E3: Microsoft press briefing

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Microsoft started the day off with their press briefing on what you can expect from them in the coming year. And thanks to the miracle of streaming, everyone could catch it from any number of online channels. There was plenty to talk about. Literally.

Kicking things off was gameplay from the upcoming FPS juggernaut, Modern
Warfare 3, which took the audience underwater to stop a Russian missile
sub. After forcing it to the surface and fighting through it, an escape
across a New York’s harbor in a zodiac ensued with missiles raining
down from the sky amidst a fleet of half-capsized and still-active
warships. Amazing stuff.

Next up was gameplay from the reboot of Tomb Raider, showing a more
vulnerable and realistic portrayal of Lara Croft as a young woman
unexpectedly forced to fight for her life in her first adventure. Deep
below ground, she escapes from being hung upside down in a cave only to
be impaled in the side by a piece of bone which she pulls out with the
help of the player.

Wounded and scared, she makes her way through the narrow caves and
passages filled with more bones and the refuse of planes and broken
ships. She’s also not alone and barely escapes her mysterious captors
who ply her with friendship, only what they offer is a certain death. I
can’t wait to see more.

Later on, Peter Moore came onstage to announce that the upcoming Madden,
FIFA, and Tiger Woods titles would be supporting Kinect.

Dr. Ray Muzyka, one of the co-founders of BioWare, arrived next to talk
about Mass Effect 3 and how they were using voice as a part of the
gameplay. At first, it looked as if it were only used to read off of the
dialogue choice you wanted Shephard to pick. Later on, however, the
demo showed off how voice was being used to order your teammates around
the battlefield down to what biotics they should use. That was
impressive.

Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot came on to talk about what Ubisoft was going to
do next and took the opportunity to show off the new Ghost Recon Future
Soldier title. What they focused on was the Gun Smith mode and how it
worked with Kinect. Using it, you can literally disassemble a gun down
to its component parts and modify it from that level.

Moving his hands, the demonstrator showed how he could explode the gun,
turn it around, pick pieces, and them closing his hands to assemble
everything back in one piece to test on a gun range. Conversely, he
could also just say what he wanted whether it was a weapon for short or
long range and the Gun Smith would take its cue from there and optimize a
weapon for the role. Yves came back onstage and finished the demo by
saying that they would be using Kinect in every Tom Clancy title going
forward in some way.

Marc Whitten from Xbox Live stepped up to talk about the new experiences
that they would be bringing to the console. A new dashboard redesign
was shown off which looks a lot like Zune Metro’s UI – which does make
sense since Microsoft is also behind Zune – along with announcing that
Youtube was coming to the system. Bing was also slated to be integrated
with users voicing their searches for content.

Live television was also headed to the console with support from
broadcasters such as Sky or Canal+. Local channels were also coming and
players will be able to use voice to track down whatever they want to
watch.

The president of UFC, Dana White, was next to announce exclusive content
such as fights that would be coming to the Xbox 360. Using the console,
you can call out who you think the winner might be and see how well
your prophetic powers stack up against friends while watching the
action.

Cliff Bleszinsky and Ice-T came out to play a little of Gears of War 3
for the crowd. The scene: a floating vessel attacked by a Kraken-sized
monster whose tentacles were tearing everything apart. A small
mechanical walker was shown off along with plenty of gunplay, and
despite how grainy it looked through the feed, it looks like it’s going
to be every bit as exciting.

Crytek ran a trailer for Ryse, their ancient Rome-themed Kinect fighting
game where every swing of your arm or kick of your foot was translated
into a brutal attack onscreen.

Footage from the HD remake of Halo was also displayed with improved
visuals to celebrate its anniversary. In a later interview, it was also
revealed that it would have a button that allows you to switch between
“before and after” shots to see what the changes were along with 7
multiplayer maps.

Forza Motorsport was also shown off featuring head tracking with Kinect
and advertising monthly expansions, 80+ manufacturers signed on, and a
release date of October 11th.

Peter Monlyneux came on next to introduce Fable: The Journey, a Kinect
title in which players could gesture magic and fight their way through
Fable’s world in what looks like a rail shooter, though it’s only a
small slice that we had been shown.

Phil Spenser, the VP of Microsoft Game Studios, followed Molyneux to
talk about Minecraft Kinect coming to the Xbox 360 along with a
collaborative venture with Disney: Disneyland Adventures. Touring a
virtual Disneyland (though I have a soft spot for Disney World),
mini-games will allow kids to “fly” through the park or experience
“Alice in Wonderland” by falling down the rabbit hole.

Kinect Star Wars followed showing off Kinect-powered lightsaber battles
and force gestures taking place on Bespin during, from what I’m only
guessing at, the Clone Wars.

Tim Schafer from Doublefine, the developer that brought us Brutal
Legend, announced a Kinect game based on Sesame Street in which kids
will help solve problems that monsters are having. Cookie Monster and
Elmo were shown guiding players in waving their arms or pretending to be
monsters onscreen. In a charming close, Schafer mentioned a story at
the end where his niece had asked if he was going off to work on a game
for her and being able to tell her “yes”.

Kudo Tsunoda from Microsoft Game Studios came onstage to talk about
Kinect Fun Labs and what they were doing to expand the way that Kinect
was being used. People Scanning was shown off, taking pics of a person’s
face, hair, and clothes and then creating an avatar out of them – with
the clothes showing the same colors and design. Finger tracking was also
demonstrated with an app that showed off a 3D visualization of a
glowing path drawn in the air. At the end, another presenter scanned in a
stuffed animal which was then animated by the Xbox 360.

Kinect Sports Season 2 was also shown off right before Harmonix arrived
to demonstrate Dance Central 2 and the simultaneous dancing mode that
will be featured. In addition, all of the songs from Dance Central 1 can
be imported into the new game.

Don Mattrick returned to the stage to close out the briefing with a
surprise – the first trailer for a new trilogy based on Halo featuring
the return of Master Chief. Called Halo 4, it’s slated to come out for
the holidays in 2012. If you saw the ending from Halo 3 on Legendary
mode (or Youtube’d it), you’ll know that the fight isn’t over. 343
Industries, a subsidiary of Microsoft Game Studios, will be working on
the title.

The year of the Kinect for Microsoft? It’s looking that way.