E3 2008: Microsoft Press Conference – Shawn’s Take
With a strong boot to the opening, Microsoft kicked off E3 with the first press conference out of the gate. There was a lot of speculation before the show.. Microsoft would announce a price cut, a motion controller, avatars, the cure for cancer.. the list goes on. While we didn’t get the cure for cancer or a motion controller it definitely felt like Microsoft was aiming at a pretty wide audience with some of its announced new titles and a number of not-quite innovations aimed at broadening the reach of the console in the media and casual markets.
The focus of the entire conference this year seemed to be on the multi-player experience. Not the static gamer matches, but co-operative experiences, media and experience sharing. Many of the titles shown reflect this philosophy and Microsoft’s internal announcements definitely reflect it.
So lets get the hysterics out of the way… Gears of War 2 does LOOK good. Fallout 3 does have VATS. Resident Evil 5 has co-op online play. There.. now to my impressions of the event, for another take, be sure to check out Johnathan’s impressions of exactly the same event, now with less sarcasm…
The boys in green started off the show with a live look at the upcoming Fallout 3. Todd Howard, the executive producer for the title at Bethesda was on hand to premiere an extended teaser trailer and then we got to see the blood, gore and irradiated love that is the latest in the Fallout franchise.
Howard took viewers through a segment of gameplay and gave little hints of the setting and story of the game beyond what we’ve seen over the last two years. Mutants and a bombed out Washington D.C. Still show that there must be some obscene requirement that all games include at least 15 shades of dismal brown in their color palette. At least for Fallout it “feels” appropriate. The game will be released for Games for Windows and the 360 with the big “Exclusive” label for the near future, sorry Sony fans. There was also a little discussion of Bethesda’s interest in expanding its downloadable content offerings far beyond what they offered with Oblivion.
The demonstration of the portable nuke launcher against the mysterious and seemingly Nazi-like enclave was the highlight of the demo but unfortunately Fallout faded fast when its follow up demonstration title – Resident Evil 5 took the stage. Capcom’s popular series looks, from all indications as though it will be abandoning the claustrophobic survival horror aspects a bit and the new live footage demonstrated felt an awful lot like an action game to me.
June Takauchi, the producer walked everyone through the basics of Resident Evil 5‘s story – namely that Chris Redfield is in Africa investigating an outbreak as a part of a new organization called BSAA. His partner for the demonstration, an African officer named Sheva was used to demonstrate the need for players to work together and become a team to overcome the obstacles of the game. I wonder if when players are solo if the AI partner will be half as useful.
I have to say while Resident Evil 5 is yet another member of the movement I’m now calling the “Brown Conspiracy” I was pleasantly surprised with the upgraded graphics and action oriented changes the game is adopting. We can all look forward to killing mindless African peasants September 15th.
I was pretty happy with the looks we’d had at Fallout and RE5 but when Peter Molyneux took the stage to demonstrate Fable II I was completely prepared to watch him play with his dog some more. Wow, was I shocked when he introduced the nature of Fable II‘s cooperative gameplay. The seamless integration of friends as glowing orbs and the ability to pop into a buddies game world, chat up his friends and look over the changes they’ve wrought on the world really is a mind blowing concept. The game is still a single player world but the idea of sharing that world, even for a little while with a friend is pretty exciting. The expected October release can’t come quite soon enough. No matter what else Microsoft had to say they’d already sold me on Fable II.
Marcus Fenix is a bad ass, of course having yet another view of the Brumak and Locust assault forces will excite a lot of people out there I’m actually feeling a bit blasé about the whole project. I’m sure once I get hands on time with the game I’ll love the new mobile cover system. I’m sure the vehicle control missions will make the game a bastion of even more awesome, but the brown conspiracy has taken total control of this game and everything is starting to blend together. Gears of War 2: The Return of Bender the Space Marine with a REALLY cool Chainsaw Gun will I’m sure sell gangbusters no matter what I say.. so I’ll move on.
Once the bloody mess faded and Microsoft’s Don Mattrick resumed control I knew it was time for the Powerpoint assault to begin. Gaming is King! He declared! Microsoft is the GREATEAST! Games outsell movies, TV, Food and Sex… okay maybe not sex but you get the idea.. and to prove it, Microsoft is going to suck the average person into this whole confusing gaming thing by doing things Sony and Nintendo have almost been doing all these years.. but this is totally different because its being done by Microsoft!
Heard of the Mii? Well Microsoft is introducing the Avatars. Heard of Eyetoy Play? Well Microsoft is doing You’re in the Movies! And this whole Karaoke thing seems to be popular so they’re introducing Singsta.. er.. LIPS! Complete with Microsoft Zune (oh and something called an ipod) integration.
I wanted to see the Microsoft take on all these ideas. Even if they were not original, at least they were backed by the best online experience in console gaming right?
Well one change Microsoft announced that I liked a lot was the Windows Media Center Edition of Xbox 360.. I mean the Fall Dashboard update. With the Avatars supplementing the gamercard and players gaining the ability to personalize their “grown up mii” using a Sims 2 dressing room (and no doubt a selection of tastefully purchased micro-transaction based wardrobes).
The integration of avatars is paired with the ability to watch movies and share images with your Xbox Live! Buddies. This sounds great in general but I can’t tell you how many of my Live! Buddies would be ideal MST3K movie watching pals or frankly care about my trip with the kids to the park. There is an interesting social dynamic at work here.. it could mean we no longer need to go over to a friends house, eat all their food, dirty up their dishes and drink all their beer on B-movie night. Thanks to Live! I’ll get the ability to do all that with a headset on in the comfort of my own house… no.. wait.. how is that a good thing?
Live Party, the Live! Primetime offerings, all these initiatives will broaden the social lives of people without Real life friends I’m sure. I’m glad the avatars will likely replace the use of the Vision camera for many of these activities so I can forget the frightening faces I’ve viewed in a 3am Uno binge tournament. However the Vision is getting new life thanks to Microsoft’s really bad You’re in the Movies. Unfortunately while the concept of quick and dirty movie building in concert with video improv and charades sounds good.. well the reality is so less than good based on the demonstration.
The Live! Announcements were not all oddity and social oriented however as we got a chance to look at the sequel to Geometry Wars and an exclusive Portal title for the 360. There was a lot of gushing about Rock Band and Guitar Hero and while its all nice and good its really in many ways more of the same – well except for the music editing mode for GH:World Tour, but we’ll have more on that from Activision I’m sure tomorrow.
The big revelation of the show however was the Square-Enix presentation. They began by updating on Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant. The latest Star Ocean also got the 360 plug but there was not a lot of new information here aside from release dates that I’m sure Johnathan covered. Then Square pulled a bit of the gotcha.. they announced the release of Final Fantasy XIII for the 360. I’ll have a lot more information on this in my article about the Final Fantasy XIII Q&A session with Square later tonight but this is a major win for Microsoft fans who love the long running franchise but are anti-Sony.