In November 2011, I emailed the E3 tickets desk, and told them that I write for an awesome gaming website, and I want experience to take with me to university to study Journalism. I asked them if they would pretty please give me a slight discount on the press ticket, because they’re lovely. So I get given a free pass to go to E3, for the full three days. But – I am a student, and I do live in Britain. Therefore, I couldn’t afford to get to LA, in the middle of my exam period, or even stay there for more than about 2 hours on their hotel rates. So what did I do? I tucked up in bed and watched the conferences on my laptop! Thanks to Sian’s excellent write-up on the Sony conference, I was able to concentrate my efforts on the Microsoft show, and what they have to offer in the next year or so. What did I learn? Let’s have a look:
First off, we are introduced to Master Chief in Halo 4, the next adventure in the well-known franchise. There’s a new race of enemies, with new weapon technology, and good use of different terrain visors to successfully seek out hybrids. I was immediately impressed with the fantastic graphics, especially the detailed landscape, which is one reason the Halo games are so well-known. The player uses tell-tale signs of activity above, like leaves falling from trees, to work out when something nasty is about to show its ugly face. Talking of ugly faces, these new enemies’ heads were another aspect I picked up on, because they’re abnormally large for a game of this calibre, and you know what that means – big heads, huge headshots! Although this demo was long (just over 7 minutes), it certainly set the stage for the latest blockbuster game which is set to release in November this year. Warhammer fans, you may notice that the brute which jumps on Master Chief near the beginning resembles the Necron race quite closely…
Cue Don Mattrick, president of Interactive Entertainment, who turned up to present this, his 17th E3 conference. He declared that this year, Microsoft’s main aim is to take the Xbox 360 from being the no.1 console in North America, to no.1 worldwide, a strong claim. They have new partners, as well as old friends, who will help to improve Microsoft beyond the console, to phones, tablets and PC. But more on these later. *cough – SmartGlass – cough*
Next up we have a live demo of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, set to release in Spring 2013. Now I’ve never played a Splinter Cell game, I have to admit that, but after having seen this demo, I will most certainly be buying Blacklist. This game introduces realistic motion-sensing upgrades from Ubisoft, with fantastic new visuals, stunning landscaping and fluid character movement. The Blacklist itself was described as a “terror ultimatum of escalating attacks in US interests”, which basically says that this one operative is going to take on the rest of the world, of course. The demo included a tasty slow-motion, multi-targeting assassination, before using the classic SC ‘human shield’ kill, then scaling a rock face. Ubisoft wanted to keep this game as much to the expectations of their fans, whilst introducing more modern tech. To demonstrate this, the player climbs up a wall, whispers to the guard over the edge via the Kinect microphone, who then walks over and is swiftly grabbed and chucked to the floor below. This impressed the conference audience and warranted an applause, which was cut short by the next move, calling in an airstrike by shouting “Grim, now!” at the screen, obliterating everyone. Now of course, the first baddie to go is British, but before that came to me, I noticed that the faces and limbs of these characters were very realistic, and in no way glitchy, which seems to be an important measure in modern games. Due to the monotonous rock colours in the background, enemies can be picked off using radar/heat-sensing visors, which is no new feature, but looked cool at the time.
Next up is Andrew Wilson, head of EA Sports, who was there to introduce two new games, the first of which was FIFA 13, which enables the player to interact with the players directly via the Kinect mic. The example shown was a vocal call of “sub striker…sub three”, which then changed the striker for number three in the team. This is the sort of novelty I’d have to ask myself whether I’d actually use this, as you’d have to know what you were doing, and be able to react fast. Certainly for a newbie to football games (uh, me…), this feature would be underused – however, I probably would inadvertently be caught out on the little extra they’re included with the package, which is a reaction to foul language, which can lead to penalties!
Second in the sport section, presented by none other than legendary quarterback, Joe Montana, was Madden NFL 13. This technically wonderful addition to the Kinect range has taken what appears to have been a mere experiment on Kinect Sport game, American football, and made it into a fully fledged game. Players are able to call out their commands, such as Montana’s “flanker dig”, and choose from a range of real tactics, as well as making their own. This is the sort of game that would bring a drunken party into action, whilst also seeming quite a lot of fun for the American public, who need helmets to play rugby… This game allows for play in both offence and defence, and will be released in August.
Before any more introductions, there’s a cheeky teaser trailer for Fable: The Journey, which if you’ve played previous Fable games, looks awesome. It’s fully Kinect, meaning you cast fireballs with one hand, and swing a sword with the other, so look out lounge furniture!
