Roundtable: Microsoft E3 2011
Microsoft opened up the pre-E3 conferences, so it’s only fitting they open our round table discussion. Here, various writers will chip in their thoughts, opinions, and highs & lows of the conferences. Let’s get started.
So first, a recap: Microsoft opened their conference with footage from Modern Warfare 3, a series for which they announced a DLC deal with Activision at last year’s E3. Next they debuted footage of Tomb Raider, a raft of Kinect-enabled EA Sports titles, as well as Kinect functionality for Mass Effect 3 and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Moving on from this, Microsoft announced YouTube and Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, for the Xbox 360. Microsoft then brought out their big guns with Gears of War 3, Crytek’s new title, Ryse, the much-rumoured Halo: CE Anniversary, and some more footage of the unreleased Forza 4. Molyneux arrived on stage to show off the Kinect-only Fable title, Fable: The Journey. A small announcement of Minecraft coming to the Xbox. Also: Disneyland, Kinect Star Wars, Sesame Street, Kinect Funlabs, Kinect Sports Season 2, Dance Central 2, then closing with a teaser of Halo 4.
Dean: Well I think this year was very much Microsoft getting into the swing with the Kinect. Some sequels to last year’s big hits, some new titles for kids and the core, and I have to say the Kinect functionality added to core titles like Mass Effect 3 and Ghost Recon was quite a surprise. Though ME3’s implementation seemed a bit sub-par, and not really a Kinect- focused thing, with the voice controls able to be done through the headset too. While I get Microsoft were really pushing their new big thing in Kinect it did feel it took over the show more than was healthy for Microsoft.
Kyle: As for the Kinect functionality, I think it was a mixture of being done sub-par and being implemented totally unnecessarily in cases like the Ghost Recon demo. Yeah, I guess it’s cool that it’s an option, but really? Switch gun attachments like a Tom Cruise Minorty Report wannabe? Meh. I was less than impressed.
Johnny: Honestly, Microsoft’s showing is feeling very weak right now. Halo CE HD and Halo 4… And then what? A bunch of Kinect stuff that really won’t interest anyone watching. Oh and Gears 3, which looked the same as Gears 2. Kinect really doesn’t feel ready for serious gaming, much less so than Move or even the Wii. I don’t think they’ll be able to capture the “casual” audiences either, as they already own a Wii.
Declan: It’s good to see Microsoft going all out to support the Kinect but I can’t help but feel they didn’t quite hit the mark they wanted to. As is evidenced from the Mass Effect and Ghost Recon Kinect functionality, Microsoft really wants to get the core gamers on board but I don’t think they’ve managed to do that this year. They did do a good job of increasing the amount of Kinect titles available for younger gamers and I think that’s where they really succeeded this time around. I bet no one saw Tim Schafer making a Kinect title with a Sesame Street tie-in.
Miodrag: OK, so my main problem with Kinect is that it’s just one imprecise abstract input replacing another abstract input. It lacks the precision of a gamepad and the intuitive motions of how motion control should work. I mean, seriously, the way you shoot in Ghost Recon looked awful. Not to mention that you’ll get tired of extended playsessions with it. I think the only thing I liked about Kinect this year was Sesame Street. I think it’s the only Kinect game doing what it’s supposed to do, without being pretentious. And I am not even using Sesame Street as a highpoint of the conference sarcastically. I really thought it was fun for its target audience and seemed to have good design (then again, it is Double Fine). As for Mass Effect… Yeah, the only thing Kinect will contribute to that is statistics as to how many people used Kinect during romance scenes. I was surprised that we didn’t hear much about emotions from Molyneux, then again, there’s only so much emotions you can have while playing rail shooters. Fable seemed OK for an afternoon playsession. All the other Kinect games are shovelware in my opinion. Really, it’s not contributing anything to the gaming experience save for lacking an intimidating controller for non-gamers. And yes, that is the point, but even the Wii did that better.
James: Admittedly at this moment in time I haven’t seen everything that Xbox has to offer, but at the same time, it’s great to see some more variance in their game library with the new additions on the Kinect.
