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Microsoft’s E3 Conference Announcements

June 4, 2009

You may have read my E3 rumours roundup for Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony…I wasn’t until yesterday that the three companies revealed their cards.

Microsoft was the first of the companies to present their works to the press, beginning with a montage of gameplay footage of Beatles tracks, indicating that there would be a Beatles version of the Rock Band game. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney came on stage to have a bit of a natter to promote the game and approving of their in-game characters. Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono were also on-stage.

Corporate VP for Xbox John Shappert didn’t start with sales and marketing figures, instead announcing 10 World game premieres along with innovations and experiences.

The Games
Tony Hawk Ride, a skateboarding game if you aren’t familiar with the seires or Tony Hawk, will also be playable with a static skateboard peripheral. The peripheral has sensors on the sides to detect grabs with accelerometers to detect motion/orientation. Due out later this year.

There was some gameplay on a snowy mountainous level on a section called Cliffhanger in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Shappert said that there will be two map packs for the game, released on the Xbox 360 first.

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII will be coming to the Microsoft console. The game is due for a Spring 2010 release.

Xbox 360 Exclusives
Exclusive to the Xbox 360 will be Epic’s first Xbox Live Arcade title, Gears of War: Shadow Complex, a 3D side scroller with over 10 hours of gameplay, due this summer. Joyride a product of Microsoft Game Studios is like Madtracks but with customisable cars and avatars.

Another exclusive is the follow-up to the popular Crackdown game, Crackdown 2.wasn’t given a date but the signs from Ruffian Games suggests it is still in the works, possibly an Autumn 2010 game if I had to stick my neck out.

Left 4 Dead, the survival horror, also has a sequel, Left 4 Dead 2. It was given a release date of November 17, 2009 and also available on PC.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction had a gameplay demo showing Sam Fisher walking and skulking around in the shadows with a new ‘mark and execute’ ability, allowing the player to select a target to kill before entering an area where an enemy may be alerted. As well as playing the stealth game, the player will get the opportunity to go in all guns blazing according to the demonstration. Splinter Cell: Conviction will be out Autumn 2009.

Forza Motorsport 3 was shown confirming that the racing game with realistic handling and physics is coming back for a third instalment. A video created using the in-game video editor demonstrated how creative the users can be with it. Also, a dashboard view will be available, missing from the previous instalment due to weight reduction customisations which would result in dashboard changes. Expect Forza 3 on the shelves in October, 2009.

One for the Halo fans, Halo 3 ODST. You play the role of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (hence the ODST), you have become separated from your team and have to find your way around and find out what happened.. From the video, it looks like you as the ODST are being dropped in a capsule towards a space craft/carrier of some sort which warps out of the area just before an EMP blast is unleashed. The setting is New Mombasa, three weeks before Halo 3. You also get to play as other ODSTs so you can experience the story from other points of view to build up a complete picture of events. Halo ODST is due to be released Worldwide on the 22nd of September, 2009. Bungie Team are also working on yet another Halo game, Halo Reach, due for release Autumn 2010.

Alan Wake has seen delays and now it looks like the game is coming together, so much so that there was a gameplay demo for the crowd at E3. Alan Wake from Remedy Entertainment, due for release in Spring 2010.

Metal Gear Solid is coming to the Xbox 360. Although this seems to be a spin-off rather than a true MGS game. Don Mattrick mentioned Snake and Hideo Kojima rebuffed the reference by stating he didn’t say anything about Solid Snake. The title Metal Gear Solid: Rising was revealed in a vague teaser video which had a voice over saying “Raiden is back,” possibly suggesting the game could be centred around this character.

Media and Social
ArtistDetails Xbox Live partners with last.fm to bring music from the internet to the Xbox 360 dashboard and will be free to Gold members (finally, something extra for the subscription) later this year. In addition to music is the ability for those in the US with Netflix accounts to browse and add titles to the queue directly from their Xbox 360, no longer needing access to a PC.

UK and Ireland customers will have the ability to get live Sky TV via their consoles, over the internet, with no additional hardware needed. No mention of it being free so will probably have a cost associated with it.

