UPDATE - E3 2009 - Microsoft Kicks Off the Keynotes

Sony, Microsoft Announce Virtual Worlds

UPDATED with video following the article: Every year at E3, a battle is fought. The battle isn’t one of superheroes vs. super-villains, or leaping protagonists vs. difficult puzzles; this one is between Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, and it’s the battle of the best keynote. Microsoft was first to bat this year, and they brought their A game, along with a few notable friends.

The presentation was opened with the intro video for The Beatles: Rock Band. The crowd was quite impressed, and was soon joined by two folks from Harmonix to show off the game. Harmony Background singing (multiple vocal parts) and Beatles replica instruments highlighted the presentation.

Giles Martin took the stage after the demonstration to reveal some of the tracks for the game. He first mentioned that the game will include never-before-heard studio recordings. The Tracks revealed include: I Saw Her Standing There, I Want to Hold Your Hand, I Feel Fine, Day Tripper, Taxman, I Am The Walrus, Back in the USSR, Octopus’s Garden, Here Comes The Sun, and Get Back. DLC was already announced, including Abbey Road in its entirety and the Xbox LIVE exclusive All You Need is Love. The proceeds from that will go to Doctors Without Borders.

After further acknowledgement of the teams that developed the game, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison took the stage for a quick photo op and a thank you to them for allowing access to the Beatles vaults.

Two big-time friends stopped by next, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. They came on stage to talk about the game, saying they love it and they’re thrilled with how it turned out.

Corporate VP for Xbox John Schappert took the stage next. The slideshow began, pitching the Xbox 360 as a multimedia hub for the living room. “Today is about showing, not telling,” Schappert said, elaborating that no charts and graphs bragging about sales figures would be seen at this presser.

Tony Hawk was the next guest on stage, with his new skateboard peripheral for Tony Hawk Ride in hand. He talked about the accelerometers and the technology behind it, while talking about how much he’s wanted to do a game in this style. A new trailer was shown (Newsarama Note: check back here this week for this trailer and many, many more) for the game, including showing actual pro skaters enjoying the new board peripheral. We’ll be testing out Ride with our own Feet-On Preview on the show floor this week.

Another trailer started, this time for Infinity Ward/Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. This marked the third multiplatform game shown out of three so far, and the second from Activision, who aren’t hosting their own press conference this year. Jason West and Vince Zampella hopped on stage for a gameplay demonstration on the big screen. The graphics and presentation of the game are a clear step up from the already nice looking COD4. From what they showed, it looks like playing an interactive movie in terms of presentation quality, with this environment being a snowy, icy landscape that looked like being caught in a real snowstorm. After some exploring, the action came. Surprisingly, no cover system was shown in the footage, even though it’s become a near-standard in shooters of late. Still, the ridiculously fast paced firefight looked incredible, and traversed across an incredible distance, especially for a single sequence in a shooter. Firing a gun while driving a snowmobile doesn’t hurt the action quotient, either.

Two Modern Warfare 2 DLC map packs will come to 360 first in timed exclusives.

Next was another multiplatform game showcase, this time Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII. After talking about the ridiculous success of the franchise, they showed footage of the newest installment running on Xbox 360. A battle sequence in game was shown, finishing with a summon of Odin, who then struck alongside the player controlled character. A Spring 2010 release in the US was announced for the highly anticipated RPG.

Schappert thanked the Square Enix folks, and then introduced the exclusive portion of the presentation. Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski came on stage with Donald Mustard to talk about the next big exclusive, Shadow Complex. It’s an XBLA game that looks to invoke the old-school gameplay of games like Metroid and Castlevania, with an interesting mix of 2D and 3D sensibilities. It’s a platforming shooter with a “campaign over ten hours long and a lot of replayability,” according to Bleszinski. A massive boss battle was shown to cap off the demo, and the game is coming out this summer.

Joy Ride was next, a racing game featuring Microsoft Avatars as the main characters. The game features customizable cars with cartoony graphics, and is free to download, and free to play, however, microtransactions will be used for new tracks, cars, and other features. It comes out Winter 2009.

The next trailer was for a sequel to the critically lauded superhero title, Crackdown. Crackdown 2 looks to feature the same cross of shooting and superpowers as its predecessor.

A trailer with some gruesome looking zombies aired directly after, which looked great, and turned out to be Left 4 Dead 2, coming November 17th, 2009, only to Xbox 360 and PC.

The trailer-off continued with a gorgeous look at Sam Fisher’s next adventure in Splinter Cell: Conviction, which promised a more rebellious lead character.

Max Béland and Alex Parizeau came out to chat about the game briefly. The live demo of the game showed Sam beating a confession out of a perp, and as he revealed information, the cinematic overlayed the gameplay, then went into a preview-scene of the next mission, ending with Fisher in the new environment. Each level is set as a “small sandbox” allowing for more creative player freedom on how to approach the missions. Objectives are overlaid on the walls, in a similar style to the title shots of episodes of Heroes. Not every sequence will be in stealth mode, though, as Sam can run and gun, too. That includes jumping out windows and pulling enemies out of them from the ledge, and moving straight into another torture sequence, only to be stopped by the police. Fans of stealth/action games should be excited for Fall 2009.

