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E3 - 2013 Coverage: Microsoft Press Conference Overview

This year’s E3 was an important show for Microsoft, as the recent rumours and revelations regarding the upcoming Xbox One have been causing quite the controversy in the gaming community.

Unsurprisingly, given the backlash over some of the Xbox One’s ‘features’, Microsoft chose to spend the majority of their E3 presentation focusing on the games over the hardware; although the potential of the technology was explored to a lesser degree.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

First game to appear in Microsoft’s line-up was upcoming Konami stealth adventure, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, powered by the Fox Engine and confirmed for Xbox One release.

Gameplay will feature, for the first time in a Metal Gear title, a fully explorable open world. Footage shown at the conference showed Snake, who is to be voiced by Kiefer Sutherland (24, The Lost Boys), riding through the dusty desert landscape of Afghanistan, as well as driving several vehicles including jeeps and tanks.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Of particular note was the impressive sand effects in the desert environment, however as a whole the game did not seem to be a significant improvement over the current generation in terms of graphical integrity. Gameplay appeared to include a staple of stealth-based action, as we saw Snake dash from shadow to shadow, crawl past low walls, hide in the back of enemy vehicles and even hid himself behind his own horse while riding.

In a final cutscene complication we are introduced to several of the characters who will be featuring in this game including Quiet, Eli, Emmerich, Skull Face, Ocelot and Code Talker.

“The world calls for wet work, and we answer it. No greater good. No just cause”.

Xbox 360

Following this first-game introduction, Yusuf Mehdi of Microsoft took to the stage to promise that while the Xbox One is the future of Microsoft, the Xbox 360 will continue to be supported and is very much alive.

With that in mind, a new updated Xbox 360 console  was revealed, with a “modern look and feel” based on the Xbox One design, which is promised to be “smaller”, “sleeker” and “quiet” when compared to the current Xbox 360 hardware.

It was reiterated that Xbox Live Gold Membership will carry over to Xbox One, and announced that Gold Membership will entitle existing members to download two games free of charge from the Microsoft Marketplace, with such titles as Assassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3 being available to choose from.

Yusuf confimed that hundreds of new games remain planned for the Xbox 360, with big AAA titles such as Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, Batman: Arkham Origins and Grand Theft Auto V being destined for the console. In addition to these, the time was taken to showcase three specific upcoming titles to the Xbox 360 Platform.

World of Tanks

World Of Tanks

Following a trailer which can only be described as gratuitous footage of lots tanks blowing up lots of other tanks, Victor Kisley, CEO of Wargaming, took stage to officially confirm the highly popular free-to-play, multiplayer, PC experience that is World of Tanks will be coming new to console and exclusive to Xbox 360.

World of Tanks will deliver multiplayer, 15 vs 15, armoured warfare to a console audience featuring full integration with the Xbox Live service, specific tuning for the Xbox 360 controller and will be free to download and play for anyone with an Xbox Gold account.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

Next up was the announcement that Copenhagen-based developer, Press Play, would be releasing their upcoming 2D platformer/puzzler, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, on Xbox Live Arcade. We were treated to a trailer showcasing the introduction of the game, in which Max’s little brother is abducted by evil forces, as well as some gameplay footage.

Dark Souls 2

Next on the agenda was From Software’s highly anticipated sequel, Dark Souls 2. Fans of the previous title, and it’s spiritual predecessor, Demon’s Souls, will no doubt take some comfort from the footage that was presented.

As we watched a lone warrior fight his way through demonic red eyed soldiers, evil mages and face off against a huge, masked, shining-silver knight it was clear that the series trademark skill-based and timing-reliant combat remain at the core of the game. Essentially, fans will be very pleased to know that the game, essentially, looked like Dark Souls; although there was a definite improvement in terms of the smoothness of animation when compared to the previous game.

Xbox One

Following the Xbox 360 announcements, Microsoft Executive, Bill Spencer, took the stage and moved proceedings forward onto the highlight of the show: the Xbox One. He confirmed that the company currently have more titles in development than in any other time in Xbox history, and promised to bring the best games and exclusive content to the next-gen console.

