You've seen it, you've read about it, you may have even watched the conference vid that lasted nearly two hours. It's Microsoft's run at the spotlight this time, and we're doing a quick run-through of all the games and all the juicy details in between. With 10 world premieres, an impressive slate of exclusives, and a motion-sensor that's set to raise the bar for the technology, Microsoft's E3 2009 Press Conference added buzz to the gaming scene that we'll be talking about for months to come.
Microsoft's E3 2009 Press Briefing kicked off with a Beatles medley, opening the scene with the band's "A Hard Day's Night." A hard day's night may be right, because like the output or not, the guys behind scenes really worked their rear ends off coming to LA this week. That alone already deserves credit.
Beatles: Rock Band
With the colorful psychedelic kickoff, you knew it was coming. First up on the presentation is the Rock Band incarnation of The Beatles' career - The Beatles: Rock Band(PS3, Xbox 360, Wii). Alex Rigopulos and MTV's Van Toffler began their presentation, noting that the Beatles medley vid was the game's opening cinematic.
As revealed before by George Harrison's son Dhani, The: Beatles: Rock Band, will feature "never been heard, never been released" material, which includes the never-before heard studio chat among the band.
The game will come with its set of tracks, while the others will be available for download, the same way Rock Band gets its music. The first of these would be the album "Abbey Road" which will be available "soon after launch." The song, "All You Need is Love" will also be available for download, but proceeds from that one will go straight to Doctors Without Frontiers.
Loved the video, loved the way they integrated the Beatles' music into the presentation. Throw in their charitable effort and you've got a well-rounded stint. But what appealed to me the most was the way they capped it off, calling out the names that made it all possible. George Harrison's son Dhani was the first, then his wife Olivia came next, side-by-side with Yoko Ono-Lennon.
Of course, you can't have a Beatles presentation without the two surviving members onstage - Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Now there's something for the fans, and you gotta love the sense of humor. Now that is how you give credit and respect.
World Premieres and Xbox 360 Exclusives
The floor was then turned over to John Schappert, who took the wheel of the presentation saying that their presentation will have less talking and more showing, the MS exec gave a brief overview of the coming presentations: up ahead - ten world premieres with and for the Xbox 360.
Tony Hawk Ride
The Beatles showed up for their game, and Tony Hawk did the same for his. Holding in his hands what appeared to be a skateboard deck came skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and gave a few words of praise about the new skateboard peripheral for Tony Hawk Ride (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii). The new controller is equipped with accelerometers, an intuitive design, and infra-red sensors all over to simulate actual board-riding, including the turns, grinds, and even the grabs.
Tony Hawk then directed everyone to a video showing yet more skate pros trying out the controller and giving their thumbs up.
While Microsoft and Activision certainly weren't aiming for a technical demo for the new peripheral, they did succeed in getting the right opinion leaders to give their endorsements for the product. After all, who knows what makes good skating gear better than the pros? As far as drawing the fan base into the game, then the presentation was a pretty good shot.
Modern Warfare II
If less talking and more showing was the theme, the Jason West and Vince Zampella of Infinity Ward cut all their talking short and spent practically all of their presentation time demonstratingModern Warfare 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, and PC). It really seemed like they wanted to show more, but, as the demo indicated, it has to be cut short "in the interest of time."
What was revealed apart from the obvious was that Modern Warfare#@ !27
12#@ ! will be out on November 10th this year: 11 - 10 - 09. Two map packs will follow and make their debut on Xbox Live first, so the PS3 and PC versions will have to wait a bit.
If you just wanted to see more of the game, then this presentation would suit you just fine. The demonstration covered graphics, sound, gameplay, as well as other small elements that one would look for in a game, including a high-speed snowmobile chase. The stint didn't fall short on the non-playing details either - they did give a release date, and details on upcoming DLC.
For not overusing superlatives and the simple effectiveness of their presentation, I think the Infinity Ward duo did a great job selling the game.
Final Fantasy XIII
Coming onstage with a translator, Yoshinori Kitase and Motomu Toriyama went all subtle after the rather pumped-up Modern Warfare 2 presentation. Was it me or did I feel a silent moment of anticipation from the crowd when they heard "Square Enix"?
After giving a short history lesson on the Final Fantasy franchise, they proceeded to a video of Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, Xbox 360), showing the seemless battle transition and the four Active Time gauges. Those will be the keys to combo-ing so we'll need to be well-acquainted with it once it's our turn to actually play.
As a nice little treat, they Summoned the magical beast, Odin. Espers or Aeons? No mention yet as to what the stars of summon magic will be called for Final Fantasy XIII, but they did mention that they made an exception for the demo so that they could show Odin that early in the game.
Release margin is Spring 2010.
