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E3 2010: Microsoft's Press Conference on Game and Player

E3 2010: Microsoft's Press Conference

The Editors  //  June 14, 2010

Kinect, the Xbox 360 Slim, and more.


ne year after millenarian promises of a gaming interface as natural as human movement with Project Natal, Microsoft and its close corporate associates took the stage in Los Angeles today introducing a host of sequels to massive franchises; the fruit of Project Natal in the form of Kinect; and a smaller, more compact Xbox 360 console available to consumers — incredibly — this week. Michael Ubaldi, James Day and Adam Bogert offer their reactions.

Michael Ubaldi

Anyone expecting the singularity to appear in the seraphic guise of Natal might be disappointed, but Microsoft's press conference proves the company more comfortable developing operating systems remains dogged in the console war.

After an inscrutable lead-off presentation of Call of Duty: Black Ops from Activision developer Treyarch, flagship series Gears of War, Metal Gear and Halo processed with each developer's objectives holding solid content over novelty as a priority. Perhaps we've seen one too many Covenant aliens leap out in fury only to be riddled with a Spartan's bullets, but sales figures speak of a kind of tradition in the millions of dollars.

Microsoft's press conference proves the company more comfortable developing operating systems remains dogged in the console war. Alex Kipman fulfilled stereotypes of corporate evangelism with a pre-show claim that motion-control system Kinect would change gaming as humanity knows it, and all that; but Microsoft's actual delivery of the product was down-to-earth, underscored by Marc Whitten's statement that the company is "making Xbox Live controller-free." Showing off useful voice-recognition features seen before only on Star Trek: The Next Generation duly substantiated.

Demonstration after demonstration, however, revealed Kinect's intended audience: would-be gamers, probably mothers and fathers, firmly in the age-35-and-up bracket. Some of us might be old enough to remember hearing the opening number of Kinect title Dance Central, Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison," on the radio — and we've all passed the three-decade mark. Launch titles range from the adorable (though juvenile) Kinectimals to the jocund (if derivative) Kinect Joy Ride and Kinect Sports. Still, if casual gaming can be made a commodity, consumers won't care whether their fun for a party or family gathering bears the name Nintendo or Microsoft.

Which raises the question of price: before today, the Wii was more affordable than the Xbox 360. The introduction of an Xbox 360 "slim," introduced Matryoshka doll-style, should place considerable price pressure on the older console model. Microsoft's talking, dancing, and aerobic heads made certain to mention that Kinect works with any Xbox 360. If Soccer Mom and Joe Sixpack browse the electronic entertainment aisle and start listing pros and cons between the Wii and 360, Microsoft — whose position in the seventh generation has been distinguished by strong revenue from multiplayer titles tailor made for traditional, youthful, loyal, controller-clutching gamers — may indeed stake the next few years on a device meant for those who aren't its current customers. Here's to new markets.

James Day

2010's Microsoft press conference never really looked destined to best the rollercoaster ride that was last year's.

Besides the reveal of the Xbox 360 redesign shipping to stores this week (though no specific regions for this were stated) we didn't really receive any earth-shattering announcements.

Nearly everything on show was in some way a known quantity. Most of the software for the newly renamed Kinect such as Kinect Sports and Kinectimals had been revealed the night before at the Cirque de Soleil event. Big-name titles for the hardcore crowd were present and correct but in the forms that everyone predicted — a four-player co-op demo of Gears of War 3, a game play video of Metal Gear Solid: Rising and a cinematic trailer for Fable III.

I was holding out for a big reveal of a game that would justify Kinect for Microsoft's built-in hardcore user base. It didn't come.Halo: Reach proved somewhat to be the exception. Bungie took viewers through an impressive-looking if somewhat typically-Halo segment of the campaign, gunning down aliens as a Spartan super-soldier. But it was capped off with the player's character launching from the planet's surface and briefly partaking in what seemed to be a playable space dogfight. It was so brief in fact that I'll admit to missing it upon first viewing, though hopefully we'll learn about this over the course of the show.

Somewhat naively, I was holding out for a big reveal of a game that would justify Kinect for Microsoft's built-in hardcore user base. It didn't come. The closest thing there was was the already-announced unnamed Star Wars Jedi game, though this was only shown in an early-looking game play video and not demoed onstage.

Fitness and sports games and Minority Report-inspired menu control were never going to interest me in Kinect. And with most of the 360's triple-A exclusives landing in the fourth quarter, it makes me wonder just how games are going to be released in 2011 and beyond that hold my attention.