Kyle: Yeah, I suppose at least it’s not just more dudebro shooters. But I’d like to see more Sesame Street-like stuff and less of that Disneyland type of game.
Johnny: They are still kinda doing the dudebro shooters thing; that’s their whole “hardcore” showing.
Kyle: Right, but James was saying there was at least some sort of variety now, even if the bullk of their audience is still into the brown/gray manshoots. I think I agree.
Johnny: Heh. I’m really not sure I can agree that there is any meaningful amount of variation. It’s just “A heap of manshoots” and “A heap of gimmicky kidsgames.” I’d like to see some variation that ISN’T that.
Declan: I think Microsoft is just content with that at this stage of the game. We’re not exactly the 360 audience but I’m sure there’s plenty of Dudebros out there ecstatic over the announcements of Gears 3 and Halo 4, while their little dudebro bros are getting some decent Kinect titles.
Johnny: Sure, we’re not the dudebro audience, but I still think we have the right to criticise the lack of variety. I mean just because it’ll sell that doesn’t mean it’s in any way good.
Miodrag: I personally don’t care that much for Gears and Halo… I’m guessing the people who do care are excited for it, so good for them! I’m kinda “shocked” that there’s a Halo 4 though without Bungie, but come on, everyone expected more sequels to the main storyline.
Dean: So Microsoft took an odd move and opened with a few third-party titles in Modern Warfare 3 and Tomb Raider: The name I forgot*. I’m not one for COD, MW was fun, but the games since haven’t really pulled me in at all. Obviously the gamers at large like them, so I just stood back and imagined it was a movie trailer. Clearly, Microsoft have a lot at stake with the COD series, I believe that their top selling titles are all CODs. Tomb Raider I kept an eye on. I’ve not touched a Tomb Raider game since the PSone, though Guardian of Light has caught my eye, so a reboot looks like it might be good place to hop right in. It seemed quite Uncharted-y, especially the jumping animations, but I’m sure the story will have its own feel. I did find the voice-acting a bit…adult.
Miodrag: I found it strange that they dubbed the Lara Croft demo with porn… [Gregg’s sole contribution: Tomb Raid-UGH!]
Johnny: Oh yeah, they need to do something about that before release. Holy hell, that was annoying.
Miodrag: I remember not liking Dead Space 1 because the character didn’t talk and I couldn’t sympathize with him. I can at least say I feel an urge to jump off a cliff with Lara after all that breathing and panting. I wonder if they still have the original fall death scream in it…
Declan: Yeah, wow. I think I got a semi listening to that voice-acting. It was a bit too much. Lara’s a strong woman – or she’s supposed to be, I don’t think we needed to hear her moan for 10 minutes.
Miodrag: I think they’re trying to emphasize how “fragile” she is. So expect many scenes with broken bones, open wounds and general “oh my goooooooood” moments.
Johnny: A better way to do that would be to make it actually hard to survive. Herpderp.
Declan: At least it looked good, right? I think the comparisons between Uncharted and Tomb Raider are going to linger but with any luck, they’ll feed off each other and we’ll get two similar but enduring series. I just hope they slow down with the TR reboots. How many is this now?
Miodrag: I think this is the second reboot and third re-imagining… (If we count Angel of Darkness as a re-imagining.)
Declan: Is there a difference between the two?
Miodrag: Think of it like this. The most recent Prince of Persia is a reboot. The emo prince sequels are “dark re-imaginings” but in the same storyline.
Declan: So a reboot=gameplay overhaul where as a re-imagining is a bit like a reskin. That makes sense.
Johnny: Graphically, I think it honestly looked pretty shit in motion. Looks cool on screenshots but by god turn down the contrast and bloom a few steps, please. As for gameplay… We didn’t get any real taste, did we?