Ryse: Son of Rome

The first of the Xbox One titles showcased following Bill Spencer’s contribution was Ryse: Son of Rome. We were greeted with a cinematic opening sequence in which Roman General, Marius Titus, addresses his troops to prepare them for an upcoming battle.

As the legionnaires leap from the side of their troop ship and charge the beach beyond, Marius is stunned by a falling projectile. As the dusts himself off and regains his composure, the action moves from cinematic cutscene to gameplay footage, in which we see Marius cutting his way through waves of enemy troops of brutal and bloody hack-and-slash combat.

Ryse: Son of Rom

Using both his sword and shield to slash and bash the enemy, Marius cuts through them with apparent ease. Of particular note was the extremely high frequency in which quick-time-like button prompts appeared on screen, triggering brutal kill moves to take down enemies.

As well as the solo hack-and-slash element there did appear to be elements of teamwork with Marius’ legionnaires troops, as in one scene where the form a protective ‘turtle’ formation under their shields at Marius command. This did, however, appear to be a scripted rather than dynamic event, with only a couple of button presses required of the player to determine when to raise and when to lower shields.

Like Metal Gear Solid V before it, the graphics of Ryse: Son of Rome failed to blow us away, offering little over what the current generation is capable of at the higher end of the spectrum: although we were suitably impressed by the collapse of a tower in the final part of the demonstration.

Ryse: Son of Rome is confirmed as a launch title for Xbox One.

Killer Instinct

Little was shown of this title, other than some brief gameplay footage of the combat between the various monstrous characters within the game. What was confirmed was this: Killer Instinct is back in this remake of the 90s classic fighter, and it’s exclusive to Xbox One..

Sunset Overdrive

Introduced by Ted Price of Insomniac Games, Sunset Overdrive is a stylised open world shooter than that can be updated daily through the power of the cloud, giving the potential that changes can be introduced at anytime and on a daily basis.

Featuring cartoonish graphics, which were almost reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, we witnessed a trailer showing some cinematic free running and a selection of weird and wonderful weaponry, from baseball bats to an explosive shotgun and a gun that appears to shoot old vinyl records.

Sunset Overdrive

Described as an Xbox One-exclusive open-world shooter, the emphasis definitely appeared to be on cooperative gameplay, as the characters featured worked together to fight off hordes of mutant-monsters. How much of what we saw was cinematic and how much, if any, was gameplay was hard to tell due to the cartoon style used.

Forza Motorsport 5

Dan Greenawalt at Turn 10 then introduced us to Forza Motorsport 5, another exclusive for the Xbox One. Of all the next-gen titles showcased on the conference, Forza was the first to wow us in the graphical department, with amazing car details and particularly beautiful lighting, with every curve of the vehicles reflecting the light in an almost photo-realistic manner. The level of detail was particularly impressive, not just on the cars themselves; backgrounds could almost be taken for photo footage and even such small aspects as the driver’s gloves were modelled to perfection.

A main focus of the presentation was on the power of cloud processing and the associated implications for racing AI, which are demonstrated by the ‘Drivatar’. According to Dan, your personal Drivatar will learn from observing your behaviour, analysing how you race and processing your decisions in the cloud so it can emulate every aspect of your style, from your speed and acceleration to the way in which you take corners. This promises to create an ever evolving network of AI opponents who will “drive like real people”. In addition, even when you are offline your own personal Drivatar will compete on your behalf, earning you credits while you are away from the game.

Minecraft

A small but important announcement; Minecraft will be coming to the Xbox One. There is little else to report, as the game remains aesthetically the same as it’s Xbox 360 counterpart, but never-the-less this is testament to Mojang’s success on a console platform and will no doubt be welcomed by those Minecraft fans who intend to embrace the new console generation.

Quantum Break

Another exclusive for Xbox One, Quantum Break, introduced by Sam Lake of Remedy Entertainment, surrounds the aftermath of an experiment gone wrong, which has caused time to stutter and freeze.