On comes Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios, who announces 2012 to be the “biggest year for games on Xbox” – quite a big claim, but one he was able to back up. He’s been working behind the scenes with studios such as 343, Lionhead and more, and was able to present two more teasers, for Gears of War: Judgement, which appears to focus on Baird as a main character, and Farza: Horizon. Exciting, no? Next up to come onstage is the head of marketing and strategy, Yusef Mehdi, who introduces the entertainment section of the conference, starting with the Bing voice search (hisss, boo…). Now, Xbox users can search the internet with genres, like searching for action or comedy films, of which thousands will be available instantly for half a billion people, in 12 new countries. He was able to use his Mexican-speaking skills to search Bing, just proving that the Kinect microphone is accessible to many more people than before. Some of the companies in partnership with this programme include Nickelodeon, Paramount Movies and Machinima.
In addition to the sports games mentioned before, new channels on the Xbox home screen will include UFC (boxing), which features live fight cards; Baseball, with over 100 games per week; and NBA Basketball which will soon be added. On top of these shows, Xbox will be in partnership with ESPN, featured in the film Dodgeball, and will have 24/7 access to four of their channels. To top off this sport presentation, Microsoft played Chelsea Dagger by the Fratellis in the background, which just made this American presentation more awesome.
Xbox Music was next up, and when launched, Xbox users will have access to 30 million tracks, streamed through the TV, Windows 8 phones, tablets and PCs. But music is only a small addition to the Xbox world – nothing on the next feature, one which Microsoft have really taken on board what the modern nation wants: fitness software. Stefan Olander, vice-president of digital sport at Nike, says that their high-tech programmes are the “future of fitness”, and athletes such as Rafa Nadal, LeBron James and Allyson Felix use the Nike systems to train in real life. Using the power of 3 (English Language persuasion technique), Olander talked about athletes wanting to know “how fast the move, how high they jump or how quickly the react,” hence the link to sporting software – with Kinect Training, you get real-time feedback on how you’ve been working out, with stats and reminders on your phone telling you you’re scheduled a work-out session; and the best thing about this new software is that they’ve taken into account the most common problem with this type of software, lack of motivation. This particular model focuses on motivating the player, getting them involved with the continuous routine.
I mentioned earlier Microsoft’s most recent move, the development of Xbox SmartGlass, and the man who presented this at the conference was the head of Xbox Live, Marc Whitten (Family Guy fans, I couldn’t help but think of Coolwhip!). I’m actually quite excited about this prospect, because it means that your Xbox will link to PCs, phones, tablets, and it’s really interactive. The idea is to get devices working together to enhance entertainment, in a Wii U style, whereby for example, when playing a game on your Xbox, you can view an interactive map on your tablet, which is directly affected by what happens in the game. This makes pretty much any modern device the “world’s best remote control”, for example your phone being the mousepad for your TV internet browsing. This innovation is pretty cool, and well worth looking into when you get the chance.
Daniel Bisson and Darrell Gallagher from Crystal Dynamics came on next, introducing Tomb Raider (Yay!), with an in-game demo, promoting the game’s “new and mature direction”. Using your primal instincts, as the player you’ll be relying on the environment to fight, as well as various other weapons, like a shotgun, and a powerful bow. In the demo, Lara snipes a guard with her bow, before running round to kill another target, then running up to the third, and shoving him off the edge of the platform. Another cool technique involved simply touching a docked arrow to a small fire, before shooting it at two men, who light up and run into some explosives nearby. The best part of this game for me though, is how accurate injuries are – in some games, shooting an enemy in the torso equals a headshot, and a leg shot lops an arm off for you. In Tomb Raider, a shot to the leg means the enemy will fall to their knew, and shooting their arm will swing their torso in that direction, meaning more detailed long-distance fighting. This game is an “intense mix of survival action, brutal combat and dynamic exploration,” ultimately an origins story like no other.
The following stage of the presentation contains several short teasers of brand new games, some from new creative minds, such as Twisted Pixel. First of all we are shown an awesome new development from the creators of Toy Soldiers, a game which is loosely based upon Black & White and as brutal as God of War, the asynchronous multiplayer, Ascend New Gods. This fantastic concept looks like it will spark off a new craze, just like World of Warcraft did all those years before, and features sharp graphics and colours. I am so excited for this little gem to come out. Second came LocoCycle, which I didn’t really understand from the video, but came across as a mixture of an assassination academy and a female motorbike, which could be cool, as quite a few people argue that hypermasculine protagonists are getting old. Next up, a game that I’m very excited about indeed, is Matter. From Gore Verbinski, director of Pirates of the Caribbean, comes a cross between Portal, the Death Star as a character, and Tron: Legacy. This aesthetically beautiful mash-up made exclusively for the Kinect says “play me” if ever a game did.
