The Microsoft press conference begins at 12:30 EDT and The Escapist will be live-blogging the experience here so be sure to refresh to get the latest announcements.
E3 kicked off this morning at Los Angeles' Galen Center as hundreds of media and industry types were on hand to see the 2011 Xbox 360 Global Media Briefing.
Not surprisingly, the affair kicked off with one of the industry's biggest franchises, Call of Duty. The new trailer showed an underwater special ops team making their way through a flooded subway. The music was moody, the visuals were muted, and the whole affair had that detached sort of feel that's so popular in today's military sims. The team swam down the subway tunnel, eventually emerging through a hole into the ocean. Tasked with planting mines on a sub, the team swam up and found itself in the shadow of a massive submarine. Once it passed, the player uses a personal propulsion unit to catch up to the sub and plant a mine. The sub's hull explodes and it rises to the surface. The player follows the rest of his team to the surface as well.
The sub rises up in New York harbor and the team races along the hull and into a hatch. Once inside, the team fights their way through the stairwells and passages, taking out dozens of enemy submariners. The flooded corridors and blaring klaxons remind me of the opening level of the previous game where the player had to race to escape a sinking ship.
In the interest of time, the demo speeds ahead to the confrontation on the bridge. After blowing the door, the player and his sole remaining companion take out the crew and grab the missile keys. Standing at the console, the team launch the missiles and head back to the surface for extraction. The player jumps off the deck into a DEAL team boat and speeds away while the missiles are launching from the sub. The players watch as the craft speeds through the harbor amid an entire fleet of destroyers, carriers and support craft. As the explosions rock the fleet and the city around you, it's enough to make Michael Bay wet his pants.
The unenviable task of following that up is handed to Don Mattrick, who claims that COD shows the world's greatest storytellers are changing the way we interact and have fun. People of all ages are flocking to interactive entertainment, and Microsoft is anxious to unveil its plan to enhance Kinect, XBL, and its other services. But what we're really here to see are the games.
Thankfully, we move straight back to them. First up is Lara Croft, who finds herself captured by pirates. Lara makes her way through a wreck of wood and rock, negotiating the cramped and bone-filled confines of what looks like a flooded mineshaft. Lara's survival instincts allow her to spot elements in the world that will help her escape. It looks a bit like the detective vision from Batman AA. In the demo she sees the glowing outlines of a few pieces of equipment she can use to rig up an explosion to help her escape the mines. As the bombs explode, she sees light ahead. Running towards it, it's clear the explosion has destabilized the mine and rocks begins to tumble all around her. Unable to make to the exit in front of her, she begins a free running sequence like you might see in Assassin's Creed or Brink.
Eventually she makes her way to the surface, emerging amid the wreckage of several ships from different eras. There are wooden sailing ships and modern metal transports. Where is Lara? Is this the Bermuda Triangle?
Peter Moor's up next to tout the inclusion of Kinect for EA's biggest sports franchises -- FIFA, Madden, Tiger Woods and one unannounced. Kinect's also coming to The Sims and other EA titles.
Ray Muzyka's up next and there's lots of Mass Effect 3 graphics all over the room. The new game is all about kick ass action, choices with immersion, and will support Kinect and voice recognition. What does that all mean? Well, it means that you can use your voice to interact with the game. The game loads up and Shepard is talking with another character. Instead of selecting dialogue using the joystick, the player simply speaks the lines on the screen to direct the conversation. It's an uncanny experience, but I'm not sure how self-concious gamers will feel talking to their TV.
The best thing is seeing Shepard call out commands during combat. Say, "Liara, move up!" and she'll move up. Call out a specific attack and she'll launch it. Have them seek cover just by saying "Take cover." The whole sequence seems much more engaging than just working through the dialogue options.
Next up is Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot takes the stage to talk about Ubi's commitment to Kinect. Ghost Recon's gunsmith allows players to use Kinect gestures and voice to modify weapons. Simply call off the piece you want to modify and it takes center screen. Scroll through the options by saying "next" and then select with your voice. You can even say something like "Optimize for close combat" and the gunsmith system will load the appropriate parts. Once you've got your gun selected, you can even use Kinect for aiming, firing, zooming, and reloading.
Kinect's not only coming to Ghost Recon. Every Tom Clancy game from here on out will also use the technology.
Marc Whitten from XBL is up next to promise more games, movies, music, apps and connections. The problem is making the technology invisible. To that end, Kinect will allow you to use your voice to access your media. Music, games, video; it's all available just by saying a word. Better yet, MS is increasing its entertainment partners substantially. Most significantly, YouTube.com is coming to Xbox Live. Of course, having so many options creates a problem finding what you want. To the delight of no one in the room, Whitten announced Bing integration with Xbox. Simply use your voice to ask Bing to find what you want. I have to say, as crappy as Bing is, the integration potential is impressive. Watching as the demoer called out the things she wanted to search, like Lego or X-Men, seemed promising. Now if we could just get a better search provider.
Xbox is even getting live TV soon, including major networks and international and local channels.
You can try it all out for yourself this Fall when the next Xbox Live features come online.
