IncGamers Network

Microsoft E3 Conference: The Full Story

Now that, there? That Microsoft conference? That was bloody impressive.

Perhaps E3 last year dulled our expectations sufficiently that the one this year is capable of really blowing our minds. Or, perhaps, maybe, possibly, Microsoft just hit this one out of the park.

The conference opened with a trailer for The Beatles: Rock Band, showcasing the various phases the band went through, from a small band playing pubs and clubs to a worldwide sensation. The opening section of the conference itself, too, focused on The Beatles: Rock Band, with a few little snippets of information – but not before the game was demoed for us, with a rather spectacular performance of Day Tripper.

And The Beatles: Rock Band looks good. I love a bit of Rock Band – okay, a lot – and the Beatles are, to understate the band heavily, quite good. In terms of sheer fun factor, Rock Band has been above Guitar Hero for me every single time, and the style that pervaded the game in these trailers was nothing short of spectacular.


This was far from all, though, as appearances were made by Dhani Harrison (who, somewhat bizarrely, came on stage, waved, and went back in), Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison, followed by a short appearance by Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney who chatted a little amongst themselves, talking about how much they like the game, and how much they liked how they looked in it. Which, naturally, was followed by Paul quietly assenting that he looked good, but Ringo not so much.

There were two big pieces of news to come out of it. One was that there would be DLC albums, the first of which – available shortly after launch – being Abbey Road. The second was that All You Need Is Love would also be DLC, but would be 360-exclusive.

Think about this for a moment. The Beatles: Rock Band was the opener. Appearances by the surviving Beatles was the opener – and, amazingly, the rest lived up to it.

Shortly after Paul and Ringo left the stage, John Schappert – the corporate VP of interactive entertainment LIVE – appeared, and amazingly didn’t get half as much applause as they did. Let’s face it, though; the Beatles are a hard act to follow. Schappert hosted the majority of the show, but took this opportunity to set up the rest: there would be 10 world-premieres of games never before seen, and plenty of exciting innovations in entertainment. This was filled with all sorts of buzzword-ridden quotes, such as Microsoft “making history” with “revolutionary new experiences for everyone.”{PAGE TITLE=Tony Hawk/Modern Warfare}

Schappert introduced Tony Hawk, who wanted to tell us all a bit about Tony Hawk Ride, and show off the finished design for the skateboard peripheral. Much as it was hard to tell from that distance, the board is apparently a little smaller than a real one, but with the amount of sensors packed into it, it can detect your hands and feet so it can work out when you’re trying to do grabs, and even figure out when you’ve put a foot to one side to “push” yourself along.

Ride is a “new type of social-physical gaming on Xbox 360,” according to Hawk, which pretty much won Buzzword Bullshit Bingo for me. There’s going to be a lot of online play, it seems, but without much more in the way of details, it was time for a rather underwhelming trailer. This was largely comprised of real-life footage with very little in the way of in-game action, focusing more on actual pro-skaters whooping and hollering as they played Ride, along with talking-heads sections about how amazing it is and how true to life and how it’s the first game they could really, really get into. The cynic in me reckons this is the Tony Hawk series trying to reclaim credibility from Skate, but we’ll have to wait until we can get our hands-on (or feet-on?) with the kit to find out for real. Either way, the trailer showed off a lot of what the board was capable of, and it was certainly impressive.

The room darkened once more, and this time, Modern Warfare 2 appeared. Without meaning offense to Mr. Hawk, I suspect that this is the one most journos in the room had been waiting for. The trailer went back to show off the death of Zakhaev, as well as war-torn streets in what looked like Africa, complete with running and screaming civilians. It was all hugely cinematic, but the sounds were annoyingly difficult to make out. From the gist of it, it seems as though someone’s stepped up to fill the void left by Zakhaev, and this is causing all sorts of problems. We saw people bound and gagged and strapped to explosives, big explosions, an exploding base that the player character was airlifted out of by rope, and – excitingly – drivable snowmobiles.