For a game that's as hotly anticipated as Final Fantasy XIII, Kitase-san and Toriyama-san could have come to war with more guns. Sure, the Odin inclusion was a much-appreciated move, but the presentation really didn't hit home with new info, and we already know our Final Fantasy history.
Perhaps they were saving the big tidbits for their booth? We'll find out soon enough.
The floor then went back to John Schappert for another brief introduction. From this point on, it was all Xbox 360-exclusive, starting with...
Running on the Unreal Engine 3, Cliff Beszinsky and Donald Mustard added some mustard to Shadow Complex. They went on and showed the demo, revealing that the XBLA exclusive will have 120 hidden items hidden all over the platform landscape. The sidescroller does seem complete with the usual elements - power upgrades, hidden items, the usual boss fights, plus the use of the environment in taking the enemy out.
Epic Games will unleash this one into the XBLA this summer, and it should be worth extra looks.
Demo, check. Various gameplay elements, check. Enthusiastic presentation, check. The presentation may not have been something that would outbuzz the other titles that were shown in the presscon, Beszinsky and Mustard did what they came to do, and the game will ultimately have to speak for itself. I'd have to say that Shadow Complex has a decent shot at doing well. After all, Shadow Complex does run on UE3, and the Contra-Megaman X reminiscence could hit home with a good niche.
From the newly-acquired Bigpark Studio, Joy Ride will be a free-to-play, free-to-download kart racer with a few interesting features. Instead of creating fictional drivers for the Xbox Live title, Bigpark Studio opted to let your Avatars do something outside their routine of standing around and looking happy. This time, they get to be in the driver seat and race against other Avatars.
Paying for the game would come in the form of purchasing additional content, like new cars and upgrades. Until then, it's all free.
With the canyon landscape reminiscent of a Warner Bros cartoon, take Joy Ride for what it is - what you see is what you get. What I'm seeing is my Avatar going for a joyride of its own against other Avatars looking to do the same thing. For a refreshing change of pace, Xbox 360 owners may want to make room for Joy Ride.
At this point, Schappert turns the theme from mere exclusives to more serious Xbox 360 franchises continuing to build on their reputation. This next batch will feature installments for a few of the console's more successful franchises.
For Crackdown 2, there wasn't even a presentation. All they've got for us to go with is a short cinematic trailer from its developer Ruffian Games. The departure of Realtime Worlds employees to join Ruffian may have been the cause of the developer change. But since no actual presentation was made, I'll reserve judgment until more details are revealed.
Left 4 Dead 2
As with Crackdown 2, no one from Valve made an appearance to talk about the sequel to Left 4 Dead (Xbox 360, PC). I did have a few laughs with the trailer, though, seeing it go for the comical side of zombie-slaughtering, instead of the feeling that you've been actually left for dead. "If we run out of bullets, they're gonna wish we hadn't" then leaves it to chainsaws to do the damage - that one actually made my day.
Here's one to make your day - release date is November 17th.
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Moving back to some more presentations, Splinter Cell: Conviction (PC, Xbox 360) was next on the list. Sam Fisher is back with a vengeance, in more ways than one. There was some emphasis on how this is different from previous Splinter Cell titles, and how Sam's character has changed. Maxime Beland and Alexandre Parizeau of Ubisoft presented the demonstration for Splinter Cell: Conviction, noting important details as they go.
They wanted to go for gameplay in which the player will be immersed in the story, citing a "fast-paced story flow" with events in the story unfolding in real time. Sam still has his stealth moves, but he won't mind charging through the front door. You'll also be able to use different elements in the environment for tactical advantage.
Sam Fisher has also the new mark-and-execute ability. As the name implies, you mark your targets in order, then the marked targets are shot in that same order. A useful feature in some cases, especially considering that the controller isn't as fast as the mouse. Sam's has new toys too, but only the EMP Grenade was shown in the demo.
For Splinter Cell: Conviction, it's Fall 2009.
The trailer definitely felt edgier, Sam did seem darker, angrier. It's not the first time for us to see vengeance on the storyline, but if it still works, why not? It wasn't the best presentation in the slate, but props for Ubisoft for getting important must-knows unto the table.
Forza MotorSport 3
Dan Greenwalt then took center stage, with a sleek Audi R8 V10 behind him. Presenting what he called "the definitive racing game for the generation," Forza MotorSport 3 from Turn 10 Studios was shown in a video, looking very sharp.
Running at 60fps, 400 cars from 50 manufacturers, Greenwalt stressed how Forza 3 was, in lineup size, graphics, and physics, the best racing game coming to the scene. He then showed a vid showcasing the customization features, which were described to be like tricking your car out in your own livingroom. A few tuners and notable personalities gave their endorsements, such as Bucky Lasek, Landin Williams, and even the customization whiz RJ de Vera.
