E3 2010 – Microsoft Press Conference
If E3 ’09 was the year of Microsoft’s big motion-control reveal (with an obvious case of smoke and mirrors to boot) then E3 2010 was the year that pulled the whole thing down to ground level. As expected, this year’s show would play host to a number of Natal, or rather, ‘Kinect’ based announcements and collaborations as the corporation jumped, giggled and waved its way into the realm of the casual market. With only a handful of fresh games showcased for the controller-wielding core gamer, all eyes were on what Microsoft – and indeed its third-party support – could bring to this body-scanning beast. Regrettably, this is where the show fell decidedly wide of the mark.
The keynote opened with a bang as Treyarch’s Studio Head, Mark Lamia stepped out to ‘take us deep behind enemy lines… into the world of deniable operations with Call of Duty: Black Ops.’ What followed was a tense, trigger-twitching segment of gameplay which saw the character, Mason skulking through a cramped network of caves. Next up, bright jungles, lush with vegetation and crawling with enemy units. After a brief firefight showcasing the usual gunplay that we’ve come to accept as standard, Mason hijacked a Hind D chopper and used it to plough (quite explosively) through the troops to safety. If the short video proves anything, it’s that Treyarch are aware of the need to keep the franchise fresh via bouts of destruction and a snappy pace.
Cue Senior Vice President of Interactive Entertainment, Don Mattrick, who announced, ‘an exclusive multi-year agreement between Microsoft and Activision.’ He continued, ‘Starting with the release of Black Ops on November 9th, all Call of Duty add-ons and map-packs will launch first on Xbox 360.’ The deal is set to last until 2012. Mattrick then followed on with the promise of transformation, revealing Kinect as the final name of the oft-debated Natal. ‘It’s all about showing, not telling,’ he exclaimed proudly. For what it’s worth, that’s exactly what Microsoft would do.
Next was the turn of Hideo Kojima, who, after a brief introduction passed the stage to his Producer for Metal Gear Rising, Shigenobu Matsuyama. Presenting the Japanese term ‘Zan-Datsu,’ which translates directly into ‘Cut-Take,’ Matsuyama elaborated via a new trailer featuring rendered video and some actual gameplay footage. Wearing an updated model of his MGS4 cybernetic duds, Raiden sliced his prey, grabbing hold of electrical orbs that he then absorbed. The gameplay itself was fast and frantic, offering but a glimpse of the destructible objects that can be sliced multiple times with perfect precision. The trailer closed with the statement, ‘Cut what you will.’
Cliff Bleszinski was the next face to take to the stage, looking and sounding as casual as a man born to be in the public eye. Gears of War 3 gameplay was then shown for the first time, taking the form of a 4 player co-op story mission featuring the lambent enemies such as a mutant Berserker, which fans will remember as the one-hit-kill behemoth from the first game. While it appeared to play like classic Gears, the variety of enemies has been greatly increased, as has the already-satisfying brutality and gore. Taking place in a location named Anvil Gate, the action was surrounded by a surprising amount of greenery for the series, suggesting more diversity to the stages this time around. The game is slated for an April 2011 release.
Peter Molyneux and Lionhead’s Fable 3 were next up, as the show kept up a decent pace and the big names kept flowing. ‘Set five decades after the conclusion of Fable 2, this epic action-adventure title delivers everything you’ve come to love about Fable and more,’ the Director continued, ‘In Fable 3 your journey leads you from revolutionary to ruler and beyond with the choices and responsibility that power brings.’ The gameplay itself appeared startlingly similar to that of Fable 2 – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but seemed to involve more explosions than last time.
The gameplay footage of Halo: Reach that followed afforded a taste of what Halo fans have been hoping for – more Halo in its purest form. It was rousing, action-packed and atmospheric, if all a little too familiar for anyone tired of the formula. The big, yet brief reveal was the inclusion of space combat, though we’ll have to wait to see how this holds up. Given the vehicular combat as a whole however, we have very little reason for concern.
Corporate Vice President for Xbox Live, Marc Whitten declared, ‘Kinect’s sensor detects both movement and sound in very sophisticated ways. It recognizes you, it responds to your gestures and it listens to your voice… there are no barriers and no learning curves… this is what happens when technology gets out of your way.’
While hyperbole is most certainly a part of the PR culture (about half of which could be levelled squarely at the feet of Milo’s Peter Molyneux) there’s no denying the technological splendour that is Kinect. You can sign in with your voice via simple commands such as ‘Xbox – Play’ and ‘Xbox – Pause’ or flick through menus and select music with a simple wave of your hand. Kinect also allows for video chat with any other online user, with the option to view videos, news and sport together. If Microsoft’s show was intended to reveal Kinect’s capability to revolutionise the way we communicate and share then it’s mission accomplished. As a platform for actual games, however, the following ill-advised and at times downright painful stage demos will have done little for Kinect’s reputation, particularly among core gamers itching for a reason to splash the cash.
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