E3 2010: Microsoft Press Conference

Microsoft had the unenviable task of beginning E3’s series of press conferences, especially since the major trend for many spectators this year seemed to be the hope and the wish to be, simply put, surprised: Here at the Slowdown, we were above all looking forward to non-sequels and all-new IP.

Unfortunately, the one major announcement from Microsoft – the seemingly abrupt re-branding of “Project Natal,” a move that G4TV speculate was an extremely recent decision – had been spoiled only days before much in the same vein as Sony’s PSP Go last year. Nonentheless, the Microsoft hype train steamed forth as planned, with Senior Vice President Don Mattrick (on the left) opening up the show.

Despite first airing footage from the decidedly nondescript Call of Duty: BLOPS, the behemoth got off to a great start once Kojima Productions founder Hideo Kojima and producer Shigenobu Matsuyama (on the right) waltzed on stage to show off Metal Gear Solid: Rising in what ultimately turned out to be the most notable announcement of the whole conference.

The difference-maker surprisingly came in the form of a stunning gameplay reveal: “Rising,” while obviously also relying on the generic strength of the franchise1, is being effectively sold to us on the wings of “zan-datsu,” or “cut & take,” as illustrated in the trailer below:

What Raiden’s newfound ability illustrates, above all, is how great a technical marvel Treyarch’s indomitable 1998 PC game Die by the Sword really was – to this day, its fluent mouse-based controls remain perfectly unreplicated, as if the holy grail of sword-fighting in video gaming. Perhaps MGS: Rising will be the first game to step up to the plate?

While the sword-on-watermelon brutality seemed at first to hark back to an April 2010 tweet from Kojima, in which he promised to “challenge a certain type of taboo” in his next game2; however, as reported today by Andriasang, Kojima subsequently revealed that the game in question was in fact not Rising:

The thing that I in the past Tweeted ‘It might touch upon a taboo’ is a separate title, one that am doing game design and directing.’3

Finally, the game is indeed a multiplatform title that will be available for 360, PS3 and PC. Hooray!

Regarding the follow-ups in Fable III (which came with a new 26th October release date), Codename Kingdoms, Gears of War 3 and Halo: Reach, I don’t have very much to say; beyond the third Fable, which is also surprisingly slated for release on the PC after the bypassed sequel, these are presently all 360-exclusive titles. In fact, the one major surprise here was how Crytek’s Codename Kingdoms should also be a 360-exclusive project.

While I have groaned about this before, I would still like to sternly chastise whomever was playing Halo: Reach during its demonstration. As it stands, whatever impact the gameplay was meant to have on the viewer was successfully sucked out thanks to way too much landscaping and too little thought: For certain, looking around at cool stuff while in the trenches is no way to survive an intergalactic war, the same of which can be said for not using any cover or tactics whatsoever. Why are we given these illusions of gameplay instead of how games really play like?

A wild Justin Bieber appears!

As mentioned before, Microsoft didn’t seem to mind their motion sensor reveal getting leaked much at all; Kinect (a combination of kinetic and connect?) was, as was the trend this year, the focal point of the show.

The absolute lowlight of the show must have been a segment dedicated to Live’s VideoKinect feature; not only was an employee’s personal space quite grossly invaded, the whole shebang was awfully, awfully scripted. Laura Massey, or “Lollip0p,” and her sister, “Velveteen,” demoed the setup in such a horrendously scripted exchange (image below) that I had a hard time staying put for the duration of the presentation. The sisters bade farewell to a miserable “bye” from three persons in the audience.

Of course, the aforementioned social features (video chat, Facebook), “easy and interactive gameplay, video chat, and more” are offered to users with the dreaded asterisk – a required Xbox LIVE Gold membership, of course. Here are the features of the peripheral, by the way:

  • Color VGA Motion Camera 640 x 480 pixel resolution at 30FPS
  • Depth Camera 640 x 480 pixel resolution at 30FPS
  • Array of 4 microphones supporting single speaker voice recognition

Also announced was a Live content delivery deal with ESPN. While certainly a touchdown from the point of view of discovering an all-new way of infusing the system’s user base with fresh blood, the ESPN deal was another glaring example of the current publisher rat race for the most-expanded user base. I did have to stop to ponder what relevance this announcement could have possibly had to the video game journalists in the audience; after all, NCAA-level college sports and even higher-level leagues like the NBA are horribly insignificant to those residing outside the United States.