Forza MotorSport 3 will also have community features, keeping in line with the Xbox experience that Microsoft's really pushing for. You can upload, edit, and share HD video content online, plus that video editing feature demo was really something. For Forza MotorSport 3, release is this October.
I understand that this was a time and a place to strut your stuff, but Dan Greenwalt may have gone a bit overboard with the superlatives. Yes, Forza has always been a strong franchise for the Xbox, and yes the game looks great (especially the video editing clips), but let's not talk like it's a whole new revolution.
The real stars of this presentation are the cars. The videos and the demo did a great job of showing what we can expect our of Forza 3. It may not be a revolution, but it's a familiar formula taken a notch up. Having the R8 sit there and be its wicked self while Greenwalt was talking was a nice little touch as well, points for that one. Overall, good job Turn 10.
Halo 3: ODST
Bungie's very own Joe Staten made the presentation for ODST solo, talking about the game while demo-ing. Going on about Halo 3: ODST, the features, the plotline, the character you'll be playing and the puzzle you'll be piecing together, Joe Staten also provided a few insights as to how the game should be approached. You have goggles, so use 'em.
The biggest news on the presentation was the announcement of Halo: Reach. The rumors had it right once again, and the new Halo game was indeed Halo: Reach. Apart from a short vid, little was revealed about the new exclusive. But if you get ODST when it comes on September 22nd, you will receive an invitation to Reach's multiplayer beta. As for release, Halo: Reach falls 2010, not Fall 2010.
Truth be told, I found the presentation a bit disappointing. A short demo, a few clips and an announcement with no further detail? C'mon. This isn't some XBLA downloadable, this is Halo for pete's sake, and what was shown may not have done much justice to the name.
Last on the list of games is Sam Lake for Remedy Entertainment and Alan Wake (Xbox 360, PC), which has been in development for some time now. The presentation was basically a long demonstration of the gameplay, as well as an update on Alan Wake's latest attempts to secure more of his novel's pages.
A slight adjustment to the usual shoot-and-slay format present was the use of the light as a means to reveal your enemy and making them vulnerable to gunfire, but the assets that Remedy rolled out have pretty much told us that. Douse them in light, then shoot. After nearly four years in development since its announcement way back in 2005, Alan Wake will be ready for release by Spring 2010.
It's about time. Perhaps the reason that they were allowed to spend that much time demo-ing was because they didn't hand out that many updates, especially considering that Alan Wake has been going in and out of sleep since 2005.
There's definitely a good, creepy Silent Hill-Fatal Frame vibe to the game, and it's not very often that games can actually send the proverbial chill down your spine. Adding to the scare would be the fact that you can't just whip out a spread-firing shotgun to avoid getting monster-ganked - you'll need to point the flash light at them first, then shoot them down one-by-one.
Does Alan Wake make up for years of waiting? Well for one thing, a game rushed is a game wasted. Remedy shouldn't be criticized so badly for taking their time working with Alan Wake, especially since they seem to have come up with good output. At the end of the day, a good game makes it all worth it.
The Xbox Live Experience
John Schappert turns the show from the games and back to the console, which seeks to improve on the Xbox Live Experience. With a video library of over 1800 movies and TV shows already under their belt, Schappert pointed out that they will be taking another step further with improvements on existing services and the addition of new ones. Here are some of the things he specified:
- Addition of Last.FM to services, will be free for Gold subscribers
- Various improvements to Netflix service
- Live TV viewing with Sky TV, feature coming to Ireland and the UK this fall
- Zune video services
- All videos upgraded to 1080p
- No discs, no downloading
- Service will be provided to 18 countries around the world, previously it was just eight
The floor was then turned over to Felicia Day, who announced the arrival of two more web services for the Xbox - Facebook and Twitter. While Twitter pretty much does was we see on the web, the Facebook integration allowed for linking Xbox accounts with Facebook accounts, complete with the status updates and photo viewing that people do on the internet. Add your Facebook friends as Xbox friends or vice versa.
It seems from the demo that we won't have to worry about getting spammed with updates we don't care to see. We should be able to see them only when accessed, so those who aren't keen on the service may very well just ignore it. First to support this feature will be Tiger Wood PGA.
It must be mentioned - Felicia Day made my day. C'mon, after so many demos and presentations, it's nice to see a pretty face onstage, saving the show from being a complete sausagefest, that is if you didn't count the Square Enix translator. I know E3's not about cute presentors, but hey, it's a nice bonus. Besides, she did do a good job giving us an idea of how the FB and Twitter experiences would be like on the Xbox, plus she added a refreshing mix of humor to the show.
