Explosions and exclusives: Microsoft’s E3 press conference wrap-up

Microsoft kicked off the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo bright and early Monday morning with a torrent of exclusive games, explosions, and bass drops for their upcoming Xbox One console, which we now know will arrive in November 2013 for $499.99 U.S. (€499 in Europe and £429 in the U.K.).

Now on the third iteration of the Xbox console, Microsoft has a lot of ground to make up after the tepid response to the unveiling event in May. However, the company just earned some serious public acclaim with an E3 press conference jam-packed with new games.

Coups

Microsoft led with a trailer for Konami’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, delivering on their promise of “nothing but games at E3” after the TV-focused reveal event in early May.

Though a handful of Metal Gear games have been playable on Microsoft platforms in the past, the series is traditionally a Sony mainstay. Metal Gear Solid 4, released in 2008, was one of the first must-buy games exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation 3, so leading with MGS5 was a bold move for Microsoft.

Metal Gear Solid 5 kicked off the show.

Microsoft scored a similar coup later when it trotted out Ted Price of Insomniac, another developer traditionally in Sony’s corner. Insomniac’s Resistance series launched with the PS3, so it was a shock when Price debuted Sunset Overdrive, a cartoony open-world shooter with zombie-esque enemies, as an Xbox One exclusive. “It’s a living world game, and something we could only do on the Xbox One,” said Price.

Xbox 360 still exists

Early in the conference Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi took the stage to assuage fears of Xbox 360 development dying after the release of the XBO. Microsoft is releasing a new 360 model: quieter, smaller, and designed to mimic the shape of the Xbox One.

Xbox Live Gold is changing to compete with Sony’s PlayStation Plus service. For the past few years Sony has given PS+ subscribers free games on a rolling basis. Microsoft will do the same from here on out, offering two games monthly to Xbox Live Gold subscribers. First up are Assassin’s Creed II and Halo 3.

Mehdi also claims hundreds of titles are in development for the 360 over the course of the next few years—a very different tack than the one Microsoft took in 2005 when the 360 released and the stream of games for the original Xbox quickly dried up.

We saw trailers for three Xbox 360 titles: World of Tanks, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, and Dark Souls II.

The Xbox 360 wasn't left out altogether. Press Play showed off Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, a 2D sidescroller in the same vein as Max & the Magic Marker.

Microsoft also announced that anyone using an Xbox One with an Xbox Live Gold membership attached can take advantage of member benefits, suggesting that friends and family can play your Xbox Live Gold-granted games even if they themselves aren’t card-carrying Gold members.

Keeping first-party development alive

Microsoft’s first-party offerings for the 360 have dwindled in the last few years, so it was great to see a renewed presence during the press conference.

Rare’s beloved 1994 fighting franchise Killer Instinct has been revived for the Xbox One, and it looks as silly as ever. However, Rare isn’t developing the game; Double Helix Games has shouldered that burden. It’s a depressing indicator of how far Rare has fallen in the past few years.

Microsoft also announced a custom fightstick for Killer Instinct, created by MadCatz, for the dedicated fighting scene crowd.

A car rose out of the stage to signal the start of Turn 10 Studios’s presentation, which focused on their upcoming Forza 5. Turn 10 gave us an extensive look at this latest Forza, touting “the end of AI” as we know it.

No Xbox E3 press conference would be complete without a flashy racing game like Forza Motorsport 5.

Games should be “more human, more intelligent,” said Dan Greenawalt, head of Turn 10. “The new generation is about more than polycount and texture resolution.”

As such, you’ll now have a “Drivatar” in Forza that will learn how you play. Thus, when you’re offline your friends can still compete against a facsimile who supposedly drives the same way you do.

Not to be outdone, 343 Industries showed a CG trailer for the new Halo game, coming in 2014. Bonnie Ross, head of 343i, says Halo 5 runs at a constant 60 frames per second—a first for the franchise. The trailer feature a hooded figure wandering through a formless desert, before an enormous robot erupted from the ground. As the sand settled, the hooded figure was revealed as Master Chief. I’m sure Halo fans are already dissecting what the trailer means, and we’ll see how the game shapes up in the coming months.