Dana White, president of UFC, is up next to talk about how the fights are coming to Xbox. This holiday season, you'll be able to order and watch fights and even interact, either by calling the results beforehand,
But let's bring it back to games. Every demo from here on out is exclusive to the Xbox. No surprise, they're leading off with Gears of War 3. Cliff Blezinski takes the stage and thanks the audience for helping out with the beta. More impressively, he brings out Ice-T to help promote the game. The video starts out with the Gears crew trying to figure out what to do about the giant ass sea monster. (Spoiler alert: Gears has a giant ass sea monster.) Ice-T and Cliff-B play through a bit of the mission, seeking out the Silverback key, while the sea monster tears their world down around them. Once in the Silverback, the team takes on swarms of enemies in between shooting the sea monster, who is literally eating the scenery around them with a mouth as big as a house. I won't spoil the end, but you know Cliff wouldn't bring out Ice T to make him look like a chump.
While trying to remember the name of Horde Mode, Ice T also announced that his old group Body Count would be creating a song for the new game.
The Ryse demo, by Crysis, is on and then off before we barely have a chance to notice it. The motion controls for Roman era combat seemed about all the team is willing to show.
From there we go to a remake of the game that made the Xbox, Halo. The anniversary edition, due out on November 15, should please the fans, but it's not like everyone doesn't already own the previous version of the game.
Forza Motorsport 4 is up next, proving that there is an audience who's eager to see slow motion pans across engine parts and gull wing doors opening in synchronicity. All kidding aside, the game looks amazing.
Of course it wouldn't be a MS conference without Peter Molyneux, and luckily he's on hand to present Fable: The Journey. Displaying all the trademark humor of the series, the game follows a dragonfly as it makes its way through an idyllic fantasy landscape. Of course, in true Fable fashion, things soon turn on their head. A voice over announces that the age of heroes is over. The player takes the reins of a horse and wagon and uses Kinect to steer it along a dark trail. Soon small goblin creatures appear off the side and the player dismounts and begins using motion control to create and launch spells at the enemies.
So let's bury the lead: Minecraft is coming to Kinect this winter. We're already seen what Kinect can do in the world of Minecraft, so I'm curious why this announcement is all we're seeing.
We've heard rumblings of the collaboration with Disney but we weren't prepared for Disneyland Adventures, a Kinect powered tour of Disneyland's theme parks. The demoers, a pair of adorable little moppets, walk through the park and step into Peter Pan's world. From there they actually flew with Peter through caverns and corridors filled with coins before showing up on the deck of Hook's ship. Before the showdown, the pair transition to Wonderland for a Monkeyball style adventure. In all, it looks like a reskin of Kinect Adventures, but the Disney license and slick presentation are bound to attract a family-friendly audience.
Taking on another of the industry's most beloved franchises, Star Wars is also getting the Kinect treatment. From lightsabers to starships, the trailer shows a wide range of gameplay styles, but it's hard to see how it plays., Luckily a real time demo showed us just what was possible. The player, as Anakin, leaps from a ship onto a massive platform and takes on a variety of druids. The swinging and force moves seem natural enough, but the player doesn't seem to be making any choices about where to move. It almost seems like an on-rails brawler. Still, the presentation works, despite my misgivings about the feedback and restrictions.
Microsoft has secured another blockbuster franchise with Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. The simulated family takes the stage to show Elmo and Cookie Monster interacting with a scary but misunderstood monster. After playing a game of "do what I do" Elmo and Cookie Monster begin gathering Glow Bugs to brighten up the area around the monster. Tim Schafer's done great work in the past, so we're very excited to see what he does with this new franchise and the Kinect device.
Kinect Fun Labs is coming to the dashboard now, allowing players to explore some of the new ways you can interact with Kinect. The best and first example, is showing how your kinect camera can capture your face and wardrobe to make an even more accurate avatar. It looks a million times better than the face mapping in games like Rainbow Six. You can also scan in entire objects, creating virtual versions of them that look extremely convicing. It goes live today so you can check it out RIGHT NOW.
Kinect Sports Season Two is up next, complete with new sports like skiing, tennis, and, yes, even darts. As with the other games in the lineup, voice and motion controls are a big part of the experience. Playing a round of golf allows you use full body gestures to lineup shots, and use your voice to select the club you want. We also saw the technology work in football, as players called plays and ran routes in real time. These were by far the most awkward demos of the show, mostly because the demo outcomes were so obviously scripted.
Susan's squeals clued us in to the demo of Dance Central 2. The choreographer and producer jumped up on stage to put the game through its paces. Easing from Club Walkers to Blazer Slides (With the occasional Snap Tap thrown in just cause, you know ... ) the feedback looked pretty solid.
Don Mattrick returned to the stage to round things out to celebrate the whole lineup, promising that the 360 would change living room entertainment forever. It's a bold promise, but the proof seems to be more in the partnerships than in the Kinect technology. Whatever the case, the lineup Microsoft has this year is impressive. Stay tuned for the rest of this week as we get our hands on some of these games on the show floor.
But wait! There's one more surprise. Don introduces a trailer that shows a fireball streaking through space. It pulls back to reveal a beating human heart, and we follow nerve impulses up into a brain. The camera pulls back even farther to show Master Chief's face. Yes, it's Halo 4 and it's due out Holiday 2012.
Oh, and it's a trilogy. Bet you did't see that coming.