We are ushered into a darkened room to the tune of upbeat benign hipster music. The Live names of the attendees are scrolling by the screen, which they made us hand in when we registered for the conference. It's clear from the outset that Kinect integration is the main emphasis for Microsoft, as there's an excess of non-exclusive titles, possibly to detract from their lack of large-name exclusives this year.
The briefing kicked off with a Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 demo, at first showcasing extensive under-water sequences. These were angled more towards the theatrical, and were more akin to the Black Ops in-game cinematics. There's more focus here however, as they appear shorter and more integrated into the action providing a less jarring outlook than its predecessors.
The vistas of a destroyed city and boats under combat were impressive. A little "please reconnect controller" gag broke up the action. Towards the end of the conference, it was noted that the Call of Duty DLC will arrive first on the 360.
Robert Bowling of Infinity Ward and Glen Schofield of Sledgehammer Games then announced a November 8th release date.
At this point we become aware of the all-obtrusive and all-knowing giant tele-prompters, which makes it easier for us to take notes, especially as no one ventures off script, except for Ice-T, who we will get to later.
The second big game showcased was the Tomb Raider prequel and reboot. Crystal Dynamics Daniel Neuberger and Darrell Gallagher introduce some in-game footage, which looked like the first level. The stark voyeurism of the original series has now evolved into the torture-porn exhibited in contemporary horror films. A corpse strung up by candles, with Lara panting and moaning her bloody self through a hole, pursued by her cultish potential rapist murderer captors.
The game itself looks great, with some sequences reminiscent of Batman's detective mode, but there is a creepiness in the torture of the younger and more naive 21-year old Lara Croft that was more than a little uncomfortable. There was audible laughter at her excessive pained/erotic moans throughout the demo.
Mass Effect 3, which will be featured further at the show, displayed the best Kinect integration. The voice prompting for dialogue options wasn't exactly earth-shattering, but the control of your squad through voice looked fantastic.
Gears of War 3 was show-cased in co-op by Cliffy B with his side-kick, Ice-T. It looked like a Gears of War game. Ice-T's metal fusion group will be doing a song for the new Horde Mode, which is perhaps earth shattering news to those of us who grew up in the '90s listening to horrendous music, but perhaps not an announcement worthy of the E3 introductory media briefing.
The new Ghost Recon Future Soldier was demoed by Ubisoft with extensive, if not extraneous Kinect interaction. The new GunSmith, where you can customize every aspect of every gun, down to the interior parts, will appeal to a number of people, although the accordion motion to open the gun up and the voice prompts isn't particularly necessary.
It appears full Kinect controls are available, which was hilarious and goofy to watch. Being able to pull down to go into sniper sight, re-load with gestures and shoot, provided an amusing highlight.
FORZA Motorsport 4 was briefly touched upon, but will be further explored throughout this week at E3. The in-game footage was chopped together to not show extended game sequences, mostly close-ups of gorgeous looking cars. It employs head-tracking with the Kinect and has an October 2011 release date.
A Kinect controlled Fable was one of the bigger let-downs of the briefing. Waving your arms to crack the reigns on horse and carriage. The magic gestures appeared more interesting, but at best look like a diversion from unimpressive game footage.
Similarly unimpressive was Kinect Star Wars, which garnered hoots and hollers galore from the packed media crowd. Enthusiasm was short-lived due to the pedestrian combat towards stationary droids. The controls appeared reminiscent of early Wii games. We'll be holding off final judgement until it is played, although it appears inferior to Force Unleashed.
Minecraft was also announced for the Kinect, as well as being exclusively on the X-Box. No functionality was shown.
Microsoft announced a partnership with Disney, starting with Disneyland Adventures for the Kinect, which is a fake map of Disneyland with mini-games aimed at children.
Similarly aimed at the younger audience was Double Fine's Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster. This simple Kinect game has a pleasant visual look and carries a lot of Double Fine's charm. As previously stated, it really is for kids. This is no Brutal Legend take on Sesame Street.
EA Sports touted Kinect integration in their flagship titles like Tiger Woods, Madden and FIFA. They will also be announcing another title later. In Madden it was stated you can call plays from the side-line.
Especially promising is Dr. Kudo Tsunoda's announcement of Kinect Funlabs, which launches today on X-Box Live. This is a simple version of the already flourishing unsanctioned Kinect hacking community. There are a number of new technologies valuable, such as the new Kinect Me people-scanner in which the Kinect instantly makes a look-alike avatar for you on your 360. Googly Eyes is a similar application, which allows you to scan and take control of objects. Less interesting, but promising long-term was Kinect Sparkler, which is a finger-tracker and demos technology to draw around images that have been captured with the Kinect camera, specifically images of yourself.
Kinect Sports Season 2 appears to be more of the same Wii sports riffs, with more voice interaction.
Harmonix announced Dance Central 2, which was revealed to have the capability to import original Dance Central songs, so it launches with 100 tunes. The game displays some of the most ridiculous outfits I have ever seen.
Two of the biggest announcements were Halo 4 being the beginning of a new trilogy, with a cinematic scene that didn't exactly explain a whole lot about the game. Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary, the rumoured re-make of the original Halo, will also be released on November 15th this year. Clearly it doesn't employ the new Halo engine because it looked graphically unimpressive, more like an up-scale or HD version of the original game.
Crytek's Ryse, which appeared to be based off of the television show Rome, looked promising. The Kinect controls of sword fighting, using a shield, headbutting, kicking and throwing weapons appeared to be more fully integrated than many of the other Kinect games displayed during this briefing.
Onto the non-game media side, which was seriously emphasized. The addition of YouTube and Live Television, as well as integrated "Bing" search is a hefty overhaul of the 360 dashboard. Bing search now searches all available avenues, a search for X-men will yield the games, the shows on Netflix, Hulu, Marketplace, potentially YouTube videos also.
This is also all voice controlled with the Kinect, which was live demoed, followed by a cheesy Nintendo style Wii commercial where people in beautiful boring IKEA houses use the X-Box for everything but video games.
Live TV is a big leap forward in the overall X-Box strategy, which was always to get not just a gaming, but Microsoft media box into every household. They have lined up a number of partners such as ESPN, Sky TV in the UK (not New Zealand, as far as we know), Canal+ in France and Foxtel in Australia. On the Dashboard, the ABC logo was displayed prominently, which could be viewed as a teaser on that front.
UFC President Dana White made note that UFC will be available and interactive on the new X-Box, but the specifics were left out as to when the fights would be available and at what price-point, as well as what regions this will be available in. However, it showed that you can call a fight before its done, with other brief fleeting moments of elements of interactivity.
The suit introducing these sequences repeated ad-nauseum that you are the controller and if you say it, X-box finds it. Over and over again. The briefing was not revolutionary, but simply evolutionary. No one was blown away by the announcements, of which many were already known, and the rest predictable.