This is the first article of a series in which we take a look at each hardware company’s major press conferences, and rate them against each other. The first one, as usual, was Microsoft. I won’t go over the entire press conference; for that you can watch the entire 90 minute conference at the bottom of this page. I’ll have to warn you now – if you couldn’t tell from the name of this site already, I’ll be looking at this from a hardcore gamer’s perspective. I have a totally open mind, but there are certain things that interest me, and things that don’t.
Pandering to the Hardcore Gamer with BLOOD, BLOOD, AND MORE BLOOD~!
As if to take care of the nuissance of dealing with hardcore games and get it out of the way before proceeding to Kinect, Microsoft kicked things off with some exclusive announcements. Well the first game wasn’t an exclusive – Call of Duty: Black Ops will be available for both consoles at launch. To make sure people continue to ignore Playstation Network for their CoD needs, they announced a 3 year agreement with Activision, where all map packs and addons will come to the XBOX 360 “first”. How long they’ll delay the PS3 versions, they didn’t say. Not that it matters though, who is going to play CoD mutliplayer on PS3 anyway?
As far as the demo went, it was a pair of your standard on-rails CoD scenes. A tunnel mission in Vietnam with cool echo sound effects and lots of blood, and helicopter scene (which looked not to be 100% on rails, but still pretty damn linear). Let’s hope they once again focus on a solid single player experience, because Modern Warfare 2’s SP campaign was pretty lame.
They also announced a partnership with Crytek, but not for their upcoming Crysis followup. Instead, they showed a CG movie of some medieval gladiator-looking dudes with blood dripping down their weapons. I’m not sure if the game is titled Codename: Kingdoms, or if it’s an actual codename for the game. There’s no indication what it’s going to be, other than a 3rd party action game. My guess would be a God of War clone, since Microsoft doesn’t have an exclusive answer to that yet.
The highlight of the conference games-wise for me was the Metal Gear Solid: Rising gameplay trailer. It had it all – cool CG with cheesy Japanese sub-headings (the blade is in your hands. What will you cut?), and some typical Kojima style humor at the end. The gameplay itself looks something like “Dead Space with Swords”, where the focus seems to be on cutting up your enemies with precise sword swipes. Raiden was chopping through foes like they were made of sausage, and they would fall apart like sliced sausage too. Lots of blood and gore here, of course!
As expected, Gears of War 3 made an appearance, with a quick 4-player co-op demo hosted by Cliffy B. Nothing much new here – lots of grey and brown and tons of RED BLOOD~! It did look a bit more open than usual, but we only saw a few minutes of the game.
And Halo Reach… Yeah it’s Halo, and it’s Reach, I guess… There were a few seconds of some space combat that had fanboys oohing and aahing, but it looked to be on rails to me. At least partially, like the CoD helicopter scene.
And that was about it for the hardcore games. Pretty good, in my opinion. No big surprises, but not too disappointing either.
Microsoft then spent the next hour of their 90 minute conference talking about Kinect. Oh before that, they said something about ESPN, including a video that made sports actually seem exciting. Regardless of how you felt about Project Natal/Kinect, I’m sure you were dying to see some actual games. And they had plenty to show – at least 15 will be available at launch this November.
Microsoft Kinect = “Wii Too”
For me, Kinect was only going to work if it followed these conditions:
- The out-of-game interface is virtually the most important aspect of Kinect. So it has to be smooth, and better than using a controller or remote.
- The games must not be simple Wii clones. They have to be completely unique in some way.
- You must be able to play the games without looking like a complete retard.
So after watching an hour of some awkward, hilarious, and sometimes painfully absurd Kinect games demonstrated by various Asian people, I have to say I am not hyped about it at all personally. But my wife might like it (I’ll have to ask her after she sees some demos).
The first thing they did was show the interface aspect of Kinect (see, I told you it was important!). The first thing I noticed was that it didn’t support gestures more articulate than waving your hands around like a goof. In earlier demos, we saw mockup interfaces which reminded us of Minority Report, with users swiftly navigating through menus with quick hand gestures. In today’s demo, you had to move your hand to an icon, much like moving a mouse cursor, and hold it over the icon for a second or so. That’s right, there isn’t even a proper way to ‘select’ the currently highlighted item! You don’t “grab” it or even “thumbs up” to select. You wave your palm in front of the screen, and hold it there.
Of course, Kinect supports voice commands too. So you can say “XBOX! PAUSE!” and hope it hears you over whatever your’re watching (and hope you aren’t watching something about XBOX, where they may take control of your system!). It looked like it worked for the most part, but seemed laggy. We’ll have to wait for some hands-on experience this week to see just how bad it is.
They also had an awkward demo of the video chat. What’s with Microsoft and Apple touting video chat like it’s the next big thing? If I recall correctly, I got my first webcam in 1997 or so… And it didn’t look much different than it does on the XBOX 360 or iPhone 4.
Then you have the Kinect games. Oh man, where do I start? Well, you know how people jokingly renamed Playstation Move as the “Wii HD”? If that’s the case, we can call Kinect the “Wii Too”. Did we see any inspirational games that really take things to the next level? Something like last year’s Milo concept demo, but more like a real game? Nope. We got a bunch of Wii clones. Almost every game shown has already made an appearance on Wii:
- Kinect Sports – Wii Sports clone
- Kinect Joy Ride – Mario Kart
- Kinect Adventure – Wii Sports Resort
- Your Shape – Wii Fit
- Dance Central – Just Dance
- Kinectibles – OK this one hasn’t been on Wii yet, but it’s pretty much a copy of Nintendogs on DS. And that had to be the most awkward moment in video game conference history, when the little girl pretended to enjoy being licked in the face by a virtual cat.
There you have it – most of Microsoft’s first Kinect games are just answers to Wii games – games that most of the casual audience has gotten bored of already. I’m sure you know several people who normally don’t play games that bought a Wii – and it has been sitting there collecting dust for at least two years. The question is, will these games be significantly better than the Wii games they’re replacing? And if so, is it enough to make people want to buy them all over again?
They also showed a Star Wars game, but it wasn’t a live demo. It looked extremely overff-simplified, and I find it kind of ironic that the one ‘motion’ game you would want to use a device with would probably be a Star Wars game. What was a live demo however, was Forza Kinect. Yup, a 60 FPS racing game starring Ferrari, where you hold your hands in front of you like a geek, trying to steer (I guess gas and brakes don’t exist in this game). They spent more time showing the “garage mode” where you look at the car by moving your head around the camera. And again we saw the awkward interface, where you move a mouse cursor around with your hand, holding for a moment over icons to select. Even to close the car’s door.
Oddly, the most shocking moment of the conference was actually the lack of an announcement; they did not announce a price for Kinect. Not even a hint. They did announce a date (November 2010), but that’s it. Have they even decided on a price yet?
XBOX 360 of the future = integrated WiFi (what??)
Then they carted out this beauty:
To nobody’s surprise, they unveiled the new XBOX 360 Slim (actually it’s called The XBOX of the future). Actually it’s just called “XBOX 360 250 GB”. It looks much nicer of course, but also supports a 250GB hard drive (which matters only because they still use a proprietary hard drive interface), and integrated WiFi (a novel concept!). The Elite replacement (not called Elite anymore) will be available this week for the same price as the old Elite, and all current 360’s will receive a $50 price cut to make room for the new models.
One other difference is that the Kinect plugs directly into the new 360 for both power and data, while current 360 owners will need to plug the Kinect to a power outlet in addition to USB. We have updated our XBOX 360 Model Chart, so check that out to see how things have progressed.