This morning Microsoft put on a show at the Galen Centre in LA for their annual E3 press conference. I was there taking notes and appreciating Usher’s smooth moves.
Halo 4 was the opener, plenty of Space-Navy dudes standing around looking serious as a commander type dude talks. Then some gameplay; Master Chief briefly taking on some Covenant forces before a new enemy enters the fray, wielding some Forerunner technology which the player picks up and uses (the first seemed like an assault rifle, sniper hybrid, the other a shotgun equivalent). The enemies look distinctly different from the old Covenant and seem to be quite mobile with their attacks. Also, plenty of orange.
Don Mattrick comes out and dispenses with the usual semi-robotic pleasantries. He points out that Xbox has moved up from being the #1 selling console in North America to being the #1 selling console in the world. He makes to continue when a lone “WOO!” arises from the audience, prompting a “yeah!” from Mattrick.
New trailer, third person, middle east looking environment. Player is carrying someone into a tent. That person is wounded or dead. They lie them on the table and the player hangs back. Players of Splinter Cell: Conviction can probably recognise the “mark and execute” icons that appear, and that’s exactly what happens. The players character removes the head gear while interrogating an enemy and Sam Fisher is seen in all his glory. The title screen comes up showing “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” and the spotlight lights up some Ubisoft dudes. A sequence shows the Mark And Execute mechanics whilst Sam is running. This is explained as “Killing In Motion”. It looks like a badass logical evolution of the existing mechanics. They show off Kinect voice integration; distracting an enemy by calling “Hey, you!” and then calling in an airstrike. It looks cool and manages to generate some excitement. Personally I pumped my fist when it was confirmed that the multiplayer will feature Spies vs. Mercs.
EA Sports guy, Andrew Wilson comes out, talks about FIFA 13. Introduces a gameplay footage with Kinect voice controls. The player substitutes some team members, and then calls for a pass. He then has a goal scored against him and says something to the ref which had to be bleeped out. The game recognises this and the commentator mentions it as the ref hands the players currently controller team member a yellow card (tsk tsk). He then talks about Madden 13 and calls Joe Montana to the stage. The two things that I took away from him demoing Madden 13 were A) he’s (understandable) quite a bit older than he was in the episode of the Simpsons I saw him in, and B) the face that “Press button” was coming up on the teleprompter killed any feeling of authenticity I may have otherwise felt.
Next, another trailer. Albion’s in trouble again, it’s Fable: The Journey. There’s a guy in the trailer showing what you’ll look like playing the game, only with magic stuff (like the green gem thing from The Sims?) overlaid so it doesn’t look quite as stupid. He also reminds me a lot of the guy on the cover of Star Wars Kinect. The trailer ends with the guy making a motion that must have caused many cynical nerds (like myself) to utter “HADOUKEN!” under their breath.
Phil Spencer is introduced and comes on to the stage, He gives shoutouts to the various first party Microsoft studios. He introduces back to back trailers for Gears Of War: Judgements and Forza Horizon, and bails. The trailer for Judgement contains about as much information as the Game Informer cover, it has Baird, firing a lancer, getting chained up, Locust doing stuff. Lots of fast cuts. Coming 2013. The extended teaser does a much better job. Forza Horizon goes on to confirm a what Gar had already theorised. Open street racing. It looks good. The jumps and the epic drifting probably won’t put his fear that it won’t have the Forza level of authenticity at ease, though.
Yusuf Mehdi comes out and starts talking about entertainment on the Xbox. He demonstrates the Bing voice search functionality that they’ve shown in press conferences before. He talks about services not available in NZ, and then shows off Xbox Bing voice search functionality in Spanish. Next he talks about the UFC and MLB apps currently available, and announces that the portfolio is being extended to NBA and NHL as well. Then some stuff about ESPN. They run a clip of people using Xbox to watch sports with their friends. He announces Xbox Music, a music service they’ve “always dreamed of providing” with a world class library of songs. They run a clip. It looks more like Zune is being rebranded. He then throws it to “The Future Of Fitness”
Stefan Olander comes on and talks about Nike Plus Kinect Training. He claims that ‘if you have a body, you’re an athelete”. It looks like a a fitness ‘game’ which is probably better than most on the market (for whatever that’s worth).
Head of Xbox Live, Marc Whitten comes out and poses the question “can you imagine life without your smartphone or tablet?” Yes I can. I don’t like it as much, but it’s imaginable. He introduces Xbox SmartGlass, which will ‘transform’ our smartphones and tablets to interact with each other and provide rich information relevant to what might be going on in the complimenting devices. Not just a Windows Phone thing either, as he names Android and iPhone also. He shows Sherlock Holmes playing on an iPad, transfers it to the Xbox to play exactly where he was, and now the iPad is showing cast and crew information. So, the simple version is that it transferred the movie with a resume time and then automatically pulled data from IMDB? It seems simple enough that it should’ve been happening two years ago. He shows Game Of Thrones, and SmartGlass shows a map of Westeros with indicators showing other things happening at the time of the episode. He shows a concept of SmartGlass being used in Madden to create a new play by custom drawing an arrow. Then Halo 4, where SmartGlass displays relelvant information being pulled from Halo Waypoint, and handles your game invites. He then shows the use of the touch screen as a control interface, and announces that Internet Explorer will being coming to Xbox via this functionality. Cynical geeks murmur about preferring it if they went with Chrome or Firefox. He shows the smallest piece of the actual user interface of IE on Xbox using a phone, and it looks like it essentially acts as a track pad.
Crystal Dynamics come out and show some Tomb Raider. Lara uses a bow and the game still looks as disturbingly violent as it has in the past. Lara sets enemies on fire a whole bunch and falls down a waterfall, into a plane where she grabs a parachute, uses the parachute and proceeds to get slashed and badly beaten by trees.
A trailer for Ascend: New Gods plays. It’s made by Signal Studios, the makers of Toy Soldiers. Unfortunately the trailer didn’t do it too many favours and it came off as a generic third person melee action game.
Next trailer, talks about introducing Iris, an assassin or something, which close camera angles play on surfaces. It keeps bragging and reveals that “she” is some kind of electric tron cycle or something. Late title card: LocoCycle, by Twiste Pixel.
Next trailer namedrops Gore Verbinski, director of Pirates of the Carribean and Rango. There’s a weird orb thing floating around. Late title card: Matter.
Capcom dudes come out and show off Resident Evil 6. Leon’s back, and he’s trapped in Quick Time Event City or something. DLC timed exclusive for Xbox.
Alex Ruiz from Xbox Live comes out to demo Wrecketeer. It looks like a 3D Angry Birds for children.
South Park: The Stick Of Truth gets a trailer, and then Matt Stone and Trey Parker and their already considerable charisma is seemingly overcharged by comparison to the usual executives. They make fun of the SmartGlass interactivity and the crappy look of South Park.
Usher appears on screen and announces Dance Central 3… AND THEN APPEARS FOR REAL, performing one of his latest singles I guess.
Then Don Mattrick comes out for the outro, and lets it end on a Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 demo. The standard fare of guns and explosions for a COD game, but they spent far too long shooting guys through walls, to the point where, when they cut away with “In the interest of time…” it seemed completely facetious.