So it’s that time of year again people, the lights are dimmed, the scores of journalists are packed tightly into their seats, the wi-fi connection at the chosen conference centre is strained to it’s very limit and I am over 5000 miles away, tapping away at my PC, struggling with the rest of the gaming media population to watch the E3 conferences online.
So we kick things off with Microsoft with roughly ninety minutes of official announcements that had already been leaked onto the Internet mealy an hour before the press conference went live. So it was similar to playing a video game after watching all the best bits on Youtube!
MODERN WARFARE 3
Starting the ceremonies was some never before seen footage of video games worst kept secret, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
The demo opened up with an E3 standard these days, an Xbox 360 fail. Robert Bowling (Infinity Wards Creative Strategist) who was playing the game got the much loved “Please reconnect controller” error message pop-up just as he started the level, much to the snorts and giggles in the audience.
After the technical difficulties had been resolved, the level continued with “Frost” the current protagonist, swimming with his team mates through an underwater subway to reach an enemy submarine, after placing explosives on the submarine, boarding the vessel and launching its onboard missiles, the team then escaped on a Special Ops speed boat onto an awaiting helicopter to be flown over the ruined cityscape of New York.
The demo seemed to play well and the graphics are as well as you would expect from a Call of Duty game but this entire demo felt like we had been here before, from the gun fights in the tight and narrow corridors from the first level Modern Warfare to the door breach slo-mo moments that are at every door breach moment in the franchise to the speedboat chase at the end which feels like we only just left Soap and Price at the end of Modern Warfare 2. Nothing about this feels new or impressive anymore.
Personally I am looking forward to playing this game but just to see how the story ends as I recently replayed the two previous Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games.
Next we had a demo of Crystal Dynamic’s latest installment into the Tomb Raider franchise. 21 year old Lara Croft has just finished her academy schooling and takes a trip to Japan to find lost relics, unfortunately she is involved in a plane crash and is taken hostage by unknown enemies with uncertain intent.
The demo featured many interesting features to the new Tomb Raider title, the fact that the climbable ledges and surfaces are no longer as obvious as previous titles is a nice addition, another good addition is that not all the platforms are uniform and perfectly in-line so in the demo at least you weren’t one hundred percent sure where the player was going to jump to.
One unfortunately aspect of the demo was the sheer amount of physical pain that was inflicted upon our much loved heroine, I understand from the press release that this is a journey through a great amount of physical and emotional trauma but watching Lara pull out a large shard of bone from her side, have to kick away the grimy, grubby hands of an unknown assailant pawing her heels upon her final escape and her constant grunting, panting and moaning throughout the demo was just plain uncomfortable.
EA SPORTS ANNOUNCEMENT
We were then treated with a visit from everyone favourite President of EA Sports, the President of EA Sports, Peter Moore.
Peter came out to tell us that future installments of well loved franchises such as FIFA, Madden NFL, Tiger Woods Golf and one additional game which would be mentioned at a later date will all have Kinect functionality in the future.
Even non-sports games such as The Sims Pets and Hasbro Family Game Night will have voice recognition integrated. This unfortunately felt like unnecessary shoehorning by the major publishers to include the Kinect. Personally, if EA Sports believed in the Kinect when it was first announced, they would be releasing games this year with Kinect functionality rather than simply announcing that they are currently working on them
MASS EFFECT 3
Peter Moore quickly left the stage to introduce Dr Ray Muzyka to talk about everyones most anticipated Bioware game, Knight of the- oh, I mean Mass Effect 3 of course!
Dr Ray started off by telling us more news that had already been leaked onto the internet recently thank to EA themselves, that Mass Effect 3 would have Kinect integration, or more accurately it would have voice integration.
Dr Ray’s assistant Igor (not his real name, but Dr Ray sounds like a mad scientists name) started off by showing off the voice commands in the conversation options.
Whist Commander Shepard, Garrus and Liara meet fellow mad scientist Mordin Solace the usual conversation wheel opened and Igor spoke the option he wanted to choose and in true Bioware fashion, Commander Shepard proceeded to say something relatively unrelated.
