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Analysis: Microsoft's E3 So Far - Fair Or Foul?

Analysis: Microsoft's E3 So Far - Fair Or Foul? Exclusive

July 15, 2008 | By Chris Remo

July 15, 2008 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[Gamasutra's Chris Remo was at the Microsoft E3 press conference, and after its conclusion he kicks back to recap and ask - what did its notable announcements and array of on-stage demonstrations do for the Xbox 360 for the rest of 2008?]

Microsoft's press conference kicked off this year's E3 Media & Business Summit (the second annual event since that more subdued rechristening), and while it had plenty of announcements to let loose, few of them regarded newly-revealed games.

Pushing Online Features

Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business senior vice president Don Mattrick emphasized this point, opening by stating, "Big franchises are the mainstay of this industry, and the biggest sellers are on Xbox 360."

He listed four upcoming titles - Fallout 3, Fable 2, Gears of War 2, and Resident Evil 5 (all sequels, two of which are multiplatform) as being worth "over half a billion dollars in projected sales" combined.

Each game was demonstrated by its creative lead - Todd Howard of Bethesda Game Studios, Peter Molyneux of Lionhead, Cliff "Don't Call Me CliffyB" Bleszinski of Epic Games, and Jun Takeuchi of Capcom respectively. The highlight feature announcements for each? Xbox Live content or functionality.

Said Howard, "I want to say how much we love Xbox Live Marketplace. I'm happy to announce we're going to be doing substantial downloadable content for Fallout 3, and it will be exclusive for Xbox 360 and Games for Windows." Both Fable 2 and Resident Evil 5 will feature previously-unannounced online co-op modes, and Gears 2 will include a separate five-player co-op gametype.

Stealing The Social Thunder

In an attempt to drive home its own efforts in the social and casual arenas - undeniably the central battleground of this console generation - and attract attention away from Nintendo and Sony initiatives in those areas, Microsoft is drawing from both competitors.

Its new Xbox 360 interface, which launches this fall, is considerably cleaner than the existing glowing-spaceship look of the current dashboard, with a linear horizontal menu reminiscent of Sony's cross media bar.

"Today, for the first time, a consumer elecronics device will be completely reinvented through software. Everyone, welcome to the new Xbox experience," said Microsoft corporate VP John Schappert, to slightly delayed applause.

Meanwhile, the system is populated by Rare-developed Mii-like avatars - Microsoft is clearly attempting to leapfrog Nintendo's Miis, and compete with Sony's Home, when it comes to integrating those avatars into online social activity. Expect to see them show up in casual titles going forward.

In fact, casual titles made up the bulk of actual new game announcements - and Microsoft's Genevieve Waldman disco danced enthusiastically to Zoe Mode's EyeToy-like Live camera-based minigame-fest You're In the Movies.

Other titles like iNis' heavily-rumored, heavily-leaked karaoke offering Lips (pictured) and Krome's sequel to Scene-It?, drove home Microsoft's desire to control a space in which it has traditionally been the weakest of the three console manufacturer.

It remains to be seen if the system will overcome that image, but whatever the outcome, it won't be for lack of trying.

The Sound Of Music

As is often the case during first-party presentations, third parties attempted to outdo one another in their respective market segments, without being too visibly competitive. This was most obviously exemplefied by Harmonix's Alex Rigopulos, pushing Rock Band 2, and RedOctane's Kai Huang, pushing Guitar Hero: World Tour.

Both developers trumpeted the dawning of their respective titles as true music platforms, with unimaginable numbers of master tracks available. Applause was generally subdued ("I'm really excited to be here today to talk about Guitar Hero!" yelled Huang to Ridge Racer-like response), likely because most of the information was already known.

Rigopulos coaxed out the crowd's most enthusiastic reation when gave the still-already-known-but-exciting-nonetheless news that all existing Rock Band DLC, as well as most on-disc content, would be forward compatible with 2.

In the end, the Lips presentation stole the music game show when recording artist Duffy (I hadn't heard of her, but apparently others had!) took the stage to sing along to one of her own tracks.

"I don't think I've ever had such an amazing time singing that song," she said rotely, with more than a faint hint of teleprompter. "Thank you for the amazing pleasure."

...But Just One More Thing

To cap off a conference that was, until then, more about attempting to demonstrate a superior experience than to blow the doors down with megaton announcements, Square Enix's Yoichi Wada came to the stage to show a few new trailers and announce that The Last Remnant would debut on Xbox 360 and see a PC release.

The announcements were well-received, but not rapturously so, and Mattrick thanked Wada before announcing the conference ended.

But in a bit of Steve Jobs-esque showmanship, Wada returned to the stage. "Don. I do have one last important announcement to share. Please take a look at this movie," he said, and rolled a new trailer of Final Fantasy XIII.

"At long last, the day we have all been waiting for has arrived," Wada said. It gives me great pleasure to be able to unveil this to you today. An Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII is planned for release." Then gaming forums worldwide exploded.

Overall? Seemingly satisfied it has already demonstrated a broad, inclusive library for its Xbox 360, Microsoft mainly focused on value added propositions such as online offerings, video services, and exclusive downloadable content for high-profile titles. It was a well-orchestrated and impressive, if not earth-shaking result.

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