Microsoft at E3! Revamped games, Xbox Music and SmartGlass announced
For the past 5 years, Microsoft has been the star at E3 gaming event. Hence, it was only natural to think that they wouldn’t disappoint this year either. Oh, we were mistaken. The lack of a big surprise and a relative dearth of brand new titles stopped this from being a great conference. Even Usher couldn’t bring the crowd off their seats.
The event started out with a loud and action-filled (obviously) trailer of Halo 4, which was followed by Don A. Mattrick, President of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft taking over the stage and announcing “We’re on a mission to make entertainment even more amazing”. How we wish.
Cut to footage of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Ubisoft Toronto’s first announced title, developed under the stewardship of Jade Raymond. Seems Splinter Cell has morphed into a cross between Ghost Recon and Black Ops. However, an interesting feature was the use of the Kinect Mic to attract the attention of your enemies.
Andrew Wilson, Head of EA SPORTS at Electronic Arts, took to the stage and announced that Kinect support will be coming to Madden 13 and FIFA 13. A Video showed players making subsititutions and adjustments to team formation by shouting at Kinect, just like a real manager probably. Though I’m not sure my neighbor wants to hear me yelling “get Mario off the pitch he’s a liability!”
Microsoft then turned their attention to their first party franchises. Fable The Journey had a brief trailer. Seems like last year’s lukewarm reception to the game made an impact, it looks much better. However, that was only in terms of visuals, with no gameplay showed, so quite how the game has developed in the past 12 months remains a mystery. In a quickfire volley of trailers, Gears of War Judgment got its first airing, apparently casting Baird in the lead role which came as a shock as nobody quite liked Baird. Again, no gameplay but it will be interesting to see how new developer People Can Fly (Bulletstorm) bring their unique attitude to shooters, and how they can make Baird less of a jerk. Forza Horizon and a whopping dollop of dubstep rounded out the trailer, taking the detailed visuals and handling of Forza and transplanting it into open road racing and motor festivals. Resident Evil 6 and Tomb Raider too made blink and you miss appearances.
What turned out to be the most interesting announcement of the event was the announcement of Xbox Music and SmartGlass. Microsoft revealed the details of the two concepts at their pre-E3 press conference. Xbox Music will go up against popular music streaming services like Spotify, Apple’s iTunes etc. to bring music to your Xbox console as well as Windows tablets and smartphones. There was no indication of the release date, but Microsoft insisted that while Xbox Music will replace their not-so-successful Zune, it will be more than a simple revamp of that application. The teaser video showed users being able to queue up music and share what they are listening to with friends, much in the same way Spotify does. However, Microsoft said that the unique features for the service will be detailed in the coming weeks.
Xbox SmartGlass allows users to interact with their Xbox console and television screen using their tablet computers –including Apple’s iPad– and smartphones. The concepts on display included being able to watch a movie on your tablet computer and then transfer it directly to your Xbox and television to pick up where you left off. Interestingly, while you are watching a television show or playing a game on your television with Xbox SmartGlass enabled on your tablet device, the two screens will interact with each other in different ways. For games, there was a concept demo of a player of American football game Madden 13 choosing plays on their tablet while playing the main game on the television, and a concept for FPS Halo where the player could examine weaponry and interact with friends over the Xbox Live service on their tablet. This seems similar to Nintendo’s Wii U console, which comes with a tablet style controller. Microsoft also revealed that Internet Explorer would be making it’s way into Xbox and would be compatible with Kinect and SmartGlass.
The show was rounded off by a Call of Duty Black Ops II trailer which nearly brought the whole center down by sheer volume. It showcased some interesting gadgets, with the player controlling a small drone to wipe out enemies and a sniper rifle that can see through walls. It was classic Call of Duty gameplay, though the near future twist and vehicles add flavour to this most ubiquitous of series.