Microsoft Press Conference: What caught our eye

So Microsoft has finished their press conference. What a way to kick off E3! There were many announcements that caught the eye of the EDG crew, so we decided to give you our reaction to what the makers of the 360 had to say.

GAMES:

Eric Bouchard:

Microsoft needed to come in strong with game announcements at this show. After all, we all knew what Sony had to offer, and it was starting to look like the 360 was going to be left behind. Well, Microsoft answered in a big way. While it may not in the end rival the exclusives Sony will mention, it was good to see some impressive exclusives unveiled.

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Crackdown 2 and Left 4 Dead 2; two sequels worth anticipating.

Of course, Crackdown 2 is a major announcement, even if it is not exactly a surprise at this point. While it looks like they are getting away from the Cell Shaded look of the first game, it still looks good and much more in depth than the first. Then came Left 4 Dead 2. They had me at the announcement, but then throw in the new melee combat and I am hooked. Splinter Cell Conviction may actually get me into the series, especially with its promise of sandbox gameplay and real time storytelling. Forza 3 will really be an impressive entry in the racing series, though racing games have never been my cup of tea. Halo ODST looks seriously impressive, and the announcement of Halo Reach…we’ll have to wait and see just what that turns out to be.

Then came Alan Wake. Gamers have been waiting for this one ever since Max Payne 2, and the game play footage they showed was amazing. From the mini-series based story telling to the innovative use of light as a weapon, Alan Wake looks extremely impressive. I’m generally not a survival horror fan, but I will be playing this. Even better was the announcement that it is coming in Spring 2010. Finally, we have a release time frame.

The most impressive debut came after all of that. Hideo Kojima came out to announce what I had predicted, that his latest project will appear on the 360. It is going to be called Metal Gear Solid Rising, and it will be featuring Raiden. Not much else has been mentioned, but just getting the Metal Gear Solid series on the 360 is a major victory for Microsoft. Now if they could just bring MGS 4.

Looks like Microsoft will not be hurting in the games department.

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Shadow Complex and Metal Gear Solid Rising were two unexpected announcements for Microsoft.

David Lange

Coming into the conference 10 or 15 minutes after it began I started watching in time to catch some gameplay for Modern Warfare 2. I liked what I saw but wasn’t blown away. The snowy environment showcased some interesting gameplay uses of the environment such as using the blizzard conditions as cover, with a weapon equipped with some type of radar apparatus. There was also a mountain climbing sequence which looked like an extension of the automated but exciting rope repelling moments from the first although. These areas increase player immersion and realism but if they push it too far it may have too much of an on-rails feeling.

One of the exclusives that caught my attention was actually an arcade game, introduced and briefly demoed by Cliff Blaszinsky and someone else who’se name escapes me. His mic was apparently not working correctly but one of the inspirations behind the gameplay he mentioned was Metroid, and what was shown of the game clearly demonstrated this. Called Shadow Complex, the game is a 2d exploratory shooter in the sci-fi style of the old Metroid games, infused with the graphics and innovation of recent action games. In addition to a huge map featuring both interior and exterior portions of the fortress, there where some cool weapons and gameplay moments that demonstrated real creativity. There was a hard foam dispensing gun that can be used to create either defence barriers or platforms, and everything from the dynamic way the character progressed through the level to some exciting mini boss encounters got me excited for the way this game seems to marry classic 2d design with sweet graphics and next gen innovation.

One of the big surprises Microsoft pulled out this year was a new MGS on the 360. As Kojima himself joined the speaker on the floor Metal Gear Solid Rising was announced. Other than the fact that the game will focus on Raiden few details where disclosed. While this is great news, I am reminded of Miyamoto’s prompting of Kojima to bring an MGS title to the Gamecube (resulting in the re-make Twin Snakes) and feel that Microsoft simply shoved a pile of cash at Kojima and said make a Metal Gear game for us. This is not to imply that this game won’t be awesome but I suspect it isnt going to be on the same level as MGS4, at least in terms of cinematic. Since the 360 is sans Blu-Ray I doubt Kojima will go through as much effort in terms of the quantity and length of the story and cutscenes. I suspect this will be a good, but possibly trimmer entry in the series.