In a scene from the game we witnessed a group of men with guns break down a door into a room in which a woman is seemingly trapped in time, frozen inside a static explosion. As one of the men grabs her arm she begins to move while the explosion remains frozen in time - but not for long!

Quantum Break

As well as the game, a television show is in production and the two medias are said to feed into each other. It was stated that the choices you make in the game will feed into your personal vision of the show, and watching the show affects the way you play the game; although the wording used in this explanation certainly seems to downplay the possibility of any real or direct link in terms of one affecting the other.

D4

Very little to go on with this one, which was described as an “episodic murder mystery”. We know it’s called D4, we know it’s created by Swery65 (Deadly Premonition), but that’s about all that was given away in the extremely short teaser trailer shown at the conference.

Project Spark

“Start with nothing, and bring a game to life.” - “Turn making a game, into a game itself”.

Two quotes there that certainly serve to whet the appetite for what Project Spark has to offer. Using only simple Kinnect voice commands we saw empty space populated by mountains, rivers and woodlands, textures added and a distinct time of day set.

After this random landscape was created from nothing, Xbox’s SmartGlass technology was utilised to sculpt and edit this newly created world in more detail, refining mountains, adding a moat and a bridge, creating a village and dropping a playable avatar into this newly created world. The whole process took around three minutes.

More was added after this, a goblin camp near the village to create enemies to battle. A brain put into a rock and fed some logic commands to make it react to the player, jumping and following like a well trained pet. All of this can then be shared and edited through the cloud, and to demonstrate this we were shown what the same small creation became after three days of people tinkering with it.

Project Spark

Our player begins outside the village, when out of nowhere a huge meteor falls from the sky, annihilating a nearby building. As the player moves to the village outskirts, he sees an army of goblins descending on him, complete with mechanical flying machines. Not to worry, his co-op partner is a wizard who can shoot explosive fireballs and morph the landscape to his will, and his ‘pet rock’ is now a giant, mechanical killing machine!

Closing out with a compilation of user-created content, ranging from full 3D environments to 2D platformers and a blatant rip-off of Space Invaders, Project Spark was a real surprise and a highlight of the show. Offering almost infinite variability and amazingly simple, yet effective, game and environment design tools it promises to be an excellent entertainment sandbox; that is of course, if the final product reflects its presentation.

Project Spark is under development for Xbox One and Windows 8.

Smart Glass

We were then given a demonstration of smart glass technology, which is promised to you to interact with games in a new ways, such as showing leadership boards and checking in on your friends.

In a demonstration we were shown a player of Ryse playing the game and receiving tips for progress whilst doing so. During the game, the SmartGlass was searching for a competitive match of Killer Instinct based on skill, language and reputation, and, when a game was found, the player was pulled into a competitive battle.

Following the outcome of the bout, it was demonstrated how the technology of Xbox One could take an auto recording of the match, which could then be edited, have commentary added, and could be uploaded to the cloud and shared with everyone on a player’s friends list. Also showcased was integration with Twitch TV, allowing all gameplay experiences to be shared in real time.

A few final notes were added, including the switch from Microsoft Points to real currency on the Marketplace, a removal on the limit of 100 friends on an account and an extention to Gold Membership allowing online play for multiple accounts in a household with only one Gold subscription.

Crimson Dragon

Moving back to games, Crimson Dragon, another Xbox One exlusive was the next game to be featured. Unfortunately the video footage of this game was subject to some technical difficulties, leaving us without sound.

From the video-only footage available it was clear that Crimson Dragon is an on-rails shooter in which the player will control a flying dragon and engage in aerial combat against a multitude of foes. Previous footage of this title shows it to be a Kinect-controlled title, featuring co-operative play and a levelling system in which your dragons can advance through a complex skill tree.

Dead Rising 3

Set three days after a massive outbreak in the city of Los Perdidos, Dead Rising 3’s hero, Nick, is trying to escape with his life.

While Dead Rising 3 would not appear to have taken any steps forward in terms of graphical improvement from it’s predecessor, it is clear that the additional power from the Xbox One has been utilised in substantially increasing the number of zombies that can appear on the screen at any one time. By lots.

