Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference: Partial Dis-Kinect

June 7, 2011

Microsoft has spent that past two years trying to backpedal and follow in the Wii’s footsteps by attracting a more diverse audience of families and “casual” gamers through an innovative new method of control, and they’ve been met with an undeniable degree of success. Robust sales figures and acclaim from major media outlets have certainly done much to validate it as more than a freakish departure or experiment. With no new titles to embrace since last November’s launch, however, early adopters have been left out in the cold as they waited for a new slew of titles to further compliment their purchase… Dance Central can only last an interested party for so long.

At the same time, Microsoft also hasn’t abandoned those looking for more traditional (read: better, longer, less novelty) gameplay experiences. You want your shooters? You’ll get your shooters. You want cockpit-view racers and car porn? You’ve got that, too. We have adventure games, war games, you name it. Those games will be coming and they’ll keep on coming forever, don’t you worry.

But you know what’d be great? If they all used the Kinect, as well! Their overwhelming message? “We can have our cake and eat it, too.” I just wish they’d decide on a fucking flavor, because there is no way I am eating all these different cakes. Some of these cakes are really shitty, you guys.

On to the cakes.

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— MODERN CALL of WARFARE DUTY 3

First thing’s first: yes, the controller freaked out and disconnected within the first twenty seconds of the demo. That’s a thing that happened. Luckily it happened early and was quickly forgotten about, save for the more eager participants of forums and message boards.

As far as the actual demonstration is concerned? Military shooters are not my thing, let’s just make that clear. I am, by no means, an authority on the genre. A lot of these games run together for me, and the impending confusion between MW3 and the new Battlefield are only going to make my eyes cross and glaze over. But you know what? This had some neat set pieces. I played the first Modern Warfare (or do people prefer the fourth Call of Duty? Is that still a thing?) and enjoyed it. This one has the added hook of THE U.S. IS UNDER ATTACK, a theme that hasn’t been fully explored since 1984’s epic masterpiece Red Dawn changed cinema and warfare forever, so this one will probably do very well for itself.

Now if they could just figure out a way to break from claustrophobic ship/sub hallways and dirt/filth-laden city alleyways, maybe I’d stop making fun of every military shooter that dares to be aggressively unoriginal in the majority of its combat.

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— TOMB RAIDER

The show started out strong with a gameplay demonstration of the new survivor-based Tomb Raider reboot which, quite surprisingly, looks just as great as the trailer indicates.

This new Lara is being dragged through some horrifying and perilous scenarios during these precious few minutes of footage (this is seriously one FUCKED up island), and in this brief window the franchise seems more interesting and alive than it ever has before. This is a globetrotting heroine I can actually get behind– she’s scared but determined, vulnerable but tenacious. The more I see of this new Lara Croft the easier it becomes to regard her older persona as the female equivalent to Duke Nukem. Surrounding this

cavernous, undergound environments rendered in gorgeous polygonal detail, but it’s when she finally reaches the surface that we see the true scope of this new adventure.

This is looking more and more like a day one purchase for me. Unfortunately it’ll be a long wait as the release is ambiguously slated for Fall of 2012.

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— MASS EFFECT 3

The strong showing continued with a display of Mass Effect 3 for Xbox 360, focusing quite heavily on the Kinect-exclusive voice command feature. Now, rather than hitting buttons, you can actually shout commands to your Kinect sensor– and effectively, your in-game, AI-driven companions– and they’ll follow suit. To which degree this will actually be effective during combat remains to be seen, but so far that seems like a potentially neat addition to those who pick this up for the Xbox (and have Kinect). The flip side of that coin is a seemingly useless option to read aloud the scripted lines on dialogue trees in order to select them…

Maybe this is just me, but since those pick-an-option lines don’t directly correlate to what the actual voice of Shepard says upon selection, this seems like a confusing and largely unneeded addition. You would, effectively, become the silent, schizophrenic voice hiding inside Commander Shephard’s mind. I’m pretty sure this would immediately take me out of the experience every single time rather than further immerse me in the discussion.

