E3 2013: “Do you not have games?!” – The Microsoft Press Con

I went into the Microsoft press conference live stream hoping against hope that they would stick to their word and make it rain games like Lil Wayne at a Vegas strip club. After the communications disaster that has been Microsoft in the wake of their April XBox One Reveal Event, everybody from Don Mattrick to Steven Ballmer’s driver scrambled to drive home the point that yes, E3 would be all about the games. Now that I’ve had an hour or two to digest the entire press conference, let the E3 excitement ease off somewhat and go over my notes and tweets, it’s time to take an objective look at what Microsoft did and did not say at their E3 2013 press conference.

Metal Gear Solid Comes To XBox One

True to their official press statements leading up to E3, Microsoft started and continued their press con with games. What I mean by that simple statement is that they kicked down the door, threw in a couple flashbangs, fired off some shots and when the smoke cleared, we had the reveal trailer for Metal Gear Solid 5. For the XBox One. Meaning, Metal Gear Solid 5 is coming to the XBox One. The game itself boasted the new open world feel, as well as real-time weather, numerous modes of transportation and more. Don Mattrick trotted onto the stage with Hideo Kojima, who beamed while saying that the graphic power of XBox One would make MGS shine. A bold statement, Kojima-san. A bold statement.

OMG It’s An All-New XBox…360?

Completely out of place in the middle of this press conference was the announcement/reveal of a new XBox 360 console, a “smaller, sleeker and quieter version” than the previous slim unit. There will be a 4GB non-Kinect-inclusive edition priced at US$199, and a 250GB model at US$299. The thing is…I don’t think we needed another 360 console. This is my biggest issue with Microsoft lately: the muddled communications message they’ve been putting out. What does a new 360 have to do with communications? Let me explain by using a statement from the late Steve Jobs regarding his thoughts on Google and what they were doing wrong. He told Larry Page that Google needed to focus and not be like Microsoft, i.e., all over the place with their products. As much I am not a fan of Apple, their products or Jobs for that matter, I cannot deny that sometimes, stringent focus is a good thing.

The carefree attitude of companies like Google, such as launching one product and then murdering it off like a character named Stark in a George R.R. Martin novel, does not work for every organisation. I personally think that Microsoft should have focused all the energy in their Interactive Entertainment Division on the XBox One and making it the console that gamers would not hesitate to purchase. This convoluted communications strategy of “Next-gen! Mobile! TV! Social!” and the distracting departure to a “new” current-gen console makes me believe that Microsoft is caught in a serious concentration rut. Don’t come at me with next-gen promises and then randomly toss a “new” 360 in there; it’s unnecessary, and you could have reallocated the cash spent to develop this slimmer slim model into the XBox One design and features in which you don’t actually screw gamers out of ownership. I’m just saying.

It’s Raining Titles

At certain points in the press conference (read: right after the MGS reveal), the event took on a hurried pace, veritably sprinting from one title reveal to another, some for current-gen, some for next-gen. Each received maybe two minutes of screen time before the presenters were bundled off-stage before the next set were brought on. Don Mattrick’s face was one of “Here! Have all the games!” Let’s just have a quick run-through of what was previewed/revealed, and general reactions:

  1. World of Tanks: I viewed gameplay of World of Tanks at last year’s First Look Event in Utrecht. While not 100% impressed, I can see the appeal of the game, but not so much that I would want it on a console. Still though, it will be free to download and play this summer on the 360.
  2. Max – The Curse of Brotherhood: Also for the 360, this is a pretty cute title  from Press Play in Denmark, about a boy who wishes that his brother would disappear. When it happens, he has to face platforms and puzzles (pluzzles?) to rescue him.
  3. Dark Souls II: The first medieval slash and stab of the event. I didn’t really enjoy the first one; maybe the sequel will be better at pulling me in. This title is also coming to the 360.
  4. Ryse – Son of Rome: At this point, all the games are for the next-gen XBox One. We start with Ryse: Son of Rome, which started off with a sleek intro and voiceover about a shining city on seven hills. Then, good gracious gameplay, featuring gratuitous historical violence, including the player issuing commands to their squad. There are QTEs galore in the combat mechanics, which are actually fine with me, but others mind them…a lot. I like the look of the game and I am a sucker for Roman history, so I’m willing to set aside the disdain for QTEs. The phalanx commands add something to the gameplay beyond the usual thrust and parry, bringing every character, both player and AI, into a neat mix.
  5. Killer Instinct: In a literal blitz of a reveal, we discover that Killer Instinct is coming to the XBox One and guess what? It will be ULTRAAAAA EXCLUSIVVVEEEEEE.
  6. Sunset Overdrive: Insomniac (a historically Sony-focused developer, I have to add), introduced this game for XBox One. It made me think of Mirror’s Edge but then, with lots of tie-dye thrown into the spin cycle.
  7. Forza Motorsport 5: A shiny and undeniable sexy McClaren P1 joins the announcer on stage for this title, boasting their new “Drivatar” feature, which learns from other players’ drive techniques, and even races against them when you aren’t actually playing. This took the Creep factor of next-gen social gaming to DEFCON 3, but I can see how true Forza fans will dig it.
  8. Minecraft: Phil Harrison announces the XBox One edition of Minecraft, featuring bigger worlds and multiplayer, as well as grander possibilities. I think I played Minecraft for a total of an hour once on my Galaxy S3 and I didn’t actually enjoy it. I plan to check out the console version soon, so I’m declining to actually comment on this game, as that would not be fair.
  9. Quantum Break: The title previewed by Remedy at the XBox One reveal event is given some more screen time, with  the aim of blurring the lines between gaming and television. Your gameplay creates a personalised version of the TV show…or, Defiance. In any event, it looks beautiful and the ability to freeze, unfreeze and stutter time is interesting enough to make me follow this game’s progress.
  10. D4: Next up, from Hidetaka “Swery65” Suehiro, is D4, a cell-shaded beauty of a game that takes on the episodic style of Telltale fame. The reaction from the Internet varied from “Awww yeah” to “Damn you for making this XBox One exclusive!”
  11. Project Spark: While not exactly a game, Project Spark was what would happen if Kinect and Little Big Planet had a baby and named Smart Glass as godmother. It lets you create, develop and edit your own gameworld (and thus, your own game) that can then be shared with others. You may have read my previous post about Sploder, and what it was doing to foster curiousity and interest in game design. It may not seem like much, but little tidbits such as that, and now Project Spark, are steering us in the right direction with regards to industry growth. I thought it was a cool offering and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.
  12. Crimson Dragon: Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the sound was absent for this demo. However, I can report that it looked pretty freaking cool.
  13. Dead Rising 3: Having never played the first two iterations of Dead Rising, I went into this preview pretty blind. However, I may just have to consider picking it up. Capcom promises no load times for this persistent world and what looks like Dawn of the Dead-esque zombie counts. And really…can you ever have enough zombies?
  14. The Witcher 3: Promising 100 hours of play-time, new combat and a non-linear story. The Must Have game of next-gen? Possibly.
  15. Battlefield 4: What was up with the sound? It was absent at the start of this demo as well, but then they got it back up and running so we could properly enjoy Angry Sea. As pretty as it is, it’s still another military shooter. Hearkens back to warnings about lack of originality. They do promise the first BF4 map pack on XBox One before anywhere else (read: PS4).
  16. What Lies Below: Holy Hannah Montana, an indie game! A creepy but excellently done trailer highlights this multiplayer dungeon game by Capy.
  17. Black Tusk: It’s not the title of a game but the name of a studio, just one of five that Microsoft has churning out titles for the XBox One. They preview it, but with no title.
  18. Halo 5: While not the official title, this started off looking like another trailer for Destiny, but then they mentioned “exclusive” and I realized they were talking about Master Chief. He will be back in 2014 on the XBox One, an all-new Halo enhanced by “cloud computing” and running at 60 FPS. The fan girl in me went “Eeeee!”
  19. Titan Fall: The last XBox One exclusive comes to us from Respawn Entertainment. Basically: Call of Duty meets Mass Effect meets Halo meets Michael Bay. The usual space marine adventure shoot ’em up. Next.

