LOS ANGELES - They've turned out the lights, unplugged the games and shipped the booth babes back to wherever it is they come from. The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, the gargantuan video game trade show that draws 45,000 industry folks to Los Angeles each year, is over. Thumbs, you may begin healing now.
Here's a look back at the defining trends of this year's E3, one of the odder and more underwhelming iterations we've attended.
Two screens are better than one: There was lots of talk about the so-called second-screen experience, in which a handheld screen works in tandem with what's happening on the living room TV. Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console is entirely built around this idea, with a controller that combines traditional joysticks and buttons with a touchscreen that offers a different way to view or interact with a game's action.
Sony showcased new ways their handheld PlayStation Vita can be used in conjunction with big-screen PlayStation 3 games, and Microsoft introduced Xbox SmartGlass, a technology that will allow gamers to use their existing smartphones or tablets as a second window into gaming, movies and web browsing on the console.
Mum on motion control: At last year's E3, Microsoft trotted out a long line of games for their motion-sensing Xbox Kinect peripheral. This year, the Kinect push was more muted, with focus on how the device's voice-recognition features could be used to, for example, call plays in Madden NFL 13 or distract enemies in Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
Sony also didn't talk a lot about their PlayStation Move motion controller, other than to unveil an upcoming line of interactive, augmented reality books called Wonderbook. The first title will be a collaboration with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling dubbed Book of Spells, which will make books appear to come to life on the TV screen and allow readers to cast virtual magic spells by waving the Move controller like a wand.
Tough ladies: Sisters were doin' it for themselves at this year's E3, with a pleasing roster of upcoming games featuring strong and often realistic (well, for video games) heroines. The gritty Tomb Raider reboot showed a Lara Croft who is both capable yet somewhat vulnerable, while Beyond: Two Souls, starring the digitized likeness of Canadian actress Ellen Page, also featured a tough yet not-superheroic female protagonist.
The Gears of War prequel, Gears of War: Judgment, introduced a badass new female soldier named Sofia, The Last of Us had 14-year-old Ellie saving her grizzled guardian, Joel, from danger and Assassin's Creed III: Liberation for the PlayStation Vita is the first instalment in the franchise to feature a female assassin.
Pain for gain: Squeamish folks may want to avoid the new breed of videogames that depict pain and gore with no punches pulled, such as Resident Evil 6 (now with the ability to shoot meaty chunks out of advancing zombies), The Last of Us (some of the most visceral mano-a-mano beatdowns we've ever seen in a game), Dead Space 3 (new, gross breeds of alien to dismember), Tomb Raider (when Lara Croft falls from a height, you can almost hear her bones snap) and Splinter Cell: Blacklist (forget waterboarding, Sam Fisher tortures terrorists with knives). Erm, where's that Harry Potter game again?
Few surprises: Like a teenager whose voice is starting to change, this is an awkward transition year for the games biz, as game console makers compete with the rise of cheap, casual gaming on mobile devices and try to squeeze the last bit of mileage out of their aging hardware. Thus, there were no significant new technology announcements (Nintendo didn't even reveal how much the Wii U will cost when it launches this holiday season), and only a handful of new franchises (though some, such as Dishonored, The Last of Us and particularly Ubisoft Montreal's Watch Dogs look absolutely spectacular).
The upside to that? It guarantees next year's E3 will be very interesting indeed.