E3 Media Summit: Microsoft media briefing

First off, let me apologize for being so dormant. New job responsibilities have a way of doing that to a person’s gaming habits.

But once again, I’m checking out the still-shrunken-down E3 Media Summit this year. Monday’s not really a busy day for me, save for the Microsoft Xbox 360 media briefing. I don’t know what Sony’s got in its bag of tricks, but after witnessing what MS just showed us … they better bring it. No ducks or Ridge Racer. That’s all I’m saying. Red ring jokes aside, MS really isn’t screwing around.

Don Mattrick, the senior vice president of MS’ interactive entertainment business, entertainment and devices division, was the main mouthpiece of the event, talking about the power of big-time franchises and the “next wave” of game. He dropped the number of about half-a-billion in projected sales before the segue into the first demo.

Fallout 3: Given that the Xbox 360 audience is no stranger to bloody mist or flying body parts, of course they would lead with this. Todd Howard of Bethesda showed off some of the finer points of this post-nuclear first-person shooter, which reminded me a lot of Bioshock with its retro-creep, technical vibe. I like it already. One feature I enjoyed was an assisted targeting system the lets you focus on a particular body part. Pull the trigger, and you get a cutscene-like sequence where you watch your projectile’s path to the target. Very Stranglehold-ish. The demo closed off with the firing of a weapon called the Fat Man. It’s a nuclear bomb launcher. As in mini-mushroom cloud and flaming death to enemies upon impact. I want one. The game will be out in the fall for PC and 360.

Resident Evil 5: As you probably know, this takes place in Africa, where Chris Redfield (one of the heroes from the first game) is there to check out weird stuff happening … like crazy infected villagers with chainsaws and other horrible instruments of death. Jun Takeuchi, the producer, showed off a short, but very telling demo.

The big thing is that you have online co-op play. That’s a BIG plus. Takeuchi-san showed off a little bit of how this works, with Chris Redfield using sniper fire to cover his new playable ally, the unreasonably hot Sheva. If there’s one thing the gaming industry will show you, it’s that there are no average-looking heroes. Nope. Male and female hotness is a prerequisite. Get used to it. The game is slated for a March 2009 release on Friday the 13th. Cue evil music.

Fable 2: “Fable 2 is finished” were the first words out of Peter Molyneux’s mouth. However, the demo was still pretty short. The big development here was showing how you and other friends on Xbox Live can get together for some co-op wonderment. When you’re in a game, you’ll see glowing orbs, which Molyneux tells us represent other players entrenched in their single-player games. If you want them to join, just walk up to the orb, click a button or two, then boom, they’re in the your game. You can introduce them to your family, they can interact with stuff on their own … all intriguing. This one’s coming in October.

Gears of War 2: Ah, this demo made me lean in a bit. Of course, the game looked outstanding, but what ended up fascinating me more were the new elements of combat. Cliffy B showed us good stuff in the demo, such as being able to snatch a Locust soldier from behind and use him as a human(?) shield. Speaking of shields, there’s an actual shield you can pick up and carry with you. It looked like it could withstand explosive projectiles, and you can also jam it into the ground and use it as cover. We got to see Marcus pick up a flamethrower and use it to bring some Locusts to fiery justice. Another weapon was a minigun which can either be carried or perched on a windowsill (or other type of edge) for some serious attempts at depopulation. All of this took place inside a Locust sinkhole, where Marcus and Dom had to evade a Brumak and kill the pilot. And as a teaser, the demo ended with talk of actually riding the Brumak, with Marcus saying “If they can ride one, so can we.” Cliffy B capped of the presentation by mentioning “Horde,” a 5-player mode where you and a group of buddies try to survive wave after wave of Locust. All this is slated for a Nov. 7 release.

That did it for the big guns. The next thing that followed was some numbers talk, such as $48 billion is expected to be spent of gaming this year — bigger than box office, music and DVD sales. There was also mention of the 360 outselling the PS3, with Mattrick predicting that the trend will continue. He also mentioned that Xbox Live has grown to 12 million users, and that they’ve added more movies (MGM is on board) and TV shows.

Next came John Schappert, the head of Xbox Live, and he showed us a few interesting items. One was “avatars,” which are very similar to the concept of Nintendo’s Miis, but with many more options for customization. For instance, there’s a lot more clothing, as opposed to the Mii “tunic” (my wife’s word) that Wii users are stuck with.

Like the Miis, the avatars will be integrated into several games and services, such as Xbox Live Primetime. That puts you and your avatars into game shows, such as 1 vs 100, where you can win some real-life prizes.

Also, we probably now know why Xbox Live didn’t have a spring update. It’s because of the extreme overhaul that Schappert showed us when he updated the Live dashboard in front of everyone. Gone will be the blades … now you have “channels” as part of a completely redesigned interface that make use of the avatars and allows for a more seamless transition into games. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

He also showed us the game channel for Xbox Live Arcade titles. We’re going to be getting Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved, Galaga Legions (yes, a Galaga sequel — believe it), Portal: Still Alive (yes! more Portal!) and South Park.

After that, we got the announcement of a partnership between Xbox Live and Netflix. Live users will be able have access to Netflix’s huge library, but also be able to share and watch movies with friends online. Nice. Movie night redefined?

Shane Kim steeped up to show us some games for all ages, like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise as well as Scene It?: Box Office Smash. The original Banjo-Kazooie will be available for download on Xbox Live as well.

One game also displayed was “You’re In The Movies,” where you and friends use the vision cam to “film” various sequences, which are then edited together by the game into an intentionally campy B-movie trailer. I’m guessing some people will really like this concept and have fun with it. Not sure if I’m one of them.

Then we got some presentation on music games. Leading off was Guitar Hero: World Tour, which will let you create and share music with other people on Live. There’s also going to be a wireless drum kit, new guitar and music from REM, Van Halen, The Eagles and Metallica. Yeah, that Metallica. We also got a look at a singing game called Lips, which lets you sing along to music in your iPod or Zune. The presentation was capped off with a performance by a young lady named … Duffy? I’m sorry, I had no idea who she was, just like I didn’t know who Zac Efron was when he showed up at the Halo 3 launch. I think I’ll be OK without that knowledge.

Rock Band 2 came up next, where Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos unveiled the massive, 500-song track list for the game. Even more impressive was who they actually got to lend their music — Bob Dylan, new stuff from Guns and Roses … and AC/DC. My god … I hope my neighbors don’t get this.

Finally, Square Enix leader Yoichi Wada (who sounds like he’s come a long way with his English), gave us updates on Infinite Undiscovery, Star Ocean: The Last Hope (due in 2009) and The Last Remnant, which was featured in a short trailer. Mattrick came back up on stage to wrap things up, but was “interrupted” by Wada for one more announcement.

What followed was a bombastic, beautiful trailer, the kind of visual opulence that could only come with Square Enix’s signature series. Yep, we got to see the trailer for Final Fantasy XIII, which ended the morning with a rousing round of applause.

That does it for me for now, aside from the Gears of War 2 reception happening later tonight. Not sure how much I’ll get to see, but hopefully I’ll be able to get in some words with producer Rod Fergusson. If I do, it’ll be up here. Til then.