Much like the barker at a carnival sideshow of the strange and mysterious, Microsoft called us forth at the E3 Media and Business Summit for the first press conference of the show. After watching the entirety of last year’s press conference and still not owning an Xbox 360, I tuned into this press conference with keen interest to be impressed enough to purchase what many consider the hardcore gaming platform of choice. I wanted to share with you the impressions of the average gamer.
The show opens and like the first act of the show, they wow us with their upcoming hardcore lineup. Fallout 3 looks amazing. Sure, it has the normal current-gen color palette, and by palette, I mean the many hues of brown and gray, but what set it apart for me was the gameplay elements of being able to switch from run-and-gun to more RPG-esque percentages and rolling. I see massive replay possibilities that moved me from “looks fun” to “I must buy this game.”
Resident Evil 5 looks like Resident Evil 4 in context of textures and general style-feel, but turns the graphics up to current-generation standards. The co-operative mode looked fun and demonstrated an actual weight to teamwork. Well, that is after you got over how atrocious the game demonstrators’ aim was. I never would have finished RE4 wasting that many bullets.
They finished up the hardcore section with Fable 2 and Gears of War 2. I liked the look and feel of Fable 2, but for all the innovation (having a dog, getting married, having children, pop-in pop-out co-op gameplay) that Peter Molyneux, a game designer at Microsoft Game Studios, talked about, I nodded and smiled in a way that tells me that I would probably have to try it to like it. Gears of War 2 is giving the fanboys and girls exactly what they asked Santa to bring them for Christmas: Gears of War 1 with 300% more ass-kicking. That’s exactly what it looks like they will deliver. As I’ve stated in a previous post on my inherent lack of ability to use many weapons and the cover system at the same time, I will just say that the game is not for me. That said, if you loved the first Gears of War, this one will not disappoint you on November 7th.
After satiating the hardcore, the ringmaster, Don Mattrick, Microsoft’s Senior Vice President of Interactive Entertainment Business, moved onto business numbers in an attempt to make a transition from the hardcore to the casual market without alienating those people they just impressed moments ago. It was all about the business and laying the groundwork for explaining how the 360 has, to date, beaten the Playstation 3 and will defeat the PS3 in the long run.
Growth of the 360 was emphasized with more movie partnerships for the Xbox Live Marketplace in a warm-up for Microsoft to announce their brand new Xbox interface with…Miis? They are calling them avatars. Think of less-cartoony Miis if you cannot imagine it yourself. My favorite aspect of the video from Rare Studios was the Product Unit Manager who tried to make it sound like avatars were the newest, greatest innovation. You can see your friends’ avatars all hanging out and they’re going to put avatars into games; it is AMAZING! Except Nintendo is already doing that.
This is the point in the press conference when they started losing my interest. I agree it looks sleek and sharing pictures and playing Uno together would be fun, but they’re not convincing me to buy a 360. These guys are claiming that Xbox 360 is now for everyone, but as the average gamer, I look at these avatars with passing interest. With gas over $4/gallon and food prices rising, $300-400 for a new console is a luxury that has to bowl me over to gain me as a new customer. The brand new Primetime (gameshow-like games you play with other people for unspecified “prizes”) and many of the new exclusive Xbox Live Arcade titles like Geometry Wars 2 and the new Galaga look nice, but again are not making an impact on me. Portal: Still Alive brought me back into the press conference, only to immediately lose me with Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Pinata, and a new Scene It!
Then they rolled out a new game called “You’re in the Movies!” Using a webcam, it takes actions you’re doing on the screen and translates that into a “movie” starring you. Wow, the game looks creative but has no replay value whatsoever. To me, this is a game you drag out only when your parents are around and you need something to occupy them while you get a drink. This is when my harder-core insides started to melt into a pool of disappointment.
Next under the big top, was the music portion with Guitar Hero: World Tour, Lips and Rock Band 2. Taking Guitar Hero and Rock Band aside and focusing on Lips, let’s say it’s a karaoke game that’s…no, just look at Playstation’s karaoke game, Singstar, with light-up microphones, and you’ve seen Lips. Guitar Hero and Rock Band did exactly what you expected – they talked about songs and the band exclusives each platform has. I am very curious how this rivalry will play out as we average consumers realize that we only have room in our houses for one set of peripherals. Side note: the girl they trudged out onto the stage to sing a song was pretty, but a waste of time.
The last segment was all Square Enix as they showed off their 360 role playing games. All the trailers and screenshots looked like Square Enix RPGs – you know, androgynous boys and magical frog people. That’s it. He walks off the stage only to do the pre-arranged encore where they showed (SPOILARS) a Final Fantasy 13 trailer and announced the game will be coming to 360. The capstone to the already-way-too-long press conference was Don Mattrick saying, “Final Fantasy joins a long list of former Playstation franchises that are finding a home on Xbox 360.” Somewhere, a Sony angel is having its wings clipped.
Overall, I do not feel convinced by Microsoft that the Xbox 360 is the platform for me from what I felt was a mixed-message of ‘we’re owning the hardcore, but we’re for the kiddies as well.’ I’m really not sure where to put this press conference. It’s a rosy picture, to be sure, but it felt a tad reactionary to Nintendo’s mainstream popularity, in a way. I’m sure the 360 fanboys and girls will defend their precious Xbox, but let’s face it, Microsoft realized that winning the hardcore players was only a small percentage of the growing whole, and they’re behind Nintendo. This press conference should have been entitled “Microsoft’s Project Outreach: Volume 1 – No, Really, We’re For the Family, Too!” Honestly, if I hadn’t seen the first 4 games announced, I would have sworn I had watched the Nintendo conference a day early.