Welcome to TSSZ’s E3 conference summaries, where we watch Nike gloat about itself, so you don’t have to. First up is the Microsoft Conference.
It started with some “Hello” game, staring an accomplished Chef who hears a woman’s voice in his head, as he searches the jungle for ingredients to his soufflé. He finds a mysterious… what I can only assume is an egg beater, that he describes as being “foreigner,” perhaps it was made in China or Ireland. Suddenly, food critics everywhere, they’re overrun, and it cuts to several quick shots of scenes from his cooking show, including one where his blue Sous-Chef reveals that her expiration date was over a year ago. She’s going to spoil. My god, the culinary tension
Don Mattrick worms out on stage to brag about their latest controlled metric, Mattrick’s metric being that the Xbox has moved from “the #1 selling console in North America” to “the #1 selling console worldwide.” He shuffles off the stage quickly so we can see Sam Fisher murder a thousand people. That’s how stealth works, right? He can tag enemies with red arrows to then kill large groups quickly and cinematically. Kinect is used to trigger his distraction shouts in the most meaningless way possible. Sam finds his target, and in a twist, shoots the person he was supposed to extract, because he’s all dark and conflicted and will do anything to stop people from being murdered en masse. …Hey, wait a second…
Next, SPOARTS. Wouldn’t be an Xbox Conference without SPOURTS, and we get plenty of if this time. Football, both the soccer and hand egg kind, are “better with Kinect,” as you can call plays with voice commands. You can also be fouled for bad language, supposedly. Let that sink in as we see more Kinect love, with a Fable: The Journey trailer, starring lengthy shots of a guy who looks less like he’s trying to be a mage casting spells, and more like he’s trying to channel Slacker Goku. The trailer betrays some very simplistic graphics as well, the Kinect tracking clearly eating deeply into their available resources.
Gears of War Judgment was next to show. A prequel set a decade and a half before the original trilogy, with a younger Baird in chains, and human settlements first being overrun by COGs. Then a new action racer by the name of Forza Horizon, which looked to feature long-distance races across open highways, dramatic crashes, and dubstep. Wub wub.
A marketing director stepped out to hype Xbox Bing coming to 12 additional countries, and now being able to search for genres, results showing all the sources you subscribe to, I.E. a movie being available on VUDU, Netflix, Zune and so forth. New sources are being added, 35 this morning, a few named at the conference including Nickelodeon, Paramount, Machinima, and Univision. And also, more SPUORTS as NBA Game Time and League Pass, and NHL Game Center are set to hit the console, and expanded 24/7 live ESPN programming. SPOOOOOORTS!
Then Xbox Music was revealed, because the world needed another music service.
Following that was an over-dramatic countdown teaser for… a Nike rep to walk out on stage, where he began to talk about Nike as the most glorious and beautiful thing the world has ever seen, and judging by his hair, quite possibly founded by aliens. I’m not saying that, of course. All the build-up was to basically reveal Your Shape: Fitness Ev- oops, I mean Nike+ Kinect Training. It basically was Your Shape, except the body tracking looked slow and choppier than even the original Your Shape from Kinect’s launch. One feature that was hyped was that the game can nag you to not skip a workout via your phone. Yes, they called that a feature.
Now, the closest thing to a hardware announcement they had this year, Xbox SmartGlass. Actually, if you were paying attention during the previous SPOOOUURRRAAATS trailer, and even the Xbox Music trailer, those videos already included quick shots of it in use. The selling point is that it can push interactive content to any major tablet or phone, be it Windows, Android or iOS. I’m sure if you talked to a Microsoft engineer, they would probably say, and rightly so, that this has been in development for years, independent of their competitors. But the decision to go ahead with it? Yeah, we’re going to call it a Wii U “F*** U”. One thing to keep in mind is that the Wii U is using a video chip designed to handle outputting multiple displays. The 360 is already old hardware, and as this conference has shown, anything other than the most trivial Kinect use gobbles up that precious processing power. It’s nice that they’re laying the framework, but I doubt they’re going to flesh it out until the next generation. They demonstrated it by showing a map of events that displayed during a Game of Thrones episode, although the person demoing it spoke of it as reacting faster than it clearly was on the screen. Following was a completely fake video about controlling SPOOOroOOROORRTS with the tablet, picking plays and directing players, each tap resulting in the most cheeseball science fiction sound effects they could find. They also showed a “vision” video for Halo 4, using it to link to Waypoint, with Metroid Prime-like scanning of locations, responding to match invites, and so forth. Basically, no devs are really ready to include the tech yet.