Project Spark lets you and your friends create your own games, and then play them.

Dave McCarthy of Microsoft Studios demoed Project Spark. Less a game than a multiplayer map editor, Project Spark appears to resemble the Sony-exclusive LittleBigPlanet games. Players can create their own original game maps and scripting. “When you’re ready, you can share your game with anyone, anywhere,” said McCarthy. Designers can use SmartGlass, the platform Microsoft developed to allow tablets to interact with the Xbox, for more granular map editing.

Microsoft Studios’ Phil Spencer revealed Microsoft has opened five new studios for first-party development. Only one game was shown, from the fledgling Black Tusk Studios. The game appeared to be an espionage-type title in the vein of Rainbow Six, though the trailer was scant on details—we don’t even have a title yet.

Third-party is actually where it counts

Despite a lack of first-party titles in recent years, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 thrived because of wide third-party support. So it was no surprise how many developers lined up to discuss their upcoming Xbox One games.

Crytek showed off Ryse: Son of Rome, an exclusive Xbox One launch title. “With Ryse: Son of Rome you will step into the boots of Roman general Marius Titus,” said Crytek’s Cevat Yerli. The game looks like a next-generation version of the old Dynasty Warriors games, with you leading an entire army of Roman troops into battle.

Remedy Entertainment gave us more information about its new title Quantum Break, teased at the Xbox One reveal event. Quantum Break appears to be a TV/game hybrid, potentially in a similar vein to the recently released Defiance. According to Sam Lake, creative director of Remedy, Quantum Break is “blurring the lines between gaming and television,” with the events you play in the game potentially affecting the TV show and vice versa.

Remedy showed more Quantum Break at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, but we still don’t know much about what the game is about.

Capcom took the stage to announce a new entry in its open-world, zombie-fighting Dead Rising series. Dead Rising 3 looks much less cartoonish than previous games in the franchise, with stark, washed-out graphics and a desolate Los Perdidos setting. However, the game’s affinity for ridiculous weapons returns. In the trailer, protagonist Nick Ramos attached a saw to a sledgehammer and used it to wade through a zombie crowd. The game also employs SmartGlass to allow players to call in heavier ordnance, such as airstrikes.

And for RPG fans, John Mamais of CD Projekt Red announced that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt runs on Xbox One—no surprise, considering the second entry was also playable across both the PC and the Xbox. The Witcher 3 certainly looks gorgeous, and is apparently a multi-region open-world game. Mamais promises to harness the Xbox One’s strengths: the team is including voice commands and porting the UI to SmartGlass for menu-driven interactions like inventory management.

Microsoft gave a token nod to independent developers, with quick trailers for Minecraft on Xbox One and a new title from Capybara Games, called Below. It appears Microsoft is trying to address concerns in recent years that they’re unfriendly to indies, though we’ll see if the gesture brings people back onto the platform.

Guns, guns, guns

Then there were the huge entries in the first-person shooter genre: Battlefield 4, developed by EA Dice, and Titanfall, the debut game from Respawn Entertainment.

DICE showed off more gameplay footage from Battlefield 4, though the presentation was marred a bit by an embarrassingly long string of technical difficulties. The Battlefield 4 footage looks gorgeous compared to Battlefield 3 on the Xbox 360, so hopefully the gap between the console and PC versions has narrowed in terms of multiplayer features also.

DICE also revealed the first map pack for Battlefield 4 is a timed exclusive for Xbox One.

Titanfall has jetpacks, mechs, and plenty of explosions.

The show closed with a trailer for Titanfall, from Respawn Entertainment, the studio founded by Vince Zampella and Jason West after they left Infinity Ward (creators of Call of Duty). Titanfall looks quite a bit like Call of Duty on the surface, but your tiny soldier is able to leap small buildings and run up walls with the aid of a jetpack, as well as clambering into gigantic mechs for a bit of extra firepower.

The game looks like it runs at a frantic clip, so we’ll see if the shooting is just as arcadey and responsive as the Call of Duty games. Zampella claimed that with Titanfall, Respawn is “pushing the boundaries of multiplayer gaming,” with many calculations offloaded into the Xbox One’s cloud computing platform.

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