James: I was about to mention that. I watched the trailer and all that I could think of is “Wait, is this Crystal Dynamics or Quantic Dream that made this?” Honestly, it was such a set-piece-heavy scene that I’d have expected something like that to belong in Heavy Rain or something, not Tomb Raider. It was more of an elongated, QTE-filled cutscene than any honest gameplay.
Kyle: Modern Warfare 3 will sell boatloads, of course, even if most of us are a bit jaded to the franchise, so it makes sense for Microsoft to open there. Tomb Raider looked like it could be good, even if it did suffer a bit from the whole “cinematic” feel everyone just has to force into their E3 trailers. I wish we saw a bit more of how the game actually plays.
Declan: MW3 will sell like hotcakes but I think it’s getting a bit too automatic, even for the biggest fans. I mean was there any real point to adding movement keys? Most of what we saw was all on-rails action.
Kyle: “Press X to use console/climb ladder/activate nukes/not die.” Yeah, the linearity is pretty constricting, even from that gameplay demo.
Miodrag: I find it sad that Battlefield 3 will sell less than MW3… But then again, that’s another conference. I think ranting about MW has as much of a point as ranting about Facebook or WoW.
Declan: Agreed. At this point, it’s not so much a game as it is a force of nature in the industry. It’ll always have its diehard fans.
Dean: I thought it was a bit odd they didn’t show Elite in action given that’s the new toy. I think MW3 is going to do well, but BF3 is sure generating a lot of hype that seems to be feeding off MW3’s audience. Wouldn’t surprise me if people are looking for something new.
Miodrag: Elite is more of an Activision thing than a Microsoft one. I didn’t expect much of it on MS’s conference personally.
Dean: But Activison didn’t have their own show this year, and Microsoft is their pet monkey now.
Declan: I figured it was because they didn’t want to scare anyone off too soon. They’ve been pretty tight-lipped on exactly what Elite will offer.
Kyle: I hope it offers hats. Hats would be nice.
James: I agree with Declan, although when Robert Bowling was there, and there was still lingering confusion across several sites as to what’s actually involved with it, it’d have been a perfect opportunity to clear the air with everyone and hear straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, rather than add any further spin to the now-nefarious Wall Street Journal exclusive.
Dean: The YouTube and Bing support was a bit crap. They were really bigging up the Bing support, but it’s just voice search, and I’ve had that on my phone for a while. YouTube wasn’t that big a deal either given Wii and PS3 have had specialised interfaces for a long while. And they also have browsers which at this point I think is a bit of a sticking issue with the 360. Microsoft is the only one of the big three to have their own browser technology and they’re continually refusing to use it. Instead choosing to knock out a new site for the Xbox each E3. With YouTube following Last.FM and Twitter from last year. The Bing support is kinda nice, if it works snappily, though I hear it’s limited to just the Xbox marketplace and stuff like Netflix, not browsing the whole web, so seems more like a brand naming over what’s essentially just voice search.
James: I agree. What bugs me about all this is, Microsoft just launched Internet Explorer 9 this year. They could have made a whole big deal about it by saying IE9 will now be native across all Windows platforms, including Windows Phone 7 and Xbox 360, but instead we get this splintered version of the internet on Xbox that only lets us use certain aspects of the internet. It’s a bit silly really.
Kyle: I really hate the whole “app” paradigm, honestly. I’d just like to use a web browser for everything; even on my Android phone I rarely open the dedicated Facebook/Twitter apps, opting instead to use their mobile sites.
Johnny: It’s just the way Microsoft wants it with the closed system. Sorta like Apple. Kinda the opposite of what Windows and PC use in general is, really.
Declan: I really don’t understand why Microsoft haven’t gotten a browser onto the 360. It’s surely possible…Do they just not want to subject their users to Internet Explorer? The YouTube feature and the Bing search didn’t really do anything for me. I have YouTube on my phone, why am I going to browse it on my 360?
Kyle: I don’t have an answer for you, Declan; maybe you can Bing it?
Declan: I’d rather just Google it.
Miodrag: Sorry, I saw we were talking about YouTube and Bing being features, so I just went on to read TV Tropes instead. Xbox can’t do that, huh?