Jason West and Vince Zampella took to the stage, and smartly decided to skip the preamble and just show off the game. That’s the sort of thing I can respect when it comes to a title like this. The in-game footage opened with a mission called Cliffhanger, set on the second day, and giving the player control of a newbie with the unfortunate nickname of Roach. Call of Duty 4’s SAS player character, “Soap” MacTavish, has survived the events of the first game and since become Captain, and acts as an NPC guide to the mission, which itself opened on a snowy mountain in Kazakhstan. After sidling  carefully along a precarious icy cliffside, Soap and Roach climb the mountain, with the left and right triggers appearing to control the ice picks. After one jump, Roach nearly falls to his death but is saved by MacTavish, and the level shifts a bit further forward “in the interests of time.”

Now, the pair are in an enemy camp, with a gun that looks suspiciously similar to those from Aliens, with a sensor attachment of some sort. What it’s detecting – be it heat or motion – is uncertain, but using it, the two take out a lot of enemies very quietly. Well, I say quietly; the gun was loud, but nobody seemed to hear it, most likely because of the howling snowstorm. This bit seemed a lot like the One Shot, One Kill mission of CoD4, with a bit of emphasis on taking enemies out in pairs to prevent an alarm being raised. This is mostly likely one of the sections we’ve previously heard about, with the possibility of doing it both stealthily and all guns blazing.

Following the detonation of a fueling station, though, all hell breaks looks, and after a few very close encounters – including sliding down a hillside and gunning down some troops riding snowmobiles that negotiate the hill a lot easier – Soap and Roach hop onto snowmobiles of their own. This section, too, was genuinely impressive, with high speeds and plenty of tree dodging, with the automatic pistol sidearm getting some judicious use in removing enemies from their own vehicles. After a big, big jump, the screen fades to the Modern Warfare 2 logo.

So why was this a big show-off at the Microsoft event, when it’s due out on other platforms? DLC, of course. The 360 will be getting two timed-exclusive map packs after the game launches.{PAGE TITLE=Final Fantasy XIII}

Next up were Yoshinori Kitase and Motomu Toriyama, talking about Final Fantasy XIII. Better still, there was a cute asian girl translating for them. Best conference ever.

We got a good look at Final Fantasy XIII running on 360 for the first time, and it looked good. Without a comparison, it’s hard to tell how it compares to the PS3 version, but there wasn’t any noticeable frame drop. I daresay that any 360 users afraid they’d be getting a cut-down port of the game don’t have to worry.

After a bit of a cinematic interlude, Lightning and Sazh, the two player characters we’ve previously seen a lot of, got into a fight with a giant mecha. Everything was dubbed here; this was a native English version, and I’ve got to say, what little voicework was there was solid. The western dub should be solid if this is anything to go by.

The battle scene was “different from what [Square-Enix have] disclosed in the past,” we were told, but as previous footage has been in Japanese it’s again hard to tell. One of the spells shown off, Ruinga, is new to me, though. There will apparently be four Active Time gauges in total – the more slots available, the more powerful spells you can use. Consecutive attacks tie into this, too, but it wasn’t clear how from this presentation.

The fight drew to a close when the devs cheated a bit, though, showing off a Summon spell that players won’t have at this point of the game. A gem is thrown into the air and shattered, and… it’s Odin! Looking a lot like a Beastman from FFXI, funnily enough. From the looks of it, Summons in FFXIII are going to act like additional player characters that can be summoned in, and sure enough Odin ripped the mecha apart without any hassles. The end of the boss, sadly, was the end of the trailer, fading to a Final Fantasy XIII logo, with Spring 2010 targeted. I’d wager that’s when we’ll be seeing the PS3 version, too, with all previous mentions of simultaneous releases.{PAGE TITLE=Surprise Announcements}

At this point, the Only On 360 label appeared on the big screens, and we got a quick look at a load of exclusives. First on stage here was Cliffy B, joined by Donald Mustard. Speculation immediately began that we were about to hear something about Gears of War 3. While it was not to be, what we did see was, nonetheless, impressive. The title they were showing off was Shadow Complex, an XBLA title created with a Metroidvania vibe. Not much was shown, but it’s a side-on game with a huge underground complex, and a load of weapons, items, and abilities. There’s a hookshot and a triple jump mentioned, with missile launchers on display. Expect 120 hidden items over the course of the 10 hour campaign, and it’s due to hit XBLA this summer.

