NEWS - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

E3 2005: Xbox 360 Conference Reaction

May 17, 2005 - Monday saw Microsoft’s annual Pre-E3 Press Conference. The full unveiling of Xbox 360 was on everyone’s mind. When the smoke cleared, the audience seemed to all have the same reaction. "Huh. So that’s that." What did the IGNXbox editor’s think of Microsoft’s conference showing? We polled three editors to find their thoughts. Hil’s Take Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference was the hottest ticket in town, hands down. The annual event is usually a laid back affair with attendees strolling around, knocking back a few non-alchoholic beers, even chowing on popcorn. Not this year. This was the year of Xbox 360 and as such, the Shrine Auditorium was packed. The moment people entered, they found a seat and they waited for things to get started. The frivolity was gone -- a new system is serious business. Fast-forward to the end of the conference and my typical cynicism had proven itself all-too accurate. The Xbox 360’s games looked a lot more like this generation than next generation -- certainly not enough to be 359 times bigger than Xbox 1. I realize its still early, but if Microsoft expects the common gamer to shell out another $300 (or whatever the final price point may be) there needs to be something sexier than the girl carrying the next Xbox. Gears of War, I am at your service. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you had me at hello. Kameo, you are my -- wait, Kameo?!? There’s no denying that a few of the games shown at Microsoft’s conference were indeed beautiful and impressive. However, there were quite a number that just didn’t give the sense of next generation. Even DOA 4, which is filled with sweet new moves and some new characters, just wasn’t as mind-blowing as expected. When I think next-gen, I picture something similar to a high-end PC. Absent was Perfect Dark Zero, a game Microsoft was previously hyping like it was the second coming. How could this possibly be absent from the presentation? Microsoft is shooting for a billion units sold in the Xbox 360 lifetime, which certainly seems plausible since there are six billion people on earth. That’s only one Xbox 360 per person -- hot! On a positive note, the console design is beautiful. It’s truly fantastic. A replaceable faceplate is totally unnecessary but I have to have one... or two or three. The controller also looks like an upgrade from the Controller S with the white and black buttons moving above the analogue triggers. The online features, the "marketplace," all sound like strokes of genius, the kind of thing no other console would offer. Xbox 360 will create a global community that inspires creativity, personalization and more obnoxious smack talk on Xbox Live. Oh, and Xbox Live (at least a stripped down version) is free right out of the box. That’s hot, hot, hot. I should also note that jaggies truly were gone the way of the Dodo. Thank the Lord. There is still hope. The original Xbox had a somewhat laughable first showing. Halo did not look very good at E3 2001. You know what, the Xbox turned out pretty damn good. There is hope, I promise you. Especially if some random shots found about online are to be believe, Project Gotham 3 is going to be unreal in terms of visuals. What really matters is the gameplay. It truly is more important than the graphics. The implications of the Xbox 360’s processor power on AI could prove to be revolutionary for console games. I hope that with some hands-on time, Xbox 360 proves itself worthy. But Microsoft’s conference was a friendly version of the infomercial shown on MTV last Thursday. There wasn’t as much substance as there could have been and it seemed Microsoft was trying to drown out any failings with a ridiculous amount of bass. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Oh, yes, Xbox 360 is great. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Andrew’s Take Before the start of the day, the fact that the Xbox conference was out of my reach left me with a bitter taste in my mouth; the same kind of taste when you actually mistake vinegar for water. After the conference finished, my tune had changed just a little bit. No, Microsoft’s showing wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but it did seem a little disappointing. Being a hardcore Dead or Alive fan, I was excited to see what Tecmo and Itagaki would do with Dead or Alive 4, but from what I saw, I was a little disappointed. The new characters -- who have yet to be named and aren’t limited to the three we saw at the trailer -- are nice, and so are the locations, but some of the fights look a hell of a lot like Dead or Alive Ultimate. On the other hand, the new ways to attack looked pretty cool. Online play is a certainty this time around, which will guarantee a huge community for the game too. Overall, I’m looking forward to the game, but I’m very worried about what changes (or lack of changes) Tecmo will make to the game once it’s released. The other big highlight for me was seeing EA’s Need for Speed Most Wanted. I’m also a big fan of the NFS series, especially Hot Pursuit, so seeing the game go back to its roots -- even if for a little while -- makes me very happy. The game also lacks the stupid bling-bling atmosphere of the Underground series, which is great. Sure, others might not agree with me, but damn if I’m happy to get away from all of that. Notable titles aside from DOA4 and NFS Most Wanted were Final Fantasy XI and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, both of which looked absolutely stunning in their own special ways. FFXI looks better than its PC counterpart, and Oblivion is just attractive to me because of the Bethesda ties, which means it’ll be an instant classic, no matter when it’s released. But hopefully for our sake, it’s released