Among other notable games announced was Splinter Cell: Conviction which featured a creative, movie-like storytelling device that brought the narrative backdrop into the gameplay, with story fragments projected on the environment. Alan Wake finally saw the light of day with an extended gameplay demo which nicely exhibited what appeared to be pretty good graphics, very solid sound design and mostly interesting looking gameplay. Gameplay was also showcased for Halo: ODST, which of course looks great in terms of gameplay and surprisingly well developed in terms of storytelling and overall production values, not that Bungie has ever dropped the ball.

alan-wake halo-odst halo-reach

Alan Wake and Halo ODST both look good. Not much was revealed about Halo Reach, but the name alone should bring ideas to the minds of Halo fans.

Using ODST as cover they also snuck in the surprise announcement for Halo: Reach. Little more than the game itself was made known but we might assume this will be the next full fledged installment of the Halo franchise with the teaser confirming that “Spartans are on the ground.”

NXE Changes:

Eric Bouchard:

The NXE really did change the 360. It was the first time a major console was completely overhauled 3 years into its life cycle. The addition of Netflix was huge, but you figured Microsoft wasn’t finished there.

Sure enough, it wasn’t. At today’s conference, Microsoft revealed Facebook functionality, including Status Update, picture sharing, connection with your friends and their 360 avatars/gamertags and the ability to save in game screenshots and post them directly to Facebook. Then just as I was telling David on Google Chat that all Microsoft needed was Twitter, it was announced as well. Looks like I’ll be getting myself a Chat Pad now. Add to that Last FM, the ability to actually browse Netflix and add to your instant queue from the 360 itself and the HD Zune Marketplace that will offer Instant On 1080p HD content and it becomes obvious that he XBox team has been hard at work adding new functions to the NXE.

The big NXE announcement, however, was the return of Live Party. When Netflix functionality was first announced on the 360, the concept of watching shows with your friends over Live was introduced. It did not roll out with the NXE, however, and it looked like all prospects of that ever happening was gone. Now it’s back, and I cannot wait.

Microsoft had said it was going to change the face of entertainment. The new additions to NXE back that claim.

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Facebook, Twitter and Last.FM are all coming to NXE

David Lange

Microsoft continues to assert itself as one of the savviest media corporations around, further implementing features to its online service that increase social networking and draw it towards its elusive goal of being the home media box. Facebook and Twitter will now be incorporated as ways to further draw the online/pc and console worlds together and making it easier for friends to stay connected via these different platforms. The inclusion of Last FM and some type of cable TV streaming (Europe) and it’s clear to see that Microsoft is graduating to a much broader perception of the video game console.

Other improvements such as instant streaming of downloadable movies was announced as well as an upgrade to full 1080p HD. One of the changes we expect but none the less applaud is the ability to browse the Netflix streaming library from your console. This is the sort of thing that seems like it should have beenĀ  available from the outset, or at least something that shouldn’t have had to have waited almost a year to implement but never the less I’m happy to see it finally arriving. Another eagerly anticipated feature is the full functionality of the Live Party system, which will now allow users to watch TV shows and Movies with their friends in a party.

All these changes affirm, what a company as smart as Microsoft knows: the future of video games is broader than just games’ its audience will likewise be more diverse, and the console of the future is not simply a gaming machine but a complete media source.

Project Natal:

Eric Bouchard:

I was really hoping Microsoft would not go the whole “motion control” route. It seemed like a gimmick, and diminishing sales of the Wii seemed to be all the evidence the company would need to show gamers just don’t care.

Project Natal changed all of that. Now I am excited.

Project Natal is a new bar containing three separate cameras that track the player’s movements. The video they showed had people fighting, racing, video chatting…it all looked impressive, especially when the girl in the racing game pulled into the pits and her dad jumped up and started changing the tires. Granted, this is not actualy footage yet, but the potential is amazing.

After the video, they demoed Natal live. While obviously a work in progress, it is clear that this is the most advanced motion capture system created yet. Just as it all seemed to be winding down, out stepped Peter Molyneux. He presented Milo, an AI boy created by Lionhead Studios. This was beyond impressive. Milo reacted to the “player” in the video, including her emotions. He even interacted with her by throwing her a pair of goggles for her to wear and “taking” a picture she had drawn from her, recognizing it as a fish and even knowing the color.