And now for something completely different: Joy Ride. This was another XBLA title, with an extremely cartoony trailer. The game itself is racing, of sorts, with avatars for drivers, and set in a desert that Wile E. Coyote would be proud of. The actions the cars were taking were something he might also approve of, with plenty of driving up walls and the like. Comparisons to Mario Kart were made, but to me, Trackmania was the thing in mind. It looks like there’s going to be a level editor, but the big news is that it’s completely free to download and free to play, but with microtransactions adding extra cars and the like, and all tracks will be shareable over Xbox Live. Expect that this Winter.

Joy Ride was, again, followed by something with a totally different vibe. “Infected city,” says Gruff Voiceover Man. “We are the cure.” Jumping, ripping and throwing vents. And… a waypoint marker? Could it be Crackdown?

Yes, it could. Crackdown 2, to be specific, with huge monster-looking things on display in the somewhat-ruined city. “Our enemies have nowhere to run,” says Mr Eighty-A-Day, as the avatar onscreen pulls a pistol and fires. “Just remember. Neither do you.” A huge shadow of a big, big beastie appears on the wall. There’s gunfire, and then a huge explosion. Crackdown 2.

Next up, zombies in New Orleans. Being shot. A lot. But there’s a lot of zombies. And something that looked a hell of a lot like a Tank from Left 4 Dead, but slightly different. There’s a group of player characters, back to back, and mention made that running out of ammo isn’t the end, as one of them revs up a chainsaw while another raises an axe. I don’t think anybody (except Paul, the IncGamers director) expected to see Left 4 Dead 2, and I’m damn sure not even he expected a November 17 release date from Valve. PC and 360 exclusive.{PAGE TITLE=Splinter Cell: Conviction}

Splinter Cell: Conviction appeared next, and it’s worth remembering that this is the first time we’ve seen the game in an awfully long time. Maxime Beland and Alexandre Parizeau were on stage to talk about this one, with the Conviction trailer opening with Sam at a piano, with a shot (no pun intended) of a gun resting nearby. People talk about Sam Fisher: “The Sam Fisher you know is dead. The man who played by the rules, listened to the voice in his ear – he’s gone. So watch your back.” There’s a bit of Fisher running through a facility of some sort, and leaping through a window of a skyscraper. “This is bigger than your daughter. This is bigger than both of us. The people behind this, you can’t hide from them!” says a guy, beaten half to death, slumped against a wall near Fisher’s piano. “Who said anything about hiding?” asks Fisher, as a group of soldiers in high-tech equipment appear behind him, at the piano. Only it’s not him at the piano! It’s his torture victim. Fisher comes out of the shadows and grabs one of the soldiers to use as a body shield. Trailer end.

We actually saw a playthrough of a level here, though, and it looks awfully good. It opens with Fisher beating a man up in a pub toilet, as we’re told that “Sam has changed.” Apparently he’s changed into a Brit on a Saturday night out, judging by that behaviour. Before long, Fisher’s interrogation techniques come up trumps, with his learning that his daughter’s killer is holed up in a mansion. The level begins proper out in the streets, with Fisher making his way to the heavily-guarded residence.

The emphasis, apparently, is on unfolding the narrative quickly, and in real-time. The informative stuff all comes up as part of the environment, as we see when the mission objective “Infiltrate the mansion” is projected onto a nearby building.

Fisher seems to be much the same as the Fisher of old, with plenty of pulling people off balconies to their deaths, but the environments are built as sandboxes, it seems. There are plenty of routes Fisher can take to infiltrate. In this case, he clambers through a window, shoots two people, and heads out into the main atrium of the mansion. Here, he hops onto those overhanging poles he loves so much, and – spotting a group of three enemies down below – fires at a huge chandelier, sending it crashing down on top of them.

This sets alarms blaring, but nobody’s quite sure where Fisher is. Lights come on, but he’s well-hidden in the rafters, and waits until everyone runs past before he drops down behind them and executes a pair of them. “Get Sarah’s killer” is projected onto the wall, this time, as some of Sam’s new toys are shown off, including EMP grenades that knock out all of the lights and electronics in the vicinity. This time, the real-time information thing shows footage of someone dying, which is a tad odd. Much as it’s less intrusive than checking a mission briefing in a menu, it does detract a little from the reality of the game, if not the atmosphere, which remains pretty dark and brooding.