Microsoft did use it to hype their next reveal, however: Internet Explorer on Xbox 360. Calling controllers and remotes too inaccurate for browsing, SmartGlass was hyped as the superior way to browse PonyChan on your TV. I did not see a “Porn Curtains” feature, so Nintendo still has a leg up on them, for now. You’ll have to wait until next E3 for “Venetian Blinds” innovation.
It was quickly mentioned that “Xbox Entertainment” will become available on Windows 8 PCs and phones, including games and media, and then Crystal Dynamics were brought on to demonstrate Tomb Raider. When I saw the trailer last year, I was impressed with how they really tried to go for empathy, with Lara struggling through a tough and painful situation that was very new to her. Here it was just dialed up to silly. She snipes multiple enemies with a plain wooden bow and arrow, taking a gunshot that jellies up the screen, with water splashing on the camera to further muddy your view. Like pretty much every other big budget game shown today, she’s just murdering left and right, lighting conveniently-spilled oil on fire to immediately catch her enemies ablaze, but not her as she runs through it. There’s a point whether she either takes a shot to the head, or one very close by, and just flinches as she charges ahead. Then it gets flat-out stupid. She goes down a river, which becomes a waterfall, then down further rapids. Along the way she hits every single thing in the way possible. Then she gets slammed into a plane, which is of course angled over a cliff, and the glass she’s sitting on is cracking. Through a hard-to-see QTE prompt, she barely grabs a parachute in time, then struggles madly to put it on, falls through the glass, and pulls the chute. It gets tangled on the way out, so she’s madly trying to fix it in the air, and does so, then has to steer it around trees and branches she hits.
She loses one shoulder strap of the chute then the other, and smacks into every tree branch she can on the way down. Finally slamming into the ground, ludicrously still alive (but at least cut up), she staggers to her feet, weakly hobbling a little further to a vista view of a mountain… where she stops cradling her wounds and stands up straight, to triumphantly accompany the logo showing up. I’m ok with a panicked Lara struggling to survive. But this sequence crossed over into the ludicrous, and did not match her playing Rambo with jelly-screen healing not five seconds beforehand. I think you can tell that I was not impressed.
We then got a quick view of three exclusives. Ascend: New Gods by Signal, a “kill the big things” game where everything you stab results in a ridiculous flat-colored spray of red blood, LocoCycle by TwistedPixel, which told you nothing about the game other than you were looking at a fast female motorcycle robot agent thing, and Matter, a Kinect game headed up by Gore Vebinski, which is going to draw so many Portal comparisons on looks alone that I’m going to skip hassling it for now. A pity, since it was one of the most unique trailers at Microsoft’s presser.
Then Capcom dragged Resident Evil 6 onto the screen. I never played Resident Evil 5, but from what I could tell, the combat looked a lot different, a lot faster and almost automated in some respects, snapping to enemies for quick kills. Animation was pretty rough, with weak touches by Leon pushing doors all the way open, and a sudden snap gunshot after he had been holding his hand to his ear an instant beforehand. Like most AAA-budget titles, big dramatic setpieces that devolved into QTEs were in play, although there was a nice lingering shot the moment after they slammed into a large set of screens. Tacked on to the very end of the trailer was a “DLC on Xbox Live” mention. Capcom, maybe now isn’t the best time to be talking about your DLC.
