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Microsoft rolls out blockbusters and big guns for E3

Tue 07 Jun 2011 3:38am GMT / 11:38pm EDT / 8:38pm PDT
Publishing

Games, games, games from the format holder as it goes big in LA

Microsoft started its E3 conference on Monday with the big guns. Core games, familiar faces from development and a promise to finally deliver on the concepts of Kinect technology.

Just hours before the event was due to start the official Xbox.com site jumped the gun with a Halo 4 reveal, prompting laughs from the assembled journalists queuing at the Galen Centre - why are we hear when the big news has already been leaked?

But as soon as the lights went down and the squeal of night vision goggles pierced the air, all sarcasm was dropped. Roping in Infinity Ward's Rob Bowling and Sledgehammer Games' Glen Schofield to demo an early level of Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was a great opener - sabotaged subs, double-taps and a crumbling cityscape lets us all know we were in blockbuster territory. Ooh-rah.

After a brief introduction from Don Mattrick, where he spoke of "the world's greatest storytellers redefining out industry" we were straight into a fantastic looking Tomb Raider live demo. I'm as cynical as the next man about another reboot for Lara, but it looked beautiful, conjured a real sense of panic and highlighted some of that classic puzzle gameplay. The team at Eidos should be very proud of Crystal Dynamics at this point.

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EA Sport's Peter Moore was next up, with a little chat about Kinect support for four big games this year - FIFA, Tiger Woods, Madden and one other. He didn't go into too much detail, saving it for his own company's conference an hour or so later.

And with that it was time for more demos of improved features for Kinect, with BioWare's Dr Ray Muzyka showing Mass Effect 3 voice recognition in real-time. It was a brief but slick show of Commander Sheppard's gruff decision making.

Ubisoft seemed to be the most dedicated to utilising Kinect in hardcore titles, with CEO Yves Guillemot committing to support Kinect for every game in the Tom Clancy franchise. It also showed one of the most violent trailers I've seen in a while, for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier - isn't it time to see some in-game footage from that game? There was also a demonstration of manipulating gun parts using the motion device, body tracking and voice communications. Plenty of love for the hardcore audience then, which can be so vocal if it doesn't get what it demands.

There were a handful of Xbox Live deals thrown into the conference as Microsoft continues to add functionality to the service, with YouTube, Bing and Live TV all revealed, but it was voice controlled TV that was the centre of attention, as Mattrick talked up the "new way to experience entertainment in the living room".

"We believe TV is more amazing when you are the controller," said Mattrick, before announcing the Live TV update would hit this autumn.

Next, with the third-parties starting the show, it was time for Microsoft Studios boss Phil Spencer to step in to talk exclusive deals. It's always good to see the enthusiasm of Epic's Cliff Blezinski, this year demoing Gears of War 3, with rapper and actor Ice-T throwing around a little bro-banter and accompanied by Black Sabbath's fitting War Pigs soundtrack.

Crytek's Project Kingdoms got a proper name - Ryse - and a tasty trailer. It's a curious project - first person melee fighting for Kinect, but the calibre of the studio will ensure it gets lots of attention in the coming months.

There was also a solid release date for the high definition Halo remake - Nov 15 - and Turn 10's Dan Greenwalt brought out more Forza 4 features, followed by Peter Molyneux and a brief demo of spell casting and horse riding in Fable: The Journey. One of the bigger scoops was locking down a Kinect version of indie sensation Minecraft, due later this year.

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For family and children there was the borderline sickly Disneyland Adventures, recreating the theme part for Kinect fun. While cynical journalists in the audience may have sniffed, those of us with children can understand it's a pretty exciting proposition - and a damn site cheaper than visiting the real place.

Star Wars Kinect got the predictable whooping, but the demo looked awkward and visually basic, especially with so many graphical treats so far in the presentation. Much more interesting was Tim Schafer's Sesame Street game, which looked as bonkers as you'd expect, with Tim casually acknowledging the ridiculousness of his "simulated family" playing the game on stage. His end comment that "I hope you're as excited to play this as much as my daughter" showed a man who understands his game, audience and subject matter.

Kudo Tsunoda's big reveal - Fun Labs for Kinect - was perhaps one of the most interesting announcements of the day. An outlet for fun, creative and experimental projects, it will let users play with apps created using the SDK. A smart move from Microsoft, users will be able to check out titles on Kinectshare.com and vote for release on Xbox Live. Better than the announcement though was the fact that Fun Labs is already up on Xbox Live, so gamers can get involved straight away.

Then it was the return of more favourites. Kinect Sports Season 2 (well, why wouldn't they?) and Dance Central 2, with simultaneous multiplayer dancing - a feature sorely missing from the first title.

And with that we were back with Don Mattrick, summing it up and pulling the sheet off the big reveal - Halo 4. Okay, it had been leaked, but the impressive-looking teaser trailer refocused the audience on the next antics of Master Chief rather than the earlier cock-up, and as one journalist in ear shot put it "I'm going to buy the sh*t out of that game."

Overall it was a fast-moving conference, with game after game pushed up front, demoed and politely nudged to the side for the next one. There was very little business talk, the focus was purely on games, games, games, and Microsoft should be pleased they've shown off a rich collection of titles, new and old, for the coming 12 months.

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