Microsoft's E3 Conference - How Did It Go?

Mark Botwright

Distinguished Member
Having dropped the info-sheet detailing (to some degree) DRM policy just prior to E3, Microsoft effectively shooed the elephant from the room temporarily and got back to the business at hand - putting on a big show at E3 in a bid to whet gamers' appetites; tempting them to part with their hard earned cash and choose their next gen console this holiday season over Sony's latest offering.

So, how did it go?

Well, the multimedia angle was kept brief, as expected. The gaming DVR features and a partnership with Twitch for instant streaming with commentary were the main points. Beyond that, it was all about the games.

For a company that has all but written off the Japanese market, Microsoft ticked a few of the hotlist boxes for the Western fan with decidedly Eastern tastes - mechs, Metal Gear Solid and a return for Panzer Dragoon in the shape of Crimson Dragoon are not to be sniffed at.

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Opening with Hideo Kojima was as resounding a sign as possible that they are not satisfied being pigeonholed merely as the shooter fans' console of choice any more. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was as predictably cinematic as you'd expect from Kojima-san, but watching the cut-scenes unfold was a thing of beauty; lots of games aim to be filmic, but few - if any - achieve the feat like MGS does. Gameplay boasted a freedom and reality we've yet to see from the series, with an open world, realtime weather, a time cycle and multiple modes of transport adding to the established stealth (or “tactical espionage”) mechanics.

The tone of the show had clearly been well thought out, with big hitters that we're already familiar with, such as Battlefield 4, kept from rubbing shoulders with other sure fire hits by the interspersal of more niche attractions like D4, a cel-shaded episodic murder mystery. RYSE: Son of Rome was the early showcase of what the "power of Xbox One and the latest Cry Engine" could achieve, seeking to entice with shiny armour and excessive quick-time-events.

It's not all about the next gen though, and Yusuf Mehdi unveiled the worst kept secret in the industry; a new, smaller Xbox 360. The one surprise was the release date, apparently out now. The next titbit was a swing aimed squarely at Sony's PS Plus policy of offering free games to subscribers. Live will set up a similar scheme, and the first two titles to download will be Assassin's Creed II and Halo 3.

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The 360 understandably got short shrift when it came to air time, with only World of Tanks (15 vs 15 armoured vehicular combat) and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (a Pixar-esque platformer) being showcased alongside the admittedly awesome looking Dark Souls 2 for the console, though the former pair are console exclusives.

Another put-that-in-your-pipe-Sony moment was Insomniac - they of Ratchett & Clank, Spyro and Resistance fame - taking to the stage to show off a short trailer for Sunset Overdrive. An exclusive boasting a living world and seemingly mixing cartoonish violence with a spot of jumpy exploration, it was also the first opportunity to play buzzword bingo at home. If you had “power of the cloud”, well done.

Truth be told it was hard to keep up with the phraseology, as new terms were being coined left, right and centre. Turn 10 Studios jumped right into the mix with Forza 5; having bumped the power of the cloud to “near limitless”, they introduced the world to the concept of “drivalator”. Actually it's a pretty neat concept, like a hybrid version of AI that learns from you - your driving data is uploaded constantly and processed so that friends can play one another even when one isn't actually online. If it works it could be revolutionary, but claiming “the end of AI” seems like perhaps a boast too far. Still, we'll find out soonish, as Forza 5's set to be a launch title.

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Proving that Microsoft have their finger on the pulse, the two Phil's had contrasting fortunes with their big moments. Spencer got to unveil a new Killer Instinct, while Harrison (surely doing penance for his post-One reveal confused foot-in-mouth interview marathon) had to bat back the claim that the company were undermining indie developers. What weapon did they put in his hand...Minecraft. It may have humble beginnings, but it's now a freight train making millions, and hardly the current embodiment of bedroom encoded inspiration.

On the subject of creativity, Project Spark looks to be hoping to slot into the Microsoft canon in the same way LittleBigPlanet has for Sony, even donning a similar tagline of “play, build, share”. One of the better demos, the game integrated voice, standard pad and SmartGlass controls as a sandbox world was built from scratch.

Not everything was gameplay-related though, and Sam Lake from Remedy took to the stage to talk a little about Quantum Break. A well regarded figure, and a game that's creating a buzz, but the fear many gamers have about the TV-centric approach of the One may not have been settled by Lake's enthusiasm for merging the two mediums. Luckily his track record is good and the CG cut-scene looked fantastic, full of facial detail.

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If gameplay and incremental improvement was what you were after, then the Dead Rising 3 demo was the high point. Better graphics, huge swathes of zombies on screen, lots of interesting weapons given a trial through undead entrails splattering and one creative death brought with it the first genuine cheer of the night.

