Microsoft kicked off E3 2010 by being the first of the Big Three to hold its press conference. Big Xbox 360 franchises like Halo and Gears of War showed up like expected, and Microsoft once again introduced some new features to Xbox Live. But the most anticipated item on the docket was Natal– or, as it is now known, Kinect. Sure enough, all of the above happened, each with a few unexpected announcements, and the conference closed with a rather large announcement that was almost kept secret.
The initial focus was on the core gaming market with Call of Duty: Black Ops leading the charge; the game focuses on secretive missions during the Cold War. Developer Treyarch demoed Black Ops with a Vietnam level featuring dark tunnels and jungle warfare. The preview ended with the special ops team stealing a Russian helicopter and turning the chopper on its former owners. After the demo, Microsoft revealed it has signed an exclusive contract giving Xbox early access to all Call of Duty DLC before other platforms through 2012.
Next up was a trailer for Metal Gear Rising, the first teaser for the game to feature actual gameplay. This entry in the acclaimed Metal Gear franchise appears to change things up considerably by making Raiden the protagonist and shifting the gameplay focus from stealth to fast-paced, sword-based action. The clip also showcased an impressive engine that seems to allow Raiden to thoroughly, precisely, and violently cut up just about anything and anybody in the game. No other details or release date was given.
After Raiden’s slice-and-dice show, the conference focused on games that would be exclusive to Xbox 360. Halo Reach and Gears of War 3 appeared with demos of gameplay, with each showing off features new to the franchises. Gears of War 3‘s campaign with four player co-op was briefly demoed, and the new breed of powerful, frequently mutating enemies also was revealed. Halo Reach‘s campaign was demoed, as well, buts its new addition came at the end when, after partaking in the series’ traditional gunfights, the new protagonist hoped into the cockpit of fighter and blasted off into space to join in a battle against a Covenant space ship.
Peter Molyneux then took the stage to show a new Fable III trailer that demonstrated the new game’s premise– rising up as a hero to overthrow Albion’s tyrannical ruler. Finally, a brief teaser trailer featuring live-action footage of gladiator-like men walking through a war-torn battlefield was shown, which was announced as Kingdoms. The title is being developed through an exclusive partnership between Microsoft and Crytek, the developer behind Crysis and Far Cry.
Microsoft then brought Kinect into the limelight by first showing how the device would change gamers’ approach to Xbox 360’s user interface as well as its uses for cross-platform communication. Keeping with the promises from last year’s E3, Kinect will automatically recognize the gamer and log into their profile. Then, Kinect will transform the system’s dashboard into s simpler set-up reminiscent of Wii’s homepage; from there the gamer can select to boot up games, watch movies, synch up with the Zune Marketplace, or communicate with friends.
Using Kinect’s camera, friends can video chat, whether it be with other Xbox owners or PC users with a web cam and a Windows Messenger account. However, the biggest reveal for Xbox Live, and arguably the whole press conference, was an exclusive deal with ESPN to provide streaming live and on-demand sports content to Xbox Live Gold members. Also, all ESPN content can be controlled using voice commands through Kinect.
Much of the rest of the show was focused on showcasing Kinect software. The first game was Kinectimals, a pet sim that was shown off by a little girl playing with her pet tiger that was well-animated and responded quite effectively to her gestures and voice commands. Second was Kinect Sports, a compilation of motion-based sports games including soccer, bowling, javelin, long jump, ping pong, boxing and volleyball.
After that came Joy Ride, a rather simple-looking kart racer where players grab an imaginary steering wheel and and turn in the air with their hands. The last of the Microsoft-developed Kinect games to be shown off was Kinect Adventures, which is essentially a collection of varied obstacle courses that require players to jump, duck, dodge, and contort their bodies into various shapes in order to earn as many points as possible.
Next up was third-part contributions to Kinect. Ubisoft revealed Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, a rather slick-looking exercise game with a variety of activities including cardio workouts, martial arts, and yoga. Harmonix, the company responsible for Rock Band, then took the stage to announce Dance Central, a new dance-based, rhythm game where players must match a routine of dance moves to the beat of the music.
Forza developer Turn 10 then came on stage to show how it plans to incorporate Kinect into future racing games aside from just using an imaginary steering wheel. The developer found that Kinect’s ability to track head movements allowed the player to look around the interior of the car while in first-person mode, and a showroom mode was displayed where the system tracked the players’ movements so they could walk around the car and get to view it up close.
The Kinect portion of the show closed with Microsoft revealing it had entered into a deal with LucasArts to develop a Star Wars game for Kinect. A brief demo was shown that featured a Jedi deflecting laser blasts from Storm Troopers before dashing forward to cut down more of the white-armored foes. The peace-keeper also used a sweep of the hand to force push a tank out of the way, but the action appeared to be mostly on rails. However, the product was obviously very early in development and very little information was given to really tell the extent of its gameplay. Finally, Kinect will release Nov. 4, though the price remains a mystery.
Lastly, the press conference ended with the revealing of a new Xbox 360 model, something that was actually leaked shortly before the press conference. The updated system is a little smaller, has a glossy, black finish, features a 250 GB HDD, and has built-in wireless. A bigger surprise was that the system has already shipped, so it will be available whenever stores get it in and will sell for the regular Elite price of $299.99. All other models will receive a $50 price cut.
All things considered, this was a decent press conference for Microsoft. Though, from purely a gamer’s perspective, there was quite a bit to be desired. Yes, the ESPN deal is a major win when it comes to the sports’ fan market, Kinect appears to be quite useful for navigating menus as well as controlling audio and video playback, and the new Xbox model looks promising and should fix the major technical problems with original design.
But, when it comes to games, players have yet to be shown how Kinect will be used outside of the casual market, with many of the games looking suspiciously like Wii knock-offs. And even though Gears of War 3 and Halo Reach look good, the only new announcement was Kingdoms, and that was only shown with a trailer featuring very little that might be indicative of the final game. With this press conference, Microsoft has clearly showed the world that it plans on focusing on the casual market with Kinect while leaving their core fan base wondering what’s in store for them.