Sam uses a shard of broken glass to look under a door, through which is a heavily guarded room. He waits for a guard to approach, then shatters the door, knocking the guy out. Another enemy is taken out in hand-to-hand, while the rest open fire. This is where things get really impressive, as Fisher hops out of a window and clambers along a narrow ledge to the very back of the room. Climbing inside, he grabs his target – Sarah’s killer – from behind, and starts off his brutal interrogation again. Things don’t work out as planned when there’s a large explosion and high-tech soldiers airdrop in behind him. Sam gives up, and the camera zooms out to show that he’s being filmed from a neighbouring building. Cut back to what looks like Third Echelon’s headquarters – Sam’s old bosses – and someone saying “Let’s bring him home.” Most definitely one to watch when it hits 360 exclusively, this autumn.{PAGE TITLE=Forza/Halo}

The next big exclusive is Forza Motorsport 3, with Dan Greenwalt, the game’s director over at Turn 10, giving us the lowdown on what we can expect. In a nice touch, Dan is revealed when one of the many, many screens slides to the side, revealing both him and a rather tasty vehicle.

Forza, we’re told, is about the joy of cars, from the thrill of your very first car, to the thrill of Hollywood chases. A scenic track comes up on display, with beautiful, beautiful water, surrounded by mountains and greenery. Cars rocket around at a staggeringly high framerate, with an in-car view seemingly tied to the driver’s head, a la Need for Speed: Shift. A bit of driving goes on, before a spectacular crash ends the first display of the game. That’s far from it for Forza, though.

“With action like that, Forza 3 delivers the thrills that our competitors can’t,” says Greenwalt. We’re told that we can expect 400 cars from over 50 manufacturers as well as assists – one-button driving, gameplay rewind, and racing lines – so that anyone can pick it up and enjoy it. There’ll be Xbox Live connectivity, naturally, with the ability to share the paint jobs you put on cars – but more importantly, you can edit and share HD videos. We’re shown a video that was presumably created using this video editor, and it was bloody impressive, showing two cars doing doughnuts on one section of the road as another rockets through them, narrowly missing the pair. Three cars drift around a corner in sync. One circles constantly, just barely missing all of the other cars coming screaming past. If this is what we can expect from the video editor, I can’t wait to see what comes out of it. Out in October, apparently.

Halo 3: ODST is next, with the game’s creative director Joe State taking the controls as we start our orbital drop, a few weeks before the opening of Halo 3. The drop, sadly, goes awry, with a rather large Covenant ship jumping, and the resultant shockwave blasts the poor rookie in the pod into New Mombasa. Waking from the shattered pod, he uses some of the gear that ODST (Orbital Drop Ship Troopers) possess that Spartans don’t, which apparently includes two suppressed weapons and a low-light visor that draws big red lines around enemies. Happily, the fanbase is well catered for. The Halo 1 pistol is mentioned, along with the comment “If you like that, you’ll love this,” as State dispatches Covenant with a couple of zoomed headshots from the weapon in question.

The HUD alerts State to something important nearby. Once again turning on his low-light visor, State spots a detonator on the ground… and the action goes back further in time. Items that provide clues to the fate of other ODST soldiers actually give us control of those soldiers in time periods related to those items. In this case, Dutch, seemingly an explosives expert, is pinned down with his squad by Wraiths, on a bridge. He sets up a few detonators, and hares further along, where he finds something that looks strikingly like a Spartan laser. One quick blast and the bridge is dust. Seeing what happened to everyone else will provide clues as to what’s happened to New Mombasa, it seems, and piecing together the story is a rather cool idea.

