By Eli Green
June 17, 2009 - 22:30
E3 may have ended over a week ago, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing else to talk about. More specifically, I've been away from The Bin for a week, so whatever I was writing the week before somehow ended up getting severely delayed. The point is, I apologize to you, dear readers. Feel free to leave your scathing comments below.
Though Microsoft's Xbox 360 Media Briefing took place the day before E3, I saved it for last, specifically because I felt it was the best, though only by a slim margin. The Sony Briefing did have a lot of cool stuff to show and, considering I'm not a fan of the Playstation platforms overall, seriously impressed me. When Microsoft's Briefing began, an announcer came on over the speakers, the lights dimmed and the Xbox 360 startup played on the screens, followed up by a montage of The Beatles clips and songs. It was the opening cinematic for The Beatles: Rock Band.
Alex Rigopolous and the Harmonix house band then came out on stage to play through the demo for the game, and I was immediately blown away. Yes, I already knew the game is coming this September and that it would include three part vocal harmonies, but I didn't know how they would do it. Well, they did it up right! Three wireless microphones! There were six people playing Day Tripper simultaneously. Six! Now, that said, you could still play the game with four players, with two of the guitarists (or the drummer) singing, like the real band used to do. The only thing missing now is the third guitar.
Giles Martin then came out on stage to talk about how he worked with developers to bring the songs to life especially for the game, and introduced the first ten songs, as well as the game's trailer.
After the trailer, Rigopolous then made the announcement about the availability of the Abbey Road album and All You Need Is Love as DLC and the proceeds for the purchase of the song going to Doctors Without Borders. Danny Harrison, the folks at Apple Corps are then thanked by Martin, as well as Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, who were then brought out on stage for a quick wave. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr then came onto the stage with All You Need Is Love playing them in. “The game is good, the graphics are Very Good, and we were great,” says Starr. “We love the game, it's fantastic. Who ever thought we'd end up as Androids,” said McCartney. It was shameless, but necessary promotion.
Microsoft's John Schapert then came out on stage to do the official Briefing introduction. He talked about the industry doing well in uncertain economic times and how people want entertainment now, especially in tough time, and how the 360 is a full fledged, multifaceted entertainment device. He kept it short, going straight to saying that they would be showcasing 10 world premieres that day. “Enough of the telling,” he said, Let's get on with the showing.”
Tony Hawk immediately came out on stage to introduce Tony Hawk: Ride and the final design of the skateboard controller. He talked about all the work that went into creating the board and why he felt now was the right time to introduce a skateboarding game with a board controller, thanks Robomodo for all the work they've done to make the controller feel as realistic as possible. The game's trailer then played and Hawk subsequently left without showing off the board in any way.
Then the room went dark, the screens lit up once more and the trailer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 came on. Two of the game's designers then came out to show off the game in action. The demo shows off a mission on a snow driven peak, with ice climbing and a near fall to the death. They then skipped ahead to fighting in the snow (I guess the climbing portion's a bit long). The music and gameplay appeared quite intense, but kind of reminded me of the opening sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies, but with a partner this time, and at a much larger base. They skipped ahead again, this time to show off snowmobiling while shooting. I still haven't played the first Modern Warfare, but I want to now. I can see why it was so popular. After the demo, Schapert came back on and announced that there will be two Modern Warfare 2 map packs being released on Xbox 360 first. The game itself will be releasing on November 10th.
Schapert then introduced the the producer and director of Final Fantasy XIII to the stage to introduce the game by showing off a demo of a fight with a mecha boss. There are now four active time gauges, making things more complicated, but adding more action to the turn based fighting. To show off some of the cooler stuff that will appear in the game, they specially coded in Odin for the fight (thus unveiling the power for the first in the world) even though it won't actually be available that early in the game. It certainly looked great, but the move felt a little bit anti-climactic. The game is targeted for a Spring 2010 release.
Schapert then came back on to start the parade of Xbox 360 exclusives. He introduced Cliffy B and Donald Mustard from Epic Games out to demo the first ever Epic Games Xbox Live Arcade title, Shadow Complex. It's a 2D/3D side-scrolling multilevel game with over 120 items, and more than 10 hours of gameplay. Boss battles are supposed to be intense. It's set to release this summer.
Schapert then showed off a trailer for Joy Ride, another Live Arcade game, from Big Park (recently acquired by Microsoft). It's a free racing game you can play with your avatar. Of course, it wouldn't be much good to Microsoft to have no way to make money off of a property, so you can buy cars, upgrades or more. A cool note though, is that purchased maps can be shared, even if your friend doesn't have them. Joy Ride will be releasing this winter.
Then came an onslaught of trailers. Crackdown 2, then Left 4 Dead 2 (360 and PC), and finally Splinter Cell: Conviction. Two developers from Ubisoft then came on to demo Conviction. The demo opened with Sam Fisher interrogating a guy, asking who killed his daughter. While one of the two developers played, the other explained that the game's story unfolds in real time, and explained new gameplay elements, including Fisher's new ability, Mark. When preparing for an assault, you simply take aim, mark Fisher's targets and then he does the work. Of course, classic elements still remain, including the franchise's stealth aspects, but new features play a big role. One of the cooler features is that the objectives embed themselves into the world, on the walls or in Fisher's path, kind of like he's seeing them in his head. It's also possible for him to charge into a room, but it's better to plan out his attack. At the end of the level, the demo ended and they announced that the game is coming as a 360 exclusive this fall. I think I'm going to have to catch up on the franchise.
