NEWS - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

E3 2008: Microsoft Press Conference Round-Up

Microsoft kicked off E3 with a bang yesterday, but perhaps not for the reasons everyone expected. The motion controller and Halo games everyone expected were nowhere to be seen, but news of a new Xbox 360 interface, some great games and confirmation that Final Fantasy XIII is coming to the Xbox 360 more than made up for any disappointment.

First up was a live stage demo of Bethesda’s Fallout 3. Todd Howard took to the stage and walked through a demo of the post apocalyptic action RPG. After showing a brief look at the game he announced that the Xbox 360 and Games for Windows versions of Fallout 3 will be the only platforms receiving downloadable content - something that greatly enhanced Bethesda’s previous game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Next up came a live demo of Resident Evil 5 from Capcom. The demo showed Chris Redfield and a new female character playing cooperatively - something you’ll be able to do over Xbox LIVE. The focus of the demo was on highlighting cooperative gameplay, with Chris sniping from distance while Sheva took on the zombies from up close. The game will receive a worldwide release on March 12 and 13.

Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux then took to the stage to showcase Fable 2, declaring that Fable 2 is in fact finished. We saw the first moments of the game, where a young boy receives a rather unpleasant present from a bird. As well as showing the AI dog companion and once again declaring it to be one of the most advanced AI characters in a video game, Molyneux also showed off the way players will be able to hook up with others over Xbox LIVE, simply by walking up to orbs during your single-player adventure. Before exiting he revealed that Fable 2 would be released in October.

No surprise on who came out next to demonstrate Gears of War 2. Cliff Bleszinski demoed a two-player co-op section from the game with Marcus and Dom. As well as showing a number of new gameplay mechanics, like using downed locust for cover and using a shield for portable cover, it also revealed a number of new enemies in action. Of course, it looked visually stunning and ended on the suggestion that you’ll be able to ride the Brumak. Bleszinski also revealed a new five-player co-op mode called Horde and a November 7 release date.

Don Mattrick then took some time to reel off some stats about the video game industry, confirming that games are now the leading driver of all entertainment spending. Xbox 360 is leading the market with the largest install base in the United States, and most spend on game software. He also made the claim that the Xbox 360 will sell more consoles during this generation than the PlayStation 3. A new member joins Xbox LIVE every five seconds and consumers have spent more than $1 billion on Xbox LIVE, downloading more than 500 million pieces of content. Xbox LIVE is the world’s largest provider of high definition movies and TV shows. One third of all Xbox LIVE paid downloads on Xbox LIVE come from film and TV show downloads. A number of new partners were announced for Europe and North America.

As rumoured, we also got a look at the new Xbox 360 dashboard and the new Avatar system. This is a complete new look and design for the Xbox 360 interface. Avatars will be used on your friends list, on websites and in games. It will also use a new party system that will use the avatars. The Avatar system has been created by Rare.

As always Xbox LIVE Arcade titles had a place in the conference. Geometry Wars 2 was announced exclusively for Xbox LIVE Arcade from Bizarre Creations and Activision. Galaga Legions, the first true sequel to Galaga, was also announced as an exclusive on Xbox LIVE Arcade. Both games are due next month on Xbox LIVE Arcade. Portal Still Alive was announced as a 2008 exclusive for Xbox LIVE Arcade. New levels and Achievements built on the classic Portal gameplay coming this fall. The first selection of XNA developed community games will be arriving shortly.

Shane Kim arrived next and re-confirmed exclusive GTA 4 downloadable content for later this year. Over 1000 titles will be available on Xbox 360 by the end of this year. He was keen to point out that the Xbox 360 has plenty of games suitable for everyone, highlighted by Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. Both games will be available this holiday. Kim also announced that the original Banjo-Kazooie will be released on Xbox LIVE Arcade before the end of the year.

Hammering home the games for everyone was a new SceneIt? title, using avatars. Next up was You’re in the Movies, an original attempt at capturing a family audience. It uses the LIVE Vision camera and appears to be a more advanced take on the EyeToy formula, cutting your image out and placing it into the game. After playing through a series of mini-games the game will compile them into a short movie, staring the players.

Moving on to music games. Kai Huang from Red Octane walked on stage to talk about Guitar Hero World Tour. Numerous exclusive bands have signed for Guitar Hero. A new music game from Microsoft was next. No surprise that it was Lips, the game that everyone has known about for months, despite this being the first time Microsoft has officially revealed it. It uses wireless mics with LEDs that are also motion sensitive. Current chart favourite Duffy came on stage to sing her hit Mercy, a song featured in Lips. Rock Band 2 was confirmed to release exclusively on Xbox 360 this September - something else that was already known. It will feature 84 original master recordings on the disc and All DLC from RockBand will work with RockBand 2.

Don arrived back on stage to introduce the final guest, president of Square Enix, Yoichi Wada. After complementing the Xbox 360 he went on to talk about Infinite Undiscovery (worldwide in September), Star Ocean The Last Hope (Spring 09) and The Last Remnant (November 20, first on Xbox 360). The Last Remnant will also be released on PC Games for Windows. It seemed as if the announcement Xbox 360 owners wanted wasn’t going to be made as Wada-san left the stage.

Don came back on stage, summing up the focus of the show. "There is no better way to deliver entertainment and fun to your living room." But Square had one more announcement and it was what we were all waiting for, but really not expecting. Final Fantasy XIII is coming to Xbox 360. It will arrive day and date with the PlayStation 3 version in North America and Europe. Don then reaffirmed that the Xbox 360 is now the new home for many of the biggest franchises, including Madden and GTA.

That was it. Certainly a show with big announcements, but there was no sign of Halo, Forza, Alan Wake or the much rumoured motion controller.

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