E3 '09: Day Zero – Microsoft Keynote

June 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

The conference is now over, and after a pretty formulaic start there were some amazing things said, some incredible promises made and a hellava lot of leftover scepticism from the blogging public.

After a series of impressive – but expected – teaser trailers for Halo 3: ODST, Final Fantasy XIII, Alan Wake and Modern Warfare 2, Microsoft revealed that they were bringing the MGS franchise to Xbox 360. Well, sort-of…

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Kojima introduced the slightest of teasers for the new game, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, and without letting anything significant go, said that it would be “a completely new Metal Gear experience”. Note that he never mentioned the word “exclusive” (not that it means that much anymore) and nothing about MGS 4. This came as a bit of a disappointment for me, as this new game seems to be set with Raiden holding centre stage. I didn’t particularly like Raiden in MGS 2, and I have no idea what’s happened to his character in MGS 4. For 360 owners who’ve never played MGS 4, how exactly are they supposed to be excited for a game which probably won’t make any sense story-wise outside of a context – i.e. without playing MGS 4 first?

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They also didn’t say that they weren’t going to bring MGS 4 to the 360 eventually, so there’s still that possibility, I suppose.

There was also a lot of stuff about Xbox LIVE interactivity with regards to integrating HD Zune Video, Facebook, Last FM, Twitter and Sky into the service. None of this interests me, but it’s a smart move by Microsoft. It costs them little to implement some of this stuff, and it’s just the kind cross-platform integration the ‘tween market will go ape-shit over.

The biggest announcement by far, and which may well end up being the central talking point of E3 ‘09, is Microsoft’s answer to Wii Motion Plus: “Project Natal”. With this device set up right next to your television set, every movement your body makes can be mapped and inputted into the Microsoft console, possibly heralding a new generation of interactivity in video gaming. Most of what was shown was pretty broad stuff precisely aimed at the Wii audience – a painting program and a dodgeball/break-out-style game – but what was really amazing? Peter Molyneux demonstrating “Milo”, an AI avatar which can read the body language and speech patterns of whoever’s playing. I’m not just talking about body positioning, here; we’re talking about an AI being able to read the user’s face, their posture, their voice, their emotions – or at least, that’s what Molyneux seemingly claimed, anyhow.

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Unfortunately, it was all pre-recorded, pre-scripted at Lionhead HQ. Apparently a select audience at E3 will be able to test the software and try for themselves; maybe then we’ll get an accurate idea of how much of this reality and how much is science-fiction. The overriding opinion of most people, though, seems to be: “It won’t work, but if it does, it could very well be revolutionary.”

Given Molyneux’s track-record for making outrageous claims and then bailing at the last second, I’m most certainly going to stay sceptical about Milo. The rest of the motion capture stuff, from what they demonstrated at the show, doesn’t look that far off from being a reality. What it seems to be about, mostly, is getting the lag time down to something that’s instantaneous, which the demonstration showed to be not the case.

The other thing to come out of this conference was a significant market shift towards networking, on-demand services and interactivity. As such, many “core” gamers might be a little disappointed with this recent realignment – perhaps believing that it might indicate an undesirable trend towards “casual” game development – but Microsoft is just being Microsoft; like the hulking behemoth they are, they want to do everything and they want to do it better than anyone else.

One thing’s for sure, Sony and Nintendo are going to be hard-pressed to top this.

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