Dean: The other big non-Kinect titles were Gears 3 and Forza 4, Microsoft’s exclusives. Both were shown off last year too, though now they’re obviously much closer to release. I’m going to be honest here but I don’t remember much about them at all, I may have glazed over at this point. So anyone got any thoughts on these, ’cause I’m blank.
Kyle: War Pigs is a nice song. I liked that.
Miodrag: Ice-T got fat.
James: While I’m not a big fan of getting celebrities up on stage to demo your games, I did appreciate Ice-T out to show off Gears 3 (and in turn, his voiceover work in it). It shows that he’s actually a fan of the games and that he’s pretty good at them when they trust him enough to get on up there, do his thing, and make the game look good. Something which, and I’ll bring it up when we discuss Sony’s press conference, Kobe Bryant couldn’t do when he picked up NBA 2K12 with the PS Move controls, and ended up making the game look rather shoddy.
Kyle: Of course, that’s kinda how he played in the postseason anyway.
Miodrag: Ice-T is a “confirmed” gamer (yes, I cringed while typing that), so it does make sense to get him up stage. I honestly can’t comment much on Gears of War, since I was never a fan of the series. It looks like what I picture a Gears of War game would look, so I guess it’s a proper sequel?
Declan: Yeah, Gears 3 looks like Gears 2 which looked like Gears 1. If you like Gears of War or its sequel, you’ll probably like Gears of War 3.
Dean: Ah yeah, I remember the Gears 3 play spot now. (I’ll be honest, while he gets hype I dunno who Iced Tea is). Looked kinda fun and has the big scale the Gears series is known for. I know my housemates are getting it, so I’ll no doubt be taking part in some multiplayer at some point.
Miodrag: Oh, wait, now I remember what bothered me about the demo. The “shoot the glowy bit” and “air strike support” part. I mean, wouldn’t it be more fun to personally kill the boss instead of having it nuked? That’s something I always liked in games like God of War. You rip everything apart yourself. No cinematics.
Declan: Dudebros love their nukes, yo. Seriously though, I can’t help but feel Cliffy B has lost the mojo that gave Epic their reputation in the first place. He’s become complacent.
Miodrag: Gee, Declan, way to set me up for a piracy rant in a roundtable discussion about something else. Anyway, Forza! It has cars. I like cars. Also, didn’t we see it last year? Can’t remember.
Dean: They showed Kinect support for it. Driving with your arms waving about. All I remember this year was them saying it looked really good.
Kyle: It did look like a solid racing game, a direct response to GT5 in my opinion. At least it didn’t have on-foot sections with QTEs.
Declan: Yeah, I remember that Kinect bit now that it’s mentioned. That’s certainly not going to win any sim fans over. I think Forza 4 will do as well as its predecessors. Personally, I’m more of a GT fan but Turn 10 have yet to release a bad competitor to it. It really is Microsoft’s answer to GT.
Dean: Obviously, the star of Microsoft’s conference was Halo. They announced both an HD re-release of Halo: CE and a “New Trilogy” starting with Halo 4 by 343 Industries. I’ve never followed the Halo games much. I’ve put in a fair while on Halo 3 multiplayer, and a bit of the Reach campaign, but the games were never a big thing for me. Fun but not something I’d be waiting in midnight lines for. The remake I guess was pretty much guaranteed, especially now the old Xbox Live is offline, so Microsoft certainly have good leverage with that. Letting you go between old and remastered on the fly is a nice touch. As for Halo 4, I was expecting it when the lights dimmed, but when he said “A new trilogy” I was kinda hoping that Microsoft might actually bring out something new. I think it’ll be interesting to see how fans react to it being 343, though I’d wager a fair few won’t even notice.
Miodrag: My first reaction was “What? Why are they remaking Halo?” but then someone reminded me I was old. I agree with your point about the old Xbox Live closing being another reason, it does make sense. As for Halo 4… Honestly, CGI trailers are something that will never excite me, but I remember all the “GOTY ALL YEARS” when the first CGI for SWTOR was released, so yeah, it works… I did play the first Halo back in ye olden days and I liked it very much save for that one annoying level.
