Hundreds of gaming media reporters gathered in downtown Los Angeles this morning at the USC campus to kick off E3 at the Microsoft Press Conference. It was immediately clear from the throngs lined up outside the Galen Center that this was the place to be. As we all waited in anticipation, green crop circles danced around the glowing green stage and on ginormous monitors. This had techy gaming written all over it.
The presentation outlined the gaming landscape for the console in the near future, with ten world premieres containing never-before-seen game footage. Microsoft also made sure the right people were there promoting it. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr showed up to tell us how great they are (and The Beatles: Rock Band too), Tony Hawk was incredibly excited with the new peripheral for the upcoming Tony Hawk: RIDE, and Steven Spielburg made an appearance to tell us about the crazy things Microsoft has been dreaming about lately. It's called Project Natal, and it's revolutionary.
Microsoft kept the big bang announcement for the end, but we know this is the juicy piece of news you're all looking for. It has long been rumoured that Microsoft would come up with an answer to the motion controller technology, but no one could have imagined this. The Project Natal answer is simple: get rid of the controller entirely. We're not talking about tracking hand movements, we're talking full body motion tracking plus voice and facial recognition and analysis. Steven Spielburg was on site to comment on the creative possibilities of this new "controller", saying that the key to making gaming accessible to everyone is to make the technology invisible. And that's just what Microsoft has set out to do. Even better, in traditional Microsoft fashion, the peripheral will be backwards compatible with the first Xbox console, and any future consoles as well.
Think this is a dream that won't come for years? Think again. They've got working tech demos showcasing this new technology, and while it probably still has its share of kinks, it's absolutely exciting. The facial recognition kicks in pretty quickly, detecting which user profile the game should load. A quick demo of random gestures has an on-screen avatar replicate the movements accurately. One key selling point, according to Microsoft, is that the peripheral inherently allows for full body workouts in games where you can use your legs as much as your arms.
Microsoft also announced enhancements to the console as a media center. Xbox 360 owners will now be able to stream personalized internet radio through their consoles using the last.fm service. This new service will come at no additional charge for LIVE gold members. In addition, the soon to be named Zune Video service will provide a tighter integration with Netflix, bringing 1080p video content to the console without waiting for downloads (we're guessing that means streaming) and will be available in an unprecedented 18 countries.
Also up for emphasis was the console's ability to connect people from different geographic locations. A new "LIVE Party" feature will connect consoles over the internet as avatars in a virtual room where the movie, sports match or video game can be enjoyed in a simulated environment. What's more, a partnership with Facebook and Twitter has resulted in the development of custom interfaces to the popular networking sites, enabling users to update their profile, send out updates, and keep track of their feeds. The most useful feature will probably end up being the ability to directly use Facebook photo albums as a slideshow on your TV.
And finally, here's the summary of the games that were showcased today.
The Beatles: Rock Band
As previously mentioned, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were on hand to kick start the game demos. At a glance, the mechanics of the game don't look any different from what you're already used to, but the soundtrack is 100% Beatles. Out of the initial 43 tracks bundled with the game, the following 10 were revealed, which cover the various styles of the band over the years:
• I saw her standing there
• I want to hold your hand
• I feel fine
• Day Tripper
• I am the walrus
• Back in the USSR
• Octopus's Garden
• Here comes the sun
• Get Back
In addition, full album DLC will be available over Xbox LIVE, with Abbey Road being available for download soon after launch.
Tony Hawk: RIDE
Tony Hawk himself showed up to reveal the final board design for the new peripheral bundled with this game. With accelerometers and infra-red sensors, Hawk seemed genuinely excited with the board, which balances and pivots like a real one. I'd be somewhat worried about my floor afterwards though.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2
Now here's something to really get excited about. The trailer played like a hollywood movie trailer: insane visuals, action-packed and developed storyline. The followup in-game demo was equally visually exquisite, with fantastic sound effects and dialog. Volumetric clouds and fog is insanely realistic as the player navigates through the enemy base in a snowstorm. And there's shooting while driving snowmobiles! What's not to like! Two map packs will be launching first on Xbox LIVE.
Final Fantasy XIII
The classic RPG series is coming back to the Xbox 360 with an older-style battle system. As usual, expect impressive visuals, an awesome fantastical and other-worldy setting, and innovative creature design.
Epic's X360 exclusive arcade shooter features an interesting use of environment to add dynamics to the gameplay. Use a foam gun to build landings, then hook shot your way up. The game promises to have over 120 game items and a 10 hour campaign. Think of this one as Metroid meets Contra.
A new social experience to the energy of a cart racer, Joy Ride promises to be very customizable. As an added bonus, it's free to play. Coming this winter to Xbox LIVE.
We weren't sure we'd see a sequel to the 2007 action title from Realtime Worlds, but it's been made official today. Besides being action-packed, we don't know much else about this one yet.
Left 4 Dead 2
The sequel to last winter's hit zombie-killing has also been confirmed in trailer-form, and is set for release on November 17 2009. We're hoping to find out more detail about this title during the E3 week.
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Long story short, Sam Fisher woke up on the wrong side of the bed and he's really really pissed off. Those who were warded off by all the stealthiness of the previous titles will find that Sam's newfound badass attitude has drastically increased the action and revitalized the gameplay. For more details, check out our coverage of this game at the Ubisoft conference.
Forza Motorsport 3
The Xbox's leading racing franchise is coming back in October 2009 with beautiful scenery, and over 400 crisp car models. The car customization features are going to be extensive, and can be shared over Xbox LIVE. In addition, a video editor allows gamers to conjure up Hollywood-style videos and cutscenes, then sharing them online as well.
Halo 3 ODST
The latest title in the Halo franchise takes place weeks before the start of Halo 3. You play the rookie, crash landed and separated from your team. Throughout the game, you'll experience flashbacks to other members of your team which will help you piece together the storyline. The game will have new weapons, a new night vision mode visor, and a new co-op mode called "FireFight," which we'll see later this week.
Bungie has been working on a top-secret project for a while, and Halo Reach is it. All we know so far is that it's coming in 2010, and a multiplayer beta invitation is included with every purchase of Halo 3 ODST.
It's been a while since we'd heard anything of Alan Wake, but the trailer we saw today was quite interesting. The game follows a writer whose latest thriller novel is becoming his reality. As the player goes through a dark forest with a flashlight and pistol, fighting off alien-ish light-sensitive silhouettes, we can't help but think Resident Evil. However, interesting cinematics and a new twist on the zombie/thriller genre may save this one from the Abyss.
Metal Gear Solid: Rising
Yes folks, a key PlayStation exclusive will have a title on the Xbox 360 in the near future. The story will be following Raiden instead of Solid Snake, but the gameplay promises to be everything we'd expect. We couldn't help but notice that they didn't call this an "Xbox exclusive."
That's it for the recap. Look for in-depth previews of these games and more on GamingExcellence as the E3 week progresses.