In sunny LA at 10:00 am, queues began to form inside the LA Convention Centre. Industry professional, games journalists and others gathered outside, eagerly awaiting the start of this year’s E3 Microsoft conference. This year, there would be no Bill Gates. This year, there is a lot less glamour surrounding the LA Convention Centre. But what have we to look forward to? Did Microsoft deal out the goods? Well, read on as we take you on journey through the ins and outs of the conference.
After everyone had just gotten comfortable in their seats, they were blown out of them by Fallout 3. Having heard very little about this game, other than Todd Howard teasing us with little snippets, this game was relatively secretive. Not so at E3. Here, we got a live demonstration of the game. And it does look good. Bleak, post-apocalyptic landscapes are what we’ve come to expect thanks to the announcement trailer. Here, they look as gorgeous as a destroyed USA can look. We were shown the SPECIAL system amongst other things.
Next up was Resident Evil 5. Again, we had seen no gameplay. We knew there was a co-op character and at the conference we got to see her in action. With Resident Evil 5 we got, not only a live demo of just the game, but a live demo of the co-op system. Resident Evil 5 is one that has had me personally intrigued, and after seeing that demo, I am even more intrigued! It was also announced that Resident Evil 5 is set for a 13th March 2009 release.
Peter Molyneux was next on the Microsoft stage to show off a few things about Fable 2. First of all we saw a new trailer of the game. Not that interesting I know, but then we saw a live demo showing how families and other such things work in the game. We’ve heard a lot about Fable 2 already, so this wasn’t all that exciting really. We did, however, get to see how co-op features in the game as well as a date set for an October 2008 release.
Then, it was time for Epic’s Cliffy B…oh wait – sorry, Cliff Bleszinski to come on and show off Gears of War. We got to see some great co-op action which demonstrated the bullet shields as well as the meat shields and the flamethrowers in game as well as a new trailer. There was also the announcement of a new game mode by the name of Horde, in which 5 players can co-operatively go against wave after wave of Locust that get tougher and tougher as the waves keep coming. The game is set for a November 7th release and will be an Xbox 360 exclusive.
Now it’s time to number crunch and this year we saw some staggering figures. First up is that Xbox 360 has shipped 5+ million more units than the PS3. That’s a heck of a lot, especially with people, on estimate, spending $48 billion by the end of the year on video games. Xbox LIVE is improving too. Back in 2007, Xbox LIVE had 6 million members; today it has 12 million members with a new member joining every 5 seconds. $1 billion has been spent on Xbox LIVE such as downloads or subscriptions, with 500 million downloads over Xbox LIVE.
On the business side, in the US, Microsoft have made a deal with NBC and Universal Studios to provide content for the Video Marketplace. While in the Europe, they made a deal with MGM Studio and Constantin films.
Now, this is where things started to pick up. Rumours of avatars for Xbox 360 have bee flying around the internet for weeks now. It has finally been confirmed as part of the “New Xbox Experience” which is set to come into effect from Fall 2008. First of all is the use of Avatars. You can customise them, similar to Miis, with clothes becoming available on Xbox LIVE for you to download. Whether or not these would be free was not mentioned unfortunately. The “New Xbox Experience” brings with it an entirely new interface. Gone is the Dashboard and the Blades, say hello to a new more streamlined interface [iTunes Coverflow anyone? -Ed]. From this interface you will be able to access the new community area. Instead of having a list of friends online, their avatars will actually show up on your screen. From here you can create your own LIVE party of up to 7 friends. With this comes the long awaited multi-chat between the 8 of you. In your party, you can also share photos, watch videos together, watch movies via NetFlix (which I shall talk about later) and even jump seamlessly into new Arcade games. There is also a new area called Xbox LIVE Primetime. Microsoft have teamed up with Endemol, who make game shows such as Deal Or No Deal or 1 vs 100 to enable your avatar to take part in these game shows to win real prizes.