Turn Ten Studios has developed Forza Motorsport 3, which Schappert called “the definitive racing game.” After an extremely short video, Dan Greenwalt came out to talk about the game and his love for cars. A live demo followed quickly, with multiple camera angles shown and some beautiful graphics. It uses a new graphics engine to present over 400 cars from 50 manufacturers. The cars are completely customizable, and several designers, drivers, and racing enthusiasts swooned over the options available. One person was shown doing designs on a computer, but this wasn’t confirmed at the event. An in-game video editor allows players to show off their best moments, or even staged demonstration videos. The one shown in the demo included stunt driving by multiple cars and really showed off how smooth the game runs with ridiculous detail. The game is coming in October 2009.

Joe Staten took the stage with the Halo 3: ODST logo behind him. The demo started with a full on ODST drop, with ODST soldiers communicating to each other during the fall through the atmosphere. An EMP fries the dropships, and they land hard in the city of New Mumbasa “weeks before the start of Halo 3.” You’re a rookie shock trooper. The ODSTs “have access to special gear Spartans don’t” including a visor with special vision modes. A pistol invocative of the Halo 1 pistol was shown. When you discover items from other ODSTs, rather than just seeing a cinematic, you’ll actually flashback into the suit of that soldier and play through that mission. Thus the story will take you through several points of views. 9.22.09 was reiterated as the release date.

“Another team at Bungie has been hard at work on a top secret project,” and now a trailer. Halo: Reach was teased, and the game comes out in 2010. If you buy ODST, you’ll get invited to the beta.

In game demo of Alan Wake was next, after a brief trailer. The trailer showed how the game is set up like an episodic TV series, complete with “Previously” sequences. The gameplay is narrated like a book or a TV show, as well. There’s a time-slowing mode, and some interesting weaponry that was shown off in the demo. Even the flashlight seems to work as a weapon, at least to start hurting the monstrous enemies. Spring 2010 brings the game to home consoles, several years after its announcement.

Schappert next showed off some new Xbox LIVE features, including the ability to stream last.fm stations via your 360. The interface looks great, and it is free for all Gold subscribers starting “later in the year.”

In the US, you can soon add movies and TV to your Netflix queue straight from your Xbox. Or, watch instantly without even adding it to the queue. The UK gets Live TV delivered via SKY directly on Xbox 360 later this year, as well.

Xbox LIVE’s video service is being relaunched as “Zune Video” this fall. 1080p HD video, every movie and TV show viewable instantly, and 18 countries will be able to access it. A demo of The Dark Knight was shown, with the video starting faster than Netflix streaming does.

Finally, LIVE Party was shown, where friends can enjoy Netflix (or SKY in the UK) streaming together via LIVE.

A facebook partnership was next up to bat. The Guild and Dr. Horrible star Felicia Day came out to talk about the new feature. The facebook application is setup using the familiar NXE interface. Xbox LIVE and facebook profiles can be linked, with adding people to one or the other via the Xbox interface. Looking at photo albums brings the photos to fullscreen. You can also post updates and comments via the interface. “Facebook Connect” allows you to post screenshots and text directly to your facebook profile, starting with the next Tiger Woods.

In addition, Twitter is coming to LIVE, with instant updates and updating available with the micro-blogging service. Both social networks come to Xbox LIVE this fall.

Senior VP of Xbox Don Mattrick came out for one more big reveal. He asked what one franchise 360 owners really want to play, and Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear franchise tapped him on the shoulder. The next major release will be called Metal Gear Solid Rising and is in development now. A trailer came on screen, clearly showing Raiden as the lead character for the upcoming game. It is “a completely new Metal Gear experience,” said Kojima.

Mattrick started talking then about motion controllers, and about making “YOU the controller.” Gone are the days of throwing your controller into the screen; now you can accidentally punch or kick it while playing a fighting game instead. Fighting, racing, and a cheesy monster-movie style game were shown. The unique camera is said to be more than just the “Playstation Eye,” as it uses “full body motion capture,” scanning of personal objects, voice and facial recognition, and full video chat with the games and applications. This includes being able to select movies using your hands, and then telling it to play, Star Trek computer style. These are all “a glimpse of our vision” that shows what they want the new device to do. It’s currently called “Project Natal” and will work with all versions of the Xbox 360.

Stephen Spielberg came on stage to talk about the new device. He basically reiterated everything shown in the video. The Creative Director of the project, Kudo Tsunoda, came out next. He did a live demo of the dashboard, showing his avatar moving around with his motions. Swiping left and right, up and down moves the menu panels around. A girl came out to demo some of the games they have made for the “full body tracking,” while Tsunoda made a dig against the Wii, saying you won’t “end up on the couch using a set of waggle commands.”

A painting program was shown, using “splatter” style painting. The point was both to show the motion control, and how the voice activated controls work for things like color selection. A “pose” function lets you capture a shadow stencil of any pose you (and others) can come up with. He painted a full jungle scene, complete with elephant.

Peter Molyneux was next to talk about Natal, and mentioned his Lionhead Studios have been playing with the technology for a few months. They’re using it to develop a somewhat eerie AI. “Milo” recognizes emotion, facial expressions, and inflections in voices, along with specific words. The character emotes and reacts realistically to the player. A spectacular water effect was shown, even demonstrating a reflection of the player in the pond, while she played with the water. The player even drew a picture and “handed” it to the character on screen, with the Natal device scanning it nearly instantaneously. This brings imaginary friends to a whole new level. Also, make sure your robot/AI-insurrection kit is ready.

Mattrick wrapped up the conference, recapping the announcements made. Microsoft struck first, and they certainly struck hard. Stay tuned for hands-on impressions of a lot of the games discussed in this presentation, along with full coverage of the other press conferences at the show.

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