This is not the fault of the Kinect in any way, Bioware just have an unfortunate habit of creating a ‘streamlined’ conversation option wheel where one option may say (taking the demo for example) “You let them die?” which, as it was on the Renegade side of the wheel would make you expect that this is going to come with a accusatory tone and a few harsh words but not so readers,
Commander Shepard proceeded to say to Mordin “You’re the smartest man I know, you couldn’t save them?” with a tone in his voice that wanted to offer a hug more that stern, vocal retribution.
The demo continued with the combat integration of Kinect where Igor sent his team into a firefight and proceeded to order them to move wherever his cursor was by saying phrases such as “Move Up” and also instructed Liara to use moves like Singularity just by mentioning them. This was a genuine surprise and a feature that will probably get more use than the conversation wheel speech recognition as this one feels useful, in a frantic firefight against a wave of enemies on the hardest difficulty setting, you don’t want to have to mess around with the often ineffective squad command controls when you are able to simply tell you squad mates what to do. I personally really like this feature and feel that this is one I will use often in Mass Effect 3.
TOM CLANYS GHOST RECON: FUTURE SOLDIER
After the Mass Effect presentation, we were then subjected to a two minute video CGI movie depicting Special Ops soldiers setting up an elaborate trap for several bad guys to stab and shoot them in the face…no, it wasn’t another trailer for Modern Warfare 3, it was Tom Clancy’s latest namesake, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
During the trailer we saw several Special Ops marines converging around a desert shanty town to simultaneously eliminate a group of baddies. When the precise moment came we were treated to video games latest new toy, slo-mo camera sweeping! The camera swept around the battlefield to an operatic soundtrack depicting the different bad guy deaths in what felt like a nicely rendered and ultimately gaudy celebration of excessive violence, we didn’t really need to have the camera fly through the bullet wound in someone’s head as they fell to the ground, did we?
After the artistic display of mass death, Yves Guillemot, CEO and co-founder of Ubisoft came out and explained that all future Tom Clancy games would include Kinect integration. He then handed the floor over to his glamorous assistant Chris to show us Future Soldiers Gunsmith mode.
Gunsmith, in a nut shell, is the Holy Grail to every gun nut who owns a Kinect; it allows you to open up your weapon to change almost every changeable part for a different one and then use Kinect to test out your Frankenstein weapon on the firing range. Now this all looks impressive but I’m not certain that changing the gas cylinder of my M14 is going to make any difference to my gameplay though I’m sure there are a few people out there that will correct me, I feel that Ubisoft is trying to appeal to a very niche market with this mode.
XBOX 360 UPDATE
Marc Whitten, the Corporate Vice President of Xbox Live made his usual E3 song and dance about the upcoming features to Xbox Live such as Bing for 360 and marketplace searching, a new dashboard which seems slightly reminiscent of the PSP layout with a sprinkling of the Windows Mobile phone thrown on top.
He also mentioned upcoming partnerships with companies such as Youtube, UFC, Sky TV, FoxTel and Canal to bring live TV to the 360.
GEARS OF WAR 3
Up next was everybody’s favourite speech crasher, Cliff Bleszinski to show us a section of the Gears of War 3 campaign that we have not yet seen.
Unfortunately the section was a somewhat unimpressive boat fight featuring Marcus Fenix and the other Gears using Aliens-esque mech walkers to fight off a Lambent Kraken culminating in Cole dropping a box of angry Tickers on its head.
Am I the only one out there that would be happy to not see any more Gears of War 3 footage and just wait for it to be released? You can’t really blame Epic for this one to be honest, the unfortunate delay of Gears 3 has taken the wind out of their sails somewhat and you now get the impression that Cliffy B is one step away from coming onstage wearing a barbershop quartet style hat and carrying a cane whilst doing improvisational dancing at the next big trade show just to kill time.
The next trailer got everyone excited as it proudly wore the ‘Crytek’ sticker on the front.