sooner rather than later. Of course, the other EA titles that were shown all look fantastic, especially Madden 2006. I can’t wait to see what EA can do with NHL 2006! Overall, the atmosphere during the conference is a stark contrast to that of the Sony conference, which was much more professional and, well... felt like a stockholder’s meeting. By comparison, the MS conference was too laid-back, and while I applaud them for trying to make it appeal to younger people, it seemed that they were trying a little too hard to be hip and cool with the kids, and not going with the flow. The thing is this; Microsoft tries to make you need their system, and with Sony, they try to make you want it. Another thing that made a huge difference was the running times of both conferences. Sony’s went on for a insane amount of time, but Microsoft kept theirs to a strict schedule, never deviating it. For a year when the big three systems are all set to debut, Microsoft should have made more time to dedicate to showing off their titles. Plus, the absence of Halo really hurt their presentation, especially when going up against a trio of Tekken, Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Solid from Sony. Still, Microsoft is still a student in the industry, and hopefully next year they continue to study the critiques they receive and improve on them. Look for more impressions of the conference soon. Chris’ Take To reiterate a similar statement expressed by Hilary, this year’s Microsoft event definitely was the best ticket in town. Everyone was eager to see the Xbox 360 in action. What we got was an exceptionally thrilling presentation that solidified Microsoft’s objective to expand the console’s parameters to be a multi-purpose entertainment unit. If Xbox weren’t behind this, I’d be quivering with visions of Phillips CD-I. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself. Don’t misinterpret my reaction to be cynical, but I think consoles should stay focused on being gaming entertainment devices - not an alternative multimedia peripheral for recording televised programs and making toast. If the Xbox 360 intends to penetrate the mainstream market, they need to make sure they tap into the consumer psyche. Custom faceplates is a novel feature, but that’s hardly enough. I am definitely intrigued by the tiered Xbox Live system…a new precedent for the industry that should bring in those who’ve been intimidated by online gaming. Don’t’ care to compete with others? Sit back and watch. Reportedly, the Xbox Live basic package will allow literally hundreds of gamers to log on for free as a spectator and watch the pros show you how to kick ass in Halo 2 or Project Gotham Racing 3. Of course, the more hardcore types will want to try out the more elite package, albeit for a small fee. The Xbox Live Gold Package will offer access to downloadable content, hosting tournaments and several more community options which are destined to be big with those fond of clans, stat tracking and then some. I have to go on record though and admit that right now (at least until later this week), Xbox 360’s games don’t appear to be quite at the cutting edge level I expected. Perfect Dark Zero was rather disappointing on the MTV half-hour program. Although I am not a major Dead or Alive fanatic like Andrew, I’ll have to get my hands all over that simply because it’s a new game that simply looks badass. I can’t wait to find out more about what Team Ninja has incorporated into the upcoming installment. And I can’t forget to give a quick "hell yeah" to Square Enix for showing the Xbox 360 some Final Fantasy love with the announcement of Final Fantasy XI for Xbox 360. (It’s about TIME!). Well, later this week, I’ll be camping at the Microsoft booth to experience the Xbox 360 games first-hand. (My head’s isn’t quite used to late night ranting). Stay tuned for our upcoming impressions. Doug’s Take Wow. Coming into E3 I felt like Microsoft had done an outsanding job of flooding the airwaves with Xbox 360. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing or hearing about it: From the smallest little fansite to MTV, Microsoft had its bases covered and then some. But the first images of games didn’t blow us away. Some were good, a few great -- Gears of War, Ghost Recon 3, Dead or Alive 4 -- these games really turned our heads. But honestly, most were downright disappointing. Then we saw the PS3 conference. We knew it was coming, the specs, the announcement, the hardware design, and the games. You’d be hard pressed to absolutely claim that all that video shown at the Sony conference was realtime, in-game footage, but those images, those videos were what we wanted. They were gorgeous. They were the images of what we we expect the next-generation to be. They made everything at the Microsoft news conference instantly look old and unimpressive. Even the freakin’ duck demo, inspired from the early PlayStation and PlayStation 2 demos back in the day looked better than most Xbox 360 games. Perhaps it was the overload of Xbox 360 that we experienced from all of last week, perhaps it was that Sony figured out a way to play on Microsoft’s over-saturation. But either way, the Microsoft news conference was spare of actual surprise, news, and the all-important E3 knockout punch. The biggest news, amazingly, was leaked beforehand -- limited backward compatibility, and Square-Enix’s collaboration with Microsoft -- proving that Microsoft has serious leaks in its operation, giving us the news early but no surprises at all for its big annual conference. I know, I know. These games will look better in five months. And the proof is in the pudding, the gameplay, but from a purely surface level analysis of Microsoft’s conference, it was unimpressive and completely void of the game I wanted to see most, Perfect Dark Zero.
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