There’s a brand new co-op mode called Firefight coming to Halo 3: ODST, too, and we can expect it on 22 September of this year. But that’s not all! Another team at Bungie has been working on a top secret project, which we see in a trailer. “From the beginning, you know the end,” reads the text. An orbital view of a planet, and radio chatter about something jumping into the system. Explosions on the planet’s surface – lots of them. Then, text. Halo: Reach, coming 2010, with a multiplayer beta invitation included with Halo 3: ODST. ODST’s going to sell millions on its first day, then.{PAGE TITLE=Alan Wake}A surprise guest turns up for our next presentation – Sam Lake, best known as the lead writer on Alan Wake. Could this mean we’re about to see Alan Wake in action? Yes, it could. As usual, it’s a trailer to open, showing off a town at night, illuminated occasionally by a lighthouse. The narration explains that Wake, a writer, went to the town of Bright Falls on holiday with his wife, who subsequently disappeared. His book is coming true, it appears, and he needs to find the missing pages quickly, because something dark is waking up and coming for him.The part we see of the game opens like a TV show, with “Previously on Alan Wake” providing a backdrop to what’s happened before. Now, we have a “Tonight on Alan Wake,” and the game begins. Wake has gone to see a fellow called Rusty who has a few of the missing pages, but things go horribly wrong; the house is in ruins and Rusty is nowhere to be seen. Heading out through the rather large hole in the building, a pile of trash starts moving ominously. What looks like a microwave rises out of the ground and is hurled, telekinetically, at Wake. Shining his torch on it seems to weaken it, though, and potentially kill whatever the hell was possessing it. Then, uh, the same thing happens with a ruined car, but Wake takes care of that with more flashlight goodness.As Wake continues on, trees begin falling in the distance. Wake wanders down some stairs, still outside, and a whispering sound begins. Everything starts going really dark and murky – and then something appears; a blurred man-thing with a club. A combination of Wake’s shotgun and Wake’s flashlight dispatch it fairly quickly, but someone else appears behind Wake with an axe, and he takes a nasty whack to the head. Wake, again, dispatches this with light and gunfire… and then about ten more materialise. Things have gone a bit Resi 5, it seems. Sensibly, Wake legs it.His cowardice leads him to a disabled cable car station, and he attempts to get the generator up and running as the mob closes in… and succeeds, just. Bright lights illuminate the area and keep the mob back as he hops onto the cable car to escape. Predictably, it brakes down halfway along, and careens out of control to the other side. Fortunately, Wake now has a flare gun, which makes short work of the enemies present there. The lighting effects in play here really are staggering, with everything else dimming and taking on a red glow from the flare itself. Wake continues past it where another group of enemies wait, this time lighting a flare and holding it aloft. Again, this keeps the mob back. He drops it at the entrance to a cabin, runs inside, and bars the door, but a few seconds later the door’s taking a bit of damage.

Lights come on, but any sense of safety is short-lived as that weird dark-and-murky effect occurs again, and we see a bulldozer start up outside. Wake is helpless as it smashes into the cabin. As it starts to drop off the edge of a cliff, the game fades to text: “To be continued.” Alan Wake will see the light of day in spring 2010.{PAGE TITLE=Radio, Films, TV, Social}

Those were the exclusives. Now, we get to see all of the updates. Music is first, with a partnership with adding all sorts to the NXE. There’s a Radio Stations tab, and something called Party Radio which we’ll get back to shortly. There are Library Stations, Recommended Stations, Favourites… There’s going to be instant access to a lot of songs, too, with U2, The Killers, and The Who popping up on screen, all of which have a list of suggested similar artists. All Xbox Live Gold members will have free access, worldwide, later this year. Nice.

Next, we’re told that Netflix has been a huge hit for US members, which gets people chattering about how maybe – just maybe – those of us in the UK are going to get it, too. The continuation isn’t promising, though, with the next topic being how US members can now queue films through the Xbox itself, and if you want to watch something, you just need to hit play.

Slightly more promising, though, is that Microsoft then announce their partnership with Sky TV in the UK and Ireland. You’re going to be able to watch live TV through the 360 with no other attachments required, and this will include football and cricket, and presumably films and the like too. Slightly more amazingly, the Xbox video service is being relaunched as Zune Video in autumn. What this really means, though, is something staggering: the video library will become 1080p. That’s huge, in itself, but it gets yet more amazing: these will all be under that instant-access, just-hit-play thing. Streaming. 1080p streaming. If I wouldn’t get fired for it, there would be a stream of swearwords here. The store regions themselves are being increased in number from eight to 18, too.

That Party Radio thing comes back here when we learn that you’ll be able to access all of this in Party mode, letting you watch movies and TV and hear music along with your friends. To show it off, a screen appears on the screen, with Heroes on display. The room is filled up with 360 Avatars which sit down in the foreground, and start watching, before the scene changes to a box in a football stadium, with the screen now displaying a football match, and one of the Avatars starts cheering.