Alongside this new “experience” came the announcement of new Arcade games. These really got me excited as there are some pretty awesome titles in here. First up is UNO Rush, which was demonstrated using the new avatars. They also showed off Geometry Wars 2, set for an August 6th release, Galaga Legions and South Park, which is set for a 2009 release. There was also one that made me extremely excited – Portal: Still Alive. This is an Arcade exclusive title featuring new levels from the world of Portal. This was set for a Fall 2008 release, and we cannot wait for that!
As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft announced a partnership with Netflix rental store. If you are a Netflix member and are on Xbox LIVE you will be able to download movies and TV shows for free from the store on your Xbox 360. This really backs up the mentality of “everything from the comfort of your sofa.” You will also be able to watch these films or shows as part of the LIVE Party with 7 of your friends.
We then heard from the man that is Shane Kim, that the first downloadable content for GTA IV will be available this Fall. We also heard that Xbox 360’s games catalogue will reach 1000+ by the end of this year.
Next up were some new trailers from Rare for Banjo Kazooie : Nuts and Bolts as well as Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise. Nothing special here, though I did like the faux- David Attenborough voice-over used during the Viva Piñata trailer. But there was a sneaky mention of the original Banjo Kazooie being released for the Xbox LIVE Arcade that made me double take in excitement.
Onto the family games, you know, the ones that get your gran playing! First up was a sequel to Scene it? – Scene It? Box Office Smash. This is set to include Xbox LIVE play as well as downloadable questions specific to your country. Then we were shown a new party game by the name of You’re In The Movies. This is an EyeToy like game in which you take part in a bunch of mini-games via the Xbox LIVE Vision camera which then get pieced together into a B-movie style trailer at the end. You will then be able to share these films online. It sounds a nice quirky game, but will it’s appeal last? The big thing about it is that it comes bundled with a vision camera. You’re In The Movies is set for a Holiday 2008 release.
Music games seem very popular with Microsoft at the minute. It was announced that 3.5 million songs have been downloaded from Xbox Live. That is a heck of a lot and shows just how popular music games are on the Xbox 360. We then heard some news about Guitar Hero World Tour. No live demo unfortunately, but we did hear there would be 85 songs on disc including songs from artists such as Van Halen and The Eagles as well as special downloadable pack from REM featuring 3 new songs from their new album. Death Magnetic, Metallica’s upcoming album, is set to be released on GH3 and GHWT simultaneously along with the retail version.
A new casual gaming franchise, Lips, was also on show, Microsofts answer to SingStar. Lips is set to ship Holiday 2008 with a wireless microphone that also glows with the beat. The big announcement was you would be able to use your own songs from your Zune or iPod to sing along to. We were then given a demonstration of the game by Welsh songstress Duffy.
Rock Band 2 was also shown. 84 songs was said to be shipping on the disc, all of which are master recordings which is extremely impressive. It will feature songs such as Shackler’s Revenge, from Guns ‘n’ Roses new album, Tangled Up In Blue by Bob Dylan and AC/DC – Let There Be Rock. Other artists featured were said to include Devo and Interpol. 500 songs were set to be released by the end of the year. All Rock Band tracks will also be able to play on Rock Band 2, which is brilliant.
Square Enix came up trumps this year. 3 games were announced and pretty much dated. First up is Infinate Discovery, which is set for a September 2nd release in North America and a September 5th release in Europe. Second was Star Ocean, which is set for Spring 2009. Finally was The Last Remnant, which is set for 20th November and was the only Games For Windows compatible game. Strange really. And then Square Enix dropped the megaton. Final Fantasy XIII is coming to Xbox 360. That’s right. It’s no longer a PS3 exclusive. Sorry Sony.
This year’s Microsoft conference wasn’t as good as previous years. We did get to see the “New Xbox Experience” however and FFXIII coming to 360. But there was no mention of a new Halo game or the fabled “waggle stick.” But still, we have learned a lot this year and there is a lot to be excited about.
Keep it here at Console Monster for a wrap up of each of the big three’s press conferences and any news in between.