With the trailer depicted images of a stone wall with a mural of Roman warriors all over it, it was easy to see that this was the anticipated Codename: Kingdoms from last years E3. The trailer depicted the player using one arm to use his shield and the other to control his sword, all the while being able to kick, headbutt and even throw their weapon to kill their enemies. Now, as this trailer seemed more like a technical demo than the final version, it’s very difficult to tell how it is going to play, it would be nice for this game to turn out to be a success but first person melee fighter games for Kinect just remind me of the awful Fighters Uncaged…
HALO: ANNIVERSARY EDITION
This announcement should have been one of the biggest announcements of the night had it not been leaked before the show. The Halo: Combat Evolved HD remake is something that Halo fans like myself have wanted for a long time now.
The graphics naturally look stunning but my only criticism is that some sections of the trailer where it cuts from the original level to the remade level the levels were almost unidentifiable, I only hope, as many Halo fans do, that this is a faithful remake and not a ruined version of a classic title.
The trailer explained that the campaign would be fully remastered, it would include Live co-op and also seven of the ‘greatest’ multiplayer maps had been remade and included.
FORZA MOTORSPORT 4
Presenting a regular stunning video package for the Forza series is Creative Director of Turn10 Studios, Dan Greenawalt. Greenawalt explained that Forza was going to be an extension of what is already the ultimate driving experience. The video footage then went on to show some very graphically impressive features, being able to examine the cars in detail using the Kinect.
I’m not a fan of driving games and even I have to admit that this trailer did impress me, if these are even close to in-game graphics the driving games are by and large the most graphically enhanced genre out there.
FABLE: THE JOURNEY
Next up we found everyone favourite social network exile, Peter Molyneux taking about the latest installment of the Fable franchise.
The demo showed long time character, Teresa the Blind Seer running through a forest away from an unknown force, after flagging down a passing carriage, the player takes over, controlling the carriage with Kinect. After a quick trip down a mountainside the pair are then attacked by a band of Hobbes and the player proceeds to set them on fire using hand-gestured created spells. The game appears to be on rails as the player does not appear to move but according to sources this may not be the case.
I found this demo to be a pleasant surprise as I was honestly not expecting Lionhead to be creating anything else Fable related this year. The fact that Lionhead have a long history with gesture based spells and combat with games such as Black & White means that this will hopefully be implemented correctly with Kinect.
DISNEYLAND ADVENTURES (AND MINECRAFT)
Next up we had Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President to tell us that not only is the PC beta-based phenomenon Minecraft coming to Xbox 360 with full Kinect support but also that Disney are releasing Disneyland Adventures, an interesting title featuring the ability to travel around Disneyland and interact with all of the rides and attractions.
During the demo, two children gave a tooth-decayingly sweet performance which involved the Peter Pan Flight ride. I personally know more than one adult that will be purchasing this title on day one for their sheer Disney nerdism and personally thing that this could be the beginning of a ‘virtual reality’ set of games for Kinect.
STAR WARS KINECT
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, somebody realized that they had in their hands a really good idea that would make a wonderful franchise but instead of making it a short franchise that would be forever remembered as a classic, they decided to try and get as many iterations of the franchise as they could, milking all the quality out of the previously great concept.
And you’ll be delighted to hear that this tradition is still going strong in today’s world as Star Wars gets yet another game!
The Star Wars Kinect title quite frankly looks terrible, the player and the on screen character never seemed to be fully in sync, but not in the expected ‘Kinect-delay’ that we all know and loathe, more in a way that makes me suspect the player of miming to a prerecorded playthrough.
Featuring essentially all the moves from the movies of the same name, Star Wars Kinect allows the player to use the Lightsaber to battle droids, use Force powers to move objects and also use the Force Dash.
Unfortunately, I am completely uninspired by this demo, there is nothing exciting about yet another Star Wars game, the Star Wars fan in me really wants this game to turn out to prove me wrong but I highly doubt that this title is going to anything other than a novelty for Kinect.