Alex Ruiz was next onto stage, and apparently taking notes from Cammie Dunaway, she spoke to an audience of 30-something journalists as if they were 4 years old, hyping up Wreckateer, which after three seconds anyone could tell was “god we want Angry Birds sales.” Controlled by the Kinect, you aimed a cannonball on a slingshot to attack a goblin-infested castle; one may say your goal was to crush this castle. While shots are in the air, you can put extra control on their flight depending on their type, such as spinning them with your hands, or airplaning your arms to activate wings to steer them. It’s a goofy game for kids, so I’m not really complaining, but it was clear the game was choking a little, especially when it was time for the castles to fall.
Next were arguably the best presenters of the night, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, hyping up their South Park RPG, now titled “The Stick of Truth.” The first thing they did was mock SmartGlass, and from there talked about how Obsidian worked on replicating the South Park look, “crappy” (that’s what they called it), and the challenges they now faced, like after 15 years, having to actually figure out where things were in town, instead of cheating with cut-aways. They almost immediately rushed off the stage after that, pretty much cementing their place as best presenters of the night, because they kept it brief.
Not so brief was the Harmonix presentation. Dance Central 3 was churned out so fast, they’ve had to start including “famous classic dances” because I presume they’re running out of new content to include. Usher showed up to hype his moves in the game, and then perform on stage, accompanied in the later half with prerecorded and edited gameplay of in-game Usher dancing on the big screen.
Mr. Mattrick skittered back onto stage, with a “Wow!” that buzzed his mic, and then an awful reference to “ushering in a new age of entertainment.” The audience was thrilled with that one. Finally, it wouldn’t be an MS conference without
SPOORRR Call of Duty! Exclusive Black Ops II DLC was promised, and then the game itself received a lengthy demo. In the near future, everything is the color orange, and the bad guys armed with jelly guns have taken over the automated defenses. The player escorted the President (French or American, I was unclear) through the resulting warzone and evacuating city, running from setpiece to setpiece. There was a choice of whether to rappel down the side of a shattered highway, or provide cover as a sniper. The player chose sniping, and mad no effort to hide that he already knew exactly where every single enemy was, despite them hiding behind columns with no visual indicators where they are until scoped. An “In the interest of time…” later, the firefight is inside a mall now, where I swear I saw “Dalek Jewelry” at first glance. BEAU-TI-FI-CATE! They make it outside, to witness a building downed in front of them. A FA38 pilot that was providing support made an emergency landing, so the player jumps in the jet to escort a convoy from there. Whatever your opinions are of the gameplay, you can really see the production values in action. There’s a quick cut back to the stage, “Thanks everybody and have a great E3!” and the lights go up, signaling journalists that they have five minutes before the hounds are released.
Technically, with this conference Microsoft hit all the notes they had to hit. Big AAA-budget titles, media, their added firmware features and SmartGlass app, and… athletic activities. In fact, for the most part it’s the same conference they’ve been doing over and over for the past few years now. It works for them, so it’s hard to fault it, but it’s the same types of games, presented the same ways, sometimes even at the exact same times every year. That’s one hell of a rut for such a massive company to be in. I feel bad picking on Wreckateer, and the three exclusives (two of which were only teaser trailers), because at least they were original franchises that looked out of the ordinary, ignoring the “blatant Angry Birds clone” aspect. I know not every gun game on display was cut from the same cloth, but seeing them all back-to-back like that, it feels like everybody’s trying to make the same “gritty, realistic cover-based shooter”, even more than in past years. It was the worst with Tomb Raider, a series which has always had plenty of gun combat in the past, but something about it this time was different, and the first half of the footage focused entirely on combat. Microsoft seems incredibly happy with the niche they’ve created on 360, and that was what this E3 focused on promoting. At least they have a clear direction, but I would’ve liked to have seen more risks, more crazy Kinect stuff past basic voice commands, something to mix up the parade of cover shooters a little more.
Next up is the Sony conference. In the meantime, feel free to leave your thoughts on the Microsoft presentation in the comments below.
This post was originally written by the author for TSSZ News.