Architecture Digest: The Moment For Clarity Flies Away

Marc Whitten, who so enthusiastically presented the XBox One’s architectural assets at the reveal event, takes the stage to discuss improvements to XBox Live, including but not limited to:

  • SmartGlass connectivity, which provides a timeline, stat comparisons to your friends, video highlights, hints on what to tackle next, and more. In other words, they took almost the entire user interface and experience of Raptr and put it on Smartglass.
  • Smart Match, which enables the player to hunt for a multiplayer match in one game while actually playing another. I’m not too sure of the benefit of such a feature; when I’m deep in, let’s say, a BioShock: We’re Not Done Yet session, I don’t know how likely I am to just duck out of it because I’m a good match for someone in Call of Duty 25: Ninjas. But maybe that’s just me.
  • Upload Studio, which is by far the coolest feature thus far, especially for those who want to be YouTube famous and show off their victories and gameplay. You can edit, record commentary and put your own personal touches on your footage prior to upload.
  • XBox Broadcast, which highlights the partnership between XBox and Twitch TV and the new ability to share directly through a player’s Twitch channel.
  • You get all the friends, so no more Live friend list limits at 100. Additionally: your Microsoft Points will no longer exist. Instead, you will use real money, which is great…I just hope they sort out the various payment methods available to non-North American consumers (such as iDEAL for the Netherlands).
  • XBox Live Gold membership and features can be shared across your household.

Despite all that, Microsoft missed their big chance to finally address (and hopefully, correct) some of the worrying things we’ve been reading about XBox One’s online requirements, privacy concerns over the Kinect, and the catastrophe that is the policy on used/pre-owned games. This bounces us back to my earlier point about the communications message and its confusing delivery. On the one hand, you claim to have produced a console built by gamers, for gamers. On the other, you tout features that were clearly developed by corporations, for corporations. I understand that piracy and other copyright concerns are the priority now, but surely there are other ways to go about protecting yourself than destroying the secondary games market, as I so desperately hoped they wouldn’t. The rest of the world isn’t North America; heck, some parts of North America aren’t Redmond, WA or Silicon Valley. One must keep this in mind when making a machine that wants to claim ‘for gamers, by gamers.’

The End of the Road

The final bit of information was revealed close to the end and it’s the one we were all waiting for: the price. You can get your own XBox One sometime in November 2013 for US$499 or EUR 499 or 429 pounds. Can I just say that I was right and I should really start betting money on these things? Additionally…I am really getting tired of the lazy pricing methodology of just changing the currency symbol for European consumers. EUR 499 is NOT US$499. This isn’t the Cayman Islands; we don’t match 1:1 because we can. In reality, if I were to buy the XBox One at launch, I would be shelling out the US$ equivalent of $660, and that’s before they add the 21% BTW (VAT) onto my bill. Add to this that the rumor is that games will cost US$80 (the same in EUR, so about…US$100?) and you have a recipe for disaster and also, PIRACY. Not by me. But I do know some who are already itching to take a crack at a hack. Stings a bit harder for us, Microsoft.

All in all, I was impressed with the line-up and delivery of the titles we can expect for 360 and XBox One. While still not enough to make me consider a launch-time purchase, it was much more gamer-focused than the reveal event yet still leaves us with some lingering questions and concerns. I’m not staying up for the Sony press con, but will have that review for you tomorrow when I see the replay.

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