Adam Bogert

If the Twitter-verse is any indication, people aren't totally impressed by Microsoft's showings at this morning's conference. Aside from the killer apps we already knew were coming, today was primarily about "casual" avatar-fueled games that look like they belong on a Wii — albeit a much prettier, more responsive Wii, but a Wii nonetheless. Indeed, with the most impressive game being the upcoming Metal Gear Solid, and the only real surprise being the new partnership between Microsoft and ESPN, Microsoft's goal today was clear: broadening the target audience.

We've seen this before, first with the Xbox Live Arcade and then with the introduction of the avatars. The hardcore among us have lambasted the Nintendo-eque moves and then quietly embraced them, some spilling actual cash into virtual outfits for the okay-maybe-they're-not-so-bad-after-all Mii-ripoffs. So I'm going to step away from the crowd on this one and say I'm actually excited about the Kinect.

Microsoft has out-Nintendoed Nintendo. For hardcore gamers like myself, the real thrill of Kinect is its latent potential.First, and perhaps most importantly, Kinect is real. After Molyneux's impressive Milo demo last year, there was still a lot of speculation (this is Molyneux after all) regarding whether the voice and spatial recognition would actually deliver on Microsoft's promises. Menu navigation is clean and simplistic. The camera will pan to follow you during video chat. If your friend wants to jump in, she can — literally; the game will adjust to split-screen mode accordingly.

Of course, E3 is supposed to be about the games, and to that extent the Wii comparisons are inevitable. Most of the games look like shiny, re-shelled versions of what we've seen — but so much smoother. More importantly, games like Ubisoft's YourShape Fitness Evolved will ensure use of the full body in ways the Wii never has (or could?). Not since Dance Dance Revolution has technology been more likely to shed gamer pounds.

The excessively cute Kinectimals and admittedly fun-looking, river-riding Kinect Adventures leave no question in my mind that Microsoft will succeed in reaching that broader audience; Microsoft has out-Nintendoed Nintendo. But for hardcore gamers like myself, the real thrill of Kinect is its latent potential. We caught a glimpse of it with the Star Wars and Forza demonstrations, but I can already picture myself ducking behind the sofa and blind-firing à la Gears and slicing watermelon with precision like Raiden. November can't come fast enough.

Heart1lly // June 14, 2010 // 5:03 PM

I saw a lot of people who were quite unhappy about Kinect tweeting their displeasure. Basically, I think that if you aren't excited about Kinect you probably aren't their target audience. I'm their target audience. I'm a 25 year old female, and I don't play games quite as much as I used to. I write for a gaming site, but I admit that I probably play video games less than 10 hours a week, which is quite the drop from 25+.
I'm probably going to run out and buy one. Despite my age, I'm most likely going to pick up Kinectimals too. I'm not really ashamed of this. I'm not a hardcore gamer anymore, and neither are my parents - but my mother has expressed interest in the Kinect. She thinks it sounds fun, which is basically the whole point, right?
A lot of people were unhappy about the lack of hardcore games for the 360, but I wasn't too thrilled watching Halo: Reach and Gears of War 3.

Adam Bogert // June 14, 2010 // 5:08 PM

I don't think I could get Kinectimals and keep my masculinity intact, but that demo (and kid) were adorable.

I thought the nice thing about the Reach demonstration was the graphic upgrade (not that the beta hadn't already demonstrated that), and as we were discussing over Skype the potential for UNSC/Covenant dogfighting is exciting if that was in fact part of gameplay.

The fact that I actually enjoyed the Gears trailer says something, since after the first two games I'm not very impressed by the series and frankly didn't think they would do anything to grab my attention. The mutations--and the sheer speed/agility of the new lambent--have me wondering how different gameplay will seem.

Michael Ubaldi // June 14, 2010 // 8:18 PM

I agree with you, Dana: I can't see myself buying Kinect but given Nintendo's continued success with the Wii — a console whose casual games I have no desire to play — Microsoft is clearly onto something.

I maintain that the key is the price point, since the casual market may not find value in all the features of Xbox Live.

Adam Bogert // June 14, 2010 // 11:24 PM

I agree completely about the price point. There's nothing casual about $150 (Gamestop's current predicted price), and that price point may put off would-be first-timers. That leaves it up to the hardcore gamers--who have very little to look forward to at launch--to shell out the dough so that their grandparents and siblings can encroach on their gaming time.

It's actually a bit ironic, if you think about it.

Heart1lly // June 16, 2010 // 2:19 PM

Yeah, see my parents are casual gamers. They play the Wii, they like it. But I don't think for $150 they're ready to embrace anything else. They would just see it as a waste of money. My sister on the other hand might be the one to bring it home, but even then I doubt it. They play Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and that's pretty much where her gaming time ends.

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