One of the keywords was clearly “expansive”, furthering thoughts of how the cloud could be of benefit in the future. Sandbox creativity as seen in Project Spark sat alongside the free roaming of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt thanks to the common theme of freedom. The latter title boasting voice commands and SmartGlass functionality.

SmartGlass was pushed throughout, but not one feature looked truly enticing. The problem of a non-essential peripheral is that it can't be designed around, and as such being utilised to stat track, manage inventories or call in air strikes may be novel, its never likely to be more than that.

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Back to the reliable - shooting. Battlefield 4 is a certain touchstone for the fanbase; 60fps was what everyone wanted to hear, and the signs of a better single-player mode and the introduction of boat combat overrode the strangely humorous heckling atmosphere brought about by a technical hitch. This, alongside a teased new Halo and a mini cut-scene of whatever Black Tusk are working on were all put into the shade by Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall, a mech-heavy futuristic FPS set for release next Spring. If you wanted to put bets on what might be able to rival Destiny for the “next big thing in shooters” crown, this'd be a good bet.

There was never likely to be any further stage-based elaboration of used games policy, so the consumer angle was placed on Live subscriptions. Not only will there be the two free games offer, but as we roll towards the One release, points will become plain currency and certain Gold features, such as the ability to play online multiplayer, will cover all gamertags on your console.

Oh, and then there's the price...£429.

As far as performances go, it was a steady ship from Microsoft, playing to the crowd with the big titles but injecting a hint of creativity. It was a textbook example of playing it safe, right up to the moment the price was announced. Even a huge amount of Titanfall couldn't soften that blow.

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The assumptions that having the lesser tech specs would allow for a sub-£400 initial price points may not have taken into account the drag factor of bundling a Kinect, and this will only serve to further anger the core market that simply don't want it. When “bundled” doesn't equate to free, or even cheap, consumers get riled, and without a single standout example of a meaningful game integration of the peripheral, that's a significant problem.
 
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IvorB

Active Member
Well it's a decent showing but I wonder if it's enough to get MS out of the dog box. Then there's the price. Less power than PS4 but more expensive with heavy user restrictions. That is... interesting.
 

kav

Distinguished Member
Thanks for the summary, nice to read something balanced after all the histrionics on the forums. :D

I do think MS are in real danger now. Between the PR mistakes of their announcements, the high price point (at least in comparison to the PS4), and the DRM backlash, Sony would need to run into problems of Savile-like proportions to lose the upper hand at the moment.

The only thing that can save MS now, IMO, is the quality of their exclusives. Personally the XB1 games appeal to me a lot more than the PS4's, but I'm not sure they're enough to make me buy a machine on day one. Titanfall is the biggest draw for me by far, and since that's not coming out until next year, I'm not compelled to buy before then.
 
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IvorB

Active Member
Thanks for the summary, nice to read something balanced after all the histrionics on the forums. :D

The only thing that can save MS now, IMO, is the quality of their exclusives. Personally the XB1 games appeal to me a lot more than the PS4's, but I'm not sure they're enough to make me buy a machine on day one. Titanfall is the biggest draw for me by far, and since that's not coming out until next year, I'm not compelled to buy before then.

Unfortunately that is something MS does not have. Anyone who believes those third-party games they announced will stay exclusive is dreaming. After I saw Mass Effect arrive on PS3 at the end of the gen I realised true Xbox exclusives are few and far between.

Their first-party development capacity is laughable compared to Sony's and even Nintendo's. You can just have a look at their track record of releasing exclusive software over the past few years to see where they are at.

I think Microsoft are up the creek without a paddle here and they'd better do something amazing to get back in the game. Unfortunately for them Sony seems to be channeling Sun Tsu right now and isn't giving them any quarter. This is a Console War in the old school style.
 
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Darkmatter21

Active Member
Looks like some good games coming for the XB1.

Shame about the price point, that is the big failure. I was hoping for the £300-£350 mark, £429 is the mistake sony made with the PS3.
 

xafier

Active Member
Would really love to play a new Killer Instinct game, loved that on the SNES! Hopefully between now and release date they change their mind and release for PS4 / PC too as I won't be buying an XBox One.

I think with the hardware in the new Xbox and PS4 we will see a lot more games coming to the PC and being much better ports, which can only be a good thing for PC gamers :)
 

WDW MrWomble

Well-known Member
Sorry, has to be done - Drivatar in response to "Drivalator" lol

Other than that, i don't see the issue, price is reasonable, £399 would have been better and the kinect argument is mute really, as a parent buying a box i'd much rather know that what is in the box is the complete bundle, not find out in 6 months time that an add on bit of hardware is required to do something/play a certain game thats gonna cost £50-£100

Each system has their benefits, but the killer for me.?? I buy one copy of the game and can play it on 2 Xbox One consoles - instant money saver - and game changer
 

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