Project Natal is like nothing I have ever seen. Granted, we need to see if it comes anywhere close to living up to its potential, but if it does, you can say Goodnight to the Nintendo Wii.

milo

Could this kind of character interaction be the future of gaming? Microsoft thinks so.

David Lange

When I first watched the demo video for Microsoft’s motion capture device, Natal, I wasn’t sure if they where serious or not. What the video demonstrations implied was that Natal was advanced enough to simply read the position of your body and limbs and respond accordingly. Seeing people without a controller or input peripheral of any kind, simply move and interact with games seems like something from a movie about life 20 years from now.

Yes, the video they showed was a cheesy casual gaming scenario that featured the whole family in Wii-esque gatherings, and yes the games on display where clearly concept graphics only. But still, such a level of motion recognition and immerse interaction along with voice and facial recognition is a tremendous leap into the future of entertainment.

The stage demonstration, while a little iffy (the avatar Natal was attempting to match with the on stage performer’s motions to was humorously sporadic, with his arms twitching and wrapping around his body at one point), still proved the functionality of the device. A girls motion was captured as she played a version of breakout with her body that reminded me of the third person vantage point of the soccer game from Wii fit. The other demo was a glorified finger paint session that did little more than utilize the gesture capture abilities you would use to interface with the NXE menu system with Natal.

The most impressive demo, however, was one conducted by Peter Molyneux, in which he introduced us to Milo, a virtual boy who recognized the face and speech of a woman who interacted with him via Natal. As the camera projected her reflection into the ripples of a virtual pod it was clear how exciting the possibilities of this technology are for the future of gaming

Overall I suspect it is not quite sophisticated enough to meet the demands hardcore titles and the frenetic action and complex control set of games such as Halo or Call of Duty 4 (how do I run or pull the trigger without a button or stick? I doubt Natal can distinguish finger movements.). Since there is no additional peripheral that goes with it certain gameplay functions will be difficult to provide physical input for. It might have been wise for them to provide some type of device you can hold at the same time.

To spite a few such foreseeable setbacks, Natal is none the less a thrilling new development. Watching it’s potential at work was an exhilarating experience as a gamer. Microsoft has said Natal is already in the hands of developers so I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Final Thoughts:

David Lange

Overall it was an impressive conference for Microsoft. They did not debut as many exclusives or surprises in the software department as I expected however, nor did they debut a handheld or dedicate their time to the Zune HD which was also somewhat surprising since it’s ability to work in tandem with NXE is a great extension of the service. Still the games they showed looked promising and the improvements to NXE where good steps.

The real showstopper in my opinion was Natal, however. Though with more time and consideration I am slightly jaded as to it’s current applicability to the kind of games most hardcore fans will get excited about, it is still a very big deal. More importantly it may be the coup they needed to gain a foot hold in the casual market. They needed more than a flimsy imitation Wii peripheral to catch the faddish attention of the mainstream and the ability to control games with your body alone is a big enough deal to do it.

Also the technology, while not exactly ready to be used in say the next GTA, still has a lot of promise in the hands of talented studios. It will be hard for Nintendo and Sony to top. Here’s looking to them.

Eric Bouchard:

Microsoft has truly set the bar extremely high for Sony and Nintendo. If Natal can deliver, it could be the death knell for the Wii, and the addition of Facebook, Last FM and Twitter make the NXE far above and beyond anything Sony has done with PSN. Microsoft has shown that, as a company, it’s willing to look beyond the traditional boundraies of what is expected of a gaming console and truly try to become a multimedia entertainment system. Add to that the great games, Live Party and the new Games on Demand feature they could not include int he press conference due to time constraints, and Microsoft has made a strong bid for most impressive presenter at E3.

I had thought going into E3 Microsoft had something up its sleeve. I had no clue it would be this big.

3 thoughts on “Microsoft Press Conference: What caught our eye

  1. Multiple Sources are confirming that MGS: Rising will appear on the PC and PS3 in addition to the 360 so perhaps this will be a more complete undertaking than I originally thought and not just a token game for the 360. Guess they couldn't score an exclusive.

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