Microsoft's E3 2009 press conference is all-systems-go, so what did Redmond, Washington have up its sleeve? Some pretty amazing stuff, actually. Metal Gear Solid for the Xbox 360? Full-body motion controls that look more responsive, accurate, and open-form than anything the PlayStation Eye or Wii-remote have touted? Read on for the complete show breakdown.
Microsoft got things kicking with a trippy Beatles video montage before segueing to The Beatles: Rock Band (not Rock Band: The Beatles, which says everything). Launch date? September 9. After Harmonix rocked out onstage demoing "Day Tripper," Microsoft revealed several of game's 45 total songs, along with the first official trailer of the game.
To cap that off, Microsoft trotted out...wait for it...Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr to talk up the game. Hello mega-bucks to get those four (not to mention all on the same stage at the same time...almost). Nothing special here, just the star power, and you have to hand it Microsoft for launching with McCartney and Starr. It's not just anyone who can say they've done that.
Next up, Tony Hawk (the man himself, that is) talking Tony Hawk Ride, then demoing a new skateboard with motion control. Was this the long-rumored Xbox 360 motion control part? Not quite, but way to go Microsoft for teasing us early. "The best way to experience skateboarding is on a board," said Tony. ("The best way to experience skateboarding is to go skateboarding," quipped some random drive-by commenter in a chat room.)
After a predictably raucous new trailer for Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2, Activision took the stage to demo some of the shooter's new gameplay. We saw a guy stabbing climbing hooks into the side of an ice wall, climbing up the wall in first person, then flipping to a shooting sequence in a snowstorm. The protagonist has a gun with some sort of radar screen hanging off the left side. The weather effects looked pretty smart, with particularly realistic-looking curtains of billowing snow. Then all hell broke loose on an airfield, and in the tradition of all the big shows, lots of stuff suddenly started going boom. Clearly the emphasis is going to be on letting you superhumanly mete out preposterous amounts of damage, basically standing in the middle of anywhere dropping enemies like tenpins. And then you're on a snowmobile, half-steering, half shooting with pistol. It looked good, but as usual, difficult to evaluate.
Next up, Microsoft trotted out Kitase-san, producer of Final Fantasy XIII, and Toriyama-san, director of Final Fantasy XIII for a first-look at Final Fantasy XIII running on the Xbox 360. And I have to say, it looks good, though also identical to the cutscenes and gameplay trailers you've seen for this one on the PS3. Reveals? The game will have four active time gauges, and Odin's a summon.
After FFXIII, the conference switched to 360 exclusives, leading with Epic (Gears of War 2) who revealed their first Xbox Live Arcade title. It's called Shadow Complex, and it looks like a side-scroller with, per design director Cliff Bleszinski, "tons of exploration and intense combat." The campaign's over 10 hours long "with a lot of re-playability" and "some pretty cool boss battles as well." Look for Shadow Complex on Xbox Live Arcade this summer.
Joy Ride by Big Park (one of the newest member of Microsoft Game Studios) was on next. Take the desert-scapes in the Road Runner cartoons and mash 'em in with Speed Racer and you've got the vibe. Microsoft called it a "new social experience with the energy of a kart racer" with a personal angle (personalize cars, upgrade them etc.). Oh yeah, you can share any trace track with a friend, regardless of whether they purchased it or not. Coming this Winter to Xbox Live.
Crackdown 2 announced: "The city is infected...you are the cure." A dude in armor goes rooftop-hopping. "Our enemies have nowhere to run...just remember, neither do you."
And Left 4 Dead 2 previewed: Zombies everywhere, heads exploding, bodies ripping open, swarms of bloody forms scrambling over fences. Narrated by a survivor, who rounded up with: "And if we run out of bullets, baby, they're gonna wish we hadn't." Cue chainsaw effect. Coming November 17.
Stoked for Splinter Cell: Conviction (aka "The Fugitive: Sam Fischer")? Max Beland and Alex Parizeau from Ubisoft Montreal hit the stage to talk about the game, saying "Sam has changed, and this time he's on a personal mission." We got a quick look at some actual gameplay: Sam smacking around a bald guy in a bathroom as story-related video played in black and white on the wall around him. "The story unfolds in realtime," said Beland, suggesting there won't be cutscenes or breaks in the gameplay -- it'll all unfold around you, seamlessly. It looks like Sam's actions are going to be much faster, too -- more violent, and loudly lethal. The demo revealed a new action called the "mark and execute."
"Each environment is built like a small sandbox," said Beland, referring to the game's focus on freeform tactical play. Looks like there's significantly better environmental awareness, too. Shoot down a chandelier and enemies react more specifically, referencing what you've done, or use broken glass to peek under a door. Coming this fall exclusively for Xbox 360.
Next up, racing: Shipping in October, Forza Motorsport 3, which looked so photorealistic I'd say Gran Turismo 5's in trouble. Design guy (missed his name) claims it'll have "the best graphic and physics." Forza 3 ships this October.
Bungie dropped by next with Halo 3: ODST. The demo launched with a couple tough-quipping marines, i.e Gears of Halo 3. "Welcome to the city of New Mombasa, weeks before the start of Halo 3," said Microsoft. You play a rookie orbital drop shock trooper separated from his team. You're on your own, lots of wide open cover, and have to "stay alert for unexpected help." ODST troops apparently have access to gizmos Spartans don't, like a low-light visor and two new sound-suppressed weapons. You'll flip between different ODSTs, eventually, tackling different mission types. This one launches September 22.
