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More on MS E3 09

As I write this post with bleary eyes, I look back on the past 4 or 5 years where my husband and I watched Microsoft’s E3 Press conferences. It all started with J Allard returning to the stage to announce the XBOX 360. Back then, I knew this was the console that, for me, will bring about the technological enhancement that I have been looking for. I have always felt that technology is not solely about hardware leaps but also that of software. When Allard stepped in and narrated all these wonderful software driven features that will be built in the 360, I knew we had to get an XBOX 360 on day one. 5 years ago, Microsoft was laughed at and scrutinized for its concepts. Today, all its competitors are trying to catch up to it.

But as the years progressed, you end up feeling like you’ve seen it all. After 5 years, my husband and I have all the ‘next-generation’ consoles as well as the defining handheld systems. We’ve played on all platforms and enjoyed the unique games that they offer. And then the tedium with games, gaming fans, and the gaming industry sets in. These days I sit back and let my husband and brother play, only occasionally taking the controller to practice with them in Street Fighter.

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Life sets in and its not just made up of the Internet.

So for me, it came as no surprise that I wasn’t feeling all too excited with E3 this year. While we did get E3 invites, some pressing and more important circumstances did not allow us to go to Los Angeles. My husband felt that was ok since we can follow everything on the Internet. When I found out that the Microsoft Conference was about to start at 1:30 AM (Manila time), I shook my head and told myself that I would much rather catch on up sleep and just read the news the following morning. But thanks to my husband’s passion for games, I ended up watching the conference with him while snacking on the side in order to keep me awake.

Even with the lost opportunity to rest, I was glad to have watched the conference for it renewed my interest in gaming once again.

Of course there was a pivotal moment that made my eyes widen (and no it was not Hideo Kojima), but I’ll touch on that later and get the other stuff out of the way.

In fanboy parlance, Microsoft didn’t announce anything new. Most of the games that were shown were already known to people who follow Internet forums and gaming news. While Microsoft did an amazing job keeping leaks at bay, practically no footage of the games were available on the Internet. In comparison with its competitors, that had leaked most of the gameplay footages and announcements on the net prior to E3. At the start, a part of me was worried that Microsoft may have nothing new to show, despite the comments of Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson) that this year’s E3 was the biggest one for Microsoft.

In this case, I am glad to be wrong.

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So bright and sunny!!! Very different from the emo/ goth / bling culture we have now.

Microsoft started out with a lot of spunk in their conference with John Schapert announcing that they will not be firing the good ‘ol Power Point presentation of sales figures and attach rates. While I am not a fan of ‘The Beatles’, it was a nice introduction to the whole affair complete with star studded cast appearances by Paul McCartney and Ringo Star. While I am not from ‘The Beatles’ generation, I can certainly see my mother actually purchasing the Rockstar Beatles game herself and demand the rest of my family to take up the instruments while she sings along. It’s too early for me to say this but the changing backgrounds and stages depending on the song being played is cool! I like it since it gives a lot more personality to the game and clearly sets it apart from the default Rockband titles. And I hope that I didn’t mishear it when it was announced that ‘All You Need Is Love’ is a free exclusive download for the XBOX 360.

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For a minute there, I thought ice picks are going to be part of your arsenal.

I wasn’t too excited with The Beatles and the game that followed it, didn’t make me feel any different. While I’m sure some people would like to play Tony Hawk: Ride, skateboarding has never been for me. The next game proved to be much better but nothing that will blow me away. Modern Warfare 2 was up next with gameplay footage that guarantees that it will probably make as much money (or perhaps more) as its predecessor this coming holiday season. While playing this online may be difficult due to some lag issues (which hopefully Infinity Ward has addressed), the single player promises to be exciting enough to warrant a definite budget allocation for the upcoming holiday game season. I had to chuckle when my husband mentioned something like ‘What’s with the weird looking weapon?’ and I had to remind him that we’re past World War II now.

Modern Warfare 2 was definitive start of the show for the key XBOX shooter crowd with an announcement that the map packs will be available first on XBOX live. I can imagine the XBL Clans going crazy over the next big thing that they will lose their sleep over.

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Got big hair? Go hide a chocobo in it.

After that was a demonstration of the title whose announcement last year was akin to dropping a nuclear warhead in the NeoGaf Forums, Final Fantasy 13. As Yoshinori Kitase stepped on stage, I was torn between feeling happy (since JRPG is my favorite gaming genre) or annoyed at how FF has turned into the dark anime pose-fest strapped in leather and a million zippers. Then his companion started the playing the definitive XBOX 360 version of the game, dispelling all the rumors that the announcement last year was a hoax. Gameplay wasn’t much, I’ve seen countless of videos in Nico Nico Douga for the FF13 demo included in the Blu-Ray version of FF: Advent Children. The only thing that surprised me was the teeny weeny bit of English voice acting included in the demo…I’m glad that Square Enix actually acknowledged that their audience for this event aren’t made up of Japanese people. But what made the demo exciting was the inclusion of the Odin summon and you get an idea on how these summons will work in the game. And I liked what I saw for it seems like for a certain duration the summon is actually a part of your party. This game will be a definite must-buy for me in 2010, all that remains now is an announcement by Square Enix that the game will be available for the XBOX 360 in Asia.