Capcom made an appearance then, with Hiroyuki Kobayashi introducing Resident Evil 6, and Eiichiro Sasaki playing the demo. What I got from this video is an apocalyptic situation which involves self-healing zombies and very explosive scenery. What the game in fact has to offer is a new virus which produces J’avo, who are able interact with each other, heal themselves and wield weapons – cue Leon smashing one over the head with its own hammer. The game shifts between Leon and his new partner Helena, Chris and his team member Piers, and Jake, the son of bioterrorist Albert Wesker. New and old characters, new and old enemies; this truly is a mix of classic and modern zombie-shooting.
After Capcom came Alex Ruiz from the Xbox Live team, presenting “giant cannons, tonnes of explosives, massive castles infested with goblins, and the power of Kinect”. Wreckateer certainly ticks all my boxes, and as soon as she started playing, I could tell that this game will be a direct cross between Angry Birds and Rayman, set in Scotland… Cool! It even features Super Mario foreworks! The player is able to spin and direct bombs from a catapult and aim to hit towers with goblins in them, as well as splitting cluster bombs, and controlling ‘fliers,’ which shoot towards a big castle teeming with TNT. Needless to say, it blew up, and Alex gained quite a sum of points. Wreckateer will be released on Xbox Live this summer, so keep your eyes open!
Now, if you were going to announce a new game from a well-known TV show, which involved world-famous controversies, religious death-threats and terrible graphics, who better to do so than the creators? And so, on walk Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Yes, they are in the middle of making The Stick of Truth, a South Park game, which involves the player trying to fit in as the fifth member of the renowned foursome. You are the new kid on the block, and the town needs a saviour. Playing in the style of Paper Mario and Final Fantasy games, the silent protagonist will fight their way through the game as a Fighter, Mage, Thief, Cleric or Jew, completing quests and other such objectives. Trey and Matt wanted to keep the “distinctive crappy South Park look,” and when they realised they didn’t actually know where Kenny lived from Cartman’s house for example, since in the show they just cut to the next location, they had to sit and map out the town. In March 2013 you’ll be able to take position as “a saviour who can undo that which has been did”.
Coming towards the end of the conference, and the most recent Dance Central edition, number 3, was announced by Usher on-screen. The less said about what happened next the better, but to put it out there, he came out from behind the screen and started performing one of his songs, in order to promote the dance moves in the game. Apart from the fact that they didn’t actually play the game, no-one could see him, and his singing was less than perfect. But regardless of this, the game is an improvement on older versions, with a mixture of old fashioned songs and moves, and more modern steps, such as those demonstrated by Usher.
Finally, Don Mattrick came out again to thank Usher for “ushering in a new, golden age of entertainment.” Thank you Don, that was hilarious. From a good starting game to one which will suitably end the conference, Don introduces the one that everyone has been anticipating; Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The US government have developed many weapons of war, new machinery and technology to rival enemy nations… but ask yourself this: “what happens when the enemy steals the keys?” COD:BO2 features the known and loved gameplay style, with open war on the streets of the USA, but also a secondary storyline, set in the late 70s/early 80s. Mason’s teammates’ faces are well constructed graphically, and Madam President’s facial features move very realistically in the opening sequence. I was impressed by the very first useable weapon, a large troika, used to blow up some drones flying above, and then the five-power sniper rifle, which can shoot through concrete pylons. Another feature of the weaponry is the use of an arm-pad which sends forward flying gunner machines which scope out enemies further forward. In the demo a soldier comically uses a plant-pot to hide from your squad, only to get killed at the top of an escalator. When Mason jumps in a plane and gets Tank to run a training programme (Sorry, Matrix reference there, but you literally do just jump into a jet without knowing how to operate it…), the HUD is subtle and clean, without too much unnecessary guff going on. The latest instalment in the Call of Duty franchise will undoubtedly be a smash hit, and was certainly a fitting end to the Microsoft conference.
That’s my summary of the Microsoft E3 conference, for Sian’s Sony write-up visit the home page. If you want to ask me any questions about the games I’ve mentioned or the new technology coming soon, drop me a line, or comment below and I’d be happy to help. Thanks for reading!
– Will : )