Hello top secret Bungie product! "From the beginning, you know the end," began the trailer, before showing a planet that looks like Earth, viewed from high orbit, with frantic radio messages and wild explosions going crazy. The game's name: Halo: Reach. Halo prequel? "Falls 2010," meaning it's coming in 2010, or the fall of 2010, or maybe that's code for a hidden waterfall in the game where they hand out magic candy. The hook: When you buy Halo 3 ODST, you'll get an invitation to the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta.
Alan Wake was demoed for the umpteenth time, all in-game footage. In case you've lost track, it's a story about a writer whose supernatural story is coming true. The demo showed footage of Alan arriving at a meeting point at night, walking into a wrecked house. Alan battles Smokezilla from Lost?Something (invisible?) was flinging stuff at him. Looks like Alan can slow down time and hit the enemies with a tricked out flare gun. Also: Tons of lighting effects, heavy duty particles, and crazy flare bleed in darkened environments. Alan Wake will "see light of day" in spring 2010.
Turning to Xbox Live, Microsoft spotlighted a new, exclusive partnership with online radio station last.fm, the UK-based internet radio service with 30 million active listeners in 200 countries. It'll be available to Xbox Live Gold members at no extra charge later this year.
Netflix improvements: You'll be able to dig through the video catalog without going to your PC (woohoo!). Microsoft referenced their already-announced partnership with UK-based Sky TV, pointing out that watching TV directly on a game console without additional hardware is a first. Impressive? Not really, since PCs have had this forever. But sure, it's progress of a sort.
Microsoft says it's relaunching its video service as "Zume Video" this fall: First, they're upgrading their HD video library to full 1080p (no word on sample rates though). Second, they claim all movies and TV shows can be enjoyed instantly, "no discs, no downloads, no delays." Third, they're more than doubling the number of countries capable of using the service, from eight to 18. That's last one's huge.
Felicia Day, start of Microsoft's kinda-sorta-but-sometimes-not-really-funny series popped out to reveal...Facebook! That's right, Facebook for your Xbox 360. The demo revealed the service plugging seamlessly into the Xbox 360's "New Xbox Experience" interface. The "friend linker" lets you see Xbox Live and Facebook friends together. My favorite feature: Facebook photos (how about videos, Microsoft?) available directly, full-screen. (Guess I'm buying my folks an Xbox 360 now.) Worst new feature everyone else is going to love? Facebook status updates from your Xbox 360. Oh, and Twitter too. Most intriguing feature? Facebook Connect, which lets you push in-game content from the 360 back to Facebook.Coming this fall.
Eventually Senior Vice President of Xbox, Don Mattrick, took the stage for the Really Big Earth-Shattering announcements. At which point Hideo Kojima magically appeared and proceeded to dash the hopes of Metal Gear Solid 4 port hopefuls, compensating by revealing Metal Gear Solid: Rising -- a completely new, standalone game in the series presumably not starring Solid Snake -- for the Xbox 360. "Lightning Bold Action," read a slide, as a voice declared "Raiden is back." Coming when? No idea.
But the biggest announcement of the show -- possibly the biggest announcement in years -- was Microsoft's "motion-control" reveal.
"Can we make you the controller?" teased Microsoft. "We can...you are the controller."
It's called Project Natal (natal means "birth," and no, they didn't explain that in-show) and it's built around a sensor that tracks 3D movements and recognizes voices. The demo had the audience pretty well stunned. Think Sony's EyeToy plus-plus. Natal will work with every 360 sold, and every 360 sold in the future, says Microsoft.
Steven Spielberg popped out to talk about the controller, asking "How can interactive entertainment become as approachable as other forms of entertainment?" (Well duh.) Microsoft's going after "60%" of homes that don't own a console by making the technology invisible, said Spielberg, adding that "we're present for a historic moment, a moment as significant as the transformation of the square shaped movie screen to cinescope and IMAX."
Next, Kudo Tsunoda, the creative director of Project Natal stepped in to run an on-stage demo. Color me extremely impressed. It looks like you still have to move a certain amount of deliberateness and precision, but the response and flexibility is amazing. It's clearly capturing information at a much, much higher resolution, and more deterministically, than either the Eye Toy or the Wii. You can extend your body motion beyond the game's tracking range and it seems to compensate well, recognizing your intentions and ignoring "noise" (e.g. limbs flailing, jogging in place while anticipating an action, etc.). My thoughts? It's very Minority Report. Game show, using hands on hands as buzzers. Voice activation? "Play movie."
What about the voice capabilities? Peter Molyneux wrapped things up by demoing an incredibly lifelike character called Milo. Basically someone started talking to this virtual character (Milo) and he replied, recognizing the questions and reacting naturally. At one point, Milo tossed a pair of goggles at the screen and the player demoing the game reached down, as if to catch them. Molyneux pointed out that "every player reaches down," and that it's part of the naturalistic aspect of Natal. It's hard to tell just how much of this was ad hoc versus scripted because it wasn't live demoed, unfortunately, but Molyneux claims it's the Real Deal, and that people will be able to meet Milo behind closed doors at E3 and see for themselves.
And that's a wrap for the Microsoft info-dump. Verdict? Most impressive conference I've seen in years. Finger crossed Sony and Nintendo are up to the challenge.
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