E3 Thoughts: Microsoft’s Press Conference

Microsoft led off Monday’s rush of pre-E3 press conferences and observers may be forgiven if they got the idea that Microsoft forgot the XBox 360 is a video game console.

Sure, Microsoft opened their presentation with new Halo 4 footage, but company seemed to spend more than half of its time promoting anything the XBox 360 can do besides play video games, such as the aforementioned Halo 4.

Microsoft’s biggest announcement was for a forthcoming feature called SmartGlass, in which customers would be able to link smartphones or tablets to their 360 and access info related to a movie or television program while the content streams through their console. Microsoft also promised SmartGlass functionality with games, so it looks like somebody in Washington State liked Nintendo’s planned tablet controller for the forthcoming Wii U.



Unfortunately for Microsoft, if  the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin’s news
team is their target market, I didn’t pick up a lot of interest when I
related to the idea to my coworkers. (That said, only a couple of us
play games.)

Whether SmartGlass takes off or not, Microsoft made
it crystal clear Monday that the company is as interested in promoting
the XBox 360 as an entertainment hub as they are in using the system as a
gaming platform. The XBox 360 can already stream content from providers
like Netflix, Hulu Plus and MLB Today, and the company announced future
partnerships with the NBA, the NHL, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures,
Machinima and Univision.

Microsoft seems to be competing with
cable companies as much as game companies, but since one needs a
high-speed internet connection to effectively use the XBox Live online
service, I wonder how cable companies may be able to push back against
Microsoft to protect their own businesses. Also, a customer would have
to pay for Internet, XBox Live and any premium services they use via the
console, so none of this will come cheap.

Microsoft also
announced a new Xbox Music service, increased voice search functionality
with the Kinect peripheral – which tracks users’ body movements and can listen to voice commands – and plans to add Internet Explorer to the
XBox and allow users to control their on-TV internet with a smartphone
or tablet. (More hints of Wii U influence.)

The company also
pitched a planned Nike+ Fitness for the Kinect as a means for users to
get real-time feedback on their fitness from Nike trainers. As I watched
a webcast of the press conference, Nike’s segment was one time when I
saw a lot of online comments from people wondering if the show would
have anything to do with games.

So now onto the games, Halo 4,
set for a November release, looks attractive enough but only time will
tell if the XBox’s signature FPS will retain fans in the hands of a new
developer. Microsoft also showed a glimpse of future releases Gears of
War: Judgement, Forza Horizon, the Kinect-centered “Fable: The Journey” and Dance Central 3 (with a live performance by Usher.)

Among the franchise games, Forza Horizon is the most intriguing to me.
If the road racer turns out to be as well made as Forza Motorsport, this
one will be worth looking forward to.

Also:

  • Microsoft announced three new IPs. One, a medieval fantasy title, is called “Ascend: New Gods.” The others are “LocoCycle,” which has something to do with a motorcycle and “Matter” a title that gets “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski’s name in the trailer and looks something like “Marble Madness.” Maybe.
  • The new trailer for “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blackout” makes it appear as if the series has completely abandoned its stealth roots and is now a run-and-gun shooter. In a revelation that will surprise no one, the game’s conflict takes place in the Middle East.
  • The trailer for the revamped Tomb Raider shows series protagonist Lara Croft is one tough women. The character somehow survives being swept up in rapids and then being buffeted by evergreens while parachuting through the forest. The new realistic art style will remind some players of PlayStation’s “Uncharted” franchise. Both game series will remind everyone of Indiana Jones which is not a bad thing.
  • Microsoft wrapped up with footage from “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.” The footage showed future fighting against drones and terrorists in the vicinity of Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 takes place.