Next up are the guys from Epic, with Cliffy B wearing a cute Bill Gates T-Shirt. While it’s a shame that the other guy’s microphone was busted, the game they showed, Shadow Complex, certainly looked amazing. When I was watching the video, I thought I will definitely get this game when it comes out on disc. But lo and behold, this game is actually an XBOX Live title which definitely gives me more incentive to actually get MS Points within the next few months just to get this title. With Epic using the Unreal Engine 3, to render a 2D platforming like action game…I think this XBL exclusive something that I wouldn’t want to pass up.

In line with the current XBL line-up, a game quite similar to Mario Kart with your XBOX 360 Avatar as the star is presented. While the game itself isn’t exactly groundbreaking, I am very surprised at the business model Microsoft used for Joy Ride. This game is a… *GASP* FREE DOWNLOAD! Anyone can get the game and XBL Gold Subscribers can play online with other people. The business model used is similar to the some pay-per-play mechanic where you will just buy MS Points in order to ‘pimp’ your ride. I’ll be watching this game because I want to see if the business model employed will actually yield some fruit.

Finally Microsoft is about the blow the lid on their exclusive titles the first of which was Crackdown 2. It’s predecessor was once known merely as "the Halo 3 Beta" but in time Crackdown has gained quite a following. The cel shaded graphics and the awesome animation in the game made it one of the more interesting sandbox games to grace this generation. While not much is shown, other than a teaser trailer, I do hope that this time around there will be a greater focus on the plot as well as more character to bad guys…rather than screaming ‘Die!’ at your face over and over again. Oh..and did I mention it seems like this game has big monster battles and cooperative play as well?

Then we are treated with a trailer of Left 4 Dead 2 which seems to be set in the American heartland! Get ready to smack zombies with your frying pan the moment you run out of bullets. L4D was surprisingly a big hit with the XBOX crowd, particularly with the multiplayer aspect of this game. While not much is revealed in the trailer, this game is once again an exclusive for the Microsoft platform.

Finally, after a long hiatus, Splinter Cell: Conviction is finally ready to hit the streets this year! Ubisoft finally gave Sam Fisher a much needed shave while he sets out to find his daughter’s killer and uncover a greater conspiracy within the third echelon. It’s clear that the graphics have been reworked and it shows. I love the way the cutscenes seamlessly blend with the gameplay. And the title sequence for each mission has a very modern feel to it. The gameplay demonstration proves that Splinter Cell is finally upon us and Sam Fisher is a lot like Jack Bauer of 24 in this game and that’s a good thing.

Then the next demonstration starts with a cool looking car which I’m sure is bound to be expensive and left me wondering if it was on a loan from some Microsoft executive. Forza 3 is officially announced and beside me my husband was chattering happily. The game wherein I’m bound to hear the sound of squealing tires constantly after its release, has finally nailed what I always thought was lacking. Good graphics. Finally Turn 10 has gotten their act together and fixed the graphics engine! There is not much that I can about this game that my husband hasn’t mentioned already. Nonetheless, I was impressed.

Last year people were whining that the new Halo game was shoved out of the E3 limelight by Microsoft. And this year it seems like Microsoft’s decision not to show the game back then was right because the gameplay of Halo ODST was finally shown and it looks like it offers some graphical improvement over the Halo 3 engine. But the real selling point of Halo was never about graphics but the gameplay mechanic itself. Halo was the game that converted me into an XBOX supporter and every time I play it I am reminded why I like this shooter so much. No doubt Halo ODST will be an instant purchase for us. And for those on the fence, well they will include beta-keys to the upcoming Halo Reach game. Those who read the first Halo novel, Fall of Reach, must be very happy with this announcement. This game marks the debut of the Spartans. Needless to say, I’m hoping that we actually get to see John, aka Master Chief, once more. I do hope they will include the Spartan training camp in the game which shows John and the others as kids being trained to be super soldiers. Ironically, the ODST were the rivals of the Spartans back then. And by this point in time, the core XBOX demographic are feeling that nice tingle up their spines.

Finally Alan Wake is shown to the world! The biggest disappointment in this conference is that this game is coming out in Spring 2010. But the atmospheric environment certainly lived up to the hype surrounding this title. I like it that the style of the game has a disembodied voice walking you through the game as if, you are actually living out a novel. Graphically it looks great too! I can’t wait to play this game even if it looks like it’s bound to give me the creeps.

The next few announcements are more on the social aspect of XBOX Live many of which are nice points of interest:

  • Last.FM – XBOX Live finally gets its own radio channels which are free for XBOX Live Gold Subscribers. Of course certain details have not been released, such as the capability of streaming the radio to your game and if this feature is available even for XBOX Live Gold Members in unsupported territories.

  • Facebook - Clearly for the social networking crowd but the biggest draw for gamers is that it seems you can take a screenshot of your game (as you are playing) and post it on your facebook account. Once again, details are still sketchy but if its true that MS is finally allowing gamers to make their own screenshots, I’ll finally cave in and make a facebook account.

  • Twitter – Who will forget this one? Find out what your friend is doing at that very instant…hopefully he’s not just giving you a tweet about going to the bathroom.

  • Netflix – A fix to the Netflix service as well as the inclusion of inviting your XBL friends to watch a movie with you. Only for the US.

  • Sky – The alternative to Netflix for the European crowd. Football galore!

  • Zune Video – HD Movies at 1080p available in more territories other than the United States.

Now there are other 2 announcements following Don Matrick’s appearance, which I prefer to discuss separately. To some things up, MS did what they promised to do at the start of the conference. Less charts, less talk and more game!

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