Metal Gear Solid: Rising
After that, it was Don Mattrick's turn to run the show, but before he could make his announcements, a familiar face turned up to make a big one of his own. Hideo Kojima came in and finally told the world what his teaser site was saying - Raiden is back, and he's gonna be the star of Metal Gear Solid: Rising. Kojima mentioned that it was in development for the Xbox 360, but it was later confirmed that it's also coming to the PS3.
After showing a short vid, Kojima indicated that this will be a "completely new Metal Gear
experience." With that announcement, Metal Gear officially joins the Xbox lineup.
From the Microsoft perspective, having Kojima's new project announced on their presscon first was a huge plus. Not only did they gain a powerful crowd-drawer, they also negated the competition's advantage with the loss of its exclusivity. A lot can be said about the game, and the non-exclusivity, but I think we can all agree that Microsoft reeled-in a big catch with this one.
They saved the best for last. Rumors of the Xbox 360 motion-sensor have been going around for some time, but no leaked info could have prepared us for what we saw on Microsoft's unveiling and the demonstration of their completely controller-free motion-sensor, Natal. The feature list has been pretty much been leaked on the rumor mill, but it was still pretty impressive to see it in action.
The video confirms - there's full-body motion capture, it tracks 3D movements, plus it has facial and voice recognition. Natal also allows more social features that the Xbox Live has been pushing for, and if the device delivers on what it promised, then it might be more than just the advanced EyeToy that is has been described. Steven Spielberg even joined in to share his thoughts on the new device and gave the usual endorsement.
But there can be no bigger sales pitch than a great demonstration. That is exactly what Don Mattrick and company did with Natal, demonstrating the different uses of the new motion-sensor in action.
First demo was with Kudo Tsunoda and the use of Natal through gestures and voice recognition. Using voice recognition and hand gestures to maneuver through the interface, Natal is depicted as more than just a game controller, you would basically be the controller for all the features that Xbox has. Upon recognizing your face, Natal would boot your console up and bring your avatar to the front, which would move based on how the user would move. Bottom of an Avatar's shoe? You got it.
Next was the demo of the game Ricochet. Although there was a bit of delay translating body movement into in-game action, Natal did display the 3D movement capture as the demo girl Abby moved forward, backward and sideways, which all translated into the game.
Then there was Paint Party. Again, the voice recognition and the motion capture was demonstrated as colors were changed and different tools were used in the game. Looking closely at Paint Party on the screen, the game would tell you what to say to attain certain functions, and all you gotta do is..well.. say it.
Finally, the pi? de r?stance. Milo. Through a video, Lionhead Studios and Peter Molyneux showed Natal's various capabilities through a simple encounter between Grace and the in-game character, Milo.
Scripted? Elaborate hoax? I don't think so. Although it must be noted that the Milo demo was not live. If Natal is as powerful as it was shown to be, then we have a very, very nice toy coming. How much it would be is another story altogether.
- Emotions were determined through the voice
- Milo responds and converses
- User reflected on the in-game water, and the water reacted on the places where the water was touched.
- She put on the in-game goggles
- She handed a piece of paper to Milo. Wow. The color and content of the piece of paper was scanned and brought into the game, and Milo was looking at it the entire time.
As the first of the Big Three to show off their goods in E3, Microsoft met the industry's anticipation with the confidence that they've displayed all-year round. Showcasing a versatile array of titles and exclusives - music, RPG, sports, racing, shooters - Microsoft is tightening its grip on the success that they've been having.
Their "less talking, more showing" theme definitely worked to great effect, although there were small instances when a little more talking would've shed light on more issues. Like the Modern Warfare 2 presentation, which was pretty much just a demo, though a good one at that.
A good presscon, but what really stole the show was Project Natal. Microsoft knew what they were getting into, and they knew about the motion-sensor comparisons that would be made, with Kudo Tsnoda even throwing a little snipe at "preset waggle commands." Competition and console preferences aside, Natal does seem like it took the technology to a whole new level.
Big accomplishment for Microsoft in securing a bite off the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Must've been a big, "What's he doing here?!" moment when Kojima popped up in the Microsoft presscon, and it also helps them out that it was announced on their presscon first.
But If there's anything that will be making loud buzz noises on Microsoft's side of the fence this year, it's gonna be Natal. Debates and comparisons with Sony's prototype aside, I'm sure that if Natal accomplishes what the vids and demos have shown, it could be - hate this word, but have to use it - EPIC. Counting even the skeptics, Natal set expectations high for itself, and we'll be watching it the same way it'll watch us.
These are what grabbed our attention:
So finally, after much writing and debating, the team decides:
- Modern Warfare 2
- Joy Ride Avatar use
- Amusing Left 4 Dead 2 trailer
- Forza MotorSport 3
- Felicia Day
- Xbox 360 got first announcement of MGS: Rising
- MGS franchise joins Xbox
- Project Natal
Microsoft's E3 2009 Press Briefing gets a 4 out of 5.