E3 Press Conferences: Microsoft

I went to E3 once, in 2006. It was loud, crowded, and kind of insane, and from what I read later, it was one of the conference’s more restrained years, happening just before it was scaled back and nearly cancelled entirely. I had fun, but I did a pretty terrible job of really covering anything. The biggest thing that happened that year was the Wii was playable, but actually doing so required waiting in a line for 2+ hours. I declined to wait in line, but one of the guys I went with had his mind blown by some of the early demos.

Today, pretty much everything that could be gained by actually going to E3 can be experienced and consumed by watching the various streaming conferences, trailers and interviews that publishers put up all week. I wouldn’t mind going back at some point, but it doesn’t really seem necessary the way it once was.

This morning, I watched Microsoft’s press conference that has historically served as the official/unofficial kickoff for E3 (the conference doesn’t technically start until tomorrow, but gaming press and industry types have been flooding into the LA area since at least late last week), and it was pretty good! I wasn’t really sure what to expect, since their press briefings have been kind of boring since they announced the Xbox One, but this year they focused almost singularly on games, offering little in the way of comment or filler in between gameplay demos and trailers. What follows is a synopsis of some of my favorite bits.

Halo 5 was the first game shown off, with gameplay that… mostly looked pretty familiar. With 4 player drop-in/out co-op, it looks like there will be a stronger emphasis on team play, but Halo was always more fun with a friend anyway, so this isn’t a huge surprise. Everything looked pretty detailed and fluid, though, and after skipping The Master Chief Collection last year, I’m pretty stoked to revisit that overwrought sci-fi world this fall.

Next was a brief trailer for an intriguing new IP called Recore from Keiji Inafune, best-known for creating the Megaman series (among many other games) at Capcom. The game stars a girl and her robot dog, the latter of which is represented by an AI core that can be put into various other robot forms based on the trailer and its final teaser image.

At this point, Phil Spencer took the stage and offered the only real break in trailers and gameplay, announcing backward compatibility for Xbox 360 games (via emulation, which means it will roll out in waves, very similar to the way the Xbox 360 implemented it for original Xbox games) and a new “Elite” controller that looks very nice but will cost $150 for some reason. The price was not announced during the conference, but when their info page went live, I saw multiple tweets from people who liked the idea but were shocked by the price. Consider me among them.

Bethesda actually had their own press conference yesterday, but Todd Howard of Bethesda came out to talk about Fallout 4, which looks pretty great and comes out in November. Fallout 3 was one of my favorite games of the last generation, and FO4 looks like a worthy successor.

After a fairly boring segment from Peter Moore to talk about EA Access, a service of dubious merit to pay $5 monthly for last year’s games, announcements, trailers and gameplay demos started to come hard and fast. Forza 6, Dark Souls 3, The Division, Rainbow Six: Siege (which will come with two previous-generation games, Rainbow Six Vegas 1 and 2, for free, a savvy move taking advantage of that new backward compatibility), and Gigantic were announced and/or shown off, followed by an indie games showcase that seemed tailor-made to combat Sony’s emphasis on indie games since before the PS4 launched. Some of the games looked pretty good, but Cuphead, a mashup of 1930’s-style animation and 16-bit platforming/shooting gameplay, was a standout.

A Microsoft riff on Steam Early Access called Xbox Game Preview was announced next, with The Long Dark and Elite: Dangerous available to download today. They also made it clear that you can download and try any game in the program before you commit to spending money on it. I’ve occasionally taken advantage of Steam Early Access, and the move is understandable, but it’s not a particularly exciting initiative at the moment.

After that, the deluge of trailers and demos resumed, with a 6-minute gameplay demo of Rise of the Tomb Raider being a standout. Rare announced a collection of 30 classic games that sounds like fun (in particular, I’m excited to play Blast Corps again, even though it has the potential to ruin my memories of how awesome it was when I played it on the N64 as a teenager. Rare also announced Sea of Thieves, an MMO-looking pirate simulator? The footage looked pretty early and more like a proof-of-concept than a working prototype, but it looked fun nonetheless.

Near the end of the show, Microsoft announced a bunch of different VR initiatives. They announced Xbox One to Windows 10 PC streaming previously, but today they said that you could also add Oculus Rift into the mix, streaming from Xbox to PC and then from PC to Rift. It all sounded like a great way to introduce and foreground lag, but a lot depends on how well the streaming works and how tolerant it is of network performance and interference. They also took the opportunity to talk about HoloLens, which led the audience to groan… until a demo showed it projecting Minecraft in 3D on a table. I think the whole thing looks pretty gimmicky (then again, I feel this way about all of the current VR initiatives) but I can see it being a platform seller among the tween set already immersed in all things MinecraftRegardless of how it plays out, it was an impressive demo of a technology that’s inspired almost nothing but skepticism since its announcement.

The show ended with Coalition Games (formerly Black Tusk Studios), who announced an already-rumored Gears of War remaster along with some early gameplay of Gears 4. The latter looked incredibly impressive for what must have been a pretty early demo, though it also felt just a little too beholden to the gameplay beats and concepts established by the first game in 2006.

I’ve read that Microsoft is working on adding TV DVR functionality to the Xbox One, which I’m super stoked about, and it felt like not touching on that (if it is, indeed, a thing) was a missed opportunity. There was a brief bit of lip service where we were told to “tune into our daily show to catch a preview of our new system interface” later today, but if DVR is a feature coming this fall/holiday, I would personally want to shout it from the rooftops.

But maybe that’s just me.

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