning. The chairs were positioned on a circular platform that started swirling around as the movie went from one side of the room to the other. They then started the preview of their two sequels to 2002’s popular Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts is a popular game not only because it’s an inventive RPG, but also because it brought Disney characters, both good and evil, into the realm of the RPG. Square Enix’s sequels, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the Game Boy Advance (GBA) and Kingdom Hearts II for the PlayStation 2 (PS2) promise to be outstanding follow-ups to this game. Not only are the graphics supreme, but Mickey Mouse looks like he’s going to be completely badass.

After the Square Enix presentation, things moved a bit slower and my friends and I wandered the floors, looking at anything that didn’t require waiting in a line.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for the PS2 was one of the better games we saw. I played a quick demo of the game, Rambo style, as my character ventured into the wide open and shot at anything that moved. Not knowing any of the controls, though, put me at a significant disadvantage, as I had no idea how to reload my weapon or shoot with consistency. So I decided to just knife anything that moved. I managed to stab, and, apparently, fling, one enemy through the air with my supreme stabbing strength and mighty Rambo moves. Immediately, I was surrounded and executed by five of his cronies. Despite my early demise, I had a great time playing this game.

Later, I ventured to the Microsoft booth, where I saw literally hundreds of people playing hundreds of demos on hundreds of Xbox consoles.

A few of the more interesting games I saw include Dead or Alive Ultimate, Conquer: Live and Reloaded, and Doom 3. Doom 3 was the most graphically impressive game at the expo. The textures of the environment, as well as that of the enemies were amazing.

The most impressive aspects of Doom 3’s graphics, however, were the lighting and shadow effects. What was once just a brightly colored spot on the wall from a flashlight is now a full beam of light that acts like a real flashlight does. An enemy hiding in a dark, shadowy corner is now entirely consumed by the darkness. And when you shine your light on the enemy, it does not just brighten their features or place a circle of light on the floor where they stand (as in Half-Life), but the light hits them and passes through their arms and legs and around their head. An overhead light swinging on the ceiling actually affects the light that it casts throughout the room.

One of the best surprises on the day was discovering that Playboy has decided to enter the video game business. Some would say this is the next step for the Playboy empire, others say it should have been done years ago. Either way, Playboy has a game due out by the end of 2004.

Playboy: the Mansion is played in a similar style to the popular PC game The Sims. Unlike The Sims, which asks you to control other people’s lives, in Playboy: the Mansion you become a character aspiring to be the next Hugh Hefner, in addition to controlling others. You have to build and maintain your mansion, host parties for celebrities, be constantly surrounded by beautiful women and supervise the production of your very own Playboy-like magazine.

One of the more interesting features of the game is the inclusion of photo shoots. You get a roll of film, a model, and a wide variety of options. Obviously, this game will feature nudity, though at E3 all demos of the game were kept to a PG-13 level and none of the players who played the game asked the in-game models to disrobe.

And who do you suppose was playing the Playboy demo for the crowds? None other the than the bunnies themselves: Miss May 1998 Deanna Brooks and Miss August 2001 Jennifer Walcott.

I was able to procure a picture of myself posing with the duo, who were surprisingly shorter than myself, while James was able to snap a precious closeup of their… backs. The funniest part was that Brooks was still gripping the controller while posing for my picture – even Playmates don’t like being pulled away from their games.

They weren’t the only beautiful women there though. E3 was not without a vast array of “booth babes.”

Practically every booth had some kind of booth babe somewhere who was either handing out flyers, handing out flyers in costume, or hosting some kind of contest or tournament. “Rumble Roses,” an all-female wrestling game, actually had its own miniature wrestling ring for displaying their own gorgeous, costumed women. There were even Hooters girls and a few Laker Girls present.

My main priority attending E3, however, was not to get pictures with beautiful women (although I’m not saying that wasn’t on my list of things to do). My main priority was to check out Nintendo’s booth, as I am a Nintendo fanboy.

Nintendo had quite the selection of games on display. Among the games they had playable demos for were Pikmin 2, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, Geist, Paper Mario 2, Star Fox 2, Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and The Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Adventures.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Adventures is primarily a multiplayer game that places four players on a team as well as in competition with each other. In the game the four players must work together to solve puzzles, travel through dungeons, and fight enemies while also competing with each other to be the player with the most points at the end of each level and at the end of the game. There is also a fun battle mode that places you in a last-man-standing competition.

I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to check out two of the biggest features of the expo: Halo 2 and Half-Life 2. To see the movie previews for Half-Life 2 required a wait in a very long line, something my friends and I were not prepared to do. Halo 2 was, oddly, nowhere to be found.

E3 was an amazing event and I wish I had been able to spend the whole three days there, as opposed to five hours, so I could pace myself and play more game demos. This year’s E3 presented some of the most innovative, inventive, and beautiful games that have been seen in quite some time. And Nintendo’s lineup for the rest of this year as well as 2005 defies the usual tradition of putting out poor quality games at the end of a console’s life. This means that over the next two years, as we await the arrival of the next generation of home consoles, our gaming cravings won’t be pushed over with poor knockoffs and mundane sequels.