Felicia Day, of The Guild, turns up next. She’s here to tell us all that Facebook and Twitter are coming to 360, with full blade usage. You’ve got tabs for My Photos, Friends’ Photos, Profile, amongst others. There’s also going to be something called Facebook Connect in there, which lets you post screenshots and text direct from your game to Facebook. It looks like this requires the game to support it, though – Tiger Woods is going to be the first one. Twitter has been redesigned slightly for the living room, with updates instantly appearing whenever someone you’re following posts, and you can Tweet right there, which is kinda nice, I suppose. Both will hit Xbox Live in autumn.{PAGE TITLE=Metal Gear, Project Natal}

Don Mattrick, the senior vice president of Xbox, appears on stage next, to rhetorically ask what the one franchise Xbox users have wanted to play is. This is answered in dramatic form as someone sneaks on stage behind him – Hideo Kojima. Mattrick turns around, and the Metal Gear Solid alert sound plays, as big red exclamation marks appear on all of the screens.

Kojima says that it’s great to be on the Xbox stage at E3, at last, and that yes, Metal Gear Solid is finally coming to 360. Huge news, which is going to set the fanboys alight. It’s going to be called Metal Gear Solid Rising, and it’s… possibly a 360 exclusive.

But Kojima didn’t mention Solid Snake.

The lights dim, and the trailer begins. It’s very, very similar to the teaser site that we’ve all seen, with the letters and rainstorm appearing, before a shot of Raiden appears. The logo “Metal Gear Solid Rising: Lightning Bolt Action” appears. Sadly, Kojima says he can’t say anything more about the project just yet, but it’s a completely new Metal Gear adventure, and we can look forward to “many great scenes.”

Back to Mattrick, who’s asking about the “next dream,” and new experiences. There’s a bit of muttering in the audience; could this be the Xbox 720? No. No, it couldn’t. Mattrick says that he’s been asked many times whether or not he could add a motion controller to the 360, and he’s always said “Yes, we can,” to groans from the crowd. But there’s a “but.”

“Can we deliver games and entertainment that anybody can instantly enjoy? Can we make YOU the controller? We can,” says Mattrick, lover of rhetorical questions. A trailer begins, making mention of a new way to play, and no controller required.

Someone walks in front of a TV, and the man on that TV starts talking directly to him, as Wolfmother’s Joker and the Thief starts playing. The game character and the actor banter for a bit, and then drop into fighting poses. It seems camera-based, with the on-screen avatar mimicking the guy’s movements, with kicks replicated exactly. The scene shifts to a family on a couch, with a girl holding her hands as though she was holding a steering wheel. On screen is a driving game, responding to her movements – and then she stops in the pit, and one of the assorted couch members takes it on themselves to replace the tyres, with more motion sensing. A Godzilla-style game appears, and some brat smashes the city by waving his arms randomly. It’s full-body motion-capture, it seems, with football on now, but it’s incredibly hard to tell whether these are actual games or just tech demos, because they don’t look right.

Someone else holds up a skateboard to the screen, and says “Scan.” And… the Xbox scans it in? Voice recognition, too? The camera seems to have scanned the board in, and now his board is actually in a skateboarding game, and he’s controlling it by pretending to be on a skateboard – jumping, turning, and grabbing, by making those movements. Man, those Tony Hawk Ride people are going to be pissed.

There’s video messaging, and – yes, voice recognition, as a gameshow appears. The players slam their hands into their fists to simulate a buzzer, and then answer by speaking. Even moving through the dashboard is possible with this, just by waving your hands; the trailer shows someone find a movie in the list and then say “Play movie.” If this works half as well as advertised, this is going to be bloody incredible.