Anyway. This popped up again during EA’s presentation, but it had a warm reception here first. Definitely looking like a great third entry in the series.

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— TOM CLANCY’S GHOST RECON KINECT OR SOMETHING?

Another military shooter, I guess. I know next to nothing about this series, so you’ll have to excuse me for any lack of enthusiasm. Every firing-guns-in-a-shithole-city-that’s-falling-apart game starts to look like every other, after a while. The fact that they opened with a staged, CGI trailer didn’t help much, either. I have a hard time staying attentive for in-game headshots and kill streaks, so fully-rendered and staged killing sprees do even less for me.

One undeniably cool new feature however, was the Gunsmith mode (on display above). This was the best display of the Kinect sensor’s usefulness in-game that I’ve seen yet. Building a gun from scratch through gestures and voice commands was fun to watch and, one assumes, would be even more fun to try out for yourself.

Things immediately turned sour when the gameplay demonstration showed how the Kinect controls worked. Open palm gestures to fire the gun? Raising your fist in the air to look through the scope? That is not how guns work and that is not how anyone would ever want a gun to work, guys. Did anyone even bother to look at these commands until the press conference?

Anyway, Tom Clanker’s Gust Recon: Something Whatever is coming to retail shelves this sometime, probably. Get excited.

Trotted out next was the announcement of a new Kinect-based dashboard and  the introduction of a partnership with Youtube and Bing, being pitched as “all the entertainment you want, made easy.” XBox Live TV will bring the magic and wonder of regular fucking TV to your Xbox, if you;re into that sort of thing. Not cable channels, mind you, but the local channels that everyone basically ignores in favor of Hulu anyway. TV IS BETTER WHEN YOU ARE THE CONTROLLER, I GUESS. At least that’s what they want you to think. Also, something about the UFC streaming through Xbox Live…? What is even happening, who knows.

That’s all coming this Fall. Counting the days and nights, I’m sure.

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— GEARS of WAR 3

A pleasant surprise, ironic or otherwise, was the live gameplay demonstration of Gears of War 3‘s co-op campaign, brought to you by Cliffy B and Ice-T.

As someone who’s never managed to grab hold of this franchise’s appeal, by and large, I have to say that no other game demos as well as any Gears has at E3, traditionally. Giant monsters, hefty firepower, undeniably impressive set piece, everything is always there to really wake you up and get you interested. This demo was no exception, showcasing a face-off with a massive, tentacled Leviathan that was probably not aware it’s eyeball could explode like that when confronted with hundreds and hundreds of bullets. Who knew?

Plus, Cliffy B and Ice-T are adorable playmates. Color me interested in seeing more for this (assumedly final) entry in the franchise.

(Until it’s not.)

Some miscellaneous content was quick to follow… an all-CGI trailer for a Crytek-developed Roman Empire Kinect game named RYSE was met with obligatory applause just to keep things rolling, and the expected announcement of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary gave Tom’s everywhere a giant boner. 7 classic maps for multiplayer (sure to find new life on Xbox Live), the classic campaign fully remastered, online co-op, everything that needed to be there was there. November 15th cannot come soon enough for Halo fans.

Forza Motorsport 4 received a quick mention, as well, touting a new trailer to showcase its headtracking via Kinect and features like the car club, a rivals mode, and the promise of monthly expansions after its release on October 11.

The show was surely hitting its stride, having settled comfortably into a bit of a lull. Boy, you know what the perfect thing to pick this right back up would be? Some terrible, scripted garbage.

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— FABLE: THE JOURNEY, KINECT DISNEYLAND ADVENTURES, SESAME STREET: ONCE UPON A MONSTER, KINECT SPORTS SEASON 2, & DANCE CENTRAL 2

Do you have children? Great. Perfect. You’ll love these.

Do you not have children? Move along.

Do you not have children and find these titles to be totally amazing? You and I just ain’t got a thing to say to each other, brother.

