While I whooped and cried with glee over the amazing stuff being shown at the Moscone Center by Apple, down the coast in Los Angeles another mega event was unfolding. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the world’s largest gaming trade show. Anyone who’s anyone in the gaming industry comes to this show and advertises their new wares. Leading the way are always the console makers, who have their own press conferences to usher in the trade show. This morning Microsoft started first and gave us a good showing of new games for Kinect and traditional controls alike. Here’s the break down.
Starting off the conference was the full unveiling of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. A lot of questions remained about the fate of this series after developer Infinity Ward experienced a mass-exodus of its founders and key developers. Still, parent company Activision has trudged on and asked subsidiary development house Sledgehammer Games to assist the remnant of IW with their latest game in the Modern Warfare trilogy. Over all, the game looks great. It plays with the same visceral pace and quality of previous installments while kicking the action up several notches. Battles take place in New York City and pack tons of action and explosions. This is the game Michael Bay would direct and that’s not a problem. I’ll buy it.
Still, most of the day was devoted to Microsoft’s advanced motion tracking camera, the Kinect. This is the third year in a row Microsoft has tried to win consumers over. Is it winning? Ehhh, maybe. The Kinect has sold a ridiculous amount, but the question remains how many consumers really like the thing. Microsoft showed off the obligatory child games like a Disneyland IP and a Sesame Street-based game. They look… cute. However, there are more gritty Kinect games coming down the pipeline. Crytek, the uber-developer responsible for Crysis, Far Cry, and the infamously powerful CryEngine, showed off Ryse. It seems to be a pretty standard sword game using Kinect to let you manipulate attacks. It looks gorgeous but also uninspired. Kinda like a home console version of the iOS game Infinity Blade. Peter Molyneux and Loin Head Studios showed off a Kinect version of Fable. It seems like little else than an on-rails hack-and-slash as well but Molyneux has long been obsessed with Kinect so at least he’s giving us product. A couple more pretty unremarkable Kinect games soon gave way to something actually interesting: Mass Effect 3 will support Kinect. Motion tracking is not being used, but the game will take advantage of Kinect’s microphone. Now you can verbally command your squad and select conversations options with your voice. It’s a subtle integration that have been done with a headset, but Mass Effect 3 still looks awesome.
A couple of things have made me very interested in Kinect though, despite these ho-hum games. Firstly is Minecraft. This indie game has made major ways in the past year for its incredibly simple and expansive game play. You basically build an entire world from blocks and these blocks have certain attributes. The things created this game range from 1:1 scales of the starship Enterprise to a virtual CPU built from electrically sensitive block material. Minecraft is coming to the 360, in HD, and with Kinect support. That is awesome and I would be very interested in Kinect for that reason alone. Other appealing enhancements include a refreshed UI for this fall, known as Next Xbox Experience (NXE) 2.0. The new UI pulls more from the Metro design language and emphasizes navigation with Kinect. Buying an expensive peripheral for UI navigation may seem stupid, but it also has deep voice search integration with Bing and that’s pretty cool. This voice search is great for videos since now voice search will pull videos from Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube. If you’re in certain markets, the 360 can be a TV tuner with a subscription to certain IPTV providers. It’s not in the US yet, but chances are that AT&T will come onboard.
Wrapping up the day brought non-Kinect games. First was the reboot of Tomb Raider – a beloved series from the 90s that fell on hard times. The game looked great, sporting a younger, more gritty and chiefly more realistic looking Lara Croft. Time will tell if it really plays well. Microsoft’s failed surprise (their website leaked the game minutes before the conference) game was Halo 4. Yes, Master Chief is back for a second trilogy. Bungie is not involved in this outing however, instead handing the reigns to 343 Industries – Microsoft’s internal Halo studio. Only a teaser trailer was announced but it seems that this trilogy will deal with the mysteries of the Forerunners that built the halo rings. An interesting idea no doubt and even though they’re beating this franchise to death…. I’ll buy it. Oh, and there’s an HD remake of the original Halo using the engine from Reach.
And yet for some reason, Microsoft was completely silent about their new cloud storage system. Announced as an after thought in a press release, the new service will allow gamers to sync their game saves to the cloud and log into their account from any 360. That’s a great feature and it makes little sense that they didn’t bring it up in the event. Overall the Microsoft conference was not bad but it still seems like Microsoft doesn’t know what they want from Kinect. I’m personally pretty tired of them trying to justify the peripheral after 3 years, but I guess you do what you can to pay the bills.