It’s called Project Natal, we’re told, and “The only experience you need is life experience,” which sadly doesn’t fit into my ongoing game of Bullshit Buzzword Bingo. Sure enough, the trailer is showing their “vision” for it, rather than the reality. The sensor tracks full 3D movement, and has voice recognition, but we’re now worrying the trailer was just so much fakery.{PAGE TITLE=Project Natal Continued}

We’re told that when Natal launches, it’s going to work on every 360 SKU that’s ever sold, or ever will be sold. It’s the new era of interactive entertainment without needing a new console, apparently, and now a special guest is here to talk about it: Steven Spielberg. Microsoft are really pulling out all the stops for this.Spielberg doesn’t really have much to add, save that controllers are difficult to get to grips with if it’s your first time, and that they stop games from being accessible. In another amazing quote frenzy, he states that Microsoft aren’t reinventing the wheel – they’re making it so that there’s no wheel at all. Making technology invisible is key to making games accessible. Despite my cynicism, he’s probably right, but Kudo Tsunoda (the creative director of Natal) is here to dispel our fears that this is all hot air that they’ve made no headway with.

Early prototypes, then. The 360 recognises Tsunoda instantly, as he turns it on, with facial recognition in place. As such, it logs him in immediately. That’s quite cool. The avatar on screen starts mimicking his movements, which… doesn’t quite work, as it twitches and clips on itself a lot. He goes into the dashboard, and waves his hands to move through the blades. That works, at least, but it’s the games we’re interested in, and that’s up next.

First is Ricochet, which is Breakout, in motion capture form. Smack balls down a 3D space to destroy blocks. Kicks, headbutts, punches, and knees are all game, and the girl playing it is damn good. So’s the motion capture, in fact; there’s no clipping on this. It’s all in 3D space, too, so the girl – Abi – can move forward and backwards to get closer to or further from the blocks. There are awarsd for headbutts, powerups for multiballs… Very, very impressive stuff, and the comment that “This isn’t a game where you end up on the sofa using pre-set waggle commands” makes everyone in attendance grin. Well played, Microsoft.

Next is Paint Party, with the name implying multiplayer. Saying Splat makes the game start, showing off a big canvas; simply saying a colour changes your paint to that colour, and waving your arm sloshes paint on the canvas. This is perhaps even more impressive to watch, as it shows off voice recognition and motion sensing, picking up light brown, dark brown, green, various shades of blue, and a lot more, as our demoman creates a rough landscape. He wants to add an elephant with stencils, so he calls Abi back over, and says “Pose” to go into stencil mode. The pair of them form a silhouette of an elephant in front of the camera in a way that’s almost certainly going to lead to sexual harassment charges, and with the word “Cheese”, the stencil is created. “Grey,” says our man, who then sloshes it all over the stencil, creating a grey elephant. “Reveal,” and the rest of the stencil is torn away, revealing a rather abstract elephant on a landscape. At this stage, I’m gobsmacked; were I not a talkative bugger I’d say that there are no words.{PAGE TITLE=Project Natal Continued Further}

But these are all small things. Who do you turn to when you need something really talked up? That’s right. Peter Molyneux, a veritable British institution who we all love and adore, turns up on stage to show off what they’ve created with Natal over at Lionhead in the past few months.

It’s a boy called Milo, apparently, and Molyneux reckons that “what designers and what this industry does with Natal will change the landscape of games we play.” Milo is a character that they’ve been working on, who’s capable of recognising people, emotions, and voices. In the video, a lady named Claire is chatting to him. He recognises her. He recognises her emotions. Claire takes him to task for not doing his homework, and then realises that he’s really worried about it. He passes her a pair of goggles, and tells her to put them on by making that motion in front of the camera. She does so. It’s hugely impressive to see this, but I can’t help feel, at this stage, that it’s an Eliza bot, and they’ve just practiced which responses to show in order to give it the vibe of life.

With those goggles, Claire is helping him catch fish. Reaching forward creates ripples in the water. Impressive stuff, weirdly, since it’s somewhat simple. Milo comments that drawing fish is hard; Claire disagrees. She reaches for paper, and draws a fish on it, and… shit me. She’s just lifted the paper towards the camera, and it’s scanned it remarkably fast, and Milo’s reached up to take the scan.

But it’s all a preset video, right? They haven’t actually created an AI that good? Molyneux has anticipated this sentiment. They’re going to show off Milo behind closed doors.If all of this works as planned, E3 is over. Microsoft has won.Naturally, E3 hasn’t even begun yet, with the show proper due to start tomorrow. For all the latest trailers and screenshots, keep your eyes peeled on our screenshots section, and our IncGamers TV section.


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