[Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander reflects from Los Angeles on the major takeaways of Microsoft's E3 briefing -- why the company's real killer reveal will see the least buzz, and what announcements like Project Natal and MGS Rising could mean for the industry.]
When it comes to presentations, Microsoft hasn't exactly got a reputation for austerity, so it was fitting that the company's press event (also covered in liveblog form
by Gamasutra for the raw announcements) should be the one to kick off the "new" E3.
The enormous packed amphitheater awash in drifting green light patterns, flecked with gold strobe and decked out with enormous display screens, throbbing power-pop and strange honeycombed stage architecture was exactly what you'd expect from a company that feels like it's number one at the event of the year.
E3 press conferences are usually well-choreographed, hype-heavy events; one can expect a few nice-looking trailers, a few surprises, and perhaps one or two real kickers -- like last year, when the company announced it had finally broken Square Enix's Final Fantasy
PlayStation exclusivity for the thirteenth installment, at least in the U.S.
This year, it's been easy to dismiss Microsoft's promises that it would "completely transform how people think about home entertainment" as more of the company's usual aggressive bravado. But the company's E3 media briefing wasn't just talk.
Microsoft brought it
Early on in the conference, the company brought the Beatles on stage -- Paul and Ringo, the Beatles
-- to thunderous cheers, joined by Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, to lend their support for Rock Band: Beatles
, whose cheerful opening cinematic saw its first debut at the event.
"Who'd ever thought we'd end up as androids?" McCartney joked. "We look great," said Starr.
That moment of genuine joy was further warmed by the announcement that proceeds from Xbox 360-exclusive downloadable track 'All You Need Is Love' will all go to Doctors Without Borders.
The Stuff You Expected
Other than that, a cameo from skating legend Tony Hawk, the exclusivity of a surprisingly creative-looking Splinter Cell: Conviction
, the impressive vividity of Modern Warfare 2
, the revelation of a new Halo
were all the sort of things you might expect.
Microsoft's vaunted entry into the racing space with Forza Motorsport 3
-- complete with shiny red Audi on stage, fog machine, and promises of "the definitive racing game for our generation," and "the best looking racing game on any console" of course -- was flashy, but a logical move.
Incidentally, that the company that owns the Windows OS made it through an entire two-hour presentation without once mentioning the PC platform is strange, but not too surprising, either.
The Obvious Coup
"But we're not done yet," Xbox senior VP Don Mattrick said. "It seems we're missing one crucial piece of the puzzle."
Enter Hideo Kojima.
Last year, the announcement of FFXIII
for Xbox 360 in the U.S. was Microsoft's best card. This year's defection of a formerly PlayStation-associated franchise was not the biggest announcement -- in fact, it was something like one more stone in an avalanche of eyebrow-raisers for Microsoft this year.
The news that the forthcoming Metal Gear Solid Rising will come to Xbox 360
represents Microsoft robbing its rival of one of its few remaining third-party exclusive franchises, and certainly its most desirable one. The company didn't need Metal Gear
to give a dominating presentation -- but it had it anyway.
The Quiet Triumph
Microsoft's real killer reveal will likely receive the least amount of press and buzz from the hardcore gaming community -- Xbox Live's integration with Facebook and Twitter.
Xbox Live users will be able to invite their friends on the service to become their Facebook friends, and vice versa. In the near future, starting with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
, gamers will be able to post screenshots of favorite gaming moments to to their Facebook pages for all their friends to see.
This means Xbox Live as a community will be exposed in a huge way to Facebook's massive 200 million userbase -- not only will the Xbox Live network effectively join the webbing of an existing mainstream social network, but it's likely that Facebook users will be pulled in
. The company gains free marketing at the same time it provides a much-needed service to its users. Brilliant.
And if that's not enough, the company's also partnering with super-sticky, explosive web app Twitter -- by integrating Xbox Live seamlessly with both of these powerful mainstream social networking platforms, Microsoft is proving that the Xbox 360 can be one, too.
And, Of Course, Natal
Strange that they should pronounce their gesture-based control project Na-TAL, because the company's clearly birthing something major
Although at the event Stephen Spielberg called video game controllers "a barrier separating video game players from everyone else," it's likely there's a significant portion of the gaming audience that isn't ready to put down their controllers yet -- or ever.
Project Natal, then, is significant more for what it means to "everyone else." Though it's hard not to share Peter Molyneux's palpable excitement for the lifelike interaction the technology can enable, the concept of a television display that recognizes and greets you when you walk by, that allows users to control downloadable film menus by waving a finger in the air, are even more significant for the impact they could have on modern entertainment.
Between the social networking integration and the revelation of what could feasibly become a home entertainment mainstay, Microsoft's E3 presentation was so strong not so much because of its video games
-- although there were no weak reveals there, to say the least -- but because it's obviously planned ahead to position itself as an integrated entertainment hub in all the ways its competition has only attempted to.
For once, the company lived up to its own hype. And as a legion of dazed media and industry folk filed slowly and quietly out of the amphitheater, one question could be heard on everyone's lips, murmured into cell phones and in curbside chatter in the lines to the shuttles.
It sounded hushed, funereal, sympathetic:
"What can Sony do now?"