Portable gaming.

Impressions from E3: The coming year will be pretty interesting for mobile gaming. The Nintendo DS (dual screen) is a somewhat goofy concept, but there are a lot of games in development and some of them look pretty cool. I got a chance to play with a few of the new games and was fairly impressed. Developers can use the two screens for different views: e.g. first-person view on the top, map view on the bottom. Or you can use the touch-sensitive bottom screen to draw notes, and see other peoples’ notes on the top screen. My vote for the most fun new game: a Pac-Man variant, where little ghosts run around a piece of “note paper.” You have to draw Pac-Man, and as soon as you finish, your drawing animates and goes off munching the ghosts. Fun! But do you really need two screens for this game? Not really.

The Sony PSP is very slick-looking, with an absolutely gorgeous industrial design. I got to fondle it but not actually play with it at all. Hard to tell how far off this product really is, since Sony was playing pretty close to the chest with it — listing lots of developers who had signed on to the platform, but not actually showing any games. Sony has created a new data cartridge format for the PSP — a kind of minidisc in a case.

The Nokia N-Gage QD is a big improvement over the original N-Gage. It’s smaller and sleeker, so it will actually fit in your pocket. Battery life is better and the screen seems brighter. Much to my surprise, Nokia claims that “tens of thousands” of people sign on to the N-Gage multiplayer environment, the Arena, every week. Eighteen games already on the market (not too many); Nokia claims there will be 40-50 by year’s end.

Finally, I got my hands on some prototypes of the upcoming Gizmondo. It looks vaguely N-Gage like but with a bigger, brighter screen; it has GPS built-in as well as GPRS data capabilities — so it can exchange data over the cell phone network — but it’s not a phone. Also plays audio and video files. It looks very slick, but a lot depends on how well this company does marketing and distribution. It’s up against some real heavyweights.

Portable gaming.