Dead Rising 3

Facing thousands of zombies in an open city environment, mechanic Nick will certainly have his hands full. The environment itself appears far more open than those of the confined mall and casino complexes of the previous games, with what appears to be a fully realised city rather than an enclosed space. During the presentation we saw Nick climbing rooftops, making his way through buildings and cruising the streets in a car, while zombies attempted to hold onto the moving vehicle and smash their way through the windows.

The weapons customisation from the previous title has made a return, and while the initial portion of the video seemed a little more ‘sensible’ than Dead Rising fare, with Nick utilising a handgun with a flashlight taped to the bottom, we soon got to see some of the ridiculous over the top gory combat that the series has been known for.

Unlike Dead Rising 2, which released multi-platform, Dead Rising 3 has been confirmed as an Xbox One Exclusive title.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Next up was John Mamais of CD Projekt Red to confirm that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be coming to Xbox One.

Featuring the dark, mature, non-linear story that the series is known for, The Witcher 3 will change things by introducing a free-roaming gameplay in a vast open-word. The game promises over 100 hours of gameplay with hand-crafted, non-linear quests.

The Xbox One version will also feature optional Kinnect voice commands in combat, as well as SmartGlass inventory management and character development systems.

Battlefield 4

EA and Dice then took to the stage and, despite a few technical difficulties and a couple of false starts, presented some footage of upcoming Battlefield 4, which is promised to run at 60FPS on the Xbox One.

The footage we saw featured single player gameplay in which the player and his squad worked their way through a rapidly disintegrating aircraft carrier, engaging enemy forces along the way.

The graphical fidelity was noticeably improved over the Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 versions of predecessor, Battlefield 3, but did not appear to offer any improvement over the PC version of that title - which is not to say that we did not find this in itself impressive, as Battlefield 3 was a very taxing game on that front.

Battlefield 4

The demonstration of single player footage was hard to get excited over, as the single player campaign has never been the series’ strong point and the gameplay did not seem much changed over it’s predecessor. However, the footage shown did serve to highlight the impressive visuals, in particular the environmental damage as the ship literally fell apart around the player and planes slid from the deck into the water, destroying everything in their path.

Ultimately, as with previous entries in the series it will be the multiplayer that proves the selling point of Battlefield 4 and we very much look forward to seeing more on that front.

What Lies Below

Described as “an atmospheric adventure with roguelike elements”, very little was given away from the teaser trailer of What Lies Below, other than a very brief glimpse at gamepaly comprising of both top-down and side-scrolling action.

Black Tusk Studios’ Mystery Trailer

If the previous game was an enigma, even less is known about this game from Black Tusk Studios. The tantalising teaser trailer, running on the studio’s new engine, featured a man abseiling down a building and ambushing an unsuspecting guard. Nothing more is known about this unnamed game, but it certainly looked pretty.

Halo 5

Another tantalising reveal for the Microsoft conference, which was unannounced and featured a cowled and cloaked figure wandering through a scorched desert. The earth before the figure erupts and a gigantic Forerunner construct rises from the sands, as the figure pulls his cowl back to reveal his identity as.... well, we’re sure you've guessed by now (it’s John).

Very little is being revealed about Halo 5 at this stage, except for a 2014 release and a promised 60FPS.

Xbox One Price and Release Date

Before the final game presentation, Microsoft took the opportunity to announce that the Xbox One will be launching in most regions in November 2013 at $499 USD, €499 EUR and £429 GPB at launch.

Titanfall

The final game showcased at Microsoft’s E3 2013 conference, TitanFall features fast paced FPS combat in a sci-fi frontier environment. We witnessed objective-based multiplayer gameplay, with heavy emphasis on fast, mobile infantry units equipped with jetpacks, supported by slower, but heavy hitting mech-suits.

TitanFall

Titanfall reportedly takes advantage of Xbox One cloud processing and the focus of the game will be on the multiplayer. While it was said to be an “exclusive”, alternate sources suggest the game is also scheduled for and Xbox 360 and PC release.

Ewok | 11th June, 2013

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