Sky_Sports The Xbox video service will be re-launched as the Zune video service, videos will be upgraded to 1080p with movies and shows being instantly watchable while the rest of the content downloads in the background. This will be available from Autumn 2009.

What’s missing? Social interaction! Watch films, tv shows and sporting events with friends on Live  with your avatars at the bottom of the screen. You will have the ability to animate your avatar using preset events such as cheering.

Friends Also, coming to your TV via your Xbox 360 is Facebook. Felicia Day presented a quick demo of how friends on Facebook would be displayed, with their Xbox Live profiles linked, along with the ability to see their status updates. That’s not all, you can also view Facebook photos from your dashboard. For a while now, Facebook has provided access to its API, Facebook Connect. the Xbox 360 will use this to let you upload and share pictures and event from games that support it, to your Facebook account, such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour.

Facebook isn’t alone, Twitter will also be available with a full screen Twitter experience from the dashboard with the ability to post to Twitter also. Both Facebook and Twitter will be coming to the Xbox in Autumn.

INNOVATION
prjctntl-F_2 Don Mattrick said, “People ask me, ‘can you add a motion controller?’ I tell ‘em, of course we can.” Which pretty much gives away what came up next!

The rumours of the camera based motion controller are true, a video trailer showing a family playing in front of a TV, steering a car with two hands holding virtual steering wheel, the Dad getting up to carry out a wheel change as part of the pit stop, the son playing his part as a Godzilla-esque dinosaur beating off planes with his arms. and stomping his feet. Mother and daughter, side by side taking a penalty..and trying to save it. Another son scanning in a skateboard, getting it into the game and then pulling off moves by jumping and changing stances. The daughter comes in to the room, stands in front of the TV to which the Xbox 360 responds by signing her in and using voice commands to initiate a video chat as well as trying on clothes on her avatar. No longer will you need buzzers for games like Scene It, you can hit your open palm with the other hand shaped into a fist, as if miming the application of a rubber stamp to paper. All this possible using the camera technology dubbed Project Natal, part of which is a sensor discretely placed below/in front of you television.

Steven Spielberg came on to give a brief spiel about how the controller can be a barrier to gaming and removing this will make gaming more approachable.

xxxxx Project Natal’s creative director Kudo Tsunoda came on to explain Project Natal live in front of the audience. Demonstrations included painting on a canvas using the hand as a brush, navigating the Xbox dashboard using hand gestures and animating the avatar by moving his body. There was a game demo using Ricochet, no controller required just your body in front of the camera and moving arms and legs, which is mimicked by the onscreen avatar, into the path of oncoming balls to send them back down the hall to destroy a wall, according to Tsunoda, real physics are involved.

Developers over the past few months have had access to Natal and one of these have been Lionhead. Peter Molyneux came on stage to talk about Project Natal and to present what Lionhead have done with it. A boy called Milo, a character that will recognise faces, voices, emotions and will react with the user. In the video, the in-game character Milo is interacting with the user of Natal, Claire. Milo throws a pair of goggles at the screen/user and Claire reaches forward to catch the virtual item. Molyneux explains that this wasn’t acted and that everyone who uses it feels the need to reach down to catch the item, presumably since there is no contact with a controller and the compulsion to press a button to interact.

As well as gesture based interaction, there was a data input interaction, much like using a scanner or loading a photo into your computer but in a more natural way. Claire drew a fish on a piece of paper then put it near the camera at the top of the screen and put the paper down. On screen, Milo received a piece of paper from off the screen near the camera making it look like he was passed the item. The drawing was scanned and recognised by the game and Milo reacted accordingly. This demo with Milo was available for selected audiences at E3 behind closed doors, so it isn’t just a video of a concept but a working model.

This is more than just inspiration from the Wii, but an evolution of motion gaming that removes the controller and advanced interactivity. It could be around a year before games are available and the announcement of a public release for Project Natal…along with a rename.

For Microsoft, the games announcements have been mainly of sequels and followups. The coup of a Metal Gear Solid title, Final Fantasy XIII and the innovation demonstrated by Project Natal means that they had a strong E3 showing, with many wondering if Sony or Nintendo could better them…

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