Following the ESPN reveal, Kudo Tsunoda (on the right), the haggardly hipster and Kinect creative director entered the stage, wearing his trademark indoor shades, to unveil the software line-up. The line-up of demoed titles began with Kinectimals, a cute “petting zoo ” app aimed for children. Like all children’s games, it seemed a mystery to me as to how its gameplay could be humanly sustained for longer periods of time.

KinectSports, then, was a brightly shining example of how late (four years!) Microsoft really is to motion controls. Furthermore, the Xbox 360 avatars that were introduced in late 2008 will probably draw further negative comparisons to Nintendo, potentially questioning the validity of the whole enterprise.

Just as I slipping into a com… deep thought while cursing the idea of simulating reality one to one in a video game, cue in Kinect Joy Ride and Adventures!


After the long-winded, cringe-inducing advertisement for Your Shape: Fitness Evolved from Ubisoft (which was also demoed in the Ubisoft conference a few hours later; a keen observation of the presentations here) had stopped playing, we were treated with something that nobody could have foreseen beforehand: Your Shape, demoed on stage.

In the areas where Your Shape failed, though, Harmonix’ Dance Central (as announced by co-founder/CEO Alex Rigopulos) excelled, especially in honest-to-god demoing the actual impressive technical capabilities of the new peripheral. The problem with dancing games, as popular as they are in Japan, is that some people like to dance, others don’t, and this will never change, resulting in limited market appeal at best.

I do love the fact that the game comes with a dead simple move tutorial though; it seemed as though if you ever wanted to learn how to do pop dance in the solitary confines of your own home, Dance Central might very well be it. Massive, massive latency was present, though, and we can only hope it was caused by the conference setup rather than the actual Kinect system.

While eliciting what was possibly the most enthusiastic response from the crowd at hand, Kinect Star Wars from LucasArts at once revealed to us the physical impossibilities inherent to Kinect: Instead of being an on-the-rails shooting game, I suppose the game is an on-the-rails waving game instead. Simply put, it is physically impossible for players to walk forwards and turn at the same time without the aid of extra buttons, a spear that Sony would later drive into Microsoft’s side in their conference.

I do believe this realization effectively means that all we are going to see for Kinect is a flood of static games and rail shooters trying to hide the fact as well as they can. Serious games have serious demands, after all, and these demands are solved with a proper controller. What is absolutely possible, like Sony (and Nintendo, four years before) demonstrated, is making compromises and meeting the limitations of the system half-way.

(Cue in random Ferrari fetishism from the latest Forza Motorsport:)

All-in-all, it seems that Kinect games are going to be a full-body cardiovascular onslaught, even moreso than the Wii launch games ever were. What I don’t get, at all, especially having seen Sony’s conference, is why Microsoft chose not to announce a price tag for Kinect. Not even a price point? Don’t get it.

Also unveiled during the show was the new black edition of the 360, which Mattrick Ophrah’d the entire audience with. The new design comes, notably, with built-in 802.11n support and a 250 GB drive; Arstechnica, who called the new version a “thoughtful, refined system”4, have a fantastic hands-on of the console. I can’t help but note that the system does look a helluva lot like a toaster in the photographs, though.

Don Mattrick – whose Miles Fisher -style American Psycho expressions and mannerisms were an integral part to the show – waved off the audience stating that with Kinetic, “The new era of entertainment has begun!” I couldn’t agree more: Microsoft’s 2010 E3 conference perfectly illustrates the ongoing force push of gaming from behind closed doors into the living room. Like last year, there was not much on offer for the ordinary WASD guy.

  1. though it also comes bundled with the baggage of being Snake-free, or rather, Raiden-full []
  2. http://www.andriasang.com/e/blog/2010/04/13/kojima_next_project_tease/ []
  3. http://www.andriasang.com/e/blog/2010/06/15/kojima_on_mgs_rising/ []
  4. http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2010/06/360-250gb-slim-hands-on-full-details-bonus-its-sexy.ars []