SESAME STREET: ONCE UPON A MONSTER
Industry legend Tim Schafer decided to drop by next to tell us about Double Fine’s latest project, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. Being a purely Kinect based title and obviously aimed at the younger generation of Kinect gamers. During the presentation the ‘simulated family’ (as Schafer colorfully put it) consisted of a young boy and his ‘dad’ playing the game, during which they would follow on screen instructions to perform basic actions such as lifting their hands in the air or popping bubbles.
Despite this being a children’s title, you cannot ignore the amount of craftsmanship that has gone into it, whilst there may not be much variation in the gameplay, what is there has been polished to a near mirror shine. It essentially played out like an interactive episode of the Sesame Street TV show.
I personally think this is wonderful, it’s very refreshing to see a game specifically aimed at the younger generation of gamers which isn’t a cheap knock off of a cartoon series or the latest Pixar movie.
KINECT FUN LABS
Polluting our eyes and ears next was Kudo Sunoda introducing the Kinect Fun Labs, a toolset created by Good Science for your Kinect that allows you to ‘enhance your experience’ which essentially boils down to three arbitrary toolsets that allow you to create an avatar out of yourself, scan an object in to make it move and create 3D drawings.
The latter of these, Kinect Finger Tracking, looks like the most promising as it allowed the player to draw around his/her own photo, going around layers in the image just by moving their hand.
This whole section felt like a typical corporate reaction to independent developers of whom they have no actual control, with the success of the Kinect hacks recently (my personal favourites can be found HERE) by homebrew developers, Microsoft have decided that they want in on this action and have released what they believe to be their own homebrew content.
Unfortunately, most of these applications look like little more that gimmicks perhaps with the exception of Finger Tracking and even that will most likely be forgotten quite quickly.
KINECT SPORTS SEASON 2
Much as you would expect from any motion sports game with the number two after the title, Kinect Sports Season 2 offers some new games to the Kinect title including Baseball, Skiing, Golf, Darts, Tennis and American Football. The presentation is headed up by Big Park producer, Nicole Makila who previewed the golf game in which she used her voice to change the club and moved around to alter her position in-game.
More interestingly though (if interesting is the word) was the dreadful presentation of the American Football game where “Ron” and “Todd” showed us how to fake excitement like experts.
The American football game is much as you would expect and the controls seem to handle well if a little sluggish. After the incessant wooping and badly acted alpha male, macho behavior, we thankfully leave Ron and Todd to join Kasson Crooker from Harmonix for…
DANCE CENTRAL 2
Fortunately this time around, Kasson refrained from showing us his dance moves with the latest installment of Dance Central unlike last years E3, instead we were informed that the new Dance Central would include a revised ‘Break it Down’ mode, voice commands through Kinect and a full campaign mode.
We were then treated to two employees of Harmonix who have clearly claimed a lot of overtime laying the game showing us the multiplayer mode where two players can dance at the same time, fortunate, if you not only own a house big enough to play Kinect in the first place but also enough space to stop you and your friend breaking every ornament you own.
The worst kept secret of the conference was officially announced as Don Mattrick left us with ‘the first of a new trilogy’
The trailer simply showed the internal working of our favourite Spartan coming back to life after his long sleep in stasis with Cortana shouting that she needs him, they then look outside the ship they are aboard to see a large round vessel ahead of them.
Had this not been spoiled just before the conference then this would have been Microsoft ace in the hole, with the focus firmly on Kinect this would have won the favor of more than a few Halo fans (myself included)
Ending the trailer, and the conference with a “Holiday 2012” logo.
So there you have it, the Microsoft ‘lets-all-get-behind-kinect-because-it-sold-way-more-than-we-ever-expected’ Press Conference.
Given the sheer amount of information that found its way onto the internet mere hours before the conference took place, it’s hard to see the data leak as a slyly conceived PR stunt as it included all of Microsoft’s major announcements.
What was your thought on the Microsoft Press Conference? Let us know in the comments thread.