By JOHN GAUDIOSI, Special to Local Tech Wire

LOS ANGELES, California – Over 45,000 videogame professionals have congregated at the Los Angeles Convention Center to see first hand what new technology and games will be heading to a store near you over the next 12 months.

Cary, N.C.-based Epic Games is at the center of the global gaming landscape thanks to a pair of new games, and

At the show, Microsoft will showcase Gears of War 3 during its press conference today (June 14). It’s the third installment in a franchise that has sold over 15 million games and spawned dozens of merchandising tie-ins from sneakers to books to comics to replica guns complete with chainsaw sounds. There’s even a Hollywood feature film in development at New Line Cinema.

While Microsoft distributed and publishes the Gears of War games, Epic owns the intellectual property, allowing it complete control over its franchise. Following its press conference demo, Epic will be showing its new Gears game at Microsoft’s E3 booth behind closed doors throughout the show. The game ships for Xbox 360 in April 2011.

Gears of War 3 picks up where the second game left off, but Dom, Marcus and the gang are facing a new problem. After flooding the Locust at the end of the second game, they’ve opened the door for a new Imulsion threat in the form of mutated Locusts called Lampents that come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

To help confront these new enemies, Epic has introduced four-player cooperative gameplay to the mix with two new characters, Jace Stratton and the first female fighter, Anya Stroud. There are also new weapons, including a powerful mech suit called the Silverback, and new guns like the Digger Launcher, which shoots piranha-like creatures that explode around enemies.

A few hours after Microsoft’s press conference, Epic-owned Polish developer People Can Fly will be featured during Electronic Arts’ press conference to show off Bulletstorm. Also shipping in April 2011, Electronic Arts will distribute and publish this original shooter for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game will be playable for the first time at EA’s E3 booth.

The game introduces Grayson Hunt, a former elite mercenary who’s become a drunk space pirate after a series of events. He ends up crashing his ship onto the former travel resort planet Stygia, along with his nemesis and his heavily-armed soldiers. This sets up plenty of shooting action, as players will contend with both soldiers and assorted creatures and monstrosities that have overtaken the planet. The Mature-rated gameplay rewards players for creatively eliminating enemies through skill shots that unlock new and more lethal weapons.

People Can Fly develops Bullestorm

“Working with People Can Fly has been fascinating,” said Epic’s creative guru Cliff Bleszinski. “They remind us of Epic around 2004 because of their creativity and the ideas that they come up with. But you also need to have management. You can’t just say a game will ship when it’s done.”

Bleszinski said there’s a certain amount of overlap between these two shooters, but Gears focuses on chainsawing and high tech marines, while Bulletstorm is about rogue space pirates.

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is building whole new worlds and hopefully these two games will go on for a long time,” said Bleszinski, who makes time to play each game every week.

Since he was promoted to design director at Epic Games a few years ago, Bleszinski now has a hand in all of the company’s projects.

Tanya Jessen is the producer of Bulletstorm at Epic Games and she’s the American face of the new game. She flies regularly to Poland to work with the team, and keeps track of the latest developments from Cary.

“Bulletstorm is a true collaboration between Epic and People Can Fly,” said Jessen. “I worked with them when they did the Gears of War PC port, so there were a ton of lessons learned there about working with Unreal Engine 3. In addition, there’s very regular communication between our internal code teams and PCF, as well.”

Heavy press attention

Just how big are Epic’s two new games? Bulletstorm graced the cover of the number one videogame magazine, Game Informer, in April. Gears of War 3 was on the cover of Game Informer in May. That type of back-to-back cover status in Game Informer is unprecedented for an independent game developer.

Although Bulletstorm doesn’t ship until next year, Epic started promoting the game with a Cliff Bleszinski interview on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” back in April. That’s also a first in the game industry, and a feat that took over a year to make happen behind-the-scenes.

Now with E3 and the global videogame press corps on hand, Epic Games’ latest titles will receive a deluge of publicity, something the game developer can build on as it heads into what will be a very busy spring 2011. For those interested in seeing Epic’s games in action SpikeTV is broadcasting the Microsoft press conference and is streaming both the Microsoft and EA press conferences today.

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