Petey M. claims that Fable: The Journey will be “100 times more involved” than Fable 1, 2 or 3 were. He says this because he cannot open his mouth onstage without lying about his latest game. Sure, you can drive a horse and carriage now. Yes, now you can throw kamehameha’s at goblins. I guess that’s pretty involved. You know what would make the game even more involved? Giving the player the ability to walk around on his god damned own, that’s what.

This entire section of the presentation revealed something unfortunate about the future of Kinect: in games like Fable: The Journey, you are the controller at the expense of true control. An on-rails shooting gallery experience through the world of Albion isn’t what any Fable fan wanted after they played Fable 3. You can only decide what kind of thing you want to throw and how hard you want to throw it as the camera zips along an unmarked path, pausing to let you flap your hands at the screen and cast fire spells and ice spells at monsters that wait patiently for your attack. Even I was surprised that this was trotted out onstage, and I predicted it in our last podcast.

The spectacles that surrounded and followed only served to make things worse. Painfully scripted demos of children rolling hamster balls through Wonderland, high-fiving while vocally exclaiming how much FUN they’re having, aren’t going to do it for anyone in the E3 audience. I know you guys need to sell this to Moms who might someday see it on The Today Show, but please stop shoving these poor people onstage in front of the entire online world so they can end up being transformed into memes and quick-editing recaps… someone, please, think of the children.

Also, could you please stop lying about these being real, unscripted, unstaged demonstrations of the tech in action? I don’t care how much she’s practiced, there is simply no way a woman onstage in front of hundreds of people can sink a hole-in-one without losing her goddamn mind over it.

All was not lost in Kinect land, however. Minecraft was announced as a console exclusive for Kinect, coming this Winter (goodbye, Tom). Kudo, the perpetually hungover homeless man who seems to be the lead innovator for Kinect, announced Kinect Fun Labs, a dashboard destination for all manner of interesting tech demos and clever applications that the community is discovering for the beefy hardware behind Kinect’s all-seeing eye. The brief demos for this were impossibly smooth and obviously pre-recorded, but the consideration and execution on such a simple idea is to be applauded– as is the fact that it was announced as available to everyone immediately following the press conference.

The show ended with Don Mattrick coming back onstage to reaffirm that Microsoft is doing very well in the gaming arena, thank you. Sales figures and staggering. WE ARE DOING VERY, EXTREMELY WELL, WE ASSURE YOU. And it could have ended right there, like some other press conferences that day, but a leak mere moments before the conference even began already had the people watching, both at home and in the audience, foaming at the mouth for an inevitable reveal.

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— HALO 4

Master Chief lives.

WAKE UP, JOHN.

CHIEF.

HE’S HERE.

EXPLOSIONS.

MANLY.

HALO 4.

FUCKING AMAZING.

With an expert-level execution of hype-building and fan teasing, Microsoft’s most successful and well-known franchise suddenly explodes back into prominence. This is how you bring back a dead series, announcing it as the first glimpse of a new trilogy, without pissing people off: that trailer. There isn’t a single thing about that teaser that doesn’t excite and intrigue. I’m not even a Halo fan and I’m already interested in seeing where things go from there. Well done, Microsoft.

It’s almost enough to make you forget that you just watched twenty to thirty minutes of people eagerly waggling their butts at one another onstage, figuratively and literally.

…Almost.

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One comment on “Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference: Partial Dis-Kinect

  1. Dear god, Think of the children!!!!! But I really did like the Kinect Home and NEW Dance Central and Just Dance 3 for the Kinect, along with Halo 4, ME3, and the New Ghost Recon game has hopefully rebuild some of my faith in gaming. Yes I know they are all some form of shooters but with the New Elder Scroll game there isn’t much to look forward to. I miss swords and magic!!! But not Peter M. version of it fuck that guy.

    Going to be in class during the Nintendo Press Con, but I can be assured that there is go-ing to be more Mario and Link

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