E3 2009 Assessment: Microsoft Conference

MSE30901

The future of gaming?

In my pre-E3 assessment for the 360 I broke the console’s strengths and weaknesses down into three categories: Hardware, Software (Hardcore) and Software (Casual).  With their press conference out of the way (which should cover all their significant announcements) I’m going to take a look at each of those categories again and see how Microsoft fared (in my opinion).  After that is an assessment of each individual item revealed/shown, and my verdict on the conference as a whole.  Click through for details.

Assessment: Hardware

I said that the 360’s only real hardware issue is its horrible failure rate, and that Microsoft are unlikely to do anything about it at this year’s E3.  That turned out to be correct, as there was nothing new revealed about the console.  It does mean that some people will continue to avoid the 360 because of its hardware issues, but I don’t believe that’s a particularly large portion of the gaming public.

Assessment: Software (Hardcore)

I said that Microsoft lacked exclusives for the end of the year and that they really needed to unveil lots of exclusives, and that’s exactly what they did.  The revealed games were heavier for 2010 than 2009, which isn’t ideal.  Generally though, the reveal of another Bungie Halo game and the long-awaited Alan Wake are both pretty big, and there were other decent exclusives present.

Assessment: Software (Casual)

I said that the console’s biggest problem with the casual audience is that it has no real appeal to them at all, and in the short-term Microsoft did nothing at E3 to change that.  In the long-term though, the reveal of the motion control camera Project Natal could have a huge impact.  The video and audio recognition needs to be pretty spot-on though and able to recognise children and regional accents (for every language it releases in!), so they have a lot of work to do ahead of its launch next year.  It also needs some real games rather than tech demos.

MSE30903

No surprises from Halo 3: ODST, but Halo: Reach was unexpected.

Individual Assessment

Following is my opinion on every individual item discussed, after which are some more general verdicts for the conference and the 360’s fortunes for 2009 and 2010:

  • Beatles Rock BandPoor
    • I don’t like music games and have never used a plastic instrument, but I understand in general that they’re popular. It’s essentially about the exclusive DLC though, and after Fallout 3 I don’t think anybody is going to assume it really means exclusive.
  • Modern Warfare 2Okay
    • A great gameplay demo for what will be a great game, but its presence in the conference was mainly about the DLC that will be exclusive “for a short while” on 360.  It came across as Microsoft having tried to get some exclusive DLC but being soundly dismissed by Activision Blizzard, who aren’t silly enough to sabotage one of their biggest games with such practices.
  • Final Fantasy XIIIGood
    • They were able to show it does exist on 360 already, runs well and looks good. Narrowing down the release to spring is a nice bit of news, and suggests they really have been working on the 360 version for a while. Or Crystal Tools is a fantastic porting engine, but as this is Square I think I’d go with the former.
  • Shadow ComplexOkay
    • I don’t have the love for side-scrolling shooters that some gamers do. It’s interesting though as a UE3 XBLA game, which we don’t seem to have many of. It seems to have really great production values for an Arcade game, but that means we’re probably looking at the highest price point for it though.
  • Joy RidePoor
    • It’s a free game, which is good, but it will have microtransactions, which is less good. It mostly seems like fun, throwaway filler while Big Park work on the motion control device, the real reason Microsoft bought them.
  • Crackdown 2Good
    • Granted, I’m one of those folk who would put Crackdown out there as one of the best open world games so far this gen, but it’s still good news. It looks to be co-op (likely online), but as long as it can be done solo it’s great for me.
  • Left 4 Dead 2Okay
    • It’s very unlike Valve to spit out a sequel so quickly, but there does seem to be enough there to justify it.
  • Splinter Cell: ConvictionGood
    • Looks pretty damn fantastic, actually. Environment kills, almost Assassin’s Creed climbing, Hitman approach to areas, and some nice visual tricks (though the text-on-walls is a bit iffy). There’s no reason to expect this to stay exclusive though for longer than six months to a year.
  • Forza 3Good
    • I’m not interested personally as I have no interest in cars or racing, and I don’t know how this compares to Gran Turismo.  They do review well though and this will likely be the third full Forza title to come out between GT4 and GT5, which probably counts for something.
  • Halo: ODSTGood
    • No surprise there, it’s going to be a decent (if shorter) Halo game, properly distanced from Master Chief, allowing Bungie to experiment a little.
  • Halo: ReachGood
    • Huge surprise there, even with the rumours. I thought a new Halo game possible, but not from Bungie. It’s a little sad that they still can’t get away from Halo and try new things, but it’s also good that we’ll get another proper Halo.
  • Alan WakeGood
    • The anticipation for this was pretty huge and I’m not sure what we saw quite lived up to that, but the game looks interesting. The 2010 release is a little disappointing (if expected), but it’s nice to know that it both exists and is almost done.
  • Metal Gear Solid: RisingGood
    • MGS on 360 is pretty significant for the whole “there are no third-party exclusives” theme of this generation. It doesn’t seem to be an exclusive though (there was a clear 360, PC and PS3 message at the Konami press conference two days later).
  • Project NatalGood
    • Could well end up being the most significant thing of this generation if it could do what Microsoft want it to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the concept trailer for it – fighting game, racing game, monster smashing city game, skateboard game – looked much more exciting than the actual tech demos. Splat Stage did put a stupid grin on my face as the picture came together, as I’m sure it did for most of the audience.
    • Trying on outfits and the ease with which you can show off clothes you’ve found (and sticking them perfectly upon your photo) seems blatantly like the kind of thing they’d like to aim for, rather than what is possible.
    • The dashboard integration is potentially pretty slick. Milo looks interesting, and there are big implications for RPG dialogue if its ideas can be expanded upon.
  • LastFM, Netflix, Sky, Facebook and Twitter Okay
    • I have very little interest in them personally, but obviously this kind of thing is pretty big right now and the interconnectivity is a big deal.
MSE30902

Forza 3 was one of the worst-kept secrets in Microsoft's line-up.

  • The Press Conference itselfOkay
    • I don’t think it was as spectacular as it could have been, but they mostly did what they needed to – wheel out the games. Ignoring charts and graphs was a good thing as they’re always the most boring part of these events for the audience (and obviously are coming from a heavily biased source). Unless they’re made in LBP, of course.
    • In general I like the approach: “We’re going to show X exclusives” and just running with it.  There were some surprise game announcements and Project Natal looks fascinating, and could end up being incredibly important.
  • 2009 VerdictOkay
    • The combo of Left 4 Dead 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Forza 3 and Halo: ODST gives them a few key games to complement the third-party selection, although it would have been nice to be a bit heavier on the exclusives.
  • 2010 VerdictGood
    • Halo: Reach, Alan Wake and Crackdown 2 already beats what Microsoft have put out so far this year, and Project Natal could be really big once more developers get their hands on it. We saw nothing from Rare at the press conference, which likely means they’re heavily immersed in Natal.

Image Sources:

Project Natal Conference Photo: Flickr (popculturegeek.com)

Halo 3: ODST Conference Photo: Flickr (popculturegeek.com)

Forza 3 Conference Photo: Flickr (popculturegeek.com)

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