Schapert then returned to the stage to announce Forza Motorsport 3. Dan Greenwalt from Turn10 then came on to talk about and demo the game. They showed off the first person view and the ability to look around the cockpit. The game will include makes from 400 manufacturers, including more than 450 cars. It will also include more community features, for connecting and sharing their own content. They followed the demo with a commercial made with the video editor in the game. I wondered how they put the music in, but I can believe that if someone took enough time to put it together, they might be able to do something similar with the visual portion. The game ships in October.
Joe Staten followed immediately after by demonstrating Halo 3: ODST. The game's story begins three weeks before the start of Halo 3. ODSTs have access to weapons and gear Spartans don't, including a night vision visor and suppression weapons. Staten also explained that you'll play the stories of various ODSTs to uncover the mystery of what happened in New Mombasa. The game comes out on September 22nd.
Staten then, finally, revealed Bungie's secret project. It's another Halo game called Halo Reach. If you buy Halo 3: ODST, you'll get an invitation to take part in the beta for Reach. From what it looks like, Reach will be a prequel to the original Halo, the true introduction to the story.
Sam Lake from Remedy then came on stage to demonstrate Alan Wake. Nothing particularly new was shown, but they showed of the gameplay overall. Alan narrates his story as you play through the game (this is quickly becoming a Remedy signature style). They are also still making use of slow motion effects. The game is scheduled for released in Spring 2010.
Schapert then returned to the stage talk about various new Xbox partnerships, including a number of social media applications specially retooled for the living room. last.fm will be free to Xbox Live Gold members later this year, Netflix will have its own menu for NXE, the United Kingdom and Ireland will get SkyTV on Xbox 360 and more. The Xbox 360 video service is turning into Zune HD service in full 1080p. The content will be available as instant on HD. Movies, TV and music will be available to watch/listen/play over Xbox Live parties, so you can enjoy your media with your friends, not just at your place, but online as well.
He then announced a partnership with Facebook. Felicia Day came on to introduce Facebook on Xbox 360 and showed of Friendlinker and how it links your Xbox Friends and your Facebook friends. Facebook Connect will work with your games as well. Xbox Live will also work with Twitter. They're both going to be introduced this fall.
Schapert, who must have been tired from all the entering and leaving the stage by that point, returned yet again to reiterate all of the games and new features that had been shown by that point. He welcomed Don Mattrick, Senior VP of Xbox, to introduce Hideo Kojima and Metal Gear for Xbox 360, Metal Gear Solid Rising. The trailer played and Kojima then explained that it's not a Solid Snake adventure, but a Raiden adventure. Mattrick remained on stage to talk about the history of Xbox and then started talking about the brand's future.
He then unveiled Project Natal, pronounced Nuh-tall, a camera based control system which includes motion and voice recognition. He explained that they posed a question to their team, “Can we go beyond the controller?”. The Project Natal trailer (below) then played. Mattrick then announced this as the introduction to “controller free games and entertainment” and promised that it will work with every Xbox 360 already sold and every Xbox 360 that will be sold in the future.
Mattrick then brought Steven Spielberg out to the stage to introduce his Xbox 360 project. Or so I thought. They talked about Spielberg's experience with Project Natal when he was introduced to it two months ago. “It's not about reinventing the wheel. It's about no wheel at all”, he said. Kudo Tsunoda then came out to actually show off Project Natal. Not only does it have motion capture, but full body capture and facial recognition. He showed how to control the dashboard with his hand and then launched a full body athletic tech demo (below) called Ricochet (looks sort of like dodgeball, but you're aiming the balls at bricks). Tsunoda continued on to insult the “preset waggle commands” of the Wii Remote and then explained that the demo is currently single player, but they plan to make Project Natal games multiplayer.
He then had another demonstrator show off a painting demo called Splat (below). The demo shows off the voice recognition (the colours change when you call them out), as well as the body capture, with the Pose mode. Pose mode basically spreads a “stencil paper” on top of the canvas. It's essentially a silhouette program. I think it will be interesting to see what silhouette artists do with it.
Finally, to end off the show, Peter Molyneux was introduced to the stage. He said that controller has been the biggest barrier to what developers want to create, but what they do with Project Natal will “change the landscape”. He then showed off a video of what his team at Lionhead Studios has done with Project Natal, and with that, the Briefing was over.
Out of the big three console manufacturers' media briefings, I found Microsoft's to be the best. They had the most to show, and it did exactly what it was supposed to do; show off all the new stuff coming out for Xbox 360 over the next year. They didn't bulk it up with anything unnecessary or stuff in statistics. For a two hour long briefing, it was exciting and enjoyable. Only Sony's briefing came close to being that good. If Microsoft continues on this path, it's going to be a good year for the Xbox 360.