Declan: Halo does very little for me. When it first arrived on the scene, I really enjoyed it but I never got madly into it. It was, apart from Timesplitters, one of the first great console FPS games. For that reason, I could see myself picking up the remake. The multiplayer had a good balance between ridiculous sci-fi and regular weapons that I don’t think the sequels were ever able to capture but beyond that, it’s just something for the fans to buy. Halo 4 is going to be interesting to see, if even just to find out how 343 handles their first major Halo title.
Kyle: Right, the real interesting thing will be when we start seeing gameplay and whether 343 is able to capture the Bungie feel that fans of the series obviously enjoy so much. I personally really enjoyed the first Halo, in spite of its flaws, story and all, and kudos to Bungie for maintaining some sort of consistency throughout. It’s definitely a strong way to end a Microsoft conference for their fans, that’s for sure. Hopefully 343 can follow through.
Dean: They’ve said it’s a new engine. I’m no expert but it looks to be similar to Reach, but they wanted to keep quiet on it when pressed for details. Based off the trailer, they certainly seem to be going for the jetpack mechanic of Reach.
Johnny: “New engine” can mean a lot of things.
Miodrag: It could mean Kinect integration!
Kyle: “Squat in front of your TV to teabag!”
Declan: Or simply a new plugin, who knows? The quick turnaround makes me think it’s not an entirely new engine.
Dean: Right. I think to wrap this up let’s just finish with our personal high point and low point of the show. For me I’d say their low point was the Star Wars Kinect game. It drew a fair bit of criticism at its appearance last year and it seems nothing was really done to change it. It does seem like they want to sell it purely off the Star Wars naming. My high point was Tim Schafer, he was a brief but bright joy to Microsoft’s conference with some half decent gags, though I can’t say much for his Sesame Street game. Maybe if I were much older or much younger.
Johnny: My low point was the entire Kinect lineup. My high point was making fun of the entire Kinect lineup. On a serious note, that Star Wars thing was shit. And there really wasn’t anything at all that excited me.
Kyle: Low: Disneyland game. High: Sesame Street.
James: I agree with Dean for the most part. Star Wars Kinect hasn’t looked much different since we saw it at the same time last year, and waving your arms around aimlessly, insta-killing everything just doesn’t strike me as my idea of fun. If there were precision to the strokes and attacks, as well as maybe some way of defining what’s an offensive lightsaber strike, or a defensive reflection of blaster ammo, it’d be much better, but we got no indication, either last year or this, of this being the way I described it. My high point was, as it seems to be with many others, Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster. It strikes me as one of those games that could be just as fun for an adult as it is for children, without too many sacrifices to make it too child-like or too grown-up. It’s got its intended market and it’s going to do great in it, providing that there’s a good overlap with the Kinect install base, but it’s also one of those games that’ll probably help Microsoft sell a fair amount of units too.
Miodrag: My personal low point was… I honestly have no idea, everything was really bad. I’d say the low point was them saying you could scan your car with Kinect and use it in games. High point was Tim Schafer with Sesame Street for me as well. He didn’t seem to be bandwagoning like everyone else with shovelware. That design was actually sincere and taking advantage of Kinect. I really liked it.
Declan: Tim Schafer and Sesame Street stole the show for me. It was the only Kinect title that seemed to have any genuine thought thrown into the Kinect integration. While I was disappointed that Tim didn’t come out to announce a new title for core gamers, he showed Double Fine wasn’t just in the business for the hardcore. Low points? Can I say the rest of it? While I found nothing truly awful, the rest of the Microsoft conference was just a bit ‘meh’. Some new games in established series, new features and more of the same. It wasn’t surprising at all.
*Turns out it is just called Tomb Raider.
Well, that ends our first E3 Round Table. We’re still sorting out the formula for these, so any feedback on this format would be greatly appreciated.